By Rav David Silverberg
The Torah in Parashat Kedoshim (19:18) issues the famous command, “Ve-ahavta le-rei’akha kamokha” – Love your fellow as yourself” (19:18).
An interesting application of this Torah requirement appears in a responsum of the Radbaz (1:728), who addresses the case of somebody who sees his fellow struggling to carry an overbearing load. The Torah obligation of perika requires one to help his fellow unload an overbearing burden placed on his animal (Shemot 23:5), and the Rashba, in one of his responsa (1:252,256) claims that it applies as well in the case of a human being struggling under a heavy load. The Radbaz reaches the same conclusion – that one must assist his fellow carrying an overbearing burden – but for a different reason. He argues that the mitzva of perika applies specifically in the case of an animal, which is obviously not to blame for the overbearing load on its back. Since it did not load the cargo, it bears no responsibility for the predicament, and thus people who see the animal must come to its rescue. A human being, however, who cannot carry the heavy load on his back is guilty of piling too much weight upon himself. As he is to blame for the predicament, the Radbaz contends, the mitzva of perika does not apply. Nevertheless, he writes, the mitzva of “love your fellow as yourself” requires assisting a person even in such a case, and so in practice, the Radbaz agrees with the Rashba’s ruling that one is required to help a person struggling with a heavy load.
The Radbaz clearly works off the assumption that the command of “ve-ahavta le-rei’akha kamokha” requires assisting those in need even when they are to blame for their situation. Even if a person acts in an irresponsible manner which results in a difficult situation, we are required to help him, and may not withhold assistance on account of the person’s guilt. The basis for this premise, perhaps, is the command to love others “kamokha” – “as yourself.” Just as we forgive ourselves for our mistakes, so-to-speak, and endeavor to solve problems which we created through our irresponsible or mindless conduct, we are commanded to relate to the others the same way. If somebody falls into hardship due to his own mistakes, we must be as forgiving of his mistakes as we are of our own, and lend him the assistance he needs despite his responsibility.
Originally appears on VBM