Monday, January 11, 2010

Va'eira. The Mitzrim were an Instrument of G'd's Will

Many Rishonim ask a question on this parsha, and that is, "Why were the Mitzrim punished, if they were merely instruments of Hashem's will, as expressed to Avraham at the Bris bein Habesarim?"  See Rambam 5 Hilchos Teshuva 1 et al. and 6 Hilchos Teshuva 11 and 12, and Raavad there. The Ramban in Lech Lecha also asks the question and says the second answer of the Raaved.

After posting this, and as discussed in the comments, I realized that it is incomplete without immediately mentioning two elements:  The Rishonim that say that the petur of Kaasher zamam velo kaasher assa is based on the evidence that what happened fulfilled Hashem's will; and the Ohr Hachayim's discussion of Yosef's statement to his brothers that "Elokim chashava letova."  Please bear these in mind while reading the rest of this.

I don’t understand what the Rambam is asking. First of all, why doesn’t he simply say like Reb Akiva that “Hakol tzafui vehareshu nesuna,” that all is foreseen but man still has free will?  This clearly means that Hashem foresees what will happen, but does not influence mankind's choices.  See Reb Meir Simcha in his pirush on the Rambam here where he has a special Ma’aracha called Hakol Tzafui, toward the end. Second of all, why is the Rambam asking davkeh because of the nevu’ah? Why isn’t it a general question of yedia and bechira? Elah mai, that it is a question specifically because they would have a teretz to excuse them from an onesh because they can say that Hashem had said this would happen. What kind of teretz is that?  Did they hold they had a din of Shor Ha'Itztadin, like the Mishna in Bava Kamma 39a, and like Rav on 40b, that not only is it not chayav missah, but is even kasher as a korban?

I think the pshat is that since this event was clearly retzon Hashem, then anyone who does it is doing a ma'aseh mitzva--albeit a mitzva shelo lishmah. And it is not shayich to be ma’anish a person for doing a mitzva even if his cheshbon was to do an aveira. For example, if a person is chayav an onesh misa from Beis Din, and he runs away and someone, who knows nothing of the court decision, kills him out of hatred in cold blood, that person certainly is not ne’enash; partly because the other is a gavra ketilla, but logically also because he is getting what he deserves.  Even though this is a good pshat, it sure isn’t what the Rambam has in mind.

The Lekach Tov here brings that this is why the first sign to Moshe was the nachash-it was a symbol that Hashem intended that the Mitzrim be like a rod to chastize the Bnei Yisroel, but the Mitzrim had changed from a rod to a snake, and hurt the Bnei Yisroel more than they deserved.

And the Gaon also speaks about this in Bo, Shemos 11:2 where it says “ve’yishalu...klei chesef....” He says: 1. That the main geula was by the Yam, because it was only there that the Mitzrim could be punished for having drowned the children. 2. That even at the Bris Bein Habsorim Hashem told Avrahom “ve'gam es hagoi asher ya’avodu dan Anochi,” and that this meant “if they do more that Hashem was gozer on the Jews. 3. That Yisro, when he said regarding Krias Yam Suf, “ki badavor asher zadu aleihem,” he meant that the mitzrim were more vicious than Hashem had decreed proper for the Jews because of “ze'don libam.”

And, when learning Makkos, I brought up the Ramban mentioned below in the parsha of zomemim on the idea of ‘velo ka’asher asa’, that this is because the fact that beis din punished him shows that he deserved it. I realized that this is the same idea— if the defendant deserved it, then even though the zomemim were resha’im who were unjustly accusing him of something he did not do, because they wanted to hurt him, they are not punished. And the same idea is true by a man that killed beshogeg— the mishnah in Avos that says that what happened was Hashem’s will. Then you have to apply the machlokes and the Ohr Hachayim about whether the act of a rasha carries out or subverts Hashem’s will, because if every rasha’s act carries out Hashem’s will, then according to the Ramban you shouldn’t be able to punish him. This is similar to the idea the Chinuch says about the issur of Nekama: Mitzvah 241 in Parshas Kedoshim, Vayikra 19:18; “A man should know and take to heart that all that happens to him from good to bad is intended to happen to him from Hashem, and from the hand of man...nothing will happen except His will Borch Hu, and so if a person causes him suffering or pain, a man should know in his soul that his sins caused it and Hashem decreed it upon him, and he should not direct his thoughts to revenge from the person because he is not the reason for the bad, rather the sin was the cause.” Of course, the Chinuch agrees that in cases where restitution is allowed, one can pursue restitution. But the idea is that one cannot bear a grudge against a malefactor for the pain he inflicted. This is hard to reconcile with the Ramban, unless you differentiate between injury by the hand of a jew and of a non-jew. But it doesn’t say “lo sikom berei’echa,” does it? And anyway the theology shouldn’t depend on the actor.


  1. Interesting... My personal take on the bechira thing is kind of diplomatic, but in economic terms, Hashem would be called an "externality". Our decisions and choices are not influenced by Him at all ie He is external to our decisions. There also the matter that He is beyond time, so He does not "already" know what will happen, as "already" and "what will happen" are not shaich.

    Incidentally, I read a pshat on Kofah Alayhem Har Kgigis that this did not actually happen, but it is a metaphor, that they were exposed to the reality of Hashem ie He was not an externality any more, and as such they had no choice, as by their not choosing the Torah (ie eternity) they would be choosing (relatively) instant death. As such they had no bechira.

    Off the topic I know, sorry!

  2. >>>“Hakol tzafui vehareshu nesuna,” that all is foreseen but man still has free will?

