A Time One Must Help and a Time One Need Not Help
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
“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.” – Deuteronomy 22,4
IWhen one sees one’s fellow struggling and needing assistance, one is commanded to lend a helping hand. Our Sages point out that the extra Hebrew word ‘Imo’ (meaning ‘with him’) at the end of the above verse is seemingly redundant. When others are suffering, we need to be with them. We need to imagine in our mind’s eye what it would be like for us to be going through similar difficulties. As we would pray for ourselves, we should pray for others in distress.
Rashi quotes the teaching of the Mishna in tractate Baba Metziah (32a), which interprets the above verse very differently. “With the owner. However, if the owner walks away, sits down, and says, ‘Since the commandment is incumbent upon you, if you want to load, load!’ you are exempt.” Although you must help and be sensitive to the plight of others, there are circumstances when you are not obligated to do so. If a person will not work with you to alleviate his/her own difficult situation and sees it as your obligation to assist him/her, you are not obligated to assist in such circumstances. Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz makes this point as well and states that: if a person is truly doing all he/she can to better his/her situation, then one is obligated to assist him/her. However, if he/she is able to help him/herself but chooses not to, one is no longer obligated to assist him/her.
Friends, the Torah does not ask us to work for others, but the Torah does ask us to work with others and to share in their burden with empathy.