Bein Adam Le-chavero: Ethics of Interpersonal Conduct
By Rav Binyamin Zimmerman
Shiur #23: Te’ina & Perika I
In the previous lesson, we discussed the obligation of tokhacha, rebuke, and its place in modern society. The once-mandatory forms of protest have become ineffective, irrelevant and even counterproductive, according to a number of authorities, especially when addressing those elements of society which reject the Torah’s binding authority altogether. The obligation of tokhacha still exists, but one must exercise forethought in order to handle it properly.
How to deal with others who are in need of spiritual guidance and assistance can be better understood against the backdrop of the obligation to physically help others in need, which specifically includes those individuals which may be classified as one's enemies.
Shemot 23:5 presents the mitzvah referred to as perika, unloading, which obligates one to assist his fellow – even his foe or archrival – in unloading cargo from his animal. The Torah states:
If you see your foe’s donkey lying under its load… you must certainly help him.
Similarly, Devarim 22:4 discusses the complementary obligation, te'ina, which requires one to help load another’s animal:
Do not look upon your brother's donkey or ox falling along the road as you ignore them; you shall certainly lift with him.
Thus, the Torah equates the treatment of one's “foe” with that of one’s “brother”. Though we will see an alternative explanation of the source in Shemot, as stated in the Talmud, the simple understanding is that we are dealing with individuals towards whom one lacks the full feelings of brotherhood. This understanding is found in the Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, which analyzes the previous verse, delineating a similar obligation, returning lost animals: “If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey going astray, you must certainly bring it back to him.”
Rabbi Natan said: “What is the implication of the phrase ‘your enemy’? If he strikes your son or quarrels with you, he becomes a temporary enemy.”
Similarly, the Rashbam (ad loc.) explains the phrase simply: "The text describes the reality.” Often it is hard to help another if one has reason to dislike this individual, yet the Torah commands otherwise.
If so, on the simple level, one is commanded to help even an enemy in need. While this point, namely that the responsibility to help another in need is so basic that it applies to all Jews, is certainly worthwhile in its own right, the Talmud uses it for another purpose.
The Talmud (Bava Metzia 32b) discusses the situation of somebody who simultaneously encounters perika and te'ina: one person experiences difficulty loading his animal while another is struggling to unload. Who should be assisted first? The Talmud explains that one should first assist the person unloading his animal, due to the factor of tzaar baalei chayim, animal discomfort. The concern for alleviating the pain of the animal bearing the load gives precedence to the person unloading his animal, which is currently in pain.
The Talmud, however, states an exception to this rule. If one is faced with a choice between loading his foe’s animal and unloading his friend’s animal, the former takes precedence. The issue of tzaar baalei chayim is set aside "in order to subdue the evil inclination."
This understanding is very much in consonance with the explanation (ad loc.) of the Malbim. The Malbim notes that there is a grim fact that not everyone succeeds in fulfilling the Torah's directive not to hate another Jew in one's heart. Though no Jew should have these feelings towards the individual in need; the Torah acknowledges the reality but guides us as to how to change it. The Torah requires one to overcome instinctive dislike and resentment towards the individual in need, which will hopefully eventually lead to a newfound closeness between once-bitter enemies.
This is also backed by the Midrashic statement (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, ad loc.) that the purpose of this mitzva in this context is to recreate feelings of brotherhood. Helping an enemy in a time of need is an act which allows people to realize that their petty fights are of slim significance in comparison to the multitude of ties which bind the Jewish people together.
This may also be in line with the rather strange introduction of the mitzva of perika in the Torah, “If (ki) you see.” The word "ki" has a number of meanings, and one may explain it simply as "whenever”. However, there is a problem with this understanding, as the full verse reads, “If you see your foe’s donkey lying under its load and you refrain from helping him, you must certainly help him.” What does this mean? This is probably the reason why Rashi (ad loc.) explains "ki" differently.
