OPINIONS: The Mishnah states that one who says, "May the good bless You," acts in the manner of heretics.
What is considered heretical about praising Hash-m by saying that the good ones should bless Him?
(a) RASHI explains that when one says, "Yevarechucha Tovim" -- "May the good bless You," he implies that only Tzadikim are fit to bless Hash-m, while Resha'im have no right to bless Him. The Chachamim, however, teach that when we praise Hash-m we must invite the Resha'im to join us. This requirement is derived from the ingredients in the Ketores. Just as the Torah commands that the Ketores include Chelbenah, a foul-smelling spice, Hash-m requires that our Tefilah must include the prayers of the sinners (Tefilah is compared to Ketores in Tehilim 141:2; see Insights to Megilah 12:3). We also allude to this requirement when we hold the Arba'as ha'Minim on Sukos. While the Lulav, Hadasim, and Esrog have either a nice smell, nice taste, or both, the Aravos have neither smell nor taste, and thus they represent the Resha'im. Nevertheless, they must be included with all of the other people in praising Hash-m.
The heretics (Minim) maintained that Resha'im must be excluded from praising Hash-m. The Minim rejected the concept of Teshuvah and maintained that once a person sins, he is irrevocably condemned and cannot participate in praising Hash-m.
The TALMIDEI RABEINU YONAH in Berachos (34a) suggest a similar, but not identical, explanation. They assert that the problem with saying, "May the good bless You," is not that the statement implies that the Resha'im may not participate in praising Hash-m due to the absence of the concept of Teshuvah. Rather, it implies that the Resha'im are evil from their inception and thus they do not have the ability to bless Hash-m. This is the belief of the heretics who maintain that man has no free will; an evil person was destined from birth to remain evil.
The RASHBA questions Rashi's explanation. A number of verses depict the praise of Hash-m sung by Tzadikim without Resha'im. "Yoducha Hash-m Kol Ma'asecha, va'Chasidecha Yevarechucha" -- "All Your works will thank You, Hash-m, and Your righteous ones will bless you" (Tehilim 145:10). Another verse says, "Ach Tzadikim Yodu li'Shmecha" -- "... but the righteous will give thanks to Your name" (Tehilim 140:14; the Ibn Ezra and Radak write that the word "but" specifically excludes Resha'im from praising Hash-m!). These verses imply that the statement that Tzadikim alone praise Hash-m is justifiable.
Perhaps in the specific context of these verses it indeed is appropriate to say that only Tzadikim praise Hash-m. In the verse of "Yoducha Hash-m...," the praise of "all Your works" is contrasted with the praise of the Tzadikim. The verse says that "all Your works will [merely] thank You," and then it says, "but the Tzadikim will bless You [*even more*]." Similarly, the verses which precede "Ach Tzadikim" discuss the punishment which Hash-m will bring upon the Resha'im while He protects the Tzadikim. The Tzadikim will give thanks to Hash-m for not being punished. Obviously, this statement is fitting only for the Tzadikim. In contrast, a person who says "Yevarechucha Tovim" implies that the only ones who are ever fit to praise Hash-m are the "Tovim," which is incorrect.
(b) TOSFOS explains that the word "Tovim" in the statement "Yevarechucha Tovim" may be misunderstood to mean the "good powers" ("Elohim Tovim"), and it appears as though the person is saying, "May the good powers bless you (my friend)." The belief in multiple deities clearly is the way of the heretics.
(c) The RAN says that "Tovim" does not refer to "the good people" but to "the people to whom Hash-m does good." When one says, "Yevarechucha Tovim," his statement means, "May those to whom You do good bless You," which may be misinterpreted as an implication that there is one power which bestows good and another power which is in control of evil, and the recipients of good are able to bless only the power that bestows good. That was the philosophy of the heretics who believed that there are two powers, one of good and one of evil.
