Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Zechus Avos, and the Heck with the Market. PART I

If Reb Dovid Kronglass could write a sefer in Shanghai, I can try to write now.

This is a very long piece. I've been thinking about it for four weeks, and it cannot be compressed without violence. So I'm writing the long version, and maybe later I'll squash it into a glib little piece of cocktail party Torah for the convenience of the impatient, the short-attention-spanned, and the simple.

The Gemara (San 104a) names certain individuals, each of described in Tanach as being thoroughly wicked, that have no share in Olam Haba. The Gemara asks, but what of certain other famous Resha'im who are not listed in the Mishnah? The Gemara answers that they are not listed because they had pious children, apparently because of the redemptive effect of having meritorious progeny. The Gemara asks, but there are some listed who had righteous fathers? The Gemara answers that a righteous child saves a wicked father, but a righteous father does not save a wicked child. Bra mezakeh abba; abba lo mezakeh bra. One benefits from Pious Posterity, but not from Pious Ancestry. The Gemara continues; Avraham does not save Yishma’el, and Yitzchak does not save Eisav. I venture to say that Terach was very happy to hear about this.

The Gemara (Shab 54a) quotes a pasuk in Yechezkel which describes the advent of the destruction of Yerushalayim, the Churban Bayis Rishon. The Malach was told to mark each person’s forehead with the letter “taf.” The taf on the Tzadikim was written in ink, and on the resha’im in blood. The Gemara says that initially, the tzadikim were marked to be saved; but the Satan argued that the Tzadikim share the sin of the wicked, because they did not do enough to rebuke the sinners, and Hashem agreed, to the extent that the Tzadikim were not only killed, they were the first to be killed. The Gemara asks, what, exactly, does the letter “taf” mean?
Rav says it stands, respectively, for Tichyeh and Tamus.
Shmuel says it means “tamah zechus Avos,” the merit of righteous forefathers has ended, and each individual will be judged on his own merits.
Rav Yochanan says it means “tachon zechus Avos,” may the merit of the forefathers bring grace.

The Gemara then discusses, when, exactly, was it that the merit of our forefathers ended. Interestingly, Rav Yochanan, who earlier had said that the Merit of the Avos still existed at the time of the Churban Bayis Rishon-- Tachon Zechus Avos--now says that the zechus ended at the time of Chizkiyahu, long before the churban. Perhaps he, too, agrees with Shmuel to the extent that by the time of the churban, zechus avos was seriously diminished.

Numerous questions present themselves upon reading these two Gemaros.

Re: Abba lo mezakeh Bra

1. If the merit of the father does not benefit his own son, as the Gemara said regarding Yishmael and Eisav, why do we predicate our supplications on Zechus Avos? We begin Shacharis with invocation of Zechus Avos-- Le’olam Ye’hei Adam—aval anachnu amcha, bnei berisecha, benei …...; We begin Shemoneh Esrei with Zechus Avos—the first bracha is even called Avos--vezocher chasdei avos; and the entire section of Shemoneh Esrei on Rosh Hashanna called Zichronos, in which we unequivocally ask that Zechus Avos protect us.

2. It's not only in Tefilla that we find Zechus Avos. The whole Torah is full of promises of Zechus Avos. Throughout Sefer Bereishis, the Forefathers are told that their zechus will benefit their children, just as their 'failures' brought suffering to their descendants, as in Avraham Avinu's "Bamah eida ki irashena." In the November post, I noted some examples: "Hashem told Avraham (Breishis 17:21) Ve'es brisi akim es Yitzchak," I will establish my covenant with Yitzchak. In the previous passuk, Hashem says "gam le'Yishma'el shmaticha," and I have heard your entreaties for Yishmael, and I will make him into a great nation."

3. If zechus avos is never effective, what does Tama zechus avos mean? Tama what?

4. Why would a father say kaddish for, r’l, a son, if his zechusim can’t help his son?

5. In Sotah 11b, the Gemara tells us that when Avshalom was killed during his rebellion against David Hamelech, his father's tefilla elevated his soul from the deepest pits of Gehenom up to Olam Haba. How could David’s prayers help his son?

6. How does the Gemara understand the passuk in Mishlei 11:21 says “Yad le’yad lo yinakeh ra, ve’zera tzadikim nimlat” The Gaon, Rabbeinu Yonah, and the Meiri in their pirushim in Mishlei all say that this passuk means that Zechus Avos can save the descendant of a tzadik:

A. Gaon: as it says in Brachos 7a, Tzadik vetov lo, Tzadik ben Tzadik; Tzadik vera lo, Tzadik ben Rasha. (Although the Gemara there immediately asks, but it says “lo yumsu…uvanim ahl avosam,” and the Gemara therefore says a different pshat, apparently the Gaon holds that the Tzadik ben Tzadik part remains accepted as true.)

