Friends in Need
Charity is a wonderful thing. Not only does it provide the needy receiver with lifesaving support but provides the giver with lifesaving merit.
There are, however, many levels in the quality of giving. Rambam (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7-12) lists eight different levels. The highest level is the one mentioned in this weeks Torah portion. "Should your fellow Jew become impoverished and suffer a downturn in his fortunes," says the Torah (Vayikra 25:35), "you must give him a helping hand."
This means preventing him from falling, explains Rashi in his commentary, because once he falls it is difficult to raise him up again. In practical terms, Rambam elucidates, this means giving or lending him money, making him a partner or providing him with employment before he sinks to the level of becoming dependent on the public and begging for support.
The statistics of poverty in Israel which make the headlines from time to time serve as reminders of the opportunity Jews here and throughout the world have to serve as "friends in need". If one cannot perform the highest form of charity mentioned by Rambam, he should not hesitate to reach for the lower levels of alleviating the plight of the already dependent. It is charity in any form which will help to save the life of the individual giver and to give life to Israel forever.