Don’t Make Yourself Invisible
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Don’t Make Yourself Invisible

A reflection on Shabbat Ki Teitsei

Courtesy of  Lisi Levisohn
Courtesy of Lisi Levisohn

Our Parsha, Ki Teitsei, tells us about situations where we come across something along the way—ba-derech; we are walking along—and come across something; something which could get our attention and touch our sense of rachamim, our sense of mercy, but which we could conceivably just ignore.  We notice a lost object, or an animal has strayed, or its bundles have fallen… The Torah tells us in each case—don’t see it and then ignore it.  

You shall not see your brother’s ox or sheep straying, and ignore them. [Rather,] you shall return them to your brother.   לֹֽא־תִרְאֶה֩ אֶת־שׁ֨וֹר אָחִ֜יךָ א֤וֹ אֶת־שֵׂיוֹ֙ נִדָּחִ֔ים וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ֖ מֵהֶ֑ם הָשֵׁ֥ב תְּשִׁיבֵ֖ם לְאָחִֽיךָ:
But if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, you shall bring it into your house, and it shall be with you until your brother seeks it out, whereupon you shall return it to him.   בוְאִם־לֹ֨א קָר֥וֹב אָחִ֛יךָ אֵלֶ֖יךָ וְלֹ֣א יְדַעְתּ֑וֹ וַֽאֲסַפְתּוֹ֙ אֶל־תּ֣וֹךְ בֵּיתֶ֔ךָ וְהָיָ֣ה עִמְּךָ֗ עַ֣ד דְּר֤שׁ אָחִ֨יךָ֙ אֹת֔וֹ וַֽהֲשֵֽׁבֹת֖וֹ לֽוֹ:
So shall you do with his donkey, and so shall you do with his garment, and so shall you do with any lost article of your brother which he has lost and you have found. You shall not ignore [it].   וְכֵ֧ן תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֣ה לַֽחֲמֹר֗וֹ וְכֵ֣ן תַּֽעֲשֶׂה֘ לְשִׂמְלָתוֹ֒ וְכֵ֨ן תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֜ה לְכָל־אֲבֵדַ֥ת אָחִ֛יךָ אֲשֶׁר־תֹּאבַ֥ד מִמֶּ֖נּוּ וּמְצָאתָ֑הּ לֹ֥א תוּכַ֖ל לְהִתְעַלֵּֽם:
You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen [under its load] on the road, and ignore them. [Rather,] you shall pick up [the load] with him.   לֹֽא־תִרְאֶה֩ אֶת־חֲמ֨וֹר אָחִ֜יךָ א֤וֹ שׁוֹרוֹ֙ נֹֽפְלִ֣ים בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ֖ מֵהֶ֑ם הָקֵ֥ם תָּקִ֖ים עִמּֽוֹ:

 

In each of these cases, we’re told that we should try to restore what was lost to a person, or help them pick their load back up.  And really this could apply to so many things a person can lose—not just objects, or bundles, or donkeys: וְכֵ֨ן תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֜ה לְכָל־אֲבֵדַ֥ת אָחִ֛יךָ אֲשֶׁר־תֹּאבַ֥ד מִמֶּ֖נּוּ וּמְצָאתָ֑הּ : a person might lose their confidence, or their smile, or their hope, or their dignity; if you have a way to help them find it—. לֹ֥א תוּכַ֖ל לְהִתְעַלֵּֽם  You should not ignore it.  If someone has lost their health, and you are in a position to help restore it to them, לֹ֥א תוּכַ֖ל לְהִתְעַלֵּֽם.

לְהִתְעַלֵּֽם is an interesting word: literally, it means to hide yourself, or make yourself disappear—or make yourself become invisible.  On the word והתעלמת, Rashi says כּוֹבֵשׁ עַיִן כְּאִלּוּ אֵינוֹ רוֹאֵהוּ  When someone covers his eyes, as if he does not see it. Don’t cover your eyes, we are told, and pretend you don’t see it. Or, don’t cover your eyes and pretend you cannot be seen—don’t pretend you are invisible.  As a little kid might cover their eyes and say, “you can’t see me!” The Torah is telling us, you are a visible person in this scene… you are supposed to play a role in the scene, which you happen to come across, בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ, on your way.  In each of these scenarios, the Torah tells us, go become a part of it, and let it become a part of you.

As a little kid might cover their eyes and say, “you can’t see me!” The Torah is telling us, you are a visible person in this scene… you are supposed to play a role in the scene, which you happen to come across, בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ, on your way. 

