Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Teitzei 5631 Third Ma'amar

In this week’s parsha we find the mitzvah of shilu’ach hakein.[1] The Torah, in an apparent show of mercy, directs us to first send the mother bird away before taking its chicks or eggs from the nest. In fact, the first Midrash on our parsha states emphatically that from this mitzvah we see that God is full of mercy towards birds.[2]

A Mishna[3] in Maseches Brachos though, teaches that we silence one who says, as part of his prayers, that God is merciful and His mercy reaches the bird’s nest since He commanded us to send away the mother before taking the chicks. Why is this?

The Sfas Emes explains that even though, in truth, the mitzvos are an expression of God’s mercy, we are nevertheless required to relate to them only as decrees and to fulfill them as a servant who fulfills his master’s instructions. We silence one who attributes the mitzvah to God’s mercy, even though he speaks the truth, because his words indicate that he performs the mitzvah in order to express God’s mercy rather than to fulfill God’s decree.

Why is it wrong, though, to perform the mitzvah in order to express God’s mercy? Why must we silence this person? The reason we silence him, the Gemara explains, is because he makes God’s mitzvos mercy when in fact they are decrees.[4] According to this explanation, God’s mitzvos are not an expression of His mercy. They are in fact decrees that we are required to fulfill without regard to, and perhaps without even knowing, their ultimate reasons.

This explanation clearly contradicts the Midrash. To reconcile the Midrash with this Gemara we need to gain a clear understanding of how mitzvos express God’s will. Unquestionably, the mitzvos are a manifestation of God’s will. However, since God is infinite, it follows that every characteristic we can attribute to God is infinite as well. God’s mercy, for example, is infinite. The mitzvos, of course, are finite. How, then, can the finite mitzvos manifest God’s infinite will?

The answer to this question can be understood from the words the Gemara above uses for mitzvos and decrees, midos and gezeiros respectively. The word mida also means a measure. In order to enable us to fulfill His will, God “shrunk” His will, as it were, into measured doses. These measured doses of God’s will are the Torah and the mitzvos.

Although the source of the mitzvah of shilu’ach hakein is God’s infinite mercy, the physical manifestation of this mitzvah in this world is only a representation of God’s mercy. It is a mida/measured dose. It is called a gezeira/decree because it is nigzar/cut from God’s infinite mercy but it is not His infinite mercy.

We silence the one who says that the mitzvah of shilu’ach hakein is a manifestation of God’s mercy because the physical can never completely express any attribute of God. To say or imply that it does is an unwarranted constriction of the infiniteness of God’s attributes and a dangerous misunderstanding of how they are expressed in the finite physical world.

[1] Devarim 22:6-7
[2] Devarim R. 6:1
[3] Brachos Mishna 5:3
[4] Brachos 33b

1 comment:

rabbi lars shalom said...
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