Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why send back the betrothed man, if all is preordained?

In parshat Shofetim, in Devarim 20, the officers gave several people reason to return from the battlefield. Among them:
ז וּמִי-הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-אֵרַשׂ אִשָּׁה, וְלֹא לְקָחָהּ--יֵלֵךְ, וְיָשֹׁב לְבֵיתוֹ: פֶּן-יָמוּת, בַּמִּלְחָמָה, וְאִישׁ אַחֵר, יִקָּחֶנָּה.7 And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.'
Rashi writes on this:
lest he die in the war: He should return lest he die, for if he does not obey the kohen , he deserves to die. — [Sifrei] פן ימות במלחמה: ישוב פן ימות, שאם לא ישמע לדברי הכהן כדאי הוא שימות:

The Sifrei indeed says something very similar:
אם אינו שומע לדברי כהן סוף שהוא מת במלחמה
which seems to suggest that it is a likelihood, and because of his actions of not returning. Thus, effectively, what Rashi said.

There is a slight difficulty in getting this to fit with what Rashi says on the next pasuk:
ח וְיָסְפוּ הַשֹּׁטְרִים, לְדַבֵּר אֶל-הָעָם, וְאָמְרוּ מִי-הָאִישׁ הַיָּרֵא וְרַךְ הַלֵּבָב, יֵלֵךְ וְיָשֹׁב לְבֵיתוֹ; וְלֹא יִמַּס אֶת-לְבַב אֶחָיו, כִּלְבָבוֹ.8 And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say: 'What man is there that is fearful and faint-hearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart melt as his heart.'
Rashi writes, citing the gemara in Sotah:
[What man is there] who is fearful and fainthearted: Rabbi Akiva says: [This verse is to be understood] according to its apparent meaning, that he cannot stand in the closed ranks of battle and look upon a drawn sword. Rabbi Jose the Galilean says that [it means] one who is afraid of his sins [that they will cause him to fall in war, as he is unworthy], and therefore, the Torah gives him the excuse of attributing his return home because of a house, a vineyard, or a wife, to cover up for those who return because of their sins, so that people should not understand that they are sinners. [Consequently,] one who sees this person returning would say,“Perhaps he has built a house, or planted a vineyard, or betrothed a woman.” - [Sotah 44a] הירא ורך הלבב: רבי עקיבא אומר כמשמעו, שאינו יכול לעמוד בקשרי המלחמה ולראות חרב שלופה. רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר הירא מעבירות שבידו, ולכך תלתה לו תורה לחזור על בית וכרם ואשה לכסות על החוזרים בשביל עבירות שבידם, שלא יבינו שהם בעלי עבירה, והרואהו חוזר אומר שמא בנה בית או נטע כרם או ארש אשה:

According to Rabbi Akiva, this is a practical consideration. He is afraid of things physical. According to Rabbi Yossi HaGelili, it seems that no one else would really die, because one will only die if he has earned it through sin. And in the gemara we learn of various minor sins which would send one back from the battle-field, one of which is talking between the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh. The other people are not in any danger, but are given this exemption in order to provide cover to those who actually sinned. People willl simply think they are of these other categories.

I would point out that the Sifrei is certainly aware of this dispute. If we look at it inside, it brings down the machloket and appears to side with Rabbi Yossi Haglili, that it is because of fear of sin.

Mizrachi now explains these two Rashis, and why Rashi is compelled to say that they earned this death by refusing to listen to the kohen:
He cites Rabbi Yossi Haglili that the purpose of the other exemptions is to provide cover. He explains that Rabbi Yossi Haglili maintains that since there is no death without sin, he does not need to fear lest he die, unless he is a sinner. Therefore, he exlpains the one who fears and is faint of heart as of the sins in his hand. But the other ones, the one who built a house, planted a vineyard, or betrothed a woman are not returning because they fear lest they die, for behold they are not sinners. Because if they were sinners, they do not need this separate instruction, but are included in the fearful and soft of heart. Rather, the Torah creates these reasons to cover up for him. For if it only decreed that sinners return, alone, all would know that anyone returning is only doing so because ofthe sins. Now that it decreed also on these three, they will think about those who return that they are of the three. And when it says "lest his brother's heart melt as his," this is because he is fearful lest he is killed, for they don't know that he is fearful because he is a sinner

and that perhaps his sins will cause him to be taken. But they, who are not sinners, do not have to worry, for there is no death without sin -- but they will think that he is like those without sin, and even so he is afraid, and they will also fear death.

