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Help Your Enemy

Topic: Well Being | Posted:January 22, 2014

It is very interesting where the portion of Mishpatim appears in the Torah. At the end of the previous portion, Yitro, there was the Revelation at Sinai, the Ten Utterances. Then we come to Mishpatim, which is a list of different laws and ways of action, and it is not until the end of the portion that the Creator calls Moses to receive the Tablets.

Those two sections, the Ten Utterances in Yitro and the end of Mishpatim, are really one story; this whole section of Mishpatim, therefore, cuts the story in half. In the middle is a list of rules and laws. It does not really seem in the right place. And so we have to understand why the Creator chose to split the story of the Revelation at Sinai into two - one that precedes Mishpatim and one that appears at the end of Mishpatim.

The understanding is, as the kabbalists teach it, that in Mishpatim we are given the basic spiritual rules for living. As such, if we don’t understand the teachings that are revealed in Mishpatim, the whole giving of the Torah is therefore misunderstood. It’s like there’s almost no reason to even receive the Torah. So, here, the Creator really wants to send us the message that if you don’t understand some of the basic teachings of Mishpatim, you cannot understand the purpose of the giving of the Torah, you cannot understand the purpose of the Revelation at Sinai. And there’s almost no point in having the Revelation at Sinai without these understandings.

It says in this portion that if you meet the lost ox or donkey of your enemy, you have to bring it back to him. Then it says that if you see that the donkey of your enemy has a heavy load on him that he can’t carry, you have to help him. If we read this on a simple level, it’s a nice thing. Meaning, even if somebody is your enemy you really should help them out if you can. But there’s a deeper understanding to this verse, which hopefully re-orients all of our spiritual work.

Rabbi Yonathan ben Uziel, the Amuka, who translated the Torah from the original Hebrew into Aramaic with a commentary, says something very interesting about that verse, which is also discussed in the Gemara Pesachim. Who is this enemy being talked about? This enemy, he says, isn’t just some guy who you don’t get along with. This isn’t even some guy that has done something negative to you. This is somebody you’ve seen do very negative actions which nobody else knows about. And you’ve tried to dissuade him from doing these actions, but he doesn’t listen to you and keeps on doing them.

For example, say you are walking by an apartment and you see this guy you know walking out with a bag full of jewelry. You realize he is stealing, and you tell him that he shouldn’t be stealing and that he should put everything back. And the guy slaps you away and keeps on going. The next day you are walking by a different house and you see the same guy walking out with stolen objects. And again you tell him he really shouldn’t be stealing, but still the guy doesn’t pay attention to you.

Your dislike for this person is not a personal dislike. It comes from the fact that you know the terrible things that he’s done. As a matter of fact, the worst part is that probably nobody else knows how bad this guy is. So this is who the Amuka says we are talking about when it says “enemy.” This makes it a little more difficult, right? Because it’s not just a guy that you don’t get along with. This is somebody who you know does terrible things, who maybe everybody else thinks is a great guy. Yet, still you have to help him.

But it gets even more difficult. The Gemara asks, if you have two people who need assistance, one is your best friend and the other is your enemy, and you can only help one of them, who do you help?

The Gemara says something, and it’s important to understand these words. The Gemara says mitzvah besono, which means not only do you have to help your enemy, but the only situation that’s going to give you any Light is going to be the one in which you are assisting your enemy. Maybe if you help your friend, your friendship will get a little stronger, your friend will be thankful towards you, but there is no Light in your action. But why is it so, mitzvah besono? Why is the Light only going to be revealed if you help your enemy and not your friend?

Because the entire purpose of the actions that we do are only to push down our Desire to Receive for the Self-Alone. And clearly when there are two actions, one which is going to help our enemy and one which is going to help our friend, our natural desire is to help our friend. But it says in the Talmud that there’s only Light in helping our enemy.

Let’s think about that for a moment. Most of us think that to one degree or another our spiritual work is about becoming a good person. But we forget that it’s not about doing positive actions or helping another person, because in this case we’re talking about, both of the actions will be actions of sharing. However, the only purpose of actions of sharing is the pain that it causes you and the change that it brings to you. So now you can understand that in this type of situation there is no Light in the action of sharing with your friend; there is only Light - because there is only change - in the action of helping your enemy.

The commentators also ask, why did your enemy’s need for assistance suddenly become apparent to you? How did you find out about it? It’s not a coincidence that you’ve somehow come to know or hear that your enemy needs help. The Creator has created this situation as an opportunity for you because there’s some blessing or judgment that you have to remove. Whereas, if you take the opportunity to help your friend instead, you won’t receive that assistance to remove the judgment... only if you help your enemy will you receive that assistance.

Most of us have trouble even helping those we love. Most of us have trouble, certainly, assisting those we don’t love greatly. But we need to come to the understanding that when we have the choice between helping somebody who we love and somebody we see as an enemy– and not just because they’ve hurt us, but because we know things about them that are terrible – we need to help our enemy. Because, as we know, if the entire purpose of our spiritual work is to do the difficult thing and bring about internal change within us, it’s an obvious choice. Of course there is only Light in helping your enemy, because it is more difficult for you. And it’s important that we understand this because throughout life we have these opportunities with people who annoy us, who we don’t like, or in this case, as the Torah says, are our enemies. And we make ourselves feel better about our choices by saying to ourselves, “Maybe I’m not helping this guy who is annoying me, but look at all these other very nice people who I am assisting.”

But the Torah is telling us there is no Light in any of that assistance you are giving to those nice people who you like. The one who annoys you, the one who is your enemy, that’s where your Light is. The only Light that is revealed is when you make the more difficult choice.

If we clarify to ourselves that the only purpose of our spiritual work is the change that it brings to us, then it makes it clear that when there’s a choice between helping where we want to help and helping where we really don’t want to, we understand that there’s no Light in helping where we want to. The only real Light is going to be revealed when we assist when we don’t want to. Then it changes both our perspective and our spiritual work. It also changes the choices that we make. That’s why it says, mitzvah besono. You want to know where the Light is, what is going to connect you to the Light of the Creator? Only in those choices that you don’t want to make. Only in those choices to help the people you don’t want to help, in the situations where you don’t want to help.

We have to take that step back. This is one of the understandings as to why Mishpatim appears between the giving of the Torah… because if this isn’t one of the guiding rules of our spiritual choices, then we have missed the entire purpose of the giving of the Torah.

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