The “Middat HaShavuah”, taken from this week’s double Torah portions of Parshiyot Behar and Behukotai, instructs us to help others feel respected. The verse reads as follows:
Key Verse: כִי-יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָ, וּמָטָה יָדוֹ עִמָּךְ–וְהֶחֱזַקְתָּ בּוֹ, גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב וָחַי עִמָּךְ.
Middah: Help others feel respected
When I meet with the students in Grades 2 – 5 each Monday morning at TBT (Tefillah B’Tzibur), our weekly community Tefillah, I tell the students that this week’s Torah portion is my favourite. And it is generally true; it’s the same as if you were to ask me which of my four children is my favourite, I will tell you that they are all my favourites! However, this week’s Torah portion is special to me for two reasons: one, it is the Torah portion of my Bar Mitzvah, and two, it focuses on an essential theme that I truly value in my life: helping others.
Regarding our Middah and helping others, the literal translation of the verse is “Now when your brother sinks down and his hand falters beside you, then shall you hold him…” I love that the Torah uses the words “sinks down” and we must “hold him.” As human beings, we all “sink down” from time to time and we all need to be “held up.” Helping others, particularly when they are down, and helping them feel respected in the process, to me is what it means to be a mentsch. Rashi, in his commentary on this verse states: “Do not leave him by himself so that he comes down in the world until he finally falls altogether when it will be difficult to give him a lift, but uphold him from the very moment of the failure of his means. To what may this (the differences between whether you assist him at once or whether you wait with your help till he has come down in the world) be compared? To an excessive load on the back of a donkey. So long as it is still on the donkey’s back, one person is enough to take hold of it (the load) and to keep it (the donkey) up, as soon as it has fallen to the ground not even five persons are able to set it on its legs.” Rashi is saying we don’t wait to help someone until after they sink down, but rather, we must help them as soon as we recognize that they are about to fall. In doing so, we are helping others feel respected because, in helping them in a more proactive manner, they are not losing their dignity or humanity.
Recent research shows that there are other benefits associated with helping others, not only to those we help but to ourselves as well. Helping others is associated with greater health, well-being, and longevity. Research has also shown that helping others can improve self-confidence, self-awareness, self-esteem, and reduce symptoms of depression. At The Toronto Heschel School, I see these acts of kindness every day; in the way our older students engage and help our younger students, in the way our students support one another on the sports field or academically, and in their general commitment to Mitzvot and Ma’asim Tovim (good deeds). Is it perfect? No. Do we have work to do? Yes, and in some cases, a lot. But from an outsider’s perspective, the Heschel community is leaps and bounds ahead of the curve. In a world that is becoming increasingly selfish, narcissistic, and self-centred, I am comforted to know that our students are living the words from this week’s Torah portion and are going against the grain and helping others feel respected by “holding others up” before they “sink down.”
Shabbat Shalom U’Mevorach,