Thursday, January 3, 2013

Shemos 3:14. Momentary Injustice

 כה תאמר לבני ישראל אהיה שלחני אליכם .ויאמר עוד אלקים אל משה כה תאמר אל בני ישראל יקוק אלקי אבתיכם אלקי אברהם אלקי יצחק ואלקי יעקב שלחני אליכם זה שמי לעלם וזה זכרי לדר דר. 

 In his Shaarei Orah II, Rav Bergman explains that the name of Hashem, as it is written, indicates that time doesn't progress for Hashem, only for us.  The Name combines present with future and it cannot be not read in this world:

After bringing the Ramban, Rabbeinu Yitzchak, the Rashbam, and the Baalei Tosfos, he says
הכוונה ברשב"ם ובבעלי התוס' בביאור אשר אהי' שהכוונה באהי' הי' אפשר לומר אלעתיד ולכך נתפרש: אשר אהי', שגם עכשיו בהוה אני במצב של אהי', כי אהי' בהוה זהו עומק פשוטו, וזהו קיצור שם יקו'ק אהי' בהוה וזהו יהי' בהוה

But we perceive events as taking place in sequence.  In our experience, the future and the present are discrete.  We cannot truly understand the divine perspective of simultaneity.  Since it is impossible for humans to understand this, we cannot read the Name as it is written, but rather as we are capable of perceiving it, that of mastery and lordship.  This is what the Gemara (Kiddushin 71a) means when it explains why in our passuk the word that is usually written לעולם is spelled without the vov, לעלם, by which the word "forever" acquires the additional implication of "hidden":
רבי אבינא רמי כתיב (שמות ג) זה שמי וכתיב (שמות ג) זה זכרי אמר הקב"ה לא כשאני נכתב אני נקרא נכתב אני ביו"ד ה"י ונקרא באל"ף דל"ת

 But we have to ask, why davka now?  What was the specific connection of this lesson to that moment in time?    

Furthermore, in the beginning of this passuk Rashi (from Brachos 9b) says that Hashem told Moshe that in the future, there would be many other times of exile and suffering, and that even then Hashem would be with them: 

אהיה אשר אהיה:אהיה עמם בצרה זו אשר אהיה עמם בשעבוד שאר מלכיות. אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם, מה אני מזכיר להם צרה אחרת דיים בצרה זו. אמר לו יפה אמרת, כה תאמר וגו'

Why did Hashem want to tell Moshe about the future galuyos at this moment?  What did that have to do with introducing Himself to Klal Yisrael?

Rav Bergman focuses on the relevance of this lesson to the issue of ידיעה ובחירה and the guilt of the Egyptians for enslaving the Jews.  I want to offer a different interpretation.

I propose that temporary injustice is also unjust, but only if a moment exists as a separate entity.  If the past and the future all exist simultaneously, then all events exist as a combination.  If reality is not temporal, then the concept of temporary is meaningless.  Momentary injustice is unjust, but if moments are not discrete entities, then examining a moment in isolation is an error.

Hashem was telling Moshe Rabbeinu that the harsh servitude of Mitzrayim is- and indeed must be- incomprehensible to Klal Yisrael.  Yes, of course it stemmed from Avraham Avinu's words at the Bris bein habesarim, but it would seem that this was an extreme reaction to the act of an ancestor that lived al pi middas hadin and who had died many years before.  Hashem said you should know that this is not the last time: there will be many such perplexing experiences for Klal Yisrael, and it will only be an awareness that Hashem's justice spans the past and the present and the future that will make it possible for them to comprehend, albeit as a matter of faith.  After all, humans cannot truly understand what it means for all events to exist simultaneously.   But at least if one does accept that postulate, the apparent injustice of an isolated moment loses its significance.  Moments in time are not isolated.  Taken as a whole, combining the cause and the effect and the innumerable intermediate steps, all is crystal clear.

In the comments, great unknown makes the point that such theology is a cold comfort to the suffering.  I agree with him, and I realized that the way it's written, it sounds like the platitudes about omniscience and perfect knowledge and the millennia-long cycle of din v'cheshbon yielding results that our blinkered eyes cannot understand.  That's not what I mean.

What I meant is this: I don't believe that life is an accounting book of debits and credits, where all that matters is whether at the end of the month there is a profit or a loss.  A person that eats something that is extremely bitter is not helped by the fact that he later eats something else that is divinely sweet.  A moment of injustice, a moment when the wicked torture the just and the innocent suffer is an injustice that is neither rectified nor mitigated by some future retribution to the sinner and reward to the saint.    Contemplating the suffering of Mitzrayim, and looking forward to thousands of years of galus, Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu that from the human perspective, it will have to appear that injustice is taking place.  But at least we were taught that this apparent injustice is an artifact of our narrow experience of time as sequential and ephemeral.  of our perception of each moment as an independent entity.  But the deeper truth is that all the events we perceive as sequential and ephemeral exist simultaneously and irrevocably, and so there is no "moment" of injustice.  The bitter and the sublime are both taking place together, and in the combination of all events, justice and good are absolute.


  1. Fantastic. Now I know how to console somebody ר"ל suffering a great tragedy. "Buck up, Charlie. In the face of eternity, your pain and anguish are meaninglessly trivial."

    Thank you for your contribution to my arsenal of נחמה tools.

  2. I didn't say that this makes suffering any less painful. An impaled kidney hurts even if it is perfectly and even aesthetically just and good. I said that I think that true justice cannot countenance injustice for even a moment, and that I think that making up for it later is not good enough. It's not a debit/credit ledger where all that matters is whether you have a profit at the end of the month.

    Then I said that this is only true if "now" is a separate entity. Only because "now" and "later" exist together is what we experience as unjust just. But it still hurts.

  3. At the bris bein habesorim, did Avrohom Avinu make a Hatov v'Hamitiv or a Dayan Ha'Emes?

  4. This idea with many variants goes back much before R. Bergman of course, starting with R. Saadia Gaon, Kuzari 4:3, More Nevuchim 1:63, etc etc. Interestingly, see Rashbam's coded message. I never understood why he considered it to be so esoteric to require encryption.

    Some versions could fit your idea in Rashi better than others. For example, see Ramban's explanation of RSG:

    ועוד דרשו ר' יצחק אמר: אמר לו הקב"ה אמור להם אני שהייתי ועכשיו אני הוא ואני הוא לעתיד לבוא לכן כתוב אהיה ג"פ. וביאור דעת ר' יצחק כי בעבור שהזמן העובר והעתיד כולו בבורא הוה כי אין חליפות וצבא עמו ולא עברו מימיו כלום לפיכך יקרא בו כל הזמנים בשם אחד מורה חיוב המציאות
    והגאון רב סעדיה כתב, כי ביאורו "אשר לא עבר ולא יעבור כי הוא ראשון והוא אחרון" קרובים דבריו לדברי ר' יצחק

    This is not a comfort to us, only an explanation.

    Regarding Rashi (or rather, Brachot 9a), Ramban's pshat seems to fit best (along a different line than the ideas above).

    והכוונה להם בזה, כי משה אמר לפניו יתברך, ואמרו לי מה שמו, שיגיד להם השם שיורה הוראה שלמה על המציאות ועל ההשגחה, והקב"ה השיבו למה זה ישאלו לשמי, אין להם צורך לראיה אחרת כי אהיה עימהם בכל צרתם יקראוני ואענם, והיא הראיה הגדולה שיש אלוהים בישראל קרובים אלינו בכל קראנו אליו ויש אלוהים שופטים בארץ. וזה פירוש נכון באגדה זו

  5. This approach to Theodicy posits that from a perspective of eternity, there is no such thing as Dayan Ha'Emes; rather, everything is Hatov v'Hameitiv, as will be le'asid lavo, when Hashem echad u'Shmo echad.

    But then what is pshat in "Kalani Mai'Roshi...", "Imo Anochi b'tzara", במסתרים תבכה נפשי...[חגיגה ה] וכו?

  6. Yesterday, when I was saying Pesukei DeZimra, I noticed in 90:15 the passuk שמחנו כימות עניתנו שנות ראינו רעה. This seems to mean that you can balance suffering with joy. So either I'm wrong, or that's not really what the passuk implies.

    As for the hatov v'hameitiv, isn't that what was indicated by the Medrash in Breishis 91 that says מעולם לא אמר יעקב דבר בטל אלא כאן. אמר הקב"ה, אני עסוק להמליך את בנו והוא אומר: למה הרעותם לי"

    Also, that is what distinguished נחום איש גמזו, his always saying גם זו לטובה. I don't know if he kept saying it as he suffered horribly toward the end of his life, but one assumes that if he changed his mind, we would know about it.

  7. The issue, if pursued, can lead to levels of רצוא ושוב, where, ר' צדוק points out, there is a danger of losing one's sanity or existence [neither of which may be a problem].

    However, at the halachic level, this gets into the concept of הטובה מעין הרעה והרעה מעין הטובה. See particularly the רמב"ם פיה"מ הרואה משניות ה' וו ודו"ק that there is an implication that even though כל מה דעביד that can not be taken as a certainty.
    The ר"י מלוניל implies, on the other hand, that if the eventual net tovah is inevitable, one indeed makes a טוב והמטיב. Which, given this hashkafa, moots every דיין האמת.

  8. Eliezer after all these years you are finally revealing your true idenity!

  9. Anonymity either means that you don't want your name connected with what you're saying or it's just cowardly.

    I've married off all of my children, so the benefit of davar b'sheim omro outweighed avoiding the danger of being misunderstood or maliciously misrepresented. Those problems still exist, but now I'm willing to take the risk.

  10. ברוך השם הטוב והמטיב : found what I was looking for. See פחד יצחק ראש השנה מאמר י"א פרק א' סימן ג

    Of course, you're welcome to peruse the whole ma'amar if you want to see how this relates to דין.