This week’s parsha, Kedoshim (in Israel, it’s Acharei Mot in the diaspora) lists and reviews many mitzvot presented earlier. One of them, Lo Ta’ashok Et Reyecha (Vayikra 19:13) on the surface merely seems to instruct us not to take advantage of our fellow, not to charge him usurious interest. Fair enough, when a friend, neighbor or coreligionist is having a hard time coping financially and needs to borrow some money to get through a crisis, how terrible it is to gouge as much interest from him, presumably since he can’t get a loan or other financial help on better terms. Certainly, it’s not very nice to exploit someone’s misfortune, and the closer that person is to us, the worse the offense is.
But the Mei HaShiloach offers an insight into a much deeper meaning. He explicitly states that if we see that someone is in need and it’s within our power to help and refuse, that is also a sin. In other words, we should each feel absolutely liable to help a fellow, and to never see someone else’s misfortune as a financial opportunity for ourselves.
But, as my parents, as well as various of my teachers, would have asked, “Do you need the Torah to tell you to be a decent person?”
To that, the Mei HaShiloach would answer that if can give someone a bracha, a blessing, and you don’t, even that is a sin. Although in theory it’s true everywhere that Kol Yisrael Aravim Zeh L’zeh, the entire Jewish people are intertwined, one with the other (TB Shavuot 39a), living in Israel this is a palpable feeling we experience every day. Thus, even if we don’t actually know the person requiring a bracha, we’re still connected to them and, thus, obligated.
This also demonstrates the power of brachot, of blessings. They have the potential to provide so much benefit that withholding the bracha constitutes an actual injury.
Of course, this is closely related to the concept of Dan Kol Adam b’Kaf Zechut (Avot 1:6), to assume another’s innocence unless proven otherwise. Thus we assume that each of us is worthy of our bracha as well as all other efforts to give them a hand.
What a privilege (zechut) it is to be part of Am Yisrael, especially when one is also blessed to live in Eretz Yisrael.