The Benefits of Helping Out

When thinking of religion in general and Judaism in particular, images of synagogue, Passover tables, and Bnei Mitzvah appear in our minds. However, if you learn the Torah and its Mitzvoth you will see that Judaism also instructs us how to enjoy a fulfilling marriage, how to parent, and how to be a good soldier, citizen, and friend.

In our Parsha this week, Ki Teytzey, the Torah teaches us to help out another in need. See the quotation.

               Deuteronomy 22:4

לֹא־תִרְאֶה֩ אֶת־חֲמ֨וֹר אָחִ֜יךָ א֤וֹ שׁוֹרוֹ֙ נֹפְלִ֣ים בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ֖ מֵהֶ֑ם הָקֵ֥ם תָּקִ֖ים עִמּֽוֹ׃ 

If you see your brother’s donkey or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it; you must raise it together.

No brainer, right? If you are hiking on a trail and a fellow hiker falls while wearing a super heavy backpack, it is a Mitzvah to help them up to their feet.

But, there are more directions layered in the words. For example, why does it need to say, “You must raise it together?”

The Talmud Bava Metzia 31 explains that if the donkey owner is a wise guy and says, “While you do your Mitzvah I’m going to check my text messages,” you say, “We must do it together, or I’m out of here,” as it states, “You must raise it together.”

In addition to carefully interpreting this verse, we must also compare it to a seemingly very similar verse found earlier in Exodus and understand why the Torah teaches us this Mitzvah twice.

Exodus 23:5 

כִּֽי־תִרְאֶ֞ה חֲמ֣וֹר שֹׂנַאֲךָ֗ רֹבֵץ֙ תַּ֣חַת מַשָּׂא֔וֹ וְחָדַלְתָּ֖ מֵעֲזֹ֣ב ל֑וֹ עָזֹ֥ב תַּעֲזֹ֖ב עִמּֽוֹ׃ 

When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising* it, you must nevertheless help raise it.

A careful reading will show several differences in the texts, however the one I want to focus on is “your enemy.” What message is there for us to glean from this verse that instructs us to help our enemy load his packages into his car, or on his donkey?

The obvious answer is that we are taught to help all people whether we like them or not. Everyone is a precious human being endowed with a divine soul, and we are here to help one another through the journey of life.

However, Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher from Spain (1290-1310) presents a fascinating insight into the verses. He writes that the reason why there are two verses instructing us to help out a friend and enemy in need is because, “When we help out our enemy, he will become our friend.”

As we are currently in the middle of the month of Elul, the preparatory month before the High Holidays when we aim to grow, improve, and reach higher in our lives, this teaching is quite relevant. Are there any people in our lives that we feel at odds with? This is the time to make amends and restore these relationships to health. How, you may ask? The answer is in our Parsha above.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Ephraim Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence