Sunday, November 25, 2012

Shabbos 55b - Death and Suffering for No Reason

The gemara discusses whether we assume that there is a concept of מיתה בלא חטא and suffering without sin. Tosafos explains that אין מיתה בלא חטא means that Hashem can punish even for accidental violation. In other words, if we are to hold that there must be sin associated with death, that means that the bar of what is considered a sin has to be low to include even accidental violation. The gemara ultimately proves from a Braisa which says that there were 4 people (Amram - father of Moshe, Binyomin - son of Yaacov, Yishai - father of Dovid, Kela'eiv - son of Dovid) who died בעטיו של נחש, only because of the original sin committed by chava without having a sin of their own, that there can be death without sin. Therefore the gemara concludes - יש מיתה בלא חטא ויש יסורין בלא עון. Tosafos points out that even though we only prove the first part - יש מיתה בלא חטא, once we prove אין מיתה בלא חטא is wrong, we also assume אין יסורין בלא עון is also wrong.
This gemara seems to undermine the entire concept of reward and punishment. How are we to believe that one can be punished without doing any aveiros? Although Tosafos in Brachos 46b seems to take this more literally that there can be death and punishment without sin, the Meiri here has a different approach. The Meiri understands that the concept of reward for mitzvos and punishment for aveiros if מעיקרי הדת, a fundamental principal of our belief. Therefore, we definitely assume that there cannot be death or punishment without sin. Nevertheless, we consider these 4 people to have died only because of the sin of chava as a way of exaggerating their purity and minimizing the possible aveiros they may have committed. The bottom line according to the Meiri is that everyone must have sinned at some point and no one will ever be killed just for the sin of chava.

1 comment:

Daniel Libicki said...

In my arrogant opinion:

To say that "there is death and suffering without sin" is not the same as "there is death and suffering for no reason". It just means that there are other reasons for death and suffering besides sin.

I don't think this undermines the idea of reward and punishment. We believe that we are rewarded for mitzvos and punished for sins, but that doesn't imply that all suffering is punishment, or, for that matter, that all pleasure is a reward.

I am not saying pshat in the Meiri. But I think that the theology of the Meiri has been rejected bizman hazeh. When we hear of tragedy that befalls someone (a normal person), or someone dying young, chas veshalom, we don't assume that they deserved it, that it was a punishment for something terrible that they did. We assume that Hashem did it for a good reason, but not as a punishment.

Kal vachomer, if someone dies of old age, we don't assume that this is a punishment, that they did something terrible for which they deserved to die. On the contrary: this is how Hashem set up the world; people live at most 120 years, and they pass away. After the life of the body ends, there is Gan Eden, and eventually techiyas hamesim. But these are things that we don't really understand.