The Torah in Parashat Kedoshim (19:13) introduces the prohibition of “osheik sekhar sakhir” – withholding the wages owed to a worker. This prohibition is listed by the Rambam as one of the 365 Biblical prohibitions (Sefer Ha-mitzvot, lo ta’aseh 238).
Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izhbitz, in his Mei Ha-shiloach, suggests that the concept underlying this prohibition extends beyond the specific context of a hired employee. He contends that just as it is forbidden to withhold wages owed to an employee, so it is forbidden in a broader sense to deny our fellow that which we are capable of providing for him or her. If we are in a position to extend assistance to another individual, but we unjustifiably refuse to do so, we are guilty of withholding “wages,” of failing to give our fellow that which he or she rightfully deserves. The Mei Ha-shiloach extends this concept even to prayer. If we refuse to pray on behalf of somebody in need of prayers, we are in breach of the broader principle underlying the prohibition of “osheik sekhar sakhir.” The Mei Ha-shiloach explains on this basis the prophet Shemuel’s response to the people when they begged him to pray when they felt frightened by the extraordinary storm that struck during the summertime: “Heaven forfend that I should sin against God by refraining from praying on your behalf” (Shemuel I 12:23). Failing to pray for somebody in need of prayers is considered “sinful,” and, according to the Mei Ha-shiloach, it even falls under the category of withholding wages.
The Mei Ha-shiloach’s comments are noteworthy in that he draws no distinction between wages earned by an employee through honest, hard work, and basic consideration and assistance that should be given to somebody who has not done any specific to earn it. For the Mei Ha-shiloach, we owe other people our compassion and sensitivity, and some level of assistance, regardless of anything they have done or not done. Just as an employer owes wages to an employee in exchange for the service received, we all owe other people a basic degree of courtesy simply by virtue of their humanity. The Torah demands that we respect the divine spark within all people, and feel responsible to offer help we are capable of offering even to those who have not provided us with any tangible benefit.