1) ACHAN'S "PRIVATE" SIN
QUESTION: Rebbi Nechemyah maintains that the Jewish people never accepted Arvus for Nistaros, sins committed in private. Rather, when they crossed the Jordan River they accepted Arvus for sins done overtly (for which they did not have group responsibility before they entered Eretz Yisrael). The Gemara asks that if the Jewish people were not responsible for an individual's covert sins, then why were they held accountable for Achan's sin, which was done covertly? The Gemara answers that Achan's wife and children knew about his sin.
How does this answer the question? Even though his wife and children knew about his sin, the rest of the people did not know about it. Why, then, were 36 people killed in the battle as punishment for Achan's sin, if they were not aware of it?
(a) The CHAMRA V'CHAYEI answers that a person's wife and children are talkative and thus they probably spread the word, so that enough people knew about the sin.
This answer is problematic. If Achan's family indeed spread the word, then Yehoshua should have known who committed the sin and he should not have needed to ask the Urim v'Tumim.
(b) The SANHEDRI KETANAH suggests another answer. Sometimes a sin done in private is more severe than a sin done in public, because a person who sins in private shows that he does not think that Hash-m is watching what he does in private, as the Gemara says in Bava Kama (79b). On the other hand, a person might sin in private in order to prevent a great Chilul Hash-m when he is overtaken by his Yetzer ha'Ra (Moed Katan 17a; see Insights there). Rebbi Nechemyah maintains that the Jewish people are not punished for the sins that a person does in private, because he might have sinned in private in order to avoid a Chilul Hash-m. Hash-m does not punish the people collectively for such a sin, because then the sin would become publicized and a Chilul Hash-m would result. However, if the person sins in private in order to protect his own reputation, then even Rebbi Nechemyah agrees that Hash-m punishes collectively for such a sin, so that the people will investigate and discover the sin.
This is the intention of the Gemara's answer. The Gemara says that since Achan was not careful to hide his sin from his wife and children, it must have been that he was not interested in protecting the honor of Hash-m, but rather he was interested only in protecting his own reputation and thus he did not mind if his wife and children knew about it, since they would not tell anyone else. Since his sin was done in private to protect his own honor, Hash-m punished the people so that they should investigate and discover his sin.
(c) The Sanhedri Ketanah answers further that even if Achan's family did not actually spread the word, it was possible for the Sanhedrin and the community leaders to investigate the matter and to reveal Achan's sin, since his wife and children knew about it. Accordingly, his sin was considered "Nigleh" and not "Nistar."
The logic of this approach may be understood in two ways. The ME'IRI explains that the group responsibility for hidden sins (according to Rebbi Yehudah) obligates the leaders to investigate constantly whether there are any hidden sins among their constituents. When they do not do so, they are punished for the hidden sins of others. Rebbi Nechemyah (who argues with Rebbi Yehudah) does not hold the Sanhedrin responsible for not investigating thoroughly enough to discover the hidden sin. However, he admits that the Sanhedrin must investigate at least minimally to find out if there are any sins of which they are not aware. Since the wife and children of Achan knew about his sin, a minimal amount of investigation would have revealed it, and thus the people were held responsible.
A second way of understanding is that the reason why Hash-m does not punish the people for the private sins of an individual according to Rebbi Nechemyah is not that the people were unable to prevent the sin. Rather, the reason is that even after the people are punished and they investigate the matter, they might not be able to determine what caused their punishment, since the sin was done in private. If they do not find the cause of their punishment, it will look like they were punished for no reason and this will cause a Chilul Hash-m. In the case of Achan, since his wife and children knew about the sin, it would be possible to determine the cause of the punishment and there would be no Chilul Hash-m. Therefore, even Rebbi Nechemyah agrees that the people are punished for such Nistaros.
Support for the Sanhedri Ketanah's suggestion may be found in the words of RABEINU CHANANEL (end of 43b). Rabeinu Chananel seems to understand that according to Rebbi Nechemyah, the Jewish people are not punished for the sins of an individual, whether those sins are done in public or in private. On this the Gemara asks, why were the Jewish people punished for Achan's sin? (The Gemara also could have questioned where does Arvus apply in general.) The Gemara answers that Achan's sin was not done publicly. On the other hand, it was not done privately either, since his wife and children knew about it. In such a case, the group is held responsible for the sins of the individual, even according to Rebbi Nechemyah.
2) YEHOSHUA'S PRAYER
QUESTION: When Yehoshua complained to Hash-m about the Jewish people's defeat at the battle of Ai, Hash-m told Yehoshua (according to Rebbi Shila) that it was Yehoshua who was responsible for the defeat, because "your sin is worse than their sin." What was Yehoshua's sin? Hash-m had commanded him to erect the stones and give the Berachos and Kelalos as soon as they crossed the Jordan River, but Yehoshua erected the stones only after reaching sixty Mil into Eretz Yisrael, far from the Jordan.
Why was Yehoshua's sin considered so severe, and in what way was his sin related to the defeat in the battle of Ai? Also, why did Yehoshua alter what Hash-m told him to do?
ANSWER: These questions may be answered based on the enlightening words of the Rishonim concerning the prayer of "Aleinu." The KOL BO (#16) writes that he heard that Yehoshua composed the prayer of Aleinu at the time of the conquest of Yericho.
(The Kol Bo's source is the ORCHOS CHAIM in the name of the RI MI'KORVIL, who writes that Yehoshua composed it "when he conquered the land of Israel." The Ri mi'Korvil's source seems to be RAV HAI GA'ON, cited in TESHUVOS HA'GE'ONIM, SHA'AREI TESHUVAH #44; see also MACHZIK BERACHAH OC 132:2 in the name of Rav Hai Ga'on. It seems from the latter two sources that the Ge'onim had a Girsa in the Gemara in Eruvin (21b) which stated this explicitly.) The Kol Bo adds that Yehoshua signed his name (Hoshea) as an inverted acronym in the words of the prayer ("Aleinu... she'Lo... va'Anachnu... Hu Elokeinu").
After the Churban ha'Bayis, Raban Yochanan Ben Zakai instituted that Aleinu be recited daily after the prayers (Rav Hai Ga'on, cited by Machzik Berachah OC 132:2).
The SEDER HA'YOM (Kavanas Aleinu) and the MEGALEH AMUKOS (252 Ofanim, #133) add that it was Achan who composed the words of "Al Ken Nekaveh," the paragraph recited after the paragraph of Aleinu, when he was caught with the objects that he took from Yericho and was about to be punished. He, too, signed his named as an acronym in the beginning of the Tefilah ("Al Ken Nekaveh").
RAV HAI GA'ON (cited by MACHZIK BERACHAH OC 132:2) writes that Aleinu is a unique Tefilah and there is no praise for Hash-m that can compare to it. (See also MISHNAH BERURAH OC 132:8.) Aleinu is a proclamation of Emunah in Hash-m. In this respect, it is similar to the recitation of Shema Yisrael. For this reason, the SEDER HA'YOM (Tefilas Minchah) writes that some do not say Aleinu at Minchah, since Shema Yisrael is not said at Minchah (see Mishnah Berurah OC 132:7). This is reiterated by the BACH (OC 133:1) who writes that we recite Aleinu before we return to our homes in order to depart from Tefilah with an act of "Kabalas Ol Malchus Shamayim" and "Yichud Hash-m," acceptance of Hash-m's kingship and a declaration of His unity.
The Seder ha'Yom (Tefilas Aleinu) takes the comparison of Aleinu with Shema Yisrael further. He points out that Aleinu begins with the letter Ayin and ends with the letter Dalet, because it corresponds to the first verse of Shema which has a prominent Ayin and Dalet (written enlarged in the Sefer Torah), an allusion to our roles as witnesses ("Ed") to Hash-m's Malchus. Similarly, the paragraph of "Al Ken Nekaveh" begins with the letter Ayin and ends with the letter Dalet.
This may explain why the PIRKEI D'REBBI ELIEZER cited by the Kol Bo (#16) writes that Aleinu should be recited while standing, as it is a great praise to Hash-m. (He adds that the Gematriya of "Aleinu" is the same as that of the word "u'Me'umad," "and standing.")
This is the reason why Aleinu is used as the introduction for the Tefilah of Malchiyos in the Musaf Shemoneh Esreh on Rosh Hashanah. We introduce Malchiyos with Aleinu and conclude with the verse of Shema Yisrael.