    Because hi gufa kashe -- if G-d knows everything, how can we have free will and be punished for our choices? The Rambam himself asks the question but doesn't really answer it.

    >>>Second of all, why is the Rambam asking davkeh because of the nevu’ah? Why isn’t it a general question of yedia and bechira?

    I assume you saw the Ohr Sameiach's comment against the Lch"M on this same issue.

    >>>since this event was clearly retzon Hashem, then anyone who does it is doing a ma'aseh mitzva

    IIRC Ramban says this mefurash, no?

    >>>And it is not shayich to be ma’anish a person for doing a mitzva even if his cheshbon was to do an aveira.

    The Chofetz Chaim and R' Ahron Lichtenstein explain that because Shaul haMelech spared Agag he showed his motivation in killing Amalek was based on his own cheshbonos and not lishma and therefore he was chayav for waging war. It's only the lishma which justifies the act.

  3. >>>Ramban mentioned below in the parsha of zomemim

    That Ramban (IIRC) specifically mentions the idea that Elokim nitzav b'adas K-l and therefore any punishment decreed by B"D is really yad Hashem. Outside the context of B"D the same may not hold true (except perhaps in some more general sense).

  4. From Chaim B.:
    "That Ramban (IIRC) specifically mentions the idea that Elokim nitzav b'adas K-l and therefore any punishment decreed by B"D is really yad Hashem. Outside the context of B"D the same may not hold true (except perhaps in some more general sense)."

    The direct response to your point is to talk about what Yosef meant when he calmed his brothers. Here's what I have in my journal on this issue, which I probably should have included in the post, but I was too lazy to change all the kometz 'o's to 'a's:

    50:20. Ve’atem chashavtem olai ro’o. The Ohr Hachayim says that a miskavein to poison his friend who by mistake gives him something healthy is absolutely pottur even in dinei shomayim. On the other hand, the Maharil Diskin shtels tzu the Rashi in Bamidbar 30:13 from Kidushin 81b that says that when a person intends to do an aveira, but it turns out to be muttar, he is chayav bedinei shomayim. But, he asks, the gemora says that machshovo ro’oh ein HKB’H metzarfo lemaiseh? He answers that there are three madreigos. Just machshovo, where he does nothing, is potur even bedinei shomayim. If he has a machshovo, and does what he thinks is the aveira, but it turns out muttar, he is chayov bedinei shomayim. And, of course, there is maiseh issur, which is chayov bedinei odom. So Yosef told them that what they did, although it turned out to be a good thing, is mechayev them, but only bedinei shomayim, and not bedinei odom.

    The Kanfei Yonah here suggests that the Ohr Hachayim means that in bein odom lechaveiro a miskavein who turns out to do a good thing is pottur even in dinei shomayim. But he asks that that may be true regarding the bein odom lechaveiro liablity, but it doesn’t cover the bein odom lamokom component of his intended sin.
    The Kanfei Yonah proves this is true from Tosfos Kiddushin 32a. Rav Huna tore the expensice clothing of his son to test whether he would control his anger. The Gemora asks, but if the son fails and gets angry, Rav Hunah would be over on lifnei iver! The Gemora answers that Rav Hunah was mochel on his kovod before he did what he did. Tosfos asks, but obviously the son did not know that Rav Huna was mocheil, so it is like niskavein le’echol besar chazir ve’olso be’yodo besar tleh! He mentions that the Minchas Chinuch klers whether Kibud Av is bein odom lamokom or lechaveiro, but if it is bein odom lechaveiro, it appears that Tosfos is saying that there’s a onesh for niskavein on such dinim too, not like the Ohr Hachayim.

    The Shollol Rov in Bamidbor Parshas Mattos brings: R’ Akiva used to read the possuk “ishoh hafeiroh v’hashem yislach loh” and cry and say “if a person who intended to eat bsar chazir but ate bsar tleh is punished, how much more so if he inteded issur and ate issur.” It has been said that the Asoroh Harugei Malchus, including R Akiva, were gilgulim of the ten shvotim and that they were punished for mechiras Yosef. If so, the possuk that R Akiva found so poignant was particularly applicable to his ultimate fate. The shvotim, too, were “niskavein le’echol b’sar chazir” and “olso b’yodom b’sar tleh,” because Yosef survived and flourished. It was in punishment for that intended aveira R Akiva ultimately died. Even though R Akiva did not know this would happen to him, “mazlei chozi.” The Shollol Rov brings that the person who quotes this pshat disagreed with it.

  5. N, thanks for the pshat in kofo aleihem and the connection to economic theory. If I understood economic theory, I would not have lost seven million out of the fourteen million dollars I managed.

    Re: kofo aleihem, I had heard the first part, that kafa aleihem means that the Hashra'as Hashechina was so strong that no amount of taava or negius could prevent hakara of the truth of the Torah. But the second part, that they became aware of the vast contrast between the nitzchiyus of the neshama tehora and the trivial moment of physical life, and that's what shom tehei kvuraschem means.

    In fact, it's only the fact that life is short that enables some of us, without mentioning names, to face our stupidity without shooting ourselves.

  6. Meiri in chibur hateshuvah understands Rambam as saying that Vayechazek Hashem means he left it to nature. It is natural for people to sink so deep when not carefulk that they cannot see anything wrong with what they do.

  7. Speaking of instruments of Hashem's will, the site is just getting more and more amazing. Besides the full shas, what they did with the Rambam is awesome-- you click on the halacha, and you have a list on the side of meforshim that talk about it, and you click on one, and it shows what he says. If not for Shabbos, I would donate my whole otzar hasefarim to a yeshiva.

  8. I know and where do you think I get my impressive bekius from?:-)