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Friday, February 24

פרשת משפטים - To help or not to help

In this week's parsha, we are commanded to come to the aid of our fellow Jew whose donkey is crouching under his burden and needs help to load it on. The Torah chooses a rather interesting way of delivering this mitzvah. The pasuk reads simply (23:5) "If you shall see the donkey of someone you hate crouching beneath his burden and you refrain from aiding him, you surely aid him."

The first point to consider is that the Torah presents the case of a donkey belonging to one who is hated. We learn from here that if we are faced with two such situations, one involving a friend and one involving an enemy, the Torah commands us to help out the one whom you hate in order to suppress your instinctual inclinations and force a friendship to be made.

The second puzzling part of the pasuk is the seemingly gratuitous phrase "vechadalta mei'azov lo," and you will refrain from helping him. What does the Torah mean by this phrase? The gemara learns from here that there are times when you are in fact expected not to help out. For instance, if you are an elderly man and it is not respectful or if you are a kohein and the donkey is in a cemetery. However, this does not seem to fit in as the simple reading of the pasuk. Rashi writes that it is an rhetorical question, "should you refrain from helping him ?!" However, it is also difficult to understand the pasuk in this way.

R' Chaim Kunyevsky writes in Ta'ama D'kra that the reason for this phrase is connected to the aforementioned lesson learned from the pasuk. The Torah tells you to help out your enemy in order to break your hatred. This would therefore only apply if under normal circumstances you would not have helped him. Thus, the Torah says, when you see you enemy's donkey and, under normal circumstances you would have neglected to help him, then and only then do you help him before your friend. If you would have helped him anyway then there is no reason he should precede your friend.

שבת שלום


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