Pre-Emptive Strike

“If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him…” (Vayikra 25:35)

The Torah teaches that if your fellow Jew has begun to lose his money, but has not yet become poor, it is your responsibility to slow his decline and help him regain his prosperity. Rashi quotes the Midrash, which compares this to merchandise falling off your friend’s donkey. Once the freight has fallen it takes much more effort to pick it all up and reload it onto the beast of burden than it would take to prevent the fall in the first place.

Rabbi Meir Rubman, zt’’l, explains that after the troubles strike, a person helps because he himself cannot stand to witness suffering. The noble assistance is tainted by self-interest. On the other hand, someone who intervenes to prevent tragedy is motivated purely by feelings of kindness and brotherly love.

This principle of “crisis prevention” can be applied practically in several ways. When Jews in one part of the world start to be beset with problems, Jews in more secure or more prosperous regions must rush to assist. Today it is clear that everyone has an obligation to take action to help all those “under fire” in Eretz Yisrael simply because they have chosen to devote their lives to the Torah and its study. When one becomes aware of others’ developing problems, one should take note and take action before the “load falls to the ground.” If someone is having trouble finding a mate, if another’s business is not doing so well or if an institution is having difficulty paying its mechanchim, then anyone who can help must act before it is too late to do anything meaningful.

This principle applies in the spiritual realm as well. When we see a friend about to fall spiritually, we should jump into action. If we delay, salvaging the situation will be much more difficult. If we become aware of a decline in another’s devotion to Torah and mitzvot, an immediate, small, positive action may do much more than a lot of effort expended after it’s too late.

Perhaps the least obvious application of this lesson is in regard to oneself. People very often can feel themselves “slipping” in their spiritual growth. Self-improvement is, after all, very much like the stock market — we all have our “ups” and “downs.” When we feel the drop coming, we must call in “spiritual Hatzalah” by acting quickly to catch and support the freight before it falls off the beast of burden. This approach is much more efficient than allowing the fall to happen and then having to expend much more effort to “pick up the pieces.”

The lesson is clear. In all of the above situations, it is far better to deal with prevention rather than the catch-up game of intervention.

Shabbat shalom!