What does it mean that Hashemcreated the world with a combination of the attributes of mercy and justice?
(1,1) “In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth.“
Rashi writes that in the beginning, Hashem’s first thought was to create the world with the attribute of justice, but He saw that world would not endure, so He preceded the attribute of mercy and combined it with the attribute of justice, and this is why it says “on the day when Hashem G-d made the earth and heaven".
What Rashi writes is astounding! Because when a person starts to do something in a certain way but then changes his mind and does it in a different way, it can be for only one of two reasons - either because the first way was too hard for him and tired him, and he was afraid that he will not succeed if he continued in that way, and so he does it differently, or because he sees that the result will not be good if he does it that way, but in the beginning, due to his insufficient intellect, he had not realised this. But Hashem neither tires nor wearies, and there is no fathoming His understanding, and He knows from the beginning what will be in the end. So how could it be that He would change His mind from His first intention?
However, it seems to me that the correct understanding is that when Rashi writes “Hashem’s first thought”, he does not mean first in time, because Hashem is above time, but rather first in rank and importance. What this means, is that just as when Hashem speaks, the thing which he speaks comes into existence, for example, when He said “let there be a firmament”, the firmament was created, so too with His thoughts, so to speak, there comes into existence that which He thinks, except that their existence is very, very small and spiritual, and are the highest level, (speech being also developed from thoughts), the starting point from which all the worlds and levels down to the middle of the earth develop. So Hashem’s first thought was the beginning of this chain of development.
Thus Rashi means that the upper worlds, where His thoughts came into being, are governed by the attribute of justice, but the end of the chain of development, the end of His actions, are governed by a combination of the attributes of mercy and justice, because evil exists there and so the world could not endure with the attribute of justice alone. Therefore it writes here “in the beginning”, that is, the beginning of His thoughts - or as Onkelos translates it in the Targum, “with wisdom”, which is the basis for thought - here “El-him created”, that is, the attribute of justice created (the name El-him signifies G-d’s attribute of justice). But later on it writes (2,4) “on the day Hashem El-him made the earth and heaven”, that is, when the level of thoughts developed down to the level of deeds, the end of His actions, it writes that Hashem El-him made, putting the name that signifies mercy before the name that signifies justice (the name Hashem, the four-letter name of G-d, signifies G-d’s attribute of mercy).
This is the reason why Chazal said that Hashem is exacting with the righteous, because whoever is elevated to a higher level becomes subject to a greater measure of the attribute of justice. This is also the explanation of the statement of Chazal “the posuk accredits to him” (literally - the posuk raises upon him) - that even though right now the matter is not considered for him to be a great sin, nevertheless, when Hashem will want to elevate his soul to a higher level, then the matter will be considered a great sin. Conversely, as long as a person is on a low level he cannot survive with too much of the attribute of justice, and this is the reason why Hashem created the world in this fashion.
This can be understood further from that which is known from the Sefer Yetzirah, that everything which Hashem created, He created in equal measure in the three aspects of creation, that is, in the world, in the year, and in the soul. And in each of these there are categories, and divisions, and subdivisions, ad infinitum.
For example, in the soul of an individual there are all of the powers that exist in the world and in the year. And so too in the set of all the souls of Yisrael, which is one unit, and so too in the larger set, that is, the souls of all humans, and so on.
So too in the individual year there are all of these powers, and so too in the set of all the years of the world, which is six thousand years, and so too in the larger set, which are all of the Shemittos, which is a deep secret with which we have no business. Similarly, in the world there are categories, subcategories, and so on, these powers being the same in all of them.
Therefore, in all Torah matters we have to examine, each one of us according to our intellect, how the matter is in the world, the year, and the soul, and we will speak about this, G-d willing, in all the places that our feeble intellect can attain. But for now, let us understand the matter that is before us - the varying ratio of the attributes of mercy and justice - in the world, year and soul.
In the world: Behold, it is well known that the world was founded from the place of the Holy of Holies, and that this was the beginning of the chain of development of this material world. One who enters there is liable to the death penalty, except for the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, and even then only after purifications and sanctifications. After that there are other places which only Kohanim can enter, but which require purification of the hands, and then there are further places that even a Yisrael can enter.
In total, there are ten levels of holiness in Eretz Yisrael, each one more lenient than the previous, because the further the chain of development is from its source, the more it is able to bear things which are not good, since there is a greater measure of mercy there. The last of the ten levels is Eretz Yisrael, about which it says in Vayikra 18:27 “For the people of the land who preceded you did all of these abominations, and the land became defiled. And let not the land vomit you out for having defiled it, as it vomited out the nation that preceded you”, because the land cannot bear abominations.
