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13th Day of Adar II, 5744

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Vol. 20 — Adar II-Iyar, 5744


Pesach Sheni, 5744

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  Shabbos Parshas Emor
3rd Day of Iyar, 5744
Supplement
The Letter Sent Out by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
for Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan, 5744
 

1. The Zohar states (III, 94): “Every day has its own service.” Time is also a creation, and its purpose is that every day be wholly utilized by fulfilling its particular service. The first seven days of creation are repeated every week, with the creation of each day renewed on that day of the week (i.e., the creation of the first day is renewed every Sunday, that of the second day every Monday, etc.). Further, the Baal Shem Tov said that creation ex nihilo is renewed not only every day, but every moment, as said: “He renews ... continuously the work of Creation.” Since “G-d did not create anything in this world for naught,” we must conclude that the creation of any particular day is for a special purpose: it must possess some aspect not present in other days — its “own service.

The rule that G-d did not create anything for naught applies particularly to the creation of time. Once time was created, it is very difficult, or even impossible, for a person to imagine the absence of time. One can imagine a world without any one of the creations of the mineral, plant, animal and human kingdoms; but it is impossible to understand what it means to have no time. Because the creation of time is thus so powerful, the rule that G-d creates nothing for naught applies most forcefully to time: it certainly must have a purpose.

Since each day (and each moment) of the time spectrum is an individual creation, it follows that the service of each day is different from every other day. In other words, the service of any one day is unique to it not just in regards to the other days of that week or month or year, but in regard to all days of the entire spectrum of time.

The task of a Jew, who was created to serve G-d, is to utilize each day consonant to G-d’s will — by carrying out the service peculiar to that day. In the words of Scripture (Koheles 3:11): “He has made everything beautiful in its time.

In addition to the fact that each day possesses its unique service, there are days which are of a loftier nature than others (i.e., not just different, as all days are one from another, but loftier). In the well-known term: “Auspicious days.” One may ascertain which are these special days by looking in Torah, the source of all things, as stated (Zohar III, 161b): “He looked into the Torah and created the world.” And because “Torah” is from a root meaning “directive,” by looking into Torah one also derives directives for service to G-d concerning these days.

Looking into Torah, we see there are certain days, Shabbosim and festivals, which are far loftier and removed from the other days of the year. Although these “auspicious days” are but few in number, their inner meaning and the lessons derived from them are eternal, applying to the whole year. The concept of Shabbos, for example, must be extended to all the days of the week. Pesach, which celebrates the exodus from Egypt and is the “Season of Our Freedom,” extends to the whole year, for one is obligated to remember the exodus every day. Shavuos, the “Season of the Giving of Our Torah,” also extends throughout the year, for one is constantly obligated to learn the Torah. Sukkos is the “Season of Our Rejoicing,” and service to G-d throughout the year must be with joy, as written (Tehillim 100:2): “Serve the L-rd with joy.” Thus each of these festivals has a property not possessed by the other festivals, which, although emphasized on the particular festival, extends also to the rest of the year.

One of the special days of the year is Pesach Sheni (the second Pesach). If a person could not bring the Pesach offering in its proper time — on the first Pesach (because he was unclean or on a distant journey) — he is given the opportunity to do so on Pesach Sheni. According to what we noted above that each festival has its own unique aspect, it follows that Pesach Sheni too possesses features not contained by the other festivals (even the first Pesach), which are then extended La the whole year.

Although this day is called the “second Pesach,” thereby emphasizing that it is second in status to the principal Pesach — and particularly since it is only for those who were unable to bring the first Pesach — nevertheless, since it is one of the special days in the year, it must possess a quality that not even the first Pesach has.

Everything in the world has the dual aspects of being both a “giver” and “receiver.” Even the lowliest thing has some quality which everything else does not, which it “gives” to the other things (who in regard to this quality are “receivers”). This quality is an integral part of the whole of creation, making it whole and perfect. Thus, although Pesach Sheni in most aspects is second to the first Pesach, it must possess some quality which the first Pesach and other festivals do not. The latter then “receive” this quality from Pesach Sheni.

G-d’s command concerning Pesach Sheni differs from all others in the Torah in that it came into being through the complaint and demand made by Jews (who couldn’t bring the first Pesach) to Moshe Rabbeinu: “Why should we be deprived of bringing the offering of the L-rd?” (Bamidbar 9:7). All other commands in Torah were given by G-d without the Jews’ demand. What does this symbol i 7f^?

