From Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
It is stated in the Parasha, “These are the chronicles of Heaven and Earth when they were created, on the day Hashem Elokim completed Earth and Heaven” (Bereishit 2:4).
It is well known that whenever the Name Hashem is used (the 4 letter Name, as opposed to Elokim) the intention is to convey Hashem’s attribute of mercy, as we say in the 13 attributes, Hashem, Hashem, Keil, Rachum VeChanun. Whereas the Name Elokim, the intention is to convey the attribute of Justice with which G-d runs the world.
Our Sages say in the Midrash that Hashem wanted to create the world with justice so that should a person sin, they will immediately suffer the consequences through justice. Just as he will behave so will be met out to him, should he transgress any rules and be punished.
But Hashem saw that the world cannot function in such a way, as Kind David a”h said, “Do not enter into strict judgement with your servant, for no living creature would be vindicated before you” (Tehillim 143:2).
Therefore Hashem decided that the world should function also with the attribute of mercy, beyond the letter of the Law. This is what is conveyed when it states, “on the day Hashem Elokim completed Earth and Heaven”, “Hashem Elokim” intends to convey both the attribute of mercy and justice.
Our Sages say that Hashem didn’t just combine the attribute of mercy but actually placed it ahead of justice, for the sequence is “Hashem Elokim” and not “Elokim Hashem”. We need to understand what is the intention for doing this, placing mercy ahead? What difference does it make, which is placed first?
It may be explained based on the Talmud Pesachim (118a), there the Sages explained “Praise Hashem for He is good, for His kindness is forever” (Tehillim 136:1) that he claims his debt through kindness.
What does this mean?
Sometimes a person may transgress a sin, and due to its severity, it is G-d-for-bid decreed that he die, in order to atone for his sin. As the verse states, “The soul that sins shall die” (Yechezkel 18:4). But Hashem is merciful, what does He do? He gives the person a chance and claims that chance. And this is what is meant “that He claims the chance (debt) in His kindness”. He claims from that person who sinned their silver. Money, but first having given to them silver and gold. And so suddenly in one day a person loses his money and he sits weeping and crying out, not realizing that Hashem gave and Hashem took away. Who gave him the money? Hashem. Why did He give it to him so that He could take it from him in order to atone for his misdeeds.
And so Hashem claims His debt from every sinner accordingly. The rich with his ox, the poor with his sheep, the widow with her chicken, each according to their means. He takes from him is financial resources and atones for him (Pesachim 118a).
And so it is for this reason that Hashem “preceded” the attribute of mercy to the attribute of justice, first He gives each person money and then He takes it from them to atone for the person.
A relevant story to this is related in the “Yalkut”. There was a king, who had a much beloved friend who was full of grace and wisdom and Hashem had blessed him with the gift of excellent oratory skills, wherever he went he would publicise the king’s good name. He would tell everyone, “Look how noble the king is! Look what a good heart he has!” See how much we worries for his citizens!” Until the people’s hearts became attached to the king. They all admired the king. The king knew all that had been done, he knew who had acted kindly to him and who caused this that the people loved him so much. He kept these thoughts to himself.
One day, the person who was beloved to the king, fell from grace, and committed a grave sin. Since he was a respected person, five top judges were placed to examine his case. They said, “What can we do! There can be no favouritism! This person has truly transgressed a serious infraction, and he must be sentenced to one year in prison!”
One of the judges, who was a good friend of this person, turned to his fellow judges and said to them, “Please, see my brothers, there is no doubt that you are correct, this person transgressed a sin that requires this punishment, but perhaps there may be another option. Let us write that if he pays a large sum of $100,000 to the king’s treasury, he may redeem himself from the penalty of prison. Now we know that he doesn’t have $100,000, yet nevertheless, let’s give him the chance! The judges listened and agreed. They wrote the judgement that this person must sit in prison for one year. With the condition that if he pays the king’s treasury $100,000, he may redeem his sentence. They signed the ruling that he will be incarcerated in thirty days time.
That poor fellow, didn’t have such a large amount of money, so he sought to obtain loans, turning to various loan gemachs. Each responded that they cannot lend more than $50,000. And so he went around forlorn until he gave up hope. He realised that he had no choice and that he will have to sit in prison.
On the last night before he went to prison, all the family came to bid their farewells and they all cried and were upset. But there was nothing they could do. At ten o’clock at night they all departed and left him at home with his close family.
That night the king couldn’t sleep, he turned his attention to his beloved friend and knew that he hadn’t succeeded in obtaining the sum of money that would redeem him from prison. What did he do? He took a suitcase and placed in it $100,000. He called his son, the chancellor of the exchequer and said to him, “See my son, how may I leave a person such as this to languish, who has dedicated himself for me. How shall I behave so? I must worry for him. But it is forbidden for it to be known that I have assisted him. Therefore I request of you, take this suitcase, and at two o’clock at night take it by hand to the home of my beloved friend, smash the glass window and throw in the case, and scarper!”
The chancellor went at two o’clock at night, looking around him that no one was watching, he smashed the window, threw in the case and scarpered.
That man and his family heard the window smash in the dead of night. They immediately got out of bed, put on the lights and saw the case. At first they were concerned that maybe it was a bomb, but on closer examination they saw no wires or anything suspicious, cautiously they opened the case and then all shouted in surprise, “Wow! It is full of green notes!” They sat and counted the money, and found exactly $100,000.
In the morning the man went and gave the money to the execution clerk, there they counted the money and gave the man an exemption from prison.
So Hashem acts with us. A person is liable to death, Hashem comes and has compassion on him, a pity that he should die, for he guides his children on the Torah path, for sure he will continue to guide generations of Torah observant people. Therefore he makes the person hear the announcement, “lottery, lottery”, “ten million shekel jackpot”. That person merits to win and comes home happy. But after a while he loses all the money. All this Hashem does to us, in order to redeem us from death, to save us from alternative punishments. Thereby “claiming his debt through kindness”, with the intention to atone for the person’s sins.
Therefore with everything, one must justify the judgement, “He is a faithful G-d, never unfair; righteous and moral is He” (Devarim 32:4), “Only you, the ones who remained attached to Hashem your G-d, are all alive today!” (Devarim 4:4).