כי תראה חמור שנאך רובץ תחת משאו וחדלת מעזוב לו עזוב תעזוב עמו.
“If you will see the donkey of your enemy that collapsed underneath its burden, will you refrain from helping him? Help and assist him together.” (Shemos 23:5)
Why does the Torah emphasize that one must help an enemy’s donkey? The Torah could have instructed us not to refrain from helping any donkey that collapsed under its burden, and that would automatically include an enemy’s donkey.
Even more puzzling is the natural manner in which the Torah assumes that a person has an enemy. The Torah prohibits a person from harboring hatred against another person, as it says (Vayikra 19:17): “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” So why does the Torah command us to help our enemy, as if it’s the most natural thing to have one in the first place?
Our sages explain that sometimes it is permitted to hate another person, and that is if you personally see someone intentionally commit a transgression despite being warned. In such a case, it is permissible to hate the transgressor, but only while he commits the sin, because afterwards he may have repented.
If so, why indeed should we help such an enemy, a transgressor? Shouldn’t we stay away from such people and let them deal with their own problems?
The Torah tells us to help “him” – which refers to the donkey. After all, the poor animal shouldn’t be allowed to suffer for its master’s sins. But if we accept this explanation, we once again face the question why the Torah has to mention the word enemy in the first place. We should simply be told to assist any donkey that collapsed under its burden.
One final question: why does the Torah tell us to assist a donkey, instead of making a general statement about assisting any load-bearing animal that collapsed under its burden, including an ox, horse or mule?
There is a powerful symbolic message hidden in these words. Moshiach (the Messiah) is compared to a donkey, as it says (Sandhedrin 98a) that Moshiach will appear like a “poor man riding on a donkey.” The Midrash (Tanchuma Vayishlach a) explains a particular verse by saying that “donkey alludes to Moshiach ben Dovid.”
The word chamor – donkey, can also mean “physicality.” Moshiach will “ride on his physicality,” which means that he will fully control his inclinations and harness his body to serve the soul. All of his physical actions will be completely subservient to the needs of the soul. The letters of the wordchamor can be rearranged to spell the word rachum – mercy. By harnessing the “donkey” – physicality – to serve Hashem, Moshiach will evoke mercy on the Nation and hasten the final Redemption.
What postpones the Redemption? When there is hatred among us, we increase Moshiach’s burden and cause him to “collapse.” The Torah tells us to do away with petty quarreling and enmity and thereby help the “donkey” – Moshiach, from underneath its unbearable burden. We should disregard our differences and act lovingly to our fellow people. By doing so, we will assist Moshiach who is compared to a donkey and hasten his arrival.
We should all work towards lifting Moshiach’s burden by living together in harmony despite any differences we may have. Then we will be worthy of his arrival, may it be speedily in our days, Amein.