Last November, the doors of an armored truck popped open as it was traveling on a San Diego freeway, dumping bags of cash onto the road. Traffic came to a halt as eager drivers abandoned their cars to scoop up the “free” money. Many handed in their windfalls as required by law, but several were arrested for their highway robbery.
Imagine if, before this negative cash flow, a vigilant driver would have noticed the doors to the armored truck coming loose. Some friendly honking and flashing lights at the guards would have alerted them to the problem and enabled them to pull over, fix their doors, and avoid the whole debacle.
In this week’s reading we find written, “When your brother is in decline and his hand falters with you, you shall support him… (Lev. 25:35)” The Midrash notes that this verse doesn’t say “when your brother falls, you should pick him up,” although that is certainly true. What it says is that before your brother falls, you should notice his hand faltering, realize he is in decline, and do something to help him before he collapses. That is the time to support him, for it’s much easier for you and him if you offer your assistance early, shoring him up before he crashes and you are called upon to pick up and reassemble the pieces.
Also note that although this Mitzvah applies to helping anyone, it does not refer to the one you are helping as your friend, or your neighbor — but your brother. When we see people in distress, it is natural for compassionate hearts to go out to them, and we’re willing to offer assistance. But we have to have an extra level of interest, loving others like family, to notice the signs of exhaustion before someone faints, and be there to offer support. The Torah’s instruction is to be proactive, to be a brother, ready to help those who could use a friendly boost before their troubles rain down on the freeway. (Based Rashi’s commentary, Toras Kohanim 25:71, and Sefer Zichron Meir)