Timeless life lessons can come from surprising sources, even children’s books. My grandmother really enjoyed reading to me “The Little Engine That Could.” It’s a classic published in 1930, describing a large train carrying toys, games, delicious food and medicine to children on the other side of a tall mountain. Alas, the train broke down along the way and needed help! A big passenger train passed by and couldn’t be bothered. A huge freight train was next, but thought itself too important to stop. Finally, a spunky little blue train engine offered to help pull the big train because, after all, so many children were waiting for the goodies. “I think I can,” said the little blue train. Chug, chug, chug—it was so hard, and the big train so heavy. The little engine wanted to give up, but kept trying with all its might. The faces of the children on the other side of the mountain gave it strength. “I … think…I … can…, I … think … I … can,” the little train engine kept saying, until it finally pulled the large train across the mountain to the other side.
Before you think you turned to the kiddie section instead of my weekly dvar Torah, know that this classic story vividly depicts an important mitzvah that Hashem instructs us in Parshas Mishpatim. “When you see your enemy’s donkey collapsing under its load…you shall surely help, along with him” (23:5). The Chofetz Chaim points out we do this to alleviate the animal’s suffering; what it carries doesn’t really matter. And if we drop everything to provide help for an animal, all the more should we do so if it’s a human being buckling under a literal or figurative “weight”!
Living in the tri-state area, we don’t see too many donkeys collapsing under their load. But a day won’t pass by without encountering people who can use a helping hand. Like the little train engine that could, we don’t need to be strong, smart or creative to help out. We don’t need to have organizations behind us to remedy all the issues. Sometimes a hot potato kugel delivered erev Shabbos can help relieve a lot of stress, or offering to pick up groceries can give someone that needed support. Even a smile, a listening ear or a phone call can get someone over their “mountain.” And remember, that someone may well live in your own house!
Rabbi Paysach Krohn told an incredible story at our yeshiva’s annual dinner a few weeks ago. A volunteer from Chaverim (a wonderful volunteer organization that helps people fix flat tires, unlock their cars when the keys are forgotten, etc.) received a phone call one hour before a three-day Yom Tov to help a person fix a flat tire. Not much time left, but here’s his chance to get another Jew home for Yom Tov, he thought. “Please tell me the location of your car,” he asked. “In my driveway,” the man replied.
The Chaverim volunteer tried to keep his cool. With his house in a buzz getting ready for the holiday, this other fellow wants a flat fixed in his driveway…now?? Very nicely, he asked, “Can’t it wait until after yom tov?” “Not really. I’m on Hatzolah and I need my car in case I get a call to help on Yom Tov.” Our dedicated volunteer headed straight over and fixed the tire. That Yom Tov, the Chaverim volunteer’s mother-in-law suffered a heart attack. Within minutes of calling Hatzolah, the car with the previously flat tire pulled into his driveway, driven by the Hatzolah member, to help save his mother-in-law’s life.
So many of us can be straining under a heavy burden and needing support. It can be a rosh yeshiva working hard to pay the bills to keep his learning going. It can be your elderly neighbors who can’t shovel their walkway after a snowfall. It can even be your own spouse, who needs a break from non-stop family responsibilities.
The Torah is telling us not to walk by and leave it to someone else to help. It’s our opportunity and our mitzvah to help shoulder another’s burden. It might not be easy, but just like the little engine, if we focus on the nature of the help we are giving and the respite and smiles it can bring, our own hard work will bring infinite rewards and deliver timeless inspiration. Let’s make sure all our brothers and sisters receive the support they need.
By Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Bergenfield, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a full multi-level Gemara learning program in the evenings, gives Halacha and hashkafa shiurim on Shabbos and, more recently, has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis midrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in both Livingston and Springfield.