Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ya'akov's tefilah: better to be punished by G-d and avoid the threat of a ba'al bechira

When Ya’akov finally gives in and allows Binyamin to go down to Egypt with his brothers, he davens for them, “K-l Shakai yiteim lachem rachamim lifnei ha’ish…” (43:14) The Midrash has an enigmatic comment: R’ Pinchas b’shem R’ Chanin d’Tziporin opened his derasha on the parsha as follows:  “Ashrei ha’gever asher tiyasreinu K-h…”  The Midrash then goes on to list tzaros that were brought upon Avraham Avinu and his various sufferings.

Do we need a Midrash to tell us that Ya’akov or the other Avos had tzaros?  And why raise that point specifically here?  Perhaps the Midrash is connected to Rashi’s comment that Ya’akov used the shem “Shakai” because he was calling on G-d to end his tzaros (yomar ‘dai’ l’tzarosai), but the connection seems tenuous.
Last week we discussed the Ohr haChaim’s chiddush that a ba’al bechira, a person’s free will, can overcome hashgacha.  The Ksav Sofer suggests the Midrash is reading Ya'akov's prayer in that same light.  “Ashrei hagever asher tiyasreinu K-h,” a person whom *Hashem* afflicts with suffering is lucky.  If Hashem is the one causing the suffering, then Hashem can take away the suffering as well.  But when suffering comes through human hands, through a ba’al bechira, then hashgacha cannot help (see last week’s post).  The Ksav Sofer writes that we mention this in our davening almost every day.  In tachanun we say, “Niplah na b’yad Hashem ub’yad adam al epolah” – better to be punished by G-d’s hands than fall into the hands of man.  Ya’akov was willing to accept Hashem’s punishment (as we see from the end of the pasuk, “…ka’asher shakolti shakalti”), but he davened that his children be spared punishment “lifnei ha’ish,” at the hands of a ba’al bechira, as that is a far more dangerous situation.

While on the topic, I just want to point out the Midrash a few lines later:
אמר ליה רבי אלכסנדרי: אין לך אדם בלא יסורים, אשריו לאדם, שיסורים באים עליו מן התורה, שנאמר: ומתורתך תלמדנו.

Chazal tell us that you can’t go through life without suffering.  The question is what kind of suffering it’s going to be.  You can toss and turn on your pillows worried about your business, your children, your health, or all kinds of other depressing things.  Or, “ashrav l’adam she’yisurim ba’aim alav min haTorah,” you can have yissurim and suffering from Torah – you can lie awake because you can’t figure out pshat in a Tosfos or you are worried about a difficult Rambam.  I would like to hope that a person has the right to choose, and if you worry about the latter, you will be spared the worries about the former.


  1. I'm surprised you haven't yet quoted Shmuel II 24:14 (and Tachanun):
    וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל גָּד, "צַר לִי מְאֹד; נִפְּלָה-נָּא בְיַד ה כִּי רַבִּים רַחֲמָו, וּבְיַד-אָדָם אַל-אֶפֹּלָה."

    1. Not sure what you mean -- it's right there in this post. The Ksav Sofer brings it down.

      I should mention that it's not a very strong proof, as in the context the pasuk is referring to David's choice of dever as opposed to other punishments that would be b'yad adam. There may be reasons (as the meforshim explain) other than the "ba'al bechira" thesis that justify that decision (e.g. Klal Yisrael needed to rely on 'yad adam' is a chilul Hashem) and fit the pasuk.

  2. But what about all tehillim Especially hallel- hashem li lo Ira "ma yaseh li adam" that even with a bal bechira it doesn't compare next to hashem ?

    1. You're right -- this pasuk is a kashe on the Ohr haChaim/Zohar. But in light of the Ksav Sofer I think you can answer it. Ksav Sofer is saying that through tefilah you can ask that Hashem briong yisurim himself rather than fall prey to a 'ba'al bechira' -- IOW, you can daven for the lesser of the two evils. So maybe that's what the pasuk means in hallel -- Hashem li, since Hashem is close to me, he will punish me directly if I need it, and therefore, mah ya'aseh li adam, because I've already been 'yotzei' my punishment, so to speak. (Admittedly, this is a dochak.)