Parashat Mishpatim: Midrash

Midrash מִדְרָשׁ

Here’s a midrash that tells a story about the pesukim in peshat hapesukim. It can help us understand why the mitzvah is specifically to help your enemy’s animal, and not just anyone’s animal. The midrash uses a pasuk from Tehillim to explain:
אַתָּה כּוֹנַנְתָּ מֵישָׁרִים
מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה בְּיַעֲקֹב  אַתָּה עָשִׂיתָ׃
You (God) set things straight,
You made mishpat (law) and tzedakah (righteousness) in Yaakov.
מַהוּ "אַתָּה כּוֹנַנְתָּ מֵישָׁרִים" (תהילים צט:ד)?
אָמַר רַבִּי אֲלֶכְּסַנְדְּרִי: שְׁנֵי חַמָּרִים מְהַלְּכִין בַּדֶּרֶךְ שׂוֹנְאִין זֶה לָזֶה. רָבַץ לְאַחַד מֵהֶן חֲמוֹרוֹ. חֲבֵרוֹ עוֹבֵר וְרוֹאֵהוּ שֶׁרָבַץ תַּחַת מַשָּׂאוֹ, אָמַר, לֹא כְּתִיב בַּתּוֹרָה "כִּי תִרְאֶה חֲמוֹר שׂנַאֲךָ… עָזֹב תַּעֲזֹב"?
מֶה עָשָׂה? חָזַר וְטָעַן וּמְלַוֵּהוּ. הִתְחִיל מֵסִיחַ עִמּוֹ, עֲזֹב קִמְעָא מִכָּאן, הַעֲלֵה מִכָּאן, עֲרֹק מִכָּאן, עַד שֶׁיִּטְעֹן עִמּוֹ, נִמְצְאוּ עוֹשִׂין שָׁלוֹם בֵּינֵיהֶם.
וַחֲבֵרוֹ אוֹמֵר:
לֹא הָיִיתִי סָבוּר שֶׁהוּא שׂוֹנְאִי. רְאֵה הֵיאַךְ רִחֵם עָלַי כְּשֶׁרָאָה אוֹתִי וְאֶת חֲמוֹרִי בְּדֹחַק.
מִתּוֹךְ כָּךְ, נִכְנְסוּ לְפֻנְדָּק, אָכְלוּ וְשָׁתוּ בְּיַחַד וְנִתְאָהֲבוּ זֶה לָזֶה. הֱוֵי, "אַתָּה כּוֹנַנְתָּ מֵישָׁרִים מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה..."
What is meant by Thou hast established equity (ibid.)? R. Alexandri explained it as follows: Two mules are being led along a road by men who despise each other. Suddenly, one of the mules falls to the ground. As the one who is leading the second mule passes by, he sees the mule of the other man stretched out beneath his load, and he says to himself: “Is it not written in the law that If thou seest the ass of him that hateth thee lying under its burden, thou shalt forbear to pass him by; thou shalt verily release it for him (Exod. 23:5)?” What did he do? He turned back to help the other man reload his mule, and then accompanied him on the way. In fact, while working with him he began to talk to the owner of the mule, saying: “Let us loosen it a little on this side, let us tighten it down on this side,” until he reloaded the animal with him. It came to pass that they had made peace between themselves. The driver of the mule (that had fallen) said to himself: “I cannot believe that he hates me; see how concerned he was when he saw that my mule and I were in distress.” As a result, they went into the inn, and ate and drank together. Finally they became extremely attached to each other. Hence, Thou hast established equity, Thou hast executed justice and righteousness.
  • How are mishpat and tzedakah different from each other, and why are they supposed to go together?
  • What does this midrash tell us about what kinds of results should come from keeping mitzvot?
  • Can you think of other times that doing a mitzvah might lead to unintended positive consequences?