Parshat Misphatim- Sharing the Load

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(‘כִּי תִרְאֶה חֲמוֹר שֹׂנַאֲךָ רֹבֵץ תַּחַת מַשָּׂאוֹ וְחָדַלְתָּ מֵעֲזֹב לוֹ עָזֹב תַּעֲזֹב עִמּוֹ (שמות כ”ג:ה”

This week’s פרשה, which begins with a detailed description of Jewish Civil Law that G-d teaches to משה on הר סיני, follows with מוסר on judging people fairly. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we see a very interesting פסוק:

כִּי תִרְאֶה חֲמוֹר שֹׂנַאֲךָ רֹבֵץ תַּחַת מַשָּׂאוֹ וְחָדַלְתָּ מֵעֲזֹב לוֹ עָזֹב תַּעֲזֹב עִמּוֹ”

If you see the donkey of your enemy struggling under its burden, don’t עזב to him- עזב with him”

The repetition of עזב at the end of the פסוק immediately catches our attention- usually repetition of a word in the Torah shows emphasis, leading us to wonder; what is the פסוק trying to emphasize there? Also, what does “עזב תעזב” mean- in modern Hebrew, עזב means to leave. Is the תורה really telling us to abandon our enemies at their time of need?

רש”י answers by quoting various פסוקים in נביא that show that עזיבה can actually be interpreted as עזרה (helping). Based on this interpretation, the פסוק is actually telling us “If you see the donkey of your enemy struggling under its load, you must go help him!” According to רש”י, if our Jewish brother needs help, even if we consider him to be an ‘enemy’, we must help him, even if we do not want to,

תרגום אונקלוס, an Aramaic translation and interpretation of the חומש, presents a slightly different explanation:

ארי תחזי חמרא דסנאך רביע תחות טועניה ותתמנע מלמשקל ליה משבק תשבוק מא דבלבך עלוהי ותפריק עמיה

If you  see the donkey of your enemy struggling under its weight and you want to ignore it and leave (עזב), leave (עזב תעזב) your desire (to ignore him) and help him.

אונקלוס’s interpretation of the פסוק teaches that if your enemy needs help, not only should you help him but you should leave your desire not to help him and be happy to help your ‘enemy’ at his time of need, because you are helping a fellow Jew and fulfilling a מצוה from the תורה. This idea teaches us that the only way to have true אחדות is to have Jews being happy to help each other, no matter what personal feelings they have for each other. This is the only way to truly fulfill the directive in פרשת קדושים of “ואהבת לרעך כמוך,” and through this true אהבת ישראל, unconditional love for our fellow Jew, we will hopefully see the Jewish Nation reunited very soon.

Unfortunately, there is a shortness of אחדות now in the State of Israel. With the opening of the Nineteenth Knesset and negotiations between different parties to form a new government under Binyanim Netanyahu, there is a lot of friction between the sects of Judaism and their representative parties, especially between the left-wing non-religious Jews (Meretz, Kadima, Hatnua, Yesh Atid), centrist religious Zionist Jews (Halikud, Habayit Hayehudi), and right-wing Hareidi Jews (Yahdut Hatorah, Shas). Based on the results of last month’s election, for Netanyahu to be able to form a coalition, he would need to have parties from both the left-wing and right-wing agree to join the government. Unfortunately, both sides have very strong opinions and refuse to cooperate. The חילוני parties, especially centrist-left party יש עתיד, insist they will not enter a government unless the new government will insist on equal national service for Hareidim who were previously exempt under Tal Law. The חרידי parties on the other hand, believe that their constituents who are learning in Yeshiva and Kollel are doing national service by defending the Jewish nation through תורה and do not believe that a single Yeshiva student should be drafted. Despite reasonable attempts from the centrist-right parties to create a compromise where only some Yeshiva students would be drafted, neither extreme is ready to compromise.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these negotiations are taking place in the weeks that we read of מתן תורה, the height of Jewish Unity. I believe that while negotiating for the new government, all of the parties of the Knesset (especially the שומרי תורה ומצות) must heed the lesson of the פרשה, of “עזב תעזב,” that running a country is like a donkey falling under too much weight- there are a lot of different sides, each with their own different and sometimes conflicting goals. In order for the country to run successfully, everyone must split the burden, whether economically or defensively. While the left’s feeling of bearing the economic burdens of the country may be a more clear cut issue, the defense of Israel, whether spiritual (תורה) or physical (צה”ל), is felt to be carried out by both sides. In order to achieve true unity, left-wing parties must accept the importance of learning תורה for the defense of the Jewish Homeland, and right-wing parties must accept the importance of sending their constituents to the army, even if it would temporarily remove them from תורה learning. Only once both extremes recognize and appreciate the other side’s opinions can they begin to negotiate towards a compromise, and, with Hashem’s help, we will see the establishment of a stable government in Israel, one which fairly represents all flavors of Judaism- whether non-religious or ultra-religious, or anywhere in between- very soon.

At this time it saddens me that things are polarized and conflicted in Israel, as there is a party in the Knesset, one which has been bashed from both sides of the spectrum, which represents both the spiritual and physical concerns of the Jewish State; the הבית היהודי/Jewish Home party led by religious Jew and successful businessman Naftali Bennet. Here is one man who leads a party which respects both sides, yet he is vilified by them. In this week’s פרשה, we are told to treat our enemies like friends- unfortunately, instead, we are treating our friends like enemies. Our גלות began through שנאת חינם like this, and only through אהבת חינם, through treating our fellow Jews with respect, even when believe them to be our ‘enemy,’ will it end. Shabbat Shalom.