Saturday, July 21, 2007

Completing a Mitzvah

The Midrash maintains[1] that the fulfillment of a commandment is only attributed to the one who completed the fulfillment of the commandment. This means that if one starts to perform a commandment, but does not finish it and someone else actually finishes the performance of a commandment started by someone else, the latter is accredited with the accomplishment of the commandment. Rabbi Leib Lipschutz, the first father-in-law of the Shinover Rebbe, Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam, (1813–1899) asks[2] whether or not this rule applies even if the first person was unable to complete the fulfillment of the commandment. He asks whether the rule that a commandment is only ascribed to the one who completes it is even if the one who started it caused those circumstances that caused him not to be able to finish carrying out the mitzvah, or does it apply only if he was unable to finish it because of circumstances beyond his control. The Talmud says[3] that one who intends to perform a mitzvah, but is forced beyond his control not to carry it out, is considered as if he performed the commandment. Rabbi Lipschutz asks in this case is the one who completes the commandment given all the credit.

The Talmud[4] contrasts two Scriptural verses concerning the bones of Joseph. In one instance, the Talmud notes that the Torah says, "Moses took the Bones of Joseph with him"[5], yet in another context, the Torah refers to the "Bones of Joseph that the Israelites brought up [from Egypt]"[6]. There is a seeming contradiction in the Torah whether Moses took the bones of Josef or the Israelites took his bones. Rabbi Chama bar Chanina answers that actually, Moses initially took Joseph's bones and intended to bring it to the land of Canaan, however, when he was unable to enter the land of Canaan, the other Israelites finished his mission. He explains that the transportation of the Bones of Joseph is ascribed to the Israelites, even though Moses started it because when one starts to fulfill a commandment and does not finish it and someone else finishes it, the fulfillment of the commandment is attributed to the latter party. However, another Midrash questions[7] why the Psalmist writes "A song to David [concerning] the dedication of the Holy Temple" if King David did not build the Holy Temple, King Solomon, his son did. The Midrash explains that since King David intended to build the Holy Temple, even though in the end he did not, he is considered as having built it. This is because King David actually started the construction of the Holy Temple by digging its foundation[8]. Why does the Midrash ascribe the completion of a Mitzvah to the one who finished it (the Israelites, not Moses, in transporting the Bones of Joseph), yet in another instance the Midrash ascribed the completion of a Mitzvah to the one who started it, not he who finished it (King David, King Solomon, in building the Holy Temple)? Some answer[9] that Moses caused his situation in which he would not be allowed to enter the land of Israel to finish his mission by hitting the rock. While the circumstances, which caused King David not to be able to complete construction of the Holy Temple, were completely beyond the control of King David because the prophet simply came to him and told him HaShem said he is not to build the Holy Temple. Based on this one can answer that if one was forcibly stopped from performing his commandment by conditions which were beyond his control, he can still be considered the performer of the commandment when it is completed, just as King David is considered to have built the Holy Temple. However, if one put himself into a position where he was forcibly not able to complete a commandment, then the achievement of the commandment is credited to the one who finished, just as Moses is not considered to have brought the Bones of Joseph to Israel.

However, Rabbi Lipschutz writes, upon further examination, one will realize that Moses could not bring the Bones of Joseph into the land of Israel for the same exact reason that King David could not build the Holy Temple. The Midrash explains[10] that HaShem did not allowed King David to build the Holy Temple because had King David had built it would never have been able to have been destroyed. Therefore, had King David built it then when the Jews would later sin, HaShem would not be able to pour out His fury by destroying the Holy Temple of sticks and stones, and rather He would have had to destroy His people themselves, heaven forbid. The Psalmist writes, "A song to Asaf: G-d, gentiles have entered into You inheritance, they profaned Your Holy Sanctuary, and they have transformed Jerusalem into heaps of rubble.[11]" Rashi quotes[12] that the Midrash asks[13], why this is called a "Song to Asaf" instead of a kinah, a lamentation, to Asaf. Rashi answers that Asaf was singing about the fact that HaShem unleashed his fury upon wood and rocks instead of on the people of Israel, for had HaShem done the latter, no one would have survived, heaven forbid. Therefore, HaShem decreed that King David would not build the temple, so that it would later be able to be destroyed, as a service to the Jewish nation.

The same is true concerning Moses. Moses was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel because had he led the Jewish people into Israel, he himself would have been the Messiah, and the Holy Temple would have been built by him and such a Temple would not have been able to be destroyed. Therefore, had Moses led the Jews into Israel, they would have been destroyed, but now that he did not lead them there, the Holy Temple was destroyed in their stead. Moses describes his begging HaShem be allowed into the Land of Canaan: "I implored HaShem at that time saying 'HaShem, the G-d, You have began to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand…Allow me to cross and see the good land, which is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.[14]" HaShem reacted angrily and said, "It is too much for you, do not continue to speak to Me more about this thing"[15]. The Midrash explains[16] that "at that time" refers to the time of the conquest of Sichon and Og, when HaShem had seemingly profaned/violated His vow. The Midrash then "Your greatness" refers to the Manna and "Your strong hand" refers to the wars against Sichon and Og. What does the Manna and the wars with Sichon and Og have to do with Moses entering the land of Israel and HaShem violating a vow? Rabbi Lipschutz explains the meaning of this Midrash. The Talmud says[17] that rain can fall in the merit of an individual, but large-scale sustenance can only occur in the merit of the population. The Talmud then asked how then did the Manna fall in the merit of Moses, if large-scale sustenance can only come in the merit of the masses. The Talmud answered that the merits of Moses were considered as great as the merits of the entire population. Moses saw HaShem allowed him to fight Sichon and overtake the Moabite territories, even though HaShem earlier told Moses[18] not to fight Moab.

From here Moses saw that the only reason that he was allowed to overtake the Moabites was because HaShem looked at him as a representation of the masses, and thus since only an unfavorable heavenly decree on the masses can be overturned, but not on an individual[19]. The unfavorable decree against Moses, which barred him from fighting for the Moabite territories had been overturned, and was able to have been overturned because Moses was considered like the masses. Accordingly, Moses saw from the battle against Sichon and the fact that the Manna fell in his merit that he was considered like a population on his own, and thus unfavorable decrees against him could be overturned. Because of this, Moses decided to pray to HaShem to overturn the decree, which barred him from entering the land of Israel, as well. In requesting to led the nation into the land of Israel, Moses asked to see the "good mountain" which is a reference to Mount Mariah, upon which the Holy Temple has stood[20], and the Lebanon, a reference to the fact that the Holy Temple was built of Lebanon wood (from the area surrounding Tyre in the modern-day country of Lebanon).

