A recent study by a British insurance company has confirmed what everyone in this room already knew: Men do not like to ask for directions!
In fact, according to the study, the average male driver in Great Britain travels an extra 276 miles per year simply because he refuses to ask for help.
Worse yet, that equals over $3,000 in wasted gasoline over the stubborn man’s lifetime.
The average man isn’t alone. 25% of all men in the study would rather wander aimlessly for up to a half hour before asking for directions!
10% will NEVER ask for directions.
In contrast, 75% of women have ZERO qualms asking for help.
The issue of directions is quite relevant to one halacha found in this week’s parsha.
This week, the Torah discusses the halacha known as the Ir Miklat, the City of Refuge where a person who commits negligent homicide can run to, to avoid being killed by the victim’s family.
And in the context of that conversation the Torah commands us:
תָּכִ֣ין לְךָ֘ הַדֶּ֒רֶךְ֒ ]וְשִׁלַּשְׁתָּ֙ אֶת־גְּב֣וּל אַרְצְךָ֔ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַנְחִֽילְךָ֖ יְקוָק אֱלֹקיךָ וְהָיָ֕ה לָנ֥וּס שָׁ֖מָּה כָּל־רֹצֵֽחַ[
“Prepare the way”
But what does it mean to prepare the way?
מקלט מקלט היה כתוב על פרשתי דרכים:
There would be signs which said “CITY OF REFUGE THIS WAY!” all over the land of Israel.
Imagine, in the same way when you drive on the highway you’ll see signs for gas stations and hospitals, throughout Eretz Yisrael there were big signs pointing you to the direction of the Arei Miklat, the Citys of Refuge.
And while these signs were certainly very convenient and helpful, it still begs the question: Why do we need a mitzvah to prepare these signs? What is so critical about making the way to the Arei Miklat to so obvious and clear?
Rav Yosef Tzvi Dunner, a Dayan & Poseik in England, in his sefer Mikdas Levi offers a beautiful answer:
Of course, if this person needed to find his way to the Ir Miklat and he didn’t know the way, he could ask people if they know how to get there.
However, imagine for a moment being this individual. He has just committed negligent homicide. He was just checking a text and didn’t see the pedestrian crossing in front of his car. Yes, it is his fault. He should have been more careful. Yet, what is likely the most traumatic moment of his life has just occurred. He killed somebody else. By accident. But he is still responsible. And now, he has to run for his life so that the family of the person he killed doesn’t kill him! He’s been through such an ordeal.
Now, imagine he doesn’t know how to get the Ir Miklat. How is he going to figure out how to get there? He’s going to ask people? What’s he going to say, “hi, I just murdered someone. Can you give me directions to the nearest Ir Miklat?!” It will be extraordinarily embarrassing for him.
So, out of rachmanus, out of compassion for this person, Hashem commands us: “Tachin L’cha HaDerech!” Make signs ALL OVER ERETZ YISRAEL. Make it so clear to EVERYONE EXACTLY how to get to the Arei Miklat.
Why? So that this person, yes, the murderer himself, doesn’t have to suffer any more embarrassment than he has already endured. Make things a little easier for him at this most trying moment of his life.
But this mitzvah of tachin l’cha derech is not only teaching us the value of doing a chesed even for someone who has made a tragic mistake. It is teaching us a lesson in HOW to do chesed for anyone in need. It’s teaching us how to be a PROACTIVE BAAL CHESED.
Because what makes this chesed so special is that it provides for the needs of the individual while making sure to preserve his or her dignity to the maximum extent possible.
Yes, it would be nice to give this individual directions to the Ir Milat. That would be a chesed too. But the highest level of chesed is to set up a system by which HE DOESN’T EVEN HAVE TO ASK.
And this is an extraordinarily important point when it comes to doing chesed in general.
Rabbi Josh Grajower was the Director of Day School Engagement for New York and New Jersey NCSY and he recently moved back to Boca Raton, Florida where he is a master rebbe.
A number of years ago Josh’s wife passed away. Some time later, he wrote an article for the Times of Israel reflecting on all the kindness others had done for him and his family during that challenging time, and he used it as an opportunity to offer guidance about how to best reach out and help others in need.
He described how so many people wanted to help, but they often were at a loss for how to actually be helpful. Rabbi Grajower offered the following piece of advice for those of us searching for a meaningful way to do chesed in moments that could otherwise feel awkward or uncomfortable:
There are countless practical ways to be helpful, and I would suggest that the following rule-of-thumb applies to most, if not all: Be specific and (reasonably) persistent. Instead of asking “Do you need me to do anything?” go with, “I am in Costco, do you need anything from here?” Instead of, “Can I be helpful with your kids?” try something like, “Taking my kids to Chucky Cheese at 12, can I take your kids, too?” Consider swapping, “Can I bring dinner one night this week?” with, “I am bringing over hot dogs and hamburgers Tuesday night. Let me know if that works.”
The point being that while offering a chesed is always wonderful, the best kind of chesed is PROACTIVE because it allows the individual to accept the help while preserving his or her dignity.