Take Care of Number One!

Friday, 8 March, 2024 - 10:02 am

One of the most challenging ethical dilemmas that we face is: What do we do when helping others comes at the expense of our own spiritual benefit? How do we prioritize our own wellbeing vs. our obligation to help others?

The Zohar relates a curious anecdote, that upon deeper analysis, provides us with the solution to this dilemma.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was expounding on the secrets of Kabbalah when he noticed Rabbi Yosi, a member of his inner circle of mystics, distracted and tuned out. Rabbi Shimon sensed that Rabbi Yosi was “pondering worldly affairs” and made the following observation. “(Since you have turned your mind away from contemplating Torah to thinking about worldly affairs,) your visage is incomplete and there is a letter missing from your name.” Rabbi Yosi refocused and turned back to the mystical secrets, upon which Rabbi Shimon commented, “(Now that you are back to the mysteries of the Torah) your visage is whole and your name is complete.”

What worldly affairs could a sage such as Rabbi Yosi possibly be pondering? He wasn’t playing the stock market or worrying about the price of oil. The Rebbe explains that he was thinking about a communal matter for which he was responsible. Although helping others is a worthy cause, nevertheless, his Torah study was being neglected and was lacking. To the extent that his spiritual countenance (his visage) was diminished.

The question is, how could “his visage become whole and his name complete,” when he missed out on the time of his study due to his communal commitment? Even if we accept the capacity to improve moving forward, there is still something missing from the past. About this the Rebbe suggests, that when one puts one’s own spiritual benefit aside for the sake of helping others, Hashem blesses his own spiritual endeavors to multiply exponentially. So, while in the moment it is a “diminishment,” as soon as you refocus, you will be made retroactively whole through Hashem’s blessings.

The Rebbe asked a man who was embarking on a charitable enterprise, “Why did G-d create the heart on the left side of the body?” In Kabbalah, the right side represents chesed - kindness, so the heart would be more suitably situated on the right side. The Rebbe replied, “since a person should always be thinking about how they can help another person, the heart is to the right of the person one is facing, rather than on one’s own right.  

Indeed, Hayom Yom quotes an early Chassidic adage, “Love a fellow-Jew and G‑d will love you; do a kindness for a fellow-Jew and G‑d will do a kindness for you; befriend a fellow-Jew and G‑d will befriend you.

So, take care of number one, and Hashem will take care of you!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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