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Torah Attitude: Parashas Mishpatim: Friend or foe, who comes first?
The donkey owner is not a gentile but a Jew. The donkey owner is being hated because he has been transgressing one of the commandments. It is like seeing one's brother taking a gift he received from his father and using it to cause pain and anger to the father. Those who witness this conduct are actually commanded to have feelings of animosity and hatred towards the transgressor until he repents. G'd wants us to take care of any Jew whether righteous or not. The Torah wants to educate us to be above personal feelings so that we extend our hand to the transgressor. In order to break the second kind of animosity, the Talmud teaches that we are required to first help the transgressor to load his donkey. Our first priority must be to prevent searching souls to seek foreign fields by providing them with a thorough education of the beauty and wisdom of the Torah and to stretch out our hands to the ones who have fallen to help them come back home.
In this week's Torah portion it says: (Shemos 23:5) "If you see a donkey of someone you hate crouching under its burden would you refrain from helping him? You shall repeatedly help him." The Talmud (Pesachim 113b) asks who is this owner of the burdened donkey? The Talmud learns that this donkey owner is not a gentile but a Jew. The phrase "you hate" refers to an enemy of this specific person. Sometimes the Torah refers to gentiles as enemies of the Jewish people; however, it is unlikely that the Torah would refer to a gentile as a personal enemy of an individual.
Hating the transgressor
Asks the Talmud, is it then permissible to hate another Jew? Does it not say (Vayikra 19:17): "You shall not hate your brother in your heart." This does not refer to a biological brother. This refers to a fellow Jew. The Talmud answers that the hate directed at the donkey owner is not a personal hatred. Rather, the donkey owner is being hated because he has been transgressing one of the commandments.
The Torah law prohibits a single individual to go to the Beth Din to give evidence against a person who transgresses the commandments. As it says, (Devarim 14:15) "A single witness shall not stand up against a man for any sin … according to two witnesses … shall a matter be settled." >From this the Talmud (ibid) learns that if a person would go on his own to the Beth Din and tell the Judges what he had seen, this would be considered as gossip, and he would be punished with lashes. The Chofetz Chaim explains that since the judges may not believe this person, nothing is achieved by telling them what he saw. On the other hand, he may have feelings of animosity against this other person. G'd provides the transgressor with the gifts of everything he needs to live, to move and to function This transgressor has the chutzpah to take these gifts and at the same time to transgress one of G'd's commandments. It is like seeing one's brother taking a gift he received from his father and using it to cause pain and anger to the father. It is understandable that anyone who witnesses his brother acting with such chutzpah would feel animosity even though it is his own brother.
Commanded to hate
Obviously, this only applies to someone who understands and is aware of how wrong he is to transgress a Torah law. As the Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat (272:11) explains that this is referring to a case where the transgressor was warned to desist from doing the transgression and nevertheless chose not to change his ways. Says the Talmud, those who witness this conduct are actually commanded to have feelings of animosity and hatred towards the transgressor until he repents.
It is most noteworthy that although the transgressor has not repented, if his donkey is found to be crouching under its burden, we are still obligated to help him to unload the poor animal and to even load it. This would also apply if the person himself requires to load or unload. As the Shulchan Aruch adds, the transgressor could get into danger if he is left by himself on the road with his burden. G'd wants us to take care of any Jew whether righteous or not. As the prophet says in the name of G'd: "I do not want the wicked person to die but to repent his ways of evil and live."
First help the transgressor
The Talmud (Bava Metziah 32b) discusses the details of this law and says that if there are two people that require help, one to load his animal and the other to unload his animal, first we must help the one who needs to unload in order to alleviate the pain of the poor donkey from carrying the heavy burden. However, says the Talmud, if the person who needs help to unload is a good friend, whereas the person who needs help to load is a transgressor that one hates, then although under normal circumstances one should unload first, the priority in this case is changed to load in order to bend one's own evil inclination. It goes without saying that normally we would run to help our friends before we help the those we hate. But the Torah wants to educate us to be above personal feelings so that we extend our hand to the hated transgressor.
Tosaphoth in their commentary on the Talmud (Pesachim ibid) ask how do these two portions in the Talmud fit together. In the first portion we are commanded to have feelings of animosity against the one who transgresses the Torah. This is not a personal animosity but is directed at the chutzpah of the transgressor who acts against G'd's commandments. So why in the second portion does the Talmud teaches us to lend our hand to give priority to this transgressor in order to subdue our personal evil inclination? With an amazing insight into human psychology, Tosaphoth answers with a quote from King Solomon (Proverbs 27:19): "Just like water reflects back the image of the face of one who looks into it, so too does the human heart reflect the feelings of one human heart to another." Says Tosaphoth, since the witness who saw the transgressor has feelings of animosity against him, this will cause the transgressor also to have feelings of animosity towards this witness. These personal feelings of animosity of the transgressor may now bring about that the witness also develops personal feelings of animosity against the transgressor. So although the witness originally had permissible feelings of animosity, we must suspect that this will bring about impermissible feelings of animosity. It is in order to break the second kind of animosity that the Talmud teaches that we are required to first help the transgressor to load his donkey before we help our good friend to unload. This educates us to love our fellow Jew on a personal level even if he is a transgressor, as we find that Abraham loved Yishmael on a personal level despite that he hated him for his wrongdoings (see Bereishis 21:19 and 22:2).
Helping those who stray
The Torah's concern to train us to have good characters and prevent improper animosity takes precedence over the concern that we normally have to alleviate the pain of the donkey. Says the Chofetz Chaim, the Torah teaches us and obligates us to help the animal of a person who has transgressed the laws of the Torah, that is crouching under its burden or that has strayed away from its path. As it says, (Devarim 22:1): "If you see the cow or donkey of your enemy that has strayed, you should bring it back to him." How much more is it our obligation to help fellow Jews who have strayed away from the path. We must exert ourselves to help them to return. We live in a time where there is a tremendous surge of spirituality. Unfortunately, many Jews fall prey to missionaries or are attracted to cults and other groups. Every Jew is obligated to assist and help these straying members of the Jewish nation, our brothers and sisters. Our first priority must be to prevent these searching souls to seek foreign fields by providing them with a thorough education of the beauty and wisdom of the Torah and to stretch out our hands to the ones who have fallen to help them come back home.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network