A Jew’s task regarding all aspects of Torah and mitzvos is to be a “receiver” — he does what G-d commands him to do or doesn’t do what G-d forbids. Yet we have said that everything in the world is both a “receiver” and a “giver.” It is Pesach Sheni which emphasizes Jews’ role as a “giver” — it was through their efforts, by demanding “why should we be deprived,” thereby indicating their great longing to offer the Pesach sacrifice, that brought about the commandment of Pesach Sheni.

In greater clarification: It is written concerning the creation of the world: “All His work which G-d created to function.” Our sages interpret “to function” to mean “to rectify,” intimating that G-d deliberately created the world such that it should be rectified by a Jew’s service, thereby making the Jew G-d’s partner in creation.

Similarly, all aspects of Torah and mitzvos were given to Moshe at Sinai. Nevertheless, there are some concepts in Torah which future disciples will reveal (for that everything in Torah was given at Sinai to Moshe, refers to the general principles and rules of deduction: the actual concepts derived from these principles and rules are revealed by successive generations). Indeed, every Jew has a portion in Torah which only he can reveal, as stated: “Grant us our portion in Your Torah.” This is particularly emphasized by the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni, which came into being purely as a result of the Jews’ claim, “Why should we be deprived.”

The claim “Why should we be deprived” seems to be most bizarre. The people who made this claim could not bring the Pesach offering in its right time for they were unclean. Now, if G-d desired that they should offer the Pesach sacrifice, He certainly would have commanded Moshe to tell them to do so (on Pesach Sheni) without them having to demand it. And if Moshe told them nothing, it means that they need not fulfill the mitzvah of offering the Pesach sacrifice!

Furthermore, our sages say (Sukkah 25a) that These people who could not bring the offering on the first Pesach were unclean because they were the ones who carried Yosef’s coffin from Egypt, or who had become unclean from contact with Nodav and Avihu (Aharon’s sons who died). This implies that these people were of the great men of that time, with the utmost faith in Moshe Rabbeinu. If they heard nothing from Moshe Rabbeinu or G-d concerning their obligation to offer the Pesach sacrifice, it could only mean that they were not obligated to. How then could they demand from Moshe Rabbeinu that they wanted to keep this commandment — when it should have been clear that if Moshe did not command them about it, it meant that it didn’t apply to them? How could they demand to keep something they weren’t commanded about?

From the fact that they nevertheless did demand, “Why should we be deprived” we learn a wonderful lesson. When a Jew feels that he is missing something in Torah and mitzvos, some aspect of fear of Heaven, he relies on no one — not on Moshe Rabbeinu and not even on G-d (so to speak). Instead, he cries out and demands, “Why should we be deprived!”

Torah says (Berachos 33b): “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven.” G-d therefore wants that a Jew, when he feels he is missing out on fear of Heaven, should cry out and demand that he have it. And when he thus shows his intense longing for it, G-d fulfills his desire — as we see, G-d gave the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni as the result of Jews’ demand, “Why should we be deprived.”

2. This teaches a wonderful lesson for Jews of both the highest caliber (“the heads of your tribes”) and of the simplest level (“the choppers of your wood and the drawers of your water”).

A plain Jew may think that he is unworthy of making demands, and that his demands wouldn’t be accepted anyway. Pesach Sheni teaches otherwise: The gulf between Jew and G-d is immensely wider than that between a plain Jew and one who is “the head of your tribe.” Yet, despite the vast gulf between a Jew and G-d, Jews demanded of G-d, “Why should we be deprived” — and their demand was accepted and Pesach Sheni was given as a mitzvah.

A Jew can learn from this how much power he has: Although there is such a gulf between him and G-d, he is able to demand something that concerns him — and G-d will accept the demand. Although this power is not of the Jew’s making but comes from G-d, he must know that G-d wants that a Jew should show that the lack of something concerning fear of Heaven affects him deeply.

Likewise, Pesach Sheni contains a lesson for the “heads of your tribes.” A Jew who spends all his life in Torah study or good deeds may think that because he lacks nothing there is no reason to demand “why should we be deprived.” However, a true Torah sage has no rest, as our sages say, “Torah sages have no rest in this world nor in the World to Come. as written: ‘They shall go from strength to strength.”‘ Even a Jew who studies Torah day and night, never wasting a moment, and observes mitzvos with the utmost meticulousness, never finds rest for his soul because he is always longing to go from “strength to strength” — to a yet higher level. Why can he find no rest? Because of the feeling “Why should we be deprived”: Knowing that he can go yet further allows him no rest until he reaches that higher level — and then, he once again wants to go yet higher, ad infinitum.

That Pesach Sheni resulted from the demand by the Jews teaches us another lesson. Some people question why we speak incessantly about Mashiach, that “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of Mashiach ... I will wait for him that he shall come every day.” One should rely on G-d to redeem the Jews when He wants, these people say. G-d sent the Jews into exile and He is the one who should redeem them. Why then the demand and outcry for the redemption?

Pesach Sheni teaches us why: Although this mitzvah, as all other mitzvos, should have been given directly by G-d, it in fact came into being as a result of the Jews’ demand, “Why should we be deprived.” Not only did a new mitzvah thus come into being, but it made all the mitzvos more complete — for the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni brought the number of mitzvos to their full totality 613. Pesach Sheni is one of the 248 positive mitzvos corresponding to the 248 limbs of a person. Thus, even a Jew who all his life brought the Pesach sacrifice on the first Pesach, has 248 limbs whose wholeness depends on the fulfillment of all the 248 positive mitzvos, including that of Pesach Sheni. And since the integrity of Torah depends on the actual fulfillment of mitzvos, for “study is great that it leads to deed,” it follows that Jews, through their demand not to be deprived, effected that the Torah too (as well as the mitzvos) should be whole.

We learn from this that our outcry for the redemption is not only not contrary to Torah, G-d forbid, but the reverse: Torah commanded us to act thus, via the Men of the Great Assembly who ordained that a Jew should say in his prayers: “Speedily cause the scion of Dovid Your servant to flourish ... for we hope for Your salvation every day.” Indeed, a Jew is not satisfied with making this request once a day, but repeats it at each prayer — three times a day!

Jews, together with King Dovid, cry out, “Until when?” They plead: “G-d, do not hold Yourself silent; do not be deaf and do not be still, O G-d” (Tehillim 83:2). Midrash Tehillim on this verse states: “The righteous tell the Holy One, blessed be He, what to do: They say to Him, ‘Arise,’ and He arises ... they say to Him, ‘Do not slumber,’ and He awakens ... they say to Him, ‘Do not be silent,’ and He listens....” The Mezritcher Maggid explains that the above Midrash is “similar to Choni the Circle Maker’s prayer, which changed, as it were, G-d’s will ... as one takes his friend by the hand and does not let him go, and changes his will.”

It follows from the above that when Jews plead for the redemption they effect that it come more quickly than without their heartfelt cries.

The same concept is behind the prayer: “Speedily cause the scion of Dovid Your servant to flourish ... for we hope for Your salvation every day.” Rambam rules (Laws of Prayer 1:2) that the positive mitzvah of prayer is that “a person ... shall request his necessities which he needs.” When a Jew feels he lacks something, he should request it from G-d. If this applies to asking for abundant livelihood (i.e., not just basic needs), it certainly applies to asking for the redemption to come quickly. Although a Jew is sure the redemption will come, he cannot serenely wait for it to come in two days time when he can bring it tomorrow. Moreover, if a Jew but wants it, he can bring the redemption today, as Rambam rules (Laws of Repentance 3:4): “A person throughout the whole year should view himself as if he were half innocent and half guilty; and should likewise view the whole world as half innocent and half guilty.... She fulfills one mitzvah, he turns the scale of merit in his and the whole world’s favor, and brings salvation and deliverance to himself and to them.” The “salvation and deliverance” thus effected comes immediately, not tomorrow or the next day. In the words of Rambam (Ibid., 7:5): “Immediately they are redeemed.”

The lesson, then, from the unique service of Pesach Sheni compared to the other days of the year, is that it came into being as a result of the Jews’ claim, “Why should we be deprived.” Even the other special days of the year do not possess this element: Shabbos is “sanctified of itself,” without any act on the part of Jews; and the sanctifying of the festivals, although done by Israel — through their establishing the day of Rosh Chodesh — is a result of G-d’s command to sanctify the months.

