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Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar| 5764
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Ethics of the Torah - Condensed from Perakim B’machshevet Yisrael, pg. 337
Ethics are the measuring rod for determining what is good and what is bad. It is accepted among human thought that the measuring stick of ethics emanates from the inclinations of man’s heart, which we are in the practice of calling, his conscience. According to the Torah, one sets standards based on the way of Hashem, as it is revealed in the thirteen Divine Attributes [see Shemot 34:6-7]. This way of Hashem set out the ethical course of our patriarchs even before the Torah was given. It also is the foundation stone of all of the mitzvot of the Torah, whose general approach can be summed up in the command, “to go in all His ways” (Devarim 10:22), which Chazal explain as clinging to His Attributes.
This being the case, we can learn three things: 1) The values are set and immutable [as are Hashem’s Attributes]. 2) They are not to be explained as accommodating human frailties and tendencies. 3) They are not based on inclinations but on absolute justice and truth.
The relationship in these attributes, between the attributes of mercy and those of punishment, teaches us that the “the world was built on kindness (chesed).” Even the attributes of judgment are there only to preserve the foundation of the world, so that it is not be swallowed up by giving in to forces of evil, which threaten to take it over. On one plane, a judicial system’s job is to protect society from wrong. Similarly, the mitzvot of the Torah regulate the individual and enable him to take control over his inclinations. When one is overly forgiving to the wicked and to evil, it really means that he is giving a free hand to their empowerment, which in turn uproots the foundation of kindness upon which the world is built.
The demand upon man to resemble Him is a major one. It does not suffice with the accepted level of justice, that “what is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours.” If that were all Hashem wanted, He would not have needed to make the world, as everything is His in any case. Rather, the mitzva to love one’s counterpart includes not putting limits on the love. “What is yours is yours, and what is mine is yours” should be the relationship between man and man, and this is learned from the need to follow Hashem’s Attributes. When one fails in that regard, he is negating the way he was created to be, as one who was created in the Divine Image. The purpose of giving is for its own sake, for this is a natural outcome of the way man was created. Also in regard to mitzvot between man and Hashem, everything is directed toward one goal, to reveal the true form of man.
Just as the goal of justice is to allow for a world of kindness, so is the content of kindness that of justice, as the source of both is Divine Truth, not human inclinations. It is wrong to view justice as if it is on a lower rung on the “ladder of values” than kindness is. It is also wrong to see the two attributes as belonging to two different ladders. Rather, they both belong to the same imperative of Divine Ethics, described by the Rabbis as “so did G-d want” or “so decreed His Wisdom.”
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