(d) The TALMIDEI RABEINU YONAH give another explanation. "Tovim" means "the people to whom You have given plenty of food" and who are satiated, as in the verse, "v'Nisba Lechem va'Niheyeh Tovim" -- "and we were satiated with bread and we had it all good" (Yirmeyahu 44:17). The statement implies that the only one who needs to bless Hash-m is he who is satiated with blessing, which was the attitude of the heretics.
This explanation is particularly appropriate according to the Girsa of the RAMBAM in the Mishnah. Instead of the words, "this is Derech ha'Minus," the Rambam's text reads, "this is Derech ha'Tzedukim." The Tzedukim accepted only the literal interpretation of the verses in the Torah and rejected the enactments of the Rabanan, including the enactment that one must recite Birkas ha'Mazon after he eats even a k'Zayis or k'Beitzah of bread. The verse says, "v'Achalta v'Savata u'Verachta" -- "You will eat, be satisfied, and bless" (Devarim 8:10), which the Tzedukim misinterpret to mean that only one who is satiated is required to bless Hash-m.
QUESTION: The Mishnah states that one who says, "Hash-m's mercy reaches the mother bird," must be silenced. The Gemara explains (in the second reason) that this is because the Mitzvos are purely Gezeiros, "heavenly decrees incumbent upon us to fulfill," and they are not given to us as expressions of Hash-m's mercy.
However, the Gemara in a number of places (see Yevamos 23a and elsewhere) quotes Rebbi Shimon who explicitly states that all of the Mitzvos have reasons. Can the Mishnah here be reconciled with the view of Rebbi Shimon?
(a) The RASHBA (Teshuvos 1:94), in a response to someone who offered an explanation for the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken, writes that he doubts that anyone living in his generation is qualified to offer a valid reason for this Mitzvah, as it contains many hidden elements of the Torah that no one can fathom. The Rashba concludes that during the times of the Beis ha'Mikdash, when Yerushalayim was a gathering place for prophets and scholars, the rationale for the Mitzvos was readily accessible. Now that we are in exile, however, the gates of wisdom have been locked. All Mitzvos must be performed regardless of whether or not we comprehend the reasons for them.
In a similar vein, the MAHARSHA in Berachos (33b) writes that although one may ponder the reasons behind the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken, during its actual performance he should have in mind that he is performing the Mitzvah as one performs all other Chukim -- exclusively to fulfill Hash-m's command.
The Maharsha apparently maintains that applying human logic to Chukim may corrupt the manner in which the Mitzvah is performed. Support for the Maharsha's opinion may be found in the Gemara in Sanhedrin (21b) which states that Shlomo ha'Melech's justification for his violation of a Mitzvah in the Torah when he married the daughter of Pharaoh was his assumption that he understood the motivation behind the prohibition. This incident teaches that one must exercise caution and restraint when tempted to apply his own logic to determine the reasons for the Mitzvos.
(b) The RAMBAM in Moreh Nevuchim (3:26, 3:48) explains that the Gemara here indeed argues with Rebbi Shimon and maintains that there are no fathomable reasons for the Mitzvos. Nevertheless, the Rambam (end of Hilchos Temurah) writes that although one is obligated to perform Mitzvos that have no apparent reason, it is nevertheless praiseworthy to offer appropriate explanations for them.
Following the Rambam's approach, a number of Rishonim and Acharonim offer various reasons for the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken. (The following discussion is based on Rabbi Naftali Weinberger's book, SEFER SHALE'ACH TESHALACH, a comprehensive treatise covering the laws and meanings of the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken.)
1. The RAMBAN (Devarim 22:6) explains that when the Gemara says that the reason behind the Mitzvah of sending away the mother bird is not in order to have mercy, it means that it is not Hash-m's intent to have mercy on the bird. Rather, it is a "Gezeirah" (a decree upon us, for our benefit) in order to inculcate the trait of mercy in us. One who accustoms himself to act with cruelty to beasts becomes cruel by nature, even to people. This is also the approach of the SEFER HA'CHINUCH (#545), ME'IRI (Berachos 33b), IBN EZRA, CHIZKUNI, and others.
2. RABEINU BACHYE (Devarim 22:7), the SEFER HA'CHINUCH, and the RALBAG explain that while the Torah permits the consumption and utilization of birds, it prohibits their complete extinction. To take the mother and her offspring simultaneously would be tantamount to destroying the nest, which could be viewed as a step, albeit a small one, toward the destruction of the entire species. Therefore, the Torah requires that the mother first be sent away and then her offspring may be taken.
In reward for observing the Mitzvos and performing Hash-m's will, Hash-m will watch over us, protect us, and grant us long life in this world and everlasting life in the World to Come.
3. The RAMBAM in Moreh Nevuchim compares the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken with the prohibition of "Oso v'Es Beno" (Vayikra 22:28), which forbids the slaughter of an animal and her offspring on the same day. The Rambam explains that both of these Mitzvos show that animals have feelings towards their young, and those feelings must be respected. Maternal compassion is not a logical emotion, but rather an inborn, instinctive one. Consequently, if the offspring is taken in the presence of its mother, the mother naturally will suffer pain and anguish. The Torah therefore instructs us to demonstrate compassion and to send the mother away before we take the eggs, thereby sparing her the anguish of watching her offspring taken away.
This explanation of the Rambam seems to contradict the Mishnah here that says that we silence one who says that Shilu'ach ha'Ken is done for reasons of compassion. The Rishonim and Acharonim explain that the Rambam understands the Mishnah as a specific prohibition to say the words, "Al Kan Tzipor Yagi'a Rachamecha," as a prayer. Making such a request from Hash-m through prayer gives the appearance as though this reason is the only one, while in truth there may be many other explanations for the Mitzvah. However, to suggest compassion as one possible rationale for the Mitzvah is surely permissible.
4. The Yerushalmi records an opinion (quoted in KOL ELIYAHU #17; see Yerushalmi Berachos 5:3, "Ad Kan Tzipor...") that asserts that the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken is not intended as an expression of mercy for the mother bird at all. The mother bird certainly experiences pain when sent away from her hatchlings. Rather, the Mitzvah is intended to involve a certain, limited degree of cruelty. The Zohar, as quoted by RABEINU BACHYE and TESHUVOS CHACHAM TZVI (#86), says that when the mother bird cries for her hatchlings it arouses Hash-m's mercy for his own children, the Jewish people. (See Insights to Chulin 138:5 for an elucidation of the words of the Zohar.)
5. The ABARBANEL explains that even though one is prohibited from destroying objects that bear fruit (Devarim 20:7), nevertheless one is permitted to eat the fruit. Similarly, one is prohibited from harming the source of the hatchlings, the mother bird, yet one is permitted to consume her offspring. When one spares the mother bird, he enables her to build another nest and to produce additional offspring.
6. The CHASAM SOFER (Chulin 139b) explains that according to the Rambam (Hilchos Shechitah 3:7) the reason for this Mitzvah is to ensure that a level of moral justice is maintained in the world. When a mother bird stays behind to protect her young from a hunter, it is not morally condonable that she should suffer harm as a result. Therefore, the hunter is not allowed to take advantage of the mother's love for her young and capture the mother, but rather he must send her away.
Similarly, the AVNEI NEZER explains that the reason why human beings are permitted to kill animals is because Hash-m created humans with intellect, and thus made them superior to animals. However, a mother bird displays human-like emotions when she shows concern for her offspring as a human does. In this respect, therefore, humans are not superior to animals; permission to kill the animal is suspended when the animal displays an element of humanity. Therefore, a person must send the bird away.
(Although many Rishonim and Acharonim offer various explanations for the Mitzvah, they nevertheless concede that Shilu'ach ha'Ken, like all other Mitzvos, incorporates many hidden parts of the Torah and thereby renders a comprehensive understanding of it impossible. For example, the BA'AL HA'AKEIDAH and the ABARBANEL both mention that the mother bird symbolizes the human soul.
