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Torah Attitude: Parashas Mishpatim: Hate evil not the evildoer and other eternal lessons
The Torah teaches many commandments in regards to interpersonal relationships. Not only are you expected to help a person who you do not know, you are even obligated to extend a hand to someone you dislike and hate. “Those who love G’d hate evil.” The honour of G’d prevails and one may not transgress any Torah commandment to comply with the wishes of a parent. Why does the Torah use a double expression and says, “Help, you shall help him”? We should be ready to give again and again if the need arises. One is entitled to charge for services rendered when one helps a person who is in need. There is an overriding obligation to give a hand for free in compassion for the donkey. The Torah clearly does not only obligate us to care for other human beings, but educates us to be sensitive even to the needs of an animal. If the owner does not do his share, then the passerby is free of his obligation to load the donkey. One should give priority to assist unload the donkey, in order to alleviate its pain from carrying the heavy burden. The Torah wants to educate us to be in control of our emotions and break our natural feelings of animosity by extending our hand first to the transgressor. When we analyze the verses through the lenses of our sages then we are privy to all the fine nuances that the Torah teaches us.
Personal relationship commandments
In this week’s parasha, the Torah teaches many commandments in regards to interpersonal relationships. Many of these commandments may seem outdated in modern times. However, if we analyze them through the lenses of both the written and the oral law, we will find that every commandment contains eternal lessons and messages.
Help those you dislike and hate
For example, it says (Shemos 23:5): “If you see the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its burden, and you would refrain from helping him? Help, you shall help together with him.” Everyone is happy to help a friend or an acquaintance in need. But when the person who needs help is from a different community, or a total stranger, one is often less inclined to extend a hand. People reason, “This is not my kind of person, so why should I get involved with him?” Says the Torah, not only are you expected to help a person who you do not know, you are even obligated to extend a hand to someone you dislike and hate.
Love G’d hate evil
The Talmud (Pesachim 113b) asks since when is it permissible to hate another Jew? Does it not say (Vayikra 19:17): “You shall not hate your brother in your heart”? The Talmud explains that the Torah refers to a person who one has no personal hatred against but who persists to transgress the Torah commandments, although he has been told not to do so. As it says, (Tehillim 97:10): “Those who love G’d hate evil.” It is the evil one should hate, not the evildoer. Therefore, if this transgressor is in need, we are commanded to extend ourselves to help him. How much more is one obligated to help someone who one dislikes on a personal level.
Honour of G’d prevails over parents
But what should one do if one’s father or mother says that they do not want you to help the owner of the donkey? The parent says, “The Torah obligates you to listen to me.” As we read in last week’s parasha in the Ten Commandments (Shemos 20:12) “Honour your father and your mother.” And the Talmud (Bava Metzia 32a) teaches that the honour of one’s father and mother is comparable to honouring G’d. So now the son or daughter is in a real dilemma. Says the Talmud, in Parashas Kedoshim (Vayikra 19:3) the Torah teaches to respect one’s parents, as it says: “You shall respect your mother and your father, and you shall observe My Sabbaths.” Why, asks the Talmud, are these two commandments juxtaposed into one verse? Says the Talmud, “Both you and your parents are obligated to honour Me by observing Shabbos and all other commandments.” Therefore, whenever a parent requests their child to violate a commandment, the honour of G’d prevails, and one may not transgress any Torah commandment to comply with the wishes of a parent.
The Talmud further questions, why the Torah uses a double expression and says, “Help, you shall help him”? This, says the Talmud, teaches us that, provided the owner does not overload the donkey, we are obligated to extend a helping hand even if he needs help several times. That is why the Torah uses this double expression to emphasize that it is not just a one-time obligation.
Give charity again and again
Our sages teach a similar lesson in regards to giving charity. In Parashas Re’eh (Devarim 15:7-10) it says, “If there is a poor person among you … open you shall open your hand to him, and you shall lend him what he needs … Give you shall give him.” Rashi quotes our sages in Sifri who explain that these double expressions teach us that we should be ready to give again and again if the need arises.