B. Rabbeinu Yonah: “His children will be saved due to his merit, and Hashem will judge them “lifnim mishuras hadin,” with special kindness and not with strict justice.

C. Meiri: “His children, too, will be saved, as it says in Tehillim 37:25, “lo ra’isi Tzadik ne’ezav ve’zaro mevakesh lachem.”

7. In Pirkei Avos 2:2, it says "Kol ha'ameilim im hatzibur...," all those that lead the community should do their work for the name of heaven, "shezechus avosam mesa'ayasan," for the merit of their fathers will assist them.
Yoma 87a-- "how blissful (Ashrei'hem) are the righteous...not only do they earn reward for themselves, but they also earn reward (zochim) for their children and their children's children, unto the end of all time."
Shemos Rabba 44:1-- Klal Yisrael is like a Gefen, a grape vine, that only stands because it is supported by the sturdy wood that lived and grew in previous years, the Avos.
Brachos 27-- when Raban Gamliel was deposed, Reb Elazar ben Azariah was given preference as his replacement, because as a descendant of Ezra, his Zechus Avos would protect and assist him.
Shabbas 129b, one who has Zechus Avos is protected from dangers that would be fatal to others.
And, most fundamentally, in the 13 Middos-- Notzeir Chesed Le'alafim, as the Gemara in Sotah 11a explains. Chesed that is generated by being a faithful servant of Hashem creates zechusim that benefit thousands of generations.

Re: Tama zechus Avos

1. If Tama Zechus Avos, why do we continue to invoke Zechus Avos, as noted above, in so many parts of our davenning?

2. Why does the Torah so often promise our forefathers that in the merit of their loyalty Hashem will never forsake their descendants?

3. Why did Rav Yochanan, in Shabbas 55a, change his mind about Tama Zechus Avos?

4. How could Zechus Avos, (so long as it lasted,) have been of any use, if there is a rule of Abba lo mezakeh bra?

5. Rashi in Shabbas says “shekvar achaluhu.” It was eaten, it was used up, by unworthy and sinful generations. Is Zechus Avos a bank account that can be used up, or is it a relationship, which ought to survive rough times in anticipation of regaining its prior meaning. After all, no matter what people do, they are still descendants of the Avos, and they should have Zechus Avos.

To answer these questions, we have to carefully think analyze the various opinions of the Rishonim and Achronim on these Gemaros.

Tama Zechus Avos


1. Rashi says that the Zechus of the Avos has been depleted because it was simply used up by sinful generations. In fact, this approach is clearly stated in the Yerushalmi San 10:1. The Yerushalmi says that one should not ask to be rewarded for his deeds in this world, because if the Avos had asked to be rewarded in this world, “from where would the merit have existed for their descendants?”

2. A careful reading of Rashi, Shabbas 55a, DH Hayom Yivada, clearly shows that he holds that even after Tama, prayer can refresh, can bring back, Zechus Avos. Obviously, then, Zechus Avos is not like a savings account. When one of those is empty, tefilla doesn’t do anything. By the way, as will be shown, this idea has been stated by many later mefarshim, but none, to the best of my knowledge, point out that it’s an open Rashi. For example, the Maharal in Agados Hashas, which I quote separately below, also says that although Tama, Tefilla re-enables Zechus Avos. Also, the Ohr Zarua in I:101 quotes Rabbeinu Yehonasan as saying this, although he himself, as noted below, holds that we pasken like the Medrash that disagrees with Shmuel entirely. Interestingly, the Anaf Yosef here in the Ein Yakov quotes the Pri Toar in the Medrash of Vayikra at the end of 36 as saying this, and he says this is what Rav Yochanan means in saying that the Taf stands for Tachon-- because invoking Zechus Avos requires Chanina, i.e., Tefilla.

3. According to Rashi, again, in Shabbas 55, DH Vayifen and DH Hayom Yivada, there is no difference between Zechus Avos and Bris Avos. If Zechus Avos is tama, Bris Avos is also Tama. As we will see, this is contrary to the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam. Rashi’s opinion is also clearly stated in the previously cited Yerushalmi.

