Helping a needy Jew stay on his feet by Aryeh Cohen


The Torah states in Parshat Behar (25:35), “If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him.” This teaches us that we are obligated to help a fellow Jew financially.  By using the word “falter,” the Torah emphasizes that it is more important to support a Jew financially as he stumbles than when he is bankrupt and is reduced to begging for charity.   The Torat Kohanim presents a brief story as an analogy.  If a donkey begins to stumble under its burden, one man possesses sufficient strength to adjust the load on its back or remove some of the load so that the donkey is able to walk further.  However, once the donkey has collapsed, even five strong men cannot pull it to its feet. 

In addition to obligating us to help a needy Jew, both in times preceding and during poverty, the Torah also teaches us to provide this assistance in a humane and thoughtful way.  In Tehillim (15:11) we are taught, “Fortunate is the lot of one who wisely helps the poor.” The Talmud Yerushalmi (Bava Metzia 80b) relates that when Rabbi Laizer noticed a poor person walking behind him, he would drop a Dinar, creating the impression that the Dinar was dropped by accident.  If the person ran after Rabbi Laizer to return the Dinar (to do Hashavat Aveidah), Rabbi Laizer said, “You can keep it - I have already given up hope of retrieving it.” Rabbi Laizer followed the Torah’s teachings in our Parsha by giving assistance to Jews in his vicinity before they were reduced to actively seeking aid.  In this manner, he ensured that those in need received the assistance necessary to help them before they stumbled further. 

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