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D'varim/Deuteronomy 22:4 You shall not see your brother's donkey or his ox falling in the road and hide yourself from them
The block of verses of which this is the last (D'varim 22:1-4) expands on and affirms those given forty years at Mt. Sinai: "When you encounter your enemy's ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him. When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him" (Shemot 23:4-5, NJPS). In both cases, repetition plays a key part in memorising and remembering the texts. In the Shemot version, the verb , "to repair, restore, lift up, set aright, arrange,"1 is used three times in the second half of verse 5: . In the D'varim version, the verb , "to hide, conceal," (Davidson) is used three times in the block: , "hide yourself" (vv. 1, 4) and , "to hide yourself". In all three instances, the verb is in the Hitpa'el or reflexive stem, describing an action - hiding or concealing - that the person does to themselves. Hence the various English translations: ignore (NJPS, ESV, NIV), pay no attention (NASB), disregard (NJB), look the other way (NLT).
In the Shemot text, the beneficiary of this care is "your enemy", or "someone you hate." In the D'varim text, Moshe expands the scope by using the word , "your brother". Although the NLT and NRSV attempt to generalise it by translating it as "the owner", that probably goes too far. The word properly means 'brother' although that does not always mean an immediate physical family relationship; it often means 'neighbour', "fellow Israelite" or "member of your community". Walter Brueggemann suggests that "such a community is composed of small landholders who are daily dependent upon each other for cooperation, assistance and vigilance ... neighbours are bound together in mutual care and protection." Given the reflexive verb form being used, "hide oneself", Brueggemann concludes, "You may not hide yourself. You may not withdraw from neigbourliness. The claims of covenantalism extend to the most mundane realities of daily life."2 The commitments and responsibilities of being part of a community, a covenant community, do not allow the luxury of abstaining from helping one's fellow community member. Regular chaps just don't do that.
This sense of covenant community - what one does for one's neighbour or fellow community member, whether you like him very much or not - is a pervasive theme in the Torah, whether looking after his property, relieving his poverty or inviting him to be a part of celebrations. Patrick Miller observes that this text "makes it clear that protecting and safeguarding the lost property of another is something to be done for any and every member of the community; and that any property of a fellow Israelite was to be looked after, whether one encountered it as lost property or, as in the case of animals, as property that was in difficulty."3 Peter Craigie explains that "this deals with shouldering responsibility as a member of the covenant community. A man was not to 'hide himself' from responsibility, or to take no notice of the happenings around him that required some positive action on his part."4 It is a very normal human reaction not to want to get involved in someone else's problem, particularly if doing so looks expensive or hard work. Miller points out that "the verb chosen [, hide, conceal] is a singularly appropriate one, for it points to the tendency to act as if one has not seen the problem and therefore cannot be held accountable. As the statute recognises, such claims may conceal the fact that one has really chosen to disregard the lost or incapacitated animals so as not to have to go the trouble of tending to or caring for them."5 According to Christopher Wright, "care for others means care for what they own and giving practical help in time of need. It is a fundamental principle of biblical ethics."FoorNoreRef(6)
Perhaps feeling uncomfortable with the blanket obligation this text imposes upon every Israelite, or sensing that there would be some occasions when it simply wouldn't be appropriate for someone to just pitch in and get involved, the ancient rabbis sought to define what these might be. They wrote, "There are times when you may hide yourself and times when you may not. How so? If one is a priest and the beasts are in a cemetery, or if he is an elder and it is beneath his dignity (to take care of animals), or if his own loss would be greater than that of his fellow, he is exempt" (Sifrei, Piska 225). While the first suggestion is based on the Torah's commands that a priest may not become impure by contact with dead bodies, including walking over a grave, the other options seem less convincing. They might be written that way in order to poke fun at those who would try to hide behind their dignity or a supposed financial cost of helping a neighbour.
It is at this point that we turn to one of the best known stories in the Bible: Yeshua's parable of the Good Samaritan. Told in response to the question, "And who is my neighbour?" (Luke 10:29, CJB), this pithy and compelling piece of narrative touches on exactly these points of rabbinic thought. The first man who passed by the wounded traveller was indeed a priest. Perhaps the priest thought that the man was already dead, so hid himself - passing by on the other side - so that he might fulfil his Torah obligation not to defile himself. The second man to pass by was a Levite, perhaps travelling on official Temple business and aware of his dignity as part of the religious hierarchy. The third man - the Samaritan - must have been all too aware of the loss that he might incur: this might be a trap, with the wounded man acting as bait to draw others into the hands of the robbers; this might take him well out of his way and incur financial expense and time commitment, let alone getting his clothes dirty and perhaps bloodied from the traveller's wounds. He was surely excused and could pass by on the other side, just as the other two had done. Except that he didn't. He stopped and got involved; he dressed and bound the traveller's wounds, he took him on his own donkey to an inn and took care of him overnight. Then he dug into his own pockets and paid out two day's wages to the innkeeper to look after the traveller until he was well enough to take care of himself, promising to cover the whole bill when he returned.
Now let's look at what Yeshua draws from the story. Turning to the lawyer who had asked the question in the first place, but with the whole crowd hanging on His word so hear what He was going to say, He asks him, "Of these three, which one seems to you to have become the 'neighbour' of the man who fell among robbers?" (Luke 10:36, CJB). Notice the word in the middle: neighbour. Yeshua is talking about covenant community relationships. Priests and Levites are Israelites too, part of the community and subject to the same covenant obligations, but failed to demonstrate any covenant responsibility. It was the Samaritan, the man who was outside the community who acted as if he was in community. He had just as much to lose, if not more so since no-one would care for him, but acted anyway to offer the care and relationship that G-d asked. Since the Samaritans had (and still have) a pretty close version of the Pentateuch, he would have known both the Shemot and D'varim texts; it is interesting to speculate on whether he thought he was helping his enemy or his neighbour. Either way, Yeshua is very clear that it was this man who demonstrated both what the word 'neighbour' means and the level of care that being part of G-d's kingdom requires.
On another occasion, Yeshua uses the same 'brother' word when He is speaking to the disciples: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother" (Matthew 18:15, ESV). To Jewish ears, this isn't new; the Torah tells us, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him" (Vayikra 19:17) and then adds, "Love your neighbour as yourself" (v. 18). Notice how three different Hebrew words - brother, kinsman, neighbour - are used to maximise the scope of these commands: they apply to everyone within your community, whether physical familial brother, extended family member or covenant community neighbour. We are to reach out to everyone with whom we are in relationship whenever a breach occurs to that it can be repaired and full relationship restored. If we are to continue to live together, this has to be a way of life. It is what we would want for ourselves, so can do no less for our neighbours. Relationships are just as important as assets such as animals or cloaks and can be lost just as easily, if not more so! We cannot hide ourselves and pretend that we haven't noticed!
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 318.
2. - Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), page 219.
3. - Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), page 169.
4. - P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), page 287.
5. - Miller, page 170.
6. - Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), page 240.
Further Study: Matthew 5:43-48; Romans 15:1-6
Application: What do you do if someone in your family or community offends you? Are you inclined to ignore it and hope that it goes away and doesn't happen again, or are you prepared to challenge the offence for the sake of restoring the relationship and keeping covenant with your brother?
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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