Despite all of the similarities, there is an important difference between Shema Yisrael and Aleinu. In Shema Yisrael we say "Hash-m Elokeinu, Hash-m Echad." Rashi explains that this means that even though Hash-m is recognized only by the Jewish people now, there will come a time in the future when His name will be recognized by all of the peoples of the world. Aleinu, on the other hand, includes only the first part of that proclamation -- that Hash-m separated us from all of the nations that serve idolatry, while we serve Hash-m. It does not include the second part, that one day all nations will serve Hash-m. This reflects an important difference between the way Moshe Rabeinu saw the world and the way Yehoshua saw the world. Moshe Rabeinu was able to see the ultimate Tikun ha'Shalem of the world, the time the world would reach its perfection, while Yehoshua was able to see only the world in its present state. This might be alluded to in the statement of the Gemara (Bava Basra 75a; see Insights there) that "the face of Moshe shines like the sun, while the face of Yehoshua shines only like the moon." The moon is diminished in this world and does not reflect the full majesty of Hash-m.
On a deeper level, the recognition of the Achdus, Oneness, of Hash-m in the world can be brought about only through the Achdus, unity, of the Jewish people, as the Gemara relates in Berachos (6a). Moshe Rabeinu led the people in a way that raised and united all of the Jewish people together, while Yehoshua was not able to unite the people to the same level, and consequently the Achdus of Hash-m was not revealed to the same extent. This is reflected in the incident involving Eldad and Meidad. Yehoshua complained to Moshe Rabeinu that Eldad and Meidad should not be prophesizing independently of Moshe Rabeinu. Moshe replied that he wished that the entire nation could be prophets. Similarly, the Gemara earlier in Sanhedrin (8a) relates that Moshe Rabeinu told Yehoshua, "You will come with the Jewish people into the promised land" (Devarim 31:7), implying that "the elders and you will lead the people together." Hash-m corrected him and instructed him to tell Yehoshua, "You will bring the Jewish people into the land which I have promised" (Devarim 31:23). Hash-m told Yehoshua, "Take a stick and beat the elders until they follow your orders. There can be only one leader in each generation; there cannot be a joint leadership." Yehoshua would not have been able to lead the Jews properly if other elders or prophets would have joined him. The concept of joint leadership was foreign to him. This is because Yehoshua was not able to unite the people in the same way that Moshe Rabeinu did. This is why Aleinu, the prayer of Yehoshua, mentions only the Malchus of Hash-m in this world and not the ultimate Achdus of Hash-m, when He will be recognized as One by all of the world.
When Hash-m saw that the nation did not reach the full level of Achdus under Yehoshua's leadership, He told Yehoshua to make sure that the nation accepts Arvus immediately upon their entry into Eretz Yisrael. The Arvus would complete the unification of the people such that their conquest of the land would be able to create a situation of "Hash-m Echad," the world's recognition of Hash-m as One. Yehoshua, however, thought that Achdus needs to precede the acceptance of Arvus in order for the Arvus to take effect properly. He sought to accomplish this by traveling through Eretz Yisrael a distance of sixty Mil, because the land of Eretz Yisrael also has the ability to unite the people. That was a mistake, because the land can bring about the people's unification only after it is conquered by the Jewish people. At the time that Yehoshua led the people into Eretz Yisrael, the land was under the dominion of the foreign kings who served Avodah Zarah, and thus the land was not able to have a unifying effect. On the contrary, when the Jewish people crossed the Jordan River and stood together in the bed of the split river with the water towering over their heads and they accepted upon themselves to fulfill the Mitzvos of Hash-m, they reached a point of unity to which they never returned, and when they walked the sixty Mil they slowly fell from this level of unity. Had the Jewish people accepted the Arvus immediately, the Arvus would have been perfect and would have brought about the perfect unification of the nation, and the conquest of Eretz Yisrael would have been the final redemption. However, because Yehoshua took the Jewish people sixty Mil before he accepted the Arvus, the fervor of their Achdus wore off and the Arvus that they accepted did not accomplish its purpose, and it did not reach the highest level that it could have reached. This is what the Gemara means when it says that Hash-m blamed Yehoshua for the defeat of Ai, saying that "your sin is worse than theirs," referring to the sin of Achan. Hash-m meant that had the Jewish people accepted Arvus right away, they would have bonded together with a much stronger sense of unity, and Achan never would have separated from the people and sinned.
