“The Rock! — His deeds are perfect, yea, all His ways are just; A faithful G-d, never false, true and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
In the portion of Ekev we explained how, according to Chazal, reward and punishment are not in this world, and how they postponed the reward to the World to Come. In this portion we will explain the ways of G-d when he sits in judgement, and what Chazal say about this.
In Tractate Rosh Hashanah 16b: “Rabbi Krospadai said in the name of Rabbi Johanan, ‘three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah–one of absolute evil-doers, one of absolute righteous people, and one of people who are neither here nor there. The completely righteous are immediately written down and sealed for life in the coming year, the completely evil are immediately written down and sealed for death in the coming year, the ones neither here nor there wait undecided from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.”
The Tosfot, sixth reference, asks: “But sometimes the righteous are judged to death and the complete evil to life.” And they explained that this Gemara speaks of “the life of the World to Come.”
The Tosfot asked from within a reality in which completely righteous people die (sometimes even immediately) and we see the deeds of evil people and their longevity. And their excuse is very strange, for if we are discussing the World to Come, why does G-d bother to reopen his books each and every year? Eternal life is only after a man dies, and it is obvious he should only be judged after his death. And more–the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah 16a says, “The world is judged at four junctures. On Passover for produce.” Abaye says that one who sows wheat and buckwheat before Passover and sees that the grain is growing well should hurry and plant barley as well, for this is a clear sign that he was judged favorably on the last Passover.
It is clear that when speaking of produce we speak of this world, and therefore we will ask the Tosfot’s question, for we see that the crops of absolute evildoers and the absolutely righteous succeed or fail in equal measure. And as the Gemara says in Tractate Avodah Zara 54b, “If one steals a se’ah of wheat and plants it in the ground, the law should be that it should not grow — but nature goes on as it always has.” It is clear that nature does not distinguish between the righteous and the evil, just as the sun shines on righteous and evildoer alike.
This is also the opinion of the Maharal in Gevurot Hashem chapter 61, in explaining the Gemara in Shabbat 118b, “One who recites the Hallel each day is like one who aggravates and reviles the Heavens…but this is because the world goes on as it always has, and therefore the holy One, blessed be He, does not remove idolatry from the world….One who recites the Hallel every day seems to say that the holy One, blessed be He, always leads the world in miraculous ways, so then why do the righteous have troubles and the evil find good and why does He not remove idolatry from the world? One might come to believe that it is not in His power, G-d forbid, and that is aggravation and revilement.” That is the opinion of the Maharal of Prague, that one who thinks G-d manages the world through miracles is one who aggravates and reviles, but His leadership is through the normal ways of the world.
Thus it is said in “Otzar HaMidrashim,”, page 319: “Is it not written in your Torah that all His ways are just? But how is it possbile that His ways are just and righteous? We see with our own eyes that He harms those who have not sinned, such as those people who are born disabled, blind, deaf, mute. They have done nothing wrong. Rabbi Joshua said: those who are harmed are the best, and they are harmed to increase their reward in the World to Come.”
Similarly, it is said in Midrash Tehilim, Psalm 92: “They said to Moses, ‘who caused you to not enter the Land of Israel?’ He said to them, ‘I caused it.’ They said to him, ‘And it was not the holy One, blessed be He who did this to you?’ He said to them, ‘G-d forbid; even if you see that G-d justifies the evildoer and brings evil to the righteous, ‘The Rock! — His deeds are perfect, yea, all His ways are just; A faithful G-d, never false’.”
Certainly all these matters were not received by our rabbis as tradition, but all was deduced from the verses, as we quoted Maimonides on the portion of Ki Tavo: “The sages, too, have no tradition about these things; what they said is based only on the verses.”
Proof of this comes from the Gemara, Rosh Hashanah 16a: “R’ Yossi says: a man is judged every day, as it is said, ‘And remember us in the mornings.’ Rabbi Nathan says: a man is judged each hour, as it is said, ‘At the moments you will be tested.'” See other opinions in the Gemara there and disagreements about when the holy One, blessed be He, judges us and our produce, which shows you that even Chazal did not have a tradition, for they were divided, and they deduced it all from the verses.
Now let us see how the whole issue of a judgement decree on Rosh Hashanah has no meaning at all. The Gemara in Tractate Avodah Zara 17a: “They said about R’ Eliezer ben Dordia that there was no whore in the world he had not been with. Once he heard of a whore far away…he filled his pockets with money and journeyed far…[and then he decided to repent.] He said, ‘The matter is in my hands alone.’ He rested his head between his legs and wearied himself with crying until he died. A Heavenly Voice issued to say, ‘Rabbi Eliezer ben Dordia is invited to the life of the World to Come’…Rabbi cried and said: ‘There are those who buy their world over many years, and those who buy their worlds in an instant.'” Repentance nullifies all the yearly judgements. If so, what is the whole issue of writing and sealing the judgement? They are not final and are not absolute at all.
