Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Shiurei Da'as: Can we compare our avodah to that of Eliyahu haNavi or David haMelech?

“Rosheich alay k’Karmel v’dalas roseich k‘argaman…” (Shir haShirim 7:6) taken literally is a description of the beauty of someone's head and the braids of hair.  The Midrash, however, reads the pasuk as describing the beauty in G-d’s eyes of even the worst members of Klal Yisrael.  “Rosheich” is read by the Midrash as “reishech,” from the word “rash,” meaning poor person – not poor financially, but poor in good deeds; “dalas” is taken by the Midrash as a hint to the word “dal,” another synonym for a person who is wanting.  The pasuk is telling us that even the poorest miscreant in Klal Yisrael is as valuable as Eliyahu haNavi, who challenged the idolators of Ba’al at Mt. Carmel; even the poorest no-goodnik is as great as David haMelech, as Zecharya haNavi tells us (12:7), that one day even the “nichshal,” the one who is weak and stumbles, will be like David haMelech. 

R’ Bloch (in Shiurei Da’as, “Rishonim K’Malachim”) asks how it can be that Hashem values someone who is spiritually impoverished as much as he values Eliyahu haNavi or David haMelech.  Imagine there is some kind of big scale where we can weigh people’s merits.  If you were to put me on one side of that scale and David HaMelech or Eliyahu on the other side, there is no question in my mind that their merits would outweigh mine.   So where is the fairness in Hashem saying that in his eyes it’s all the same?

R’ Bloch answers with an analogy.  Imagine there is a race course that stretches thousands of miles long and you have two runners racing along the course.  Even if one person has travelled 2 miles and the other has travelled only 2 yards, does it really make a difference when measured against the total distance that needs to be covered?  Kal v’chomer if the distance that needs to be covered stretches to infinity.  It’s true that Eliyahu HaNavi, David haMelech, accomplished so much more than any of us could dream of accomplishing in our own avodas Hashem.  But that does not mean we should despair or that our avodah has no value.  When measured against the scale of infinity, the tremendous gulf of difference between our achievements is insignificant.

Afar ani tachas kapas raglav, but I cannot help but find R’ Bloch’s answer here less than satisfying.  Even if one grants the validity of the question, it seems that the far simpler answer is “l’fum tza’ara agra.”  Hashem does not judge our net accomplishments alone; he judges us according to our abilities.  What little we accomplish given our circumstance and limitations may indeed be as precious as what greater people were able to do given their specific gifts and talents.  What we see with our limited perspective is far from the complete picture.

But there is an even simpler answer I think, and perhaps it appeals more to a chassidic mindset than a mussar mindset.  The whole question R’ Bloch raises is predicated on the assumption that Hashem should value less those who achieve less.  It seems to me that the whole point of the Midrash is to undermine that very assumption.  Hashem’s love is unconditional.  He extends it freely to the lowest sinner as well as the greatest saint.  He is the ultimate rachaman who is willing to overlook all our failures, all our shortcomings, all our deficiencies, and accept us all equally.  As parents, most of us pay lip service to this idea of loving all our children equally, even those who aggravate and annoy us to no end (trust me, I have a few).  If we can recognize the value of turning a blind eye to the faults of our children and loving them all equally, surely we can appreciate the concept of G-d turning a blind eye to our faults and extending unconditional love to each of us equally.  


  1. "Biqrovai aqadeish" wasn't said of Moshe and Aharon.

  2. A little too brief for me -- not sure what you are getting at.

  3. We say that the death of Nadav and Avihu was a fulfillment of Hashem's statement that biqrovai aqadeish". Why were Nadav and Avihu deemed those closest to G-d -- wouldn't you think that would be Moshe, Aharon and Miriam?

    The answer could be that Nadav and Avihu may not have been on as high of an absolute level, but in terms of the process, they developed themselves more given what they started off as and what opportunities and challenges they were given.

  4. That's what I don't understand -- how do you know they weren't supposed to be greater on an absolute level?

  5. Aharon and Miriam, I'm assuming. But MRAH? Was anyone ever greater and will anyone ever be greater on an absolute level?

    If you want to suggest that they were greater than MRAH after 120 days on Har Sinai, qoren or panav -- his peak! -- then you'd have to suggest greater in what scale. Assuming one isn't violating the 7th iqar or the like, that's pretty difficult.

  6. chaim b.9:32 PM

    "Ro'eh ani she'heim gedolim m'imi u'mimeka" (Rashi 3:10)

  7. I suggested that the only axis in which it's possible to speak about exceeding Moshe was in personal development -- not in absolute scale. Which, as your post posits, is the axis that counts the most. Thus justifying chazal's comment, quoted by Rashi.

  8. chaim b.9:19 AM

    I don't see any logical problem or contradiction to any other Chazal that would force one to not read Rashi k'pshuto, that they were greater on an absolute scale. That's the chiddush -- that Nadav and Avihu were as great if not greater than Moshe at the height of his power.

    I guess we will have to agree to differ over whether such an assertion is possible or believable.

  9. Chaim, if only I could believe your interpretation. How do you know it? Because the Mesillas Yesharim says that Hashem loves us and created us in order to be meitiv? That doesn't necessarily mean to every yachid. As long as there are some that "earn" some degree of tov, there's a heichi timtza to be meitiv. But there are those that are nidon in hideous and eternal punishments, and I don't see a lot of love there. Besides ירבעם אחאב בלעם ודואג ואחיתופל וגחזי, there are the ones (San 92a) that are sentenced to חרפות לדראון עולם. Where do you get this unconditional love idea from???

  10. Maybe we can answer this by saying that unconditional love sometimes means hard discipline.
    The famous vort about the Nachash and eating dust - Hashem is cutting himself off from the Nachash by providing him food [Just stam a Ha'ara though - don't snakes eat mice, large animals, etc.? What happened to just dust? Are snakes different than the Nachash? Is that parsha not to be taken literally? I digress.] But these people mentioned in the Gemara are still receiving attention from Hashem - they are being purified (it takes a long time!) in Gehinnom. So even those people are still getting from Hashem the "best they can get" based on what they deserve - much more than the Nachash gets (acc. to that vort).

  11. chaim b.7:17 PM

    >>>But there are those that are nidon in hideous and eternal punishments, and I don't see a lot of love there.

    Just because you might have to punish your children, even severely if need be, means you don't love them??

  12. Well, if the punishment is eternal, the comparison to parenting doesn't hold. Parents acting out of love punish their children in order for the child to learn for the future and thus be better off in the long run. That doesn't work for eternal punishment, as there is no "for the future" and no other "in the long run".

    I should point out that according to the Rambam, there is no eternal torment. People who do not merit reward cease to exist. Punishment only for those who can thereby get better stuff later.

    But according to the Ramchal, it would seem that punishment is self-inflicted. It's getting to olam haba and living with the frustration of knowing that I could have gotten so much more eternally for so little and transitory effort (MY ch. 4; see also Derekh Hashem 1:4:5). The Iqarim similarly says (4:33) the fires of gehenom are those of shame.

    Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah 4:1) and R' Chaim Volozhiner (Derekh haChaim 1:21) use more the model of health and sickness -- punishment is a sick soul incapable of holding the good being showered on it.

    It seems the approach of those who do believe in eternal torment is that it's self-inflicted, and one's question isn't on why a loving G-d would torment people eternally, but why He would create a system in which it's possible for us to do so to ourselves. The Ramchal's reasoning (beg. of Derekh H', and BTW, R' Saadia Gaon's is pretty similar) runs more like this:

    1- Hashem could not be doing this all for His Own benefit, because He isn't and never was lacking anything.
    2- Therefore, it much be for our benefit.
    3- The Ultimate Good is being in His Image. Which includes not being forced to be who we are because of outside forces, as well as providing for ourselves.
    4- So, Hashem created Olam haBa as a place to receive His Good, and olam hazeh as the place where we become who we become and thus earn that good.
    5- There is no way good can be earned if it were simply handed out to everyone.

  13. chaim b.9:21 PM

    >>>Parents acting out of love punish their children in order for the child to learn for the future and thus be better off in the long run. That doesn't work for eternal punishment,

    Doesn't follow. What does the duration of punishment and/or purpose of punishment have to do with the emotional relationship between the one doing the punishing and the one receiving it? "Ki ka'asher y'yaser ish es bno Hashem Elokech m'yasreka." Apples and oranges.

  14. chaim b.9:31 PM

    In any case, to get back to the original question - the Midrash b'pashtus is talking about regular guys, not evildoers to the nth degree who suffer for eternity. Last few lines in Chagiga the gemara says even poshei yisrael are immune to the fires of gehenom and are filled with mitzvos like a rimon, and Tos. there which distinguishes between these poshim and your extreme evildoers. Seems that Chazal go out of there way to stress the redeeming qualities of all but the most hardened sinners. Do they deserve it based on pure merit? Of course not, otherwise why would they be called poshim? But they get a favorable nod anyway.

  15. Parental punishment is to teach a lesson for the future. There is no future after eterntal torment. Thus, it can't be punishment in the same way as a loving parent would.

  16. I would love to be convinced of the absolute and unconditional nature of Hashem's love; the proofs in the Ramchal are based on the 13 middos, but there actually are fifteen, not thirteen- the ones the tzibur doesn't say on ta'aneisim. Anyway, having a few to love might be enough, and to the devil with those that don't earn it. What I'm looking for is a rishon or a medrash that uses that postulate. That would be enough for me.

  17. chaim b.4:29 PM

    The Midrash quoted in this very post says black on white that we are as beautiful in Hashem's eyes as Eliyahu and David haMelech. That's not enough of an expression of love for you?

  18. Nor, apparently, for Rav Bloch, who limited it to people who make an effort, albeit given lesser talents and circumstances. You want to expand it to mean "Hashem’s love is unconditional. He extends it freely to the lowest sinner as well as the greatest saint. He is the ultimate rachaman who is willing to overlook all our failures, all our shortcomings, all our deficiencies, and accept us all equally."

    Maybe you're right, that it's a difference between the mussar perspective and the Chasidish. You know the Ishihara color perception tests? Once the perspective matters, and especially to me, lacking, unfortunately either mindset, it's not black on white.

  19. I can't argue with your liking R' Bloch better, but I don't think it fits what Chazal are trying to say here. So we will have to agree to disagree on this one...