We all want to begin Elul properly.
We heard the shofar this morning in shul and we have just begun the road to repair. We all can certainly improve in our relationships with our fellow Jews. This past Shabbos we read the p’sukim (Devarim 15:7-8): “If there will be among you a needy person, from one of your brothers…, you shall not harden your heart, and you shall not close your hand from your needy brother.
Rather, you shall open your hand to him, and you shall lend him enough for his needs, which he is lacking.” When you see the ‘needy’ person you might harden your heart and this hardening of the heart will lead you to ‘close your hand’ and not respond to his need and this is wrong. Rather, the Torah tells us: “You shall open your hand to him… and give him what he is lacking.”
The Torah is not exclusively discussing here a person who is destitute; rather, it refers to a person who is lacking in any area – including emotional, physical and psychological needs. Why is the physical reaction to a hardened heart a closed hand? And why is the remedy to a hardened heart an open hand?
Rav Yeshua Lalum zt”l (1901-1950) was an Algerian Rav who received smicha at 18 and during his short life span served many Algerian Jewish communities with dignity and vigor. He authored only one sefer: Likutei Aharon. The Likutei Aharon explains why the Torah describes a person whose heart is hardened as having a closed hand and one who is compassionate as having an open hand.
He writes, “And so the Torah commands us, ‘Do not harden your heart and do not close your hand’ to the needy. If your heart hardens, your hand will close and you will see that your fingers are of equal length and then you will say to him (the poor person) – ‘Go out and work like me!’ Rather, do the opposite, open your hand and then you will see that your fingers are short and long. This is how G-d created people, big and small, where one person relies on another person.”
Rav Lalum explains that a person whose hand is clenched has the mistaken assumption that all of his fingers are of the same size and length. As indeed when we look at our fingers when our hand is closed they all look identical in length. It is only when we open our hand do we see and realize that all of the fingers are unique and special and different in length and size!
This is the secret to compassion.
When our hearts are hardened we assume that everyone is like us and if we have a job then they should have a job. If we are able to deal with the vicissitudes of life without becoming clinically depressed then everyone can as well. However, when we open our hands and we realize that all of our fingers are different and unique, we have the ability to also realize that not all men were created equal and not all of us are able to cope in the same manner with the challenges of life.
This realization of the uniqueness of man enables a person to be compassionate as he realizes that all of us have our own unique and specialized ‘peckel.’ Just because I am capable of working or dealing with this problem, who said my friend is able to deal with this? Open your hands and realize how unique and special each person is… it is the key to compassion.