We have been learning about what we shall call a “two-track” system in Hashem’s ‘management’ of the world. A person can choose to do good or evil, and has complete free will to perform whatever action he or she wills. Concurrently, the party or parties affected by those actions have had those effects decreed upon him, her or them from Heaven, whether these are pleasant or pernicious. Moreover, these two tracks can and do coexist, for Hashem’s foreknowledge of all that will and does occur does not interfere with free will (which is admittedly a subject in and of itself). He ‘maneuvers’ things in such a way that His decree will be executed by people exercising their free will. This is why Pharaoh is punished, although it had already been decreed upon B’nei Yisrael that they be subject to oppression and slavery from the days of Avraham Avinu. Last week, we cited several Gemaras and maamarei Chazal that assume and state this philosophy.
We concluded last week’s column with a question concerning David Hamelech’s actions vis-a-vis Shimi Ben Geirah, who cursed David and otherwise belittled him as he ran away from his son Avshalom, who had rebelled against David. David said to his generals, who had offered to do away with Shimi, not to touch him ‘for Hashem has told him to curse.’ Now, we know that David did not mean that Shimi was sent on an actual shelichus from Hashem. Rather, he was referring to the second ‘track’ mentioned above; i.e., David was focused on the fact that what had occurred simply could not have transpired unless it had been decreed from above. But does that really exempt Shimi from what was in effect a capital crime of rebellion against the King?
This question is intensified when we read that just before David’s death, he charges his son and soon-to-be-King, Shlomo to deal with Shimi and bring about Shimi’s punishment by executing him. This is amazing! At the time of the crime, David restrains his generals with the explanation that the occurrence was decreed from heaven. Yet before he dies, he commands his son to punish Shimi! How can we resolve this seeming contradiction?
The same question can be asked of the actions and reactions of Yosef and his brothers after he revealed himself to them. Yosef says at the time of his revelation, and once again after the death of Yaakov their father, when the brothers feared his vengeance, “Do not be sad or upset over the fact that you have sold me into slavery, for Hashem willed this to happen in order to sustain so many people in a time of great famine… You were not the ones who have sent me to Egypt; rather, it was Hashem…” (Bereishis 45:5, 8) Was Yosef serious? Did he really mean it or was he just trying to make them feel good? According to what we have seen, his magnanimous statement simply is not true! They had meant to do him evil, and it was Hashem who had used their plans for a constructive purpose. Does that excuse what they did?
Let us look at the matter from the perspective of the person or persons affected by the deeds of another. Such a person’s attitude is best summed up by the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 241) in his discussion of the prohibition against taking revenge. The Sefer Hachinuch explains the logic of (and the idea behind) this seemingly impossible constraint as follows. “A person must realize that anything that happens to him, good or otherwise, is decreed by Hashem that it occur to him; nothing happens without it being the will, the command, of Hashem. Therefore, if someone has harmed you, realize that it is but a result of your sins, and that it is a punishment. If so, why take revenge, since that person is not the true source of what has happened… This is what David Hamelech meant when he said ‘Hashem told him (Shimi) to curse;’ that his (David’s) sins were the cause of the curses, not Shimi’s actions.” Thus, the motivation for revenge is misplaced, maintains the Sefer Hachinuch.
However, from the perspective of the perpetrator of the evil (or good, for that matter), the free-will choice that he made will determine whether he is to be punished or rewarded. But that is between him and G-d. His punishment (or reward) at the hands of Heaven is irrelevant to the person who was harmed (or helped).
There is also a “middle ground,” specifically, those instances when someone has harmed me, and the Torah provides for his reimbursing me, giving back what he took, making me whole again. When the Torah provides for such a course of relief, then I may seek that relief, despite the hashkafah that the loss was sent by Hashem. Since the Torah provides for such recourse, I may —perhaps I must— pursue it. After all, one never knows if Hashem wanted me to suffer loss of money, loss of time, loss of energy or perhaps just great aggravation. Perhaps this is my chance to ‘clip the wings’ of a perpetual evil-doer! However, when that is not the case, my perspective must be that Hashem willed this to happen to me, and merely ‘used’ this person to accomplish that. When it is the case, I must maintain the perspective that the episode was sent by Hashem with the possibility of attaining relief. This results in pursuing my rights, doing what may and perhaps must be done, while at the same time viewing it in a non-personal way; with no anger, no hatred —certainly no thoughts of revenge, not even harboring a grudge! (which is also forbidden…) This is not easy —not easy at all— but that is our obligation as believing Jews.
David, upon hearing Shimi’s curses, decided to delay punishing Shimi. Punish him he must, for Shimi was indeed rebelling against Malchus Beis David (the Davidic Dynasty), claiming that Shaul Hamelech and his family were the true Kings of Israel). In fact, the halachah is that a King may not forgive such an act. Nevertheless, David felt that in the short term he should invoke the perspective of seeing it as the hand of Hashem, and let Shimi be. Perhaps he felt that to punish Shimi at that point in time would have seemed a personal issue. Perhaps he wanted to invoke Divine mercy, requesting that this be a kapparah for his, David’s, sins. Whatever the reason, David chose to focus on the perspective that is ultimately true! He simply delayed Shimi’s deserved punishment. (Perhaps David felt that since he, David, lay dying, no one would see his instructions to Shlomo as simple revenge.) Similarly, Yosef chose to focus on the unbelievable extraordinary obvious hashgachah peratis that influenced the lives of virtually the entire civilized world at the time, which was brought about through his brothers selling him. Because of that clear hashgachah, he chose not to pursue punishing them for their misdeed. However, he was only able to do so because he viewed the series of events with the correct perspective. (In fact, some say that the fact that he did not explicitly forgive them resulted in the punishment centuries later of the famous assara harugei malchus who were chosen to receive the long-outstanding punishment of the shevatim!)
And so, the next time someone harms you in some way —take a deep breath, step back, and think through Who is truly doing what to whom in this instance.