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PLEASE HAVE MERCY

by Steve Lerner    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

One of the most profound relationships in G-d's creation is the interplay between strict justice and mercy, known as din and rachamim respectively. These two attributes are both facets of G-d, and are alluded to in His two most common names.

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One of the most profound relationships in G-d's creation is the interplay between strict justice and mercy, known as din and rachamim respectively. These two attributes are both facets of G-d, and are alluded to in His two most common names. The proper four-letter name of G-d - which even in our prayers we do not pronounce as it is written, and in Torah study and conversation is simply referred to as Hashem (literally meaning "the name") - denotes the Divine attribute of mercy. The name Elokim, on the other hand, suggests Divine judgment. The Torah begins its description of G-d's creation of the world by referring to the Almighty as Elokim, indicative of the attribute of strict justice. The proper four-letter name of Hashem, which denotes the characteristic of mercy, is not employed in the first chapter at all, but surfaces in combination with the name Elokim in a subsequent reference to the formation of heaven and earth (Genesis 2:4).

Based on the above passages, the sages derive the following: "In the beginning, it arose in Hashem's thought to create the world according to the measure of strict justice. But Hashem saw that the world could not exist on that level, so He fused mercy with justice to provide an enduring scenario." If considered with strict justice alone, any transgression of G-d's will should lead to instantaneous and absolute punishment. After all, what right does a being have to existence if it compromises its total recognition of its creator! Only by adding mercy into the picture is the punishment mitigated and the transgressor given a temporary reprieve to do teshuvah (repentance).

In his work Limudei Nisson, Rabbi Nisson Alpert, one of the late renowned Torah scholars of our generation, addresses this esoteric subject. He says that it is necessary to distinguish between briyah - the creation of original matter from nothing, and asiyah - further formation of matter into its final form. The first stage of creation, the briyah process, occurs with strict judgment. The second, asiyah stage, is performed utilizing a combination of mercy and justice.

There is no change of heart from the first stage to the second. It is axiomatic that all was foreseen by Hashem at the outset. In the briyah stage, when the initial concept of a world arises in Divine thought, it is done in accordance with Hashem's most stringent standards of justice. In the second stage of asiyah, where concepts become reality, a combination of mercy and justice is required to allow for a creation that will be compatible with the frailties of Man.

The requirements of justice are absolute and uncompromising. Any deviation, however slight, constitutes a failure of the standard. The attribute of mercy says not to discard any deed or attempted performance based on some minute failing. It strives to give credit wherever possible, even for the smallest details or parts of otherwise incomplete actions. Even if there are 999 prosecuting angels against a person and only one defending angel, the merit represented by the defending angel remains intact and is considered.

In the narrative of the first chapter of creation, only the element of light is specifically identified by G-d as itself being "good", as the Torah states, "G-d saw that the light was good" (ibid. 1:4). Elements created on other days only receive a general statement at the end of the day that they were generally good. Rabbi Alpert explains that in the case of light, both the briyah and the asiyah stages were in accordance with the strict measure of judgment. The conception and actual formation of light conformed to G-d's most rigorous standard of judgment. This original, perfect light remains hidden for the future, for a time when Man will be deemed worthy of basking in its brilliant rays (see Rashi on the above verse).

On a scientific note, according to Einstein's theory of relativity, the speed of light is a constant, not subject to variation in speed as in the case of other elements such as time and mass. The speed of any other object may vary depending upon the per-spective from which it is analyzed. Light is the only element whose speed remains constant, unvarying and unchangeable.

As creators of our world, we may apply these concepts as well. In the realm of thought, where there are no external limitations, one is free to employ the highest standards of justice in the formation of goals and aspirations. We are encouraged to look to Hashem and the forefathers as models to pattern our own conduct. When evaluating or judging the performance of others, we should include the combined character trait of mercy and justice to search for every element of good and ascribe merit whenever possible. The pristine and constant nature of light is a metaphor for Torah, and the reward of its splendor is reserved for those who serve with unvarying consistency and purity of heart.

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Steve Lerner writes from Atlanta.

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