Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism, interprets this verse as a spiritual metaphor. When we try to get closer to G-d, we sense that our “donkey”—our physical body—is the enemy, preventing us from reaching our goal. Our response might be to neglect our physical body, in the misguided belief that asceticism is the path to righteousness. The Torah rejects this approach. “You shall surely help”—we should assist the body and work with it to fill the needs of the soul.
At first glance this is not an innovation of the Baal Shem Tov. The Code of Jewish Law states that our body is sacred, gifted to us by G-d, and we are forbidden to abuse our bodies in any way. However, the Code of Jewish Law does permit a certain amount of self-affliction if it is done for the purpose of atonement. The Baal Shem Tov’s view is that even for the sake of teshuvah we must not afflict the body but treat it with care. The true and proper way to return to G-d is with joy.
This approach to serving G-d is a preparation for the Redemption, when the physical world will reach its ultimate perfection and will have a status even higher than the soul. Chassidic teachings guide us how to serve G-d with a healthy body, as a preparation for the era to come.
(The Rebbe, Likutei Sichot vol. 2)