Shabbos Parashas Re’eh

This week’s parashah begins (Devarim 11:26-27): “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing – that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem your God, that I command you today. And the curse – if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem your God ….” R. Elazar expounds (Devarim Rabbah 4:3):
From the moment the Holy One Blessed Be He made this statement at Sinai, “it is not from the mouth of the Most High One that evil and good emanate” (Eichah 3:38, homiletically). Rather, they come automatically – evil comes to those who do evil and good comes to those who do good.
The principle underlying this teaching, says the Maggid, is one stated by our early sages regarding reward and punishment for observing or violating Hashem’s directives. In the human legal system, punishment for crimes is set by legislation. For example, a human legal code may specify that a thief is punished by whipping, or jail, or death. This punishment does not come upon the thief as a natural consequence of his act of theft, in the way that ingesting a poison naturally causes death. Rather, the punishment is imposed on the thief by legal fiat. By contrast, the reward or punishment that come our way when we observe or violate Hashem’s directives are not imposed on us legislatively, but rather are natural consequences of our actions. Observing the laws of Hashem’s holy Torah naturally fortify us. Violating these laws naturally cause us harm. Thus Yirmiyahu declares (verse 2:19): “Your evil will afflict you, and your backsliding will chastise you.” The affliction is a natural consequence of the evildoing. In a similar vein, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Koheles 9:10): “There is no act, or reckoning, or knowledge, or wisdom in the grave.” Shlomo is saying that the punishment we receive for violating Hashem’s word is not like the punishment we receive for violating a man-made law, which involves human judges applying their knowledge and making a reckoning. Rather, as Yeshayah puts it (verse 64:6): “You melt us away in the hands of our iniquities” – the iniquities themselves bring us suffering. This principle is well known to those well-versed in our traditional sources, and the Maggid notes that he discusses it often. Here, the Maggid seeks to bring out a new insight.
A person might think, the Maggid says, that despite the fundamental difference just noted between man-made systems of reward and punishment and Hashem’s system of reward and punishment, the two systems are the same in one respect: The means of dispensing punishment differ from the means of dispensing reward. A human government imposes the death penalty by a lethal agent such as poison and rewards a person by giving him some benefit such as the opportunity to indulge himself. We might think that Hashem operates via a similar two-pronged system – punishing people by means of the afflictions of Gehennom and rewarding people by means of the delights of Gan Eden. But the books of the prophets contain many declarations explicitly stating that reward and punishment in fact come through the same pipeline.
For example, Malachi declares (verses 3:19-20): “For, behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the wanton and all the evildoers will be like straw – that coming day will set them ablaze …. But for those who fear My Name, for you the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays, and you will go out and flourish like calves [fattened] in the stall.” In connection with this prophesy, R. Shimon ben Lakish states (Nedarim 8b): “There is no Gehennom in the world to come – rather, the Holy One Blessed Be He will take the sun out of its sheath, and the righteous are healed by it while the wicked are judged through it … and not only that, but the righteous delight in it.” We see that the same agent brings both reward and punishment, depending on the state of the person being acted upon. In the same vein, in Avos D’Rabbi Nosson chapter 37 it is stated: “Two eat from the same bowl; this one tastes according to his deeds and this one tastes according to his deeds.” For a person with a healthy spiritual constitution, the delights are enjoyable, but for a person with a diseased spiritual constitution, the delights are unpleasant and harmful. Regarding the episode in which Sancheirev’s army laid siege to Yerushalayim and were miraculously struck down (Melachim Beis 19), R. Yitzchak Nafcha states in Sanhedrin 95b that Hashem opened the ears of Sancheirev’s soldiers and enabled them to hear the singing of the heavenly beings, and from the sound of the singing they died. Here, the same heavenly singing that brings delight to the righteous brought death to the wicked. We find this idea encapsulated in the psalmist’s declaration (Tehillim 77:11): “On account of my sickness the Most High One’s right hand has changed over.” The same Divine right hand has changing effects, depending what spiritual condition a person is in.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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