Monday, February 18, 2008

Bears & The Ba'asher Hu Shom Principle

(Picture courtesy of

Last year, I asked a question about a midrash in Parshas Ki Sissa that I found troubling concerning why Hashem judged Michah and not Yishmael according to deeds he was destined to do in the future.

I noticed recently that this this phenomenon is also continued in Nach with Elisha's curse of boys who were taunting him:

"And he went up from there to Bet El. He was going up on the road and some little boys came out of the city and made fun of him, and said to him, "Go away, baldy; go away, baldy!" He turned around and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of Hashem. Then two bears came out of the forest, and tore apart forty-two boys from among them." (II Melachim 2:23-24)

Me'am Lo'ez comments,

"When Elisha looked at the children who came out to tease him, he saw by the spirit of prophecy that they were devoid of any good deeds and weak of faith. The word נער'ם "boys" can also be interpreted as מנוער'ם "shaken out" and therefore empty. They were empty of the only thing of worth, good deeds. The word קטנ'ם "little," alludes to how small their faith was.

Some say that Elisha saw that all of them had been conceived on Yom Kippur. Their parents had violated the holiness of that day, when it is forbidden for man and wife to have intimate relations. As their beginning had been in sin, so, Elisha saw, their end would be. He cursed them not in anger in vengeance, but because he saw that no good would ever come of them. It was their evil nature that had brought them to behave so nastily, and it would continue to produce wickedness as long as they lived....Though Hashem fulfilled Elisha's decree, He did not entirely approve, and Elisha was eventually to suffer for it."

I noted in my previous posting that Rashi's commentary to the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah 16b states that a person is judged according to his present deeds (ba'asher hu shom) and not according to any deeds that he may be destined to do in the future. If this is indeed the case, why did Hashem send two bears two kill them as punishment? The manner in which they were conceived was beyond their control. Did their mere taunting of Elisha warrant a death sentence? Elisha, unlike Moshe Rabbeinu (see Rashi on Shemos 2:12), did not even determine whether any of the descendants of these boys would be tzaddikim, rather, he based his decision on his knowledge that these boys would never do teshuva in their lives.

Perhaps I have confused myself and tied my brains up in knots with all of this, however it seems to me like there is no standard application of the "ba'asher hu shom" principle. Space Cadet once said, "We must be willing to accept the fact that the answers may be on a different plane than the questions."

Is that the case here as well?


At February 18, 2008 at 10:26:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz.. said...

it's hard to say just how deep these psukim are, i'll give a few examples of textual things i see that imply that there are very deep secrets hinted at here:

1. it's talking about elisha going up before the children come out and tell him to go up.
2. baldy is the same letters as Korach, who was swallowed by the earth/burned; they could also be saying "come up Korach, come up Korach"
3. The boys come "from the city," the bears come "from the forest" but the letters for the two locations are interchangeable יער and עיר
4. the number of children killed is 42 which is numerically significant, in that there is a name of HaShem with 42 letters, it's also related davka to travelling as Bnei Yisrael's travels as recorded in sefer bamidbar are also 42.
5. the language used for "rending" the children is the same as the first word used for the ground opening up in Korach (related to #2)
6. He specifically looks behind him, acharav, which refers to the sitra achra, the dark side.. and there he saw them.
7. he continues on from there to Har Karmel where Eliyahu showed down the prophets of Baal. (another blood bath)

Of course I don't know which if any of these things tie together, and what the explanation is, but it probably pays to ask what the Arizal says about this in Shaar HaGilgulim.

At February 18, 2008 at 10:49:00 AM EST, Anonymous avakesh said...

I think that Sifsei Chachamim and other supercommentaries on Rashi, on "baasher hu sham" offer answers to the contradiction between this principle as applied to Ishmoel and Ben Sorer umore. The following may be one of these answers (sorry cant check right now).

I would say very simply that Ishmoel was not a rasha at that moment and therefore Hashem did not judge him as wicked but "as he is". In the other examples, the individuals were acting wickedly. Because there was no foreseeble posssibility of Teshuva, they were judged as they were at that moment - as wicked, without taking the possibility of Teshuva into consideration.

At February 18, 2008 at 11:03:00 AM EST, Blogger Long Beach Chasid said...

The complaint brought by the angels was that Yishmael's descendent's would spill our blood for generations, but Yishmael himself at least to my understanding did teshuvah in the end of his life. It seems that we cant be punished for what our decedents do, but we can be punished for what our ancestors do. Maybe Michas parents worshipped idols. What if Micha as a young child was something like an opposite of Avraham? Like Avraham at a young age proclaimed Hashems oneness, Micha proclaimed the opposite and worshiped the idols of Egypt?

At February 18, 2008 at 3:17:00 PM EST, Blogger Cosmic X said...

Great question! I wish that I had an answer.

At February 18, 2008 at 10:50:00 PM EST, Blogger Spiritual Dan said...

is this one of the questions that Rabbi Nachman would essentially say - don't ask, pray!


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