Torah Tidbits

23 August 2014 / 27 Av 5774
Issue 929
Parshat To-l'dot 5771
November 04, 2010

Jewish Law

Lesson # 538 (part one) Lifnim MiShurat HaDin

I was recently asked to once again explain the concept of Lifnim MiShurat HaDin. In the past, I have written several lessons in which this concept was discussed in passing. Since it is an important concept in man’s conduct to his fellow human beings, the Torah places emphasis on this concept. I will now expand on this somewhat so that the reader will be able to familiarize herself or himself with the concept.
The Talmud relates an incident where the Lord of the Universe met insignificant man and a startling conversation took place, perhaps the most startling in the history of mankind. It took place in a room into which only one particular man may enter on only one day in the year. The Kohein Gadol R’ Yishmael ben Elisha entered into the Holy of Holies to offer incense on Yom Kippur and saw a vision of the Glory of Hashem and the vision said to him: “Yishmael, My son, bless Me.” (Talmud Brachot 7a) Whereupon R’ Yishmael answered, “May it be Thy will that Thy mercy may suppress Thy anger; Thy mercy may dominate over Thine other attributes so that Thou mayest deal with Thy children according to the attribute of mercy and deal with them lifnim mishurat hadin. (I am not certain if this was a request which R’ Yishmael could have refused to perform without being in violation of a command of Hashem, or whether this was a direct command to R’ Yishmael which he could not refuse to perform.) The import of this phrase lifnim mishurat hadin in this context seems to be that the attribute of mercy shall prevail over the attribute of strict justice, for man cannot measure up to the demands of strict justice. I shall now set forth several unrelated Talmudic passages and then a few post-Talmudic sources to see if there can emerge a more precise idea of what is meant by the commonly used term lifnim mishurat hadin.
If one is to pray in private on Rosh haShana, the Talmud advises that he should pray the additional prayer (Musaf) after the first three hours of the day. (T. Avoda Zara 4b) After some discussion the reason given is that during the first three hours, Hashem judges man according to the strict attribute of justice, while during the next three hours He judges man lifnim mishurat hadin. Once again it can be seen that the phrase lifnim mishurat hadin as it refers to Hashem indicates the attribute of mercy taking precedence over the attribute of strict justice. No doubt the Talmud intended a lesson for mankind in relating these two distinct incidents where lifnim mishurat hadin is employed as an attribute of Hashem. That man can learn from the anthropomorphic attributes is seen in the Talmudic passage which quotes the sage Abba Shaul who, in commenting on the verse “This is my G-d and I will glorify Him” said, “Be thou like Him. Just as He is gracious and compassionate so be thou gracious and compassionate” (T. Shabbat 133b). I believe that Imitatio Dei, the imitation of Hashem extends to lifnim mishurat hadin. IYH in the next lessons we shall examine a few passages in various tractates of the Talmud where actions involving persons are termed lifnim mishurat hadin.

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