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Mishpatim 2018

Although the Torah is often accused of being unkind to animals there are many instances when we are specifically commanded to take care of them. One such instance is found in Mishpatim Chapter 23:5, “If you see your enemy’s donkey lying down under its burden and would refrain from raising it up, nevertheless you must raise it up with him”. The Torah demands that we struggle against unkind human feelings. Disliking an owner does not give us the right to ignore the suffering of the animal, or other members of the person’s family.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his book “Jewish Wisdom”, quotes a midrash about two donkey owners who hated each other. They were walking along a road when one of the donkeys collapsed under its burden. The other driver’s conscience pricked him and he went to help the donkey. To do this he had to talk to his enemy and only through their joint collaboration could they raise up the poor animal. This co-operation made them both think differently about each other and they became friends.

In the sentence in Mishpatim, which is repeated in Devarim 22:4, we see that the final word of the verse is imo, which can be translated as “with it” or “with him”. “You shall not see the donkey of your brother or his ox falling on the road and hide yourself from them; you shall surely stand them up with him.” The Hertz Chumash translates imo as “with him” while the Artscroll translates it as “with it”. By translating imo as “with him”, we see that the Torah is actually telling us we should co-operate even with those we dislike.

Groundless hatred brought terrible tragedy to the Jews. We are told that because of infighting between Zealot factions in Jerusalem the food supply was burned. The people then starved and could not fight, so the Romans broke through and destroyed the Temple.

Why was the Temple rebuilt after the destruction by the Babylonians as punishment for terrible crimes, but not rebuilt after the destruction by the Romans for lesser crimes? Rabbi Aaron Tessler answers that when terrible crimes have been committed, people are more inclined to repent and ask forgiveness, while those guilty of groundless hatred never acknowledge their sin, saying their opponents were worthy of such hatred.

The late Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Kook, said: “The Second Temple was destroyed because of groundless hatred. Perhaps the Third Temple will be built because of groundless love.”

Tricia Brickman

More documents on this Parshah: