Parashat Kedoshim

Intentional Intervention

We must learn to offer hand-ups instead of hand-outs.

Print this page Print this page

Several years ago, I went to Ziavi-Lume, a rural village in Ghana, with an AJWS service delegation. I remember the village chiefs greeting us warmly with a ceremony of drums and speeches. As they welcomed our presence in their village, they asked us to refrain from giving their children gifts. They said, "We do not want our sons and daughters to grow up with their hands out."

This was a warning to us to bring solidarity and service, not trinkets, to support the community. Previous gifts of candy, clothing and, especially, one fought-over camera, had stirred up divisiveness and suspicion in the community. It led the children to see visitors as toy dispensers, damaging relationships between them and their non-toy-giving parents, and shifting the focus of a group's visit from solidarity to materialism.

Lo ta'amod al dam re'echa teaches that we are commanded to initiate intentional interventions. The Global North's duty is to respond, but not to control. Instead of swooping in to save the day, our aim should be to support grassroots leadership and initiatives: to offer a hand-up instead of hand-outs.

To return to the case of the swimming pool: as a lifeguard, long ago, I learned the classic formula for crisis intervention in the water: Reach, Throw, Row, Go. To respond effectively in an emergency, it was most helpful to keep some distance between the rescuer and the person needing help. Simply jumping into the pool was the option of last resort, for this imperiled both parties.

Optimally, one extended an anchoring arm to allow the other person to lift himself out of the water. Lo ta'amod insists that we can't stand idly by human suffering. We should act with care and awareness so as not to hold anyone down.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Dorothy A. Richman

Rabbi Dorothy A. Richman is the Rabbi Martin Ballonoff Memorial Rabbi-in-Residence at Berkeley Hillel.