behar & bechukosai

This Shabbos we read Parshas Behar and Parshas Bechukosai. In Parshas Behar the Torah tells us of the mitzvah to help another Jew who has come upon hard times. “And if your brother is impoverished, and his means fail with you, you shall certainly help him… (Leviticus 25:35). What does the Torah mean when it says “with you”? Is it to be assumed that the rich person has also become poor?

The Ben Ish Chai offers a beautiful explanation. He tells the story of a King who had an only son. The King wanted his son to learn all the wisdom of the world, so that one day he would be fit to assume his throne. He hired a tutor, the wisest man who he could find, to teach his son. The wise man taught the King’s son for a few years. When they were done he sent the prince to his father so that he could test him and see how much knowledge he had amassed. The King tested his son and found him knowledgeable in all aspects of wisdom. He was overjoyed, and awarded the teacher 100,000 Gold coins from the Royal treasure.

After he received his reward, the Sage told the king, “I have one more piece of knowledge that I would like to teach to your son. I will need him for only one hour.” The King sent his son to the house of the wise man. The wise man locked the door, and proceeded to flog the son until he was bleeding from the blows that he received. When the King heard about this he sentenced the wise man to be killed. Right before the execution, the King asked the wise man for an explanation of his actions. “Why were you so foolish? You could have had fame and wealth before you for your entire life”? The wise man expalined, “Your majesty, I had a job to do – to prepare your son to one day run the kingdom. Your son knew many sorts of wisdom. One thing he did not know, however, was what pain and suffering felt like. If he would have ever sentanced someone to be punished, he would have no concept of what the pain he was inflicting felt like. Therefore, I felt I had to make him feel some pain first hand.”

This, the Ben Ish Chai explains, is what the Torah means by the word “with you”. A rich perosn may have no way of relating to the pain that the poor person has. Therefore the Torah says, a rich man must have some form of imach – of pain with you. When a person fasts for Yom Kippur, he gets to appreciate the suffering that another Jew has to live with – and will hopefully hep him more.