And in the previous pesukim, about those three, "lest he die in battle" -- for if he does not listen to the words of the kohen, it is befitting that he die. To explain: It should not be difficult in your eyes, that if the Torah only decreed that these folk return in order to provide cover to those sinner who returned, why should Scriptures, by these three, say "lest he die". Isn't it the case they they are only returning to provide cover, and not because of the possibility that they might die? For there isn't death without sin. The answe in this is that this "lest they die" is going on the yelech veyashuv, that they should go return {rather than the possibility of loss they will cause}. That is to say that if they do not listen to the words of the kohen to go return, and say instead that since there are no sins in my hands, I do not wish to listen to the words of the kohen to go return, that sin alone {of not listening} is fitting that he die because of it, even though he has no other sin.

And now, it works out well that the Torah returns and explains the earlier "lest he die", after it explains the later fearful and soft-hearted. And so do they learn in the Sifrei, in each of the three places that it states "lest he die in battle," that it is if he does not listen to the words of the kohen, in the end he will die in battle.
Siftei Chachamim explains basically the same idea, that Rashi is explaining this all according to the position of Rabbi Yossi Haglili, that there is no death without sin, and that is why his not returning, to cover up on behalf of the sinners, is a sin in and of itself.

Now, this is one possible explanation of Rashi, and of the Sifrei. As much as it makes sense -- and it does -- we should keep in mind that this is the explanation offered by these supercommentators, and there might be other explanations of why Rashi chooses to bring these midrashim from the Sifrei. For example, perhaps he is even intending the "Pen Yamus" even according to Rabbi Akiva. And there might be reasons for Rabbi Yossi Haglili besides that there is no death without sin.

But here might be a good place to step back and consider what is being said, and what the theological implications are. According to the simple peshat, all these three people are being sent back for practical reasons. They have a lot to lose, and it would be a greater tragedy if they die in battle. And there is indeed the chance that they will do so. The one who is fearful and faint-hearted might flee, and turn the tide of battle by melting his fellow soldiers' hearts, and cause the battle, and perhaps other lives, to be lost. This all operates al derech hateva -- and this appears to be Rabbi Akiva's view.

How is this possible? Isn't it the case that each person is given his apportioned lifespan? Isn't everything preordained? Isn't it the case that every leaf that falls is under Hashem's direct control? If someone does not merit death, even because of some minor sin, then how can he die? What Divine Justice is there in this? Unless this is random chance, and not under Hashem's control. This view does not seem very frum, but we will grapple with it later.

Rabbi Yossi Haglili's view, as we are understanding it, is that the fearful one is fearful of his own sins. This brings Divine Justice, and sechar veOnesh, back into the picture. It is not random; it is not mikreh. A person will only die in war if he has some sin which will cause it.

But this is strange, once again. Will he die only in battle but not at home? If all is preordained, he would meet his end in either place. If these sins are ones for which one should merit death, is Hashem not able to direct events such that he would die wherever he is? What is going on here?

I think we can explain this by appealing to the Mishna, and gemara, in Shabbos 30a:


And why specifically at the time of childbirth?
Rava said: When the ox is fallen, sharpen the knife. {that is, when they enter into a situation of danger, they are judged}

[And men {as opposed to women}, when are they inspected?
Rava {our girsa: Resh Lakish} said: At the time that they pass over a bridge.
Over a bridge, and other instances no?
Rather, that which is similar to a bridge.

Rabbi Yochanan said: A man should never walk into a place of danger and say that a miracle will be performed for him, lest a miracle is not performed for him, and if a miracle is performed for him, it detract from his merits.

And Rabbi Yochanan said: What is the Scripture {that showed this detracting of merit}?
{When Yaakov is about to face Esav and prays to Hashem, in Bereishit 32:11:}

יא קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים, וּמִכָּל-הָאֱמֶת, אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ, אֶת-עַבְדֶּךָ: כִּי בְמַקְלִי, עָבַרְתִּי אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן הַזֶּה, וְעַתָּה הָיִיתִי, לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת.11 I am not worthy of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shown unto Thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two camps.
{which hyper-literally, and thus midrashically, may be taken to mean "I have been lessened from all of the mercies."}
Focusing on the ideas in the Mishna and in Rava's words, it seems that there are sins in general, but one is not always punished with death for them. Rather, when one enters a makom sakana, a place of danger, some evaluation / judgement is done, and this punishment might come about. Thus, when engaging in battle, according to Rabbi Yossi Haglili, he would only die because of his sins, but he can (and should) avoid this by avoiding the battle. And for the three who have exemptions, by ignoring the kohen, they accrue this sin, and so may also merit to be killed in battle.

