BERACHOS - Chapter I
11. Sayings of R.Yochanan, quoting R.Yosi (7a)
G-d prays, as it says "I will make them happy in the house of My prayer"
(Isaiah 56:7): Not "their prayer", but "My prayer". He prays "May it be My
will that My mercy overcome My anger and prevail over My other attributes,
so that I can act toward My children with My attribute of mercy and go
beyond the letter of the law for them".
R.Yishmael b.Elisha (the High Priest) once entered the innermost part of
the Temple to offer incense and saw the Divine Presence sitting on an
exalted throne. G-d said to him "My son Yishmael, bless Me!" He replied
"May it be Your will that Your mercy overcome Your anger and prevail over
Your other attributes, and that You act toward Your children with Your
attribute of mercy and go beyond the letter of the law for them", and G-d
nodded his head. This teaches us that an ordinary person's blessing should
not be taken lightly (1). Indeed, two great men were blessed by two
ordinary men and the blessings were fulfilled; David was blessed by Aravnah
(2), as it says "May your G-d favor you" (2 Sam.24:23), and Daniel was
blessed by Darius, as it says "May the G-d to Whom you always pray deliver
you" (Daniel 6:17).
One should not try to placate a person when he is angry, as it says "My
Presence will go, and I will accommodate you" (Ex.33:14): Wait until My
"face of anger" has passed (3). G-d is angry for an instant every day, as
it says: "The Almighty is angered every day" (Psalms 7:12); an instant is
1/58888th of an hour. Only Balaam was able to detect that instant, as it
says "He knows the mind of the High One" (Num.24:16): He couldn't have
known what was in G-d's mind if he didn't even know what was in his own
animal's mind (see Num. Ch.22); rather, it must mean that he knew how to
detect the moment when G-d was angry. When the prophet said "My people,
remember what the King of Moav advised... so you may know G-d's
righteousness" (Micah 6:5) (4), he meant that G-d was very generous to us:
If he had allowed himself to get angry in Balaam's time, no trace of Israel
would have remained (5); and when Balaam said to Balak "How can I curse
when G-d does not curse, or enrage when G-d is not angry" (Num.23:8), he
meant that G-d was not angry during all of those days.
G-d is angry only for as long as it takes to say the word "rega"
("moment"), as it says "A moment for His anger, a lifetime for His favor"
(Psalms 30:6), and it says "Hide for a moment until the anger has passed"
(Isaiah 26:20). When the sun shines, and all the kings of the world put on
their crowns and bow to the sun, G-d immediately becomes angry.
One self-reproach is better than many whippings, as it says "I will return
to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now" (Hosea 2:4).
Indeed, it is better than a hundred whippings, as it says "A rebuke is more
effective for an understanding person than a hundred blows for a fool"
Moses was granted three requests by G-d: That the Divine presence should
rest on Israel, as it says "By your going with us" (Ex.33:16) (See note
(3)); that it should not rest on the idolators, as it says "I and Your
people will be distinguished" (ibid.); and that G-d should tell him how He
assigns rewards and punishments, as it says "Please let me know Your ways"
(ibid. 13). Things go well for some righteous people and badly for others,
well for some wicked people and badly for others. This cannot mean that
things go well for the children of the righteous even if they are wicked,
and badly for the children of the wicked even if they are righteous; "The
sins of the parents are remembered for the children" (Ex.34:7) only if the
children continue the parents' deeds, but otherwise "Children are not
killed because of their parents" (Deut.24:16). Rather, it means that things
necessarily go well only for a perfectly righteous person, and badly only
for a perfectly wicked person. According to R.Meir, Moses was granted only
two of his requests, but not the third, as it says "I will be gracious to
those I am gracious to" (Ex.33:19) even if they are not worthy, "and
merciful to those I am merciful to" (ibid.) even if they are not worthy.
When G-d wanted to show Himself, Moses didn't want to look (see Ex.3: 3-6),
and when Moses wanted to see, G-d wouldn't let him, as it says "A man
cannot see My face" (Ex.33:20). However, for " And Moses hid his face..."
(Ex.3:6) his reward was a shining face (see Ex. 34:29-30); for "...because
he was afraid" his reward was "They were afraid to approach him"; and for
"...to look" his reward was "He could see G-d's image" (Num.12:8) (6). "You
will see My back" (Ex.33:22) teaches us that G-d showed Moses the knot of
the tefillin at the back of His neck (7).
G-d never retracts any good statement even if he makes it conditionally. He
said to Moses "Leave me alone, and I will destroy them and make you into a
greater nation" (Deut.9:14) (8), and even though Moses prayed for mercy and
the threat was cancelled, the blessing was fulfilled in his children, as it
says "The sons of Moses were Gershom and Eliezer... and Rechaviah was the
chief son of Eliezer... and the sons of Rechaviah multiplied greatly" (1
Chron.23:15-17) -- to more than 600,000, as it says "The children of
Israel... multiplied" (Ex.1:7) (9).
(1) If a human can successfully bless G-d, then the blessing of a person of
lesser stature can be effective for a person of greater stature.
(2) Aravnah was a Jebusite leader who accepted upon himself the seven
commandments of the children of Noah, and owned a threshing floor on Mount
Moriah in Jerusalem. King David purchased the threshing floor from him, and
eventually built the Temple on that site.
(3) As a consequence of the sin of the golden calf, G-d informed Moses that
He, Himself, will not accompany the Jewish people in their travels towards
the Land of Israel, but rather an angel will be sent in His place (Ex
33:2). In response to Moses' supplications, G-d had mercy and agreed that
"My presence will go..." The word for "presence" is "Ponai", which also
means " my face," and therefore, the Midrash goes beyond the literal
meaning of the verse, and interprets the verse on a different level to mean
that G-d is informing Moses to wait until His "face of anger" (about the
Golden Calf) has passed, and then He will have mercy.
(4) The King of Moab hired Balaam to curse the Jewish people (See Numbers,
(5) That is, Balaam would have been able to curse them.
(6) Moses' first reaction to sighting the burning bush is described in the
following verse: "And Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look."
According to this opinion in the Talmud, Moses was rewarded for all three
aspects of his initial response. However, according to the opinion cited
in the previous paragraph, his response had negative consequences, that is,
because Moses didn't want to look at the burning bush, G-d did not want to
show him His face later in history.
(7) Maimonides in his "Mishne Torah" (Yesodei HaTorah 1:10) explains that
when Moses asked to see G-d's face, he wanted to be mentally aware of G-d
as separate to all other existence, just as the image of another person's
face in one's mind, would identify that person as distinct and separate
from other people. However, G-d could only show Moses his "back," which was
like seeing the back of a person, and being aware that his body is separate
from other human bodies, but not being fully aware of what separates him
from other people, because his face, that which distinguishes him fully
from other people, has not been seen.
(8) This statement was made in response to the sin of the Golden Calf.
(9) That is, the word "Rav" ("multiply) was used to describe the
reproduction of the Israelites in Egypt, which resulted in a nation of
600,000 men. However, in reference to the children of Moshe, it says that
they multiplied exceedingly, which is interpreted to mean that they
produced more than 600,000.
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