June 12, 2024
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A Brother, Not Just Another

It states in our parsha (25:39-40), “If your brother becomes impoverished with you and is sold to you; you shall not work him with slave labor. Like a hired laborer or a resident shall he be with you.” Rashi explains that “slave labor” refers to demeaning labor by which he can be identified as a slave, for example, that he should not bring the master’s clothes behind the master to the bathhouse, and he should not put the master’s shoes on the master. “Like a hired laborer or resident” refers to labor of land (i.e. agricultural labor) and work of craft, teaching us that he should be treated like other hired workers.

What’s the reason that you shall not work him with slave labor? After all, isn’t he your slave?

Indeed, although he is,, the pasuk refers to him as “your brother,” which, as the Sifra explains, teaches us that you should treat him with brotherliness (Sifra, Behar 7). When we view and treat him as family, as a brother and not just another, ordinary and unrelated person who is our slave, then it can perhaps be understood why we shouldn’t assign him to slave labor. Would someone do that to a member of their family?

Viewing the less fortunate as a brother may also come into play in another case of our parsha. A few pesukim earlier it states (v. 35), “If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him …”

Isn’t the impoverished person in the pasuk referring to any person amongst Am Yisrael? If so, what is the Torah teaching us by referring to this needy person as your “brother” as opposed to simply referring to him as your “fellow?”

Says the Alshich HaKadosh, by calling the impoverished person“your brother,” the Torah teaches us that you should consider him as your brother in order to help him.

The difference between viewing the needy person as just another person, versus viewing him as your brother could make a world of a difference as to how one would feel, respond and act towards him, and ultimately help him. The Alshich’s insight can perhaps teach us that when we view the needy as if he was family, as if he was our very own blood brother, then we would be far more concerned for him and motivated to help, support and strengthen him.

Once, a pauper knocked on the door of Rav Naftali Trop, but no one except his daughter was home. The pauper expressed his distress that he has no place to lodge. Rav Trop’s daughter had mercy on him and gave him money to rent out a dignified place of lodging. When she related her deed to her father, she was in wonderment upon discerning that her father wasn’t satisfied with her deed, and she requested to know why that was so. Rav Trop explained:” To a poor person, one must relate to him like family, literally. Do we send a family member who has come from afar to go rent a place for himself to lodge, or do we immediately make room within the house for him to sleep? You should have given up your bed and gone to rent out a lodging for yourself (seen in Yesod Yisrael, Behar).”

With family, it’s perhaps in our nature to have a greater tendency to be more concerned about them and to give more of ourselves for their sake. Hence, when we view and treat the needy like brothers, like family, our assistance to them may be more effective and impactful.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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