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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Mishpatim(66)

The sedra teaches us many civil laws. We will look at one of them.

Exodus 23: 5

If you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden and you will refuse to help him you should certainly help him.


If you see the donkey of your enemy : Rashi: Here the word "ki" means "perhaps" (if) which is one of the four meanings of the word "ki". And this is its interpretation: "Perhaps you will see his donkey lying under its burden.....

and you will refrain from helping him Rashi: read as a question.


The parasha of Mishpatim has many laws in it (and is thus called "Mishpatim"!). Frequently we find a type of formula in the phrasing of the laws. It goes like this: "When situation X occurs, then the law is Y" For example "When you buy a Hebrew servant he shall work for six years and (then) on the seventh he goes out free, without charge."

We will look at our verse as an example of this formula.

Rashi has two comments on these words. Let us take the first comment and ask a question on it. Look at the verse previous to this one and ask a question.

Your Question:


A Question: Rashi tells us the meaning of the word "ki" in our verse. Why didn't he tell us its meaning in the immediately previous verse. There the word "ki" also appears?

What is bothering Rashi?

Your Answer.


An Answer: If we read this verse as the other "ki" verses, we have the following strange outcome. Remember the formula phrasing. "When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden [then] you will refuse to help him, you should certainly help him." This is self-contradictory. It says you will refuse to help him - you should certainly help him. If the words "you will refuse to help" are the second half of the verse, the part that says "then the law is..." seems to say you shall refuse to help. Then the last words contradict this and say "you should certainly help him."

This is what Rashi is reacting to.

How do his two comments deal with this?

Your Answer:


An Answer: By changing the meaning of "ki" from "when" to "if" or "perhaps" Rashi has changed the formula. We are now not talking of a situation and its corresponding law. We are talking of a possible situation ("perhaps") and the person's possible reaction. He may react by refusing to help. That is the reason that Rashi says these words are not a statement but a question. "Will you refuse to help?" Now comes the law- "You must certainly help him."

With his two comments Rashi has resolved the apparent contradiction.


Rashi's comment makes us aware of another point. The Torah's civil laws are different from other society's laws. Society's laws do not usually require - as a matter of law - for one to go out of his/her way to help another. Laws are made to protect people from wrongdoing but not to require right doing. The Torah is emphatically different on this point, as our verse illustrates.

Not only are we required to help others, we are even required to help our enemies!

That's why our verse even considers that a person will refuse "Will you refuse?" Because I might think he has the right to refuse or at least he is not obligated not to refuse. Therefore comes the Torah and tells us "you must certainly help him - even your enemy"

The words for "you should certainly help" in this verse are unusual they are "azov t'azov" which usually means "you should certainly leave." Some commentators (see Targum Onkelus) explain the use here as "you should leave your hatred of him and assist him."

In many ways our Torah is unique. The demands it makes on us to leave our hatred aside and help our fellow in need, is one the most beautiful ones.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." Look for "What's Bothering Rashi?" on Megillas Esther in your book stores.

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