However, HaShem did not acquiesce to Moses' prayers. This is because had Moses succeeded in his request, led the Jewish people in Israel, and built the Holy Temple, such a Holy Temple built by Moses would not have been able to be destroyed. Therefore, instead of unleashing His wrath upon a building of wood and stones, HaShem would have had to destroy the Jewish nation themselves when they would later sin. Consequently, HaShem responded to Moses' request by saying "You have enough", meaning that it is enough that Moses will lead the Jewish people in the time of the Third Holy Temple, after the Resurrection of the Dead, so he will not have to lead the Jewish people into Israel in the generation after the exodus. Accordingly, the reason why Moses could not lead the Jewish nation into Israel and bring there Joseph's bones is the same reason why King David did could not build the Holy Temple. Why then is the transportation of Joseph's bones not ascribed to Moses, yet the building of the Holy Temple is attributed to King David? Rabbi Lipschutz answers that King David was accredited with the building of the Holy Temple because the Talmud says[21] that when King Solomon wanted to bring the Holy Ark into the newly constructed Holy Temple, the gates to the Temple were closed shut. The doors did not open, even after King Solomon offered twenty-four prayer until King Solomon mentioned the merits of his father, King David[22]. Therefore, one can understand that the inauguration of the Holy Temple is attributed to King David, even though he only began the construction, but did not complete it, because it was in the merit of the King David that the services in the Holy Temple were allowed to commence. Nevertheless, usually, one who starts to perform a Mitzvah but could not complete is not credited with the finalization of the Mitzvah, just as Moses is not credited in the end with carrying the Bones of Joseph to the land of Israel.
[1] Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Eikev §6
[2] See Ateres Zekanim §5 printed the Shinover Rebbe in 1895 (printed in the back of the book Ayalah Shelucha by the son of the Shinover Rebbe, Rabbi Naphtali Halberstam).
[3] Brachos 6a
[4] Sotah 13b
[5] Exodus 13:19
[6] Joshua 24:32
[7] Yalkut Shimoni to Samuel §46
[8] Sukkah 53a
[9] Responsa Shuv Yaakov, Even HaEzer §13
[10] Yalkut Shimoni to Samuel §46
[11] Psalms 79:1
Interestingly, Rabbi Moshe Alshich (1508-1593) explains (Alshich to Psalms 79:1) the seeming threefold repetition in the wording of the beginning of this Psalm. He explains that "gentiles have entered into Your inheritance" refers to the destruction of the First Holy Temple, when the gentile-army led by Nebuchadnezzar's general, Nevuzardan, merely entered the Holy Temple, but did not destroy. Rather, the moment they entered the Temple with intention to destroy it, the Heavenly Angels descended and set fire to the Temple themselves because the Temple was too holy to have been destroyed by gentiles. "They profaned Your Holy Sanctuary" refers to the fact that the Syrian-Greeks entered the Second Holy Temple and defiled it by erecting statues and committing sins inside, but they did not destroy it. "They have transformed Jerusalem into heaps of rubble" refers to the Romans who, led by general Titus, the son of the Emperor Vespasian, set the entire city of Jerusalem ablaze and plowed over the Temple Mount.
[12] To Kiddushin 31b
[13] Midrash Shocher Tov to Psalms 79:1
[14] Deuteronomy 3:23-25
[15] Deuteronomy 3:26
[16] Sifri to Deuteronomy 3:23-26
[17] Taanis 9a
[18] Deuteronomy 2:9
[19] Rosh HaShannah 18a
[20] See Pesachim 81a which says that Abraham called the Temple Mount a "mountain." See also Genesis 22:14 where Abraham calls Jerusalem "a mountain".
[21] Shabbos 30a
[22] See Chronicles 2 6:42.
Interestingly, the Stropkover Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Shalom Halberstam, a descendant of the Shinover Rebbe, quoted (in a speech in Los Angeles on Saturday Night, 7 Shevat, 5767) a similar Midrash (Exodus Rabbah §8) that says that when King Solomon inaugurated the First Holy Temple, he met some difficulty squeezing the Holy Ark, which was ten cubits wide into the Holy of Holies, whose entrance was also exactly ten cubits wide. In order to remedy the situation, King Solomon called upon the merit of his father, King David, so that HaShem should perform a miracle and save him from great embarrassment. He brought the coffin of his deceased father into the Holy Temple, whereupon his father, King David, arose from the dead (although, see the parallel to this Midrash at Yalkut Shimoni, Prophets, §193 which does not mention this detail). Based on this Midrash, Rabbi Halberstam reasoned that the decree that all humans are destined to die is specifically if one is alive, then he is supposed to die, but if one already died and has been resurrected, there is no decree that he should ever die again. Therefore, he explained that after King David arose from the dead, he was alive and furthermore, he shall continue to live because the limits of human mortality do not apply to one who already experienced death and returned from the dead. This explains the interpretive anomaly in the contrast between Jacob and King David, for regarding Jacob's state of living, the Talmud simply says (Taanis 5b, See Rashi to Genesis 49:33 who proves this based on the connotation of a scriptural verse), "Jacob, our father, did not die." In contrast, a popular refrain declared by the Jewish Nation for many generations, as a source of inspiration through many trying times, states, "Dovid Melech Yisrael Chai V'Kayam, meaning, "David, king of Israel, is alive and enduring." (This phrase is not only found in popular songs, but is a liturgical part of many joyous occasions (such as Kiddush Levana and its grouping with the phrase Mazel Tov).) Jacob simply did not die, but King David not only remains alive, but continues to live and will never die. May it be the will of HaShem that the scion of the Davidic dynasty shall save the Jewish Nation and bring about the building and inauguration of the Holy Temple, speedily and in our days: Amen.

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