3. In addition to providing the opportunity to bring the Pesach sacrifice missed on the first Pesach, Pesach Sheni is also a festival in its own right. Although it is called Pesach Sheni (the second Pesach), implying it applies only when a person didn’t bring the sacrifice on the first Pesach — i.e., it only supplements the first Pesach — nevertheless, there is a law which indicates that Pesach Sheni possesses its own concept. Rambam rules (Laws of the Pesach Offering 5:7) that the obligation to bring a Pesach offering on Pesach Sheni devolves also on a “convert that was converted between the first Pesach and Pesach Sheni” — although at the time of the first Pesach, he was not obligated to bring the offering (since he was still a non-Jew). Similarly, a child who became Bar-Mitzvah between the first Pesach and Pesach Sheni must bring the Pesach offering on Pesach Sheni.

If we say that Pesach Sheni is nothing but a supplement to the first Pesach, the convert and child would not have to bring a sacrifice on Pesach Sheni, for since they were not obligated to bring the first Pesach, there is nothing to supplement. We must therefore conclude that Pesach Sheni also possesses an element unique to itself, making it a festival in its own right.

It is for this reason that the concept of Pesach Sheni applies even in our times. Although we cannot bring the Pesach offering on the first Pesach — and therefore there seems to be absolutely no reason for supplementing it on Pesach Sheni — we still observe Pesach Sheni by not reciting tachanun and by holding a farbrengen on this day, etc. Because Pesach Sheni possesses an element of its own (besides supplementing the first Pesach), its concepts are repeated every year, as written (Esther 9:28): “These days are remembered and kept.

We learn from Pesach Sheni the following: That Pesach Sheni provides the opportunity to bring the Pesach sacrifice missed out on the first Pesach teaches that one can always rectify the past — both actual sins and deficiencies in service. From the fact that Pesach Sheni is also a festival in its own right we learn that even a Jew who has no deficiencies in his service should increase in that service. For since Pesach Sheni is also a festival in its right, it follows that although one’s service on the first Pesach was perfect, one can increase in that service in a new manner (service in its own right).

The above is associated with the beginning of this week’s parshah, Bechukosai — “You shall go in my statutes.” “You shall go” implies service in the manner of “going from strength to strength”: one does not remain satisfied with one’s present service, although it may be free of deficiencies, but endeavors to always rise to a higher level. This is the same idea as Pesach Sheni: Although a Jew may have performed the service of the first Pesach perfectly, he is given the “auspicious day” of Pesach Sheni to go yet higher in service to G-d.

Whence comes the strength to engage in such service in the times of exile, when G-dliness is not apparent in the world, and it is difficult to just keep up with one’s present level of service let alone continuously rise higher?

“You shall go in My statutes” provides the answer: “Statutes” in Hebrew is “chok,” which is cognate to the word “chakikah” which means “engraving.” “You shall go in My statutes” means Torah and mitzvos must be engraved in a Jew. What does this mean? There are several levels in Torah:

    1) The Oral Torah;

    2) The Written Torah;

    3) The tablets of stone in which were engraved the letters of the Ten Commandments.

When words of Torah are spoken (the Oral Torah), the words and letters “vanish” into the air, and there is no connection between them and the person who said them. When letters are written, the letters remain on the paper — but, because they are not part of the paper, can be erased. Letters engraved in the tablets cannot be separated from the tablets, for the letters are not a separate entity but part of the stone in which they are engraved.

In terms of man’s spiritual service, this corresponds to the following: A Jew’s service is to unite with the “one G-d,” which is achieved by uniting with the Torah. Two types of service exist in this respect: That in the manner of written letters — meaning that although a Jew is bound together with Torah, he and Torah are two separate things. A higher level of service is when Torah is engraved in his soul.

“You shall go in My statutes” teaches that all aspects of Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvos should be engraved in a Jew — service associated with the soul’s essence, in which a Jew delivers his soul and will to G-d, nullifying his entire self.

Now we can understand how a Jew in exile can not only properly learn Torah and perform mitzvos, but can constantly increase in such service. When a Jew’s service stems from his revealed soul-powers, the exile can indeed restrict him. For since his service is associated with his revealed powers, the absence of the revelation of G-dliness in exile hampers that service. But when his service stems from the soul’s essence (since Torah and mitzvos are therein engraved), his thoughts, speech and deeds are permeated with the soul’s essence — and the exile can have no effect on him. Thus not only will there be no deficiency in his service, but he will go “from strength to strength.

