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10 Ellul 5761 - August 29, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Beyond The Letter of the Law: A Zchus for Yom Hadin

by HaRav Moshe Aharon Stern, zt'l

"Ve'osiso hayoshor vehatov" says the posuk (Devorim 6:18). This implies that we must conduct ourselves beyond what is "legally" required from us; we need to go further.

In Torah, there is din -- Law, and there is lifnim mishuras hadin -- beyond the letter of the Law. The din -- the law of the Torah -- obligates each one of us; there is no difference between a minor, barely bar mitzvah, or a great and elderly sage. Each one of us, as a Jew, has been obligated in the 613 mitzvos which are all included in the warning of: "Cursed is the one who does not fulfill the words of this Torah" (Ibid. 27:26). That is din.

Yet, extending beyond the letter of the law -- lifnim mishuras hadin -- is dependent upon one's individual madreigah as a person. Reb Eliyohu Lopian zt'l used to comment upon the mishna (Ovos 2:1) "Eizo hi derech yeshoroh sheyovor lo ho'odom?" -- What is the correct path for the person to choose? Reb Elya emphasized ho'odom -- the man to signify the complete man. The odom hasholeim must choose a straight path; the path which extends beyond our mere obligations: the path of lifnim mishuras hadin.

With a man of smaller stature, less is expected. If he is greater, he is expected to extend himself further. It all depends on the individual status.

The gemora (Bovo Metzia 30b) brings down: Rabbi Yochonon said: Yerushalayim was destroyed because its inhabitants conducted themselves according to din Torah - - strict law -- and not beyond that. Asks Reb Elya Lopian zt'l: Doesn't the gemora in Yuma bring down that Bayis Rishon was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins found amongst Bnei Yisroel: avodoh zorah, gilui arayos and shefichus domim? Those two gemoras seem contradictory; was the Bais Hamikdosh truly destroyed because of the three aveiros chamuros, or because the Yidden conducted themselves only according to strict requirement, and not beyond?

Of course the churban came as a result of the three greatest aveiros, answers Reb Elya. Yet, as long as Bnei Yisroel acted lifnim mishuras hadin, they were not punished for their sins. This is in line with the gemora (Sotah 9b) which states that one is dealt with from Heaven in the same manner in which he conducts himself Below. Because Klal Yisroel extended themselves -- in their performance of mitzvos and avodas Hashem -- beyond their obligations, Hashem responded likewise, and did not bring punishment upon His children even though they truly deserved it. Yet, once that conduct ceased from within Bnei Yisroel, it came to an end from Hashem's part as well.

We learn an awesome lesson from the above: Hashem will favor a person with more good than he has actually earned -- even when the person is truly not deserving -- because this person conducts his own dealings in the spirit of lifnim mishuras hadin!

Bnei Yisroel committed the worst crimes, yet Hashem held His Wrath, because they acted beyond the call of mere duty. Once they began performing mitzvos only in accordance with the strict requirements, however, Hashem said, "If you are doing only what is required of you, and no more, I will act likewise. According to the Law, you deserve the punishment of churban habayis, and I am not required to withhold that from you any longer!"

We can deduce from this that we have a tremendous protective shield to use to prepare ourselves from the Day of Judgment. That is, to accustom ourselves to act beyond the letter of the law. Although we might have legitimate complaints against our associates, let us withdraw them. Let us treat our friends with more goodness than they deserve, so that Hashem will respond likewise with His list of complaints against us and wait for us to do teshuva -- even though we don't really deserve the grace period!

Can anyone confidently say of himself that he will be exonerated at his trial? Has anyone performed each and every one of the 613 mitzvos in the way Hashem has intended him to? How many commandments have we violated -- whether accidentally, or intentionally? Are we truly scrupulous in the laws of damage and monetary issues with our fellow Jews? Do we constantly remember the halochoh in Hilchos Gezeila that one who borrows without permission is a thief?

Can we honestly stand before the King in confidence? We do not stand before a mortal flesh-and-blood king who is here today, and in his grave tomorrow! We stand before the Immortal Melech Malchei Hamelochim, the Creator, the Lord, the Provider, the One before Whom the angels tremble in fear and dread! Chazal tell us that there are rivers in the Higher Spheres, created from the perspiration of the angels who stand before Hashem, quaking in fear, perceiving His Awesome Greatness.

If we were to stand trial for a minute monetary matter, how much apprehension would we feel? Wouldn't we tremble if we were to be in trial in which large and heavy sums hang in the balance? And if we were standing trial, and we ourselves were at stake -- to be freed, or to be sent off to prison publicly, full of shame, and charged with guilt -- what would we feel like?

Yet here we are, preparing for a Day of Judgment which is greater than we can possibly imagine! In a few weeks, we will be called to stand trial before the Great Almighty, the King of Kings Himself, and we do not tremble, and we do not perspire in fright?

I was zoche to witness the tefillos of many gedolim, among them the great tzaddik Reb Eliyahu Chaim Meislish zt'l (one of the talmidim of Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l). After each of Reb Elya Chaim's tefillos, he had to change his clothing from head to toe, as they were soaked with perspiration from the fear of standing before the King of all Creation.

We all know the halochoh that one who prays only Boruch She'omar, Ashrei, Yishtabach, and Borchu with a minyan has fulfilled his obligation of tefillah betzibbur. The Chofetz Chaim used to say: It is brought down in the gemora (Brochos 40b), that one who cannot recite Bircas Hamozone should simply say, "Blessed is Hashem, the King of the World, Who Owns this bread," and with that, he has fulfilled his obligation to bentch. However, said the Chofetz Chaim, he would not wish to sit with such a person in Gan Eden. He prefers to sit in Gan Eden together with one who performed the Will of Hashem in its entirety -- the way Hashem intended it to be.

I remember how Reb Elya Lopian would arrive at the beis medrash half an hour before davening began. What do we do? We do come to davening, and recite the Birchos Hashachar. Occasionally we begin with Mizmor shir. What happens to Korbonos? We are considered the bnei Torah! (When I was in chutz la'aretz, I noted a praiseworthy custom among ordinary laymen. That is, that they recited the entire section of korbonos betzibbur. Laymen were conducting themselves thus and we, the bnei Torah do not.)

This is especially noteworthy in view of the fact that all the parts of the tefilloh are arranged like the Four Worlds: Asiyoh, Bri'oh, Yetziroh, Atzilus, and the korbonos section of davening is symbolic of the Olom Ho'Asiyoh, and includes great and lofty inyonim.

According to the letter of the law, we fulfill our obligation of prayer even if we do not recite korbonos. Yet, with fear and trepidation, we must honestly question ourselves: Are we fulfilling only our obligations?! Do we chas vesholom want Hashem to respond likewise, and grant us only what He is "required to, by Law"? Rabbosai! Especially now, in these days of Elul, we must strengthen ourselves in our tefillah and our kavonoh, to concentrate on every word! Our tefillos should not be only what is required from us -- but far beyond that.

If we conduct ourselves in this vein, we will merit that Hashem will respond by favoring us with more than He is required to; He will go beyond the letter of the Law, and hold His wrath until we return to Him in true repentance. We will thus be zoche to be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

HaRav Moshe Aharon Stern zt'l was menahel ruchani, Yeshivas Kamenitz, Yerushalayim. The above appeared in the Tishrei, 5758 edition of the bi-annually published Kol HaTorah journal. It has been translated with permission.

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