“And you shall take a bundle of hyssops and dip it in the blood in the basin,
and you shall touch it to the lintel and the two door posts,
and you shall not go out, no man from the entrance
of his home that night, until the morning.” – Shemos 12:22
After months of witnessing Hashem’s mastery over nature, the Jewish people were commanded to commit the ultimate affront to the Mitzrim: to take their very god, tie it to the bedpost, and prepare it to be slaughtered on the 14th of Nissan. They were then to take the blood of the korban and smear it on their doorposts as a sign to protect them. Additionally, they were told that since all first-born Mitzrim were to be killed, no Jew should leave his house that night.
Rashi explains that even though blood on the doorpost was a sign that that house belonged to a Jew, if a Jew were to walk in the street, he would be in danger. “Once permission is given to the destroyer to destroy, he doesn’t distinguish between innocent and guilty.”
It seems Rashi is saying that had a Jew remained in his house that evening, he would not have been killed, and had he left his house, he might have died – not because he was guilty of any sin, not because he deserved to die, but because once the destroyer is given permission to kill, anyone in his path is in danger.
This is difficult to understand. If someone is innocent, how is it possible he would die? The basis of our entire belief system is that there is no power in this world other than Hashem. We accept that all decisions are directly guided and carried out by Him alone. So how is it possible that someone undeserving of death would have been killed anyway, just for going outside that evening? Where is the justice?
Immutable Laws of Nature
The answer to this question is based on the way Chazal understand the system of Creation. Hashem formed this world with definite and distinct laws: heat tends to rise, gases tend to expand, heavy objects tend to fall. These laws are the bedrock foundation for all of physicality. Just as Hashem created laws for the physical world, so too He created laws for the spiritual world. These are specific and exact, and carry throughout Creation.
Before Hashem created the world, He thought (if it could be) to create it with the middas hadin – strict justice. However, the world couldn’t exist if it operated according to this system, so He created the world using the middas harachamim – the system of mercy. The operating principle then became compassion. The way actions were weighed and people were judged was now with a different scale and measuring rod. But since Hashem acts with complete honesty, justice cannot be ignored. It is mitigated and guided by kindness, but it still demands its due.
The Mesillas Yesharim explains that pure middas hadin would demand instant punishment for a sin. After all, in this world you are a creation, a visitor in the King’s land, created by and supported by Him. The King gave you laws for your good, and if you have the audacity to violate the express command of the King, even a slight transgression should be immediately punishable by death. The middah of mercy allows for a different way of judging an act: a sinner is given time to repent, the punishment isn’t as severe, and there is a system of teshuvah – of somehow undoing the sin itself.
Din cannot be ignored, however, and there are times and situations where it comes into full force. For reasons we humans will likely never understand, Hashem runs this world in cycles and time settings. There are times of greater leniency, and times that demand more scrutiny in judgment. We are advised to daven on Yom Kippur with extra fervor because it is a time of greater rachamim. The same amount of regret and teshuvah on our part will accomplish more. The middah of rachamim is in greater force.
This seems to be the answer to the question on Rashi. When Hashem was taking retribution on the firstborns of Mitzrayim, justice was being served, so there was a global shift in the middah in operation. Din went into effect. As such, it was a very dangerous time. Now man – any man – would be judged with the system of din, and very few individuals would be able to pass as innocent. Therefore, Klal Yisrael was warned, “Do not go out from your home.”
The destructive angel was given permission to act in a manner different from normal circumstances. A person who might be innocent under the normal mercy system would now be found guilty and might warrant death. Because of that, the Jews were advised to avoid the situation.
Understanding the Middah of Din
This concept has great applications to our lives. In many situations, we are tempted to question Hashem: “It’s not fair! Why should that person suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people?” Yet when we focus on what man is capable of accomplishing, we understand there are very few individuals who truly live up to their potential. If the middah of din were exacted, there would be few who would escape unscathed. So there are no issues of “it’s not fair.”
The only question is why in one case it seems din is in operation more than in another. And because there are so many factors that affect the balance, we humans may never know the answer to these global questions. However, the question of Hashem’s “cruelty” never applies.
Even more, these concepts affect our relationship to Hashem. When we understand what strict din is, we understand our very existence is dependent upon mercy. We can then tap into one of the most powerful forces in Creation. Even a slight change in the amount of mercy Hashem uses in judging me can have a fantastic difference in the outcome. The question I have to ask is: How do I awaken the middah of mercy?
One of the keys is to utilize the power of tefillah, to ask Hashem for help – not based on my merit or anything I have done, but out of sheer mercy. Another method is to act toward other people with mercy. Chazal tell us that the way a person is judged mirrors the way he judges others.
Understanding these ideas greatly impacts the way that we approach others and the way we approach life itself.
About the Author: Rabbi Shafier is the founder of TheShmuz.com. The Shmuz is an engaging, motivating shiur that deals with real life issues. All of the Shmuzin are available free of charge at www.TheShmuz.com or on the Shmuz App for iphone or Android.
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