28/29 Aug: Ki Teitzei :Shabbat comes in 7:42 pm, ends 8:43 pm
Enemies First: Learning Love From Hatred
Parashat Ki Teitzei brings the peculiar case of your fellow’s ox; a situation presumably already covered in Parashat Mishpatim with the ox of your enemy. The rule in Parashat Mishpatim (Ex. 23:4-5) reads as follows: ‘If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you must surely bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you must surely help him with it.’ Presumably we can interpret from this that we are all responsible for one another’s oxen; if we are obligated to help our enemy’s ox, kal v’chomer (‘all the more so’) we are obligated to help the oxen of our loved ones. However, this week’s Torah portion reads (Deuteronomy 22:1): ‘You must not see your brother’s ox or his sheep driven out and turn yourself away from them; you must surely return them to your brother.’ Why give us a rule for our enemy’s ox, and then reiterate with the ox of our fellow ? From the perspective of animal welfare, this reiteration of the law seems superfluous.
The sages of the Talmud (Bava Metzia 32b) teach that this rule is given first for the enemy and then for the fellow to teach us about prioritisation. In a hypothetical dilemma between helping a friend’s ox and an enemy’s ox, say the sages, one must first help one’s enemy. Furthermore, they conclude that if helping the friend’s ox would fulfil the biblical mitzvah but the enemy requires help in loading his animal (which is not a biblical requirement), one must still prioritise the enemy. This counterintuitive order of priority exists, according to the sages, to ‘conquer one’s (evil) inclination’. Thus we are urged to consider those we dislike as equal in humanity and need with those we love; moreover, we are taught to prioritise them in order to train ourselves out of the impulse to ignore them. As we are more likely to be acutely aware of the needs of those we love, prioritising our enemies allows us to ensure that their needs do not go ignored.
So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme. One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.
Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself. This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:
” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,
hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”
Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society. His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.
I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman