The Overloaded Man


Shraga sees a man walking down the street, weighed down
by heavy bags of shopping. Not only is he carrying too heavy a load, but the
bags are not evenly balanced either. “Go and help him. To allow him to continue
in this way is like cruelty to animals!” says a bystander. Shraga knows that by
helping this overloaded person he would be fulfilling the mitzvah of “Love your
fellow-man like yourself” (Vayikro 19:18) but is not sure whether the
commandment not to be cruel to animals also applies to human beings. Does this
law include people?


A man was
carrying a load of wood. He had stopped for a rest and needed to reload the
wood on his back. He asked Rebi Yishmoel the son of Rebi Yosi, who was passing
at the time, to assist him with reloading his burden. Rebi Yishmoel piously
bought the wood in order to avoid having to perform undignified work in public
(Bovo Metzia 30b). The Rashbo (Responsa 1:252) was asked to explain why such
action was necessary. Surely the Torah commandment to assist with unloading and
reloading only applies to animals and not to people? The Rashbo replied that if
the Torah was concerned about the suffering of animals it was certainly
concerned about the suffering of Jews. He therefore held that there was
undoubtedly an obligation to help unloading a Jew carrying a difficult burden,
as well as helping him reload (this is also the opinion of the Sefer HaChinuch,
Mitzvah 541). The Chavos Yo’ir (Responsa 191) presents a totally different line
of reasoning. He argues that when an
animal is in distress as a result of being overloaded, etc., it is unable to
deal with the pain since it lacks intelligence. However, human beings are able
to come to terms with difficult situations and are therefore expected to do so.
He brings proof from the fact that a mourner is obligated to sit in the succah,
despite his distress on the loss of his relative. Our Sages state (Succah 25b)
that we expect him to calm himself sufficiently to perform the mitzvah. He is
therefore of the opinion that the obligation to assist with unloading and
reloading only applies to animals.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch (T’shuvos
VeHanhogos 4:314) finds it difficult to understand why the Chavos Yo’ir fails
to mention the opinion of the Rashbo, an Earlier Commentary. He therefore
concludes that the two commentaries are discussing two different sets of
circumstances. If a person, who has been endowed with intelligence, knowingly
attempts to carry a load which is beyond his strength, then he only has himself
to blame. He should have known better than trying to carry a washing machine on
his back! There is therefore no Torah obligation to assist him with unloading
or reloading his burden. (As mentioned in the question, one should still help
him for other reasons – see Responsa of the Radvaz, No. 728). However, if an
excessive load is placed on an animal’s back, we can not blame the poor animal.
The Torah therefore commands us to help with unloading and reloading. This is
the issue discussed by the Chavos Yo’ir. On the other hand, if a person placed
a reasonable load on his back which later became unbalanced, then we are
commanded to help him. If the Torah was concerned about an animal’s suffering,
it was certainly worried about a Jew’s pain. This is the case referred to by
the Rashbo (this distinction is also mentioned by the Chida in Birkei Yosef to Yoreh
De’ah 372:2). Rav Sternbuch adds that since this mitzvah is dependent on the
ability of the carrier of the burden to endure pain, it follows that we would
always have to help an overloaded child, even if he knowingly took on an
excessive load. Since he lacks the intelligence to remain calm under distress,
he cannot be blamed for overloading himself.