Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Va'aira 5775, January 2015, Mercy

Last week I started by discussing Socrates and his inquiries, how they led to Plato and Aristotle's philosophical work which parallels much of what they could have learned simply from Avraham, what Avraham was able to discover on his own by thought exercises which led him to G-d, while the same inquiries led the Greeks far astray.

One of the greatest questions the Greeks simply could not answer was how and why bad things should happen, and particularly why they should seem to happen indiscriminately rather than falling on the shoulders of the evil as it seemed should logically happen if there were justice on Earth, whether through natural intrinsic causes or those from a greater outside power. Socrates could not make sense of this.  It's fair to allow that this is a common problem, though, this misunderstanding of eternal justice, for we see at the beginning of this week's parsha that the problem befalls Moshe Rabbeinu himself.

Once Moshe returned to Egypt and with Aharon approached Pharaoh to demand the B'nai Yisroel's release, Pharaoh responded by increasing the slaves' workload. Shmos Rabba says Moshe accused G-d of deceiving him or dealing unfairly with the people. G-d responded by pointing out that Moshe, while he would prove to be the gentlest and greatest leader the people could have, complained in a way that the forefathers never had done; moreover, H- declared explicitly, according to the same source, that while it might seem unjust, nevertheless it was done out of divine mercy, no matter that even a man such as Moshe could not understand how this was merciful.

Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch, commonly known as the Maggid of Mezeritch, lived at the time of the harshest conscription of Jewish boys into the czarist army. Most of the boys died of hunger and cold during their service; those who did not die were lost forever to the Jewish people after 10 or more years of being forced to forego all Jewish practice from tzitzis to kashrus to Shabbos. When R' Dov Ber was dying, he promised Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk to plead directly before G-d's throne if needed to implore for heavenly mercy from this horrid decree afflicting all the Jewish families and communities within czarist Russia. Not long after, R' Dov Ber did pass away; time passed though, and no change occurred to protect the boys or prevent their conscription. At last R' Dov Ber appeared to R' Elimelech in a dream, and he explained.  Now that he was in Olam Haba, said the Maggid, he could see how merciful and beneficial was the decree for all of the Jews of the land. He had no way he could explain this to R' Elimelech, for it was simply beyond human temporal understanding in this world; all the same, he could not pray to have the decree lifted for it is forbidden to pray for bad, and the Heavenly decree that Jewish boys be kidnapped into the czar's army was truly good when seen from Above.

Moshe learned this lesson directly from G-d's words as I said above. This is in fact why he was ultimately the most perfectly suited man to confront Pharaoh about the impending plagues; he was the only man on Earth to most truly come close to understanding the nature of Divine mercy. He was the man who could most convey to Pharaoh G-d's love and desire that the king and all of his people perform teshuva and return to H-m, for Moshe understood the depth of G-d's love and how much even the decrees that seem punitive are in truth performed out of that love and mercy. In addition, it gave him the ability to plead with Pharaoh as no one else could, having himself performed teshuva. Pharaoh never would have the right to complain that the options before him were not clearly presented or fully discussed; not one other man could have made things any plainer to him than Moshe Rabbeinu.


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