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Going Beyond the Letter of the Law, Part 3

In the previous article we discussed why there was such a strict punishment when the Jews treated each other in a strict fashion: They missed the point of “what is right and good,” that it is wrong to treat one’s fellow Jew in a harsh and unforgiving manner. Such treatment violates the spirit of interpersonal relations that the Torah espouses.

The commentaries find another difficulty with the Gemara’s saying that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because people were strict with each other. Other gemaros give different reasons for the destruction, such as murder, idol worship, immorality, and baseless hatred[1]. Rav Yitzchak of Volozhin answered this question when he witnessed the following incident. Someone had slandered his fellow and then came before Yom Kippur to ask for forgiveness. The victim refused to forgive him, pointing to the halachah that one need not pardon slander. Rav Yitzchak then asked this victim about the aforementioned contradiction in gemaros. He explained that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of the terrible sins enumerated in the other gemaros. However, he pointed out that Chazal tell us that when people treat each other beyond the letter of the law and are not exacting on every point, Hashem acts measure for measure and forgives even the worst sins. Therefore, when Hashem saw that people were treating each other in a strict fashion, He acted accordingly and chose not to forgive their other sins. So too, Rav Yitzchak told the unforgiving person, if you treat your fellow so strictly, Hashem will treat you the same way. The man learned the lesson and forgave the slanderer.

May we all treat each other how we would like to be treated ourselves, and may HaShem react in kind.

[1] It is not clear which Beis HaMikdash the Gemara in Bava Metzia means.


Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen and

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