1-5768: Mitzvah 70

Talmidav Shel Aharon
1-5768: Mitzvah 70
August 20, 2007

I am beginning now another year of my online study. What began as a lesson mailed to a few friends, is now a permanent blog with archives of all the previous lessons. I thank all of you who have taken the time to read and comment on my teachings for joining me in this study of Judaism and Jewish Law. May G-d bless our efforts in the New Year.

Mitzvah 70 – It is a positive commandment to unload fro the domestic animal of one’s fellow-human being that is lying under its burden.
Hafetz Hayim: As Scripture says, “if you see the donkey of one that you hate lying under its burden …you shall surely help with him.” (Exodus. 23:5). – even if there was on it a larger load that was fit for it. It is one’s duty to unload it for nothing, without payment. However, an elder for whom it is beneath his dignity is free of the obligation. If one unloaded and reloaded [the animal] and it fell down again, he is duty-bound to unload and load it back on yet another time, and even a hundred times, as Scripture says, “you shall surely help with him”. And he as to walk with him as far as a parasang {to make sure all is now in order] unless the owner of the load says, “I do not need you.” It applies everywhere and in every time for both men and women.

There are two different reasons for this Mitzvah. The first is an issue of Tzar Baalai Hayyim, or Kindness to Animals. Since animals were the main beasts of burden, (esp. donkeys) it is possible to load them up with more stuff than they are able to carry. If the animal can’t carry the load, it will collapse under the weight or just refuse to carry it. At the beginning or end of the journey, there will be helpers to load and unload the animal, but on the road, only the owner of the load or the owner of the animal (it could be the same person) is present and reloading the animal requires more than two hands. It is in the animal interest to have the load redistributed so that it is easier to carry or that some of the load be transferred to a stronger animal. The animal can’t talk to us, so it is a matter of trial and error, but we need to keep up the process until the animal can carry the load placed on its back.
The other reason for the mitzvah has to do with caring about our fellow human beings. We can’t just ignore a person in need. Even if that person is an enemy or one that we hate, we must stop and lend a hand. Perhaps it will lead to reconciliation, but even if it does not, we still have the responsibility to help. It is certain that if we do not help but just walk on by, we will not be making any new friends, and our enemies will hate us even more. We are not to ask for any pay for helping a person in distress. There are some who say that this therefore would apply to seeing a person who has a broken down car by the side of the road. We cannot just drive by, but must help change the tire or do what we can to help the person get back on the road. We become the roadside assistant that the other person needs. There is a danger her. It is well known that there are some nefarious people who use a broken down car to lure unsuspecting drivers to stop and be robbed or worse. But in the middle of the day in the middle of the city, others may drive by but we should at least stop and offer to call for help, as long as we don’t endanger ourselves.
The Hafetz Hayyim also notes that an elderly person or someone infirm or unable to help, does not need to stop and help with a job that is clearly beyond his or her capacities. We should stop and do what we can, even if it means only getting someone else to come and help.
A Parasang is a “Persian Mile” it equals 8,000 cubits or about 2.4 miles or 3.84 km.

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