“You may not look upon your brother’s donkey or ox fallen in the roadway, and turn your eyes away from them; rather, you shall surely lift them up with him.” [22:4]
We are obligated to help another person to replace a burden on top of an animal, when the latter is struggling to lift it.
The Medrash points out, however, that the verse only obligates us to help — not replace — the owner. It does not become our job to replace the owner while he relaxes.
One could imagine a lazy slacker walking away, saying “since you have the Mitzvah to load the animal, do your Mitzvah!” The Medrash tells us that we have no obligation in that case. The verse says “with him,” excluding someone who fails to work on his own behalf.
The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, says that this same principle applies to spiritual matters. We need to make an effort, and then G-d Himself steps in to help us.
If a person says “guard my tongue from evil” when concluding his prayers, and then makes an effort to refrain from gossip and other evil speech, Heaven will assist him — he will find that people stop coming to him with their gossip, trying to tempt him. But if a person merely pays lip-service (excuse the pun) to the concept, making no attempt to improve his own behavior, then how can he request Divine Intervention? He first needs to try to uplift himself, and then G-d will help him to rise.
Similarly, our morning prayers read, “open our eyes [to understand] your Torah.” If we don’t sit down to study, then how can this prayer be realized?
The Chofetz Chaim offers the following parable: imagine someone asking a friend for a loan. The second man agrees, and asks the borrower to please visit him at home to receive the money he needs. If the borrower is lazy and never goes, then can he be upset at the lender’s failure to fulfill his pledge?
Similarly, we ask G-d to help us to grow and to come closer to Him. We ask him for Torah knowledge. G-d listens! And He answers, “your request is good. Now take out a book, and I will enlighten you.” If we run out the door instead, and never bother to sit down to learn, what do we expect?
The Talmud says [Tractate Makkos 10b], “in the path that a person wants to go, they guide him.” We first need to demonstrate that we want to go in that direction!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2002 Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.