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"When you acquire a Jewish slave . . ." (Shemos 21:2).

Rashi explains that the Torah is discussing a thief who was caught and did not have the financial capability to return what he stole, and was therefore sold as a slave by beis din (the Jewish Court of Law).

HaRav Volbe zt"l quotes HaRav Itzele Peterburger zt"l who points out that in the eyes of the Torah, even a thief has to be dealt with in a respectable manner. If he has the money to pay back his theft, all he must do is give back the stolen goods and no one has to know what occurred. It is only in a situation where he does not have the ability to make restitution that he must be sold; and even then, it is not as a punishment but as a means of repaying his debts. This differs greatly from the way that thieves are dealt with in this day and age. As soon as someone is caught, his crime is publicized and often his life is ruined.

Later in the parashah, the Torah tells us, "If you should see the donkey of someone you hate collapsing under its load . . . you shall surely help him" (ibid. 23:5). The Gemara (Bava Metzia 21b) explains that "someone you hate" refers to a person who has transgressed a sin and did not repent. Therefore, you are permitted to hate him. Nevertheless, we are commanded to help out the transgressor, "to subdue our yetzer hara (evil inclination)."

Tosefos (a commentator on the Gemara) asks the obvious question: If one is permitted by the law of the Torah to hate the sinner, why does the Torah command us to overcome those feelings and assist him? He explains that when a person hates his friend, automatically the friend will sense it and reciprocate the hatred; thereby causing "a complete hatred between the two of them." In other words, the hatred will have turned into a personal quarrel, not ordained by the Torah; hence, he is commanded to overcome that hatred and help out the transgressor.

HaRav Volbe comments that we see from this how careful one must be when hating those who flagrantly transgress Torah prohibitions. One must despise the evil actions; but not the evil person. A Jew who sins is always a Jew and we must love him; while at the very same time we must hate his actions.

There are those we might look down upon, because they don't conform to our level of religiosity. The Torah tells us that even a thief or a flagrant transgressor must be helped and loved, for it is only his actions that must be despised. Let us take a minute to think about someone who rubs us the wrong way, and see if we have an adequate reason to dislike him. The answer will most probably be no!

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel