Behar – The Torah’s Take on a Stitch in Time

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Folk maxims reflect truths, which is why the Talmud often invokes such aphorisms with the introduction“kidi’amri inshi” – “as people are wont to say.”

One valuable truth is the subject of two English sayings that don’t have a Talmudic aphorism-cognate. The truth, though, is telegraphed by the Torah itself, in one word, in parshas Behar.

“A stitch in time saves nine” and “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” both communicate the fact that a modest effort expended in a timely manner can prevent the need for a much greater effort down the line.

In the Torah, that message lies in the word “vihechezakta” – “and you should strengthen” in the pasuk “Should you brother become impoverished and his means falter near you, you should strengthen him, be he a stranger or resident…” (Vayikra 25:35). 

Rashi notes that “stranger” refers to a non-Jew who has forsworn idolatry. And goes on to quote the Sifra: “Do not leave him by himself so that he comes down in the world until he finally falls altogether, when it will be hard to raise him. Rather, uphold him from the first moment of the failure of his means.” 

The illustration provided is a donkey whose load is tottering. Rushing to straighten it is easy and will prevent the need to strain to lift it off the ground should it fall.

It’s an important, if straightforward, truth: Helping someone in even a small way early in a financial decline can prevent the need for a greater lift from a deeper poverty into which he may otherwise fall.

It can even save his life, as the pasuk continues, “And he will live with you.” 

What I find interesting is that the English aphorisms are simple wise advice to an individual, about protecting himself from harm.

In the Torah, the truth is indicated in a word about protecting someone else.

© 2024 Rabbi Avi Shafran

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