And also see how Chazal feel their way through the dark about the matter of Divine supervision–Baba Kama 50a: “There was an incident when the daughter of Nechunia the well digger fell into a deep hole. They came and told Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa and he said, ‘She will be well.’ They asked him, ‘Are you a prophet?’ He told them, ‘I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I have said: something a righteous man is sorry for, will his children fail in that?’ R’ Acha said, ‘Even so, his son died of thirst, as it is said, ‘And around Him a great storm raged’ — this comes to teach that G-d is extremely stern with those who are close to Him.” If they had asked R’ Chanina before his son died of thirst he would have erred and said, “He will be well.”
Another proof that Chazal said their words based on their own opinion is in Tractate Shabbat 55a: “Rabbi Ami said there is no death without sin and no suffering without transgression.” The Gemara questions his words, concluding on 55b: “It follows that there is death without sin and suffering without transgression, and the challenge to Rav Ami’s remains unanswered.” So in a matter as important as “a righteous person for whom it goes badly” the Gemara uses negotiation to come to a conclusion which differs from Rabbi Ami’s opinion.
Come see how far this goes. The Gemara in Tractate Berachot 46b, “This is the blessing Mar Zutra made when one of his relatives died: ‘Who is good and does good, a true G-d, a true Judge, Who judges in justice and takes in His judgment’.” And Tosfot, in the third reference, wrote: “The author of theHalachot Gedolot explained that one should not say ‘in judgement’…for there is judgment without sin and suffering without transgression.” According to the author of the Halachot Gedolot, as opposed to what the Gemara rules, one should not say “and takes in judgement” when people die, for the holy One, blessed be He, kills people even without making a judgment.
Maimonides, in “A Guide for the Perplexed,” part three, chapter 17, explicitly wrote that matters of Divine supervision over the world are known to us from the Scriptures and common sense alone, and that he had no tradition about such things: “Yet this issue — giving recompense to animals who cannot speak — was not found at all in our faith in earlier times and the Sages of the Talmud did not mention it at all, but some of the later Geonim OBM, when they heard it from the philosophers of the Mu’tazilah school, accepted it as it seemed to them logical…But I do not accept it into the faith…I do believe that there is Divine supervision in this our material world…for people alone…but concerning the other living creatures and the plants I accept Aristotle’s view, and I do not believe that a leaf falls under Divine supervision.” According to the Geonim Divine supervision includes animals, and this they received from gentile sages and not from Chazal. Maimonides disagrees with them, but he also has no tradition and speaks of his own opinion alone.
In the portion of Ki Tavo we wrote that even the punishments written in the Torah for those who go against His will were nullified by the prophets, and here, too, we will bring the testimony of Jeremiah in his book of Lamentations 2:17, “The Lord has done what He purposed, has carried out the decree that He ordained long ago.” Chazal explained this in Vayikra Rabbah parasha six: “Rabbi Ahava the son of Ze’ira said: it is written, ‘The Lord has done what He purposed’ — as it is written in His Torah, ‘And if, for all that, you do not obey Me, I will go on to discipline you sevenfold’ (Leviticus 26:18). But had He indeed done this, Heaven forbid? No, for the verse says, ‘He carried out the decree.’ What does this mean? He made a compromise. R’ Jacob of Kfar Henin said: He tore His unique garment.”
So you see that the Holy One, blessed be He, really does not do as He threatens; He tears His words to bits and does not fulfill them.
What arises from our words is that we do not know or understand the ways of G-d at all. As it is written in the Petichat Eliyahu HaNavi (found in Sephardi prayer books), “Master of the World, You are unique and not to be measured, You are most high, most closed, there is no knowing Your thoughts.” The G-d portrayed here is one who has no body and no physical image, no time and no place, who creates His own reality and whose thoughts are not as our thoughts.
Our opinion on these matters is that one who believes in this sort of G-d, as soon as he understands that he cannot understand neither the Creator, nor the world that He created, nor for what reason it was created, no longer contemplates the Creator, for in any case he has no way to grasp Him. But such a believer tries to pave his way in the world according to his own reason — for he has no other reason. And this is so for every man, a sort of “He placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15), that is: The world is before you; according to your ability and reason make sure it is not destroyed. Thus we find different interpretations by Chazal of the ways of His supervision: not that what is said is indeed the Lord’s way, for no one can understand that, but all that is said is based solely on the opinion of the one who says it, for that he considered the appropriate way to behave. Therefore we explain throughout all that we write, in various places, that it is all a human creation, and every man must choose for himself the human creation which seems to him to suit, and thus he will fulfill what is written, “He placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” As the Ketzot HaChoshen wrote in his introduction: “If all had been written by G-d’s hand, what could the human mind understand of the Divine Torah?” So if we can understand any set of instructions, it is evidence that these instructions are a human creation, written by people for people.
Words of True Knowledge.