Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

God’s Silence in the Face of Evil and More Bava Metzia 99-102


God’s Silence in the Face of Evil

Our Gemara on Amud Beis describes a legal distinction in the liability of a squatter on land owned by the Sacred Treasury and privately owned land. We have a rule that a squatter does not incur financial liability after the fact, if the owner had not known prior to his squatting. The argument is, no harm done, you didn’t lose any money and we never agreed to an arrangement. It’s not that this was proper behavior, as it was wrong. Still, to incur legal obligations, there needs to be either advance agreement or tangible transfer of something from owner to renter. Since the owner lost nothing, and there was no prior awareness and no agreement to pay, there are no financial encumbrances.

However, the Sacred Treasury of the Temple has a divine owner. God always knows everything and since He has declared penalties for misuse of sacred funds and objects, the squatter has automatically engaged in an agreement with the treasury and must pay rent, even when there was no tangible loss to the owner.

The idea that God is omnipotent, omniscient and yet remains mostly silent in response to Man’s every day transgressions and violations, let alone, allowing evil to prosper, is captured poignantly in a Midrash and play on words in Shemos (15:11):

מִֽי־כָמֹ֤כָה בָּֽאֵלִם֙ ה׳

Who is like you, Hashem amongst all the mighty (Eilim) heavenly beings?

In pondering the cruel tortures and desecrations committed when the Temple was conquered, Rabbi Yishmael (Gittin 56b) ruefully said, “Who is like you Hashem in your capacity to be mute?” (The Hebrew word for mute is Ilem, which is phonetically similar to Eilim, the mighty.) Rabbi Yoshnael was saying, God, how can you be so silent in the face of this evil?

Kli Yakkar (ibid) explains the play on words in a more profound manner. God’s Silence in the face of evil comes from strength, not weakness. Similar to a professional soldier or fighter who remains passive when provoked by an upstart. He simply doesn’t even waste his energy and time on this impotent threat. Therefore, the word eilim is not only hinting at the silence, but the strength and silence are one in the same.

Kli Yakkar could be understood more esoterically. God’s omnipotence and power must be limited in order to allow anything material to exist. God had to be metzamtzem, in some way pull back in order to allow physical temporal processes. This is deeper than God “allowing” us to have free choice. Existence itself as we know it, must be distant enough from God to allow for it to unfold. Otherwise we would be swallowed up like a drop of water in the ocean. God is so strong that he must remain silent. 

The greatest act of love is acknowledging another’s unique existence and differentness from you. This allows for sight and insight. We can love Hashem by recognizing that He is beyond our ability to comprehend, but God shows His love for us by allowing us to exist and even behave incomprehensibly, because we are necessarily imperfect. We can model God’s acceptance and strength in making space and allowing the people we love to really exist.


Adopted Beliefs

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses the legal entitlements to certain properties and materials that unwittingly became shared by two potential beneficiaries and investors:

שָׁטַף נָהָר זֵיתָיו וּנְתָנָם לְתוֹךְ שְׂדֵה חֲבֵירוֹ, זֶה אוֹמֵר: ״זֵיתַי גִּדֵּלוּ״, וְזֶה אוֹמֵר: ״אַרְצִי גִּדֵּלָה״ – יַחְלוֹקוּ.

In the event that a river swept away one’s olive trees and deposited them in the field of another, and they took root there and yielded olives, this one, i.e., the owner of the trees, says: My olive trees yielded the olives and so I have a right to them, and that one, i.e., the owner of the field, says: The nourishment from my land yielded the olives and so I have a right to them, then they divide the olives between them.

Penei Dovid (Shemos 3:2) uses this Halacha to metaphorically understand the institution of adoption. 

The Torah does not have a formal definition or status for adoption of a child. For comparison, the social institution of marriage has precise legal definitions and rules for how it is established and dissolved according Halacha. However, the Torah has no formal system for adoption, nor for termination of parental rights. Yet, the social institution exists because, out of sheer practicality, there will always be situations when parents are deceased or unavailable and some neighbor or relative must fill the role. The Gemara (Megillah 13a) tells us:

 כׇּל הַמְגַדֵּל יָתוֹם וִיתוֹמָה בְּתוֹךְ בֵּיתוֹ — מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִילּוּ יְלָדוֹ.

