A Wayward City
“V’lo yidbak beyodcha meumah min hacherem, … v’nasan lecha rachamim
verichamcha – No part of the banned property should adhere to your hand …
and Hashem will give you mercy and be merciful to you" (Devorim 13:18)”
An “Ir Hanidachas” – A Wayward City
One of the mitzvos of this week’s parsha relates to an “Ir Hanidachas – A
Wayward City.” This occurs when the majority of the members of a city
become spiritually corrupt and worship idols. The Torah instructs us to
destroy the city completely and not keep any of its spoils.
The juxtaposition of two parts of the pasuk cited above is striking – and
requires some careful thought. The Torah warns us not to keep any part of
the objects remaining from that city, and then informs us that He will
bless us with mercy.
What is the connection between these two seemingly disparate phrases?
Additionally, why does the Torah inform us that we will be blessed with
the virtue of rachmanus – mercy at this time? If we are being instructed
to perform a mitzvah of destroying an ‘Ir Hanidachas’, which requires
firmness and fortitude, why are we being blessed with the quality of mercy
at this time?
A Timely Blessing for Mercy
The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh offers a powerful thought to explain the second
part of the pasuk – the blessing of mercy. He maintains that Hashem
created humans with an inborn sense of decency and caring. Throughout our
lives, it is our mission to safeguard this feeling of compassion. When
people engage in cruel behaviors, this innate decency erodes over time,
leaving those people with less rachamim (mercy) as they spiral downward,
committing even more acts of cruelty.
Therefore, explains the Ohr HaChaim, it was entirely appropriate to bless
those who were involved in destroying the Ir Hanidachas with the quality
of mercy. Although they were commanded to be firm in dealing with those
who sinned against Hashem, they will still retain their original sense of
kindness and decency, undiminished by their destruction of the Ir
The blessing would, according to the Ohr Hachayim, go into effect only
after the city was destroyed – when the people carrying out the will of
Hashem would revert to their original state of chesed.
A Selfless Act
I would like to suggest a reason for the linkage of the two parts of the
pasuk noted above:
1. The admonition not to retain any part of the spoils of the city, and
2. The blessing of rachamim for those involved in the destruction of the
We are instructed by our chachamim (sages) that all our actions be L’sheim
Shamayim – that they be intended to do the will of Hashem. This is all the
more important when our actions involve an act of firmness where
destruction is involved. Perhaps the need for this level of ‘L’sheim
Shamayim’ may not be so self-evident when we are engaged in acts of
kindness. But this is surely required when we raise the banner of kanaus
This may be the reason that Hashem instructs us to see to it that not one
iota of the spoils of the city remain in our hands after we destroy the
city and its contents. “V’lo yidbak beyodcha meumah min hacherem.”
informs us that we need to see to it that all our zealous actions are of
the purest nature. This was signified by not keeping any of the items in
the city. I would like to suggest that this is the reason for this cited
pasuk mentioning that Hashem will then “turn back from His wrath"
13:18) – by observing these noble acts committed in His honor.
Only after our actions pass the litmus test of selflessness will we be
worthy of the blessings of Hashem. Once we demonstrate that we have not
gained materially by our zealous actions – only then will Hashem bestow
upon us the bracha of “v’nasan lecha rachamim verichamcha.”
Hashem will then reward us with the quality of eternal mercy and kindness.
Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Torah.org.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.