Parshas Va'eschanan 5758 - '98
Outline Vol. 2, # 40
by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Beyond the Letter of the Law
In Memory of our Rosh Yeshiva (Pische Teshuva, Yerushalayim) Rav Mordechai
Hakohein Shakovitzky, z’tzal, son of Rav Naftali Hakohein Shakovitzky,
the Gateshead Rav, z’tzal. His sudden passing has left all of his talmidim
devastated. We have heard many ulogies -- but words cannot express the
profound loss of someone who so deeply affected the lives of thousands.
Niftar on 4 Tammuz -- may his memory be for a blessing.
On several occasions we have raised the question: are the moral and
ethical aspects of Torah separate from legal aspects, or are they part
and parcel of the law?
This week’s parsha covers many of the principles of Judaism, including
the section containing the Shema and the Aseres Hadivros (the Ten Commandments).
In addition, we find (Devorim [Deut. 6:18): “You shall do that which is
right and good in the eyes Hashem...” Rashi explains: “Make compromises
(in disputes) -- go beyond the letter of the law.” Ramban explains further:
Many moral warning have been previously cited. However, it is impossible
to list every ethical concept. Now the verses indicat that any proper conduct
which is not explicitly commanded in the text is also required.
The Nesivos Shalom (Vol. 1, p. 140) explains “You shall do that which
is right and good in the eyes of Hashem” -- besides fulfilling the laws,
we should have in mind to provide satisfaction to Hashem. When Moshe erred
regarding a technicality, Aharon cused himself by saying, “Would it have
been good in Hashem’s eyes?” instead of “Did I act according to the Torah?”
(Vayikra [Leviticus10:19]) Aharon displayed his entire outlook -- the root
of his service was to please Hashem. The Torah responds: t was good in
the eyes of Moshe,” meaning -- the precious answer of Aharon, which demonstrated
that all of his service was to provide satisfaction to Hashem, was good
in Moshe’s eyes. This foundation -- to consider whether each action will
please Hashe -- is a major principle in Judaism.
The Nesivos Shalom quotes the Shlah, who explains why every ethical
precept cannot be recorded. If everyone were the same, and all situations
equivalent, the Torah would tell us exactly what to do. However, since
each person is different and each sit tion unique, the Torah generalizes.
Going “beyond the letter of the law” is actually the law itself!
It is fascinating to see the source (Shlah, Vol. 1, p.40). Among the
references: Rabah Bar Bar Chana had an agreement with the porters carrying
his utensils (Baba Metzia 83a): If any were broken, the porters would be
responsible. Once, the porters maged his vessels. Rabah took clothes as
security, and brought the porters to court. Rav (the judge in the proceedings)
declared: “Return the clothing.” (The porters are exempt.) Rabah demanded,
“Is this the law?” “Yes,” answered Rav. “In order th you walk in the way
of the righteous.” (Mishle [Proverbs 2:20].) The porters approached the
judge. “We are poor men. We worked all day, and have nothing to show for
our labors.” Rav ordered Rabah to pay their wages. Again, Rabah demanded,
“Is thi the law?” Rav answered in the affirmative. “Keep the paths of the
righteous.” (Mishle [Proverbs 2:20].)
Rav was the teacher. He was showing that, even though Rabah had not
forgiven the porters for the damage they caused, nonetheless, it was fitting
for someone like Rabah to be merciful to poor men such as these. We see
clearly from the text of the Talm that Rav’s decision was legally binding
Finally, the Shlah writes that sometimes ethical matters are not related
to law at all. This pertains to character refinement in general, e.g. to
avoid hatred, jealousy, lust, excesses, etc.
Thus, we have a definitive answer to our long-standing question, whether
moral and ethical aspects of Torah are separate from Halacha or not. The
requirement to go “beyond the letter of the law” is actually a legal obligation.
“You shall do that which is right and good in the eyes of Hashem...”
(Devorim [Deut. 6:18])
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Kollel of Kiryas Radin
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156
Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi
Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.