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Friday, May 5

The Weekly Shtikle - Acharei Mos / Kedoshim

In this week's first parsha we are told (18:5) "You shall keep My statues and My ordinances which, if a man does, he shall live by them." In the gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) we are taught that from the phrase "vachai bahem," and he shall live by them, we are to infer that one is meant to live by the mitzvos and not die for them. Thus, if one is put in a position where he has to choose between death and the transgression of a mitzvah, he should transgress rather than be killed. Of course, there are three exceptions to this rule. The strangely ironic part about the pasuk from our parsha is that it appears in the introduction to the passage dealing with the prohibitions of illicit relationships which is one of those very three. The Torah is telling us that we need not sacrifice our lives for the mitzvos just before it goes into lengthy detail regarding a mitzvah for which we must.


The mishnah (Berachos 33b) teaches that one who beseeches HaShem's mercy "like the mercy He has on the bird's nest" is silenced. One of the reasons given in the gemara is that this person is erroneously painting HaShem's ways with the broad brush of mercy. We do not understand the true motivation behind each and every mitzvah and it is wrong for us to assume that HaShem leans towards a specific trait.


Perhaps, this message is being conveyed here. The limitation excusing transgressions in the face of death might lead us to understand the Torah as inherently lenient. Conversely, the requirement to sacrifice one's life rather than transgress one of the three cardinal sins might lead us to understand the Torah as overly strict, putting human life in second place. But neither is true. The Torah puts these ideas together in the very same passage in order to impress on us that very idea. The laws are all decrees from Above and not indicative of any inherent leniency or stringency.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

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