Torah thought forFriday 26 Tishrei 5783 October 21 2022

Shabbat Bereishit - Parashat Bereishit - Are We Judged With the Attribute of Mercy or Justice? Or Perhaps Both?

(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l)

(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

It states in the week’s Parashah, “In the beginning Elokim created heaven and earth” (Bereishit 1:1).

It is well known that wherever it states in the Torah the Name “Elokim”, it refers to the Divine attribute of justice, and where it mentions Hashem’s Four Letter Name it refers to the Divine attribute of mercy. Here, regarding the creation of the world, it mentions “Elokim”. From here we learn that the world was created with the attribute of justice.

Our chachamim explained (Midrash Avkir and Pirkei D’RebbiEliezer end of ch. 22), that at the time that the generation of the flood corrupted their way, two angels came, Shamchazaiand Azael and argued before Hashem:

“Master of the Universe! ‘What is frail man that You should remember him!’ (Tehillim 8:5). You should have sufficed with those in the Upper Worlds, the ministering angels, the seraphim and ophanim and why did You create man? Behold, man is full of sin!”

Hashem responded to them, “It is revealed and known to Me that if you remained on earth the yetzer hara (evil inclination) would rule you!” They said to Him, “Give us permission and we will live together with the humans and then You will see how we will sanctify Your Name in the world!” He granted them permission.

When they descended, they saw that the daughters of the land were beautiful, they got up and corrupted their ways and they were unable to conquer their desires [see Bereishit 6:2].

In this way the Gaon Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev zt”l (1740-1809) would advocate that for this reason over the High Holidays the angels are unable to sit in judgement and to judge Am Yisrael. For there is a clear halachic principle, “do not judge your fellow until you reach his place “ [Avot 5:2], if so, how may the angels judge a person? And therefore King David said, “May my judgement go out from before You, Your eyes behold uprightness” (Tehillim 17:2). And therefore we merited at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, at the time of Neilah, that Hashem judges us Himself in His Glory, for good life and shalom.

Let us return to the Parashah. We have said that Hashem created the world with the attribute of justice. Our chachamim explain that in the beginning Hashem sought to create to create the world with the attribute of justice, however afterwards He saw that the world cannot withstand such a formula and so He adjoined the attribute of mercy. Therefore later in the Parashah it states, “These are the chronicles of heaven and earth when they were created, ‘on the day Hashem Elokim completed earth and heaven’” (Bereishit 2:4), then Hashem adjoined the attribute of mercy. Therefore it states, “Hashem Elokim” and not just “Elokim” as it did at the beginning of the Parashah.

However we must understand that with Hashem there is no such thing as an action and afterwards a thought of regret. If so, when they say that at the beginning Hashem thought to create the world with the attribute of justice and afterwards adjoined the attribute of mercy, it doesn’t really mean that there was a difference in His conduct as it were. Rather whenis states at the beginning, “In the beginning Elokim created”, it immediately states, “heaven” and only afterwards “earth”, for heaven are the upper worlds, the place of angels which Hashem created with the attribute of justice. However afterwards it states, “on the day Hashem Elokim completed”, and what did He create? “Earth” and afterwards “heaven’”, for regarding the creation of the earth he combined the attribute of mercy with the attribute of justice.

Why was this necessary? Because regarding the upper worlds, there is no yetzer hara, no physicality. Therefore everything may be run with the attribute of justice for the angels are, “the strong warriors who do his bidding” (Tehillim 103:20). However people are in the “earth”, they are physical entities which may blur, they have a yetzer hara, therefore they require the attribute of mercy.

However, there is still the reality of the attribute of justice also in this world. Who does Hashem judge literally according to the attribute of justice? The holy pious ones, the “survivors” [people with stamina and perseverance] which Hashem beckons, like Rebbi Haninah ben Dosa. With them He behaves with the attribute of justice as it states, “and His surroundings are exceedingly turbulent” (ibid. 50:3). Someone who is found as it were in the “surroundings” of Hashem, is close before Him. With him Hashem is meticulous to a hair’s breadth and the more those tzaddikim are closer to Hashem and more in awe of Hashem, so Hashem is more meticulous with them.

One should know until how far the matters reach that Rabbeinu HaArizal revealed that there are tzaddikim, andeven after many years that they have passed away from the world, they are judged again and again. This is because even when a person is in Gan Eden, they are judged each year because it is possible to elevate them to an even higher level. For example, a person who influenced others for the better in this world or he left righteous children, then his merits continue to increase and he goes from level to level in Gan Eden. However, when they come to elevate him, they judge him again and meticulously assess if they are suitable to that level. Sometimes a person leaves Gan Eden and is punished for actions that until now they weren’t meticulous about. This is all from the perspective of the depth of justice.

And so Rabbeinu HaAri related about a talmid chacham who was judged in heaven to go to Gan Eden because he had left many pupils in this world, who were tzaddikim and studying Torah. However, after many hundreds of years when they came to judge him according to his level, after careful analysis they punished him because he once went in the street where there was no eruv and earth entered his shoes and he made no effort to remove the earth and therefore moved it in the public domain.

Even though that according the halachah there is no doubt that he was exempt for many reasons, despite this they punished him. This was according to his actions and his spiritual level.

Therefore a person should realise that there is no depth to the judgements and there is no limit to how high a person may ascend. So he should be exceedingly careful and cautious and not cheapen any spiritual matter. For at the end he is destined to give an account and reckoning for his actions. However, a person who makes an effort in all his ways to fulfil Hashem’s will, then from heaven they will also assist him so that he will not stumble.

Shabbat Shalom UmVorach