by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – December 25, 2009
In Bereshit 44:33-34, we read that Judah entreats Joseph: “Let your servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father and the lad not be with me?; lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.” In order to avoid any possible anguish on the part of his father if he should lose Benjamin, Judah is willing to become a servant to Joseph. After Judah’s intense concern for his father’s welfare, Joseph can, also, not confine his feelings of compassion and caring for his family, and, consequently, decides to reveal his identity: “And Joseph said unto his brothers, ‘I am Joseph…[but] be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that you sold me here, for G-d did send me before you to preserve life'” (Bereshit 45:3-5).
The above expressions of concern and compassion for one’s fellow man are in accord with the moral directives of Torah law and lore concerning the precepts of visiting the ill, giving tzedaka (charity) and being kind to others.
In the Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 14a, we are told that the passage, “You shall walk after the L-rd your G-d” (Devarim 13:5) is a Biblical directive to us to imitate G-d’s behavior; consequently, since “the Holy One, blessed be He, visited the ill, as it is written [concerning Abraham], ‘And the L-rd appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre’ (Bereshit 18:1), so should you visit the ill.” Hence, we are instructed to visit the ill and pray for their recovery (see Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 335-339). Our Sages understand this precept to be of such importance that they include it among the practices of which the fruit is enjoyed in this world but the essence of which remains with one in the world to come (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 127a), and the Sages assert that the practice of this precept brings goodness to the world (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 30).
Concerning the granting of tzedaka, G-d commands in the Torah , “You shall open your hand wide unto your brother, to your poor, and to your needy in your land” (Devarim 15:11), and warns, “You shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother” (Devarim 15:7). We are, consequently required by Torah law to give as much tzedaka to the needy as we can – as much as a fifth of one’s wealth or as little as a third of a shekel (See Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 247-259). Our Sages consider this precept to be of such importance that we find in the Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 49b, “One who engages in the giving of tzedaka is greater than [one who engages in] all the sacrifices,” and we find in the Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra 9b, “One who gives tzedaka secretly is even greater than Moses.”
Even greater than giving tzedaka, our Sages say in the Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 49b, is the practice of generally being kind to others, because it can be done for the rich as well as the poor. In the Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kamma 100a, the obligation to be kind to others is derived from the passage in Sh’mot 18:20, “You shall show them the way wherein they must walk.” Concerning this practice of being kind to others, King Solomon tells us in Mishlei 21:21, “He who follows after righteousness and mercy finds life, righteousness and honor.” The Sages, too, stress the importance of being kind to others. In Mishna Peah 1:1, we read that there is no limit to how much kindness should be performed and that one enjoys the fruits of kindness in this world while its essence remains with him in the world to come. We are even told by the Mishna, Avot 1:2, that being kind to others is one of the three things upon which the world’s existence depends.
Serving to intensify and solidify our respect and concern for others, G-d enjoins us to “honor the face of the elderly” (Vayikra 19:32) and, in the spirit of “charity begins at home” (Thomas Browne, Religio Medici 2:4), we are exhorted, “Honor your father and your mother” (Sh’mot 20:12). And, of course, we are reminded of the often cited verse, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18).
Unfortunately, despite the great weight that the Torah and Talmud place on respect and compassion for others, we are, many a time, negligent in its practice. How many times have we treated our fellow Jew with scorn or with deceit? How many times have we neglected to return money or an object we had borrowed from a fellow Jew? How many times do we refuse to exert the extra effort necessary to help a fellow Jew gain employment, a needed raise in salary, or a well deserved promotion? How many times do we concern ourselves with a fellow Jew’s welfare and how we may ease his burden and how much of an effort to do we make in this respect? Unfortunately, we, often, become so wrapped up in ourselves, our needs and desires, that we refuse to consider the needs and feelings of others.
The Torah, on the other hand, enjoins us, as demonstrated above, to visit the ill, to be charitable to the needy and to act with kindness towards our fellow Jew. To be sure, we may be very busy or we may have our own needs, and caring for others may, to an extent, disrupt our own lives. However, how much more tranquil would be our work if we knew there is nobody who harbors any resentment towards us for having wronged him or her, and how much more secure would we be if we knew that we have friends to tend to our needs because we once tended to theirs? On occasion, we find ourselves facing problems for which we require outside help. It is especially at such times, when those whom we helped or who saw and admired our benevolence come to our assistance, that we appreciate the time we took out of our busy schedule to help another.
Let us remember the passage, “Open your hand wide unto your brother” (Devarim 15:11). When we learn to care for our fellow Jew, to be sympathetic to the needs of our fellow Jew, to identify with our fellow Jew and to unite with our fellow Jew, we will all in the end be better off as individuals, as a people and as a nation.