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Parashat Mishpatim - 5773

My friends,

Following the Revelation at Sinai and the Giving of the Ten Commandments, which we read about last week, the portion we read this Shabbat called Mishpatim (Laws) starts with these words:

"And these are the laws, which you shall set before them."

In this portion there are 53 laws that establish a code of civil, moral and religious laws that will become the essence of the Covenant between G-d and Israel.

The Oral Law (the Mishna, Gemarah and all the Rabbinic literature) go into minute details, dealing with each of these laws. Here is an example: Exodus, Chapter 23, verse 5:

"When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden, and you would refrain from raising it, you must surely raise it with him"

The Hebrew word for 'raising' is 'azov'. The Hebrew text emphasizes the Mitzvah of helping, by repeating the word 'azov'. It says, "Azov ta-Azov Immo" (raise, raise with him).

Here are some of the details that the Oral Law builds around this Mitzvah:

  1. The Torah repeats the words 'azov' to teach us that you must be willing to help, even if it happens a hundred times.
  2. It also means that you must help him not only to unload but also to load a burden on a donkey.
  3. If you come across two similar situations, one donkey belonging to your friend, and one to your enemy, your help the donkey of your enemy first, because the Torah says 'of your enemy'.
  4. If you come cross two individuals, one loading his donkey and the other unloading, you help the one who is unloading first, in order to prevent pain to the animal.
  5. In the latter case, if the one who is unloading the donkey is your friend, and the one who is loading is your enemy, you help your enemy first - even though by doing so, the other donkey is suffering.

What is the rationale for such an act? Shouldn't you help to unload the lying animal first, before helping your enemy place a load on his donkey!?

In Tractate Baba Metziah 32A, this explanation is given: 'In this case it is preferable to control your inclination.' Natural law dictates to help the poor donkey, and that is what would be a good excuse for a person to ignore helping an enemy. However, the question is, are you choosing that action because it gives you an out of not helping your enemy? Will that hate continue to be in your heart? The Gemarah's conclusion is that the priority in this case is to control you natural inclination of not helping someone you hate. It is better to be involved in repairing a relationship which would lead to a better society.

An important message. Besides being a judicial code the Torah is also a moral code. Take every opportunity to make the world a better place. After helping your enemy load his donkey, you can both go and help unload the lying donkey.

Let's keep looking for opportunities to make friends and chase hate from our hearts.

This evening is Rosh Hodesh Adar, the new month of Adar. Because Purim is coming, be happy, enjoy your life.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram