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Q&A: No Commandment To Be Kind?

July 12, 2015

Question: Yesterday you showed us the halacha that a number of chasadim are not actually mitzvos of the Torah. Why didn’t Hashem make those mitzvos?

Answer: I can not know why for certain, but I can offer an answer based on other concepts previously discussed. The halacha in question is this one (MT Laws of Mourning, 14:1):

It is a positive commandment of Rabbinic origin to visit the sick, comfort mourners, to prepare for a funeral, prepare a bride, accompany guests, attend to all the needs of a burial, carry a corpse on one’s shoulders, walk before the bier, mourn, dig a grave, and bury the dead, and also to bring joy to a bride and groom and help them in all their needs.

The implication of the first line is that these were not explicit commandments of the Torah, although Maimonides then says (ibid, 2 and 3) that they are included in the command to “love your fellow as yourself” and were part of Abraham’s religious practices, which makes the question stronger: Why were these pillars not explicit, while so many other “trivial” matters were explicitly commanded?

My idea is similar to ideas we had concerning positive commandments that were included in the Torah. God commanded the Jewish people to make war to defend their borders and to preempt those who would wipe them out because although it should be taken for granted that normal nations would do so, the Jews, who are compassionate by nature, would try not to. Other nations know to punish wanton and repeat murderers with death; such behavior is anathema to Jews, and they were therefore commanded to eliminate violent criminals. Most men do not need to be commanded to pursue the opposite sex, but because Jewish ideology could lead to the conclusion that celibacy is an ideal for a select few, the Torah commanded all men to be fruitful and multiply.

Conversely, because these acts of kindness are so central to Jewish cultural behavior – most Jews would know to care for the ill and the dead, and to act charitably –  it was unnecessary for the Torah to command us to do so.

Question: So why did the sages come and command us to do them?

Answer: For the small minority that wouldn’t do so unless commanded, and so that they could define parameters for each behavior, all for the good of society. We should be very proud of our national tradition of compassion, but we must also stay vigilant and never congratulate ourselves, lest we ultimately neglect to help others to the extent necessary in each case.


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