The Donkey of My Enemy is My Friend: Mishpatim 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What is the best way to treat someone you dislike? Is it better to ignore the person whenever possible? And when you are in situations in which you cannot ignore them, how should you act?

Among the many laws in the Torah portion of Mishpatim, we discover the requirement of when we must help even the people we don’t want to deal with:

The Pitch: “When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.” – Exodus 23:5

Swing #1: “The good deed carries all the more weight if the donkey belongs to an enemy, because then the deed involves not only kindness to an animal but also the suppression of the evil impulse to hate. But the enemy referred to in this verse cannot be construed as one whom one hates for personal reasons. After all, we know that it is forbidden to hate a fellow-Jew. … Therefore the Torah, intending to make sure that hatred based on a commandment should not degenerate into a personal dislike, specified that one must give help to such an enemy when he is in trouble.” – Tosafot Pesachim

Swing #2:Azav is the word for both ‘abandonment’ and ‘binding together,’ consolidation.’ See, for instance, the injunction, ‘Azov ta’azov imo  – You shall indeed come to the aid of your enemy, whose donkey has collapsed under its burden.’” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Beginning of Desire

Swing #3: “Verses 4-5 require neighborly help, even for someone ‘who hates you.’ This is not simply an emotional designation but refers to someone outside the kin group or someone otherwise lacking a social bond to the addressee.” – Mark S. Smith, Exodus

Late-Inning Questions: Should we be more committed to helping someone we know and dislike than someone we don’t know at all? Should it make a difference either way?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Synagogue Emanu-El is excited to welcome Shalom Orzach, a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter. Shalom will speak after dinner of our FNL Friday, February 16th on the topic “The ‘State’ of the Jews”. On Saturday, February 17th, Shalom will lead Danish & D’rash at 9:00AM and also will deliver the sermon at Shabbat morning services on the topic “Belonging or Believing”. Please join us for an enlightening scholar-in-residence weekend!

The Big Inning at the End: Pitchers and catchers report in less than four days. That is all. 🙂

Shabbat Shalom!