A few weeks ago, on Friday night, our family tried out an exercise that my husband Josh had learned in his coaching work and shared with us: in this exercise, you are asked to think of a vivid memory from your childhood, a vivid scene or moment from your life.  You share the memory, and then think about why that memory stuck with you and is important to you—how it reflects or has shaped the person you are. So we each, in our family, took turns sharing our vivid scene memories…

Our 22 year old son Ari, knew exactly which scene was his vivid scene, and shared first: he was about 5 years old, and was out playing in the cul-de-sac behind our house where he and neighborhood kids would often play—usually riding tricycles, or shooting baskets or pushing toy strollers with baby dolls…  That day, Ari saw an older man who lived in one of the houses take his bike out of his shed, walk it out to the road, and try to get on to ride it.  But he couldn’t get his leg over the bar. So he tried again… and he tried again… and he tried walking his bike down the road a bit to see if he could get started that way, but he couldn’t do it. He went all the way down to the end of the road, trying and trying, and he couldn’t get on.  Then he eventually just gave up and walked his bike back to the shed.

That was the story 22 year old Ari told us. And his eyes got a little watery remembering it and telling us now!  But even though it was an apparently important and lasting memory for Ari, I didn’t remember it. I had no recollection.  And I didn’t remember Ari ever telling me about it—which was strange.  I felt sad. Sad for the man, but also for the little boy Ari, who saw an older man trying and trying to get on his bike, and couldn’t do it so had to give up. And Ari at that age had recently mastered the two-wheeler, and knew what it was like to struggle and need help and even fall off, and have your mom or dad help you get back on. But the man had no one to help him onto his bike.

But it turns out that wasn’t the end of the story. Ari then continued and told us what happened next: “Well, I came inside and told you, Mom, and you said, ‘Maybe he can ride my bike …” and you got your bike and walked it up to him and offered to him—and I remember you telling him, ‘This is a women’s bike so it doesn’t have that bar—you can try it.’”  

Suddenly I remembered.  I remember trying to convince the man to try my bike and showing him it didn’t have a bar.  I remember the man saying no thanks. I remember Ari next to me.  And that last piece really changed the story.  That piece helped me remember it.

Think about the stories you remember—the vivid moments or scenarios that stay with you. Often, these stories are about a time when someone helped us when we thought there was no one to help or we were about to give up, and someone gave us hope; situations where we were lost, or didn’t see a way out—and someone gave us a solution; or we had lost something and someone found it.

Think about the stories you remember—the vivid moments or scenarios that stay with you. Often, these stories are about a time when someone helped us when we thought there was no one to help or we were about to give up, and someone gave us hope; situations where we were lost, or didn’t see a way out—and someone gave us a solution; or we had lost something and someone found it.  Think about the stories you remember, and I bet you also remember the times that you helped somebody; you happened to be in the right place at the right time. Or, you had information, or something to lend—and that made all the difference.  These are often the stories that stay with us and impact who we are.

I’ll tell you the vivid scene-memory which stuck with me from my childhood —which is a little embarrassing but definitely a part of who I am: I was about 3. My mother took me to a big, gigantic department store. We approached the escalator, which seemed to go as high as the heavens.  My mother was holding my hand, and said “Now we’re going to go up.” But I got scared. So when she put her foot on the first stair, I let go of her hand, and stayed where I was. She reached out—“come up!” But I didn’t. And I remember watching my mother go up and up and get smaller and smaller as the escalator took her up to the next floor. And when she got to the top, she pointed her finger down to me and said, “Lisi, stay right there!” and then she ran away. “Well,” I thought, “I guess that’s it.”

I remember walking away and thinking, well, now I’m lost forever.  But then, a nice person with a name tag asked if I was lost, and I said yes, and he brought me into an employee lounge room, where other people with name tags were sitting around an oval table, and they took out a big box of fancy department store chocolates and asked if I wanted some… and I remember sitting there with them and eating chocolates and the nice people smiling at me… I remember thinking, oh, my life might turn out okay. At some point my mother came to the door, led by another nice name-tag person, and they asked—is this your mom? Well, I looked at the chocolates, and looked at my mom, and looked back at the chocolates…  But when they asked if I wanted to take the chocolate with me I agreed it was in fact my mom. The story is about returning a lost object for sure; and I really do still remember those nice people who took care of me, who took me into their place until my mother came and found me: ֹ וַֽאֲסַפְתּוֹ֙ אֶל־תּ֣וֹךְ בֵּיתֶ֔ךָ וְהָיָ֣ה עִמְּךָ֗ עַ֣ד דְּר֤שׁ אָחִ֨יךָ֙ אֹת֔וֹ וַֽהֲשֵֽׁבֹת֖וֹ לֽוֹ:

Our Parsha continues, with the mitzvah of Shiluach HaKein: 

כִּ֣י יִקָּרֵ֣א קַן־צִפּ֣וֹר | לְפָנֶ֡יךָ בַּדֶּ֜רֶךְ בְּכָל־עֵ֣ץ | א֣וֹ עַל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֶפְרֹחִים֙ א֣וֹ בֵיצִ֔ים וְהָאֵ֤ם רֹבֶ֨צֶת֙ עַל־הָֽאֶפְרֹחִ֔ים א֖וֹ עַל־הַבֵּיצִ֑ים לֹֽא־תִקַּ֥ח הָאֵ֖ם עַל־הַבָּנִֽים

If, along the way, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young.