The Ramban (loc. cit.) quotes the SEFER HAKANAH (a very early work which discusses the concept of hidden aspects of Torah, written by the Tana, Rebbi Nechunya ben Hakanah) which also states that many secrets of the Torah are incorporated in this Mitzvah. He writes, for example, that even the Mitzvah of Sukah is inherent in the Mitzvah of Shilu'ach ha'Ken. Rebbi Nechunya ben Hakanah writes that since the reward attributed to this Mitzvah is so great, it must be that the performance of Shilu'ach ha'Ken touches upon many other Mitzvos as well.) (See also Insights to Berachos 33:3 and Chulin 138:4-5.)
QUESTION: The Mishnah states that one who is "Mechaneh b'Arayos" must be silenced. The Gemara explains that this refers to one who says that the verse, "Do not uncover your father's nakedness" (Vayikra 18:7), is not to be taken literally but means that one should not reveal any disgraceful thing about his father. Such a person must be silenced.
The Mishnah then states that one who says that the verse, "Do not give any of your children to be passed through Molech" (Vayikra 18:21), means that one should not give his child to an Arami in marriage (lest his children learn to worship idols such as Molech), must be silenced with censure ("b'Nezifah").
Why in the second case does the Mishnah say that he must be silenced with censure, "b'Nezifah"? In both cases, the person ascribes an improper meaning to a verse, as Rashi explains. In both cases, the person attributes a Chiyuv Misah to an act for which there is no Chiyuv Misah. What, then, is the difference between the two cases?
(a) Perhaps the difference is that in the second case, the person's interpretation of the verse of Molech as a prohibition against giving his child to a Nochri in marriage seems reasonable. People might accept his interpretation and be misled. They will think that such a transgression is punishable with death, as giving one's child to a Nochri in marriage indeed is a severe transgression. Therefore, he must be silenced with Nezifah. In contrast, in the first case, when the person interprets the verse of Arayos as a prohibition against revealing the shame of one's father, people will not accept his interpretation because it is unreasonable that revealing disgraceful aspects of one's father should be punishable with death. Therefore, he must be silenced but not with Nezifah.
(b) Some Rishonim disagree with Rashi's explanation of the Mishnah. Rashi understands that the person's misinterpretation of the verse of Molech is a stringency -- the person attributes a Chiyuv Misah to an act for which one is not Chayav Misah. According to other Rishonim, the person's misinterpretation is a leniency. Since he is being lenient he must be silenced with Nezifah.
In what way does his misinterpretation of the verse result in a leniency? The ARUCH (Erech "Aram") explains that by saying that the verse forbids marriage to an Arami, one prohibits marriage only to a Nochri who worships Molech, such as an Arami, but he permits marriage to any other type of Nochri.
RASHI on the Rif explains that by interpreting the verse as a prohibition against giving one's child to an idol-worshipper in marriage because she will bear children and teach them to worship Molech, one is saying that the prohibition applies only if the woman he marries is able to give birth. This implies that if she is an older woman or unable to give birth for some other reason, he is permitted to marry her. Therefore, he must be silenced with Nezifah.
(c) RABEINU CHANANEL and the RAMBAM (in Perush ha'Mishnayos) explain "Mechaneh b'Arayos" differently. "Mechaneh" means that one alters the wording of the verse: he changes the verse from "Do not uncover your father's nakedness (Ervas Avicha)" to "Do not uncover his father's nakedness (Ervas Aviv)" in order to express the prohibition in a more polite way. He must be silenced because if the Torah expresses the prohibition in a certain way, there must be reasons behind it and no one is entitled to alter it.
(Their Girsa in the Gemara includes the extra word, as recorded in DIDUKEI SOFRIM, "Mishum Kalon Avicha," which implies that Kalon Avicha ([preventing] the shame of your father) is the motivation for why he changes the verse, but it is not the change itself.)
In that case, the change in the verse "Ervas Avicha" does not affect the Halachah, but only the syntax of the verse. In the second case, the person's misinterpretation actually changes the Halachah, and therefore he must be silenced with Nezifah.