By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 37 – It’s Not So Black and White
How do we know that someone who is chayav misah of sayif that it is executed at the neck? Says the Braisah, from the pasuk of v’atah tevaer ha’dam ha’naki mi’kirbecha, from which we learn a hekesh of shofchei damim, murderers, to eglah arufah. Just like eglah arufah is killed by cutting its neck, so too are those that are chayav misah of sayif killed by being cut at the neck.
If so, asks the Gemara, why don’t we cut such people from the back of the neck and with a large meat cleaver the way it is done with the eglah arufah? That, answers the Gemara, we derive from the pasuk of V’ahavtah l’reiacha kamocha, from which we learn the rule, bror lo misah yafah, choose for him the best way to die. Since cutting from the front of the neck results in a much swifter death, that is the best way to choose for him.
Ad kan that piece of the Gemara.
Now, there is a glaring kashya over here. We have a general rule that whenever the Torah tells us to do this that or the other for our fellow Jew, there is an exception of eino oseh maaseh amcha. If it is someone that does not behave in the manner that good Jews are meant to behave, he is not included. In fact, the Gemara in Pesachim (113b) says that someone who has willfully and blatantly committed an aveirah, it is permissible, and even a mitzvah, to hate him; so how could the Braisah say that someone who is being executed for committing the sin of murder that we have to choose the best death for him since the pasuk says V’ahavtah l’reiacha kamocha?!
The Shitah Mekubetzes brings from Rabbeinu Meir Ha’Levi the following statement, “Whenever it says reiacha the implication is even a rasha who is chayav misah, that you are obligated to find whatever good you can do for him, namely, by selecting for him the best way to die, and you could explain reiacha to mean even the raim sheh’b’cha (the evil amongst you) that are chayav misah, choose for them the best way to die.”
With that we could perhaps understand our Gemara by itself, but what about the Gemara in Pesachim that you are supposed to hate a rasha?
The Shitah Mekubetzes, perhaps to address this question (he doesn’t say so explicitly), continues: “And don’t be surprised that the Torah calls such a person reiah (which means friend), because he is even called reiah ahuv, as it says, v’niklah achicha l’einecha, from which we learn that once someone who is chayav malkos has gotten his punishment he is once again called achicha, your brother. Likewise, on the pasuk that says “the flesh of your pious ones will be to the wild animals,” the Medrash Shocher Tov comments, “Are they pious ones?! It says about them that they are like horses?! Rather, once justice has been meted out upon them, about them it says “they were pious ones.”
We could justifiably still be confused, though, because that is all well and good after the punishment has been carried out, but our Gemara is talking about before the punishment has been executed. At that point, since he has still not received his punishment, how can we apply to him this idea that he also has to be loved?
It seems inevitable that the resolution to this quandary is based on a statement of the Tanya (chapter 32): “Even those who are close to you and you have given them proper rebuke and they nevertheless persist in their evil ways, in which case it is indeed a mitzvah to hate them, it is a mitzvah to love them as well. And both facets are completely emes. The hatred because of their facet of evil, and love because of the facet of good which is hidden within them, which is the spark of Godliness inside them that is the life force of their Godly soul. Also, you should arouse pity in your heart for that soul because it is as if in exile within the evil…and pity nullifies hatred and arouses love.”
It is truly amazing, isn’t it? Here you have a murderer, someone who cut down the life of an innocent person in cold blood, and you have this incredible dichotomy which is supposed to reside in your heart towards him. On the one hand, you are horrified and disgusted by what he has done and harbor a deep seated animosity and revulsion for a person who committed such a heinous act. And yet, at the same time, you cannot lose sight of the fact that beyond that hideous veneer lies a neshama tehorah which is inherently good. No matter what, that neshama tehorah still defines his essential being. Therefore, at the same time that you hate him for what he has done and become, you also pity the real him that is buried inside, exiled under layers of evil.
Baruch Hashem, we generally don’t need to deal with such extreme circumstances. But there is still a very important lesson that we can derive from all this, and that is that life really is not all that black and white. The same word reiacha which teaches us about our fellow Jews and all that we must do for them, also refers to someone who is so bad that he is chayav misah! Within this person there is a tremendous mixture of both evil and good.
Although it may be easier to try and package everything as all black or all white, the fact is that it is just incorrect. Even when dealing with people and situations that seem quite bad, we can’t lose sight of the fact that there is also a tremendous amount of good, and that even as we deal with that negative in whatever manner we must, concomitantly we arouse and cultivate within ourselves a sympathy and appreciation of that part which really is good and pure. No, it is not simple or easy to do that, but it is the only really emesdik approach. That blend of outlook and way of relating is truly the most accurate and correct approach, and it is that approach through which we strike the harmonious balance of living and functioning fully al pi Torah.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.