We send away a mother bird so she won’t suffer the pain of watching her babies get taken away.   Just like we are not to slaughter a mother and baby animal on the same day.  Indeed, killing “אֵ֖ם עַל־הַבָּנִֽים” is an expression of ruthlessness… we find it when Yaakov was terrified that Eisav would destroy his entire family   בראשית/פרק לב/פסוק יב

הַצִּילֵ֥נִי נָ֛א מִיַּ֥ד אָחִ֖י מִיַּ֣ד עֵשָׂ֑ו כִּֽי־יָרֵ֤א אָנֹכִי֙ אֹתֹ֔ו פֶּן־יָבֹ֣וא וְהִכַּ֔נִי אֵ֖ם עַל־בָּנִֽים׃

So we are told: Don’t be ruthless. Don’t be so cruel to take the mother and the babies. 

Rambam and Ramban have a “famous” dispute over the mitzvah of shooing the mother bird. Ramban says: it’s not really for the sake of the bird, but to make you into a merciful person; Rambam says, it is for the sake of the mother bird, who has real maternal feelings just like us, and God wants us to be merciful to the bird.  In fact, in our lives, both of these perspectives are indeed true and necessary: we need to help both for the sake of the recipient, and because it becomes part of who we are as a person. 

Our Parsha then continues with a series of ways to help people when they need help:

. כִּ֣י תִקְצֹר֩ קְצִֽירְךָ֨ בְשָׂדֶ֜ךָ וְשָֽׁכַחְתָּ֧ עֹ֣מֶר בַּשָּׂדֶ֗ה לֹ֤א תָשׁוּב֙ לְקַחְתּ֔וֹ לַגֵּ֛ר לַיָּת֥וֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָ֖ה יִהְיֶ֑ה לְמַ֤עַן יְבָרֶכְךָ֙ יְהוָ֣ אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ בְּכֹ֖ל מַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יָדֶֽיךָ׃ 

When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow—in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings. 

כִּ֤י תַחְבֹּט֙ זֵֽיתְךָ֔ לֹ֥א תְפָאֵ֖ר אַחֲרֶ֑יךָ לַגֵּ֛ר לַיָּת֥וֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָ֖ה יִהְיֶֽה 

When you beat down the fruit of your olive trees, do not go over them again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. 

כִּ֤י תִבְצֹר֙ כַּרְמְךָ֔ לֹ֥א תְעוֹלֵ֖ל אַחֲרֶ֑יךָ לַגֵּ֛ר לַיָּת֥וֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָ֖ה יִהְיֶֽה׃ 

When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not pick it over again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. 

And at the end of this series of mitzvoth, the Torah recalls its own vivid, important memory from our nation’s childhood: 

וְזָ֣כַרְתָּ֔ כִּי־עֶ֥בֶד הָיִ֖יתָ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם עַל־כֵּ֞ן אָנֹכִ֤י מְצַוְּךָ֙ לַעֲשׂ֔וֹת אֶת־הַדָּבָ֖ר הַזֶּֽה׃ 

And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment. 

These mitzvoth we will do now, the way we will be in the world, stem directly from our memory of that moment in our life story.  God says to us: Because you remember that moment when you were most vulnerable, and you needed help, and you remember when I helped you—that is why you should do all these things

These mitzvoth we will do now, the way we will be in the world, stem directly from our memory of that moment in our life story.  God says to us: Because you remember that moment when you were most vulnerable, and you needed help, and you remember when I helped you—that is why you should do all these things; that memory—that vivid scene that stays with you—that memory of needing help and someone helping you, is an integral part of who you are—it has shaped you—it shapes the way you see the people around you, and it pulls you to want to help them like I helped you. It is the reason you can’t pretend you’re invisible.

