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By SHLOMO RISKIN

“A

nd these are the genera-

tions of the heavens and

the earth when they

were created, on the day that the

Lord God made the earth and the

heavens” (Gen. 2:4).

Imagine, for a moment, a world

conducted according to strict

Divine justice: punishment imme-

diately meted out to a person com-

mitting a wrongdoing. What kind

of world would this be?

On the one hand, we would never

have the question of why bad things

happen to good people, because an

evil act would be stopped in its

tracks; after all, any innocent per-

son’s suffering would violate the

principle of Divine justice. Thus,

the Nazi soldier’s hand would with-

er in the process of unsheathing his

knife to harm a Jewish baby, and

the individual’s voice would be

silenced before he was able to artic-

ulate a word of slander.

On the other hand, if evil could

not exist because of the all-encom-

passing powers of Divine justice,

how would a human being differ

from a laboratory rat, conditioned

to move down a certain tunnel, jolts

of electricity guiding its choices?

For the world to exist with hu-

man beings granted the choice to

wield either a murderer’s knife or a

physician’s scalpel, with human

beings not as powerless puppets but

rather as potential partners with the

Divine, God must hold back from

immediate punishment.

Compassion (

rahamim

) must be

joined with justice (

din

) so that the

Almighty will grant the possibility

of the wicked to repent, the oppor-

tunity to those who have fallen to

rise once again, and offer the chal-

lenge to a fallible humanity to per-

fect an imperfect world.

Indeed, Rashi, the biblical com-

mentator par excellence, notes that

the first verse of Genesis, in de-

scribing the world’s creation, uses

not the Divine Name “YHVH”

(“Hashem”), associated with the

Divine attribute of compassion, but

rather the Divine Name “Elohim,”

associated with the Divine attribute

of justice, because initially The

Holy One, Blessed be He, intended

to create a world of strict justice.

However, the Almighty realized,

as it were, that the world could not

endure in such a mode, and there-

fore gave precedence to Divine

compassion, uniting it with Divine

justice. This explains, says Rashi,

why the verse (Gen. 2:4) utilizes the

Divine Names “Hashem Elohim,”

combining the Divine attributes of

compassion and justice.

There is, however, a steep price

we must pay for this Divine com-

passion and human freedom of

choice: the suffering of innocents.

If people have the free will to act,

then some people will take actions

that harm others. And even those

who act appropriately will not nec-

essarily see the blessings of their

good deeds.

In fact, the Talmud declares,

“there is no reward for the fulfill-

ment of commandments in this

world” [Kiddushin 39b], leaving

Divine reward and punishment for

the afterlife. In effect, Divine com-

passion allowing for free will and

ultimate repentance must enable

individuals to do even what God, in

a perfect world, would not allow

them to do!

In accordance with this theology,

a Hasidic teaching provides an

alternative way of reading the first

three words in the Torah, “

Bereshit

bara Elohim,

” usually translated,

“In the beginning God created…”

Since there is an

etnachta

(“stop”

sign; semicolon) cantillation under-

neath the third word in the phrase,

the words can also be taken to

mean, “Beginnings did God cre-

ate.” This reading provides hope

and optimistic faith even in a world

devoid of reward.

Anyone who has experienced sig-

nificant lifestyle changes —whether

repentant Jews, recovering addicts,

or marriages between widowed

and/or divorced people — under-

stands the significance of the chal-

lenge and opportunity of “another

chance.” Free will, the concept of

making your own choices, implies

that sometimes mistakes will be

made and tragedies will occur.

JEWISH WORLD • OCT. 28-NOV. 3, 2016 7

Possibility of Change and Growth

Parshat Bereshit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

continued on page 11

DVAR TORAH

Holding off Divine justice is saying we always

have another chance to better ourselves, to redeem

the tragedy, to try again.