Behar – Giving vs. Helping

 The Torah in this week’s portion of Behar states, “If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen, proselyte or resident, so that he can live with you” (Vayikra 25:35). From this pasuk the Medrish Rabba expounds in great detail on the fundamentals of the concept of doing acts of kindness. 
The Medrish Rabba (Behar 34:8) discusses four reasonings about one who does chesed (kindness). The Yefeh Toar explains that the Medrish is inspired by the repetitive language in this pasuk of  “if your brother becomes impoverished” and “and his means falter.” From here the medrish extrapolated four perspectives concerning chesed:
1. Doing kindness with one who does not need it. Hashem will reward his children for this. The example the medrish gives is Avraham taking care of the angels when they were passing by his tent, standing over them under a tree, feeding them and quenching their thirst, even though they were angels and didn’t need worldly sustenance. In return Hashem rewarded his descendants with manna from Heaven, water from the rock, quail, and the Clouds of Glory protecting them while wandering in the desert. The Medrish goes on to say that if a person is rewarded for doing kindness to someone who does not need kindness, then all the more so will he be rewarded for giving to someone in need. In any event, this notion is teaching us the concept of doing acts of kindness simply because it is the right thing to do, whether needed or not. Hashem is the ultimate example of a giver, and we have to emulate Him and want to give for the sake of giving, for the sake of being like Hashem. So being a giver, even if you aren’t a helper, is still a level of kindness and logically if just being a giver is rewarded then all the more so being a helper will be even more rewarded.
2. One who does not do kindness to one who does not need it. One is punished by Hashem for such inaction. The medrish provides the example of the Ammonites and Moabites who did not approach the Jewish People to offer food and drink to them as they passed by their land on the way to the Land of Israel. They were punished even though Hashem was already providing the Jews Manna from Heaven and water from the rock, quail, protection and a tour guide by means of the cloud for all forty years in the desert. Still these nations did not act with proper manners, derech eretz, and therefore they were punished as no male Ammonite or Moabite was allowed to marry a Jewish woman, even if he converted. Now, if they were punished for not doing kindness with people that didn’t need it, all the more so will one be punished for not showing kindness with one who needs help. This is the view of those who are stingy.
3. Doing kindness with someone you owe debt of gratitude towards, or you feel obligated to be kind to. This person is still rewarded even if he was obliged to act in this way anyways. For example, Yisro who brought Moshe into his house and took care of him after Moshe saved his daughters and flock from harassment of the other shepherds. The medrish says Yisro was rewarded for this in the days of Shaul, “Shaul came to the city of Amalek, and he fought them in the valley. Shaul said to the Kenites [who were descended from Yisro], ‘Go, withdraw, descend from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them; for you acted kindly to all the Children of Israel when they went up from Egypt…'” (Shmuel Alef 15:5, 6). Was Yisro really helpful to all the Jews? Wasn’t it only with Moshe? Rather, this is coming to teach us that when one does kindness with one of the leaders of the Jewish People it is as if he did kindness with the entire nation. If one is rewarded for showing kindness to someone he feels a debt of gratitude towards all the more so, will one be paid in kind for a good deed that he does to a person he doesn’t feel obligated to.
4. Doing kindness to someone who needs it even if you do only a small amount of kindness. The reward is still tremendous! For example, Boaz with Rus, where Boaz gave Rus bread to dip into vinegar, which is supposedly good for you during a heat wave.

The Yefeh Toar goes on to explain that this is what is meant when it says here, ‘And his means falter in your proximity;’ he or she needs your help. For now, with these four viewpoints, we can learn how we should rush to support him. Either because of the kalvachomer (fortiori) of the first two views, or if one thinks ‘I don’t feel indebted to him or her’ then the kal vachomer in the third view will encourage you to act anyways. And based on this we see that the fourth view, even if it is not easy to give, but if he still gives, whether a lot or a little, then it is absolutely accepted and greatly rewarded.

