Hashem’s Gracious Severeness

In last week’s d’var Torah, we discussed Hashem’s use of afflictions as a tool to stir us to mend our ways. The Maggid noted that Hashem’s taking this course is a tremendous act of graciousness on His part, because Hashem’s nature is to bestow blessing, and it is against His nature to impose afflictions. Here we present some additional ideas the Maggid put forward on the topic of afflictions, built around an interpretation of Tehillim 16. Below we render the verses in this chapter of Tehillim according to the Maggid’s commentary.
In Tehillim 16:2, David HaMelech declares before Hashem (Tehillim 16:2): “My good is not upon You.” As we noted last week, the Maggid interprets this declaration as meaning that the punishments Hashem sends us for our good are not part of His natural mode of operation. The Maggid views the declaration as a praise that the soul offers Hashem for imposing afflictions. And he poses a question: How is it that the soul regards afflictions as good? He then answers as follows. A person is made up of two opposite components. There is the soul, quarried from the heights of heaven. And there is the body, built from coarse physical material. These two components have opposing tendencies. The Maggid likens the melding of soul and body to a marriage between a boy from a genteel community and a girl from a village of coarse peasants. Whenever the husband and wife eat together, one or the other winds up suffering, for what the one finds pleasant the other finds detestable.
In Tehillim 16:3, it is written: “For the holy ones upon the earth and for the mighty ones who ‘embody all My desires.’” The Maggid interprets the phrase holy ones as referring to the elements forming the soul: נפש, רוח, נשמה. The soul came down from its lofty abode in heaven to dwell on the lowly earth, a place of darkness. Obviously, as in the analogy of the young couple, the soul derives no enjoyment from the physical pleasures the body enjoys. Indeed, the soul regards these pleasures as a thorn in its side. Accordingly, when the body is afflicted and subdued, the soul is fortified and elevated. Thus, Hashem’s subjecting us to afflictions is an act of love.
The Maggid then discusses the phrase mighty ones who “embody all My desires.” He interprets this phrase as referring to the extremely righteous. The Gemara in Bava Kamma 60a describes how Hashem pours out His wrath upon the righteous, stating: “Calamity comes upon the world only when there are wicked people in the world, and it always comes first upon the righteous.” The Maggid says that David HaMelech is explaining why Hashem occasionally sends extremely righteous people harsh afflictions that go beyond the loving discipline needed to fortify their souls.
He brings out the idea with a parable. A person had a faithful friend, whom he would greet warmly every day. Once he ran into his friend, and after the friend asked how he was doing, he started yelling at him and cursing him. The friend, out of love, kept quiet and went home, but he was taken aback over how the person had acted. The next day, the person ran into his friend again, and this time he gave him a big hug. The friend asked: “What was this outburst of anger you let out at me yesterday?” The person replied: “My dear friend, don’t be put off by how I acted yesterday. I’ll explain what happened. Yesterday I was fuming with anger at someone, but I couldn’t pour out my wrath at him, since I was afraid he would give it back to me twice over. Then I ran into you, and I decided to blow off my anger at you. I trusted in your good character and your love for me, and I knew you would let my outburst pass without saying anything. It was as if I had a precious item that I needed to deposit with someone for safekeeping, and I could give it over only to a trustworthy person who I knew would not do me wrong. Similarly, I had no one aside from you to hand off my anger to, for you were the only one I could trust to keep it firmly under wraps.”
The parallel is as follows. On occasion Hashem fumes, so to speak, with anger over the actions of a person of flawed character. If He would afflict him to prompt him to mend his ways, he would rail at Him for treating him badly, along the lines of Yeshayah’s statement (verse 8:21): “When he is hungry he will be angry and curse his king.” Now, as we explained before, it is a tremendous act of graciousness for Hashem to discipline a person through afflictions. And it is a dishonor to Hashem to do such a great favor for someone who will not appreciate it. So instead Hashem sends the afflictions to wholehearted men who love Him steadfastly, for He knows that out of their great love and attachment to Him, they will accept His discipline with love and good cheer. David HaMelech refers to such men as mighty ones who “embody all My desires.”
David then continues (Tehillim 16:4): “Their aggravation is multiplied, after another they rush.” The Maggid interprets this statement as describing a strategy Hashem uses to get even people of flawed character to accept His discipline cheerfully. He brings out the idea with an example. Suppose Hashem decrees on such a person a loss of $1,000. If He brought this loss on the person directly, by arranging for a thief to steal from him $1,000, he would get angry. So instead He brings the loss on him in an indirect way. He arranges for a thief to steal from the person $50,000 – the decreed loss multiplied 50-fold. The person then hires detectives to find the thief and get his money back. Hashem arranges for them to do so at the cost of $1,000, and the person is overjoyed with the outcome. In this way, Hashem carries out His decree and the person accepts it goodheartedly. 
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.