In this week’s Parsha is the commandment to help your fellow when disaster strikes. There he stands overwrought, his animal loaded up way too much and the sun beating down. And there you are, passing by. You cannot pass by. You must stop, roll up your sleeves and get to work helping. That is the commandment from G-d.
Don’t think there aren’t many details to this Halacha [Jewish law]. Like all our commandments, it comes with all the nuances and scenarios you might face. Like what if you see a fellow who needs his animal loaded and one who needs his animal unloaded – who do you help first? Answer is the unloading because the animal’s plight is also taken into account and it is only nice to unburden the suffering animal before turning elsewhere.
Then, there is this part of it. If your friend needs help and your enemy also does, whom do you help? And the answer is your enemy! Huh?! Yup, because by giving you end up with warmer feelings to the person you are helping. Therefore, you are dispatched to help your enemy in the hope that the person will no longer be your enemy at the end of the exercise.
23 V. 5, it says “uzov ta’azov eemo” ‘unburden the animal with him’ You are not obligated to help him, if he doesn’t want to help himself. You work side-by-side with him, if he himself is also working. [Rashi gives examples where you wouldn’t make him work, such as if he is elderly and cannot.]
This has serious repercussion in our do-gooding. When I first started helping folks I had an addiction to being their rescuer. Pulling ‘em out of abusive homes. Getting them treatment. Housing the homeless. Did all that…but often with not the results of healthy outcomes. The homeless often returned to the street a few months after being rescued from it. The abused found new patterns of abuse and needed to be rescued yet again. Very frustrating, let me tell you. Then, I finally got it. Even kindness needs guidelines and Torah to do it right. For a person to function properly and become healthy, they must be forced to chip in to help themselves, too. If you pull a person out of an abusive marriage without their fighting for their freedom, too, I can bet you that person will go right back into another abusive marriage. The act of fighting for themselves makes the recipients of kindness stronger.
My father is on a vent. Yes, it is keeping him alive, but that isn’t enough for us. We are working with a therapist to work out a weaning plan. Yes, the vent is keeping him alive, but we want him to graduate to breathing on his own, to work his lungs to the maximum. The same is true when helping folks emotionally. Don’t let them get used to being on the “vent”, dependent on everyone else to stay alive. Rather, you must force them to take responsibility half-way for their own emotional rescue. You must, even when helping someone else, make them “unburden” side-by-side with you.
I’ll just end with one of my war stories. I had a psych patient living with me for a bit. She had never been disciplined to be functional, didn’t sleep with linens, didn’t take showers properly, etc. One of my mantras to the folks I’m trying to help is that I expect them to be “functional”. The word function is used thousands of times by me to these folks. So, there I was, lecturing her about it, when she put her fingers in her ears, turned away to the other gals in my apartment and screamed, “Oh no, not again. She’s using the F word again!”
Yup, but I will continue to use that F word, for the Torah in this week’s Parsha tells me to do so when helping my fellow man — force him to work alongside of me in his rescue.