Behar – Attitude of “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”

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In this week’s Torah portion of Behar we find the mitzvah of supporting the needy. “If your brother becomes destitute and his hand falters beside you, you shall support him [whether] a convert or a resident, so that he can live with you” (Vayikra 25:35). The Yefe Toar observes that there are eight terms for a poor person in Hebrew and the one used in this pasuk, יָמ֣וּךְ, is the last one, the lowliest and most impoverished of poor people.

About this mitzvah, the Medrish Rabba brings a pasuk from Koheles: “On a day of good, be among the good, and on a day of bad, see; God has made one corresponding to the other, to the end that man will find nothing after Him” (Koheles 7:14). The medrish states, “Rebbe Tanchum the son of Rebbe Chiya opened [his lecture with this pasuk] ‘On a day of good, be among the good, and on a day of bad, see; God has made one corresponding to the other.’ If bad comes upon your friend see how you can find merit for him and support him so that you can accept your reward. This is what Rebbe Tanchum the son of Rebbe Chiya did: When his mother told him to buy a litra of meat he bought two, to give the other one to the poor. This fulfilled the second half of the pasuk, ‘God has made one corresponding to the other,’ Hashem made poor and rich so that they can help each other, therefore Moshe warned the Jews, ‘If your brother becomes destitute’” (Vayikra Rabba, Behar, 34:5)

The Matnos Kehuna points out that the Medrish Rabba in Koheles elaborates more on this medrish. There it says that “Rebbe Tanchum the son of Rebbe Chiya explained this pasuk in Koheles in terms of the poor and rich. On a good day of your friend rejoice with him. And on a bad day see; see how to support the poor so that you will receive reward through them. This is what Rebbe Tanchum would do, if he would need to buy a litra of meat he would buy two, one for himself and one for the poor. Two bundles of vegetable, one for himself and one for the poor. ‘One corresponding to the other’ refers to poor and rich that help each other out,” (Koheles Rabba 7:30). The Maharz”u in Vayikra Rabba, after quoting the medrish in Koheles, explains the conclusion of the medrish that  the poor take tzedakah, charity, from the rich and in turn the rich get a good reward.
At first glance it seems almost selfish that the reason to help the poor is in order to give yourself Heavenly reward; why does this sound right? Shouldn’t one give charity out of a true feeling of benevolence? Furthermore, why when times are good for another we rejoice with our friend, but in bad times you have to first see what to do, then act? The Rada”l in Koheles Rabba in fact explains that on the day your friend experiences bad tidings, you should see how to do good for him. The word see connotes intellectually looking into, how to do something, as it says, ‘Happy is the one who uses his intelligence for the poor’. Why not also put in effort into making someone happy who is already having a good day?

However, it would seem from these two midrashim that they aren’t just trying to share the secret importance of why it is worthwhile to do chesed and kindly help those who are in need, but rather they are setting up the attitude one should have when helping the needy. It should come naturally to you, just as when you would like something from the grocery store you get double, one for yourself and one for the poor. It’s just part of your shopping list, it’s not an addition, it’s part of your own list, because you are getting for yourself by getting for those in need since you are receiving something when giving to others. I.e. heavenly reward, which is the most important need for anyone in life. This natural attitude even goes as far as for those who are so lowly and destitute that you are turned off from their very presence, still in all, it is inside each and every one of us to be able to have this natural desire to help them, like something part of your own agenda in life.

The Rada”l goes a step further. You don’t necessarily get exactly double of what you get for yourself, you have to put some thought into what you are doing. Make sure you get others what will be beneficial for them; do acts of kindness with intelligence, using your head to think of what they would want, just as you would want to receive what you yourself want.

That is the attitude one should have when helping others who are having a bad day, but those who are having a good day all you need to do is share in their happiness. They don’t need anything else, or in fact probably want something else, because they are enjoying the good that came their way. The best thing for you to do is just to appreciate that good with them. Don’t try to do more for them because that might imply that the good they think they have might not be enough, but in fact it is and they just want you to be happy with it and share it with others.

In fact, it takes a lot of foresight to recognize the good others have and appreciate it with them just as one needs to use his mind to figure out how to help one in need who is having a bad day in the best way fit for him.