King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (25:21-22), "If your enemy is hungry,
feed him bread; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink--for you will be
`choteh' coals on his head, and Hashem will reward you." R' Yehoshua ibn
Shuiv z"l (Spain; 14th century) initially rejects the popular translation
of the word, "choteh," i.e., "scooping." He writes: G-d forbid that King
Shlomo would suggest that one perform kindness for his enemy for the
purpose of taking revenge on him. Rather, the word means, "removing."
One who performs acts of kindness for his enemy "removes" burning coals--
i.e., anger--from the enemy's heart and promotes peace. Alternatively, if
the word does mean, "scooping," the intention would be that one may
perform acts of kindness for his enemy so that his enemy will be ashamed
to continue hating him.
We read in our parashah (22:1), "You shall not see the ox of your
brother or his sheep or goat cast off, and hide yourself from them; you
shall surely return them to your brother." In Parashat Mishpatim (Shmot
23:4), this same mitzvah is worded differently: "If you encounter the ox
of your enemy or his donkey wandering, you shall return it to him
repeatedly." The commandment in our verse, writes R' ibn Shuiv, is of
general applicability, while the commandment in Mishpatim, i.e., to return
the lost animal of one's enemy, is an act "lifnim m'shurat ha'din" /
beyond the letter of the law, applicable to a person who wants to conquer
his yetzer hara. R' ibn Shuiv adds that the "enemy" spoken of here is a
person that a righteous Jew hates because of the other's sinful deeds.
Otherwise, it is forbidden to hate another Jew. [See page 3.] Even so,
Hashem does not completely despise even a wicked person, and there is
therefore a mitzvah to assist him, for one should not try to be "more
religious" than G-d Himself. (Derashot R"Y ibn Shuiv)
"When you will go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem,
your G-d, will give him into your hands . . ." (21:10)
Why does the verse begin with a plural noun ("enemies") and then use
a singular pronoun ("him")? R' Aryeh Leib Zunz z"l (Polish rabbi and
prolific author; died 1833) explains:
Many commentaries explain that our verse, besides its plain meaning,
alludes to man's battle with his yetzer hara. Our question may be
answered in this light. Our Sages teach that when one performs a mitzvah,
he creates an angel who defends him in the Heavenly court. On the other
hand, if one sins, G-d forbid, he creates an angel who accuses him in the
One who wants to succeed in judgment on the upcoming High Holidays
needs to have more mitzvot to his credit than sins, more defending angels
than prosecuting angels. And, our Sages teach that when one repents, his
sins become mitzvot. Thus, his accusing angels become defending angels.
Our Sages teach, also, that one should always view himself as neither
righteous not wicked, but rather half-and-half. If so, then a person who
wants to succeed in judgment needs to change one prosecuting angel to a
defending angel. Paraphrasing our verse, when one goes to war against all
of his enemies -- the prosecuting angels who represent his sins -- he
really only needs one enemy to be given into his hands in order to
succeed. (Kometz Ha'minchah)
"When you will go out to war against your enemies . . . and you
will see a beautiful woman among the captives . . ." (21:10-11)
This parashah teaches us the Torah's attitude toward beauty, says R'
Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l (1903-1993). "When you will go out to war
against your enemies and you will see a beautiful woman among the
captives"--when you fight your enemies--Canaanites, Persians, Greeks,
Romans, or Germans--you will undoubtedly see beautiful aspects of their
cultures. Therefore, you should know: You are permitted to bring home
everything beautiful that you see, but don't be fooled by external beauty.
This is symbolized by the Torah's demand that the captive woman change out
of her foreign clothes. The Torah demands a waiting period after the
captive woman is brought into the home--i.e., examine this newfound
culture very carefully. Is it really something that you want in your
home? (Yemei Zikaron p.125)
"You shall not see the ox of your brother or his sheep or goat
cast off and hide yourself from them; you shall surely return
them to your brother . . . you may not [literally: `You will be
unable'] to hide yourself." (Devarim 21:22-23)
R' Avraham Shaag z"l (1801-1876; Hungary and Eretz Yisrael) asks why
these verses repeat themselves. What is added by the last phrase, "You
may not hide yourself"?
