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Thought for the Day: The Laws of the Torah are Entirely Mercy, Kindness, and Peace

The first time I worked on learning through the Mishna Brura, I followed the Mishna Brura Amud  Yomi plan.  One amud (one side of one page) each day and you complete the entire Mishna Brura in five years.  I highly recommend it.  One amud a day is really doable, but there are more doable and less doable days.  When I saw a big Biur Halacha, my eyes would light up and my heart would sing -- it meant I was getting to bed early that night!  I am glad I completed that program, as it gave me a good, basic grounding in halacha l'ma'aseh needed in one's daily activities.

There are, of course, a down side to being held to a schedule.  Excitement that there is less to have to learn is not really a defensible position to the Heavenly Tribunal, after all.  Nor is that the attitude I want to foster in myself, since both gehinom and gan eden is a beis medrash without a clock.  In addition, though, there is just the basic problem of pressure to move on even with a less than complete (read: "no clue what's flying") understanding of topic after topic after topic...  Learning that way is every bit as satisfying as attending a 15 minute wine tasting event for 100s of the finest wines every vinted.  You get a sip of the major categories and hope you retain some memory of  the basics.

I am now going through the Mishna Brura with a different motivation; to gain a clear understanding of both halacha l'ma'aseh, of course; but also to understand the halachic process.  I am now getting a chance to enjoy the appearance, savor the bouquet, taste the complexity, and drink in the beauty of halacha.

Case in point:  the Shulchan Aruch notes (329:4) that one is required to violate Shabbos to save a Jewish life even if the person only has the possibility to live for a short period of time.  The Biur Halacha (d.h. eleh l'fi sha'ah) expounds on that issue.  First, he says, the standard logic of "violate one Shabbos [ie, others on behalf for the person in danger] so that he [ie, the person in danger] may keep many other Shabbosos" just doesn't apply in this case.  The Biur Halacha first quotes a M'eri who explains that Chazal didn't mean just that he would be able to keep Shabbos, but that he would be able to keep many mitzvos.  For example, even someone who has only moments to live can fulfill the mitvah of t'shuva/repentance and confession; even if silently and only to himself.

The Biur Halacha then takes a step back: All this is just to give some logic that we can understand, but in truth the mitvah to save a Jewish life does not depend on his ability to perform mitzvos at all.  Rather, all of the mitzvos themselves exist solely and only for the Jews who will fulfill them.  He then quotes a Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos, Perek 2): The laws of the Torah are not revenge at all; rather they are mercy, kindness, and peace.  I believe the Rambam is directing his remarks to those who think that Torah is telling you what HaShem is going to do to you if you do this or that.  No!  The Torah is telling you the result of doing this or that.  For every action, there is a reaction, and HaShem wants His treasured nation to know very clearly the consequences of every act.  He wants us to know so we can make the best, informed decision possible.  Why?  Because he wants us to live!

Therefore, continues the Biur Halacha, the Torah demands that we desecrate Shabbos for even a mortally wounded new born baby (Rachmana Latlzan) who has never kept mitzvos and now never will; even a brain dead senior who will never wake from his coma.  HaShem wants us to live every moment possible.

A long Biur Halacha still makes my eyes light up; not because it means less to learn, but because it is an opportunity to deepen my appreciation for depth of our Torah and the greatness of our sages.  That is an eminently defensible position and a laudable trait to inculcate.


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