Shabbos Chol HaMoed Sukkos

On Shabbos Chol HaMoed Sukkos, the morning service includes a special addition: the reading of Megillas Koheles. In addition, the Torah portion read on Shabbos Chol HaMoed Sukkos is not part of the regular series of parshios, but instead is a special selection from parashas Ki Sissa that begins with the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf and ends with a review of the three pilgrimage festivals: Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos. Accordingly, I present here a d’var Torah from the Maggid relating to both the special Torah reading and Megillas Koheles.
The Torah reading includes a list of Divine attributes (Shemos 34:4-7): “Hashem, Hashem, God, Merciful and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Who Preserves Kindness for thousands of generations, Who Forbears Iniquity, Rebellious Sin, and Error, and Who Cleanses.” In his commentary on parashas Ki Sissa, the Maggid analyzes Hashem’s Attribute of Forbearance [Note: because of the three-faceted nature of Hashem’s forbearance, relating to three types of sin, this attribute is typically counted as three separate attributes.] The Maggid’s starting point is Koheles 1:18: “For with great wisdom comes great torment, and one who increases his knowledge increases his grief.” The Maggid interprets this verse as indicating that the punishment Hashem imposes on a person due to a sin is calibrated according to the person’s spiritual stature: the more refined a person is, the stricter Hashem is in meting out punishment to him. In his commentary on the verse in Kol Yaakov, the Maggid discusses this principle at length. David HaMelech’s statement that Hashem “recompenses a person according to his deeds” (Tehillim 62:13) can be read as reflecting this principle; we can understand David as saying that Hashem’s response to a particular action that a person takes is calibrated to the person’s overall pattern of behavior. David HaMelech and others of his spiritual stature harbored a deep fear of Divine punishment, recognizing that because of their great righteousness Hashem would tend to be extremely exacting with them. It is not that Hashem deals with the righteous more harshly than they deserve – far be it for us to entertain such an idea. Rather, it is just the opposite: Hashem metes out to the righteous a punishment commensurate with what absolute justice calls for, while showing mercy to those of lesser spiritual stature and meting out to them much less punishment than absolute justice calls for.
Thus, there are people whose low spiritual stature serves them as a form of protection; they are spiritually poor, but at the same time they are secure from being struck with misfortune. By contrast, a person of high spiritual stature, toward whom Hashem is not so lenient, faces a considerable risk of being struck with misfortune. The Maggid draws an analogy to a man who has a high income, but has been hit with a series of major expenses, so that he is experiencing a substantially negative cash flow. Such a man may well feel a certain envy toward paupers who go door to door begging for alms, for their financial position is in a sense better than his – the paupers can eke out a steady and secure basic subsistence from alms, while he is at risk of falling into heavy debt. Similarly, a person of high spiritual stature may feel a certain envy toward those of lesser stature, toward whom Hashem is lenient. The opening verses of Tehillim 32 can be interpreted as reflecting this attitude. David HaMelech declares: “Fortunate is he whose offense is forborne, whose transgression is concealed. Fortunate is the man for whom Hashem does not count iniquity.” We can read this statement (homiletically) as contrasting the lowly person’s worry-free existence with David’s own constant fear of Divine punishment.
Returning to the Torah reading, after listing the Divine attributes the Torah relates that Moshe bowed his head toward the ground and prostrated himself (Shemos 34:8). The Gemara in Sanhedrin 111a reports two opinions regarding what prompted Moshe to do so. The majority of the Sages say that the reason Moshe bowed and prostrated himself was because he beheld the Attribute of Truth. Rashi explains that Moshe was struck with fear when he saw what could happen if Hashem meted out the full measure of justice: the result could well be total destruction. In this vein, the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 39:6 relates that during Avraham’s interchange with Hashem about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, Avraham said: “If You wish to have a world, You cannot impose absolute justice, and if You wish to impose absolute justice, there will be no world.”
In Iyov 11:5-11, Iyov’s comrade Tzofar expounds on the way Hashem supervises the world:
If God would speak … He would relate to you the hidden recesses of wisdom, for His sagacity is manifold. Know, then, that God exacts from you less than your iniquities! … He is aware of deceitful people; He sees iniquity, although He acts as if He does not take note.
The message behind this statement is that even with all the strictness that Hashem shows toward the righteous, He still does not mete out to them the full measure of punishment that absolute justice calls for, but shows mercy toward them as well. Among the sins people commit – righteous people included – are numerous sins that they are unaware of. This fact is alluded to in Tzofar’s statement, for we can read the phrase “does not take note” as referring not to the mindset that Hashem seems to adopt, but rather to the mindset that the transgressor himself actually holds – he does not notice that he is transgressing [Cf. Metzudas David, who also reads the phrase “does not take note” as describing the transgressor’s mindset, but whose interpretation of the verse is the opposite of the Maggid’s.] Due to their unawareness, the transgressors feel no regret for these sins and do not repent from them or seek forgiveness for them. Hashem simply tolerates these sins without imposing punishment. This is one major aspect of Hashem’s Attribute of Forbearance.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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