Wednesday, July 01, 2015

crime and punishment

Even though we left parshas Shlach a few weeks ago, I want to post this anyway rather than wait until next year.  Rashi quotes from Chazal that the meraglim had kefitzas haderech and managed to tour the entire land of Israel in only forty days.  Hashem knew that the spies would return a bad report and Bnei Yisrael would be punished with a wait of one year in the desert for every day they spent on the road.  Since Hashem wanted to cap that punishment at forty years, He limited the spies’ travel time to forty days.  A talmid asked my wife’s grandfather, R’ Dov Yehudah Shochet, a great question: why did Hashem have to make this nes of kefitzas haderech to cap the punishment at forty years – why not just mete out half a year for each day spent if it would take eighty days to travel the land, or whatever the calculation would work out to in order to get the desired result?  Where and why is it written in stone that the ratio has to be a year to a day?  Why is that variable immutable, but the amount of travel time it takes to tour the land, a fact built into the teva, can be bent and played with derech nes?

Al korchacha it seems that the punishment for a cheit is not like the sentence a judge issues to a criminal; the punishment for a cheit is a natural outgrowth of the cheit itself.  To use halachic terms as an analogy, I would say the punishment for a cheit is a psik reisha – you can’t cut off the chicken’s head and get an outcome other than death, no matter if you didn’t intend to kill the chicken, because by definition cutting off a chicken’s head means killing it.  By definition, “yom la’shana,” the punishment for one day of being in Eretz Yisrael for the sake of maligning the land results in a one year delay in entering the land.  That is immutable; it’s an a priori rule.  The amount of time it takes to travel the land can be extended or shortened without changing the definition of what “travel” is, but punishment and cheit are by definition one and the same thing. 

The gemara (Chagigah 5) writes that when R’ Yochanan read the pasuk “V’haya ki timtzena oso ra’os rabos v’tzaros” he would cry.  “What hope is there for a servant who is presented with great evils and sorrow?!”  How does a person just “find” himself – “timtzena oso” – in a world of trouble?  Aren’t those troubles the result of a sentence in the beis din shel ma’alah that a person can appeal or ask for mercy to temper?  Again, we see from this gemara that punishment by definition goes hand in hand with the crime.  It’s not some separate decree, but is a natural outcome of sin itself.


  1. nice. does this answer the question of why it says יום לשנה as opposed to שנה ליום?

    1. Because the shana is part of the definition of the sin of each day, not an separate gezeirah. It's not a decree of shanah for each day, but it's a natural outcome.