Helping Unload The Donkey of One’s Enemy
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape #581, Lending Without Witnesses. Good Shabbos!
The commentaries struggle to provide a simple interpretation of the pasuk [verse] in our parsha that begins with the words: “When you will see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden” (Ki tir’eh chamor son’acha rovetz tachas ma’aa’oh…) [Shemos 23:5]. The pasuk continues “and you will stop from helping him” (v’chadalta mei’azov lo) and concludes with the words “you shall surely help along with him” (azov ta’azov eemo).
Rashi points out that the word “azov” at the end of the pasuk does not have its usual connotation of abandonment. That interpretation would not make sense in the context of this Commandment. Rather, here “azov” means providing aid or help. Rashi cites other Biblical pasukim where the verb “azov” means to provide help.
Even before we reach the word “azov”, however, there is a difficulty in this pasuk. What do the words “v’chadalta mei’azov lo” mean? The normal translation would be “and you stop from helping him”. Rashi says that this too could not be what the Torah means. Rashi therefore gives the unusual interpretation that the phrase is to be followed by a question mark — as if to ask rhetorically, “Will you not help him?” To which the pasuk continues with the answer, “No. You should certainly help him.”
However, Rashi also quotes a Mechilta that teaches that the Torah purposely worded this Mitzvah in an ambiguous fashion. The Torah did so in order to teach us that there are indeed situations when one is allowed to not help the struggling donkey. An example of this permission to ignore the plight of the animal is a “zaken, v’ayno l’fi kvodo” — an elderly person and a person for whom it would be beneath his dignity to unload the burden from a donkey.
This is medrashic exegesis. The simple interpretation of the pasuk according to Rashi, however, is “And you would think not to help him? Certainly you should help him!”
The Kli Yakar makes an interesting comment that reveals that he opposed welfare, or “big brother handouts” to the unfortunate. The Kli Yakar notes that the pasuk first says “v’chadalta mei’azov LO” [you will refrain from helping HIM] and then concludes “azov ta’azov EEMO” [no — certainly help WITH HIM]. The Kli Yakar comments on the change of pronoun in the two phrases from LO [him] to EEMO [with him]. The Kli Yakar asks, “Why does the Torah not use the same pronoun consistently?”
The Kli Yakar answers that “LO” means helping TO him, giving him help; “EEMO” means helping WITH him. The owner of the donkey is not allowed to wait for another Jew to come along and then tell him “since this is your Mitzvah, go unload my donkey for me.” The Torah is saying that if the donkey owner wants to be helped while he sits there and watches, then one may abstain from offering such help — v’chadalta me’azov lo. What does the Torah demand? “Azov ta’azov EEMO” — help TOGETHER, WITH HIM! If the “enemy” rolls up his sleeves together with “you”, then you should help him.
Thus, unlike Rashi who interprets the first part of the pasuk as a question, the Kli Yakar learns that the Torah starts out by saying one should not help, and concludes by saying one should help. How is that? It all depends: if he does not try to help himself, do not help him. If he is working at unloading the donkey himself but needs assistance, then indeed help him.
The Kli Yakar provides a sociological comment: From here we see a rebuttal to some poor people in our nation who throw themselves upon the community to provide their needs, but they themselves are unwilling to do any kind of work, even though they are able-bodied. They do not want to lift a finger to support themselves, but turn to others and say “it is your mitzvah to give me tzedakah.” G-d does not require that of us. The Torah advises us to help our neighbor — EEMO — together with the effort that he himself makes to meet his own needs.
This is a nice homilet ic interpretation by the Kli Yakar, but the “peshat” [simple reading] of the pasuk is much closer to Rashi’s interpretation.
The novelty of this Mitzvah is that we are dealing with a person who is one’s sworn enemy. Our inclination would certainly be to not help him. The Torah teaches us that we should overcome our inclinations and help him out. The truth of the matter is that there is no better way of restoring friendship and mending fences than to help out one’s enemy.
A Thought In Honor of the 125th Yahrtzeit of Rav Yisrael Salanter
This Erev Shabbos, the 25th of Shevat, is the 125th Yahrtzeit of Rav Yisrael Salanter. I happen to remember that on the 100th Yahrtzeit, Rav Ruderman, who was a student of the Alter of Slabodka, who in turn was a disciple of Rav Yisrael, came into the Beis Medrash and gave a special lecture on the personality of Rav Yisrael Salanter and the mussar movement in general. Rav Ruderman felt very close to the entire mussar movement and in fact named Ner Israel, the Yeshiva he founded, after the founder of the mussar movement — Rav Yisrael (Lipkin) of Salant…
We have all, in one way or another, been affected by the mussar movement. On the occasion of this special Yahrtzeit, I therefore would like to relate the following story about Rav Yisrael. May it be a source of merit for him.
