Parshas Va'eschanan 5758 - '98
Outline Vol. 2, # 40
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 upon Rabah.
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.
Copyright © '98 Project Genesis, Inc.