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Bava Basra 10

Our Gemara on amud aleph records an important theological discussion about the nature of G-d and Man, and why G-d leaves certain aspects of civilization in the hands of man to correct and protect.


Rabbi Meir would say: An “opponent” (baal din) may bring an argument against you and say to you: If your G-d loves the poor, for what reason does He not support them Himself? In such a case, say to him: He commands us to act as His agents in sustaining the poor, so that through them we will be credited with the performance of mitzvos and therefore be saved from the judgment of Gehenna.

And this is the question that Turnus Rufus the wicked asked Rabbi Akiva: If your G-d loves the poor, for what reason does He not support them Himself? Rabbi Akiva said to him: He commands us to sustain the poor, so that through them and the charity we give them we will be saved from the judgment of Gehenna.

Turnus Rufus said to Rabbi Akiva: On the contrary, it is this charity which condemns you, the Jewish people, to Gehenna because you give it. I will illustrate this to you with a parable. To what is this matter comparable? It is comparable to a king of flesh and blood who was angry with his slave and put him in prison and ordered that he should not be fed or given to drink. And one person went ahead and fed him and gave him to drink. If the king heard about this, would he not be angry with that person? And you, after all, are called slaves, as it is stated: “For the children of Israel are slaves to Me” (Leviticus 25:55). If G-d decreed that a certain person should be impoverished, one who gives him charity defies the will of G-d.

Rabbi Akiva said to Turnus Rufus: I will illustrate the opposite to you with a different parable. To what is this matter comparable? It is comparable to a king of flesh and blood who was angry with his son and put him in prison and ordered that he should not be fed or given to drink. And one person went ahead and fed him and gave him to drink. If the king heard about this once his anger abated, would he not react by sending that person a gift? And we are called sons, as it is written: “You are sons of the L-rd your G-d” (Deuteronomy 14:1).

Ben Yehoyada notes the interesting term that is used to refer to the adversary in the dispute: the “opponent” (baal din). I would like to suggest the following explanation:

The usage of baal din, which really connotes a legal litigant, speaks of a deeper concept behind this theological discussion. There is a necessity for the world to function with an integration of middas hadin and middas harachamim (divine attributes of the strict letter of the law and of mercy). We find in Bereishis Rabbah (12:15):

“The L-rd G-d” – this is analogous to a king who had empty cups [of very thin glass]. The king said: If I pour hot water into them, they will shatter; [if I pour very] cold water, they will crack. What did the king do? He mixed hot and cold water and placed it in them, and they endured. So, the Holy One blessed be He said: If I create the world with [just] the attribute of mercy, there will be many sinners; if [just] with the attribute of strict justice, how will the world endure? Rather, I will create it with [both] the attribute of justice and the attribute of mercy, would that it will endure.

Likkutei Halachos (Laws of Morning Blessings 5) tells us that the human act of voluntarily giving tzedakah and therefore showing mercy arouses and channels G-d’s mercy. We can understand middas hadin as the strict logical path. If we followed logic, an omnipotent G-d would surely have no use for us, and once we were created, certainly not tolerate any deviance. It is our engagement with the poor and other acts of extraordinary kindness which counter strict logic and fairness, and allow us to become receptive and draw down G-d’s kindness. When we go beyond human rationality, we first can tap into an unlimited amount of benevolence that flows from G-d.

Why does G-d wait for us to take the first step? Morality, by definition, requires contrast and the ability to choose. The kindest and most benevolent stance an omnipotent power can have is to make room for another entity’s autonomy and agency, just as a good parent knows when to let a child experiment and explore. If G-d stepped into worldly affairs to directly control human morality, then the world would be in order but the morality would only come from a lack of sin, not from a free-will decision. G-d’s greatest kindness is to allow us to discover and find our own sense of mercy and kindness, so that it is ultimately our full acquisition (similar to what is stated in Derech Hashem, part one, “The Purpose of Creation”). G-d cannot give us the quality of morality; instead we must discover and develop it. Otherwise, it cannot be truly moral.

We will see more about the power of tzedakah and kindness below, in our discussion on Bava Basra 11.


Truth Will Spring Out Of The Earth

Bava Basra 11

Continuing the discussion about the power of tzedakah, our Gemara on amud aleph tells us about a Gentile king who flouted his family’s hoarding of wealth, and instead donated his assets to charity.

The Sages taught: There was an incident involving King Munbaz, who liberally gave away his treasures and the treasures of his ancestors in the years of drought, distributing the money to the poor. His brothers and his father’s household joined together against him to protest against his actions, and they said to him: Your ancestors stored up money in their treasuries and added to the treasures of their ancestors, and you are liberally distributing it all to the poor. King Munbaz said to them: Not so, my ancestors stored up below, whereas I am storing above.

Munbaz, (or Chazal speaking for his intentions) offers a proof text from Tehilim (85:12):

Truth will spring out of the earth and righteousness will look down from heaven.”

The righteous deeds that one has performed are stored up in heaven. My ancestors stored up treasures in a place where the human hand can reach, and so their treasures could have been robbed, whereas I am storing up treasures in a place where the human hand cannot reach, and so they are secure, as it is stated: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne” (Psalms 89:15).


It is an interesting expression, “The truth shall spring out of the Earth.” And how does that induce the sequitur, “righteousness will look down from heaven”?

Based on what we saw above Bava Basra 10, we could say that human choice and morality, by undergoing self-awareness and self-recognition, arouses the attribute of mercy from heaven. When humans live an autonomous moral existence, emulating G-d, it channels the ability for His blessings, which go beyond rationality and beyond the letter of the law. When the human consciousness ascertains the truth, comprehending the model by which G-d created the world – to bestow unlimited kindness – man is then aroused to perform acts of kindness as well. This arousal itself, and this moral awakening, bring about a transformed existence that goes beyond the physical dimension and allows spiritual abundance to manifest.

The final stage in his process will be with the advent of the Messiah, when human moral attainment and a spirit of love and benevolence will lead to the elevation of this world to a different plane. Once man has reached his moral maturity, a new kind of existence will be ushered in, which is about spiritual connection. The flow of this energy will eliminate the trials and pains of physicality, which are subject to entropic forces and evil. (See Tanya, Part IV, Iggeres HaKodesh, Chapter 6 where I believe a similar idea is expressed in kabbalistic terminology).


Environmental Impact Study

Bava Basra 12

Our Gemara on amud aleph discusses the status of a former doorway that was sealed, and at what point it is considered fully sealed with no remnant. There can be many halachic implications, such as if the door still requires a mezuzah, or if the rights to a loading and unloading area are forfeited to the other occupants of the area.

There is an interesting mystical concern about closing doorways and windows asserted by Sefer Chasidim (746). Rav Yehuda HaChasid warns of demons who, when faced with the loss of a pathway by the closure, may become enraged and smite the owner.

Because many of Rav Yehuda HaChasid’s proscriptions consist of superstitious-sounding interests that are not mentioned in the Gemara, and indeed seem to sometimes contradict the Gemara, there has been some ambivalence about following these rules. There seem to be some rules that are taken more seriously by a consensus of poskim than others, such as not marrying a woman with the same name as one’s mother, and this doorway prohibition as well.

A scientific-thinking person might scoff at this superstitious fear of invisible malignant actors, yet we know that there are many mysterious, invisible, and toxic forces that act upon the human condition. Modern science gives it sophisticated-sounding names such as “chemical imbalances,” “addiction,” “viruses,” and “global warming.” (While certain political groups seem to have a vested interest in describing global warming or climate change as man-made, isn’t it odd and hypocritical that those same pointy-headed experts insisted that it is impossible that Covid could be man-made? We have two humbling, natural global disasters of the 21st century. In regard to one, “scientists” are certain that it is man-made, while in regard to the other, “scientists” are certain it was not? Hmmm… Follow the money.)

What are these experiences other than, literally, diabolical? (The word diabolical comes from Diablos, meaning the Devil.) You can give it fancy scientific names, but as for many of the most troubling and dangerous aspects of life in this world, there is constant danger of succumbing to powerful forces that we cannot always control.

The practices of Rav Yehuda HaChasid teach us respect and humility. They are the precursors to conservation and environmental impact studies. In the ancient world, the natural environment and ecosystem were experienced as spiritual, mystical, and sometimes demonic. According to this Torah ethic, not only are we obligated to preserve our health, not cause self-injury or suicide, or even destroy fruit-bearing trees, but we must even respect space and structure. If there is a doorway or window, we do not just arrogantly smash it down. We must consider the entire ecology of visible and invisible forces, and constantly respect the spiritual-emotional-environmental impact of our actions.

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