Charge for services
However, the question arises, if the Torah obligates us to keep giving charity to the poor, and lend money to the needy, as well as assisting people who need help, when will we have time to make a living and provide for our own family? The Talmud answers that one is entitled to charge when one helps a person who is in need.
Overriding obligation in compassion for donkey
But, says the Talmud, there is an exception to this rule. The Talmud describes two somewhat different scenarios. In Parashas Ki Seitzei it says (Devarim 22:4): “You shall not see the donkey of your brother or his ox falling on the road, and hide yourself from them. Raise you shall raise with him.” This verse, explains the Talmud, refers to someone whose animal has fallen and its load has come off. This owner needs help to load his animal. In such a case, one is entitled to be reimbursed for one’s time. However, in this week’s parasha, the Torah is referring to an animal that is crouching under its load and the owner needs help to unload the animal. In this case, the poor animal should not have to wait till they have settled on a price for the services. It would be cruel for this person not to extend himself immediately. Under such circumstances, one is obligated to give a hand for free out of compassion for the donkey.
Rebbi, the calf, and the weasels
The Torah clearly does not only obligate us to care for other human beings, but educates us to be sensitive even to the needs of animals. The Midrash Rabbah (Shemos 2:2) teaches that G’d tested both Moses and King David as shepherds to see how they dealt with their flocks, before appointing them to be leaders of the Jewish people. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 85a) relates how King David’s descendant, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, known as Rebbi, was punished because of his insensitivity to an animal. Once a calf was being taken to be slaughtered when it broke away and hid in terror under Rebbi’s clothing. Rebbi said to the calf, “Go, for this you were created.” Although ideologically Rebbi was right, the way he dealt with the calf was somewhat insensitive. Therefore, the Heavenly Court declared, “Since he takes no pity, let us bring suffering upon him.” Apparently, Rebbi suffered severe pain for many years. Years later, Rebbi’s maid was sweeping the house. She saw some young weasels lying on the floor and began to sweep them away. When Rebbi saw this he told her to stop. “Let them be”, he said, “for it says (Tehillim 145:9): ‘His [G’d] mercies are on all His creations.” Thereupon, the Heavenly Court declared, “Since he is compassionate, let us be compassionate to him.” And the severe pain that had inflicted Rebbi disappeared.
Owner not participate
However, sometimes there may be someone who will abuse the system. In such a case, the person who is obligated to help needs to be protected. This would be the case if the owner of a donkey informs a passerby of his obligations to assist, and then sits down himself to have a little rest. Says the Talmud, this is scenario that the Torah refers to when it says, “You shall help with him” (emphasis added). If the owner does not do his share, then the passerby is free of his obligation to load the donkey. But if the donkey needs to be unloaded, then out of sensitivity to animals, the passerby is obligated to assist, provided that he is compensated for his services.
The care and sensitivity we are obligated to extend in order to protect animals have further ramifications. If a person encounters two people, each with their own donkey, who both need help, one must evaluate what kind of help is needed to decide who to help first. One needs help to load his donkey, whereas the other one needs help to unload his donkey. In such a case it is clear from the Talmud that one should give priority and assist the one who needs help to unload his donkey, in order to alleviate its pain from carrying the heavy burden.
First help the transgressor
However, there is one exception. If the person who needs help to unload is his friend, even a close and good friend, whereas the person who needs help to load is someone he dislikes, then the rules reverse. Although under normal circumstances one should unload first, the priority in this case is to load in order to break one’s own evil inclination. Obviously, we would be inclined to help a friend before we help someone we hate. But the Torah wants to educate us to be in control of our emotions and break our natural feelings of animosity by extending our hand first to the transgressor.
We now see how the Torah has eternal lessons and messages that apply in every generation. At first sight, when we read a verse in the Torah, we may not notice these lessons. But when we analyze the verses through the lenses of our sages then we are privy to all the fine nuances that the Torah teaches us. In this way we learn how to deal with our fellow beings and treat the animals around us.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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