February 23, 2024
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February 23, 2024
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Helping, By Not Helping

The joke goes of a husband who graciously offered if he can be of any help around the house. His wife responded: “The biggest help would be if you leave the house and let me take care of things around here.” So, the husband ventured out to the local shul and sat down to study. After an hour, he began feeling edgy, and after two hours, he decided to go back home. When he arrived, his wife exclaimed, “You’re back already?” to which he responded, “How much help do you expect from me already—is two hours of help not enough?!”

While helping in the classical sense involves giving outwardly and being proactive to help others directly, sometimes, we may be “helping” the other more, when we are passive and don’t help.

The pasuk in our parsha states, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not remove completely the corners of your field as you reap and you shall not gather the gleanings of your harvest; for the poor and the proselyte shall you leave them … ” (23:22). If the pasuk already tells us that we shall not gather the gleanings of our harvest, then why is it necessary to state that we shall leave them? It sounds redundant!

Rashi explains the words “shall you leave” to be saying, “Leave it before them, and they shall gather it, and you may not assist (any) one of them (in gathering).” Based on Rashi we could, perhaps, explain the question above, that although we are helping the poor by not gathering the gleanings of our harvest for ourselves but instead leaving it for them to take, however, the Torah is coming to add that we shall (specifically) “leave them”—i.e., we should not involve ourselves in further helping them to also gather the gleanings.

What should be problematic in helping the poor collect the gleanings? If anything, not only is the owner doing a chesed by leaving them for the poor, but by helping the poor gather them, he is continuing to do even more chesed!

Rav Aryeh Leib Bakst explains that the Torah is pointing out a psychology here: A person may do chesed, but then, he also may want recognition for what he did. Hence, it’s possible that after the owner of this field left the gleanings for the poor, he also wishes to “help” the poor in collecting them—in order that the poor realize that it was he, who left the gleanings for them. The Torah is teaching us to not help the poor to collect is essentially placing a limit on our chesed—that once we have left the gleanings, the chesed is over. And now, a person is to overcome his nature, and remove himself from the scene—from furthering his “help,” and instead, to let the poor deal with the gleanings themselves (see “Kol Aryeh,” Emor).

It could be asked, however, that granted the owner may want to assist the poor for ulterior motives like for honor, and so, the Torah limits his “help,” but should that outweigh the great deed of chesed? He could be greatly helping those poor people out there in the field! Should a person refrain from doing a chesed because he has personal ulterior motives like getting kavod?

Perhaps, it could be explained that although the owner may, in fact, be helping the poor by helping them collect, however, by doing so, he is causing them discomfort and pain, for when they realize it is he who provided for them, they may feel ashamed in his presence. Thus, by not helping them, he is really “helping” them much, for he is sparing their embarrassment. This type of “help,” perhaps, outweighs the “help” of assisting their collection. It would emerge then, that sometimes, when we don’t actively help, it may actually cause a greater “help” for the other.

Sometimes, helping can exist in the opposite extreme, where not only are we helping by not giving, we are even helping by taking: In explaining the purpose of lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan, the midrash gives a parable: A sighted man and a blind man were walking together. The sighted man said to the blind man, “Come, I will hold onto you,” and in this manner the blind man was able to manage walking. When they entered the house, (and the blind man was able to walk on his own), the sighted man said to him, “Go forth and light the lamp and provide light for me, so that you should not be beholden to me for having escorted you.” The blind man is a reference to “Bnei Yisrael,” and the sighted man is a reference to “Hashem,” who “escorted” Bnei Yisrael through the wilderness by illuminating the way (Shemot Rabbah, 36:2).

It seems apparent from the midrash that the purpose of lighting the Menorah is a way of Bnei Yisrael giving back to Hashem for the favors He did for them in the wilderness, in order that they not feel beholden to Hashem. By Hashem accepting and taking our deed of lighting of the Menorah, we would be alleviated of the discomfort of feeling beholden and indebted to Hashem for the lighting He provided for us in the wilderness.

From this midrash, Rav Yerucham Levovitz reveals an insight into human nature: A recipient may want to give back to his benefactor, but the benefactor may not want to accept it. Why? At first glance, this may seem very noble, like one is furthering and continuing his chesed for this person. However, it could very well be that the reason why one refuses to accept the recipients reciprocation is because deep down, the benefactor wants the recipient to remain indebted and beholden to him. The benefactor might want to control the relationship and be the “master” so to speak. Hashem—by giving us the opportunity to give back to Him—so we don’t feel beholden, is thus teaching us the importance and value of accepting the recipients’ reciprocation (see “Da’as Torah,” Vayigash).

It’s perhaps apparent from here as well—that, although, on the one hand—it may seem like we are helping the other by letting him hold onto that which he may want to give us in return for our favor; however, we might be helping him much more by actually taking it.

Sometimes (depending on the situation and circumstances), by not “helping” in the classical sense, we may, indeed, be helping much more.


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

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