I think the idea presented by Rabbi Yochanan can be understood somewhat differently. This is not a matter of being judged for sins, and the death is not for those sins. Rather, there is a derech hateva of people getting killed in battle. Because it is a dangerous place. And for Hashem to change the workings of the world just for you, to modify derech hateva, is not necessarily something Hashem is willing to do. And if He does do it, it takes away from your zechuyot.

This approach puts more stock in the idea of the operation of derech hateva; and it is then not like Rava, that it is specific punishment for your sins that were existing, but you awakened the Satan to complain about you; but rather that this is the natural workings of the world, and not sechar veOnesh from Hashem, unless of course Hashem takes heroic measured to bend the laws of nature to provide you will miraculous salvation -- something not everyone merits.

Which brings us to the next explanation of this pasuk, by Ibn Ezra. Ibn Ezra writes:
ארס אשה ולא לקחה -- בנשואין
והנה זה הכתוב לאות כי יש מי שמת בבא יומי, רק
המת במלחמה מת בלא יומו , על כן
אמר דוד או במלחמה ירד ונספה
Firstly, that aras isha means betrothal which lekacha refers to the marriage, which was not done. And secondly, that this verse is a sign that there is one who died when his {appointed} day comes, but one who dies in battle dies not during his {appointed} day. Therefore, David said {in I Shmuel 26:10}:

י וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד חַי-ה', כִּי אִם-ה' יִגֳּפֶנּוּ; אוֹ-יוֹמוֹ יָבוֹא וָמֵת, אוֹ בַמִּלְחָמָה יֵרֵד וְנִסְפָּה.10 And David said: 'As the LORD liveth, nay, but the LORD shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall go down into battle, and be swept away.
This pasuk as well shows that death in battle is at a different time that the end of the lifespan which was katzuv for the person. That is why, when speaking about not slaying Shaul in his sleep, David gives these as differents alternatives, either of his day coming to die, or going down in battle.

And Ibn Ezra appears to consider this an important point, and perhaps a big chiddush. Is it a heretical one? After all, he seems to be saying that dying in battle is not part of the Divine plan, as it is not set by a person's lifespan.

Aharon ben Yosef the Karaite, influenced by Ibn Ezra, cites this pasuk in seder Shmuel and deduces that the death occurs in three different ways. As his supercommentator elaborates, this is that not everything is dependent upon the ratzon Hashem, but certain things happen by chance. And the three ways are: naturally, that he dies at the end of the days established for him when he was born; that Hashem smites him; or random accident, in that he goes down into battle and is swept away.

(One can read this pasuk otherwise, that someone dies in two ways, with a colon after Hashem smiting Shaul, rather than David, in one of those two ways. In which case Hashem is back in the picture.)

If this, that dying in battle is outside Divine providence, is what Ibn Ezra means, it seems to be quasi-heretical. And we will see Avi Ezer, Ibn Ezra's supercommentary, react negatively to this idea. But first, Ramban. Ramban often comments of Ibn Ezra, but he does explicitly criticize Ibn Ezra here. Rather, he does say that in this particular instance, there is special Divine promise that none will be harmed.

ואמר להושיע אתכם -
שהם ינצלו במלחמה ולא יפקד מהם איש, כי יתכן שינצחו את אויביהם וימותו גם מהם רבים כדרך המלחמות. ועל כן צעק יהושע בנפול מהם בעי כשלשים וששה איש (יהושע ז ז - ט), כי במלחמת מצווה שלו לא היה ראוי שיפול משערת ראשם ארצה, כי לה' המלחמה. והנה הכהן שהוא העובד את השם יזהירם ביראתו ויבטיחם, אבל השוטרים ידברו בנוהג שבעולם.

פן ימות במלחמה -
כי בדרך הארץ בכל המלחמות ימותו אנשים גם מכת הנוצחים. וציוה על השלשה האלה לשוב, כי לבו על ביתו וכרמו ועל אשתו וינוס
But that is for the kohen to tell them; the shoterim work al derech hateva, and the nohag shebaOlam. But he also presents a slightly different idea as well -- namely, that he is commanding these three to return because his mind will be on his house, vineyard and wife and will flee. So these are related to the one who is fearful and soft-hearted. Even so, Ramban does seem to agree that in the nohag shebaOlam, even the winners will lose men. For example, it would seem, a milchemet reshut. (Ibn Ezra seems to think this is also referring to milchemet reshut.)

So he does not precisely say the same as Ibn Ezra, and indeed understands that there is some special Divine Providence operating here, but does agree initially with Ibn Ezra, and does not label his views heretical.

