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Three of Rambam’s Thirteen Articles of Faith (see back page) are that Hashem created the world from nothing, that He is aware of man’s deeds, and that He rewards and punishes man for man’s deeds. There are those who deny these beliefs, however, claiming that G-d is too awesome and lofty to be concerned with the affairs of “puny man.” R’ Yisrael Halevi z”l (Zamosc, Poland; died 1772) explains the fallacy in that argument:

The very premise of these heretics’ argument is wrong. Who says that greatness has to lead to haughtiness? To the contrary, haughtiness is usually found in people who lack substance, while great people tend to be humble. It follows that Hashem, whose greatness is unlimited, is more humble than any being and has no difficulty concerning Himself with “small” things.

The sage Rabbi Yochanan teaches (Megillah 31a), “Wherever you find Hashem’s greatness mentioned, there you find His humility.” Rabbi Yochanan cites three verses to illustrate this principle, and R’ Yisrael explains that Hashem’s loftiness encompasses three elements: His power, His eternity, and the fact that we cannot fathom Him. We read in Devarim (10:17-18) “For Hashem, your Elokim–He is the Power over all powers and the Lord over all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome Kel, . . . [Nevertheless,] He carries out the judgment of orphan and widow, and He loves the proselyte to give him bread and garment.” We read in Yeshayah (57:15), “For so says the exalted and uplifted One, Who abides forever . . . but I am with the contrite and lowly of spirit.” Finally, we read in Tehilim (68:5-6), “Extol He Who rides upon the highest heavens . . . Father of orphans and Defender of widows.” In summary, Hashem’s greatness is the very reason why He knows and involves Himself in the details of everything–something man cannot grasp. (Otzar Nechmad al Kuzari p.20)

“Hashem Elokim formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and vayehi ha’adam / man became a living being.” (2:7)

R’ Yaakov Koppel Lifschutz z”l (1730-1787; “R’ Koppel Chassid”) writes: The Hebrew word “vayehi” is an acronym of the phrase from Kohelet (2:18), “U’mi yodeah he’chacham yihyeh [oh sachal]” / “Who knows if he will be wise [or a fool].” Thus, “Vayehi ha’adam” alludes to man’s bechirah / free will being built into his creation. (Sha’arei Gan Eden 1:2)

“The serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field that Hashem Elokim had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did, perhaps, Elokim say that you shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’” (3:1)

R’ Chaim of Volozhin z”l (1749-1821) writes: Before Adam’s sin, he certainly had free will and could choose good or its opposite. After all, the entire purpose of Creation was to create a being that would exercise bechirah. Further evidence of the fact that Adam had bechirah is the fact that he did sin. However, Adam’s bechirah was different than our free will because the yetzer hara was not inside him.

R’ Chaim explains further: Originally, man was an entirely holy being and everything about him was holy and perfect. The forces of evil were outside of him. Adam had the ability to choose incorrectly the same way that any person today has the free will to walk into a lit furnace; he had that ability in the abstract, but he had no temptation to use that ability. This is why the yetzer hara had to take the form of a separate creature (the serpent) in order to entice Adam to sin.

After Adam’s sin, the situation changed. Now, good and evil are mixed-up inside a person. Today, the yetzer hara talks to us as if it is ourselves talking, not some external force trying to entice us. This is what our Sages mean when they say that the serpent contaminated Chava. (Nefesh Ha’Chaim Part I, ch.6)

R’ Avraham Grodzinski z”l Hy”d (1883-1944; mashgiach ruchani of the Slobodka Yeshiva) elaborates: The difference between Adam’s bechirah before his sin and after is that his choices before the sin were purely intellectual, while his choices after the sin had to contend as well with his personal “ratzon” / will. That made Adam and his descendants more likely to sin in the future. Adam himself had no desire to sin; indeed, there is no indication that he sinned again during his very long life. Rather, he ate from the Etz Ha’da’at because he wanted to strengthen his yetzer hara so that, in his view, he would perform a greater mitzvah by resisting it thereafter. But, that was not Hashem’s Will. Notably, while the Torah does not mention any further sins by Adam, nor does it mention any good deeds he did. By trying to serve Hashem differently than Hashem intended, he made himself irrelevant. (Torat Avraham pp.58 & 68)

“Kayin left the presence of Hashem . . .” (4:16)

Midrash Rabbah comments: After Kayin finished his discussion with Hashem, he met Adam, who asked the outcome of Kayin’s judgment. Kayin replied, “I did teshuvah and a compromise was reached [i.e., the decree that Kayin would have to wander for the rest of his life was softened].”

Adam replied: “Is the power of teshuvah that great?” Immediately he proclaimed (in the words of Tehilim 92:1-2), “A psalm, a song for the Shabbat day. It is good to thank Hashem . . .” [Until here from the midrash]

Why did Adam respond in this way? R’ Nosson Sternhartz z”l (1780-1845; foremost student of R’ Nachman of Breslov z”l) explains:

After Adam’s sin of eating from the Etz Ha’da’at, the world fell into a spiritual depression. All of history since then has been an effort to restore the world to its ideal state as it was before Adam sinned, a task that will not be completed until the World-to-Come. But, our Sages teach that Shabbat is a microcosm of the World-to-Come. Thus, writes R’ Nosson, we “repair” this world’s “depression” little-by-little by bringing the joy of Shabbat into the everyday world.

He continues: It was the holiness of Shabbat that inspired Adam to recognize the potential for repentance. He recognized that despite his terrible sin, Hashem continued to do kindness for him, including bringing him into Shabbat, and he was grateful for this continued relationship. Seeing this, he realized that the best chance for all future generations to come close to Hashem and to repair his error, and themselves, was through appreciating whatever Hashem gave them and giving thanks for it. Thus, he exclaimed, “A psalm, a song for the Shabbat day. It is good to thank Hashem.” (Likkutei Halachot: Hil. Kilei Behaimah 4:11)

One of the seven names of G-d that may not be erased is spelled shin-dalet-yud. The Gemara (Chagigah 12a) interprets this Name as a contraction of the phrase: “She’amar l’olamo die” / “He said ‘Enough!’ to His world.” This is usually understood to mean that the physical universe would have expanded indefinitely, but Hashem placed limits on it.

R’ Meshulam Feivish Heller z”l (1740-1795; Zbarazh, Ukraine; early chassidic rebbe) explains the Gemara more deeply in the name of his teacher, the maggid R’ Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov z”l (1721-1786), a student of the Ba’al Shem Tov:

Hashem’s act of Creation was a process in which a physical world appeared out of a world that was entirely spiritual. Within this physical world, spirituality became concealed, a process known as “hishtalshelut.”

Hashem created the physical world so that He can, so-to- speak, derive pleasure when man uses his free will to overcome the darkness of the physical world and behave in a spiritual manner. It follows that Hashem would derive even greater “pleasure” if spirituality were concealed in this physical world even more than it is now. Therefore, the hishtalshelut should have continued even further. Nevertheless, Hashem knows that man could not overcome the challenges of the physical world if spirituality were concealed even more. Therefore, He said, “Enough!” (Yosher Divrei Emet ch.13)

Zemirot Shabbat

The custom of singing zemirot is mentioned in the Gemara (Megillah 12b). The Gemara quotes the verse (Esther 1:10), “On the seventh day, when the heart of the King was merry with wine . . .” The Gemara asks: Before the seventh day of the feast, was Achashveirosh’s heart not merry with wine? Rather, says the Gemara, the “seventh day” referred to here was Shabbat, and the verse is drawing a contrast between Achashveirosh’s behavior on that day and the behavior of his Jewish subjects, who were sitting at home, eating, drinking, saying divrei Torah and singing praises of Hashem.

Likewise, zemirot Shabbat are mentioned in the Zohar (Eikev 272b): “On Shabbat, one must add to everything that he uses/does on weekdays–to his food, to his drink, to his clothing, etc. One must set the place he reclines beautifully with embroidered pillows, whatever he has in the house, like someone who is preparing a chuppah for a bride. . . One must awaken song and joy at the table.”

Why do we sing zemirot on Shabbat?

R’ Yehuda He’chassid z”l (Germany; 1150-1217) writes: We read (Bereishit 2:3), “Elokim blessed the seventh day.” We are not told in what way He blessed the day, but we may infer the answer from another set of verses. We read (Iyov 2:14), “After that, Iyov opened his mouth and cursed his day” [i.e., the day he was conceived]. Iyov cursed that day with darkness (Iyov 3:2), implying that a day that is blessed (Shabbat) is filled with light. Iyov cursed that day that it have no song (Iyov 3:6), implying that a day that is blessed is full of song. Therefore, it is a mitzvah to sit and sing praises, as we read (Tehilim 92:1), “A mizmor, a song to the Shabbat day: it is good to thank Hashem and to sing to Your Name on high.” (Sefer Ha’chassidim 271)