Sunday, May 1, 2011


The Parsha ends with the incident involving the blaspheming of the mekalel. The Torah tells us that after he committed his heinous sin, he was placed in a cell to await the punishment he was to recieve . Rashi, quoting a Medrash, writes that at the same time there was another sinner awaiting his fate - the mekoshesh - who was placed in a separate cell. There was a key difference in the situations of the two men. It was known that the mekoshesh was chayav misa, but it was not known by which form of misa he would be executed. In contrast, with regard to the mekalel, they did not know whether he was chayav misa at all. Sifsey Chachamim explain that had they put the two together it could have caused the mekalel undue pain because he would have expected to receive the death penalty just like the mekoshesh. In order to spare him from any unnecessary pain he was put in a separate cell. Rav Mordechai Gifter zt’l goes even further and says that putting the two in the same cell could have possibly even caused the mekoshesh undue pain - had the mekalel been exempt from the death penalty and the mekoshesh would have been aware of this he would have been caused even more pain because a person feels worse about a bad situation when he knows that his fellow is not suffering to the same degree . Consequently the mekoshesh was kept unaware of the fate of the mekalel.

This example teaches us the degree of sensitivity which the Torah requires - these two men committed terrible sins and yet they were treated with the utmost concern. A less obvious lesson is that even when a person is deserving of punishment we must be extremely careful not to cause him more pain than he deserves - these men were deserving of terrible onshim but they did not deserve to suffer one iota of pain more than the halacho required.

There are a number of examples of this yesod throughout the Torah, Chazal, and halacho: For example, a person who commits a sin that is chayav malkus receives 39 lashes but the Torah strictly prohibits striking him even a single time more than the proscribed number. The Sefer HaChinuch explains that it is unjust to strike a human being more than he deserves . Another case where one must be very careful not to cause undue damage is speaking lashon hara for constructive purpose. There are times when it is permitted to speak negatively about a person and if necessary, cause him a certain degree of harm, in order to protect other people. However, the Chofetz Chaim zt”l warns that it is forbidden to cause him more damage than he deserves according to Jewish law. Even though speaking out could prevent damage, nonetheless one cannot do so if the perpetrator will unduly suffer .

Furthermore, it seems that when a person is careful not to cause anyone undue harm he fulfills the mitzvo of ’v’halachto b’drachav’ because Hashem always punishes a person to the exact degree necessary. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l brings out a striking example of this; The Torah in describing the sale of Yosef Hatzadik to the Yishmaelim mentions the seemingly insignificant point that their wagons were carrying pleasant smelling spices. The Medrash explains that the passuk is showing us how Hashem did not want Yosef to have to endure unpleasant smells, therefore He arranged that these wagons carry spices instead of the regular merchandise . This is very difficult to understand: At this time Yosef was experiencing incredible physical and emotional pain - he had been stripped of his clothing by his own brothers and thrown into a pit full of snakes and scorpions. Now he was flung into a wagon alone and helpless - in the light of such great hardship the fact that the wagon at least smelt pleasant does not seem to have provided much consolation to Yosef! However, this teaches us the exacting nature of midos Hadin. Hashem, in His Infinite wisdom, decreed that Yosef needed to undergo the pain of being thrown in to the pit, sold to the Yishmaelim, and all the other difficulties that he went through in Mitzrayim . However, he did not deserve to sit in a wagon that had an unpleasant fragrance, and therefore Hashem caused a hidden miracle to enable him to enjoy a pleasant smell on his journey to Mitzrayim.

Our Gedolim demonstrated a similar sensitivity to applying appropriate punishment or rebuke appropriate to the situation. On one occasion, Rav Shach zt”l was greatly displeased with a certain Rosh Yeshiva and traveled a considerable distance in order to rebuke him. However, after he arrived at where the Rosh Yeshiva was staying, he only remained for a short time and then left without saying anything. He explained that the wife of this Rosh Yeshiva was present throughout the visit and Rav Shach did not want to rebuke him in front of her . Rav Shach evidently felt that this Rosh Yeshiva was deserving of a certain level of rebuke to the extent that he was willing to travel a long distance in order to deliver it. However, he forsook this course of action when he perceived that it would cause unwarranted damage.

There are many examples in daily life where it may be necessary to rebuke or punish someone, particularly children or students. However it is essential to avoid punishing them overly harshly and it seems from the above examples, that it would be safer and more advisable to refrain from rebuke if there is the likelihood that to do so would cause more pain than deserved. The fact that the Torah deems it significant to mention the degree to which the mekalel and mekoshesh were spared any excessive suffering teaches us how careful we must be in our dealings with our fellow Jews not to cause them any unnecessary pain.

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