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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shy Guy (Part 5: Philosophy)

In this post, we examine some points from the interesting story of Dovid Ha'Melech and the Givonim. We use the gemara in yevamos 78b-79a and the Radak on Shmuel II 21:1 as our sources.

The gemara explains that Dovid asked Hashem why there was a famine. Hashem responded because (a) Shaul was never properly eulogized and (b) because Shaul killed the Givonim. The gemara asks that this seems to be both defending and condemning Shaul at the same time. The gemara explains, based upon a verse in Tzifania, that Hashem's punishment is often found together with His reward.

We can derive the following idea. Man's idea of justice is usually very simplistic - reward the good guy and punish the bad guy. (Perhaps, Shaul did not fit into their image of the storybook tzaddik, the good guy, and they therefore never properly eulogized him.) Hashem's justice is much deeper than this. It is not based upon a simple label of good guy and bad guy, but upon reward for good actions and character traits, and punishment for bad actions and character traits. Therefore, Shaul deserved both reward and punishment. He had sins that had to be punished and corrected, but at the same time had great characteristics which deserved a proper eulogy. Through this famine, Hashem brought both of these oversights to the nation's attention.

The gemara then asks the question which stands out to any reader of this story. How can Shaul's offspring be punished for Shaul's sin? The verse in Devarim 24:16 says "A father shall not be put to death for (the sin of) his son, and a son shall not be put to death for (the sin of) his father. Rather, a man dies for his own sin."  The gemara answers "better to uproot one letter from the Torah and not to desecrate Hashem's name in public."

In a similar line of reasoning, the gemara asks about the fact that the executed offspring of Shaul were not immediately buried, but were left out for people to see. But the Torah prohibits leaving a corpse unburied overnight? The gemara answers "better to uproot one letter from the Torah and to sanctify Hashem's name." The gemara explains that people would see the corpses and appreciate the Torah's unbelievable commitment to justice exhibited by punishing royalty for an offense to lowly converts. In fact, the gemara says that 150,000 people converted based upon this spectacle.

This gemara is very troublesome. How can we compromise on justice and on human dignity for the sake of preventing a chillul Hashem and making a kidush Hashem? How can we just push aside "one letter" in the Torah? Additionally, isn't punishing an innocent son for the sin of his father also a chillul Hashem?

Based upon the Radak we explain as follows. There is a seemingly contradictory verse (Shemos 34:7) regarding Hashem's justice, "He exacts for the sin of fathers on their sons..." Chazal explain that this verse is only when the children hold on to their father's bad path. Thus, we must conclude that Shaul's offspring identified with Shaul's sin and never dissociated themselves from it. They were therefore subject to his punishment, based upon this verse. If so, why does the gemara says we are "pushing aside one letter of the Torah"?

Ordinarily, such justice is reserved for Hashem to "evaluate" and mete out - it is mentioned in Hashem's 13 "attributes". Human judges are enjoined with the other principle of justice - "a father shall not be killed for his son...a man is killed for his own sin" - which is possible for man to evaluate. However, in this case Hashem instructed David to carry out the Divine justice on the offspring of Shaul in order to prevent the chillul Hashem which would result from Shaul's sin going uncorrected and unavenged. The one letter of the Torah being pushed aside refers to the hora'as sha'ah (temporary halachic ruling) conveyed by Hashem to David to bypass the ordinary halachic principle for the sake of the greater objective of the Torah, kidush Hashem.

We explain the unburied corpses in a similar manner. The prohibition against leaving a corpse unburied is because it is a chillul Hashem, as man is made "in God's form" (see Devarim 21:23 with Rashi). In this instance, the kidush Hashem of exhibiting the utmost degree of absolute justice, irrespective of social status, outweighed the chillul involved in not burying Shaul's offspring. In general, man cannot make such determinations, as he is bound by the Torah's prohibition against leaving a corpse unburied. However, since the famine did not stop after they were killed, David interpreted it as Divine message that the sin had not been fully corrected and therefore he gave a hora'as sha'ah to allow them to not be buried - "better to push aside one letter in the Torah and to cause a kidush Hashem." The kidush Hashem that resulted from demonstrating the extent and unbiased nature of Divine justice, as well as the extent of the Torah's sensitivity to a convert, is what caused 150,000 nonjews to convert.

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