The Baal Teshuvah and the Tzadiq

I commented on Gratitude:

What does “todah” mean? As it stands, it means “thanks”. The same root conjugated as “vidui” means to “confess”. Last, when the mishnah wants to stress that something is outside of a dispute, “hakol modim” — “all agree”. What do thanks, confession and agreement have in common?

When I thank someone, I acknowledge his actions had an impact on me. When I confess, I am admitting that my actions had an impact on him. And when we are modim, we realize that an idea isn’t mine or yours, but ours. The point in common in the three uses of the root is a realization of connectedness.

Yehudah was named for hoda’ah with more of a connotation of gratitude:

תַּהַר עוֹד וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתֹּאמֶר “הַפַּעַם אוֹדֶה אֶת ה׳”; עַל כֵּן קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ “יְהוּדָה”; וַתַּעֲמֹד מִלֶּדֶת.

And [Leah] became pregnant again, and said “This time I will thank [odeh] Hashem”; therefore she called his name “Yehudah”; and she finished birthing children.

Bereishis 29:35

And yet, Yehudah may be most noted for his readiness to do teshuvah and confess his mistakes — the vidui sense of the root for which he was named. Tamar held out his signet ring, cords and staff, and identified Yehudah to himself as the one who had gotten her pregnant, while still keeping his guilt a secret from others. Yehudah, however, confesses his guilt — and her innocence — in public.

וַיַּכֵּר יְהוּדָה, וַיֹּאמֶר “צָדְקָה מִמֶּנִּי! כִּי עַל כֵּן לֹא נְתַתִּיהָ לְשֵׁלָה בְנִי, וְלֹא יָסַף עוֹד לְדַעְתָּה.”

And Yehudah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than me! Because I didn’t give her to Sheilah my son, and I did not allow anyone else to know here.”

Bereishis 38:26

The gemara [Makkos 11b] merits this example as teaching Reuvein the art of confession. A merit that Moshe hints at in his blessing in veZos haBerakhah (33:6-7), ” יְחִי רְאוּבֵן וְאַל יָמֹת, וִיהִי מְתָיו מִסְפָּר. וְזֹאת לִיהוּדָה…. — Let Re’uvein live and not perish, that his number not become few. And this is for Yehudah…” Phrasing the opening of Yehudah’s blessing so that it can also be heard as referring back — “and this” Re’uvein’s blessing “is for Yehudah…”

Yehudah’s path in Torah observance, for which his tribe is named, the Kingdom of Judea (Malkhus Yehudah) was named, and for which we today are called “Jews” is as much about the centrality of gratitude as the importance of confession

The story of Yehudah and Tamar (ch. 38) is adjacent to that of Yosef’s servitude in Potiphar’s home, and his resisting Potiphar’s wife’s attempt to seduce him (ch. 39). This placement invites us to compare and/or contrast the two stories. Yehudah succumbs to temptation, but confesses and repents, becomes an exemplar of a ba’al teshuvah. Yosef is tested and stands up to the challenge, and the Zohar states (1:194b) it is for this that Chazal call him “Yosef haTzadiq“.

Both rise to royalty. Yosef, in the house of Par’oh, and in his eventual descendent, the mashiach beis Yoseif who is destined to lead the war against Gog uMagog, and fall in battle. But it is Yehudah from whom the Jewish People’s true royal house descends, and from whom the mashiach who brings world peace will be born. Perhaps it is an example of Rav Avahu’s famous words (Berakhos 34b):

דאמר רבי אבהו: מקום שבעלי תשובה עומדין – צדיקים גמורים אינם עומדין, שנאמר: (ישעיהו נז:יט) “שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם לָרָחוֹק וְלַקָּרוֹב” — “לָרָחוֹק” ברישא, והדר “לַקָּרוֹב”.

… As Rabi Avahu said, “In the place where baalei teshuvah stand — the fully righteous cannot stand. As it says “Peace, peace, to those who are afar, and those who are near.” (Yeshaiah 57:19). “To those who are afar” — initially, and after, “to those who are near.”