In fact, Ramban does assert that certain things are a man's own fault, and not caused by Hashem, in the system of sechar vaOnesh. For example, in Shaar Hagemul, he cites the gemara (in Arachin 16b) that
דתניא דבי רבי ישמעאל כל שעברו עליו ארבעים יום בלא יסורין קיבל עולמו
and explains this that every person naturally has yissurin. For example, if you eat a food that is not right for your nature, you would be impacted by it. And someone who does not receive that is getting all reward in this world.

Later in Shaar Hagemul, Ramban cites Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim at length. He presents the idea that it has entered the heart of the hamon that the evils of the world are greater than the good things. But he explains that most of the evils which befall a person come from their lack of daat and their foolishness. For examples, disputes, wards, or a person harming himself due to overindulgence in food or sexual relations.

For example, he enters himself into war and is shot by arrows. Or he places himself into danger of the wilderness or the sea in order to profit and gain gold and silver. When bad things naturally befalls him, he is shocked at bad luck. Meanwhile, Hashem is not going to innovate a wonder and miracle in the world to help the meshugaim because of their lack of middot.

The idea from Moreh Nevuchim, as well as from Shaar Hagemul, which endorses it, is that there is a natural order, and that this is not punishment from God, or sechar veOnesh. Rather, there is the natural order, and people naturally die in war. And Hashem does not necessarily miraculously intervene. (This is similar to what we developed above in the thought of Rabbi Yochanan.)

Mechokekei Yehuda does not really explain much on this Ibn Ezra.

But Avi Ezer (here and here) is greatly troubled by it. He writes that the words of the Rav {=Ibn Ezra} in his short and long commentary demonstrate his intelligence. For if his days were fixed to die, wherever he is at whatever time, from the angel of death, why does it matter here {in battle} or there {at home}? If so, why shouldn't he go out in the army? Therefore it proves that the time apportioned to him is when he is sitting in his house in tranquility, but this is not so in going out to war. However, all this is to bring back the distant and to push them off {in their questions} with a reed. But we, who believe in the words of our Sages, za"l, that the goings of a person under a shaky wall recalls his sin, and the Satan accuses at the time of danger, the matter is simple. And we do not need proofs such as the above. And you already know the statement of Chazal upon the pasuk כִּי תֵצֵא מַחֲנֶה עַל אֹיְבֶיךָ וְנִשְׁמַרְתָּ מִכֹּל דָּבָר רָע. He concludes referring to a much frummer Ibn Ezra in Mishpatim, I think about verapo yerapeh.

The derasha he referred to was on Devarim 23:10. The pasuk, with Rashi:

10. When a camp goes out against your enemies, you shall beware of everything evil. י. כִּי תֵצֵא מַחֲנֶה עַל אֹיְבֶיךָ וְנִשְׁמַרְתָּ מִכֹּל דָּבָר רָע:
When a camp goes forth [against your enemies], you shall beware: for Satan accuses in time of danger [thus extra care must be taken in time of war, when danger prevails]. — [Yerushalmi Shab. 2:6; Tanchuma, Vayiggash 1] כי תצא וגו' ונשמרת: שהשטן מקטרג בשעת הסכנה:

The Yerushalmi (see here and here, on the Mishna of women dying in childbirth) indeed mentions both war and going out to sea, that the Satan is mekatreg at the time of war.

Avi Ezer is essentially grabbing on to a Rashi-like peshat, that all these people might die because of their sins.

Meanwhile, Rav Shmuel Motot, another supercommentator of Ibn Ezra, attached Ibn Ezra to another maamar Chazal. He is indeed entering into a situation of danger, and hakol biydei shamayim chutz miTzinim ufachim -- all is in the hands of Heaven except for heat and cold. As we see in Ketubot 30a, Avodah Zara 3b, etc. This is founded on a pasuk in Mishlei 22:5:

ה צִנִּים פַּחִים, בְּדֶרֶךְ עִקֵּשׁ; שׁוֹמֵר נַפְשׁוֹ, יִרְחַק מֵהֶם.5 Thorns and snares are in the way of the froward; he that keepeth his soul holdeth himself far from them.
where the gemara states:
Another explanation: Just as the fishes of the sea, as soon as the sun scorches them, die; so man, when struck by the sun, dies. This can be applied to the present world, or to the future world. You can, in accordance with R. Hanina, apply this to the present world, for R. Hanina says: Everything is in Heaven's hands, except cold and heat, as is said, 'colds and heat-boils are in the way of the froward, he that keepeth his soul holdeth himself far from them;
This is presumably how Avi Ezer also understands Ibn Ezra's kiruv vort, though without appeal to this maamar Chazal.

(Perhaps the idea in Mishlei is that even one who is shomer nafsho and thus not a sinner, should distance himself from them, for they do not fall under sechar vaOnesh.)

