“The divine attribute of beneficence takes effect more quickly than the divine attribute of punishment.”
Today’s Daf Yomi starts with the ‘greatest hits” of throwing and carrying out. We spend more time on carrying in and carrying out and discussing if an item comes to rest mid-air if it is thrown from one domain to another. I am a little bit tired of all this throwing and measuring cubits and determining if one or two sin offerings apply. I was happy to see my hero Rabbi Akiva return to set things right. What resonated with me today, was his interpretation of the story of Aaron and Miriam’s bout with leprosy.
Aaron and Miriam are caught up in a family drama where they disapprove of Moses’ wife. As result of speaking ill of her, we are told that Miriam is stricken with leprosy for the sin of gossiping. Rabbi Akiva makes a case that this is more than a squabble between two women and Aaron was also guilty for the role he played in this family dissonance. He argues that the punishment was equally distributed to Miriam and Aaron. He bases his argument on the text which states that Aaron turned toward his sister “and behold, she was leprous.” Rabbi Akiva explained that when Aaron turned, he was healed from his affliction.
Rabbi Akiva reasons that embedded in the “turning” language is the assumption that Aaron was also afflicted, and God was angry with both siblings. Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira cautions Rabbi Akiva that if his interpretation is misguided, he will be “judged in the future for his teaching.” Of course, Rabbi Akiva is remembered for so much more – for starting his rabbinical studies in his 40s, his humble background, love for his wife, and torturous death as a martyr when his last word was “one” from the Shema.
We are told that God can heal the afflicted who believe in him: “And the people believed once they heard that God had remembered the children of Israel, and that He saw their affliction, and they bowed, and they prostrated.” By inference, one can assume that disease can strike non-believers, just as God can heal believers. We are presented with an example where Moses is also afflicted for just a moment with leprosy. God says to Moses: “Bring your hand to your bosom, and he brought his hand to his bosom and he took it out and behold, his hand was leprous like snow.” And then God asked Moses to return his hand to his bosom and it is “returned to be like his original flesh.” and “Moses’ hand was healed even before he took his hand out.”
We are delivered with a powerful message: “The divine attribute of beneficence takes effect more quickly than the divine attribute of punishment.” When translated into humanistic terms, the message is the importance of kindness and compassion. Punishment and retribution may come later – perhaps at the end of a life when one catalogs all the transgressions he committed over the years and all his regrets and how if he still had time, he would do things differently. But kindness and compassion can take effect in the here and now.
If someone falls, help him seek medical attention if he needs it. Don’t stomp pass him and if you are the Buffalo Police, don’t push him to the ground in the first place. If you are the orange-faced President of the United States don’t repeat nonsensical conspiracy theories and reach within yourself and find an ounce of empathy. And with all the afflictions and suffering and broken heartedness in the world, all of us need to show each other generosity of spirit today and right now.