Sunday, May 9th 2021   |



The Torah demands we provide personal assistance to those contending with onerous tasks. If one sees a beast of burden, even one belonging to a personal enemy, struggling or fallen under its load, “you are duty-bound to lift it with him” (Exodus 23:5), by joining the owner in unloading the cargo. We are obligated to assist a neighbor (or a stranger!) confronted with a weighty chore… the quality of personal relationships notwithstanding.

Just as we are compelled to unload a heavily laden animal, we are also required to help someone struggling to load a beast… or to lift a heavy burden him- or herself (See Maimonides, Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, Positive Commandment #203; Mechilta Exodus 23).

Under normal circumstances, the Mitzvah of unloading an unmanageable weight takes precedence over the duty to help load a burden… since unloading also relieves a suffering animal of its discomfort. However, if one must choose between assisting a friend or an enemy, the enemy takes precedence… even if she or he is merely loading, and the friend is unloading (See Maimonides, Hilchot Rotzea’ach U-Shemirat Nefesh 13:13).

Coretta Scott King taught that “Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Jewish law and morality view petty resentments, family feuds, and personal enmity as intolerable freight. We must unburden ourselves as soon as possible.

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the past National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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