…וְחֵי אָחִיךָ, עִמָּךְ (וַיִּקְרָא כה:לו)
…Let your brother live with you (Vayikra 25:36).
When the Torah tells us that a person is supposed to love his friend as himself, it uses the word “imach” meaning “together with you.” From this Rabbi Akiva learns (Bava Metzia 62A) that if a person has only one flask of water, and he and his friend are stranded in the desert, your life comes before your friend’s and you should drink the water in the flask. Seemingly, the word “imach” means, that even though he may be equal to you, you must come first.
The Torah uses the same word “imach” in regard to an eved ivri, a Hebrew Slave, yet here Chazal teach us that if you have just one pillow, you (the master) should give it to the slave because he has to be equal to you, and if you can’t be equal, he comes first.
I once saw the obvious question “How do Chazal know which way to interpret ‘imach’? When does it mean that you come first, and when does it mean the other person comes first?” The explanation that I saw was as follows: You (the master) are obligated to care for your slave, but the slave is not obligated to care for you, his master. Being that this is so, the “imach” is one-sided. Therefore, the slave comes before the master. Whereas in the mitzvah of helping your fellow Jew, just as you are obligated to your fellow Jew, your fellow Jew is obligated to help you! Therefore, in the situation with just one flask in the desert, you come first.
The lesson I learned from this idea is that responsibility is seen within the reality of the other’s relationship to you. The more dependent someone is to you, not only is the technical obligation greater, but so is our moral obligation. In the natural world we see this in an ongoing basis that parents naturally do more for their children than they are obligated, because the children are totally dependent upon the parents.
When we pray to Hashem and we realize that we are totally dependent on Him, in turn Hashem has a greater level of compassion to help us out. We can learn from how Chazal view our interactions with our fellow men, on how to be successful in finding favor in Hashem’s eyes. Here too we see how we can learn from our bein adam l’chaveiro to our bein adam l’Makom, in order to complete our sefira challenge: To grow in both of these sectors.