Yehudah’s progeny are not only given a position Yosef’s family is not as suited to fill, but it is the matter of war vs peace that distinguishes the two mashiachs — as per the pasuq Rav Avahu quotes — “Peace, peace, to those who start out afar, and come near!”


The Netziv (Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin 1816-1893, last Rosh Yeshiva at Volozhin) wrote a relatively famous piece in Meishiv Davar (1:44) that is quoted a lot this time of year. I thought I would translate a core section (pg 52, col 2, paragraph starting “Vehinei). The context is that the Netziv just discussed the prohibition against going into business with minim (heretics) lest one get influenced.

The extremists ruled and came up with a plan to be guarded in this generation by separating one from the other altogether, the way Avraham separated from Lot. But with all due respect to the extremists this plan is hard to the body of the nation and its survival like swords.
For in time when we were in our Holy Land it was as if with our permission during the Second Temple that the land was conquered, the Temple destroyed and the Jews exiled because of the dispute of the Pharasees with the Sadducees and also caused by much pointless hatred which is not according to the law. That is, at the time that one Pharasees saw someone lenient in some matter, even if [the other] wasn’t a Sadducee at all, but was sinning, still because of pointless hatred they judged him to be a Sadducee and would attack him and from this bloodshed multiplied….

And all this isn’t unimaginable to Heaven forbid happen in our time as well! For my own eyes saw one of the Orthodox decide that another wasn’t acting according to his way in serving G-d, and ruled that he was a heretic and distanced himself from him. Now they chase after one another in a false illusion that it is permissible, and destroy the entire nation of G-d (Heaven forbid)….

Siimilarly the Netziv writes in his introduction to the Book of Bereishis (HaAmeq Davar, pesichah):

The subject is explained in the song of Ha’azinu on the words, “הצור תמים פעלו וגו’ צדיק וישר הוא — The Archetype Whose work is perfect… He is Righteous and Upright”. (Devarim 32:4) That is an upright praise to justify the Holy One’s Justice in the destruction of the Second Temple, which was “a warped and twisted generation” [c.f. Devarim v. 5]. For they were righteous, pious, and toiled in the Torah, but they weren’t upright in the ways of the worlds. Therefore, because of pointless hatred, because in their heart they accused anyone who they saw acting in a manner unlike their opinions in yir’as Hashem of being a Sadducee and a heretic. They came through this to bloodshed via internal divisions, and all the evils in the world until the Temple was destroyed.

On this was the justification of the Judgment. That the Holy One is upright and doesn’t pardon “righteous people” like these, only those who walk in the upright paths also in the ways of the world. And not through treachery even if were for the sake of heaven. For this causes the destruction of creation and the elimination of settlement of the land.

Taken Tish’ah beAv morning, 2013

If I may add what I believe to be the real hard part… We have to read the Netziv’s words not as a description of those who demonize us and those like us, our way of serving G-d, but of our own “justified response”. The end of internal divisiveness in the Jewish community will not come through identifying another camp as guilty and separating ourselves from them!

But what if the “other” isn’t being demonized, but really is a threat? Didn’t our first citation from the Netziv open with an obligation that would keep us somewhat apart from the real heretics?

Tosafos (Pesachim 113b “shera’ah bo) ask about the word “sonei“.

ואם תאמר דבאלו מציאות (ב”מ דף לב: ושם) אמרינן אוהב לפרוק ושונא לטעון מצוה בשונא כדי לכוף את יצרו והשתא מה כפיית יצר שייך כיון דמצוה לשנאתו וי”ל כיון שהוא שונאו גם חבירו שונא אותו דכתיב (משלי כז:יט) כַּמַּיִם, הַפָּנִים לַפָּנִים כֵּן לֵב הָאָדָם לָאָדָם ובאין מתוך כך. לידי שנאה גמורה ושייך כפיית יצר:

This requires a lot of explanation, so I won’t try a literal translation. The Gemara (BM 32b-33a) says that if someone has to choose between unloading a friend’s donkey, or loading that of someone he hates, one should choose helping the one he hates, because overcoming the yetzer hara is a mitzvah. (In other cases, unloading has priority over loading, because of the weight on the poor animal.)

But from the gemara the Tosafos are commenting on in Pesachim, we learn that this rule

applies to unloading an enemy’s donkey even where the enemy is a sinner of the sort that we’re supposed to and even obligated to hate him. So they ask, why then is there a mitzvah to overcome that hatred? Tosafos answer that the justified enmity can cause a cycle of hatred. As is says in Mishlei 27:19 “As with water, one surface (literally: “face”) answers another, so too the heart of a person to a person”. And so the measure of hatred one is supposed to have can grow, “uva’in mitokh kakh lidei sina’h gemurah“. And so, we must control the yeitzer even when hatred is appropriate, lest it grow to complete hatred.

To capture this latter thought, I originally named this post “Hatered”, intending to mean “Hater-ed”, but then realized it just looked like another instance of my bad spelling. But that’s really what we’re talking about more than the issue of avoiding hating. Since Tosafos discuss a case where hating is called for. Rather, they warn against turning into a hater, getting “hatered”.

Ways of Peace

In a comment on my recent post “Infinite Worth“, Raffi asked:

Hey – would you elaborate on your intriguing definition of darkhei Shalom as “walking the path of He Who makes peace”?

Vav — I’d be glad to. (Now aren’t you glad I don’t inject my sense of humor into this blog too often?)

The factoid behind Raffi’s question is that the phrase is usually taken to be pragmatic. The way I learned it in grade school was that we violate Shabbos to save non-Jews because it’s important to keep the peace lest they kill us. Similarly, there is a concept that is batted around synonymously, “mishum eivah” — because of animosity.

Despite these understandings being commonplace in discussion, they do not stand up to scrutiny. This was first brought to my attention in an email from Yeshivat Har Etzion (“Gush”) too many years ago to find, which contained notes from a lecture given by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlit”a. The same thesis appears in his “In The Human and Social Factor in Halakhah”, Tradition 6 (2002) pp. 89-114, made available on-line by the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education (Bar Ilan Univ.) What I write below will be based on my memory of the email in addition to the essay.

Most trivially, neither idiom is used not used exclusively where there is real risk to life or limb, but that would have to be the meaning of the phrase if it were pragmatic grounds to override Shabbos.  Mishum eiva is applied between father and child on Bava Metzia 12a; on Yuma 12b to the kohein gadol; and on Kesuvos 58b, between husband and wife. So avoiding eivah is a value of some sort detached from the value of saving people from future retaliation.

But we were looking at darkhei Shalom in particular.

There is a story in the gemara (Sukkah 53a) where David haMelekh dug deep holes into the ground as part of his preparations for the future building of the Beis haMiqdash. He dug far enough down to hit the tehom, the subterranean water, and the water came up threatening to drown the world. Achitofel wrote the name of G-d on a pot sherd and through it down the hole, thus stopping the water. He reasoned from the law of sotah, where a paragraph of the Torah that includes Hashem’s name is written on a parchment, dissolved in water (along with some dust from under the Beis haMiqdash) and given to a sotah — a married woman accused of adultery who then is found alone with the suspected paramour. Achitofel reasoned that if Hashem’s name may be erased to save one marriage, then of course it may be erased to save the entire world.

The Rama (teshuvah #11) says this is a general principle that preserving the peace is a value that can at times override prohibitions. As Rav Aharon Lichtenstein translates the relevant snippet of the responsum:

We have learned from here that it is permissible to modify [the truth] for the sake of peace, and it is permissible to violate the injunction, “Thou shalt distance thyself from falsehood.” [The consideration of peace] also overrides the biblical prohibition of “Thou shalt not do thus to the Lord thy God,” which bans the erasure of God’s Name, as is explained in the Sifri to Parashat Re’eh and counted by the Rambam and the Semag in their respective enumerations of the mitsvot. Since this is so, I say that it is also the case that [peace] overrides the prohibition of defamation; in other words, it is permissible to defame another if one’s intention is for the sake of Heaven and for a good cause, [namely,] to promote peace.

