We are striving to love our fellow Jews by improving the way we interact with others.
Last week’s stretch of the week was:
Think of any mitzvah of V’Ahavta L'Rayacha KaMocha. Be sure to perform this mitzvah at least once this week.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #2
LOVE YOUR FELLOW JEW AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF
(PART 2 – Priorities in the Mitzvah)
While everyone is obligated to treat others as we would like to be treated, the Torah provides us with certain guidelines and rules of precedence to use when two different acts of kindness conflict with each other.
The rules are categorized as follows:
YOUR LIFE COMES FIRST
Although the commandment requires us to be genuinely concerned for another person's needs, there is a different aspect that limits this concern to a certain extent: “and your brother shall live with you" (Vayikra 25:36). Our Sages deduce from these words that your life takes precedence over your friend's life. Therefore, when helping others may cause harm to us, we act in accordance with this principle.
Consider the example of two people who are traveling through the desert, and only one of them has a flask of water. If they both drink from it, they will both die of thirst; but if only one drinks from it, he will reach a settlement and survive. The Torah teaches us that, in this case, the owner of the water should drink it all in order to save himself in the long run, rather than give half of it to his friend, which will save them both, but only for a short time. This ruling is based on the principle of "Your life comes first" and applies also in cases involving financial loss, Torah study, retrieving a lost object and in other matters.
YOUR NEEDS COME FIRST
Your personal livelihood takes precedence over someone else's livelihood. Therefore, we are not obligated to give tzedakah to support others unless we have enough money for our own basic needs.
The same applies to other acts of kindness. While we are obligated to help others, we are not required to do so if it will bring damage upon ourselves. For example, if someone asks for our help in doing some work, we do not have to take time off, and suffer a monetary loss, in order to assist him.
YOUR LOST OBJECT TAKES PRECEDENCE
If you lose something and then come across both your own lost object and that of your friend, if you can return both, you must do so. But if that is impossible, your own object takes precedence over belonging to others. We are required to protect ourselves from poverty and financial loss.
However, even though Jewish law provides us with this "out", the proper conduct is to be stringent, and not be overly particular about giving our own property priority when the loss is only a possibility. If a person is so meticulous about protecting his interests that he constantly avoids helping others, it is considered as if he has discarded the obligation of kindness. In the end, his punishment will be that he himself will be forced to rely on the help of others. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:14-15)
YOUR RELATIVES TAKE PRECEDENCE
Relatives should take precedence in the commandments concerning kindness. Therefore, we are obligated to care for our parents' needs before tending to the needs of our children (assuming that it does not impinge too much on the smooth running of the household, depending on the situation. Similarly, the needs of our community take precedence over those of another city, and the needs of a Torah scholar take precedence over those of a layman.
A common illustration of this principle is the housewife who will be unable to attend to the needs of her own home properly if she goes to help another family. It is important to keep in mind that, just as a person cannot give tzedakah from funds he should be using to pay his own debts, so too, a woman cannot extend herself for the sake of others before she carries out her obligations to her own family.
An exception would be a case where, in doing a kindness for others, her intention is to teach her children an important lesson. For example, by sending food to a neighbor who is a widow, she hopes to show her children how we must cater to the special needs of others; or by preparing elaborately for guests, she teaches her children that they are to be served better and more plentiful food. (Mishpetei Hashalom 13:21)
(Excerpts from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)
Debbie removed the chicken from the oven, arranged the side dishes in disposable aluminum pans and, with a smile of satisfaction, placed the meal on a large tray. She had exactly an hour before the children were due home – perfect timing. Debbie drove to Tamar's house, and knocked on the door. Nothing could have prepared her for the shock of seeing her friend's clenched and weary face Finding a place to put the tray down in the kitchen was a challenge as the house was a total disaster. Tamar was in pain, and visibly embarrassed.
Let me help you," begged Debbie. "Just go lie down, and I'll tidy up a little."
"Thanks," whispered Tamar, "I'm really desperate so I won't say no. My mother-in-law is coming this evening and I really don't want her to see my house like this". As Tamar slowly and gratefully hobbled to her room Debbie began to roll up her sleeves. She loved a challenge, but it was clear that she would not get much done in the time left before her children were due home.
She quickly texted her oldest daughter. "Sara, you know Tamar is recovering from major surgery, and I am helping clean her house. Would you mind taking over at home for a while until I get back?"
"Sure Mom," answered her reliable 15-year-old, "Send my love to Tamar."
Debbie busied herself in the house, giving it a thorough cleaning. When Tamar's children came home she fed them, gently awakened Tamar, and convinced her to eat as well.
When Tamar's mother-in-law arrived, the kids all pounced on her at once, each with their own claim. Feeling badly, Debbie sat with the second grader and helped him to complete his homework.
Tamar's three-year-old twins looked like they had not had a bath for a very long time. Debbie bathed them, entertaining them with bubbles and games. After dressing them in their cute pajamas and reading them a quick story she knew it was very late and she just had to go.
Knowing that Tamar had rested, and seeing her grateful face made it all worthwhile. Glowing with the good feeling of having done such a huge mitzvah, Debbie opened the front door to her own house and recoiled from the powerful stench of burned food. The house was in total chaos. Her husband was frantically opening the windows to get rid of the smoke. The little kids were all still up, wildly running around in various stages of undress. Sara was in tears from the efforts of trying to gather them up, but they were not listening to her at all.
It took hours to get everything and everyone calm again. Later that night Debbie’s exhausted husband looked at her straight in the eye and said: "Please understand that doing kindness for others is not a mitzvah when it negatively impacts our own family!" Debbie knew her husband was right, and that she would have to evaluate her priorities moving forward.
Discussion Question Options:
1. 1. Why does it seem to be easier to do kindness for people that are not part of our immediate family?
How does one figure out the appropriate order of priorities when faced with conflicting opportunities to help others.
3. 3. How can we have a greater sense of self-satisfaction when performing acts of kindness for close family?
Stretch of the Week:
Let the immediate people in your life know (through discussion or a letter) that they are your number one priority.