"Ki" here means "perhaps,” which is one of the four possible definitions of the word "ki.” The verse therefore means: "Perhaps you may see your foe’s donkey lying under its load — will you refrain from helping him?”
Nechama Leibowitz (Studies in Shemot, p. 430) explains that Rashi is addressing the possibility that one may be tempted to withhold assistance from foes in need. Thus, the Torah unequivocally states: "You must certainly help (azov taazov) him."
If so, the Torah is repudiating the negative impulse to abandon those in need due to personal enmity.
This is also in consonance with the commentary of Rav Avraham ben Ha-Rambam, who explains the verse thusly:
In other words, if your anger or sense of grievance compels you to withhold your assistance from him, do not yield to it; rather, help him unload, in spite of yourself.
In truth, this is also relevant to a proper understanding of the concluding phrase of the verse, “Azov taazov immo,” “You must certainly help him.” Usually, the term "azov" refers to leaving or abandoning something, and its placement in this verse is rather surprising.
Rashi understands it as a call to help the individual, in accord with our earlier understanding. He explains that “azov” may be alternatively defined as “help”, as it is used elsewhere in Scripture. Other commentators, however, differ.
Leave completely all that is in your heart against him.
In other words, one is commanded to let go of the past and help another in need. One must not use another's poor treatment of him or her as a justification for reacting in kind when the other is in distress.
Nechama Leibowitz (op. cit. pp. 432-3) points out that the obligation is not only a moral injunction to help an enemy in need; it is also practical guidance, showing one how to feel brotherhood and eradicate the hatred from one's heart. When one finds a lost article, one is obligated to return it when the owner comes looking for it; however, in this case, one is obligated to run and help from a distance when the need arises. Secondly, this obligation requires cooperation between the putative enemies, and it will generally bring about the removal of the discord. Indeed, the final word “immo” literally means “with him” or “alongside him”. Thus, the Chizkuni (ad loc.) explains:
The word "immo" expresses the simple reality that it is impossible for one individual to remove the load from the animal singlehandedly; rather both must work, each one relieving the load from one side of the animal.
The two individuals, previously at odds, must exchange words, and the enmity is likely to be dissolved. As the Midrash (Tanchuma Yashan, ad loc.) relates:
“You have established uprightness” (Tehillim 99:4) — R. Alexandroni said: “Two donkey-drivers who hated each other were travelling along the same road. The donkey of one of them fell down. The other saw it but passed him by. After he had passed by, he said: ‘It is written in Scripture, “If you see your foe’s donkey lying under its load… you must certainly help him.”’ Immediately, he went back to help him with the load. The other began to think things over and said: “So-and-so is evidently my friend and I didn't know it.’ Both went into a roadside inn and had a drink together. What led to their making up? One of them looked into the Torah. This is the meaning of the verse: “You have established uprightness.”
This is seemingly the meaning of the Ramban's comment on the verse in Devarim:
It says here "your brother” as opposed to "your enemy" and "your foe,” in order to teach us to do this, remembering the love and brotherhood and forgetting the hatred.
It is clear that these mitzvot relate not only to animals; they help resolve quarrels between people. In fact, the Alshikh interprets the text as obligating one to help specifically with the intention of aiding the hated individual in a time of need, looking the owner in the face, rather than merely thinking of the animal and its pain.
The extreme concern the Torah shows about tzaar baalei chayim is noteworthy; however, the Torah instructs us that this should pale in comparison to the significance of helping another human in need, even an enemy, which takes precedence.
The mitzva of perika raises a significant question about assisting others. The Talmud states that one is obligated to help an animal struggling under its load even if the owner is not around. However, the term "immo” in the verse is expounded by the Talmud to indicate that if the owner is present but sits on the side, relying on others to do the work, then one is not obligated to help. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 32a) states:
If he went and sat down and said: “Since the commandment is upon you, if it is your wish to unload, unload,” one is exempt, as it is said: “Immo.”
