Making sense of the sedra: Mishpatim

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Making sense of the sedra: Mishpatim

Helping people to help themselves

In a breakdown, we should only help a person who actively takes part
In a breakdown, we should only help a person who actively takes part

Helping others to help themselvesAs a rabbi in the community, I often grapple with a dilemma. There are individuals genuinely in need, seeking our assistance, advice and guidance. However, it becomes challenging to discern the boundary between providing independent, genuine help and inadvertently fostering dependency by enabling the individual to outsource responsibility to the rabbi or supporter to whom they are reaching out.

During a recent visit to the JLE, Home Secretary James Cleverly noted that our community, while seeking government support, does not rely solely upon it. We actively contribute. This is deeply reflected and deep-rooted in our heritage and culture.

In this week’s parsha, Mishpatim, the Torah emphasises aiding someone in need, highlighting the principle of azov tazov imo (you should help him). The scene is set when you come across someone broken down and immobile on the side of the road, with his donkey, bicycle or Porsche convertible. The Torah says “azov tazov imo”. The sages learn from this that you should only help the person in need if they actively participate to the best of their ability, discouraging a passive approach. They can’t escape to the nearest Costa and ask you to text them when it’s all done.

Therapists in the community to whom I have spoken echo a similar sentiment, emphasising the importance of individuals actively participating in their healing process. Even if someone has limited funds, paying a small contribution is deemed crucial. This active involvement demonstrates a willingness to help oneself, fostering a more productive healing journey.

A recent trip to Israel provided inspiration as I met a parent seeking support to lobby for their kidnapped child in Gaza. Despite the emotional turmoil, what stood out was the parent’s sense of responsibility for their child’s release. While seeking assistance from others, they were actively engaged in their own efforts, not shirking their responsibilities.

It is incumbent upon all of us to avoid helicopter parenting. Overly intervening without allowing individuals to help themselves can be detrimental. Teaching and enabling others to be self-sufficient is a crucial aspect of contributing to a healthier society, for ourselves and for future generations.

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