He explains: Even a person who was born with negative character
traits can acquire good traits in their place. This is done by behaving
in a way which is contrary to one's natural tendencies. For example, if
one is disposed to hate another person, one can conquer those feelings by
going out of his way to do kindness for that person.
Chazal learn from the phrase, "You shall surely return them to your
brother," that you must return a lost object even if its owner has already
lost it, and you have already returned it, 100 times. If you perform this
act of kindness repeatedly, says R' Shaag, "You will be unable to hide
yourself"; it will become natural to do a kindness for the person that you
R' Shaag adds: Particularly in this month of Elul, when the shofar is
blown to awaken us to return to Hashem, we must remove the hatred of
others from our hearts, stop lording over others, eradicate lashon hara,
and cease other infractions that we commit against our fellow men. Maybe,
just maybe, by the time Yom Kippur has passed, the good behavior that we
adopted during Elul will have become second nature. (Derashot Ha'Rash
Vol. I, No. 25)
"Do not observe your brother's donkey or his ox falling and turn
yourself away -- you shall surely help it up." (22:4)
In Parashat Mishpatim, the same mitzvah is given, but there the Torah
refers to the animal of "your enemy." Why this difference?
With regard to the verse in Mishpatim the Gemara asks: How does one
have an enemy? Is it then permitted to hate another Jew? The Gemara
explains that "your enemy" refers to one whom you have witnessed sinning.
If he refuses to repent, you are obligated to hate him.
However, writes R' Meir Simcha Hakohen z"l (rabbi of Dvinsk; died
1926), that was only before the sin of the Golden Calf, which is described
in the Torah after Parashat Mishpatim. Before that sin, all Jews were on
such an exalted level that they were able to hate someone merely because
he had sinned. But today, who can make such a claim?! Rather, we are all
brothers. (Meshech Chochmah)
R' Yaakov Yosef Hakohen of Polnoye z"l (student of the Ba'al Shem
Tov; died 1785) interprets this homiletically: "Do not observe your
brother's donkey or his ox falling"--it is better not to see your brother
in a state of spiritual decline (becoming like a donkey or an ox). "Turn
But if you do see, "You shall surely help [him] up." (Toldot Yaakov
This Week in History, Halachah, and Minhag
8 Elul: This date was observed as a fast day in Worms (Vermiza),
Germany in commemoration of the pogrom that occurred at the time of the
Black Death in 5109 (1349). (Luach Davar B'ito p.1302)
Shabbat Parashat Ki Tetze: One who did not fulfil the obligation to
hear Parashat Zachor when it was read on the Shabbat before Purim may
fulfill that mitzvah this week, since the verses of Parashat Zachor
(Devarim 25:17-19) are found in this week's parashah.
9 Elul: This date is the birthday and yahrzeit of Dan, son of Yaakov
and Leah. (Seder Ha'dorot)
On this date in 5027 (1267), R' Moshe ben Nachman z"l (Ramban; 1194-
1270) arrived in Yerushalayim. He remained in Yerushalayim until after
Yom Kippur and then traveled to Chevron to pray at the graves of the
Patriarchs and to prepare a grave for himself there (Letter to his son
Nachman, printed in Kitvei Ha'Ramban I p.367). Ramban eventually settled
in Akko (Acre), and his burial place is unknown.
Today is the yahrzeit of R' Tzaddok Hakohen Rabinowitz z"l (1823-
1900; chassidic rebbe in Lublin). The writings of "Reb Tzaddok," as he is
popularly known, are noted for their depth and they have gained widespread
popularity even outside chassidic circles.
13 Elul: Today is the 100th yahrzeit of R' Yosef Chaim of Baghdad
z"l, one of the most influential Sephardic halachic authorities of recent
centuries. He left dozens of written works covering all areas of Torah,
the best known of which include Ben Ish Chai, which contains practical
halachot arranged according to the parashah, and Ben Yehoyada, a
commentary on the aggadeta sections of the Talmud.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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