This caveat doesn't apply if the owner is sick or elderly and unable to do the work alone, but it certainly applies when the able-bodied owner isn't interested in trying to help himself or herself. (When the animal is in pain, one may nevertheless remove the load to relieve the animal's distress, but one then has the right to demand payment for doing so).
Since this specific principle, limiting the obligation to help to circumstances when the owner takes the initiative, is stated in regards to perika, one must determine if it is limited in scope to its original source or is applicable to all cases of beneficence and gemilut chasadim. The Me’iri (Kiddushin 8b) seems to have doubts about this matter; however, the Keli Yakar (Vayikra 19:6) clearly states that the Torah mandates that one help only those who do not choose to rely on others. The Torah wants people to help, but it doesn't allow for unreasonable demands for assistance. In fact, the Keli Yakar uses this verse as a response to those who act in this manner.
This provides a response to the few poor of our people who impose upon the public and refuse to do any work, even if they have the ability to do so, or to engage in another activity which will enable them to sustain their families, while complaining that they are not given enough to satisfy their needs. Indeed, God commanded only “Azov taazov immo.” The poor person must do everything within his power to help himself. If, despite that, he cannot afford to support himself, then every Jew is required to support him, to encourage him, and to give him enough to provide whatever he is lacking…
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, in his essay “The Responsibilities of the Recipient of Charity,” notes that the Me’iri is the only authority among the Rishonim to discuss this matter, which allows for some latitude regarding this question.
The Meiri's words are instructive in and of themselves, but in light of the silence of the rest of the Rishonim and Posekim, they do not negate the fact that our problem has not been exhaustively discussed in the primary halakhic sources. This silence has left us room to investigate the matter. Specifically, it has left room for a discussion which is based on the halakhic foundations of gemilut chasadim, and which by its very nature will bring under consideration the moral and ethical dimension of the issue. It is precisely this dimension which is problematic, for our problem is rooted in a clash of values. On the one hand, there is the mitzva of gemilut chasadim, with all the halakhic and social obligations that it involves, which demand of the benefactor maximal assistance. On the other hand, there is a demand, perhaps no less legitimate, to reduce the help and sharing of the burden. This demand has at least three components – one related to the limitations of the benefactor, and two connected to the welfare of the recipient. (See http://www.vbm-torah.org/archive/halak67/04halak.htm for an extensive discussion of this issue).
Rav S.R. Hirsch expresses a similar idea concerning the verse in Devarim. He notes that the Talmud differentiates between the requirements of te’ina and perika. While one is obligated to help one remove the load from his animal for free, without requesting pay, he is allowed to ask for compensation when he assists in loading the animal. The distinction he notes is that "perika serves to save someone from monetary loss; te’ina serves to assist someone in carrying out an objective." Only assistance rooted in preventing another's loss must be done for free; even then, this is true only provided that the assistance does not keep one from his or her normal occupation and earning a salary. The idea of asking for money while helping another might rub one the wrong way, but Rav Hirsch explains its importance.
These halakhot are deeply characteristic of Jewish law's outlook on the fulfillment of the duties in society. Jewish law does not subscribe to that extravagant zeal which demands complete self-abnegation as a general rule in communal life and which equates virtue with self-sacrifice. Jewish law does not accept such a philosophy, for it could never become a universal standard. If indeed it were to be put into practice, it would spell the end of social commerce… The universally binding Jewish social principle accords full moral validity to man's need to provide for his own existence and independence. At the same time, however, the Law demands that, in addition to, and simultaneously with, seeing that our own needs are met, we cooperate, with equal seriousness, in attending to and assisting in the preservation of our neighbor's property and the furtherance of his endeavors.
The Jewish outlook is a practical one which accords significance to one's own personal property and rights of ownership but requires selfless assistance to others. Similarly, one who requests assistance from others must understandably fulfill personal obligations before making requests of others.
