Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Tues. Aug. 21st)

For a refuah shleimi for Yoseph ben Rivka Rachel Yuta, young man who is due to be married in a couple of weeks who suddenly and inexplicably became terribly ill.

He's out of intensive care now, boruch Hashem, but he still needs our tephillos.

CHAPTER FOUR (Continued):

Certainly the intent of his statement is not that the punishment should be equal for both. As is known, G-d repays actions in kind, measure for measure. But the point is that actions are weighed, and the trivial ones are weighed just as are the more serious. For the more serious actions themselves will not have the trivial become forgotten any more than the Judge will hide His eyes from all of them in general, or from the more serious in particular. He will oversee and observe them all equally and at once, judging and appropriately punishing each one. This is what King Solomon was referring to when he said "G-d will bring every action before Him in judgment..." (Ecclesiastes 12:14). For just as G-d does not leave unrewarded any righteous act, no matter how small, so does He not leave unjudged or unrebuked any sinful act, no matter how small. This disproves the statements of those fools who would say that G-d neither considers nor pays heed to the more trivial things in His judgments.

The principle is: "Whoever says the Holy One (blessed be He) overlooks things will be overlooked by Him" (Baba Kammah 50a). Our sages have also said, "If your yetzer hara tells you to sin and assures you that G-d will forgive you-- don't listen to it" (Chagiga 16a).

All this is clear and obvious, as G-d is the G-d of truth. This is what Moses our Master was referring to when he said, "The actions of the Rock are complete; all His ways are just. He is a trustworthy G-d, without wrong..." (Deuteronomy 32:4). G-d desires justice. Would He conceivably bypass justice by overlooking blame more than merit? Therefore, if He desires justice, He must reckon with each person according to his actions and as befitting his actions, in a most exacting way, whether good or bad. That is to say, when the verse says that "He is a trustworthy G-d, without wrong; He is righteous and just" that means (as our sages say) that this refers to His actions towards both the righteous and the evil. Such is His way: He judges all, and punishes for each sin, and that is that.

You might ask, "If this is so, where does His attribute of compassion come in if He must judge all things so exactingly?" The answer to that is His compassion is the very thing that keeps up the world. Without it, the world could not at all exist. Yet, His attribute of judgment is not to be denied. According to the strict letter of the law, the sinner should be punished immediately, without any delay at all, upon the performance of a sin, and the punishment itself should be meted out with great anger, as we would expect in the case of one who rebels against the word of the Creator. There would seem to be no way of undoing this sin as, in truth, how can one rectify what has been ruined by the committing of a sin? If one would for example murder someone or commit adultery against someone, how in fact could these deeds be rectified? Can one undo what has already been done?

But in truth the Divine attribute of compassion obviates these points. It is what gives time to the sinner and disallows for his being immediately done away with upon sinning, or for the punishment to lead to utter destruction. As a great kindness, it allows for repentance for the sinner so that the uprooting of the will to do is equivalent to uprooting the act itself. That is, by the very fact that the penitent recognizes his sin, acknowledges it, reflects upon his bad actions, repents, regrets of it as much as he would regret a vow made inadvertently, sincerely wishes he had never done that thing, is terribly pained in his heart that he had ever done such a thing, decides to abandon it, and runs away from it-- such an uprooting of the thing from his will is likened to the rescinding of a vow and he is forgiven. This is what the verse is referring to when it says, "Your transgression will be turned around and you will be forgiven of your sins" (Isaiah 6:7). That is, your transgressions will be retroactively turned around and uprooted from existence by your pain and regret for what has happened. This is certainly a great kindness, and not an aspect of strict judgment. But it is an aspect of kindness that does not utterly deny judgment. It leaves something over. That is, now there is regret and woe instead of the will to commit the sin, or the pleasure derived from it. And the extension of time is not a pardoning of the sin but rather an "endurance" on G-d's part so as to open doors of reparation.

Such is the way of all Divine kindnesses. As our sages said, "The son acquits the father" (Sanhedrin 104a), and "Part of a soul is equivalent to the entire soul" (Kohelet Rabbah 7:27), meaning that it is the way of Divine goodness to receive the smaller as it does the greater. But this does not in fact contradict or disprove the attribute of judgment. We have reason enough to recognize its importance. But an unconditional pardoning or overlooking of sins is contrary to the notion of Divine judgment, for if there were no honest sense of law and justice it could not be found at all. But if one of the means of "escape" mentioned is not used by the sinner, judgment will certainly not return empty-handed. As our sages have said, "He withholds His anger but takes what is His" (Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 2:1).

We conclude that one who wants to open his eyes has no real excuse for not practicing self-mastery as much as possible, as exactingly as possible. The wise will certainly acquire the trait of caution if he tends to himself by these means.


There are three things that cause the loss of and the resistance to this character trait: attendance to and over involvement in the things of this world, levity and mockery, and bad companionship. Let us approach each one separately.

We have already spoken about the attendance to and over involvement in the things of this world: how your thoughts become bound by the fetters of the weight you place upon these things making it then impossible to reflect upon your actions. When our sages noted this they said, "Reduce your concern with this world-- concern yourself with Torah" (Pirke Avot 4:12). You must necessarily concern yourself with the matters of this world to earn your living, but over-concern-- to the point where it looms so large it leaves no room for Divine service-- is not necessary. That is why we were commanded to set aside specific time for learning Torah. This is especially crucial, we have already pointed out, to one trying to obtain the trait of caution. As Rabbi Pinchas has said, "Torah brings you to caution". For without it you could never at all obtain caution.

Our sages were referring to this when they said, "A person without Torah-knowledge cannot be a saint" (Pirke Avot 2:6). This is so because when G-d created the yetzer harah He created the Torah to temper it, as it is said: "I created the yetzer harah and I created Torah as a seasoning to it" (Kiddushin 30b).

© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman