by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"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 see that 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 that the verse only obligates us to help - but not to replace -
the owner. One can imagine the owner walking away, saying "since you have
the Mitzvah to load the animal, do your Mitzvah!" The Medrash says that in
such a case, there is no obligation to do the owner's work for him - for
the verse says "with him," excluding one who fails to do anything on his
The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, says that this same principle
applies to spiritual matters. If a person works to improve himself, then
Heaven helps him. If he says "guard my tongue from evil" when concluding
his prayers, and then he himself 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 own gossip. But if a person merely pays
lip-service 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 after prayers to study, then how can this
prayer be accepted?
The Chofetz Chaim offers a parable: imagine someone asking a friend for a
loan. The second man agrees, and asks the borrower to please visit him at
home where he will gladly give him 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 promise?
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
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Text Copyright © 1997 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis,
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.