Halacha Date: 27 Nissan 5778 April 12 2018
The Torah (Shemot 23) states: “If you see the donkey of your enemy you lying under its burden, would you refrain from helping him? You shall surely help along with him.” This means that if one is traveling on the road and sees the donkey of another collapsing under the weight of what it is carrying, one must help the owner in unloading the packages from its back.
The Rambam writes (Chapter 13 of Hilchot Rotze’ach U’Shmirat Nefesh): “If one encounters one’s fellow on the way and sees the fellow’s animal lying under its burden, it is a positive Torah commandment for one to unload the packages from upon it, as the Torah states, ‘You shall surely help along with him.’ One should not, however, merely unload the animal’s burden and leave its owner distraught (since the owner will only be able to reload the packages on the animal alone by exerting tremendous effort); rather, one should help the owner to reload the packages onto the animal, as the verse states, ‘You shall pick up [the load] with him.’ This is indeed a separate Mitzvah.”
Maran zt”l was asked in his Reponsa Yechave Da’at (Volume 5, Chapter 65) regarding if one sees a car that broke down on the middle of the highway and the driver of the car is standing on the shoulder of the road helplessly. Is there an obligation for other experienced drivers on the road to pull over and to assist the stranded driver in any way possible by repairing the car or offering him helpful advice?
Maran zt”l quotes the above words of the Rambam and writes that based on this, it would seem that when one sees someone in distress as a result of his broken down vehicle, one is obligated to come to this individual’s aid by repairing the vehicle if one is able to. Nevertheless, there is room to say that the Mitzvah of helping to unload applies only to animals to which the law of not causing pain to animals applies. It is possible that the Torah obligates one to help unload the packages from the animal because of the animal’s suffering. However, when animals are not the discussion, such as with regards to a car, there may not be an obligation to come to the aid of one whose car has broken down.
Nonetheless, the Rambam continues and explains, as follows: “When the Torah writes ‘The donkey of your enemy’, this does not refer to a gentile; rather, this refers to a fellow Jew. If so, how can this person be classified as an enemy when the Torah states explicitly, ‘Do not hate your brother in your heart’? Rather, our Sages explain that this refers to a situation where one sees another transgressing a sin and has warned him not to and the individual does not heed the warning and proceeds to transgress the sin anyway, there is a Mitzvah to hate such an individual until he repents and halts his evil ways. Although this individual has not yet repented, since one has encountered him when he is distraught in the midst of this problem, one must help him to unload and reload. One must not leave him alone and just go, for the individual may stay there longer because of his property and thus be exposed to danger. The Torah is concerned with saving all Jewish lives, whether righteous or wicked, since they are attached to Hashem and believe in the principles of the Jewish religion.”
Based on this, we see from the words of the Rambam that the reason for the Mitzvot of unloading and reloading does not stem from the prohibition to cause pain to animals; rather, the reason for this Mitzvah is to help out another Jew in his time of distress as opposed to seeing him distraught and merely walking away.
Thus, according to the Rambam who connects the Mitzvah of unloading the burden to the distress of the Jew who owns the animal or the packages, there is no difference between an animal belonging to a Jew or a Jew’s car that breaks down in the middle of the road. This is especially true since sometimes, such situations can even lead to danger, as was the case several times. It is therefore a Mitzvah and obligation for any seasoned driver or mechanic who sees a Jew stranded on the shoulder of the road with his broken-down car to pull over and help him by repairing the car or in any other way. The Aruch Ha’Shulchan rules likewise with regards to a horse and buggy that if one of the wheels break, anyone who sees the wagon driver in this situation must help him in any way possible until he is up and running again.
Thus, regarding our question, if one sees a broken-down car on the side of the road, it is a Mitzvah and obligation to come to the aid of the driver and passengers of the vehicle as much as possible. This certainly constitutes the Mitzvah of performing loving-kindness.
We see how much the Torah commands us to be sensitive to others and not to watch the suffering of another person and just simply ignore him.