INSIGHT

5770 - #36

THE FLOW OF MITZVOT

Ki Teitzei

           The words of Rashi, Devarim 21:11 are well known. The laws of the yefat to’ar, the captive woman, precede the laws pertaining to the ahuva and sinu’ah, the loved and unloved wives which, in turn, precede the laws of the ben sorer u’moreh, the wayward son, because these cases are all actually interconnected. If a man takes a yefat to’ar, the eventual result will be that she will become a sinu’ah, an unloved wife, with the further result being that her son will be a ben sorer u’moreh.1 As Medrash Tanchuma, Ki Teitzei 1 states, this is an example of mitzvah goreret mitzvah v’aveira goreret aveira, that a positive deed will lead to further positive deeds while a negative deed will lead to further negative deeds.2 What the medrash further adds, though, is the source from where we learn this concept – the laws presented in Devarim 22:6-12 beginning with the command to send away the mother bird and concluding with the laws of tzitzit. Why, though, can’t we just learn it from this very case of yefat to’ar?

            There are many cases within the Torah where we find a collection of mitzvot that seem to lack any connection, their order of presentation seemingly random. As the Author of this text does not act randomly, one of our tasks in studying the Chumash text is, thus, to uncover the meaning behind these presentations of verses. The opening mitzvot of Parshat Ki Teitzei are a perfect case in point. Devarim 22:6-12 is another. What is the possible connection between the yefat to’ar, sinu’ah and ahuva, and the ben sorer u’moreh? between sending away the mother bird, putting a protective fence around your roof and, finally, wearing tzitzit? The answer seems to be the same for both groupings. In each example, the specific verses are connected because each case reflects the concept of mitzvah goreret mitzvah v’aveira goreret aveira; one activity leading to another activity of the same type. If this was simply true, though, the Tanchuma’s statement that we specifically learn this concept from the latter case really would be bewildering.

            There are, in fact, certain indications that seem to imply that, while there may be similarities between the two cases, there are also significant distinctions to be noted. One is this very recognition that the Tanchuma, while applying the same basic concept to the two cases, states specifically that we learn the idea of mitzvah goreret mitzvah from the latter case. It is also interesting to note that while Rashi, Devarim 22:8 mentions the term mitzvah goreret mitzvah, the above noted Rashi does not refer to this concept at all. The presentation of the causal sequence in the two cases seems also to be different. In regard to the case beginning with the yefat to’ar, Rashi presents one action as directly leading to the situation described in the next section; one who marries a yefat to’ar will eventually hate her yielding the possible situation of being married to two women, one being loved more than the other. In the case beginning with sending away the mother bird, though, the causal sequence does not seem to be as inherent. The words of Maharal, Gur Aryeh, Devarim 22:8 are most on point. He uses the word zocheh, that you will merit; if you send away the mother bird, you will merit a house being built for you and if you build a fence around the roof of this house you will merit a field and a vineyard whereby you can then follow the mitzvah of kelayim, not mixing the planting of wheat and grapes. Interestingly, given our perceptions from the Tanchuma and Rashi, while we might think that it is the case of the more direct causal sequence that would be the better example of mitzvah goreret mitzvah v’aveira goreret aveira, the fact seems to be that it is actually the case of the more indirect causal sequence that is deemed to better reflect this concept.  

            How do we understand the basic idea of mitzvah goreret mitzvah v’aveira goreret aveira? Is it more descriptive or, actually, in itself, more active? What exactly, also, is the force of the causation, the acts themselves or the fact that these acts are mitzvot or aveirot? The case of the yefat to’ar would seem to favour the former alternative in both these questions. It is the act of marrying a yefat to’ar itself that will result in being married to a sinu’ah. Our recognition of this causal sequence further describes the consequences of negative acts. The case of the sending away of the mother bird would seem, however, to actually present the opposite, the latter alternative in both these questions. It is the fact that in sending away the mother bird one did a mitzvah that yields the result that this person will merit, and therefore have, a house built for him/her. It is the very power of the mitzvah that yields the consequences. The Tanchuma, as such, presents this second case as the source for the concept and, indeed, Rashi only uses the term mitzvah goreret mitzvah in regard to this case. It is this case where the definition of mitzvah itself powers the consequence of another mitzvah that is the prime example of the concept.

            But, still, given such a general principle, why should this particular mitzvah act lead to these particular consequences and mitzvot? Maharal provides the answer in explaining that these various mitzvot acts flowing from the sending away of the mother bird all fall within one broad ethical principle, yishuv ha’olam, inhabiting and colonizing the world. One mitzvah within this category will lead to the performance of more mitzvot within this category. Maharal, Derech Chaim, Avot 2:2 explains this further. All mitzvot are not individual entities that combine to form a collection of mitzvot in the same way that one candle can be placed beside other candles to form a collection of candles. All mitzvot are essentially parts of a greater unified whole that reflects one entity in the same way that the flames of a candle can be united to form a greater flame, a bonfire. This is what mitzvah goreret mitzvah ultimately means. One mitzvah inherently leads to another because one is already really interconnected to the other because they are all part of a greater whole. Lighting a fire inherently also creates the potential for a new flame. A single mitzvah, similarly, does not stand alone. It connects to other mitzvot within a broader ethical/moral category, ultimately intertwining with all the mitzvot of the Torah as a whole. One mitzvah leads to another because they are all part of the same essence.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

 


Footnotes

1 In that we know of specific incidents where the law of yefat to’ar was applied, yet there is a view in T.B. Sanhedrin 71a that the case of a ben sorer u’moreh never happened and never will happen, this theory cannot be taken literally to mean that every case of a yefat to’ar will meet these results. A general lesson of causal consequences, though, can still be learned

2 While Rashi here does not quote this term, his words still indicate that he also saw this connection somewhat within these verses. While one could say that the taking a yefat to’ar pursuant to these Torah laws is a mitzvah and thus a good deed, Rashi, by informing us that the ideal is still not to take a yefat to’ar and that the Torah only permitted this specific process to prevent worst sins, challenges such a conclusion. The taking of a yefat to’ar ultimately must be seen as a negative act albeit permitted. As such it can still, and will, thus lead to further negative behaviour and consequences.

Nishma 2010

   

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2006 NISHMA