Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Bricks & Yishmael - Seeking To Resolve A Troubling Midrash

(Picture courtesy of Israelnewsagency.com)

Rashi's commentary to Parshas Ki Sissa references (Shemos 32:4) a midrash that I have always found troubling.

The midrash relates a story that while the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, Pharaoh decreed that the Jews cement their children into the walls of buildings if they could not meet making their quota of bricks. There was a great outcry, and Moshe Rabbeinu brought the complaint of Jewish people to Hashem. Hashem responded to Moshe that if He will allow these children to live they will eventually turn out to be wicked in the future, and further instructed Moshe to save one of these children to later validate His claim. Moshe saved a child named Micah, and Shoftim 17:5 relates that indeed this child later went on to make an worship an idol.

I am troubled with this midrash when I compare it to the midrash surrounding the episode of Hagar praying to Hashem to save her son Yishmael from dying of thirst in the desert (see Rashi's comment to Bereishis 21:17) :

The ministering angels were accusing and saying, "O Lord of the Universe, for one [Yishmael] who is destined to kill Your children with thirst, You are bringing up a well?!"

And He answered them, "What is he now, righteous or wicked?"

They replied, "Righteous."

He said to them, "According to his present deeds I judge him."

Rashi's commentary notes that the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah 16b states, "According to the deeds that he does now he is judged and not according to what he is destined to do." If this was indeed the case, how could have Hashem condemned the children who were cemented into walls in Egypt? What had they all done in their short lives that warranted a death sentence?

Rashi states in his comment to Sanhedrin 103b that Micah brought along an idol when he left Egypt. Obviously, this made him worthy of death. However, the question that remains is had he worshipped idols even as a small child before he was cemented into the brick?

How could Hashem have condemned Micah based on "his present deeds"? What made him different from Yishmael?


At March 6, 2007 at 6:17:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz said...

This is indeed a difficulty. First, to sharpen the question somehwat, Rashi brings on Devarim 21:18, regarding the Ben Sorer U'Moreh [rebellious son], that he "is killed because of his end [future]. The Torah sees to his ultimate plan [in his mind], that in the end he will use up all of his father's money, and try to fill his habit, but not find. He will then go out to the crossroads and rob people [assumingly even murdering them if necessary]. The Torah tells us, let him die innocent & not guilty."
A grown man who is a drunk & a glutton is not punishable by death -- but a child who will one day turn into a murderer is.
Regarding Yishmael, the Zohar [found in the Chok L'Yisrael on Thursday of Parshas VaEra] says, "Woe for the day that Yishmael was born and had Mila [cirucmcision]. Hashem distanced the Bnei Yishmael [his descendants] from their attachment Above [dveykus elyona], and gave them a portion below in the Holy Land, because of their Mila." [see the whole thing there].
I am curious what some others, like CE and R. Dovid Sears or Rav Tal Zwecker have to say on this...

At March 6, 2007 at 6:19:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz said...

PS - The citation for the Zohar given in the Chok is Zohar, VaEra 32a.

At March 6, 2007 at 9:54:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1.) I heard from Reb Yankel Galinsky shlita a teirutz to the stirah between the ma'aseh of Yishmoel (ba'sher hu shom) vs. the Bain Sorer U'Moreh (who gets killed al shaim sofo). By the Bain Sorer U'Moreh, it says, "Aino shomai'ah b'kol oviv uvkol imo" -- he doesn't listen to his mother and father. If a Yid won't listen, then there's no hope for him, and he deserves to be killed al shaim sofo.

2.) I heard from Reb Moshe Wolfson shlita that the Yishmoelim only practice the chituch portion of milah, but not the pri'ah (and presumably not metzitzah b'peh either). Since their "mitzvah" is only for show, but without actually fulfilling the necessary details (mol v'lo poro, k'ilu lo mol), therefore their "chailek" in Eretz Yisroel is also only for show, but not real and not lasting.

At March 6, 2007 at 10:22:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz said...

Anon: Thanks for your input. Not listening to one's parents is hardly a reason for a chiyuv misa [death penalty]. Even an eved ivri [Jewish servant] who doesn't want to listen to Hashem has his ear pierced, not more than that!
What you heard from Rav Wolfson is from the Zohar I cited above.
We still need an answer to ASJ's question........

At March 6, 2007 at 11:02:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have we forgotten that Yishmael does teshuva?

At March 6, 2007 at 11:10:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Chabakuk Elisha: I thought of that point, but it still leaves the question unresolved about Micah.

At March 6, 2007 at 11:41:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The midrash cited about the Jewish children in Egypt is hard to follow logically, considering that many Jews, even including Dasan and Aviram, did make it out of Egypt and later did misbehave in the midbar. So:

1. What lesson was Micah spared to teach that would not have been taught down the road by the example of other Jews who left Egypt and then misbehaved?

2. Why did the merit (zechus avos or whatever) that let many Jews out of Egypt not suffice to let these children out of Egypt? Even the erev rav, not the frummest bunch, got to leave.

3. Was this some sort of gilgul-related judgment where these children were guilty in their previous lives?

I sense that any answers we offer won't be very good. We urgently need help here from some real talmidei chachomim who have spent time analyzing midrashim and Rashi's approach to midrashim.

At March 6, 2007 at 11:43:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Micha is an interesting character. Also, IIRC, aside from pessel Micha, there is a shita that credits him with being the one responsible for the eigel (golden calf) as well.

