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Mishpatim 2013

“Mishpatim" is usually translated as "statutes", eminently reasonable laws, relating to social or economic activities. This parasha also deals with seemingly mundane issues, such as helping someone’s donkey: “If you see the donkey of someone who hates you lying under its burden, and you refrain from assisting him, you shall repeatedly help with him”.

Note the use of "assisting him" and "help with him". According to 16th century commentator Kli Yakar, the Torah changes the pronoun to teach us that the owner of the donkey should not wait for help. One is not obliged to help him. But if he is willing to help as well, only then is one compelled to help with him.

On 25th of Shevat, it is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Israel Salanter, a famed Rosh Yeshiva and Talmudist. A story is told of when the Salanter Rebbe was travelling on a train to Vilna. He was seated in a smoking compartment enjoying a cigar, when a young passenger started shouting about the smoke. The Salanter Rebbe immediately put out the cigar and opened the window. The same man shouted again complaining it was cold. Arriving in Vilna, the young man noticed the hundreds of people waiting to greet the rabbi and realised who this man was. He begged forgiveness. The Salanter Rebbe forgave him and asked what his journey to Vilna was for. The man replied he was looking for a job as a shochet but needed a recommendation from a local rabbi. Salanter Rebbe referred him to his son-in-law. The man’s knowledge was poor and he failed the test, so the Salanter Rebbe found him tutors. Eventually, the man passed the test and the Salanter Rebbe helped him find a job. The man understood why the Salanter Rebbe forgave him for his rudeness on the train but asked him why he helped him become a sochet. The Salanter Rebbe responded: anyone can say “I forgive you”, but I felt that the only way to really forgive you was to get to like you. And to get to like you, I had to help you, as the key to becoming someone’s friend is to give from yourself. I wanted my forgiveness to be I had to go out of my way to help you.

I once saw a bumper sticker "Love your enemies – It will drive them crazy". What the Torah commands us is "Love your enemies, and they won't be your enemies anymore!",which is too long for a bumper sticker! We naturally refrain from helping our enemy with his donkey, or his difficulties. But we need to overcome our natural inclination not to get involved, and help him. In doing so we can turn an enemy into a friend.

Ashley Reece

More documents on this Parshah: