Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Parashat Ha'azinu-Shabbat Shuva 5763/ September 14, 2002
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
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The Editor of the English Parasha on the Web wishes all of our readers a Gemar Hatima Tovah and a Healthy New Year. I take this opportunity to thank all of the authors, translator, and computer staff at Bar Ilan for getting this page out every week, as we enter our seventh year.
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Parashat Ha'azinu-Shabbat Shuva 5763/ September 14, 2002
Does the Almighty Make Concessions?
Prof. Avinoam Cohen
Naftal-Yaffe Department of Talmud
The following remark, recorded in the name of Rabbi Haninah in
the Babylonian Talmud (Bava Kama 50a), at first glance seems
Rabbi Haninah said: Whoever says that the Holy One, blessed
be He, makes concessions (vatran
) - such a person cedes his life
); [rather, He waits
His while and collects his debt],
as it is
said: "The Rock! - His deeds are perfect, Yea, all His ways are
just" (Deut. 32:4).
In other words, whoever says that the Holy One, blessed be He,
tends to concede or "give up", will be punished measure for measure,
resulting in his life being given up by Heavenly decree, or, if we read yutru
hayyav, in his life becoming free for the taking, others being permitted to
There is no small theological problem here which the author of
the Torah commentary Torah Temimah sensed, and therefore he commented as
follows on the prooftext which is found in this week's reading:
We must investigate how this utterance [of Rabbi Haninah] can
be reconciled with the scriptural passage, "Forgiving iniquity and
remitting transgression" (Micah 7:18), which is the trait of making
concessions. Moreover, we must explain why the characteristic of making
concessions was considered a harsh trait and not, to the contrary, a
trait of kindness, as it said previously, "Justice, justice shall
you pursue" (Deut. 16:20), which has been interpreted: "Concede
from your own [in apportioning gifts to the needy] and give to him"
It appears that Rashi sensed these difficulties and offered
the following interpretation in an attempt to resolve them (Bava Kamma,
- [the Almighty] overlooks
(forgives) all their transgressions (of those who
Cedes his life - his life and body are free to be
taken, since [by saying that the Lord makes concessions] he encourages people to
Two points stand out in Rashi's
1) "Forgives all their transgressions."
The prohibition is against claiming that the Lord even forgives those who
transgress all the commandments; consequently such a person does not
relate to the commandments with due strictness, but commits many sins.
(This is the understanding of the passage in Rashi according to Torah
2) "Since he encourages people to sin." The
very proclamation that the Lord makes concessions leads many people
astray, since they rely on this trait of the Lord from the outset and do
not refrain from sinning. In other words, the "whoever says" does
not merely think to himself, rather he proclaims this notion to all and sundry;
thus, his crime is not only in his own sinfulness, but primarily in leading
However, Rabbi Haninah's remark, in the light of
Rashi's interpretation, is most difficult to understand:
1) The two principle elements stressed in Rashi's
interpretation do not appear in the original saying by Rabbi Haninah (nor are
they even hinted at there).
2) The principal idea in Rabbi Haninah's remark is not
new in itself (but only in terms of the severity of the punishment), the
parallel variant from the Mishnah being well known: "He who says,
'I shall sin, and my sins will be atoned on Yom Kippur' (parallel in
our text to: the Holy One, blessed be He, makes concessions) - that
person's sins are not atoned by Yom Kippur" (Yoma
3) The expression, "Whoever says," as in the
Mishnah just cited, does not necessarily mean proclaiming publicly, but rather
"Says to himself".
4) Rashi does not make clear why Rabbi Haninah used as his
prooftext the verse from Ha'azinu, "The Rock! - His deeds are
In light of this, it seems that the difficulty raised above by
Torah Temimah about concession being a virtue ought to be resolved by
distinguishing between "forgiving" and "conceding" (as
legal terms). We must elucidate why the characteristics of being
"forgiving and pardoning" -soleah and mohel--are
good traits, befitting the Lord, whereas making concessions is a trait that must
not be ascribed to Him.
1) is an act of pardoning, done after a transgressor
has been tried, proven guilty, and convicted. Forgiveness commutes
2) Forgiveness comes in response to the entreaty of a
transgressor, who acknowledges having done wrong but requests that his sins be
remitted so that he be spared punishment.
According to the Midrash, this is indeed what Moses requested
of the Lord, acknowledging his sin as he made his plea: "You wrote,
'Forgiving iniquity and remitting transgression,' - forgive my
sin, for it is great! Forthwith he found grace (was pardoned) before the Holy
One, blessed be He" (Deut. Rabbah 8.1).
The entire process described here took place after
Moses' verdict had been passed. Moreover, here we have proof that he
interpreted the words nose 'avon "forgiving iniquity"
as meaning "pardoning."
1) This means refraining from bringing to trial,
passing up beforehand the right to judge a transgressor. Thus concession
is made before judgment. A sinner wrongly believes that this is one of
the gifts the Holy One, blessed be He, bestows upon His creatures and that it is
an admirable trait.
2) The offender does not need to plead for forgiveness from
the Creator because, according to this misconception, he will never reach the
point of being tried and found guilty.
3) Concession, therefore, is likely to encourage sin and
transgression. It undermines the need for repentance and mars the notion of
The Hebrew vitur, thus defined as ceding or giving up,
is illustrated by:
1) "A first-born who takes a portion (as his
inheritance) like a plain son cedes (his right to take a portion as a
first-born)". [Bava Batra 126a, and Rashbam there]
2) The Sages' commentary on Job 1:1: "And
turned away from evil - that he used to cede his curse"
(as if he had never been cursed; i.e., it had been removed from him beforehand
by his act of ceding. Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 5.6 [20d], and the
commentators on this passage).
If we accept these distinctions between the various terms, we
can now proceed to reinterpret the remark made by Rabbi Haninah, elucidating the
connection between his remark and the verse cited as a prooftext:
"Whoever says that the Holy One, blessed be He, makes
concessions" - i.e., that He is not strict about summoning all
sinners before Him, and as a result they are not brought to trial, convicted,
"Such a person cedes his life" - his
life becomes free for the taking. Just as that person imputed that the Lord
runs His world as a free-for-all, denying due process and divine justice, so
too, will he be treated, measure for measure, his life being free for all to
"As it is said: 'The Rock! - His deeds
are perfect, Yea, all His ways are just'" - the emphasis
is on just --mishpat: the perfection in the ways of the Creator
stems from their being founded on justice. He does not cede, a priori, but
tries all sinners for each and every one of their sins. Yet it is clear that if
afterwards the sinner entreats the Lord and is found worthy, then he can enjoy
the Lord's forgiveness (pardon); however this happens only after the
Hence we can also understand the added remark in the Jerusalem
Talmud and the Midrashim (note that this addition is in Aramaic, in contrast to
the previous remarks in Hebrew by Rabbi Haninah):
"Rather, He is slow to anger and collects His
debt" - the addition comes to prove that the Holy One, blessed
be He, does not make concessions, but rather, He is slow to anger. Since
He is slow to anger and does not punish sinners summarily, the latter are
mistaken if they interpret this as a sign that the Lord makes concessions.In
truth, when the time comes He shall demand that the sinner pay his debt
(if he fails to repent).
The Hebrew here is
uncertain; The Jerusalem Talmud (Shekalim
5.1 [48d]) and the parallel
Midrashim read yitvatru
). The Babylonian Talmud reads
, or possibly an archaic form of the root
). In any event, all the variants play on the verb v-t-r
and basically mean that the person's life is placed in
The added remark in square
brackets appears primarily in the Jerusalem Talmud and in midreshei
Perhaps in place of
la'avor 'al kol pish'am
"to forgive all their
transgressions" we should read le-'over 'al kol
"to one who transgresses all the sins".