We have seen over the course of this series the great sensitivity to others that the Torah engenders through the Mitzvot (Commandments). Another example of this is seen in the area of helping one who is in great need.
In the secular world a person who helps people is considered kind, and one who harms people is considered cruel. A person who neither helps nor harms others is looked at in a neutral fashion - he is neither good nor bad. Moreover, whilst there are numerous laws prohibiting harmful behavior towards others, there are hardly any laws that obligate a person to do kindness to his fellow.
In contrast the Torah sees ‘neutral’ behavior in a negative light - it is not enough to avoid harming others, rather a person must strive to help others and not doing so is considered to be a form of cruelty. Accordingly, there are a number of Mitzvot that obligate us to help our fellow in need.
One of these Mitzvot is: “Do not stand over your brother’s blood. ” The Rabbis teach us that this Mitzva instructs us to help our fellow when he is in a time of need. Included in this is helping him when he is in need in any area, such as if he is in physical danger, faces financial loss, or has some kind of emotional lacking. We will discuss the details of these laws in the coming weeks.
If one sees his friend in physical danger, for example he is in risk of drowning or is threatened by criminals he must do his utmost to save him. The one limit on this law is that he is not obligated to place himself in a situation where he will be in significant risk if he tries to save his friend. So, for example, if a person is being attacked by a number of thugs then stepping will likely not have any positive effect, rather it will likely mean that the friend will also be in great danger. Nonetheless a person should weigh the risk in each situation carefully and not avoid doing this Mitzva if the risk of danger is slight.
The story is told of a great Rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitzchik, who was witness to a great fire in his neighborhood. He made great efforts to save people who were in the building that was no fire. At one poin he ran into the building and did not emerge for a period of time. However, he finally emerged holding two young children in his arms. He had heard them crying and went in to save them. Whether he was obligated to put himself in such danger is unclear however his actions give a great demonstration of how we should feel when our fellow man is in danger. And even if we cannot act to save them we should develop a feeling of empathy with their pain.