“When you encounter your enemy’s ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him.” — Exodus 23:4
One of the important features found in Mishpatim regarding the regulating of behavior in the public sphere is when it deals with those situations wherein there is a breakdown within the normal and expected realities that generally govern this sphere. Such a breakdown undermines peaceful coexistence between society’s members….
…the Torah is attempting to create men who, in their interactions with others, are governed by a sense of responsibility to act not in accordance with their own interests, but rather in accordance with the needs, hopes, and aspirations of the other. If Hillel (Talmud, Shabbat 31a) states that the fundamental principle governing our moral interactions is “what is hateful to you, do not do to others,” the laws of lost property dictate and teach us that you are not the sole barometer of what is right and what is necessary, but, rather, the other person who is in need of your assistance. It is your responsibility to truly see the other — to be senstive to their needs and desires and then to respond with moral activism. — Hartman, p.117, 121
This quote is taken from R. Donniel Hartman’s essay, “A Man in Public,” IN The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary.* The entire essay can be read at http://books.google.com. The brief article discusses some of the related issues in Jewish law, such as how to determine when an article is “ownerless.”
Shemot/Exodus 23:4 is frequently referenced in explorations of Jewish values generally and, more specifically, with regard to “hakem takem imo” — lifting up/aiding those in distress. It is cited, along with other verses from this week’s portion, in Hershey H. Friedman’s “Creating a Company Code of Ethics: Using the bible as a guide.” See also, Nechama Leibowitz,* “Two Acts of Help.”
* Please see Source Materials for complete citations and more details.
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