Thursday, December 4, 2008

Zechus Avos, PART III

Bra Me'zakeh Abba

Sefer Chasidim

I See Siman T'T Shin Ayin Aleph, or 1,171; The Sefer Chasidim says that Bra Mezakeh Abba only if the son does mitzvos because his father made him a shaliach to do the mitzvos, or the father in some way caused the son to do these mitzvos. (Garam)

Please note that this is obviously not the shitta of the Rashba or the Shevus Yaakov or Tosfos in Sotah. And it also doesn't explain the story of Reb Akiva and the orphan in the Braisa in Maseches Kallah Perek 2, since that father never taught his child a thing; that guy died before the kid was born, and he didn't even have a bris millah until Reb Akiva took him in.

II See Siman 611, where he says that even where Bra Mezakeh Abba, it is only "Be'miktzas." Well, at least this is better than Rav Sherira Gaon and the others brought by Reb Reuven Margolios in his end piece to his MHK Edition of the Sefer Chasidim, who say that once a person dies, nobody can do a thing for him, period. Ein KLOOOM mo'il le'meis. (Technically, you could be me'yasheiv the two shittos, and say that a person is rewarded for the potential he inculcated into his children or his talmidim. What the children or talmidim do depends on their bechira, but the father/rebbi is rewarded for what he taught/encouraged/enabled them to do. So doing mitzvos for a niftar is a siman, it's evidence, that he taught you well, and he is rewarded for having left a well-taught student/child, your good acts are not a sibbah for his reward. Does that mean you shouldn't bother to do things in memory of the niftar? No! Because that would be evidence that he didn't teach you well, which would be a zilzul for the niftar.)

The Shelah

I See Sha'ar Ha'Osiyos, Derech Eretz, 33. He says that one who teaches his son Torah, the son "machniso le'Olam Haba," will bring him into Gan Eden (as opposed to the zechus of a father, which, as we quoted from him above, only helps the son in Olam Hazeh). He also brings this from a Zohar in the end of Bechukosai, Cheilek 3 115b.


I Sifri Ha'azinu 27, according to the Girsa brought in Rav Hutner's end-notes: When a person is zocheh and is rewarded, he also recieves schar for his ancestor's mitzvos. And contrariwise, a rasha who is punished for his aveiros also gets it for his ancestors' sins.

II The Michtav Mei'Eliahu, also quoted in Rav Solomon's Sifsei Chaim, has an entirely different view of "Zechus Avos." I'm sure he didn't mean it as the only pshat in zechus avos, but only as an additional dimension. In Volume one, towards the beginning, I think on page eight, he says that Zechus Avos means that the middos tovos that were so laboriously achieved by our forefathers are much more easily available to us. It is their mesiras nefesh, their temimus, their bitachon, that enables us to attain these middos or to overcome those nisyonos far more easily. Our Forefathers' behavior has become part of our spiritual genes, (in a Lysenko/Lamarckian kind of way, which, agav urcha, turns out to not necessarily be so wrong: there has been a recent trend of thought that argues that although the genes themselves are not irevocably altered by the environment, genetic expression might be affected, and that expression is chemically encoded and passed on to ensuing generations. There's a fascinating article on this, titled "Mechanisms for the environmental regulation of gene expression", at

This basic concept is also found in Reb Chaim Volozhiner's Ru'ach Chaim on Avos 5:3. He asks, why does one Mishnah says there were ten generations from No'ach to Avraham, and another Mishnah says "Ten nisyonos was Avraham Avinu tested." Why all of a sudden is he called Avinu? He answers that it was through the unimaginably hard work Avraham did to pass those tests that certain character traits have become, to his descendants, like second nature. When a Jew so easily decides to be moser nefesh, this reflects Avraham Avinu's willing martyrdom at Ur Kasdim; When a Jew is suddenly seized by an urge to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael, this emotion comes from Avraham Avinu's reaction to Hashem's command "Lech Lecha mei'artzecha...."
But Reb Chaim does not use this to say pshat in Zechus Avos. Only Rav Dessler says that.

III It seems to me that only a person that was mekayeim Kibbud Av ve'Eim (or at least wasn't mevatel the mitzvas assei,) has any chance of benefitting from Zechus Avos. See

IV The only thing I haven't spoken about is, what exactly does Rabbeinu Tam mean by distinguishing between Zechus and Bris? What is the practical difference? And why don't the Yerushalmi/Rashi/Ri hold that the distinction is valid or relevant? The paths I've started out upon-- for example, that Rabbeinu Tam, holds that it is only the Bris that holds the Ribono Shel Olam to us, but the love is long gone, as implied by a Rashi in Ha'azinu-- have turned out to be too depressing to seriously follow, so I'll leave it to others to think about it.

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