With the end of masechet Makkot we meet the Mishnah that is, by now, very well known to all. At the close of learning Mishnah Yomit each day, prior to the recital of kadish d’rabbanan, someone stands up and says, almost certainly by heart and at a fast pace, the following Mishnah:
R’ Chananya ben Akashya says: HaKadosh Baruch Hu wished to confer merit (le’zakot) upon Yisrael and therefore gave them an abundance of Torah and mitzvot as it says: “Hashem desires for the sake of [Yisrael’s] righteousness, that the Torah be expanded and strengthened”.
Why do we say this Mishnah and what does it teach us?
The Rama (54:3) writes that the recital of kadish must always be preceded with some praise (tehilah). The Mishnah Berurah (54:9) adds that a kadish d’rabbanan can also be recited after learning. He however continues, citing the Magen Avraham, that this is provided that it follows a subject of Aggadah, for this type of kadish was instituted to follow Aggadah (See Sotah 49a). He also explains that this is why the accepted custom is that after learning Pirkei Avot or Bame Madlikin, we recite either “Amar R’ Elazar amar R’ Channinah…” or our Mishnah. For this reason he cautions that our Mishnah must be recited after learning Mishnayot to enable the recitation of kadish d’rabbanan.
Granted that many of us can recite the Mishnah by heart, but what is it teaching us? A simple reading seems to suggest that in order to increase the reward, HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave us more mitzvot. The question that then stands out is, the more mitzvot also increases the chances of punishment in their transgression!
The Rambam in his commentary on the Mishnah explains that one of the fundamentals of faith is that if a person keeps one mitzvah properly with a true intent, purely lishmah out of love for Hashem then he merits Olam HaBah. Due to the great abundance of mitzvot, it is quite likely that a person will fulfill at least one mitzvah properly.
Alternatively, the Tiferet Yisrael explains that this Mishnah is understood in the context of the previous one. There we learnt about the reward for keeping the negative mitzvot that one would ordinarily be repulsed to transgress - for example, drinking blood. He explains that this Mishnah answers the obvious question: if we are repulsed by them anyway, why do we need a mitzvah to prohibit it? To this R’ Chananya ben Akashya explains that Hashem wished to increase the reward. The Maharsha adds that the term “abundance” refers to precisely this idea. The Mishnah addresses why there are more negative commandment (365) than positive ones (248). It answers, to increases the reward for simply abstaining from transgressing them.
The Sefer HaChinnuch (16) however provides a different track. He first explains that a person is heavily influenced by his actions. Whatever a person preoccupies himself with during the day, irrespective of his personality, will begin to mould him into the barer of such activities. A person forced into an evil vocation will eventually become wicked himself. Similarly a person who strives with consistency in Torah and mitzvot will veer to the good. The Sefer HaChinnuch explains, the abundance of Torah and mitzvot was in order that we are completely preoccupied with them to become good and merit chaye ud. This has led some to opt for the other meaning of “le’zakot” – not “to confer merit”, but “purify”.
Consequently HaKadosh Baruch Hu, has heaped us with mitzvot; increasing the chance of a pure fulfillment, increasing the reward for passively keeping the negative commandment and finally, providing a positive preoccupation in which we “purify” ourselves. An apt closing to each day’s learning.
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