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If you see your enemy's donkey falling under its burden and you seek to ignore him, [you must do the very opposite]: work together with him [to put things right - 23:5]
The Talmud (Bava Metzia 32ab) debates how far this statement is a Torah-ordained prohibition of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal. And a simple reading of the verse brings together several different things:
(a) Helping a person in need 'together with him' - help him out only when he does his bit. Not when he sits down and leaves the passer-by to get on with the job.
(b) The example of giving help is where the goods are carried by an overloaded and suffering donkey. The Torah takes the animal's suffering into account, by telling the passer-by to help with the baggage, but not to reload the donkey. The fact that you don't like the owner does not mean that the donkey must suffer.
(c) The Torah goes out of its way to single out an enemy person rather than an ordinary person as the individual in need of help.
None of these Torah-directives are unusual. They would be the norms, or at least the pious aspirations of any reasonably civilized society today. What is unusual is the way in which the Torah makes an intense connection between them.
This may be explained in the following way. The main focus of the verse is on people who dislike one another. Suffice to say that we react and respond to people in different ways, either positively (attraction, like), negatively (rejection, dislike), or neutrally. It is natural for us to have negative feelings about some other people, and feeling antipathy or even hatred for them - not because they hurt us, but 'that's how they are'. Often, you can't even put your finger on the 'that' in the 'how they are', but you feel it all the same. Hatred is indeed an emotion.
That such feelings exist are normal and recognizable, but not ideal. The Torah creates opportunities for the individual to break out of the hatred trap. A person who you 'just don't like' is in trouble, and a third party - even a helpless animal with nothing to do with the quarrel is demonstrably suffering because of it. The animal, implies the Torah, should not be made to suffer because Reuben doesn't like Simeon. Nor is the Torah happy that Reuben doesn't like Simeon, although it's a reality of human relationships.
So the Torah asks Reuben to work 'imo - with him'. Both Reuben and Simeon have a job to do together. Reuben doesn't turn away with a vengeful or simply couldn't-care-less blind eye to Simeon's animal's distress and Simeon's financial loss. Simeon doesn't turn away out of laziness or possible embarrassment whilst Simeon gets on with job. Both Reuben and Simeon have to work together to a common objective -stop the animal's suffering, and save the load. And by joint constructive activity they come to form a common bond which in turn helps to turn the hatred around to the feeling of positive comradeship which comes out of the striving together for a common cause.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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