“If you see your enemy’s donkey (chamor) lying under its load, you might want to refrain from helping him; [however], you must surely help with him.” (Exodus 23:5)

Before Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe, became the first leader of Chabad, he once traveled to raise money for an important charitable cause. He came to the home of a wealthy man who, sensing that he was not one of the ordinary charity collectors, offered to have him stay and teach his children in return for the entire sum he hoped to raise.

After a short stay, he informed his host that he was leaving because he could not tolerate the conduct of the people of the city. His host asked him what he meant, and Rabbi Schneur Zalman replied, “You torture the poor.” The host thought that he was referring to a recent meeting to determine how to raise the money for a tax. It was decided that first the poor should give as much as they were able, and whatever was missing would be made up by the rich. He realized that Rabbi Schneur Zalman was right: the poor should not be bothered at all. Let the rich give as much as they can, and the poor won’t have to give anything. Immediately he arranged a second meeting, and it was decided that the rich should first give what they could afford.

A few days later, Rabbi Schneur Zalman again gave notice that he was leaving, exclaiming again, “You torture the poor.” Amazed, the host told his guest of the second meeting, and that the poor would not be bothered at all. Rabbi Schneur Zalman told him that he was not aware of the meetings, and had been referring to a different matter:

In the human body, there are “rich” organs and a “poor” organ. The “rich” organs are the mind and the heart, and the “poor” organ is the stomach. “In this city,” he explained, “instead of putting emphasis on the rich organs and engaging them in the study of Torah and concentrating on prayer to G‑d, the approach is to constantly fast. Thus, the ‘poor’ organ, the stomach, is deprived and made to suffer for the person’s iniquities. I cannot tolerate this approach!”

This new philosophy was very intriguing to the host, and he asked Rabbi Schneur Zalman its source. He told him of the Baal Shem Tov and his teachings, which accentuate working with the mind and heart and not punishing the body.

“The Baal Shem Tov,” he continued, “bases his approach on a verse in the Torah portion of Mishpatim, and interprets it as follows: ‘If you see’—when you will come to the realization that—‘chamor’, the physical matter of the body (related to the word chomer, ‘physicality’) is ‘your enemy’—because he is engaged in attaining physical pleasures, and thus hates the soul which is striving for G‑dliness and a high spiritual level—and the body is ‘lying under his burden,’ not wanting to get up and serve G‑d—‘you might want to refrain from helping him’: you may think that you will begin to torture him and deny him the food he needs. Be advised that this is a wrong approach. Instead, ‘you must surely help with him’—give him his bodily needs, and attune your mind and soul to worship G‑d. Eventually, your body will become purified and cooperate in your divine service.”