Thursday, October 18, 2012

Nira'sa ha'kashes b'yamecha? -- Was a rainbow seen in your lifetime?

The gemara (Kesubos 77b) relates that R' Shimon bar Yochai greeted R' Yehoshua ben Levi in Heaven with the question, "Was a rainbow seen during your lifetime?"   The rainbow is the sign of Hashem's promise to Noach not to destroy the world again.  RSHb"Y was trying to gauge the level of tzidkus of R' Yehoshua ben Levi -- did his generation need to invoke the promise of the rainbow to escape punishment, or was RYb"L's own tzidkus enough to protect them?

R' Yehoshua ben Levi replied that rainbows did appear during his lifetime (in truth there weren't any, but R' Yehoshua ben Levi did not want to openly reveal his tzidkus).  RSHb"Y replied that if so, R' Yehoshua was not really the son of the great R' Levi, his father -- RSHb"Y was in effect calling him a disappointment. 

RSHb"Y's test seems at first glace to be quite harsh.  As great as any one tzadik's merits are, he is but a single individual.  The gemara tells us that there were tzadikim who were worthy of receiving ruach hakodesh but were denied that gift because they lived in a generation that was not worthy of such a level of hashra'as haShechina.  Why did RSHb"Y find it so unimaginable that R' Yehoshua ben Levi was a tzadik of the highest calibar but despite his great personal tzidkus, he lived in a society that still needed that rainbow to ward off punishment? 

"Kol she'lo nivneh Beis HaMikdash b'yamav k'ilu necherav."   Here too, even tzadikim seem to take the blame for the Beis haMikdash not being rebuilt in their lifetime, as if they could single-handedly bring it about.  The Kozhnitzer Maggid quotes the Alshich as explaining that the key word in this teaching of Chazal is "b'yamav."  It should not be translated as "in one's days," but rather as "with one's days."  Each and every person's day to day actions contribute (or c"v the reverse) in some way to the ultimate rebuilding of the Mikdash.  Of course no one individual can do it all. What every individual is responsible for is doing his/her part to the utmost.  

RSHb"Y was not asking R' Yehoshua ben Levi whether his merits removed the need for the rainbow for the entire world.  He was asking, "Nira'sa ha'kashes b'yamecha?" -- Have you, R' Yehoshua ben Levi, done all you could with your own time, your own days, to obviate the need for that rainbow? 


  1. Very nice.

    The Kli Yakar in this week's Parsha has a very interesting explanation of that Gemara. It is your style - you will like it.

    By the way, I commented on an old post of Noach, 2006. I hope it reaches you, despite the antiqueness of the post.

  2. Anonymous12:14 AM

    >>> He was asking... [last paragraph]

    the Torah too is asking Noach the same-- at 7:6, he is 600 years old,
    a static existence of a creaturely age, the biological count of
    the nefesh; at 7:11, Noach is man, calendrical man, dynamic, in process,
    a work-in-progress, using his days to full account... (this duality reflects the argument as to Noach's conduct-- was he righteous only in his
    generation, at 600 years old, or righteous anytime, across the generations?) {it's also mirrored in parsha bereishis, when adam is introduced twice into the gan-- at 2:8, as a creature among creatures; at
    2:15, as a potential dynamo ready to get busy}

  3. T.I.
    I found your comment, but it's easier if you just comment on the latest and refer back instead of commenting back there. Anyway, I hear your question. I think the answer may be (at least given the M.C.'s assumptions) that if there was a tzivuy to women, then there would be no real sakanah. IOW, sakanah / mitzvah is not just a logical stirah; it's part of the reality of the briya that a mitzvah cannot be a sakanah and vice versa. (I think what I am saying may be circular reasoning -- needs some more thought).

  4. Yaakov Lasson9:27 PM

    Unless I am missing something obvious, wouldn't your pshat be heard to read into the words of the Gemara-? isn't Rashbi asking the OPPOSITE (did you see a rainbow = were you NOT great enough?) so how can you say the vort of BYamecha as a positive-?!

  5. I don't see the question. He was asking whether "yamecha" were enough without the rainbow.