In slightly different words: When a Jew’s bond with G-d — through G-d’s Torah — is such that they become one entity, then just as Torah is unchanging, so a Jew’s service is constant, unchanging, and never weakens. Further, even when such a Jew does not actually learn Torah, his constant desire to learn Torah all the time gives him no rest and thus his uneasiness at the fact that he cannot learn Torah at a particular time is considered a “preparation” to and the beginning of Torah study.

In this itself Pesach Sheni teaches a valuable lesson. “You shall go in My statutes” means that a Jew must always be rising higher in his service to G-d, throughout his life. When a Jew realizes that sometime in the past his service was not complete, he may become despondent thinking that that time .;sw lost. Pesach Sheni teaches such a person that “nothing is irretrievable”: One can always make up for service in the past, bringing it to the level of “You shall go in My statutes.”

There is a lesson from this in practical terms: The previous Rebbe has instructed everyone to engage in the dissemination of Torah and Judaism, doing so with love of a fellow Jew. How can one be told to love another as himself? When the service stems from his soul’s essence, in which all Jews are “of a kind and all have one Father,” love of a fellow Jew follows naturally. And when service is performed in such a fashion, all obstacles are nullified, and the previous Rebbe’s mission is fulfilled perfectly.

* * *
4. We shall now analyze a point in the daily portion of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah. Incidentally, there is a connection between Rambam and Pesach Sheni. Rambam was born on erev Pesach, and the rule is that an infant before it is one month old is not considered to be definitely viable; after thirty days it is considered that it will definitely live. Since Rambam was born on erev Pesach, thirty days later — i.e., the 31st day after erev Pesach — is Pesach Sheni.

Today’s portion of Mishneh Torah is chapters 5-7 of the Laws of Repentance (every day three chapters are studied). Chapters four and five talk of free choice: “Free will is bestowed on every person. If one desires to turn towards the good way and be righteous, he has the power to do so. If one wishes to turn towards the evil way and be wicked, he has the power to do so ... and there is none who can prevent him from doing that which is good or that which is evil.

“Let not the notions expressed by foolish gentiles ... pass through your mind, that at the beginning of a person’s existence, the Al-mighty decrees that he is to be either righteous or wicked. This is not so ... There is no one that coerces him or decrees what he is to do, or draws him to either of the two ways; but he himself and of his own volition turns to whichever way he desires ... Accordingly, it follows that it is the sinner who has inflicted injury upon himself, and he should therefore weep for and lament what he has done to his soul ... to return in a spirit of repentance.

Rambam then explains why we must say free choice is given to man. “If G-d had decreed that a person should be righteous or wicked ... what room would there be for the whole of the Torah? By what right or justice could G-d punish the wicked or reward the righteous?” He therefore concludes that, “man has freedom of will, and all his deeds are left to his discretion; nothing coerces him or draws him, but he himself, of his own knowledge ... does whatever it is in a man’s power to do.”

But, Rambam continues, the doctrine of free choice involves a tremendous problem: “Does not the Al-mighty know everything that will be before it happens? He either knows that this person will be righteous or wicked, or He does not know. If He knows that he will be righteous, it is impossible that he should not be righteous; and if you will say that He knows that he will be righteous and yet it is possible for him to be wicked — then He ines not know the matter clearly.” In other words, G-d’s knowledge of the future would seem to remove any possibility of free choice. If G-d knows in advance that a person will be righteous, then obviously that person will be righteous — which seems to contradict the principle of free choice stressed earlier by Rambam.

Rambam then proceeds to provide the answer to this dilemma. “Know that the solution to this problem is ‘longer than the earth and wider than the sea,’ and many important principles of the highest sublimity are connected with it. You, however, need only to know and comprehend what I am about to say. We have already explained in the second chapter of the Laws of the Fundamental Principles of the Torah that G-d does not know with a knowledge that is external to Himself, like human beings whose knowledge and self are separate entities, but He, blessed be His Name, and His knowledge, are One. The human intellect cannot clearly comprehend this.... This being the case, we lack the capacity to know how G-d knows all creatures and their activities. Yet we do know without doubt that a person’s activities are in his own hands, and the Al-mighty neither draws him on, nor decrees that he should act thus or not act thus.”

