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The Weekly Internet
P A R A S H A - P A G E
by Mordecai Kornfeld
of Har Nof, Jerusalem
Founder of the Dafyomi Advancement Forum

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There are seven sins for which one is punished with Tzara'at [leprous outbreaks]: slander, murder, swearing needlessly, adultery, arrogance, theft, and stinginess.
(Erchin 15a)
The Talmud informs us in clear terms that Tzara'at is not simply a chance disease. It is a tool Hashem uses to discipline his nation and teach them to return to His just ways. In a broader sense, this applies not only to Tzara'at but to every disease or discomfort. Tzara'at is singled out in the statement cited above only in order to relate it to a narrow list of specific sins. In truth, "a person does not stub his toe unless it was decreed upon him on high" (Chulin 7b). For this reason, the conclusion of the Gemara in Shabbos (55a) is particularly perplexing.

The Gemara in Shabbos begins by challenging a statement made by Rav Ami which relates death to misdeed, and suffering to sin. How can one say, asks the Gemara, that one only dies for his own sins and not for another's? We find that Moshe and Aharon, who scrupulously observed all the Mitzvot of the Torah, passed away? And according to an Agaddic tradition, "Four people passed away, sinless, simply because the serpent persuaded Adam to sin and eat from the Tree of Knowledge and for no other reason." (These four were Binyamin son of Yakov, Amram father of Moshe, King David's father and his son, Kil'av.) It must be that Rav Ami is mistaken. Death, concludes the Gemara, may indeed occur without being brought about by misdeed, and suffering may occur without being brought about by sin.

This conclusion is extremely puzzling:
(a) How are we to understand this strange assertion, which seems to not only contradict the citation at the start of our discussion but to violate our most basic understanding of justice?
(b) Secondly, the Gemara relates that Rav Ami cited biblical sources for his statement. "The soul that sins, it alone shall die; a son will not bear the sin of his father..." (Yechezkel 18:20); "I shall chastise them for their rebellious acts, and punish them with Tzara'at and the like for their sins..." (Tehilim 89:33). How, then, can the Gemara conclude that death and suffering are not necessarily related to one's sins (but may relate to the sin of his ancestors, such as Adam and Eve)?

We may add to our list another few questions.
(c) The Gemara in Berachot 7a deals with the suffering of the righteous. At first, the Gemara suggests that the righteous will suffer only if their parents were wicked. But the Gemara immediately rejects this statement, asserting that "children will not die because of the sins of their fathers (Devarim 24:16)" unless they themselves follow in the evil ways of their fathers. Rather, when a righteous person suffers it is because he is not fully righteous -- he is flawed, albeit in some minor way, and that is why he is being punished.

How can this Gemara be reconciled with the Gemara in Shabbos, which seems to come to the opposite conclusion -- an entirely righteous person can indeed be punished simply for his fathers' sins?
(d) Also, how can the Gemara prove from the deaths of Moshe and Aharon that people die sinlessly? The Torah itself tells us that Moshe and Aharon sinned, and that for that reason they did not merit to enter the Promised Land but died with the rest of the nation (Bamidbar 20:12)? (The Gemara in Shabbos indeed cites a conflicting opinion that asserts that Moshe and Aharon sinned. Our question, however, is how the opinion we cited above can assert otherwise.)

Closer scrutiny of these last two questions leads us to the answer to all of our questions.

To answer our questions, we must first define the terms 'misdeed' and 'sin' ('Chet' and 'Avon'). A person may be found lacking in one of two ways. He may transgress the Torah's explicit commandments, or he may perform flawlessly but be lacking in *heart*. He may harbor an urge to sin (even if he conquers the urge) or emotions that are not entirely appropriate to the situation. These inner feelings sometimes rise to the surface and express themselves in public; even so, they do not involve transgressions of any of the Torah's commandments per se.

When the Gemara tells us in Berachot that a righteous person only suffers if he is flawed, it is referring to *any* flaw -- even the most minute. A flaw of the heart is also reason for suffering. (The proportion of the suffering to the misdeed is subject for another discussion: Why should a nearly-perfect person suffer, at times, more than an established sinner -- see Yevamot 121b, "u'Sevivav Nis'arah....").

Similarly, although Moshe and Aharon acted inappropriately in the incident of the "Waters of Strife" (Bamidbar 20), they certainly did not transgress any of the Torah's commandments. According to the Rambam (in Shemoneh Perakim, end of #4), Moshe's sin was simply that he expressed anger without being told to do so by Hashem. Such "mis-emoting" is common even among the prophets, the Rambam writes.

The Gemara in Shabbos does not mean to assert that a person can suffer unjustly. It means to say that death and suffering do not always stem from transgressions of the Torah's commandments. They me be traced, at times, to much smaller infractions, such as desires and emotions that run uncontrolled. The verse cited by Rav Ami may also be interpreted in this manner. A person will die only if *he* sins; but expressions of lust and inappropriate emotions also qualify as sins ('Chet' and 'Avon') in this connotation.

However, this is only part of the answer to our question. As we mentioned earlier, the Gemara in Shabbos explains that some extremely righteous Jews died only because of the sin of Adam. This statement, and the implication of the entire discussion there that a person may suffer for his *father's* sins, would not seem to be resolved in the manner we have suggested. Even if a person is punished for such subtle sins as emotions, they must be his *own* sins, and not his father's. As we saw in Berachot, "Children will not die because of the sins of their fathers!"

To answer this question, we must refer to the teachings of the Ramban in Bereishit (2:9). Before Adam sinned, Ramban explains, Man was emotionless and lustless. He was able to sin only through the influence of external forces -- the Primeval Serpent's evil persuasion. After he sinned, though, these forces became a part of him. He himself became a creature ruled by emotion and lust. Performing the Divine Will became a constant battle, which we must fight to this very day.

The verse indeed provides strong support for this interpretation: "Hashem created Man straight (i.e., without desire to sin); but Man brought upon himself all sorts of figuring (i.e., forces, such as lusts, that cause him to do evil)" (Kohelet 7:29 and Rashi). Ever since Adam and Eve, the Evil Inclination is integrated into our very being. It is "the bogus god that is inside the body of a person." This may be part of what Chazal are alluding to by saying that "The serpent [= Evil Inclination] injected into Eve its putrefaction" (Shabbos 146a).

Even the most perfect of people cannot fully control their emotions and lusts (as evidenced by the Rambam in Shemoneh Perakim, cited above). The four sinless people who died fell because of faulty expressions of emotion and minute shows of desire. Since these stemmed from Adam's sin, it is indeed appropriate to attribute their deaths to "the persuasion of the serpent" and the sin of Adam, their ancestor. In a sense, they died due to the 'sins' of others (i.e., transgressions of a Divine decree, the first category of sin in section III). But on the other hand, those acts manifested themselves as personal 'sins' as well (emotions and lusts, the second category of sin). The Gemara thus means to say that death may be brought about by an ancestor's transgression-type sin, even if the descendant never transgressed a commandment of the Torah. The descendant is punished for "following in his father's evil way" by allowing the effects of his father's sin to influence his own behavior detrimentally, albeit to a smaller extent.

(Although we have discussed only the effects of *Adam's* transgression on his descendants, the same applies to others. A father's level of respect of disregard for the Torah is passed on, in some measure, to his children.)

Meanwhile, we must make an effort to take over the reins from the Evil Inclination to whatever extent we can, until the time when "Hashem will take the Evil Inclination and slaughter it before us!" (Sukah 52a)

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Mordecai Kornfeld |Email:| Tl/Fx(02)6522633
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