Rav Yisrael was once traveling by train from Salant to Vilna. In those days, it was not prohibited to smoke on the train. Rav Yisrael was smoking a cigar. (It may be hard for us to picture the founder of the mussar movement smoking a cigar, but in those days it was a sociologically different experience.) A much younger person came up to him and started yelling that the cigar smelled up the car. Although technically he was within his rights to keep on smoking, being who he was, Rav Yisrael extinguished the cigar. He felt so bad about it that he opened the window to air out the car. Then this same fellow started yelling at Rav Yisrael that the car was too cold because he opened the window. He humiliated Rav Yisrael with his tirades. Rav Yisrael closed the window.
When they arrived in Vilna, the young man noticed there were hundreds of people waiting to greet Rav Yisrael. He found out who Rav Yisrael was and started crying to the rabbi with profuse apologies. Rav Yisrael said he forgave the man.
The man then began pouring out his heart to him. He told Rav Yisrael that he came to Vilna because he needed a livelihood and had no job. He was a shochet but in order to receive a slaughterer’s license he needed a “kesav kabalah” (written Rabbinic permission) from one of the Rabbis in Vilna who issued such licenses.
Rav Yisrael told him that he had a son-in-law who was a Rav in Vilna. He offered to write him a letter of recommendation and sent him to his son-in- law for a test for his Shechita license. Unfortunately, when he went to the son-in-law for the test he failed it miserably. He returned to Rav Yisrael and again cried to him with his tale of woe. Rav Yisrael found him tutors to learn with him and they prepared him for the test, which he was eventually able to pass. He finally received his “kesav kabalah” from Rav Yisrael’s son-in-law.
When he was about to leave Vilna he came back to Rav Yisrael and said to him: “it was nice enough that you forgave me for my rudeness in the train, but the fact that you sent me to your son-in-law with a letter of recommendation and found tutors for me when I f ailed — why were you so nice to me?”
Rav Yisrael responded, “Anyone can say the words ‘I forgive you.’ But the only way I felt it would be possible for me to really forgive you was to get to like you. The only way to get to like someone is to help him. The key to becoming someone’s friend is not to take from him but to give to him. I wanted my forgiveness to you to be sincere and not merely lip service. In order to be able to forgive you with a full heart, I really had to be able to go out of my way a bit to help you. This was not YOUR golden opportunity. It was MY golden opportunity.”
This is exactly why the Torah singles out the fact that the burdened donkey belongs to “your enemy”. One might be thinking to himself “This could not have happened to a nicer guy.” One’s natural inclination is “v’chadalta me’azov lo” — “I don’t want to help this guy.”
Therefore the Torah commands: “You shall surely help him”. The only way to overcome this situation of en mity is by, in fact, helping him. There used to be a bumper sticker: “Love your enemies — It will drive them crazy”. This is not a mussar idea. The mussar idea is “Love your enemies, and they won’t be your enemies anymore!”
That was what the mussar movement was all about — to teach people how to overcome their natural inclinations and to live up to the standards of “man created in the Image of G-d”.
This write-up was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tape series on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic topics covered in this series for Parshas Mishpatim are provided below:
Tape # 043 – Malpractice
Tape # 086 – Withholding Medical Treatment
Tape # 134 – Hashovas Aveida: Returning Lost Objects
Tape # 181 – Medicine, Shabbos, and the Non-Jew
Tape # 227 – Taking Medicine on Shabbos
Tape # 271 – Experimental Medical Treatment
Tape # 317 – Wrecking a Borrowed Car
Tape # 361 – Bankruptcy
Tape # 405 – Litigating in Secular Courts
Tape # 449 – Is Gambling Permitted
Tape # 493 – Bitul B’Rov
Tape # 537 – Losing Your Coat at a Coat Check
Tape # 581 – Lending Without Witnesses
Tape # 625 – The Kesuba
Tape # 669 – Rabbinical Contracts
Tape # 713 – Adam haMazik and Liability Insurance
Tape # 757 – M’Dvar Sheker Tirchak: True or False?
Tape # 801 – Oy! My Wallet Went Over Niagra Falls
Tape # 845 – Is Hunting a Jewish Sport?
Tape # 889 – Mishpatim — The Neighbor Who Forgot To Turn Off The Fire
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.
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