by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"If you see the donkey of someone you hate struggling under its burden,
shall you refrain from helping to unload it? You shall certainly unload it
with him." [23:5]
The Tosfos, a major commentary on the Talmud, discusses this verse. The
authors ask a simple question: why does this mitzvah focus upon someone you
hate? The obvious, simple answer is that this applies even to someone you
hate. But the Tosfos provides us with a far more profound reason for
highlighting this particular case.
Obviously, this does not refer to someone whom you dislike as an
individual. To hate your brother or sister is prohibited by the Torah, and
without question any mitzvah to help would apply to any such person without
being specified. What the Torah is discussing here, then, is a person whom
you know engages in deliberate, evil behavior. In this case, you have an
obligation to hate the evil actions, and to even demonstrate hatred towards
the person doing them -- to distance yourself from evil.
The problem is that over the course of time, mitzvah hatred can easily
transform itself into personal hatred. Instead of distancing myself from
evil, I end up participating in the evil of gratuitous hatred.
If I demonstrate hatred because of the person's evil actions, he or she
will begin to hate me as well. "Like a face reflected in the water, so is
the heart of a person towards another" -- the way another person feels
towards you is a reflection of the way you behave towards that person. And
even if the hatred is because I have this mitzvah to hate evil, that
person's hatred towards me is no mitzvah at all, but simply personal. What
happens then? Even my hatred towards that person becomes personal as well.
No longer a mitzvah, my behavior becomes the very opposite of what the
Therefore, says the Torah, we must extend ourselves to help that person
when he or she is in distress. There is a limit, a boundary, to what is
called a mitzvah of hatred. A vital undercurrent of love must remain!
Sponsored for the speedy healing of Aharon Yoel ben Pinyah.