Ravad, Rambam’s foremost critic, comments: “The author (i.e. Rambam) did not follow the custom of the wise not to begin something and not know how to finish it. He began with weighty questions, and left the matter unresolved, turning to faith. Although there is no absolute answer to this [problem raised by Rambam], it is as well to offer somewhat of an answer, and say as follows: If a person’s righteousness and wickedness depended on the Creator’s decree, we would say that His knowledge is His decree and we would be left with an extremely difficult question. But now that the Creator has removed the power [to do good or evil] from His hand and bestowed it upon the person himself, this knowledge is not His decree, but it is as the knowledge of astrologers who know from other sources what path will this person follow. It is known that the Creator gave every event, small or large, that happens to a person, into the power of the mazalos (zodiac), but that He bestowed upon a person the intellect with which he is capable of escaping the influence of the particular sign of the zodiac [under which is the person]. This is the power granted to man to be righteous or evil. The Creator knows the power of the sign of the zodiac, and whether the person has enough intellectual strength to remove himself from the zodiac sign’s influence or not; and this type of knowledge is not a decree.”

But all is still not clear. There is another problem concerning free choice, as Rambam continues to say (end of chapter six): “Is it not written in the Torah (Bereishis 15:13): ‘And they shall serve them and they shall afflict them’? Did not then the Al-mighty decree that the Egyptians should do evil (i.e., should afflict the Jews)?” That is, G-d had told Avraham that his descendants would be enslaved in a foreign land and would be afflicted by them. That the Egyptians did indeed enslave and afflict the Jews would therefore seem to be the implementation of G-d’s decree. How then could the Egyptians be punished for carrying out G-d’s will?

The answer given by Rambam is, “Every one of those Egyptians who oppressed and ill-treated the Jews could have refrained from doing so, had he not wished to hurt them. For G-d did not make a decree concerning any specific individual but only informed [Avraham] that his seed would be subjected to servitude in a land that was not theirs. We Have already stated that it is beyond human power to understand the way in which G-d has knowledge of future events.”

Ravad asks the following question concerning this explanation of Rambam’s: “How it is possible to say about every one of the Egyptians that the Al-mighty did not pass a decree concerning him? The decree had to be fulfilled by someone?!”

Ravad’s question is intensified concerning Pharaoh, king of Egypt. For the Egyptians to enslave the Jews Pharaoh’s consent was necessary as indeed actually happened: Pharaoh was the one who first suggested that something had to be done about the Jews, and thus it became possible for their eventual enslavement. Thus, even if we say that G-d did not make a decree concerning any particular Egyptian (as Rambam answers), a decree had to be made concerning Pharaoh.

Ravad then says the following: “The question concerning the Egyptians is no problem, for two reasons. One, for it is known that the Creator only punishes a wicked person when the evil stems from him.... And the Egyptians were wicked, and were deserving of the plagues. Had they listened to Moshe in the beginning and sent away the Jews, they would not have been struck [by the plagues] and would not have been drowned in the sea; it was Pharaoh’s sin and his abusing of G-d before His messenger that caused him [to be punished]. Secondly, the Creator said [only], ‘They shall afflict them,’ and they [went further and] enslaved them with arduous toil, killed some of them and drowned some of them. This is similar to that which is stated (Zechariah 1:15): ‘I (G-d) was a little angry, but they added to the evil.”‘

Rambam, as we have seen, offers a different answer to the question concerning the Egyptians that “G-d did not make a decree concerning any specific individual.” Then he concludes with the words, “We have already stated that it is beyond human power to understand the way in which G-d has knowledge of future events.” Rambam adds these words because, even after his answer that “G-d did not make a decree concerning any specific individual,” a question still remains regarding G-d’s knowledge. Although G-d did not make a decree concerning any particular individual, He still knows that this particular individual will be the one to afflict the Jews. Therefore Rambam concludes that we cannot understand how G-d knows future events — meaning, that G-d’s knowledge of the future does not affect man’s free choice, although we cannot understand how that can be.

But all is not clear: As we have noted above, Rambam’s answer concerning the Egyptians, that “G-d did not make a decree concerning any specific individual” is difficult to understand since, as Ravad notes, the decree had to be carried out by someone, especially Pharaoh, whose consent was crucial for the fulfillment of the decree.

Similarly, Rambam’s words concerning G-d’s knowledge — that we cannot understand how G-d’s knowledge of the future does not negate free choice — are also puzzling. These words explain only why G-d’s knowledge doesn’t negate free choice. When G-d’s knowledge is revealed to man however, free choice is negated. For when a person realizes that G-d knows that such and such an event will happen, and G-d’s knowledge of the future is the absolute truth, the person cannot act in any other way.

