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Thought for the Day: Mercy and Free Will

For a few years I taught computer usage (mostly MS Word and Excel) part time in a high school.  Why?  All I can figure is that I must have done something horrific in a previous gilgul.  I had one student who was particularly difficult (quite a trick, given your generic high school student).  So I went to R' Dovid Siegel, shlita, for advice.  We discussed the situation and decided it was related to some challenges that particular student was facing in his life.  R' Siegel's advice was to judiciously look away.  I couldn't maintain class decorum and not respond to his behavior, but that was only if I noticed the behavior.  I just had to learn to recognize when the behavior issue was likely to surface and arrange to be busy with something else to occupy my attention.

The Shivtei Kah decided to execute Yosef because they came to a p'sak halacha that Yosef was chayiv misa (either because Yosef's dreams were a devious fabrication or the result of evil thoughts).  At that point, Reuvein suggested that they throw Yosef into a pit filled with snakes and scorpion instead of killng him themselves; and they complied.  What's the difference and why did the Shivtei Kah unanimously agree to that course of action?  The Ohr Chayim explains that a ba'al b'chira (an entity with free will) can kill another ba'al b'chira even though the victim is not chayiv misa (!).  An animal, which is not a ba'al b'chira, cannot kill a ba'al b'chira unless the victim is chayiv misa (!).  That's huge!  The Ohr Chayim HaKodesh cannot possibly be saying that we can actually thwart HaShem's running of a just world!  We are in desperate need of a m'halach.

I have two; one I don't like but I can't ignore, and another that actually will reveal a deeper insight into our reason for being.  The one I don't like is: ok, let them kill someone.  HaShem can rectify the injustice in a gilgul and make everything right.  I don't like that because it is such a cheap answer.  Once you say that, you may as well give up on understanding anything about justice.  Moreover, it is not the style of the Ohr Chayim to depend on concepts like gilgulim; at least not without explaining more.  (By the way, sometimes you have to accept "cheap, easy" answers, but not as a first defense.)

So my other m'halach is to recognize that HaShem runs the world with mercy.  Mercy doesn't mean to foregoing justice, it just means "looking the other way" for a while.  There are extenuating circumstances and maybe the person will do t'shuva; so HaShem looks the other way and lets him continue.  That only works, however, as long as the person is "under the radar".  Once there are two ba'alei b'chira coming against each other, strict justice comes into play: the person is, so to speak, hauled into court immediately.  It would be like one of my high school students calling out, "Hey!  Look what he is doing!"  At that point I can no longer keep of the charade of not noticing, but I must judge his actions and treat him like everyone else.

One the one hand, HaShem utilizes mercy with us because we have free will.  On the other hand, mercy is revoked when we use free will against each other.  I want to use my free will to say more, but my pledge to keep these short forces me to end here.


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