And at the very end of the Parsha, we have another vivid memory from our childhood:

17 You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt,   זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם:
18 how he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the stragglers at your rear, when you were faint and weary, and he did not fear God.   אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּ֤ב בְּךָ֙ כָּל־הַנֶּֽחֱשָׁלִ֣ים אַֽחֲרֶ֔יךָ וְאַתָּ֖ה עָיֵ֣ף וְיָגֵ֑עַ וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱלֹהִֽים

 

The parallel language between Amalek finding us, and us finding the קַן־צִפּ֣וֹר, the bird’s nest is striking:

ִּ֣כ֕י יִקָּרֵ֣א קַן־צִפּ֣וֹר  לְפָנֶ֡יךָ בַּדֶּ֜רֶך

אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶך…

Amalek represents the exact opposite of Shiluach HaKein: the exact opposite of everything God wants us to do here, of all these mitzvoth in our Parsha. Amalek was going along “בַּדֶּ֗רֶך” along its way, and happened upon you—just like you might happen upon someone else’s animal or burden or lost object, or a nest with a mother bird.  But when you were faint and weary, when you were struggling to hold up your burdens, they did the exact opposite—they took advantage of you; they hurt you when you were down; the opposite of הָקֵ֥ם תָּקִ֖ים עִמּֽוֹ, helping to lift up. 

Remember this, God tells us. Remember what it was like when you were vulnerable and I lifted you up, but also remember what it was like when you were vulnerable and someone knocked you down.  When you go about your way, and happen upon someone who is down, do the opposite of Amalek.  It should be part of your memory and who you are to want to help them up.

These mitzvoth in Ki Teitsei make it seem so close and so easy: to solve hunger, all you had to do was leave the corners of your field or some olives in the trees or grapes on the vine… But our world today seems so much bigger and more complicated. The needs in the world seem overwhelming.  We know that people are struggling under burdens—but often it’s far away, and we are not sure how to help, or we try to help but don’t have the power to change things much…

It feels awful when someone is suffering or struggling and we can’t reach them to help. Whether it’s a hurricane, a famine, or a war far away.  We learn that little children are being taken from their mothers or fathers in our own country, and while we might try to do what we can, we wish it were as simple as picking up a lost object and returning it to its owner.

It feels awful when someone is suffering or struggling and we can’t reach them to help. Whether it’s a hurricane, a famine, or a war far away.  We learn that little children are being taken from their mothers or fathers in our own country, and while we might try to do what we can, we wish it were as simple as picking up a lost object and returning it to its owner.

Perhaps the words from our parsha hint at some comfort or encouragement, for the person who wants to help, but can’t reach far enough:

But if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, you shall bring it into your house, and it shall be with you until your brother seeks it out, whereupon you shall return it to him. בוְאִם־לֹ֨א קָר֥וֹב אָחִ֛יךָ אֵלֶ֖יךָ וְלֹ֣א יְדַעְתּ֑וֹ וַֽאֲסַפְתּוֹ֙ אֶל־תּ֣וֹךְ בֵּיתֶ֔ךָ וְהָיָ֣ה עִמְּךָ֗ עַ֣ד דְּר֤שׁ אָחִ֨יךָ֙ אֹת֔וֹ וַֽהֲשֵֽׁבֹת֖וֹ לֽוֹ:

 

Maybe one message here is that you can do something smaller, something temporary, until you can do something more.

כ֕י יִקָּרֵ֣א  לְפָנֶ֡יךָ בַּדֶּ֜רֶך: As we go through life, as we go along בַּדֶּ֜רֶך, we will come across opportunities to help others, in ways that might be very big, momentous and even heroic, or ways that might be very small. 

This past week, I read once again about the unbelievable heroic acts of people who ran bravely towards the danger to save people on 9/11.  I learned about heroic life-savers following hurricane Dorian. I learned about someone who donated an organ to a complete stranger. These are momentous things.

Also this week, I was working with a little girl and mom who have some very large burdens.  And it was one of those weeks where the bundles were falling right and left, and I was feeling like I didn’t know well enough how to help. So I just did what I could. And the girl said to me after, thank you for making me feel better.  And on the way out gave her mom a big hug. That was a very small thing.

I think the parsha comforts and encourages us in this way as well:  even the small act of shooing away a mother bird, or lifting a burden back up to your neighbor’s donkey, or picking up something small and holding onto it until its owner comes… even these small things—when you don’t make yourself invisible, they will become important memories—whether for you, or for the person you have helped. They will become the scenes that make you who you are and who they are.  And then maybe one day, when you have the chance to help in a bigger way, you will, because that is the kind of person you have become.

Lisi Levisohn is a child psychologist who also enjoys teaching Torah-Inspired science, Girl’s Tefillah and the Matan Bat Mitzvah program in her community, Silver Spring, MD.

Posts are contributed by third parties. The opinions and facts in them are presented solely by the authors and JOFA assumes no responsibility for them.

If you’re interested in writing for JOFA’s blog contact dani@jofa.org. For more about JOFA like us on Facebook or visit our website.

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