4. Please note that numbers three and four are tied together. The whole point of a Bris is its immutability. A bris is permanent and not dependant on later behavior. It is only because Rashi holds that even after tama, Zechus Avos can be brought back through Tefilla, can Rashi say there both Zechus Avos and Bris Avos are Tama: the Bris certainly does remain in effect, but it needs to be invoked. If, on the other hand, Rashi would have held that tama means that it is lost and gone forever and beyond the power of tefilla to restore, he could not have said that Bris Avos was tama. Or, if you want, you can say that it is only because Rashi saw in the Gemara that Bris Avos was tama that he was forced to say that tefilla will restore it.

Rabbeinu Tam

1. Rabbeinu Tam asks, as we asked above, why do we invoke Zechus Avos if it was Tama. He answers that although Zechus tama, Bris Avos is not tama, and when we recall the Avos, it is not Zechus Avos we recall, it is Bris Avos. As it says in Devarim 4:31—Lo yishkach es BRIS avosecha.

2. To understand what a Bris is, please note the Ramban in Breishis 6:17, who says two things about Bris. The first pshat in Bris is a covenant “be’lo tnai ve’shi’ur,” without condition or exclusion. The second pshat in Bris is that the word is related to Beri’ah, creation; that a bris creates a new reality, a new Teva.

Also, see Breishis 15:18 regarding the Bris with Avraham, where it says “Ubein zaracha acharecha ledorosam beris olam.”

Also, see Ramban Breishis 26:3, regarding the bris with Yitzchak: “Even though the covenant with Avraham was sufficient, (the redundant Bris with Yitzchak) was an additional merit and honor to him.” This applies, as well, to the later Bris with Yaakov and the Bris of Matan Torah.

(By the way, Rabbeinu Tam did not have the Yerushalmi that supports Rashi's pshat, as the R'i points out there.)

The R’I

1. The R'i says that Shmuel, who said the Taf stood for Tama and Rav Yochanan, who said it stood for Tachon, do not argue. Shmuel’s “Tama” is for wicked people, and Rav Yochanan’s Tachon, which means that Zechus Avos remains, is for righteous people who need additional zechusim.

Please note, then, that the R'i, in his first pshat, is arguing with Rashi in the fundamental interpretation of Tama Zechus Avos. Both agree that Tama means sthat Zechus Avos has changed. Rashi, and the Yerushalmi, hold that it was spent and exhausted by sinful generations, and is no longer available, unless one is mispallel. Perhaps pshat in tefilla is that you are not invoking current zechus avos: Tefilla enables you to gain access to the Zechus Avos that existed in the previous times, before it was Tama. The R'i, on the other hand, holds that it is totally unavailable to Resha'im, and automatically available to Tzadikim, and Tefilla is not a factor. According to the R'i, apparently, Zechus Avos requires Proximity, either spiritual or chronological. Zechus Avos is now available only to people whose life reflects the beliefs of the Avos, for those that have spiritual proximity to the Avos. If your life shows that you reject the heritage of the Avos, then you are not entitled to their Zechus. Prior to Tama, however, Zechus Avos was available to everyone, based on chronological proximity. According to the R'i, Tama is not due to intervening generations of sinners who used up Zechus Avos; It just means that Distant Relatives don't have Zechus Avos. It's simply a function of the combination of chronological and spiritual separation. Just distant in time is fine. Just distant in behavior, also fine. Tarti Le'reiusa, Tama Zechus Avos, and not fine. Or, to simplify this explanation--
Preservation for Progeny of the Merit of Piety is limited by Propinquity, either in Proximity or Propensity.

2. In the second teretz, the second interpretation offered by the R'i, we, who invoke Zechus Avos, rely on the Medrash (Vayikra Rabba 86) that simply argues on our Gemara and says that Zechus Avos is eternal and immutable. This can also be found in the above-cited Yerushalmi in the name of Rav Acha. This opinion is also that of the Ohr Zarua II Hilchos Erev Shabbas, also citing the Medrash.


The Maharal in his Chidushei Agados offers two explanations of how our tefillos which are based on Zechus Avos can be understood in light of Shmuel's shittah that Tama Zechus Avos.

I. Zechus Avos no longer provides extraordinary protection for the consequences of great sins. But Shmuel would agree that the Zechus Avos that we have still provides "Rachmanus ve'hatzala purta," mercy and smaller salvations.

II. Alternatively, or perhaps additionally: Shmuel agrees that we still have access to Zechus Avos, but only when we are mispallel that it be granted, as noted above in Shittas Rashi. It is no longer the entitlement that it once was. But it still can be earned.

Part II coming soon. I hope.

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