Anyone who raises an orphan boy or girl in his house, the Torah gives him credit as if he gave birth to him.

One who adopts ought to receive merit in accordance with our Gemara, where the owner of the host field and the owner of the olives have equal share in the resulting produce. This reward might have been shared with the biological parents, as they supplied the genetic material. Nonetheless, Hashem grants as a bonus, the full reward as if the adoptive parent was also the biological parent. (I suppose the biological parents still get their reward due for their role.)

The idea of adoption is also on a continuum. For example, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 19b) states: “Anyone who teaches another person’s son Torah is given credit as if he fathered him. But even in smaller ways, if one is a mentor or role model, this too is a kind of adoption. As social beings, we are interdependent and interrelated. We share in each other’s fate and have many opportunities to be a part of another person’s life. It is not just something to do, it is also something that becomes an extension of our own agency and destiny. This is similar to the idea stated in Bereishis Rabbah (30:6 and Rashi Bereishis 6:9): The main progeny of righteous people are their good deeds. What we do in service of others creates generational impact, just as having children does.


Eviction Notice

Our Gemara on Amud Beis relates a story of a woman who was duped and then how her vigilante justice was vindicated by the rabbis:

הָהוּא גַּבְרָא דִּזְבַן אַרְבָּא דְחַמְרָא. לָא אַשְׁכַּח דּוּכְתָּא לְאוֹתוֹבֵיהּ. אֲמַר לֵיהּ לְהַהִיא אִיתְּתָא: אִית לָךְ דּוּכְתָּא לְאוֹגוֹרַי? אֲמַרָה לֵיהּ: לָא. אֲזַל קַדְּשַׁהּ יְהַבָה לֵיהּ דּוּכְתָּא לְעַיֹּילֵיהּ. אֲזַל לְבֵיתֵיהּ כְּתַב לַהּ גִּיטָּא, שַׁדַּר לַהּ. אֲזַלָא אִיהִי, אֲגַרָא שָׁקוֹלָאֵי מִינֵּיהּ וּבֵיהּ, אַפֵּיקְתֵּיהּ וְאוֹתְבֵיהּ בִּשְׁבִילָא. אָמַר רַב הוּנָא בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב יְהוֹשֻׁעַ: ״כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה כֵּן יֵעָשֶׂה לּוֹ גְּמוּלוֹ יָשׁוּב בְּרֹאשׁוֹ״.

The Gemara relates: There was a certain man who purchased a boat laden with wine. He was unable to find a place to store it. He said to a certain woman: Do you have place to rent to me? She said to him: No. He was aware that she did own a suitable place, so he went and betrothed her, and then she gave him a lease on the place for him to bring in his wine there. He went back to his home and wrote a bill of divorce for her, which he then sent to her. Upon receiving the bill of divorce and realizing that the betrothal had been nothing more than a ruse, she went and hired porters, paying them from the wine itself, and instructed them to take the wine out of her place and put it on the street. Upon being presented with this case, Rav Huna, son of Rav Yehoshua, said, paraphrasing Obadiah 1:15: Like he did, so shall be done to him, his repayment shall come back on his head; she was entitled to do as she did.

The Rama (CM 312:9), based on a Nimukei Yosef from our Gemara, derives a practical halacha:

 מי ששכר בית לחבירו והיה אוהבו ונעשה שונאו אין יכול להוציאו מן הבית ואם א”ל מתחילה שאינו משכיר לו רק משום שהוא אוהבו ונעשה שונאו יכול להוציאו 

A person who rents a house to his friend and later they become enemies  cannot evict him from the house on that basis. But if he initiated the rental with a clearly stated understanding that he is only renting because he is a friend, then a newly developed emnity is grounds for eviction.

