Ki Teitzei: Let Us Share The Burden

When we see someone in need, we step up to help them, not replace them.
Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee!

Table for Five: Ki Teitzei

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen [under its load] on the road, and ignore them. [Rather,] you shall pick up [the load] with him.
-Deut. 22:4

Rabbi Elchanan Shoff, Beis Knesses of Los Angeles

With him! Pick up the load with him, says the verse.

We must realize that true helping of another person is “with them.” One who visits a sick friend, teaches the Talmud, takes a away a little bit of that person’s suffering, but only if he is what the Talmud calls “ben gilo,” which Rashi explains, someone with similar mazel.

This seems to mean that only if you feel similar to that person can you really comfort them. Often one hears of something bad happened to another person and say, “well, he was a smoker,” or “she didn’t exercise like I do.” If we can show a difference between them and us, we can feel safe. But true empathy is when we feel just the same as another person and realize that it could have been us.

I once had the heart wrenching experience of attending the funeral of a small baby, just five months old. I recall another couple who were there who had a child just the same age crying such bitter tears. To them, the fear and pain and loss was so much closer to home.

Looking down on those less fortunate from our own ivory towers is not enough. We must truly feel connected to others if we are to help them. If we have word of constructive criticism for other people or communities, we must clearly communicate that we are together. To truly comfort, heal, help and reach others, we must be “with them.”

Miriam Kreisman, President, Tzaddik Foundation

When I made teshuvah (became religious), I tried to pull my sister in. Let’s call me “Ethical” and my sister “Dilemma”.

Dilemma’s biggest issue was the Torah’s view on homosexuality. We couldn’t agree. So we agreed to disagree. But many years later, the relationship got hairier. Her 4-year-old son decided he was a girl.

Transgender is so much more complicated than most people understand. Most often, it comes with other social, behavioral, and mental problems. I personally thought the child needed what my family had to offer – strong borders and rules, loving older cousins, and God. My sister thought he/she needed our adherence to present-day values and modern psychology dictates in order to prevent a potential suicide situation, God forbid.

We lived practically next door for over six years. Recently, Dilemma and her husband decided to move to another city two hours away. They want to make a new start for their “daughter”. I couldn’t help them pack, hoping they would change their minds. They leave in two weeks. And it hurts so much.

So what does this have to do with the posuk? When I saw the posuk, I made up my mind. I will surprise them by showing up with my kids to help them unpack. Because when someone has a difficult burden to bear, it’s a big mitzvah to help with the load. Especially when it’s your brother or sister. Pshat.

Dedicated to my mother, Feigl Rut bas Suzman HaLevy z”l, who always loved a good ethical dilemma.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat, VP of Community Engagement, Board of Rabbis of Southern California, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Recently, I spoke with a chaplain who works at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, the largest youth scout camp in the world. The camp is named after Waite Phillips, who together with his wife Genevieve, donated 127,000 acres of land to the scouts.

This camp features one- to three-week backcountry treks where participants carry on their backs 30- to 50-pound packs with all their supplies, including tents, food, water, and clothes. The scouts hike about ten miles per day. They climb mountains and rappel down rock formations.

The chaplain recounted that on a recent trek, one scout contracted altitude sickness and was up much of the night vomiting. In the morning, when the ailing scout picked up his pack to start hiking, it was empty. His fellow scouts had divided the contents of his pack among themselves to carry them for him.

The chaplain also recalled how one scout couldn’t make it all the way back to camp on the last day. He became exhausted shortly before reaching the camp. His fellow scout carried him the rest of the way. The chaplain was so moved by the kindness of these teens, he fought back tears as he told me these stories. This verse calls on us to lighten each other’s burdens and make sacrifices for one another.

Indeed! As Waite Phillips of blessed memory said, “The only things we keep permanently are those we give away.”

Laya Saul, tinyurl.com/coppermirrors, ChildrensMuseumoftheGalilee.org

Torah teaches and conditions us to be full of chesed (kindness and compassion). It’s such a strong value that the Talmud tells us we can suspect a person who isn’t compassionate is not a Jew (Beitzah 32b). We learn to host travelers, visit the sick, attend funerals, and bring food to mourners. We dance with brides and grooms, feed new mothers, and we generously give our time and money to support great causes. In this verse, we’re commanded to help our brother when his beast of burden falls.

Our verse gives us a hint in the very last word, “imo” (with him), that there is a boundary to our “chesed.” We are not asked to do our brother’s work for him. We are asked to help with him. If his animal fell, chances are he overburdened or overworked it. Some things you have to learn the hard way. But if our brother is sitting by the side of the road expecting someone else to lift his load, we are exempt from helping. He needs to get up and put in the effort.

So how good are you with boundaries? Sometimes the boundary is to push ourselves beyond and give more generously; it’s a wondrous thing to give. Sometimes the boundary is to see that we can only truly help others when they are putting in the effort to help themselves.

Of course, the same holds true for us. If we need help, we’ll work together!

Ilana Wilner, Judaic Studies Teacher & Israel Guidance/ Ramaz Upper School

This week’s parsha states if we see a fellow person’s fallen animal we must not ignore it, we are commanded to help repack the load and get the person back on the road. We must be proactive. And we must do so even when we will not be there at the end of the journey to be acknowledged or recognized.

This is an important idea relevant more broadly in our lives. The Torah is asking us to be observant and support the journey and goals of another, even in those instances where while we may be integral to the success of the journey, our contribution will be unseen and unknown.

For me, this mitzvah highlights my hakarat hatov for an informal mentor. A woman who coaches and guides me through difficult conversations and choices, and the proactive steps she takes to support me on my professional journey. At the same time she reminds me that these are my decisions, my journey and my accomplishments. In the same way the commentators on this pasuk emphasize that this commandment is not to take on the other person’s burden but work together with them. I am grateful and in awe of her. We all hope to have those people in our lives, those who help and support us on our journey, and we must keep an eye out for ways we can support others, even while knowing it is their journey to take.

With thanks to Rabbi Elchanan Shoff, Miriam Kreisman, Rabbi Ilana Grinblat, Laya Saul, and Ilana Wilner

Image: Beast of Burden in Bancoor by Namlong618 via Wikicommons

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