Imrei Shefer - Parshas Ha’azinu

Does both good and bad come from Hashem?

(32,1) “Listen, O heavens, and I will speak. And the earth shall hear the words of my mouth. My teaching will drip like rain; my words will flow like dew…”

It says in the Yalkut: “Listen, O heavens” - in the future Klal Yisrael will say to Hashem: I don’t know who did wrong to whom, and who made a change to whom; if Yisrael did wrong to Hashem or if Hashem made a change to Yisrael. But when it says in Tehillim 50:6 “and the heavens will relate His righteousness”, we must say that it was Yisrael that did wrong to Hashem. This is what the posuk in Malachi 3:6 says, “I, Hashem, did not change…”. This Yalkut is very puzzling, as the sefer Akeidas Yitzchok discusses at length. Also, how is this teaching relevant to our posuk?

It seems to me that the Midrash is dealing with the matter of reward and punishment. The commentaries have already investigated at length how the matter of reward and punishment could exist by Hashem. Because if a person is a Tzaddik and Hashem wants to bestow good on him, but afterwards he becomes wicked and so Hashem retracts from his decision to reward him, and instead punishes him; and so too the other way round, when a person was a wicked and so Hashem wanted to do bad to him, but he then repents, and so Hashem changes His mind - all this apparently requires a change of will, but how is possible by Hashem that He should change from wanting to not wanting, and vice versa?

They answered that the change is not with Hashem at all, but rather the change is in the recipient. This is like the way the sun affects things on the earth: if we put out butter or fat or wax in the sun they melt, but if we put salt out in the sun it hardens. Is it right to say that the change is in the sun? Certainly the change is only in the recipients, and that it is the nature of one thing to harden, and the nature of another is to melt. So too by Hashem - if a person acts righteously, he prepares himself to receive the good, but if acts badly then it is he who prevents the good, because he did not prepare himself to receive the good.

According to this, behold the practical difference between if we say that the c change from reward to punishment and vice versa comes from a change by Hashem, who changed from bad to good, and by him is the change of will, or we say according to the truth that by Hashem there is no change, but rather the change is by the receiver.

Now, whether the change from reward to punishment and vice versa comes from Hashem changing His will, or from a change in the recipient, which is the correct explanation, is not at all recognisable here on the earth, because either way the practical result is the same - good or bad. But above in the heavens the difference is clear. Because if it comes about because Hashem makes a change from good to bad, then when Hashem decrees that good should happen, it would mean that he says explicitly with His mouth that good should happen, and then the good will start to exert its influence towards the earth. And the opposite, when He desires to bring bad, He says explicitly that bad should happen, and then the bad will start to exert its influence downwards and even whilst it is still in the heavens it is recognisable as bad.

But if we say that there is no change of will by Hashem at all, but rather the change is in the recipient, than Hashem does not decree explicitly with His mouth bad or good. Rather, in the beginning when Hashem founded the world He instituted that good and bounty should go down to the world, but He instituted that the good and bounty will be able to change according to the recipient, according to how he prepares himself - if he observes the Torah and mitzvos or not. According to this, the bad is never recognisable in the heavens, because there it is always good - just like the sun, that as long as wax or salt are not placed opposite it, its power is not recognisable. So too the heavenly influence will not be recognisable as anything but good until it reaches the earth, where it changes according to the recipient.

This is the intention of the Midrash - Hashem did not make a change in Yisrael from good to bad for nothing, G-d forbid, but rather because they had sinned greatly, as they knew from the prophets who had rebuked them, and Moshe himself had rebuked them greatly, and so Yisrael had no question about this. But they had a question about where reward and punishment comes from. Was it because Yisrael became corrupted before Hashem, that is, that good and bad does not come from Hashem, but rather they ruined the good by not preparing themselves to properly to receive it, and so it was from them and not from Hashem. Or was it because Hashem made a change in Yisrael, that is, that there was actually a change of will by Hashem, that initially He wanted good and afterwards He decreed on them bad. And the reason why they had a question about this was because this is not recognisable here on the earth.

Therefore the Midrash brought the posuk “and the heavens shall relate His righteousness”, that the heavens are able to tell the difference, as I explained above, and they testify that something bad never comes down from the heavens, and above it is always good. Only on the earth there is a change according to the recipient. And so too it says “I, Hashem have not changed”, that is, from My side there was no change at all, and I did not change my mind. Thus the words of the Yalkut are clear.

And this was the intention of Moshe when he said “Listen O heavens and I will speak”. The commentaries remarked that with regard to heaven he said “I will speak” but by the earth he said “ the words of my mouth”. Also by the heavens he said “listen”, an expression of command, and by the earth he said “it shall hear”, using the future tense. But we can explain this according to what we wrote above.

Now, it is known that all the rebukes were said with an expression of speaking, for example, “these are the words which Moshe spoke” when he rebuked them. And Chazal have taught that whenever the Torah uses an expression of speaking it signifies harshness. Also, “the heavens” does not mean the heavens alone, but rather the heavens and everything that is in the heavens - the ministering angels and the Heavenly Hosts. And so too the earth does not mean just the body of the earth, but rather the earth and its inhabitants.

This was the intention of Moshe who wanted to command Yisrael in the mitzvos, and sought to inform them that if they keep them they will receive a reward, and if they don’t keep them they will be punished. And Moshe knew that that if that inhabitants of the earth would believe in reward and punishment, certainly they will keep the Torah, because who is foolish enough to want punishment and abandon reward. But Moshe was concerned perhaps they will not believe him that there is reward and punishment, because how could Hashem change His will? And they will not believe that the change is in the recipients, because who can testify to this? Only the heavens, as it says in the Yalkut, “and the heavens shall relate His righteousness”. Therefore he said “Listen O heavens and I will speak” words of rebuke and punishment. They will testify for me that thus is the truth, and then it will follow that “the earth shall hear the words of my mouth”, that is, the inhabitants of the earth will listen to the Torah and mitzvos, because they will fear losing reward and receiving punishment.

How do we know that a prophet is called a father?

(32,7) “Remember the days of old; reflect upon the years of other generations. Ask your father, and he will tell you; your elders, and they will inform you.”

Rashi explains that the prophets are called fathers, as we see from when Elisha called out to Eliyohu in Melachim Ⅱ 2:12 “My father, my father, the chariot of Yisrael”. My sharp son Chaim Yehudah asked that Chazal teach that anyone who teaches the son of his friend Torah is accredited as if he had given birth to him, as it says “these are the generations of Aharon and Moshe”, and in Yeshayohu 7:3 “and She’ar-Yashuv your son”. If so, since Elisha was a student of Eliyohu, perhaps for this reason he called him father, and not because he was a prophet? He answered that since the posuk repeated “my father, my father” when it would have been sufficient to say “my father” only once, it must be because he was considered a father to him twice - once as his teacher, and once because he was a prophet, and if so, this proves that a prophet is called father.

My son also said to me, why does it write in posuk 21 “I will provoke their anger with a foolish nation”. Why specifically with a foolish nation? Because if were not a foolish nation, then it would be possible to be mistaken and think that because they were a powerful nation they did this, and it was not from Hashem. But since it was through a foolish nation, everyone knows that this was the hand of Hashem, as it says in posuk 32 “for their Mighty Rock has sold them out, and Hashem has given them over”.

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