In this week’s parsha we learn of the contemptible situation of an ihr hanedachas, a city where all of the inhabitants worship idols, Rachmana litzlan. The entire city is to be put to death, and all of the animals and belongings, everything in the city must destroyed as well.
At the conclusion of these halachos the Torah writes, and Hashem will give you mercy and have mercy on you (Devarim 13:18). The Ohr Hachaim explains that a person’s actions have an effect on his own nature. We can in fact alter and impact our natures, qualities and characteristics. When one is involved in killing, even though it is a mitzvah, it can lead him to develop the wrong middos, and character traits. For this reason the pasuk provides a havtacha – a promise – that one who is involved in the mitzvah of eradicating an ihr hanedachas will not become a cruel person; on the contrary Hashem will give him rachamim. Hashem who is the source of rachamim will extend an extra measure of rachamim to him, ensuring that these seemingly cruel acts will not negatively impact his nature.
The Ohr Hachaim continues that the conclusion of the pasuk is puzzling. The pasuk implies that only after Hashem extends his rachamim to this person and he is able to remain a compassionate person, will Hashem have rachmanus on him. The Gemara in Shabbos 151b says that Hashem only has rachmanus on compassionate people. If one is compassionate to other creations, Shamayim will be compassionate towards him. That is why the pasuk concludes that once Hashem has ensured that he will remain a compassionate person, will Hashem have mercy on him. Otherwise, had Hashem not extended His mercy as a matter of his promise in this pasuk, and had the person become cruel, Hashem would not act merciful towards him.
There is a story brought in the Gemara in Baba Metziya (85a) that illustrates this point. A cow was being led to be shechted, when it ran over to Rebbe (Rabi Yehuda Hanasi) and put its head in his clothing and cried for it did not want to be shechted. Rebbe then said to it, “Go; for this you were created.” In Shamayim they said since he did not show mercy on this animal, let suffering come upon him, and so it was, Rebbe suffered for a long time.
Rebbe’s suffering continued until the following episode occurred: the Gemara continues, one day Rebbe’s maidservant was sweeping the house and she noticed a group of baby weasels. She was going to sweep them up, when Rebbe said to her, “Leave them as it says ‘ Hashem has compassion on all of his creations.’” Immediately it was said in Heaven that since he has shown mercy let us show him mercy and he was healed of his afflictions.
We see from this Gemara that a person is treated in Shamayim in an analogous manner to the way he treats others. As the saying in English has it, “What goes around comes around” and others have other names for this concept, such as karma. The source for this adage is clearly from this Gemara, and it is indeed a powerful message. Rabi Yehuda Hanasi, one of the greatest sages in Jewish history, suffered terribly because he did not show compassion to an animal! And was only cured when he changed his midda. And despite the general natural laws that Hashem put into effect to govern this world, namely that Hashem will only be compassionate to a compassionate person, we see from this Gemara that we have the ability to overcome our nature and improve even when it will be difficult. In other words, even when these laws are stacked against us, we still have the ability to prevail, and overcome them.
Needless to say these standards apply regarding middos tovos as well. If a person acts with proper middos it will fortify and enhance his character. Consequentially, as a person with improved middos Hashem will reciprocate and treat him according to the way he treats others.
With Elul fast approaching these are wonderful suggestions to help us prepare for the Yom Hadin. If we want Hashem to show us compassion we need to first extend that measure to others.