When is there a Duty to Help with Unloading and Loading?


Chayim sees a man attempting to unload a huge wardrobe from a truck,
single-handed. As expected, the wardrobe falls! The man asks Chayim to help him to carry
this heavy item into the nearby apartment. Is Chayim obligated to do so?


"When you see the donkey, etc buckling under its load, etc. you must surely
help him
," (Shemos 23:5). The Mishna (Bovo Metzia 32a ) explains that the
Torah requires you to assist with unloading this animal in distress, but not with
reloading it. Your obligation is to relieve the pain caused by the load. Since the Torah
has placed this obligation on a person, he is not permitted to take payment for his
efforts, even if such an offer is voluntarily made by the owner of the animal (Sema to Choshen
272, Note 17). However, one is allowed to take payment for reloading (see
Sema, Note 10, who explains the source of the distinction). This permission is not limited
to one who loses time from work as a result of assisting with reloading. The Rosh (No. 28)
explains that any person, even if he had no other work to do at the time, may make his
assistance conditional on receiving reasonable remuneration for his work. However, if he
charges an exorbitant fee for this "emergency service", the owner of the animal
only has to pay him the standard charge.

Our discussion has hitherto been limited to animals who are carrying a load. Do the
same laws apply to a man bearing a load? The Sefer HaChinuch (541) is of the
opinion that the laws are identical. The Rashbo (Responsa Vol. 1, Nos. 252 and 257)
is of the same opinion. He explains that if the Torah commands us to be concerned about
the pain suffered by an animal, it surely expects us to show (at least) the same concern
for human suffering. In addition, what both cases have in common is that a fellow-Jew will
incur a financial loss unless you provide assistance. However, the Radvaz (Responsa,
No. 728) asserts that the verse refers exclusively to animals. He adds that if one should
find a man with a load that had slipped on his back, one should assist him. One would
thereby be fulfilling the general commandment to act kindly towards others, as well as
"not standing idly by while one’s brother’s blood is being shed" (see
Vayikra 19:16).

In accordance with the above, if one sees a delivery truck stranded at the side of the
road, thus preventing its owner from conducting his business and causing him a loss, one
should offer him assistance. According to the Chinuch and Rashba, if this involved
unloading (for example, to facilitate changing a tyre) one would not be permitted to
accept payment for the service rendered. The Radvaz would allow payment for such
assistance. All would allow payment for help with reloading. Since we are in doubt as to
whose opinion to follow, what should we do? The rule is that whenever a doubt arises
concerning a Torah commandment, its severity dictates that we must be stringent. One
should therefore not accept payment for unloading. It goes without saying that if the
vehicle is stranded in a lonely location, where leaving the driver or his load alone would
lay them open to danger, fear or theft, one should obviously help him with repairs or wait
with him till assistance arrives (Radvaz).

What happens if a person intentionally transported a load which he knew was beyond his
capability to carry? Under such circumstances, you have no obligation to assist him. This
is termed "aveidah mida’as" (knowingly causing oneself a loss). He
hoped he would find someone who was willing to help him for free. He also realised that no
such person might be available and that he might be forced to abandon the load. If the
load is being carried by an animal, the law is different. No person is so foolish as to
knowingly destroy his own property. We therefore assume that overloading his animal was an
error of judgment. Accordingly, one is still obligated to assist the owner with unloading

THEREFORE, since this man was obviously counting on finding some passerby
to help him transport the wardrobe, Chayim is not obligated to assist him. Don’t be
stingy and rely on favours from others!