Commandments: Merciful or Divine Decree?
a bird’s nest happens to be before you on the road, on any tree or on the
ground—young birds or eggs—and the mother is roosting on the young birds or
eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall surely send away
the mother and take the young for yourself, so that it will be good for you and
prolong your days” (Deut. Ch.22 v.6-7).
logic behind this commandment appears obvious. Sefer HaChinuch, a 13th century
work which explains the commandments, says that G-d’s concern extends to every
aspect of creation.
is, however, a very puzzling statement in the Talmud (tractate Brochos 33b). The
Talmud says that if a person, while praying, utters, “even on the bird's nest
does Your (G-d’s) mercy reach,” we immediately quiet this person. Why? To
prevent us from assuming G-d’s commandments are merciful edicts.
is a strange statement indeed. In many places the Talmud and
the Torah itself call G-d merciful. In fact, the Talmud in tractate Shabbos
(133b), implores us to be merciful because
G-d is merciful. Why here all of a sudden are we implying He is not?
answer to this question lies in one of the most fundamental aspects of the
Torah: there are good and valid reasons behind every mitsva of the Torah.
However, these reasons are absolute, and to man, who thinks more in relative
terms, these reasons take time and thought until they are properly understood.
the Talmud says that a person should not assume the mitsvos are merciful edicts,
it is not saying that G-d is not merciful. It is saying that if we call G-d’s
edicts merciful, we will tend to ascribe that quality to all the commandments.
Those commandments which we are unable to qualify as merciful we will decide, in
our great wisdom, do not apply. For example, the laws of slaughtering animals:
through one’s limited perspective, one might say animal slaughter is immoral
because it lacks mercy. In fact, slaughtering animals is in itself a merciful
act because, amongst other reasons, animals are put on the world to serve
mankind. When we use animals in such a spiritual way, we are being merciful to
the animal (this is a Kabbalistic concept which requires much more space, which
we can treat in a future issue). The death penalty is another example of a case
where it seems there is no compassion, but the reality is to the contrary.
would like to stress, however, that while it is forbidden to say, “even on a
bird’s nest does G-d’s mercy reach,” this is only true during prayer. To see in
one’s own personal relationship with G-d this concept of mercy is not only
permitted, but laudable, as G-d is