The Journey to Unity – 170

Relieving the Animal’s Load:

“If you see the donkey of someone who hates you lying under its load, you
shall not permit yourself to leave it to him; instead, you shall let all
else go and hasten to his aid.” (Exodus 23:5)

Dear Friend,

The above mitzvah enables us to help both a human being and an animal. It
requires us to overcome our negative feelings towards a person who hates us
by helping him to remove the heavy burden from his suffering animal. It is a
topic for a different discussion, but this kind deed can actually help to
eliminate the enmity between the two individuals.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on the above verse, explains
that the mitzvah to remove the burden from the suffering animal is an
indication that avoiding “tzaar baalei chayim” ? needless suffering to
living creatures – is a Torah obligation; thus, this act of kindness towards
the animal is part of the “Halacha” – the steps on the Torah path. Rabbi
Hirsch writes:

“The Halacha regards the unloading of the animal as a duty not only to one’s
fellow human being in trouble, but also to the suffering animal, for tzaar
baalei chayim is a Torah prohibition.”

In fact, Rashi, in his commentary on the Talmud (Shabbos 128b), refers to
the mitzvah to unload the animal as a primary source for the Torah’s
prohibition of tzaar baalei chayim.

Rabbi Hirsch discusses this Torah prohibition in his classical work on the
mitzvos known as “Horeb” (Chapter 60), and he writes:

“There are probably no creatures that require more the protective Divine
word against the presumption of the human being than the animals, which like
the human being, have sensations and instincts, but whose body and powers
are nevertheless subservient to the human being. In relationship to them the
human being so easily forgets that injured animal muscle twitches just like
human muscle, that the maltreated nerves of an animal sicken like human
nerves, that the animal being is just as sensitive to cuts, blows and
beating as the human being. Thus the human being becomes the torturer of the
animal soul, which has been subjected to him only for the fulfillment of
humane and wise purposes.”

A mitzvah is a Divine mandate which also contains a Divine teaching. Rabbi
Hirsch therefore discusses the following teaching of “Hashem” – the
Compassionate One – which is contained in the above mitzvah:

“Behold! Here you are faced with Hashem’s teaching, which obliges you not
only to refrain from inflicting unnecessary pain on an animal, but to help
and, when you can, lessen the pain whenever you see an animal suffering even
through no fault of yours. As the Oral Law explains, to release an animal of
its burden is not only a duty of love towards the distressed owner of the
animal; it is above all a duty towards the suffering animal. Even without
the owner, or where the latter has himself caused the collapse of the animal
by overburdening, yes, even if he wants to sit down passively by the side of
the fallen animal, you have an obligation towards the animal to release it
of its burden (Choshen Mishpat 272).

As the above teachings indicate, the Torah’s concern for tzaar baalei chaim
requires that when we encounter a suffering animal, we should strive to
alleviate its suffering. Rabbi Hirsch adds:

“It goes without saying, therefore, that you may hurt the animal and strain
its powers only for sensible human purposes, and then only in the least
painful manner. You may not burden the animal which serves you with
excessive loads, you many not make it work constantly without rest, or deny
it the fodder it needs.”

In our next letter, with the help of Hashem, we will discuss a related
mitzvah which reminds us not to deny an animal the food it needs.


Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Related Teachings:

1. The Talmud states that the mitzvah to unload the animal applies whether
its owner is an Israelite or a Gentile. (Bava Metziah 32b)

2. Rabbi Hirsch stresses the importance of educating children about the
prohibition of tzaar baalei chayim, and he writes:

“Above all, those to whom the care of young minds has been entrusted, see to
it that they respect both the smallest and the largest animal as beings,
which like the human being, have been summoned to the joy of life and have
been granted sensitivity. And do not forget that the boy, who, in crude joy,
finds delight in the convulsions of an injured beetle or the anxiety of a
suffering animal will soon also be dumb towards human pain.” (Horeb, chapter

3. The purpose of this series is to give us a survery of Torah teachings,
stories, and “halachos” – the requirements of the Torah path ? regarding our
relationship to other creatures. This series should not be used; however, as
a source for final decisions in matters of halacha, especially since
complicated situations can arise which involve conflicting Torah
obligations. For such purposes, one should consult a qualified halachic

Hazon – Our Universal Vision:



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