In our case, the knowledge of G-d’s decree that the Jews would be afflicted by others in a Foreign land did not remain in G-d’s exclusive possession. G-d told Avraham about it at the Covenant Between the Pieces, who in turn transmitted this knowledge to his son, Yitzchok, who in turn told it to his sons, Yaakov and Esav. If Esav knew of it — and, as Rashi notes (Bereishis 36:6), wanted no part of it — then the Egyptians surely also knew of it. Rambam’s answer that man cannot understand how G-d has knowledge of future events thus seems to be insufficient, for here we are dealing with G-d’s knowledge as revealed to man.

This question is resolved through reference to an earlier statement of Rambam’s, concerning the authentication of a prophet. Rambam writes in the Laws of the Foundations of the Torah (10:1): “A prophet who arises and declares that G-d sent him, does not need to show a sign like any of the wonders performed by Moshe, Eliyahu or Elisha, all of which involved changes in the ordinary course of nature. A sufficient sign for him would be if he predicted events that would happen in the world and his predictions came true.... If they fail in the smallest detail, he is manifestly a false prophet. But if everything he said comes true, then he must be accepted by us as trustworthy.”

Rambam then draws a distinction between the types of predictions that authenticate a prophet. If he predicts good fortune, and the benefit promised does not come to pass, he is unquestionably a false prophet. If he predicts calamities, the case is different. In the words of Rambam (10:4): “As to calamities predicted by a prophet ... the non-fulfillment of his prediction does not disprove his prophetic character. We are not to say, ‘See, he spoke, and his prediction has not come to pass,’ for G-d is long-suffering and abounding in kindness, and repents of the evil [He threatened]. It may be that [those who were threatened] repented and were forgiven; ... possibly, too, the execution of the sentence is only deferred.”

We see from this that predicted future calamities may be averted, by repentance for example. In .vuz case, although Pharaoh knew that G-d had decreed that the Jews be enslaved, this decree did not necessarily have to come to pass (if, for example, there was repentance). That Pharaoh enslaved the Jews was thus of his own choice and will, not a result of G-d’s decree — and therefore he was punished.

But then our original question is reversed: We explained that Rambam wrote: “It is beyond human power to understand the way in which G-d has knowledge of future events,” to answer the problem that G-d’s knowledge negated the Egyptians’ free choice, and therefore they should not have been punished. But now that we have said that the decree upon the Jews could be changed (since it is a calamity), G-d’s knowledge — even if it were to be as a human’s knowledge — would not negate free choice. Why then need Rambam write, “It is beyond human power to understand the way in which G-d has knowledge of future events?”

Knowledge, however, operates on different planes. When a person thinks about something, he is master over his thoughts and can change his mind about the matter. Once he has uttered his thoughts out loud, he no longer has sole mastery over them; others have heard them, and he cannot now withdraw them. We find halachic instances where once a person has uttered something he cannot retract it even if he wishes to do so immediately. If one curses G-d, for example, the words he utters have left his domain and entered the world — and he is guilty even if he immediately retracts. Similarly, if one utters words of be5tethal, no amount of later retraction can help to nullify them.

In similar vein, the Zohar (Zohar Chodosh 8a) says concerning the future redemption that its thee “was not revealed from heart to mouth.” Although the time of the future redemption is known to Heaven — and therefore seemingly it can make no difference if it is revealed or not — the Zohar stresses that it “was not revealed from heart to mouth.” Why? The redemption can come in one of two ways: “In its appointed time” or in the manner of “I will hasten it” — earlier than its appointed time. Just as a person’s thoughts, once uttered, cannot be withdrawn, so the time for the redemption, if it were “revealed from heart to mouth,” could also not be changed: If it was ordained to be “in its appointed time” — it cannot be hastened; if it is ordained to be hastened — it cannot be in its appointed time. But since the time “was not revealed from heart to mouth,” the date of the redemption — in its appointed time or hastened — depends on man.

In similar fashion, were G-d’s knowledge of things like man’s knowledge, our above explanation that G-d’s decree concerning the enslavement of Jews could be changed (since it was a calamity) would not hold true. Since the future event is already part of G-d’s knowledge — similar to something revealed from “heart” to “mouth” — no changes are possible. Thus Rambam must write that G-d’s knowledge is not like man’s knowledge and we are unable to comprehend how G-d knows things and therefore although G-d has knowledge of the future, changes may still occur.


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3rd Day of Iyar, 5744
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