Friday, July 26, 2019

Thirteen Lessons in Mercy

Shaarey Tzaddik, Vol. II
By Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, zatzal
Excerpt from Letter 57
Translation with explanatory remarks by Dovid Sears
In memory of our dear friend Rabbi Yehudah (ben Avraham) Lichter, zal, a devoted talmid of Reb Gedaliah and a founding member of the Monsey Breslov community, who was niftar on 20 Shevat, 5779 / 2019.  May he be a Melitz Yosher for his family and for Klal Yisrael.

It is known that the Thirteen Principles of Torah Interpretation correspond to the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy that are written in the Torah.

Those Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy were revealed to Moshe Rabbeinu after the Sin of the Golden Cal; see Exodus 34:6-7.

And each principle in the order presented in the Beraisa of Rabbi Yishmael is more wondrous and novel than its predecessor.

A Beraisa is a Tannaitic teaching outside the canon of the Mishnah. It is customary to recite this particular Beraisa at the conclusion of the Korbonos / Sacrifices at the beginning of the Shacharis prayer.

Similarly, this is the case with the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy: whichever attribute is written later in the Torah instructs us regarding a greater and loftier degree of mercy than its predecessor. The last of the Thirteen Principles of Torah Interpretation, which is the most profound and wondrous [of the series], hints to the last of the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy—“vi-nakeh… and He purifies.” This denotes an even greater expression of mercy, which is extremely lofty, of the highest order, as we shall explain with G-d’s help.

The first of the Thirteen Principles of Torah Interpretation is “kal vi-chomer” (extrapolating from a minor to a major issue). This is a great and wondrous concept, to infer something from one’s study and then apply it from one case to another, despite the fact that this was not explicitly stated. Nevertheless, every intelligent person plainly understands that we must ascribe to the major case what is true of the minor case. If a ruling applies in a minor case, surely it does in a more serious matter.

This principle corresponds to the first of the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy, which is simple mercy, as readily understood by all. That is, if one has pity on someone who is devoid of Torah, mitzvos and good deeds—how much more should one have pity on someone who does possess Torah, mitzvos and good deeds.

The second of the Thirteen Principles is “gezerah shavah,” which means extrapolating from a verse that has a certain word to a related verse with the same word. This principle is even more profound and innovative than the first. For this teaches us how it is possible to link two subjects when the principle of kal vi-chomer does not apply; rather, they are equivalent due to one word alone, according to the principle of gezerah shavah.

Therefore, this corresponds to an even greater degree of mercy, namely, that it is fitting to confer mercy upon another, even when he lacks the level of the first, but is merely similar to him; i.e., just as one shows mercy to the former for a given reason, so should one show mercy to the latter, whose case shares that reason.

The following paragraph in parentheses is that of Reb Gedaliah:

(And perhaps this is why a person may not make a gezerah shavah of his own accord, but only if he received [that specific gezerah shavah] from his teacher, as Chazal state (Pesachim 66a, Niddah 19b), and as the Rebbe discusses in Likutey Moharan I, 54. [Rebbe Nachman teaches that] the Master and the Disciple are aspects of Chokhmah Ila’ah (Higher Wisdom) and Chokhmah Tata’ah (Lower Wisdom), as explained in Likutey Moharan II, 91. Therefore, a person may make a kal vi-chomer on his own, for kal vi-chomer is an aspect of Chokhmah Tata’ah (Lower Wisdom), the aspect of the Disciple. However, a gezerah shavah represents a loftier level of intellect, being an aspect of Chokhmah Ila’ah (Higher Wisdom), the aspect of the Master. So a person may not formulate a gezera shavah on his own, but must receive it from his teacher.)

Thus may the Thirteen Principles of Torah Interpretation be explained one by one, to find their precise correspondences to the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy as written in the Torah; study this until we reach the thirteenth rule by which the Torah is interpreted, which is “two verses that contradict one another…” This is a most wondrous matter, containing a most profound and lofty perception. This teaches us that there is such wisdom as this, through which one may resolve and reconcile two opposites, represented by the two verses that contradict one another; through [this principle], both are upheld, and not only this alone, that [we come to understand] they don’t contradict each other, but they support each other. And it is necessary that both are written as they are written, for each one teaches us a new and unique halakhah, which is not found in its counterpart, and that which one lacks, the other discloses.

