Help! I Need Somebody….

How can we know when it is time to ask for help?

The Talmud (Berachot 5b) tells us of Rabbi Yohanan, a scholar who would bring comfort and healing to his colleagues when they were ill.  Once, Rabbi Yohanan himself fell ill. R. Chanina went in to visit him. [R. Chanina] said to him: Are your sufferings welcome to you? [R. Yochanan] replied: Neither they nor their reward. [R. Chanina] said to him: Give me your hand. [R. Yochanan] gave him his hand and [R. Chanina] raised him. Why could not R. Yochanan raise himself? They replied: The prisoner cannot free himself from jail.

In other words, in difficult circumstances, much as we might want otherwise, we need assistance – we cannot successfully ‘do it all ourselves’.

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, we learn this lesson, along with Moses.  He has welcomed his father-in-law Jethro, a priest of nearby Midian, to the Israelite encampment in the wilderness. While Moses might have wanted to enjoy a more relaxing visit with the family, we read, “On the next day [after Jethro arrived], Moses sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening.” (Exodus 18:13). Jethro takes note of this, wondering why Moses is doing all of the work of leadership by himself.  Although Moses has not complained about his burden, Jethro states “The thing you are doing is no good.” (Exodus 18: 17), and then he goes further to share some unsolicited advice: get help!  He suggests that Moses empowers wise individuals, “…individuals of valor, who fear God, trustworthy ones…” (Exodus 18: 21).

Here is what interests me most.  Moses was not complaining here to Jethro of being overworked or overwrought.  He had accepted his responsibilities; according to the text, there is nothing to indicate here that he believed himself to be incapable or that he was burned out.    By the time we reach burn-out, our situations are often far past where we really needed help.  Why can’t we see it? From where does the resistance come?

There may be many reasons, as varied as each human being, including but not limited to tendencies toward perfectionism, fear of rejection, or asking for/accepting help a sign of inferiority or incompetence.  Who among us has not at least once though “I should be able to cope with this by myself” or “life should just be different.”  The tendency to see the world as it “should be” as opposed to seeing the world as it actually “is” (and often according to very unrealistic standards) is not healthy for the psyche or the soul.  If we are honest with ourselves, in order to seek help we need to be strong enough to accept that we have weaknesses that need support.  The truth is that by refusing to ask for or accept help we also ignore the fact that we are social beings who need to co-operate with and relate to one another in order to ensure that we thrive.

So here I sit, continuing to recover from surgery, still needing to ask for some assistance every day.  Even as it is obvious when I need help, I still feel resistance, that somehow I should be further along in my recovery, or that perhaps I am pampering myself.  How can I tell when I need help? When is it time to ask?  Certainly, at times it will be more obvious than others.  While on occasion it is to facilitate and support me toward actually completing a particular task or fulfilling an obligation, more importantly it is when my life would be fuller having someone share that particular step of life’s journey with me.

[Parashat Yitro]


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Linda Shivers
    Jan 15, 2014 @ 13:29:52

    I wish I was close (in space) to be of some help. I would love to be able to help you.



    Jan 15, 2014 @ 14:00:10

    Your interpretation is great and relates so well with your experience in the recovery; it also helps me put things back into perspective!

    Loving you

    John E Lertzman
    Phone 212-233-0702
    Mobile 818-540-5733


  3. Dan Persoff
    Jan 19, 2014 @ 05:45:26

    Your comments about why people do not ask for help are quite interesting. I would add to that: people are afraid that if they ask for help from others, that others will ask them for help when they do not want to give it, and they will feel obligated to say yes. (Remember the Godfather and his use of favors?) There are some people who are eager to help others but do not want others to help them, and I think that it may have something to do with this dynamic.

    When you are not feeling well, help from others is important, you can also be your own best friend by reminding yourself that you are a great person, and doing little things for yourself to make yourself feel more comfortable and to help pass the time while you get better. Best regards and be well,

    Dan Persoff


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: