Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Mishpatim
To dedicate this lesson

Desisting is Assisting


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Shvat 21 5780
The Torah is neither a history nor a science book; it’s Mitzvot & stories are a precious spiritual guide to help us grow, refine our Neshamot & come closer to Hashem.

In our Sedra there is a Mitzva that seems to contain a misprint. The Torah tells us (23:5) that if we come upon a person struggling with his burden - even someone we regard as an enemy - we must assist him in carrying his load. The command of "Azov ta’azov imo" is translated as, "You shall surely help him."

But the word "azov" would seem to mean just the opposite: to leave him alone! Just look at what Adam is told when Woman is first created (BR 2:24): "So a man shall leave his father & mother & cling to his wife;" the word "leave" is "ya’azav," from the very same root as azov! So why do we translate it here as "to help?"

At first glance, it might indeed appear that the Torah meant to write the word not with a vav, but with a raysh; azor ta’azor - you shall surely help. Since a vav & a raysh are very, very similar in appearance, we might conclude that the letters must have somehow gotten mixed up!

But consider: the highest form of helping someone is to get them to the point where we can leave them alone because they are now independent & no longer in need of our assistance. The true goal of helping another person is ultimately to leave them to their own efforts; thus restoring their self-respect, along with the ability to financially survive. That is why the highest form of Tzedaka is helping an indigent person to find gainful employment. Azov & azor - to leave alone, and to help - quite neatly coalesce.

The very example we brought of a young man marrying & "leaving the nest" is precisely about independence. We help a couple most when we let them make their own way & create their own unique home & space. Their initial independence will contribute mightily to a long and successful marriage.

The implications of this message are many. It reminds us that our first responsibility towards those in need is to enable them to stand on their own two financial feet. Able-bodied men, the Torah is saying, should be working, not begging. Like drugs or crime, living off others when you can support yourself is a very bad habit that impacts negatively on society as well as on one’s own sense of self.

Moreover, we as a nation want just one thing - to be left alone! If the world really wants to help us, they will allow us to conduct our own affairs, rather than continually telling us what to do. While we value others’ friendship, we have B"H reached a point in our national history when we can chart our own course & solve our own problems. IYH!
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