Parashas Haazinu

In this week’s parashah, Moshe says to the Jewish People (Devarim 32:18): “You ignored the Rock that gave birth to you (צוּר יְלָדְךָ תֶּשִׁי), and forgot God who brought you forth.”  In Sifrei 319, the Sages expound homiletically: “Every time I seek to do good for you, you weaken (אתם מתישים) My power. The Sages then give two examples of how the Jewish People’s misbehavior prevented Hashem from granting them good. In a similar vein, Malachi 2:17 speaks of the Jewish People’s wearying Hashem with their words, referring to wicked speech.
The Maggid links these teachings to the following Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 10:9):
[It is written (Bereishis 2:2): “And He desisted on the seventh day from all His work that He had done.] “His work.” Said R. Berechya in the name of R. Siemon: “Not with toil and not with exertion did the Holy One Blessed Be He create His world, and yet it is written ‘from all His work.’ It is a wonder! Rather, the intent is to speak of retribution against the wicked who destroy the world that was created entirely with toil and exertion.”
This Midrash is puzzling on two counts. First, why did R. Berechya have to tell us that Hashem created the world without toil or exertion? We already have a verse that tells us this (Tehillim 33:6): “Through Hashem’s word the heavens were made.” Second, R. Berechya seemingly contradicts himself by saying at the end that the world was created with toil and exertion.
The Maggid explains the matter as follows. The degree of toil in an action is always measured with reference to two factors: (1) the one who is doing the action and (2) the result that ensues from the action. Consider first the person doing the action. To a peasant, a toilsome task is an activity such as bricklaying or carrying heavy burdens, whereas to a rich man a toilsome task is an activity such as sitting and writing a letter. Now consider the ensuing result. A person feels wearisomeness in his work primarily when he is not successful. When he is successful, the burden feels negligible. Thus, Yaakov worked seven years to gain Rachel’s hand in marriage, and the Torah says that “they were in his eyes like a few days on account of his love for her” (Bereishis 29:20). As another example, suppose a person makes an arduous trip in the winter, without finding any place to eat or drink on the way. If he is successful in his trip, he will think nothing of the hardships he endured. But if the trip turns out to be for naught, he will find the hardships very wearying.
Now, to R. Berechya it was clear that, because of Hashem’s power, He had no need to put forth toil or exertion to create the world – He did it through his word alone. R. Berechya therefore wonders why the Torah refers to the creation of the world with the term “work.” He answers that the intent is to speak of retribution against the wicked who destroy the world that was created entirely with toil and exertion. The wicked interfere with the world’s producing the positive results that Hashem meant it to produce. They thus make the creation of the world seem wearisome, so to speak, to Him. We can understand in this way the Sifrei’s statement that the Jewish People’s misbehavior “weakens” Hashem – He finds the misbehavior wearying, for it prevents Him from doing the good that He sought to do. Thus the Sages teach elsewhere (Eichah Rabbah 1:33): “Whenever the People of Yisrael do the All-Present’s will, they add power to the mighty One above, as it is written (Tehillim 60:14, homiletically): ‘in God we will make might.’ And when the People of Yisrael do not do the All-Present’s will, they, so to speak, weaken the power of the Great One above, as it is written: צוּר יְלָדְךָ תֶּשִׁי.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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