But the land outside of Eretz Yisrael, which is even further from the source, is able to bear them. Indeed, there are some sins for which one is liable for the penalty of Kares (cutting off), and when Yisrael were in Eretz Yisrael, one who transgressed such a sin would have been cut off. But outside Eretz Yisrael, sometimes a person might not receive any punishment for the sin in his lifetime, but rather the punishment is reserved for him for the world to come.
In the year: It is well known that the ten days of repentance are similar to these ten levels of holiness. On the first day of Rosh Hashannah there is a severe judgement, but on the second day, there is a lesser one. The rest of the days the judgement is reduced further until Yom Kippur, and the rest of the year judgement is reduced further still. And in the set of all the six thousand years, behold, we see that Hashem was much more exacting with the earlier generations, because they were more righteous.
For this reason, it is written explicitly in Shulchan Oruch in the laws of Yom Kippur, that even someone who is not careful about eating bread baked by a non-Jew the whole year, during the ten days of repentance, he should refrain. This halachah seems astonishing - if it is a sin, than who permitted it the whole year, and if not, then why should it be forbidden during these ten days? But it is like we have explained, that the beginning of anything is judged strictly with a large measure of the attribute of justice, and so something which is relatively small at other times, is considered very big towards the beginning. But the rest of the year, eating such bread does no harm at all.
In the soul - whoever attains a higher level, and so is closer to the source, is subject to a greater measure of the attribute of justice, and even a relatively small matter will cause a blemish. And so too in the set of all the souls of Yisrael, the greater the Tzaddik, the more Hashem is exacting with him.
This is what Rashi wrote: In the beginning, that is, the beginning of the chain of development of the creation of the world, Hashem’s first thought came into being, governed by the attribute of justice. And Hashem saw that the world could not endure, that is, Hashem always saw this, not that He changed His mind. Therefore, at the end of his actions,“on the day that Hashem El-him made the earth and heaven”, that which is further from the source is governed with a greater measure of the attribute of mercy, and He is not so exacting.
But nevertheless, a wicked person will also be punished in the world to come even for small matters, when Hashem elevates him from level to level after he has been punished for the more severe sins, as I explained above regarding the expression "the posuk accredits to him", and as I wrote elsewhere. But he is not punished for them in this world, because according to his level in this world, the sin does not yet make a blemish.
With this we can explain the posukim in Yeshayohu 40:27 “Why do you say O Ya’akov, and speak O Yisrael: My way is hidden from Hashem, and from G-d my judgement will pass? Do you not know, have you not heard, an everlasting G-d, Hashem, Creator of the ends of the earth, neither tires nor wearies, and there is no fathoming His understanding. He gives strength to the tired, and to one who has no strength, He increases strength. And youths shall become tired and weary, and young men shall surely stumble. But those who hope to Hashem will have their strength renewed, they shall raise wings as eagles; they shall run and not weary, they shall walk and not tire”.
All these posukim have no apparent explanation or flow - there is no need to mention the many questions we could ask. But we will raise one question, and that is the repetition in the posuk “Why do you say O Ya’akov, and speak O Yisrael?”. Also, the change of expression in this posuk - by Ya’akov it uses an expression of saying, which implies soft speech, and by Yisrael it uses an expression of speaking, which implies harsh speech.
But it can be explained in this way: It is well known that the name Yisrael signifies a righteous person, one who serves Hashem, whereas Ya’akov is the name used for someone who does not serve Him. Both of them are saying “My way is hidden from Hashem, etc.”, but the explanation is not the same by both of them - this one is saying it softly, as a statement, and this one is saying it as a complaint.
This is in accordance with what we mentioned above, that a righteous person is punished for light matters, but a wicked person is not. Thus things are good for him in this world, and consequently he gives himself licence to continue in his ways, saying that Hashem is merciful and overlooks transgressions. He does not fear Hashem since he sees that his way is successful. But the righteous person who is punished in this world complains about Hashem’s conduct.
Therefore, the one who is signified by Ya’akov says, by way of observation, “My way” - my evil way - “is hidden from Hashem” (the word 'from' in this context indicates cause)- is hidden because of the four-letter name of Hashem, which signifies His attribute of mercy. That is, Hashem conducts Himself with him with mercy, and so “from G-d my judgement will pass” - his judgement will pass by the attribute of justice so that he will not be punished. It says “will pass”, using the future tense, to indicate that he gives himself licence to carry on doing this.
However, the one who is signified by Yisrael says these things by way of complaint: “My way” - my good way - “is hidden from Hashem” - (the word 'from' in this context indicates separation) - his way is hidden from the attribute of mercy, and he is not being rewarded for his good ways - “and from G-d my judgement will pass” - from the attribute of justice will pass over him a judgement of punishment and affliction.
