20/21 Aug: Ki Teitzei : Shabbat comes in 7:59 pm, ends 9:02 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 moreso’) 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.