Shabbat Behar/Behukotai 5773

You’re likely familiar with the expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The usual context for this tidbit of wisdom is in the realm of medicine. For example, regular well-patient visits to the doctor are likely to forestall the need for emergency care. Or, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a preemptive strike against certain diseases.

Can this expression be relevant in the realm of economics as well? Consider this verse from Parshat Behar, and Rashi’s comment on it:

“If your brother becomes poor and his means fail him, then you shall strengthen him, be he a stranger or a settler, he shall live with you” (Leviticus 25:35).

And Rashi: “Do not let him slip down until he falls completely, for then it will be difficult to raise him; rather, strengthen him as he begins to fall. To what is this comparable? To a burden upon a donkey: while it is still on the donkey, one person can hold it and set it in place; if it falls to the earth, even five people cannot set it back.”

In his final book, From Defender to Critic, Rabbi David Hartman (z’l) included a chapter called “The Body as Spiritual Teacher.” He sought to emphasize the power of interdependence, as opposed to dependency, in relationships. That was Hartman’s covenantal theology of Judaism–that we see ourselves as part of a sacred community in a sacred covenant with God and Jewish tradition, not subjects wholly reliant on God. He learned from the doctor-patient dynamic and the laws of giving tzedakah about the ideal relationship between Jews. What lessons can we take from Rashi’s comment above about the way to care for our community?  

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi David Wise