I'll close by asking how we can say that such can occur? The popular idea, popularized by the Baal Shem Tov, is that not a leaf falls without Hashem so willing it. (And it admittedly has certain bases in statements of Chazal, such as angels instructing a blade of grass to grow.) To argue against this would make one a heretic.

Yet this belief is not necessarily the only possible Jewish belief. Indeed, the sefer hachinuch considers this leaf falling idea to be rachok min hasechel; others don't believe in Hashgacha Pratis at all; but we, baalei hadat haAmitit, believe in Hashgacha Kelalit on the species for baalei chaim, but Hashgacha Pratis for mankind.

The same for Rambam, in perek 17 of Moreh Nevuchim.

The approach of our Torah is that… Divine Providence focuses on the individual only in regard to the human species… With regard to animals and how much more so, with regard to plants… [His] Providence governs the species as a whole, but not its individual components.
The Rambam there gives a list of 5 groups:
  1. Those who deny Hashgacha at all, and everything which happens is chance.

  2. Those who think that some things have hashgacha and others do not, but are chance. This is Aristotle. That it reaches only until the galgal hayareach. Hashgacha is kefi teva hametziut. The hashgacha is setting nature into motion. Those who believe this have went out of our Torah -- those who say Hashem has abandoned the earth.

  3. The third group is the opposite of the second. They believe that there is no derech hateva. Every leaf which falls is directed to do so by God (Allah). This is the opinion of sect of the Ash'aria, from the Yishme'eilim. This was a Mohammedean theological sect. It is also, of course, the Baal Shem Tov's shitta, though he doesn't note this. Rambam's problem with this is that it eliminates free will. Why give us the Torah? It doesn't help, for he has no power to either fulfill it or negate it. And this sect says that this is God's will, to send, command, warn, even though there is no power in our hands. He rejects this.

  4. A variation of the above, that of the Meatzila (Motazilites), man has partial will, but God is has knowledge of everything, including every falling leaf. This is self-contradictory. (It is based on wisdom?)

  5. Our position, that is that of our Torah. Man has complete yecholes. And so too the non-speaking animals. And this is the will of Hashem that it be so. And everything that happens to a person, even a thorn pricking him, is mitzad hadin. ki kol derachav mishpat.

  6. Rambam himself: amount of Hashgacha based on shefa haEloki (Divine overflow?), based on amount he is a baal sechel. If (as per Aristotle) a house falls or ship sinks, in complete accident, the coming of those men in the boat or gathering in the house was not a complete accident, but the judgement of Hashem. But as he writes in the next chapter, Hashgacha is not equally distributed among all people, but based on their completeness. Certain sichlim lack and are akin to the animals in their hashgacha.
(See also this.) At any rate, this demonstrates a Jewish theory of hashgacha in which mikreh can happen, without special Divine intervention. Or at least one in which that not every leaf is instructed when to fal and where to land. And I could elaborate, and investigate this further, but I am out of time for now. Similarly, I should really restructure and reorder this, because as it stands, it is somewhat haphazard.

Update: Subsequently, I discovered the explanation of the Ibn Ezra by Mekor Chaim, to the right, which might well not have to do with sechar veOnesh or Divine Providence. I include it for the sake of completeness.


von said...

Speaking as a Christian, not a Jew, and admittedly not having read the entire post, I would propose:

That all of G_ds laws have, as one of their purposes, the act of teaching. By saying to refrain certain people from battle because they will (from our point of view) have more likelyhood of dying is to emphasis their underlying condition.

The betrothed but not taken individual, for example, is living in an inbetween and imperfect state: It is G-ds will that he not only betroth but also take; that he perform the act of a husband and raise up seed. This seed represents G_ds blessing and his inheritance, and thus is a good thing.

Thus while He can take us at any time of His own choosing, when we (in this case as the authorities sending a man to war) place the man in a situation where (according to our own ignorance) he is more likely to die, we need to follow The Law here and see that he is in that state which G_d desires.

At least, that is my view.

joshwaxman said...

thanks. it is a nice idea. indeed many philosophical and metaphorical interpretations are possible and can be true.

still, we jews don't have the luxury of viewing the commandments in the Old Testament as purely to teach moral / spiritual lessons. we also take it very literally, and practically. in which instance these concerns of the Biblical conception of fate in fatality comes into play.

all the best,

von said...

Well, as a theonomist I do take G_ds commands very seriously. However in this case that would be done by actually obeying the command, not by figuring out its relationship to G_ds sovereignty.

Indeed, taking his commands seriously is what my site '' and my other writings are all about.


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