• Slavery is bad, but Hashem didn't ban it, He regulated it (see start of Parshat Mishpatim).
  • Killing our own children is bad, but Hashem didn't ban it, He regulated it (Ben Sorer Umoreh, Ki Tetze).
  • Capturing women during war is bad, but Hashem didn't ban it, He regulated it (Eishet Yefat To'ar - see start of Ki Tetze).

I've heard it said that Hashem would have loved to have banned these practices completely, but that wouldn't have had an affect, so instead He, in His infinite wisdom, regulated them in a way that, like a time-release capsule, will work the right moral framework into our system and eventually we would stop these practices altogether.

I've even heard it by sacrifices. "Hashem doesn't particularly want sacrifices, but we really wanted to give Him something, so He made it into a well-regulated mitzva". I've even heard it about eating meat! In our lust for meat, He permitted it, but He doesn't exactly like it...

So, I would like to collect sources of opinions about this general idea. I would be glad to see answers on specifics, but I will accept an answer that deals with the general, or at least most of the specifics above.

One of the questions I would like to answer along the way is how do these ideas gel with the concept that the Torah and its Mitzvot precede creation i.e. the Mitzvot are absolutely Hashem's Ratzon?

Thank you.

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    G-d didn't ban killing our children???
    – Joel K
    Feb 8 at 15:24
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    @RabbiKaii If by "when we do them", you mean according to our desire & not according to G-d's will as expressed through the mitzvot, then I would agree with you. But if you are trying to suggest that any of the mitzvot are terrible or "not good only", that is not in keeping with what the Torah teaches. All the requisites for each mitzvah must be present as described and are under Divine Providence. This is as the Ba'al Shem Tov teaches, "All of Creation, every moment of every day." Our choice is whether we "fear", meaning act, according to G-d's will. Make His will, your will, etc. Feb 9 at 14:51
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    @RabbiKaii To my understanding Eved Ivri & Eved Cana’ani don’t mean you own the actual human being. You own their actions & results. (And there are very tight limits to that). G-d is the “Owner of everything “. The idea that ultimately evolved in the United States (for example) that in some jurisdictions slaves were not considered human beings, is definitely not the Torah view. 2 points concerning your closing comments… the Torah including all the mitzvot, preceded the (creation of the) world by 2000 years. And the Avot kept all the commandments prior to the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Feb 10 at 2:00
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    Before the industrial age, most societies had to choose between using slave labor and food shortages. Agrarian societies couldn't make the economics work without it. Look when slavery ended in various places, and where they were up to in mechanizing their production. So, until about 150 years ago, leading us away from utilizing slave labor more cruelly than necessary was the least of evils. Feb 12 at 20:55

3 Answers 3


The Rambam expressed the general idea best when talking about animal sacrifices:

The custom in those days among all men…consisted in sacrificing animals.
God did not command us to give up these services; for this would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used. Sacrifices [however] are not the primary object [of the commandments about sacrifice], prayers are. [To wit,] we were not commanded to sacrifice in every place, and in every time, or to build a Temple in every place, or to allow anybody to become a priest and sacrifice. Only one Temple has been appointed, and only, [as the Torah says,] “in the place which the Lord shall choose” [Deut. 12:26]. In no other place are we allowed to sacrifice. [The Torah says:] Be careful not to give your burnt-offerings in every place that you see. [Deut. 12:13]; and only the members of a particular family were allowed to officiate as priests. All these restrictions served to limit this kind of worship. But prayer and supplication can be offered everywhere and by every person. Because of this, the Prophets rebuke people for being over-zealous in bringing sacrifices. [Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed) 3:32]

  • I really appreciate this answer thank you. This is an example but it doesn't generalise, so I haven't accepted it yet.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 27 at 10:12
  • The idea that Hashem doesn't contradict the nature of man is interesting
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 27 at 14:03
  • @RabbiKaii I agree that the idea that Hashem doesn’t contradict nature is interesting. As you well know, it is also very controversial and probably cannot be defended successfully according to most modes of Jewish thought. If Rambam hadn’t lived and been such an incredible halakhist, how could anyone use the word “nature” in regards to Halacha. Further, as you know, many claim that nature changes or nature is changing, which is why the word is so problematic. I heard a great Dvar Torah by rabbi Seth mandel where instead of invoking “nature” he invokes HKBH intentions. Seems safer.
    – user419691
    Jul 3 at 15:37

My point of view is that this could be seen as a machloket between "rationalists" and mystics.

For a "rationalist," the aim of the Torah is to bring about good in this world. Therefore, the idea that the Torah precedes creation should not be accepted as is (but we can "tweak" it; as the Gemara itself wrote that the Torah was "Black Fire on White Fire"...). This is clear in the well-known Rambam's view on sacrifices. He also held similar views on other prohibitions that, in his opinion, were prohibited because they were forms of Avoda Zara. As I recall, Rav Slifkin wrote somewhere, perhaps in a blog post about Lulav, that it's normal for us not to understand some mitzvot. Indeed, if a mitzvah aims to fix the world at a specific point, then once it's accomplished, it loses its "sense" for people.

In a more "mystical" point of view, mitzvot are doing something metaphysical in other worlds beyond our own. Even then, we can hold that some things change (and this was the point of view of Shabbetai Tzvi...), but it is harder to affirm. And then, it is easier to "feel" a sense in the mitzvot.

Obviously, it's not as simple as that, and even Rabanim seen as "kabbalists" won't say that everything is mystical, etc. But I think it's an interesting way to approach this subject.

  • Hi, I get your point about the machloket, and your depiction of the two camps. However, I'm finding it hard to follow how you translate that background into specific answers to the question at hand. Mitzvot losing their "sense" - perhaps you could start by elaborating on what that means, and how it pertains. Thanks either way for taking the time!
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Apr 27 at 17:10
  • You're right, re-reading your question makes me reallize I focused too much on the last paragraph. But now I also think about other mitsvot/aveirot that are limited in time, like bamot, that could also bring the idea of "regulate to end".
    – EzrielS
    Apr 28 at 8:48
  • I still don't understand, bounty expires tomorrow
    – Rabbi Kaii
    May 3 at 11:12

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 71a) says regarding the Mitzvah of Ben Sorer Umoreh, that it would never happen that the parents would choose to have their son killed in such a situation, rather it was given solely for the purpose of studying and receiving reward

Regarding the Mitzvah of Yibum, the Mishnah (Bechoros 1:7) says as follows:

מִצְוַת יִבּוּם קוֹדֶמֶת לְמִצְוַת חֲלִיצָה, בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה, שֶׁהָיוּ מִתְכַּוְּנִין לְשֵׁם מִצְוָה. וְעַכְשָׁיו שֶׁאֵין מִתְכַּוְּנִין לְשֵׁם מִצְוָה, אָמְרוּ מִצְוַת חֲלִיצָה קוֹדֶמֶת לְמִצְוַת יִבּוּם

The mitzva of levirate marriage takes precedence over the mitzva of ḥalitza, which dissolves the levirate bond, as it is stated: “And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife” (Deuteronomy 25:7). The mishna adds: This was the case initially, when people would intend that their performance of levirate marriage be for the sake of the mitzva. But now that they do not intend that their performance of levirate marriage be for the sake of the mitzva, but rather for reasons such as the beauty of the yevama or for financial gain, the Sages said that the mitzva of ḥalitza takes precedence over the mitzva of levirate marriage

There is also the general concept of “the Torah wasn’t given to angels” (Berachos 25b; Kiddushin 54a)

The Gemara (Nazir 23a) regarding a Mitzvah - like eating the meat of a Korban - that is not done for its sake, but rather for one’s own benefit, quotes the verse: “For the ways of the Lord are right, and the just walk in them; but transgressors stumble over them” (Hosea 14:10)

So it would seem that there are certain Mitzvos that indeed in order for them to have the desirable affect (not the opposite, heaven forbid), must be done with the right intentions

  • Thanks. What exactly is Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai saying?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    May 3 at 11:11
  • I saw your edit, I think I see the relevance of the first two points, I'm struggling with the third
    – Rabbi Kaii
    May 3 at 12:14

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