The medrish goes on to say that the Torah wants to teach us derech eretz (proper manners), that when a person does a mitzvah he should do it with a joyous heart. For if Revain had known that Hashem wrote about him, ‘Reuvain heard and saved him from their hands’ (Breishis 37:21), he would have picked Yosef up and carried him to Yaakov. Also, if Boaz had known what Hashem wrote about him he would have fed Rus fattened meat. (The Yefeh Toar quotes another medrish, in Rus Rabba, with the same example that if Aharon knew what Hashem wrote about him on his way to meet Moshe on his return to Egypt to save the Jews then Aharon would have come out to greet Moshe with trumpets and tambourines). The Yefeh Toar warns us not to G-D forbid think that Reuvain, Boaz, or Aharon were trying to run after honor and because of the honor that the Torah would have rewarded them if they had known then they would have done more then what they in fact did, or with more enthusiasm. Instead, what the medrish is really teaching us is that for example if Reuvain would have known that if he would have saved Yosef the Torah would have recorded that and future generations would have learned to act like him, then he would have mustered up the strength to be even more courageous to bring Yosef back to Yaakov, in order that future generations who learn the Torah would act more courageously to do like him, with much valor.

The Yefeh Toar goes on to point out something very fascinating but scary. For one might be wondering how one of such stupendous stature as Reuvain, Aharon, or Boaz would not have been inspired to act in the best possible way on their own? He gives three excuses:
1. There are bad people that proactively try to stop one from doing a mitzvah.
2. There are scoffers who discourage one from doing a mitzvah and say why are you trying to be so righteous.
3. There are others who degrade a person and say you are only doing this for your own honor and not for the sake of Hashem.
Therefore, the medrish is telling us don’t give in to these excuses.

The medrish goes on to ask that back in the days of the prophets (i.e. Tanach) a person would do a mitzvah and it would be recorded by a prophet, but nowadays when a person does a mitzvah who records them? The medrish answers that Eliyahu HaNavi or The King Moshiach and Hashem sign it, as it says “Then the God-fearing men spoke to one another, and Hashem hearkened and heard it. And a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared Hashem and for those who valued His name highly” (Malachi 3:16). The Yefeh Toar explains that it used to be that there were people who were able to write down every good deed so that it would be a reminder for later generations. But now, who could write it and publicize it? So the medrish answers, Eliyahu HaNavi or The King Moshiach and Hashem sign it, meaning Hashem publicizes every good thing that happens on earth, and makes sure it is always remembered. In fact, this will be done through the leaders of the generation like Eliyahu HaNavi or the King Moshiach. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
What we can take from all this is a guidebook of motivation to do chesed, acts of kindness, in the best ways possible, even at the hardest of times. These are tools and tricks to motivate and re-inspire a person to be the best he can be in the area of doing the right thing.

But the Yefeh Toar had mentioned that great people like Reuvain, Aharon, and Boaz were not looking for fame when it says that if they would have known they would have done what they had done but with even more style, but rather they felt that if they would have known how much it would be publicized (the Bible is the greatest best seller in the world) and that they could teach everyone an important lesson in how to act, then they would have led by example and would have been more elaborate in their actions for the sake of teaching others how to do the right thing. But doesn’t that also sound a little arrogant?

 We must say that at the core of all this motivation is the basic fact that we must be givers, not necessarily helpers. Whether what one is doing is useful or not he should do and act correctly, because that is the right thing to do. Also, emulating Hashem, just as Hashem is a constant doer, and if He would stop for one instant, we would all cease to exist, so too we have to be doers and givers. But as we aren’t G-D, we can’t be giving constantly, and it takes a lot of work and effort for us to do the best we can. With this attitude and balance, that we simply must do and try our best in whatever circumstance, and, also, that Hashem is ultimately the one who produces the results, we are just his servants and messengers, that is a humbling thought for those who are examples to the world in how to properly act. Then it will be a lesson worth emulating.