Shabbos Parashas Vayiggash

This week’s parashah describes Yosef and his brothers making peace with each other. This prompts the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 95:1 to expound on the end of days, where peace and wholeness will prevail. In last year’s d’var Torah we presented the first half of the Maggid’s commentary on this Midrash. We now present the second half.
The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 95:1, building on Yeshayah 11:6-9 and 65:25, teaches that in the end of days Hashem will heal the wild animals of their violent nature. The Midrash concludes:
All will be healed, but the one who brought a plague on all the rest of them will not be healed. Rather (concluding in Yeshayah 65:25), “a serpent’s food will be dirt.” [That is, the curse that Hashem cast upon the serpent, “dust shall you eat all the days of your life” (Bereishis 3:14) will remain in force.] Why? Because it brought the other creatures down to the dirt.
The Maggid analyzes why the serpent will not be healed. His starting point is the following teaching (Taanis 8a):
In the end of days, all the animals will gather together and come to the serpent and say: “The lion pounces and eats, the wolf kills and eats, but what benefit do you gain through your attacks?”
To bring out the idea behind this teaching, the Maggid expounds on the episode of Adam and Chavah’s eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. After Adam eats from the fruit, Hashem approaches him, and the following discussion ensues (Bereishis 3:9-13):
And Hashem God called to the man and said to him: “Where are you?” And he said: “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And He said: “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” And the man said: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” And Hashem God said to the woman: “What is this that you have done?” And the woman said: “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.” And Hashem God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, accursed are you ….”
The Midrash remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 20:2): “With Adam Hashem entered into a discussion, and with Chavah He entered into a discussion, but with the serpent He did not enter into a discussion.”
The Maggid asks what purpose Hashem had in entering into a discussion with Adam and Chavah. He answers that Hashem wanted to explore what intent they had in eating from the tree. In regard to mitzvos, the observance is at the highest level when it is done purely for the sake of giving Hashem satisfaction, without desire for reward. Similarly, in regard to sins, the offense is at the worst level, and hence most difficult to correct, when it is done with intent to rebel against Hashem. Regarding rebels, it is written (Yeshayah 66:24): “They [all mankind] will go out and see the corpses of the men who rebelled against Me, for their worm will not cease and their fire will not be extinguished, and they will lie in disgrace before all mankind.” A person who sins only in order to satisfy an urge for some pleasure is treated more leniently, to the degree Hashem deems appropriate, and Hashem will not sentence him to utter destruction.
It is written (ibid. 1:28): “Destruction awaits the rebellious sinners (פשעים) and the transgressors (חטאים) together, and those who forsake Hashem will perish.” The Maggid remarks that this statement calls for examination, for it is farfetched to say that those who transgress inadvertently or out of negligence or weakness in the face of temptation will be treated the same as rebellious sinners. He suggests the following explanation. The Hebrew term חטא is associated with lack and damage, as in Mishlei 8:36: “One who sins against Me despoils his soul.” A sin has two potential negative features: damage to the person’s soul and a show of some degree of rebellion against Hashem. The first negative feature is חטא and the second is פשע. When a person sins in order to satisfy an urge, the main feature of his act is חטא, with violation of Hashem’s command being just an incidental result of doing what it takes to satisfy the urge. By contrast, when a person sins in order to anger Hashem, חטא and פשע come together hand in hand on an equal footing. And because of the rebellious intent, the person is destined for destruction. We can thus render the verse in Yeshayah as follows: “Destruction awaits those who commit acts that are both rebellious sins and blows to their souls.”
In the process of subjecting Sodom and Gemorrah to judgment, Hashem said (Bereishis 18:12): “I will go down now and see: If they have acted according to its outcry that his come up to Me – then destruction! And if not, I will know.” The idea behind this statement, the Maggid says, is as follows.  The Adversarial Angel raised before Hashem an indictment against the people of Sodom and Gemorrah and argued that they were rebelling against Him. Hashem responded by saying that He would go down and examine the intent behind their acts. If it was as reflected by the outcry that was heard in the heavens – that is, if the peoples’ intent was to rebel against Him – then He would mete out to them the punishment befitting those who rebel – destruction. And if not, then not.
The Maggid returns now to the episode of Adam and Chavah. Hashem asked Adam: “Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” He was asking him whether the reason he ate from the tree was because He had forbidden it and he wished to rebel against Him by acting contrary to His command. If this were the case, there would be no hope for him. Adam replied by saying: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” He was telling Hashem that his eating from the tree was not motivated by a wish to anger Him. Afterward, Hashem turned to Chavah and asked: “What is this that you have done?” Again, Hashem was asking whether the violation of His command was motivated by a wish to rebel. Chavah responded by saying that she did not wish to rebel, but the serpent had beguiled her. But the serpent’s intent in urging Chavah to eat from the tree was to anger Hashem. Both the intent behind the act and the act itself constituted a rebellion against Hashem. Hence Hashem told the serpent: “Because you have done this, accursed are you ….” The Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 20:4 explains that Hashem was telling the serpent that He knew that what he had done was solely on account of “this” – which the Maggid understands to refer to an intent to rebel against Hashem. Accordingly, Hashem subjected the serpent to a curse. In this vein, the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 20:1 states: “It is written (Tehillim 40:12): ‘A slanderer will not be firmly settled upon the earth’ – this statement alludes to the serpent, who slandered his Creator.”
We can now appreciate well the chastisement that the Gemara in Taanis says the animals will cast at the serpent in the end of days: “The lion pounces and eats, the wolf kills and eats, but what benefit do you gain through your attacks?” Other animals attack, but solely to satisfy their urge to eat, with no evil intent. But the serpent’s attacks are motivated by a wish to cause harm simply for sake of causing harm, even when no benefit is gained.  We see this from the fact that the serpent’s food is dirt. It gains no pleasure from eating; even when it eats meat, the food has the taste of dirt. Thus, there will be no cure for the serpent in the end of days when all the other animals are cured of their violent nature. Hashem will arrange alternate food for the animals; for example, as Yeshayah 65:25 states, the lion, like the cattle, will eat straw. And the serpent will continue as before, eating dirt. As the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 95:1 states, the serpent will have no cure because it brought the other creatures down to the earth, out of sheer malice.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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