In Parashas Ki Seitzei, there are a number of Mitzvos instructing us how to react to a fellow Jew who is in some kind of predicament. One of them is the Mitzvo to help unload one’s fellow’s animal when it is suffering under a heavy burden. The Torah tells us: “You shall not see the donkey of your brother or his ox falling on the road and hide yourself from them, you shall surely stand them up, with him.” The commentaries note that this Mitzvo was already mentioned in another place in the Torah, however with a significant difference: In Parashas Mishpatim, the Torah states: “If you see the donkey of your enemy crouching under its burden, would you refrain from helping him? – you shall repeatedly help him.” The obvious question is why, in Parashas Mishpatim, the Torah instructed us to help one’s enemy, whereas in Parashas Ki Seitzei, the Torah discussed helping his brother.
The Meshech Chachmah offers a fascinating answer. He begins by bringing the Gemara in Pesachim that says it is permissible to ‘hate’ a person whom one knows has committed a despicable action. The ‘enemy’ that the Torah refers to in Parashas Mishpatim is someone about whom one knows he has committed such an action. The Meshech Chacmah writes that the passuk in Parashas Mishpatim was written before the sin of the Golden Calf, when the people were on an incredibly high spiritual level. At that time, because of their high level, it was acceptable for one to harbor negative feelings towards people who acted incorrectly. However, after the people sinned with the Golden Calf and on many other occasions, it would no longer be valid to feel negatively towards someone who sinned. This is because after a realistic self-assessment, each person would realize that they were really no better than the person whom they saw sin. Accordingly, it would be wrong to harbor feelings of hatred towards someone who acted inappropriately. With this explanation, he continues that by the time Moshe instructed the people in Parashas Ki Seitzei, they had already long fallen from their exalted level that they attained before the Golden Calf. Therefore, in this Parashah, the Torah says to help the donkey of “your brother” because even one who acts inappropriately is no worse than anyone else.
We have now explained the difference between the two passukim that deal with helping unload a donkey. However, it is still necessary to analyze why exactly it is so wrong for a person who sins himself, to feel negatively about someone else who sins. The simple understanding would be that it is hypocritical. However, it seems that there is a deeper principle underlying this issue. There are a number of reasons why one may feel negatively towards someone else. It may come from a genuine feeling of disgust at his reprehensible behavior. However, there is also the possibility that the negativity originates from a less pure place. A person may dislike someone else because of jealousy or because that person expresses a dislike to himself. Such forms of aversion are unacceptable according to the Torah viewpoint because they are not coming from a feeling of concern for the person, rather from a personal hatred. The only acceptable type of ‘dislike’ is one that is focused on a dislike of the displeasing actions of the person. However, this should in no way take away from the feelings of love that one must feel for every fellow Jew.
Based on this understanding, it seems that the Meshech Chachmah is saying that if one acts inappropriately himself, he may not feel negatively towards his fellow man who also acts improperly. This is because the fact that he himself sins, means that he does not feel a genuine disdain for sin, for if he did, then he would not sin himself. Therefore, his feelings of negativity are inevitably stemming, not from a pure distaste for sin, but for personal motives. Dislike that comes from such motives are unacceptable.
We have seen how it is unacceptable to look down on others for their mistakes, when we commit similar mistakes ourselves. Whilst it is essential to care about the spiritual level of others, one must be careful that his concern his genuine and not coming from his own personal flaws. Moreover, as the Meshech Chachmah pointed out, if we were to make our own personal accounting, we would recognize many areas where there could be improvement. Elul, in particular, is a time that is very conducive to focus on one’s own faults as opposed to those of other people.