The use of the word “ach” or “brother” is sprinkled throughout the Torah in very deliberate and intentional places, the most famous being the story of Cain and Abel, where Cain eludes God by questioning the role of sibling at all. “Am I my brother’s keeper?,” he asks God in response to a question about Abel’s whereabouts. It is this question that haunts us? What is our role with, not just our own blood relatives, but all human kind? If we encounter suffering along the way, is it our job to intervene?
In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetzei, the answer is a resounding yes. As the Torah relays in Deuteronomy 22:4: “You shall not watch your brother (ach)’s donkey or ox fall down along the way and hide from them, you shall surely go and help him lift them up again.”
How can one small Hebrew word, made up of just two letters, have such a powerful effect on us even to go so far to lift a thousand pound animal? Guilt is an incredible motivator. We do not want to receive the Mark of Cain by reacting flippantly to such a request.
For while that initial foray into sibling relationships does not end well, we know that, in general, we are better than that. Thousand pound animals cannot be lifted at all without the assistance of many siblings, some of whom are not family members at all. As we near the end of the Torah, and head toward the High Holy Days, our better angels are activated. For, if we are going to live in society together, we must help our “ach/brother” and they, in turn, must help us. This is not just good manners, but necessary ingredients for a just world.