Shalah (Vavei HaAmudim, Chapter 26) uses this halacha to explain the exhortative verses in Devarim (34:26 and 37):

 הַעִידֹ֩תִי֩ בָכֶ֨ם הַיּ֜וֹם אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֗רֶץ כִּֽי־אָבֹ֣ד תֹּאבֵדוּן֮ מַהֵר֒ מֵעַ֣ל הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתֶּ֜ם עֹבְרִ֧ים אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּ֛ן שָׁ֖מָּה לְרִשְׁתָּ֑הּ לֹֽא־תַאֲרִיכֻ֤ן יָמִים֙ עָלֶ֔יהָ כִּ֥י הִשָּׁמֵ֖ד תִּשָּׁמֵדֽוּן׃

I call heaven and earth this day to witness against you that you shall soon perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess; you shall not long endure in it, but shall be utterly wiped out.

וְתַ֗חַת כִּ֤י אָהַב֙ אֶת־אֲבֹתֶ֔יךָ וַיִּבְחַ֥ר בְּזַרְע֖וֹ אַחֲרָ֑יו וַיּוֹצִֽאֲךָ֧ בְּפָנָ֛יו בְּכֹח֥וֹ הַגָּדֹ֖ל מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃

And having loved your ancestors, [God] chose their heirs after them; [God] personally —in great, divine might—led you out of Egypt.

Hashem is warning, “You might believe that once I gave you the Land of Israel, I would have no right to evict you. However, since I made it clear from the beginning that you are granted this land because of my love, if you fall out of favor you may lose it.”

The sobering fact is that our tenancy on this Earth is completely subject to God’s will and, if we do not engender good relations with the landlord, we can be suddenly evicted.


Original Sin

Our Gemara on Amud Beis discusses how to evaluate a phrase that is part of a contractual agreement and mildly contradicts another part of the contract. For example if a contract states: “Twelve gold coins a year, one gold coin per month,” what is the annual rent during a Hebrew leap year, 12 or 13 gold coins?

The lomdus revolves around if the second clause clarifies and overrides the import of the first clause, or does the first clause indicate the main intention because it is primary, thus the second clause is not considered as precise. In Gemara terms, “tfos l’shon rishon” or “tfos l’shon acharon.” 

The Divrei Dovid in Bereishis relates this to an interesting Midrash regarding the fruit bearing trees at the dawn of creation. The verse (Bereishis 1:11) describes God’s directive to the fruit trees in a seemingly redundant manner:

עֵ֣ץ פְּרִ֞י עֹ֤שֶׂה פְּרִי֙

fruit trees that bear fruit 

Well obviously, fruit trees bear fruit, so why the repetition?

The Midrash tells us:

Tthe taste of the wood of the tree was to be exactly the same as that of the fruit. It did not, however, do this, but (v. 12) “the earth brought forth a tree yielding fruit” and the tree itself was not a fruit;  (Bereishis Rabbah and Rashi Bereishis 1.11.)

The implication is a Tree that is fruit itself, literally “fruit trees”, and then ultimately the actual trees merely produced fruit, “that bear fruit.”

Divrei Dovid says the trees made an error in tfos l’shon acharon, treating the final clause as primary, while the Halacha is that we actually are tfos l’shon rishon, and the first clause is primary. The trees should have made their branches also with the flavor of the fruit.

It is important to reflect on the symbolism and allegorical content of this beautiful midrash. There is an idea of an original sin, even before humans arrive on the scene. God had grand plans for the world. There will be nothing wasted. Even the wood itself will be a part of the fruit. That’s potentially true, but in reality there will be losses. Not every part of the process will yield fruit.

In the end, everything is God’s plan. If so, why did this happen? And if it had to happen, why do we need to know? What’s done is done.

Sometimes we need to know the ideal in order to inspire and aspire. This is similar to the tradition that, as a fetus, we are taught the entire Torah (Niddah 30b), and then an angel (reality?) smacks us at birth causing us to forget it all. If so, why does it matter and why do we need to know? We need to know that though the potential is perfect, the actual never goes according to plan. Still, knowing we have the potential latent within inspires  us to continually improve. 


About the Author
Rabbi, Psychotherapist with 30 years experience specializing in high conflict couples and families.
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