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The Donkey of the Wicked

08/02/13 08:08:39


R Pesach Siegel

The Donkey of the Wicked

Parshas Mishpatim 5773

The laws contained in Parshas Mishpatim are “sandwiched” between two segments of matan Torah.[1] It is evident that these laws are hand picked. They stand out as examples of how the Bnei Yisroel were transformed through the process of matan Torah.


For example, the laws of eved ivri figure quite prominently among these laws. An eved ivri heard the words “Lo signov” on Har Sinai. He heard the word of G-d as He said, “Ki li Bnei Yisroel avadim.” And yet he stole, and he caused himself to be sold into slavery, thus taking upon himself another master. The ear that heard these words is pierced. An actual imprint of Har Sinai is made upon his person.[2]

And so it must be true of every law contained within Parshas Mishpatim.  We have but to dig to unearth the connection.


The Torah says, “Ki sifga shor oyivcha oh chamoro to’eh hashev tishivenu lo.”[3] If you meet up with the ox of your enemy or his donkey and it is evident that it is lost, return it to him. One is not exempt from the mitzvah of hashavas aveida with regards to the possessions of one’s enemy.

The Torah continues, “If you see the donkey of your soneh - hated one - collapsing under its load etc. assist the owner in unloading the burden.”[4]


What is the difference between an oyev and a soneh in this context?


The lesson that one must assist an oyev is taught by the mitzvah of hashavas aveida, while the mitzvah that one must help a soneh is taught by the mitzvah of unloading. Why are they divided up in this manner?


What is the importance of teaching these lessons in conjunction with the giving of the Torah?



A soneh is one who is hated because of his evil acts. The gemora raises the issue, how can one be commanded to assist a soneh? How can this scenario even exist? It is forbidden for one to bear hatred, as the Torah states, “Lo sisna es achicha bilvavecha.”


The gemara answers, the owner of the donkey committed immoral crimes. He actually committed them before the eyes of his potential savior/helper. He warned the wicked donkey owner and yet he did not desist. [5]

An oyev is an enemy. An enemy is not hated because of his evil acts. In fact he might not be hated at all. He is an enemy because of the threat he poses.


The law of hashavas aveida is the mitzvah of restoring property to its owner.


An enemy is not necessarily a wicked rasha. A dispute exists with him and his fellow man. He may be a danger, a threat, but there is no reason to assume that if his property is returned, he will misuse it. The Torah requires one to rise up above the dispute, to be “big”, and return the property of one’s enemy.


In the case of rendering assistance to one whose donkey is in a state of collapse the conditions are much graver. One must extend help even to one who is seemingly evil. One must help someone who it is permissible to hate.


One must go beyond helping an enemy. One must help a hated one. Why?


The Rambam explains; the owner of the donkey is lost. He is all alone and cannot extricate himself from his predicament. In his confusion, out of desperation, he may make the wrong decision. He may choose to stay with his belongings in the wilderness lest they be plundered in his absence. His life is in grave danger.  He may die.


G-d cares for all of his children, whether they be righteous or wicked. While the acts of some may be wicked, at their very core they cling to the main principles of faith. They faithfully accompany G-d. G-d wishes, not for their death but for their return. If they die they cannot come back.[6]


To return lost property to a wicked one is to enable further wickedness. One is not required to do so.


 But to assist a wicked man when his existence is in danger is granting him the gift of further time on this world.


We are all descended from those who stood at the foot of Har Sinai. The Creator revealed Himself with unparalleled clarity. This revelation lies within the depths of the Jewish soul. No amount of wicked acts can manage to obliterate this spark of faithfulness. Any departure from the path of G-d’s will is a temporary setback that given time may and will be corrected.


It is incumbent on all of us to view each other in the light of matan Torah. We see not a wicked man standing helpless next to his fallen donkey. We are to view him as beloved soul, one who is worthy of assistance.


And who knows? Perhaps by extending our hand to a fallen brother, he will recognize the worthiness within himself, and rise to discover his true identity and worth.[7]

[1] Parshas Yisro, perek 20, posuk 1, Parshas Mishpatim, perek 24, posuk 1

[2] Rashi, Parshas Mishpatim, perek 21, posuk 6

[3] Parshas Mishpatim, perek 23, posuk 4

[4] Parshas Mishpatim, perek 23, posuk 5

[5] Meseches Pesachim, daf 113b

[6] Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos, Mitzvas Eseh 202

[7] See Michtav Me’Eliyahu, Chelek 1, Kuntres HaChesed

Wed, September 23 2020 5 Tishrei 5781