Two Forms of Modern Day Perika
The mitzvot of te’ina and perika may, at first glance, seem to be of little significance in a non-agrarian society. Those who do not heap their loads on animals will have less cases of tzaar baalei chayim, obviating many cases of perika. While certainly those who work with animals will sometimes need assistance, there are modern day applications which affect everyone. While some may not load animals, they certainly may load themselves. When one witnesses elderly (or young) individuals struggling with a load, one has an opportunity to lend a hand. Similarly, watching individuals coming from the supermarket or the like trying to maneuver carrying a number of bags in their hands is an opportunity to fulfill the mitzva of te’ina. One with a large vehicle who notices another’s small car weighed down with a disproportionate load has a similar chance to fulfill this mitzva.
In truth, understanding the nature of the mitzva provides numerous other opportunities for its fulfillment. The Chinnukh (Mitzva 80) explains that the root of this mitzva is to teach man rachmanut, compassion for others.
At the root of this precept lies the purpose of teaching our spirit the attribute of compassion, which is a noble character trait. There is no need to say that we are duty-bound to take pity on a man who is suffering bodily pain; however, this mitzva teaches that even if he is only pained by the loss of his possessions and goods, we are still required to have compassion upon him and rescue him.
The compassion exemplified by one who helps another should not be restricted to the common examples of loading and unloading animals in biblical times. For good reason, the Arukh Ha-shulchan (CM 278:8) makes very clear that the obligation extends beyond merely helping another to load and unload his animals; this would include helping rescue a carriage from mud or fixing its wheel.
Though the examples cited by the Arukh Ha-shulchan do not include help with car trouble, clearly the same principles of assistance would apply to cars in our day and age. One who witnesses another Jew on the side of the road with engine trouble or a flat tire would seemingly be required to fulfill the mitzva of te’ina.
In truth, there is a well-known means of finding friendly roadside assistance: keeping one's tzitzit out when stuck on the side of a road with a nonmoving vehicle. Stories abound of non-Jews who keep a pair of tzitzit in the car in case they are stranded.
Nevertheless, one's initial reaction may be to presume that in most situations one cannot be of help. However, I would like to share two stories — providing not halakhic guidelines but mere food for thought.
The first is contemporary and personal. Late one summer night, as I and two friends drove from the mountains of upstate New York to the city, it became clear that one of our tires wasn't doing its job. We pulled over and discovered that the tire was completely unusable. One of my friends suggested that despite the late hour, everyone should make sure to have his tzitzit out. Sure enough, a few minutes later, a recently-married couple whose car was fully packed stopped. They knew nothing about cars; they did not even have room to take anyone back in their car; still, they decided to stop to at least lend moral support. In fact, they did far more than that, as they had candy on hand, which gave us a boost, as well as a cell phone (something uncommon at the time), which enabled us to call for assistance. I have often wondered: what caused this couple to stop for us, and what did they think they could do to help? Their assistance definitely acts as a catalyst for me to do the same when faced with similar situations, but the ultimate answer to this question may be found in a classic tale, a Chasidic maaseh.
The rebbe known as the Holy Jew (Yehudi Ha-kadosh) of Peshischa told the story of the time he was leaving the city of OpatÃ³w (Apta) and came across a carriage full of goods that was stranded. The farmer who stood beside it noticed the rebbe and asked him for assistance in lifting the carriage. The Yehudi Ha-kadosh said, "I am incapable of doing so," to which the farmer responded, "You are capable but don't want to help." The farmer's words struck a chord with the rebbe, who agreed to try to help. After finding some wooden boards they succeeded in lifting the carriage. The rebbe then asked the farmer why he had accused him of being unwilling rather than unable to help. The farmer explained that he knew implicitly that the rebbe could help if he wanted to. The Yehudi Ha-kadosh then asked, "How did you know?" The farmer responded, "Do you think I was placed in your path for no reason?"
The simple words of the farmer, underscoring the divine orchestration which enables one Jew in need of assistance to find his fellow, should remind us that often we may be able to be more helpful than we realize.
In next week's lesson, we hope to identify another form of modern-day perika and te'ina: beyond the understandable need to help others with their physical loads, assisting others with their spiritual loads is no less significant.