But I seem to remember that the motives behind pessel Micha itself is a matter of debate – there are those that say his motives may have been good. The Gamara in Sanhedrin (I need to look it up, but I think it basically asks your question and it) says that despite his involvement with avoda zara, Micah is treated sympathetically (I had this theory that it may be because of his rough childhood) and Micha gets high praise for his kindness & hochnosas orchim – and that in that zchus, Hashem prevents Micah's idol from destruction. So, his chesed saves him.

Nevertheless, Chazal seem to be tellings here that Micha would have been better off had Moshe not removed him (an interesting disussion of its own), but don't forget that Hashem DOES arrange him to be removed, so...

At March 6, 2007 at 12:02:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way:

According to the Medrash, Micha, Dasan & Aviram, etc, were all perfectly righteous at the time of Makkas Choshech - or they would have died during the makka (which makes me wonder what the other 4/5 of Klal Yisroel were doing - especially after the first 7 makkos - to not have been tzaddikim at the time). So, we need to assume that Micha, D&A, etc, were good then but they go bad later. Interestingly all these "bad guys" have a history with Moshe:

1. Moshe saves Micha after HKB"H had him in the wall, leading to trouble down the road.
2. Moshe involves himself in a dispute between D & A, and they are a thorn in his side forever.
3. Moshe brings the erev rav as geirim against advice... more trouble.

Had Moshe stayed out of things, and “left well-enough alone,” it seems that he would’ve been worry free. But true to the phrase that “no good deed goes unpunished,” Moshe doesn't live for himself - as a leader that cares about others he DOES involve himself when others wouldn’t. And like a great leader, he acts – and understands that he’ll take the heat for it later – but he doesn’t sit idly and whistle while others suffer.

At March 6, 2007 at 1:01:00 PM EST, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

I can't answer your question, but I'd like to address one of the side issues. I once asked the Rav of my Shul growing up (Rabbi Simcha Shafran) about resha'im who survived choshech. His answer was that there was a specific sin that one died for during choshech: the sin of not wanting to leave Mitzrayim. Thus even an oveid avoda zara or corrupt individuals were not subject to death at that time.

As far as ben sorrer u'moreh goes, he has committed a sin; he stole. He is not innocent. He is not being punished for being a glutton and a drunk, but for stealing and showing signs that he is on a destructive path. (The other aspect that's odd, is that if the fear is that he will murder in the future why is his punishment s'kilah and not chenek? The answer, I believe in the Gemora is that he may kill on Shabbos.)

At March 6, 2007 at 1:22:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As to the specific question, this is my theory:

First of all, G-d has many reasons, and he doesn’t share them with us. We only get to peek at a certain part of His reasons.

Anyway, as a rule, "According to the deeds that one does now is he judged, and not according to what he is destined to do." Yet, we see that there are cases where G-d does make exceptions and take a long sighted look (indeed, that, Chazal tell us, is why our lives are far shorter post-mabul).

So I think that basically, Micha would have personally benefited from an early judgment. It was a zechus for him to be saved from himself, nor a punishment. What was the merit for that zechus? His future great kindness to others.

Yishmal has no such zechusim, he doesn’t deserve an early judgment. So HKB"H asks, “Why does he deserve this early judgment?” We don't punish before the crime! We can used rachmanus in advance, not gevura! We only judge early to save a person from themselves, and there must be some zechus for that.

At March 6, 2007 at 4:23:00 PM EST, Blogger yitz said...

CE - How do you apply your theory to the Ben Sorer u'Moreh, or am I missing something?
Also, regarding Micha: It was a zechus for him to be saved from himself, nor a punishment. What was the merit for that zechus? His future great kindness to others.
Huh? Please explain this somewhat convoluted, maybe circular [?] reasoning...please?
And thanks to all who added their wisdom here... :))

At March 6, 2007 at 4:35:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry - "nor" = NOT.

What I'm trying to say (bederech efshar, of course) is that Micha isn't our typical rasha - he seems to be a good guy. So the Aibishter, by putting him in the wall, is saving him from his future errors and giving him a break (this is a common idea in Torah).

I wasnt addressing the Ben Sorer, I was talking about Micha vs Yishmael. The BSU"M is a longer conversation, but bekitzur teh BSU"M is unique - he must do specific things wrong and in a specific way - no more, no less - this is explained (I wish I could remember which miforesh off hand, but I'm coming up blank) as follows:

If the rebel maintains that specific level of rebelliousness we know that he will never change. If he did a little less or a little more we would see that this is a phase, but maintaining that specific level is the known standard for someone who will never repent. For this reason, we put him to death (of course, it never happened and never will..).

At March 6, 2007 at 6:32:00 PM EST, Blogger yaak said...

Perhaps you can answer that in normal circumstances, a person is judged Ba'asher Hu Sham.

However, the children thrown into the bricks, if saved, would have eventually been those Jews who received the Torah. To be on the Madreiga of receiving the Torah, you needed to be totally pure of heart - you cannot be such a person like a Micha, and that was what HKB"H was preventing until Micha was saved.

Ben Sorer Umoreh is still a Kasha, but this does help for the Midrash.

At March 7, 2007 at 3:05:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz said...

Yaak - Your answer wouldn't explain why 80% were killed in Makkas Choshech [the plague of darkness]. Okay, they didn't wanna leave Mitzrayim [Egypt], but they would've been "pure [enough] of heart" to receive the Torah? Seems a bit strange, no?

At March 7, 2007 at 3:16:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Were Dasan and averam also totally pure at the time of receipt of the Torah?


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