Shabbat-Table Talks: Behar-Behuqotai
Giving timely help. We are all
familiar with the phrase “too little, too late.” When we have the
opportunity to help, we should take the opportunity when it comes and not wait
to the situation deteriorates to the point that any help that we can give would
be “too little, too late.” This applies with helping others as well as with
helping oneself. Do not wait to see if the problem gets worse before seeking to
improve it. To provide timely help means being very aware of the condition of
the people around you. Does your friend look upset? Is he going through some
difficult times? Do you notice an abrupt change in behavior that could indicate
that the person can use a little help, but is not yet ready to ask? Being aware
of our own periods of sliding and how we can help ourselves before we hit
bottom, will make us more aware of this situation in others. Sometimes even an
encouraging word or description of the situation can help a person pull himself
Now when your brother sinks down and his hand falters beside you, then
shall you strengthen him, as (though) a sojourner and resident-settler, and he
is to live beside you. Do not take from him biting-interest or profit, but hold
your God in awe, so that your brother may live beside you. Your silver you are
not to give him at interest, for profit you are not to give him your food; I
Hashem am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land
of Canaan, to be for you a God.
and Analysis: The first perasha
that we read this week discusses the laws relating to the shemittah and yobel
years. In the yobel year (every fifty years), all land returns to its original
owners. In this context, the Torah mentions the person who must sell his land,
the person who must take a loan, the person who must sell himself and the
ramifications of the yobel for these situations. The section above, is the
middle of three sections in this perasha that begin with the words, “now when
your brother sinks down.” The section preceding this one describes a person
who had to sell off some of his inherited land. The section following this one
describes a person has to sell himself as a slave. Our section describes a
person who has to take a loan just in order to eat. The Torah commands first
that we should “strengthen him” and not to take interest from him. Do not
try to profit from his neediness. Rather, help him to get back on his feet so
that he won’t slip all the way down to the point of having to sell himself.
sages have expressed the idea as follows:
when your brother sinks down and his hand falters beside you…”—do not let
him go down. What can this be compared to? —To a load that is upon a donkey.
When it is still in its place, one can catch it and put in its place. However,
if it falls, even five people cannot return it. From where do we learn that if
you have strengthened him even four or five times, you must continue to hold
onto him? Scripture teaches: “hold onto him” (another meaning of the Hebrew
word “to strengthen”).
sages teach us to help the person before he falls, so that it will be easier and
more effective to help him. If we let him fall, we might not be able to pick him
up at all.
How can we know when someone is about to “fall”? (We must be aware of how
our friends and acquaintances are feeling. Do they look depressed? Are they
keeping unusually quiet? These might be warning signs of someone ready about to
can we help them? (First, we might get them to talk about what is bothering
them. Sometimes, just getting the person to talk out his problem can allow him
to see his problem from a different perspective. Other times, we might actually
be able to help them. For example, if you see a friend starting to get very
confused and frustrated in Math class. Before he gives up hope, take time to
explain the concepts to him.)
the situation in ways that are not so bleak can be the first step towards
stopping the person’s slide. A friend might develop negative ways of thinking
about himself and describe his situation as worse than it is. At those times,
make him aware of the limited nature of his problems. For example, instead of
letting him say in exasperation, “I don’t understand anything in Gemara,”
try to identify the specific point at which he is having difficulty. Stopping
the sweeping negative statement and specifying the point of difficulty is the
first step towards overcoming the difficulty.
can apply this to ourselves as well. Occasionally, we let a few bad moments
color our whole day black. At those times, we can help by putting things into
perspective. Instead of thinking, “I had a terrible day,” think about the
parts of the day that went well, specify the difficult things that happened and
put them in perspective.
discussion (for adults): Our Sages, displaying their characteristic insight and
honesty were well aware of situations where helping a person time and time again
could lead to him continuing in self-destructive behavior. They said that if
helping the person would allow him to continue in such behavior, then there is
no obligation to help him. In the continuation of the above-quoted Midrash, our
Could it be that we should also help him even when helping him would
lead him to destroy himself [by adopting] bad behavior? Scripture teaches:
Hillel (commentary on the Sifra) explains that if your constant helping of the
person leads him to adopt bad behaviors, you are not obligated to do so. The
Torah says, “with you” as long as he is within the norms of behavior with
which you can associate.
To read last year's Table Talk click here.
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