By Laura Seymour
One of the many challenges for our children (and many times, ourselves) is how to treat people we don’t like. As adults, we know how to be courteous to individuals of which we aren’t too fond — or at least, we should know how to be courteous to them. But it’s more difficult for children. All of us have been through the experience of having to break up fights (verbal and sometimes, sadly, physical) between children who don’t get along.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Judaism has definite ideas about how to treat our enemies. Very simply, we’re charged to act with compassion toward enemies, even if we can’t stand them. We’re not charged with loving our enemies or even hating them. Rather, we’re required to act fairly toward them.
In the Book of Exodus (23:5) it says that “if you see your enemy’s donkey lying down under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.” In other words, not liking the person doesn’t mean ignoring his poor animal.
Delving into the story of the donkey and its burdens more specifically, let’s examine a midrash (Tanchuma, Mishpatim 1)
Two donkey drivers who despised each other were walking on a road when the donkey of one lay down under its burden. The other donkey driver saw this, and passed on, before remembering what was written in the Torah.
So he returned, and despite his dislike of the first driver, helped in the unloading of goods from the donkey’s back, talking in the meantime, suggesting the first driver release a little here, pull up a little there.
As they worked and the second donkey driver spoke, peace came between them, and the driver of the overloaded donkey thought “Did I not suppose that he hated me? But look how kind he has been.”
After their efforts, the two found and entered an inn, ate and drank together, and became fast friends. This is a great story, but let’s examine it a little more deeply. The midrash says these two became friends because one of them kept what is written in the Torah. Certainly that’s correct, but keeping the commandment to show compassion toward enemies is just the beginning. What really led to this friendship was that these two donkey drivers talked while they worked together for a common cause. In doing so, they became friends.
This is not to suggest that you tell your children to make friends with every single person who crosses their paths — sometimes people’s personalities just don’t mesh well. But by suggesting your children show courtesy and compassion to those they may not like (and doing the same yourself), you support a Jewish commandment and teach them valuable skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.
Laura Seymour, is director of Youth and Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.