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Shabbat Parashat Bo | 5770

Ein Ayah: Conflicting Chillul and Kiddush Hashem

(based on Berachot 3:31)


Gemara: [The gemara in Ta’anit 23a tells the story of the prayers of Choni Hame’agel (the circle maker) who, upon not succeeding when asking for rain during a severe drought, declared that he would not leave his circle until it rained. Subsequently, the wrong types of rain fell, so Choni kept on making strong requests until the matter was rectified.] What is a case of one who showed chutzpa in dealing with Hashem? Like that which is related in a mishna: Shimon ben Shetach said to Choni Hame’agel: You deserve to be put in niduy (excommunication) and if you were not Choni, I would decree niduy upon you, but what can I do, for you sin before Hashem and He does what you ask for, like a son who sins before his father and the father does what he wants. About people like you the pasuk was said: “Your father and mother will be happy, and she who bears you will rejoice” (Mishlei 23:25).


Ein Ayah: The foundation of k’vod shamayim (the honor of Heaven) is actually that due to k’vod shamayim all of the paths of straightness in the world will be laid out before us. When k’vod shamayim is undone, even a little bit, the foundations of justice and broad morality collapse, and then people will go in darkness. That is the main problem with minimizing k’vod shamayim, as Hashem does not need honor from us. Rather, by honoring Hashem, mankind directly takes steps toward shleimut (completeness).

Therefore, if something appears haughty in relation to Hashem and thereby lowers k’vod shamayim, but increases the honor of a righteous person, it can be that the pillars of morality will be supported by it. This is because when the nation sees how great the honor of the righteous is, to the point that a tzaddik “sins” and is still answered by Hashem, then everyone will want to make efforts to follow his path of righteousness. This is what Choni was thinking – that his actions would actually increase Divine honor, by causing people to improve their attributes and actions.

However, this is true only in regard to short term results: people of the generation, who see the honor of the tzaddik, will increase their desire for goodness and righteousness. However, regarding the future, only k’vod shamayim is the foundation of the paths of justice and straightness, as Hashem is “the righteous of the world.” When Divine honor increases, each generation will pass on to the next word of this honor and people will try to follow the path of kindness and truth through imitatio dei. A weakening of Divine honor leaves a stain in the hearts over generations. In contrast, the honor of the righteous, like the person himself, passes over time.

Prayer is called “life in the short term.” Therefore, great people who had a strong connection with their Maker and with prayer, regularly concentrated on Israel’s present spiritual level. This is important because when one fixes the present, the future comes out better. Torah is called “eternal life.” Therefore, those leaders of the generation who focused on Torah sought to determine how things will influence matters in the long term.

While Choni was great in Torah, his main influence was in the area of prayer and he sought to improve the nation in the present. He, therefore, took the approach that by strengthening regard for tzaddikim, he would bring people closer to a proper way of life, even if it came through actions that looked like chutzpah toward Hashem. He felt that this would ultimately increase Divine honor. However, Shimon ben Shetach was concerned with the welfare of future generations, whereby even a small lessening of k’vod shamayim, especially if performed by a great tzaddik whose influence would last into the future, would bring future damage that would exceed the present gain. Yet it was a situation which, from the tzaddik’s perspective, was rooted in fear of Heaven and unblemished service, so he related the pasuk: “your father and mother will be happy.” This focuses on the quality over the quantity. Therefore, although the impression for the people of the time was that the action included chutzpah, from his perspective it was an act of service of Hashem and shleimut. [Therefore Hashem accepted it and Shimon ben Shetach would not censor him]. 

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This week’s Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
R' Meir ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld

Hemdat Yamim is endowed by
Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker and
Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.

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