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Parshat - Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Thursday, 26 April, 2018 - 2:06 pm

The Torah gives us many instructions on how to relate to one another, the overarching Mitzvah being “Ve’ahavta Lere’acha Kamocha,” love your fellow as yourself, written in this week’s Parsha (the second of two), Kedoshim. There is a positive Mitzvah to return a lost item, to return a stolen item, to help someone load or unload their animal, and many other instructions that the Torah gives that require us to act in order to help another. It is therefore intriguing that one of those Mitzvot, one on which life and death may hinge, is written differently, in the negative. “Lo ta’amod al dam re’echa,” do not stand by when your fellow bleeds. Why would the Torah not say: “Save your fellow’s life?” 

The great commentator Rashi, in explaining this verse, writes: Do not stand by your fellow’s blood - to see his death and you are able to save him or her, for example if on who is drowning in a river or a robber is about to attack. Rashi, in his great wisdom and unique writing style, uses a couple of words that give us insight into the answer to our question. It seems obvious that we have to help save a person’s life. If the Torah tells us to help protect another person’s property, how much more so their life? So that kind of goes without saying. What this verse is dealing with is a situation where one might believe that he or she should not act, because there may be some danger involved. The Torah is telling us, says Rashi, that even I a case of potential danger, IF YOU ARE ABLE TO SAVE THE PERSON, do not stand by. The implication being that in a case where your efforts will be futile, you do not need to put yourself in danger.

The Rebbe taught a deeper meaning to this verse and Rashi’s interpretation. If we look carefully at Rashi’s words, we can read it as follows: To see your fellow’s death, you are able to save him or her. If Hashem put us in a situation that we see another person in trouble, the very fact that we are present to see it, means that we are able to help. We believe that what happens around us is by Divine Providence, and if we are in a certain situation, it is by Hashem’s will that we be there and act if necessary. Sometimes it is a test of our ethics and morals, and sometimes it is an opportunity for us to earn a great mitzvah by stepping in and helping another, perhaps saving their lives.

We may be in a situation where we see someone bleeding, literally or figuratively, perhaps emotionally or spiritually. We might think, why do I need to get involved? Why is it my business? The Torah tells us that we may not stand by and ignore the problem. As Rashi says, if you see it, it means you can help. In fact, Hashem wants you to help. We live in a generation when many of our youth are in despair, despite the affluence in which we live. We can’t be apathetic. If we see a person struggling in life, it is our responsibility to reach out and help them. The same applies to our youth who may not feel their connection to our heritage. This is a form of spiritual bleeding, allowing the soul’s life-force to go neglected. Each of us, the Torah says, has an obligation to not stand by idly, but to do something to bring our lost souls back to Jewish life.

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