Therefore, this principle corresponds to the thirteenth Divine Attribute of Mercy, which is “vi-nakeh…” which attests to an extremely great and lofty degree of mercy. With recourse to this, one can show mercy to a friend or fellow with whom one disagrees, even when one’s viewpoint seems entirely contrary to that of the other. Despite all this, it is possible to reconcile and preserve both points of view—that each, in its own way, points to the truth, and through both viewpoints the [truth of] matter is upheld. Accordingly, both are equally deserving of mercy, and there is no [essential] conflict between them whatever. Thus, the thirteenth Attribute of Mercy is “vi-nakeh…”—because this is an expression of innocence (nikayon), since this attribute reconciles both viewpoints, showing that both are innocent and deserving of mercy.

In keeping with this, we may understand why “vi-nakeh…” alone is listed as one of the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy. Doesn’t the Torah write “vi-nakeh lo yinakeh…” (“and cleanses [but] does not cleanse”)? This is because the thirteenth Attribute of Divine Mercy instructs us regarding the arousal of the outflow (shefa) of an extremely great and lofty degree of mercy bestowed upon those for whom simple mercy would be not suffice—those who appear to be unclean and unworthy of mercy. They are in the category of “lo yinakeh” (i.e., unworthy of being cleansed). Nevertheless, there are hidden, sublime levels of mercy such as these, which confer mercy upon them, as well. This is the meaning of “vi-nakeh lo yinakeh…”—as if to say, “vi-nakeh” (“and cleanses”) also those who are in the category of “lo yinakeh” (“unworthy of being cleansed”). Therefore, we only mention the word “vi-nakeh” [when enumerating the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy during prayer] to allude to the bestowal of those extremely high levels of mercy.

In addition, according to this, there is reason to esteem the fact that Chazal refer to the Torah as “Rachmana” [Aramaic for “Merciful” or the “Merciful One”]—because the perfection of the Torah is achieved through the holy teachings that the true sages of every generation taught us, following the Thirteen Principles, this being the core of the Oral Torah. And those Thirteen Principles correspond to the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy written in the Torah.

It follows from the implications of our words that upon this depends the differences in the spiritual levels of the tzaddikim and sages of the generation: each individual, according to his having merited to engage in, clarify and be expert in the Thirteen Principles of Torah Interpretation, is worthy of arousing a corresponding degree of mercy from the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy. And he is worthy of becoming a vessel to receive an out flowing of sublime mercy, which descends from the heavens in the merit of his Torah—and to confer mercy upon the entire world.

Therefore, in truth, our holy Rebbe teaches that one should draw close to a true tzaddik of this kind, who is genuinely a great man of mercy, in an aspect of Moshe Rabbenu, a”h, according to the secret of “For a merciful one shall lead them,” as explained in Likutey Moharan II, 7; see there; and also see Sefer HaMidos (Sefer Alef-Beis), Chelek I, “Tzaddik,” sec. 39.

Likewise, whoever contemplates his ultimate eternal destiny in truth, and examines himself honestly, will be able to evaluate how close he is to the Torah, or, Heaven forbid, the opposite—all according to the arousal and effect of the traits of mercy that he possesses in truth; and this is sufficient for the wise.

I have already presented these matters before many eminent scholars, giants in Torah and fear of Hashem, here in the holy city, may it be rebuilt and established, and they praised [my words] as being correct.

Moreover, we can learn an important Mussar lesson from this: that one should not dismiss the words of any person with whom one disagrees, and not upset him or be vengeful toward him, directly or indirectly, or seek his harm for this reason; nor should one let himself be confused or tricked by the machinations of the Evil Urge (which seeks to kill us), seducing one to think that on the contrary, it is a great mitzvah to repulse him and persecute him. Rather, one should always awaken even higher mercy on behalf of the other person, so that through such sublime mercy, which depends on higher knowledge and consciousness, you will understand that he too is truly as deserving of mercy as you are. Understand our words well, so that you will put them into practice.

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