But what makes the whole thing open-and-shut is the Rambam’s explanation of how we are to relate to non-Jews and why (Hilkhos Melakhim 10:12):

אַפִלּוּ הַגּוֹיִים צִוּוּ חֲכָמִים לְבַקַּר חוֹלֵיהֶם, וְלִקְבֹּר מֵתֵיהֶם עִם מֵתֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּלְפַרְנַס עֲנִיֵּיהֶם בִּכְלַל עֲנִיֵּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִפְּנֵי דַּרְכֵּי שָׁלוֹם: הֲרֵי נֶאֱמָר “טוֹב-ה’ לַכֹּל; וְרַחֲמָיו, עַל-כָּל-מַעֲשָׂיו” (תהילים קמה:ט), וְנֶאֱמָר “דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי-נֹעַם; וְכָל-נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם” (משלי ג,יז).

[Not only Jews and geirei toshav (resident aliens),] even for non-Jews our sages commanded to visit their sick, bury their dead [as] with the Jewish dead, support their poor among the Jewish poor, because of darkhei Shalom. For it says, “Hashem is good to all, and His Mercy is on all that He made.” (Tehillim 145 “Ashrei” v. 9). And it says, “[The Torah]’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” (Mishlei 3:14, also said when returning the Torah to the aron)

The Rambam’s prooftexts show that darkhei Shalom is:

1- Imitatio dei. This is why I have been capitalizing the “S” in “darkhei Shalom“. I believe from this perspective, we are actually using Shalom / Peace in its use as an appelation for G-d. To go in His Peaceful Way.

Note how the kindnesses listed are behaviors we learn from Hashem’s examples:

ואמר רבי חמא ברבי חנינא מאי דכתיב (דברים יג:ה) אחרי ה’ אלהיכם תלכו וכי אפשר לו לאדם להלך אחר שכינה והלא כבר נאמר (ד:כד) כי ה’ אלהיך אש אוכלה הוא אלא להלך אחר מדותיו של הקב”ה מה הוא מלביש ערומים דכתיב (בראשית ג:כא) ויעש ה’ אלהים לאדם ולאשתו כתנות עור וילבישם אף אתה הלבש ערומים הקב”ה ביקר חולים דכתיב (בראשית יח:א) וירא אליו ה’ באלוני ממרא אף אתה בקר חולים הקב”ה ניחם אבלים דכתיב (בראשית כה:יא) ויהי אחרי מות אברהם ויברך אלהים את יצחק בנו אף אתה נחם אבלים הקב”ה קבר מתים דכתיב (דברים לד:ו) ויקבר אותו בגיא אף אתה קבור מתים:

And Rabbi Chama beRabbi Chanina said: Why is it written, “You shall walk following Hashem your G-d”? (Daverim 13:5) It is possible for a person to walk following the Shechinah? Doesn’t it already say, “For Hashem your G-d is [like] a consuming Fire?” (4:24) Rather, it means to walk following the attributes of the Holy One blessed be He [as He shows Himself to us]. Just as He clothes the naked, as is written: “And Hashem E-lokim made for Adam and his wife cloaks of leather and dressed them (Bereshis 3:21) So too you should cloth the naked. HQBH visited the sick, as is written: “And Hashem appeared to [Avraham after his beris milah] in Oak-woods of Mamrei” (Bereishis 18:1) So you you should visit the sick. HQBH comforted mourners, as is written: “And it was after Avraham’s death, and G-d blessed his son Yitzchaq” (Bereishis 25:11) So too you should comfort mourners. HQBH buried the dead, as is written: “And He buried [Moshe] in the valley” (Devarim 34:6). So too you should bury the dead.

Sotah 14a

2- Darkei Shalom is the defining feature of halakhah.

Far from what I was taught as a youth, darkhei Shalom (and even mishum eivah, the avoidance of animosity) are not mere accommodations of an imperfect reality, but speak to the heart of Torah.