by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"You shall not see the donkey of your brother or his ox falling on the
path, yet lift your eyes from them; you shall surely right it with him."
We have here not only a Positive Commandment to aid our brother, echoing
that found in Parshas Mishpatim [Exodus 23:5], but a Prohibitive Commandment.
You shall not see... yet lift your eyes. According to the Medrash Sifri, one
who fails to help in this situation fails to perform the positive Commandment
and simultaneously violates the negative.
At the same time, however, there are important exceptions to this rule. A
Cohen, for example, should not enter a cemetery to help, for in doing so he
violates a different prohibition. One cannot perform one Commandment, when
in so doing he violates another.
A different exemption is built in: the verse says "with him." The Mishna
says in Bava Metzia 32a: "if [the owner] goes and sits down by himself,
and claims, 'since you have the Commandment, if you want to unload it,
unload it' -- [the other party is] exempt, since it says 'with him.'" The
Torah doesn't want another person to take advantage of your Mitzvah. He has
to do some of the work himself if he wants help.
Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotsk draws an important parallel. The Talmud says
that "in the direction that a person wishes to go, they guide him." If a
person wants to rise spiritually, G-d promises to help. But, says the
Kotzker Rebbe, that's the point -- He promises to help, not do the whole
job. A person must begin, and make an effort.
Not much is required: G-d promises that if we simply open the eye of a
needle to let Him through, He will open the entire world. A small effort
leads to tremendous rewards.
It is Elul, when G-d "comes close" to hear our prayers. It is a special
time for growth. If we make even the most modest efforts to move up, all
the more so will G-d help us to rise!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken