Makkot, Chapter Three, Mishnah Sixteen

 

Introduction

The final mishnah of the tractate is a continuation of mishnah fifteen.

 

Mishnah Sixteen

Rabbi Hananiah ben Akashia says: “The Holy Blessed One, desired to make Israel worthy, therefore gave He gave them much Torah [to study] and many commandments [to perform]: for it is says, “The Lord desires [his servant’s] vindication, that he may magnify and glorify [His] teaching.”

 

Explanation

This oft-quoted mishnah responds to an important theological question regarding the performance of commandments.  Why does God care, or how is God affected, by Israel performing ritual commandments, for instance, kashruth, the dietary laws? Many have asked, what does God care how I eat my meat, whether I eat it with milk or not?  The answer that Rabbi Hananiah ben Akashiah gives is that by performing God’s commandment, Israel accrues merit with God.  It is a way for Israel to live up to a covenant, entered into with the infinite divine.  The mitvoth, the commandments, and the learning of Torah, are not magical rites, performed in order to manipulate God into treating us better.  Rather they are a symbol God’s grace to Israel, a means by which Israel can act out the will of the divine.  They are means by which Israel can show God how much they love God. While there are other answers to this question, this answer is one of the most meaningful and often quoted one’s that I have seen.

 

Congratulations!  We have finished Makkot. 

It is a tradition at this point to thank God for helping us to finish learning the tractate and to commit ourselves to going back and relearning it, so that we may not forget it and so that its lessons will stay with us for all of our lives.

For those of you who have learned with us the entire tractate, a hearty Yasher Koach (congratulations).  You have accomplished a great deal and you should be proud of yourselves.  Indeed we have now finished together five tractates of Mishnah, and are more than halfway through the entire order of Nezikin.  Of course, we have much more to learn.  We will begin Shevuot tomorrow!

 

 

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