The Torah in Parashat Behar addresses a situation where one’s fellow falls into financial straits, and it commands, “you shall support him…so that he may live with you” (25:35). In the next verse, the Torah presents the prohibition against lending on interest, indicating that the “support” which the Torah requires refers to granting loans.
Rashi, citing Torat Kohanim, explains that the Torah speaks here specifically of a person who has come upon hard times, but has yet to fall into poverty. The Torah commands us to lend him assistance to prevent his decline into a state of destitution, to help him recover so that he never reaches the point of actual depravation.
Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, in his Oznayim La-Torah, notes that the Torah describes the situation as involving a person who “mata yado imakh” – faces financial straits “with you,” in one’s locale, or surroundings. The reason this is emphasized, Rav Sorotzkin explains, is because one who sees a struggling neighbor might wonder what purpose would be served by assisting him, given that countless other struggling people live throughout the world. As no one person can solve world poverty, we might be disinclined to help the struggling individual who is “imakh,” in our community, figuring that in any event we cannot help everyone. The Torah therefore emphasizes that our obligation is to assist whom we can. Although our help will not have the effect of significantly reducing worldwide poverty, nevertheless, we need to see the individual in our midst who needs help, and extend to him whatever help we can provide.
This applies not only to charity, but to any sort of contribution to society that we are capable of making. When we consider the many different kinds of problems and crises facing the world, our instinct might be to despair, and to conclude that since in any event we cannot even come remotely close to solving them all, we should not bother trying. The Torah here bids us to focus our attention on “imakh,” on the problems that we see around us which we can help alleviate, the problems which we can help ease, and the needs which we can help provide. Rather than feeling helpless, we should feel empowered by the frequent small opportunities we are given to contribute, and enthusiastically seize each one so we each do our humble share to make the world better.