Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Audacity of our Avot- Berachot 31-32

People often assume that what makes our biblical personalities great is their blind obedience to Hashem no matter the situation. Today's daf indicates that in reality often the opposite is true.

The Gemara continues a discussion from yesterday about three of our great biblical giants who "threw words towards heaven", הטיח דברים כלפי מעלה. On Berachot 31b it lists Channah and Eliyahu.

Channah spoke insolently towards G-d in her prayer for a son, as it says 'ותתפלל על ה. Channah did not pray to G-d, literally she prayed "on" G-d, meaning she threw her words to heaven in an insolent manner. Rather than be angry at her, Hashem listened to her prayer and gave her a son, the great Shemuel who anointed the first two kings of Israel.

Similarly, Eliyahu threw his words to heaven when he blamed G-d for the wicked ways of the people of Israel by saying ואתה חסבות את לבם אחורנית. Eliyahu pointed his accusatory ginger towards G-d saying it is not the people's fault for doing wrong, rather it is Hashem who turned their hearts astray by giving them a יצר הרע, an evil inclination. Likewise, here Hashem ultimately agreed with Eliyahu's accusation.

The most notable example of a biblical character who threw accusatory words to heaven is Moshe Rabbenu. In his defense of the Children of Israel after the terrible sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe actually blames G-d for this betrayal. He says that if Hashem had not laden the people with gold and silver after the miracle of Yam Suf, the people would never have used these precious metals to build a graven image.

The Gemara gives a number of parables to explain this. One notable example is of a father who has a favorite son. He spares him nothing bathing him, anointing him, feeding him, and giving him a large wad of cash to hang around his neck. He then places his son by the door to the brothel. Who is at fault if the boy sins. In this case as well, Hashem consented to Moshe and spared the Jewish people despite their sins.

Moshe's case is especially noteworthy since Moshe Rabbenu defended his people without any concern for his own needs. Hashem promised Moshe that after the people were destroyed, Moshe would father a new Chosen Nation. Moshe spoke against this. Moshe was even willing to tell G-d to kill him rather than kill his people.

These three examples and dozens of others throughout the Tanach teach us a great lesson. Hashem does not want mindless robots. Hashem wants fighters. Hashem does not ask for blind obedience he asks for thoughtful obedience and sometimes even principled dissent. What made our biblical characters the great exemplars for us is that they had such a high standard of right and wrong that they were even willing to hold Hashem accountable כביכול when they felt he was not living up to it.

As Avraham Avinu rhetorically asks in his defense of the people of Sdom, השופט כל הארץ לא יעשה משפט? Should the Judge of the world not act justly? This heroism and moral rectitude is what made our biblical forefathers and mothers great and is an example for us to aspire to.

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