But to both of them the prophet gives one answer: “Do you not know” how Hashem organised creation? The beginning of all the levels was created by “an everlasting G-d” - the attribute of justice, and afterwards “Hashem, Creator of the ends of the earth” - the end of the levels, that is, the earth, was created with the attribute of mercy.
But this raises a problem, because “He neither tires nor wearies, and there is no fathoming His understanding”, so why afterwards did He change His mind from what He first intended to do? Perforce, it is like we explained, that the higher the level, the greater is the measure of the attribute of justice.
And so in the end, in the world to come, the “youths shall become tired and weary” - those who are empty of mitzvos (this is an exposition of the Hebrew word for 'youths'), that is, those who are signified by Ya’akov, even though they are not punished here for light transgressions, nevertheless, in the world to come, when Hashem wants to raise them up to higher levels, they will be punished for them. This is the answer to those who are called 'Ya’akov' - that they should not to give themselves a licence to do wrong, because Hashem does not overlook anything.
“But those who hope to Hashem”, who are punished here, in the end, in the world to come, “will have their strength renewed…they shall walk and not tire” - they will go from level to level without tiring, without punishment, because they have already received it in this world.
From all of this comes some practical mussar (ethical instruction), because the matter which we have explained teaches something about the soul aside from what we have already talked about. And that is, just as in the development of the worlds that which is higher has to be more unsullied, since it was created with a greater measure of the attribute of justice and so cannot bear any evil, so it is with the soul of a person.
Because it is well known that the soul of a person comprises all the worlds, and that there are four worlds in total - Atzilus, Beriyah, Yetzirah and Assiyah (Derivation, Creation, Formation and Doing). In a person, these correspond to the intellect, the thoughts, the speech and the deeds, (which correspond to the Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah and Neshamah to the Neshamah). And just like in the four worlds, as they develop there is more evil than that which came before, and above there is no evil at all, so it is by a person.
Therefore, because the intellect is something which is not capable of being perceived or grasped, it is far removed from all evil, and from any motivation to glorify itself in people’s eyes, because no one sees it. Therefore, a person has make sure that it is pure and unsullied from evil opinions and intelligences.
From the intellect come thoughts, which are slightly more exposed, because thoughts and contemplations can be perceived slightly on a person. But still, they cannot be seen, and are far from any self-interested motives, and so they must also remain unsullied.
From the thoughts comes speech, which is more exposed, and is a place of much evil because it is in danger of self-interested motivations and glorification, and a person must overcome them and push away any evil from himself. But nevertheless, even if he is not able to push away evil completely, and there remains a very small amount after all his attempts to drive it away, he will not be punished, because the lower levels are able to tolerate something which is not good more than the previous levels.
Finally, deeds are even more exposed, and even more in danger of self-interested motivations and glorification, and after his efforts to drive them away, there will remain more evil than that which remained with his speech. However, deeds can tolerate a little more evil, on condition that he does his utmost to drive it away.
And it seems to me, that this is what the Kabbalists were hinting at, when they wrote that the world of Assiyah is units, Yetzirah is tens, Beriyah is hundreds, and Atzilus is thousands. So that everything that in Atzilus is a thousand, its level in the world of Assiyah is only one.
What this means, is that since the intellect is far removed from all evil, that which a person’s intellect grasps of the service and fear of Hashem, even if he attains a great deal, can easily be guarded from self-interested motivations and glorification. But as we descend to the level of thoughts which are less guarded than the intellect because it is more exposed, he should only reveal to others only a tenth of his attainments, and the remainder he should contemplate privately.
And with his speech, which is even more exposed, he should should reveal to others no more than ten out of a thousand. And his good deeds, which are still more exposed, he should conceal even more, so that others only see one out of a thousand of his good deeds, which come from the attainment of his intellect. Because if he does everything which he has attained, “empty vessels make the most noise”, and he will become arrogant and boastful about it, but this will not happen if his deeds are only one thousandth of what he is capable of doing. (This does not disagree with what Chazal said, that a person has to make sure that his deeds are greater than his wisdom, that is, a person should strive to do deeds more than the ability of his wisdom, because they are talking about the deeds that he does in private, and we are talking about the deeds that he does in front of others).
I see that this matter is clearly expressed in the posukim of Shmuel Ⅱ 6:20-22 in that which Michal the daughter of Shaul said to Dovid HaMelech, “How honoured was the King of Yisrael today, who exposed himself today in front of the handmaids of his servants, like one of the empty ones exposes himself. And Dovid said to Michal: Before Hashem, who chose me above your father, and above all his house, to appoint me prince over the people of Hashem, over Yisrael, therefore I have made merry before Hashem. But I am more worthless than this, and lower in my own eyes”.
That is, Dovid HaMelech was very humble, as we see from Chazal, who said that he compared himself to a worm even though he was the king. But nevertheless, his humility was mainly hidden within him, but before others he did not show so much humility, but on the contrary, he took firm hold of his kingship to administer justice, and he did not forgo his honour. In fact, Shaul was punished for forgoing his honour, as Chazal have told us.
So when Michal saw Dovid leaping and dancing in front of all the people, she said to him that he had not acted properly, revealing his great level of humility in front of the handmaids (she mentioned the lowest strata, as if to say that it was in fact in front of everybody), the way an empty one reveals whatever good character trait that he has, and as the saying goes: empty vessels make the most noise.
He replied to her that he was leaping and dancing “before Hashem, who chose me above your father…”. And if you will argue that it is not fitting to reveal all of my high level of humility, you are correct, because “I am more worthless than this, and lower in my eyes” - it is not like you thought, that this which you saw in me was the limit of my level of humility, but rather in my eyes I am much more worthless than this.
When was water created?
(1,1) “In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth.”
Rashi writes that if you wish to explain this posuk simply, you must explain that it means "in the beginning of G-d’s creating the heaven and the earth…", because it is impossible to explain that the heavens and the earth were created first since the heavens were created from fire and water, and the Torah had not yet revealed when the creation of water was. But still, even if we explain like Rashi that it means the beginning of creating, why did the Torah not explain about the creation of fire and water?
To answer this, let us first look at the gemora in Berachos 45a, which says that one who drinks water to quench his thirst makes the blessing “...that everything comes into existence through His word”. But R. Tarfon disagrees and says that one should say “Who creates many souls and what they lack...”. Rava bar Rav Chanan said to Abayei, and some say it was to R. Yosef: What is the halachah? He said to him: Go out and see מאי עמא דבר (which is normally understood to mean "how people conduct themselves", that is, see which blessing the people customarily make on water).
This gemora is problematic - why did he not tell him explicitly what the halachah is, and instead he made it dependent on the custom of the people? Surely we find sometimes that the peoples’ customs are mistaken. Also, we only find this answer twice in all of the gemora. Furthermore, the usage of the word מאי is unusual - it would have been more normal to use the word מה.
But we can explain it according to the sefer אה"מ who writes that from Hashem’s speaking comes wind, fire and water, because when a person speaks there comes out from his mouth wind, water and the heat of fire, and so all the more so this is true from the speech of Hashem. (We can add that the word אמר (he said), which is the same matter as, and the root of, speaking, is called this because these are the first letters of אש מים רוח - fire, water and wind). Therefore the Torah did not say how fire, water and wind were created. (That is, they were created by themselves when Hashem spoke, when He created the world with sayings. And so these creations did not require a serparate saying like the other creations which were created through a saying, for example “And G-d said: Let there be light! And there was light”, but instead came into existence with His speaking which He said about other creations automatically). Therefore we make the blessing on water “that everything comes into existence through His word”. (That is, on most types of food we make a blessing using an expression of creation, for example, “Who creates the produce of the tree”, “Who creates the produce of the ground”, because they were created with a saying. But this is not so by water, which came into existence automatically as a by-product of a saying. Therefore, one says “that everything comes into existence through His word” - that through His speaking it came into existence automatically).
But we find that R. Tarfon argues and says to make a blessing on water using an expression of creation - “Who creates many souls” - holds that water was a separate creation, and did not come into existence automatically. Therefore, when Rava bar Rav Chanan asked what the halachah is, he was told that he could determine the answer by himself, by going out and seeing מאי עמא דבר, that is, how people speak, and behold they emit fire, wind and water. If so, all the more so this is true when Hashem speaks. And therefore the halachah is like the first Tanna. Understand all this, because it is, in my humble opinion, the truth.
So now we understand well that if we would interpret the first posuk literally - “in the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth” - then we would have a difficulty because the heavens were created from fire and water, and from whence were the fire and water? There had not yet been a saying. And even though Chazal teach us that “in the beginning” was also a saying, behold it is known that this saying was actually a thought, and therefore it is not written by it a saying, but rather “in the beginning” - a thought, which is the beginning of wisdom. And so since there had not yet been a saying, and thus water had not yet been created, from what were the heavens made? But if we explain the posuk as meaning “in the beginning of creating…” it is good, because since it says afterwards “and G-d said…”, fire and water were then created.
And with this we can understand the blessing of “Who creates the lights of fire” which we say during Havdalah, on which we could ask why do we do not say more briefly "Who creates fire"? But we now understand that this is because it is not suitable to make a blessing on fire using an expression of creation, just like it is not suitable for water, because fire also came into existence automatically from His speaking, just like the speaking of a person produces fire, water and wind, except this fire is the formation of natural fire, that is, the heat of fire. But the light of fire was a creation - “let there be light”, and so it is relevant to make a blessing on it using an expression of creation - “Who creates the lights of fire”.