by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Eikev (69)This week's sedra continues with Moses' talk to the People. Moses encourages the nation that they will succeed in taking over the Land of Canaan but emphasizes that the condition for this is their observance of G-d's commandments. The connection between living peacefully on the Land and fulfilling G-d's mitzvos is repeated in the second paragraph of the Shema which is found in our sedra.
We will look at a strange Rashi comment.
For the Lord your G-d, He is the G-d of gods and the Lord of lords. He is the great, the strong and the awesome G-d, Who does not show favor and does not take bribes.
Who does not show favor: Rashi: If you throw off His yoke.
And Who does not take bribes: Rashi: To appease Him with money.
The meaning of the Torah's verse is clear enough. G-d is a fair Judge; He does not show favoritism in judgment, He gives a man what he deserves. But in spite of the clarity of the verse, Rashi found the need to comment. It is our task to understand why he had to explain an apparently simple verse.
Let us examine each comment individually. What would you ask about his first comment?
A Question: Why does Rashi make any comment here? And why does he choose "throwing off G-d's yoke" as the particular circumstance of this phrase?
What's bothering him?
Hint: Are there instances of G-d's showing favor in the Torah?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI ?
An Answer: The Talmud (Berachos 20b) asks a question on our verse. Is this not a contradiction to the words of the third blessing of the Priestly blessings as written in Numbers 6:26? There it says:
"May Hashem lift His countenance (i.e. show favor) to you…"
How then does Moses say here that G-d does not show favor? In fact, He does show favor and we even beseech Him to do so for our benefit.
This apparent contradiction is what is bothering Rashi.
How does his comment mend matters?
An Answer: Considering that G-d is a Merciful G-d it is reasonable to expect Him to judge us at times "beyond the letter of the law." But this is understandable as long as the issue is one of a moral or religious lapse. But if the individual has thrown off the yoke of Heaven, has divested himself of all responsibility for following G-d's ways, then it is not reasonable to expect G-d to show his favor on such an individual. It is for this reason that Rashi pointed out that only those who "throw off His yoke" of commandments, will not be beneficiaries of G-d's favors.
Now let us now look at Rashi's second comment.
A Question: Why does Rashi say "to appease Him with money"? How, in heaven's name does one give money to G-d? He is not a human judge who could pocket the cash for personal benefit. A "bribe" usually means giving an official money in order to find favor in his eyes, but is this in any way applicable to G-d? What has money got to do with Him? And, in any case, how would one make the transfer?! No hand will come out of the sky to take it.
We should also note Rashi's words "appease him." This connotes the desire to avoid punishment.
Oh, but you say: Rashi doesn't really mean "money," as we know it, rather he means any sort a favor-finding in G-d's eyes. But, if this is so, why need Rashi say anything? Let Rashi remain silent and I would understand the meaning from the Torah's words on my own. Why then did say "to appease Him with money"?
BEGINNING TO UNDERSTAND
As we think of "bribing" G-d, we can think of several possibilities.
1) Doing mitzvahs in order to atone for and hopefully nullify our sin. This might appease G-d so that He wouldn't punish us.
2) Giving money to charity. This is a mitzvah which, in a sense, is like giving money to G-d, since this act of kindness is one of His mitzvahs.
The first possibility is how both the Rambam and the Ramban understand our verse.
The RAMBAM ON AVOS
The Rambam in his commentary on Perkei Avos (Ch.4: 28) writes:
"This does not mean: He doesn't take a bribe to pervert justice, because such an interpretation is absurd, such a thing is far removed from G-d. It is something that cannot even be imagined, for how could He take a bribe? And what could possibly be the bribe? Rather the meaning is, He does not accept good acts (mitzvahs) as (compensation); for example, if a person has done a thousand mitzvahs and one evil deed , Hashem will not forgive him his one sin because of all his mitzvahs, as if to deduct one mitzvah in place of that one sin. Instead He will punish him for his one sin and reward him for all of his mitzvahs. This is the meaning of 'He takes no bribery.'
The Ramban offers an identical interpretation of "bribery" in relation to G-d to that of the Rambam. (The Ramban was thoroughly conversant with all of the Ramban's writings, so he likely adopted this interpretation.) He says on this verse:
"Even if a truly righteous man has transgressed, [G-d will not] accept from him, as bribery, one of His mitzvahs in order to atone for [the man's transgression]. Instead He will punish him for his sin and likewise reward him with all His good (for the mitzvahs he has performed)."
QUESTIONING THE RAMBAM AND THE RAMBAN
One wonders why this is considered bribery. The Rambam himself write in the Laws of Repentance that if a person has more mitzvahs than sins he is considered a righteous person. So why shouldn't the fact that the person has more mitzvahs than sins allow him to gain atonement for his sin?
But let us first return to Rashi's comment, which differs from the Rambam/Ramban answer.
Rashi's comment seems closer to the second possibility above, since it involves money. We must understand why Rashi rejects the first possibility and why the second (giving charity) is not an acceptable means of obtaining atonement for one's sins. This is not easy!
Can you understand Rashi's comment that G-d cannot be "appeased with money"?
An Answer: Rashi's comment may be better understood when seen in light of a verse in Proverbs (16:6): "Through kindness and truth will sin be forgiven, and with the fear of Hashem one turns from evil."
Here we have the formula for really "appeasing G-d" and having our sins forgiven - the crucial factors: "kindness and truth." By kindness may be meant acts of charity (giving money to a charitable cause). But what does "truth" mean here? The answer would seem to be that complete atonement and the achieving of appeasement from G-d, requires "truth." In the case of a sinner who seeks the revocation of his sins, the elemental truth would be to admit one's sins. "This above all, to thine own self be true." This is the first step in doing tshuvah. Rashi is telling us that bribery for G-d is to think that doing more of His commandments without at the same time confessing and regretting one's sins, will achieve G-d's favor. But G-d takes no bribery. No matter how much money is given for a good cause, no matter how many good deeds in account, unless and until a man asks forgiveness for his sin, G-d is not appeased. Unless and until he is "truthful" about his actions and does not try to sweep them under the rug by "appeasing G-d" with additional mitzvahs. This thought is from Rabbi Z. Sortzkin's Oznayim L'Torah.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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