When Achan repented for violating the Cherem, he realized that his sin represented the lack of unity among the people, and he sought to correct that problem as part of his repentance. This is reflected in his composition of "Al Ken Nekaveh." The point of the Tefilah is that while now we are the only nation that recognizes Hash-m's Kingship, we hope to see Hash-m's glory spread over all of the nations such that all nations will recognize Hash-m's glory, and that will occur only when the Jewish people unite properly and become "a unified nation in the land."
3) ASKING THE ANGELS FOR HELP
QUESTION: The Gemara quotes Rebbi Yochanan who says that a person should pray that "all should strengthen his cause" and that "he should not have any adversaries above." RASHI explains that this means that a person should pray that the Mal'achei ha'Shares should beseech Hash-m for what he needs and he should have no prosecuting Mal'achim against his case. Similarly, the Gemara in Shabbos (12b) teaches that a person should pray in Hebrew and not in Aramaic so that the Mal'achim will understand his prayers and bring them to Hash-m.
Some communities indeed include such requests in their prayers, such as the prayer of "Machnisei Rachamim" in Selichos (said towards the end of the Selichos during Aseres Yemei Teshuvah), and the Pizmon "Mal'achei Rachamim" (recited in Selichos on the first Monday of the fasts of "Behab"). In one of the holiest Piyutim, we address the Midas ha'Rachamim of Hash-m and beseech that Midah to be receptive to our prayers (see RASHASH).
However, this practice of addressing prayers to Mal'achim seems to contradict other teachings of the Chachamim. The Yerushalmi in Berachos (9:1) says that when a person prays, he should not cry out to Mal'achim such as Michael or Gavriel, but he should pray directly to Hash-m. The RAMBAM (Sanhedrin, Perek 11) writes in his fifth Yesod ha'Emunah -- which expresses the prohibition against serving Avodah Zarah -- that not only should a person not worship a Mal'ach, but he should also not make a Mal'ach a vehicle through which to reach Hash-m. Rather, one should direct his thoughts directly to Hash-m, because all other creations, including Mal'achim, have no power and merely carry out the will of Hash-m. How are these teachings to be reconciled with the Gemara here?
(a) The MAHARAL (Nesiv ha'Avodah, ch. 12) writes that the Gemara here is not telling a person to address his prayers to the Mal'achim. Rather, the Gemara means simply that a person should ask for mercy from Hash-m that He let the Mal'achim help him and that he not have any opponents among the Mal'achim.
When the Gemara in Shabbos (12b) says that a person should pray in Hebrew so that the Mal'achim will understand his prayers, it does not mean that he should address the Mal'achim. Rather, it is the duty of certain Mal'achim to bring a person's prayers to Hash-m, and if they understand his prayers then they will be more effective in bringing his requests before Hash-m. The prayer itself, however, is addressed to Hash-m and not to the Mal'achim. The Mal'achim only support his prayer that is directed to Hash-m.
(The ME'IRI explains that the Gemara here does not refer to the Mal'achim at all. Rather, a person should ask that other people pray for him, since the more people who pray for him the more effective their Tefilah will be. Thus, the Gemara is unrelated to the practice of directing one's prayers to Mal'achim.)
Based on this, the MAHARAL strongly opposes prayers such as "Mal'achei Rachamim" in Selichos, because one should not address the Mal'achim in one's prayers.
The CHASAM SOFER (in Teshuvos OC 166) writes, based on the Maharal, that it would be appropriate to delete all three of these Tefilos mentioned above from the Selichos liturgy. However, the Chasam Sofer writes that since it is the accepted custom of the community to recite them, he does not want to separate himself from the Tzibur, and, therefore, he recites together with the Tzibur the prayers recited in public, such as the Pizmonim which address the Mal'achim, but the prayers said quietly, such as "Mal'achei Rachamim," he omits. In recent years, the books of Selichos have been printed with emendations to the Piyut which addresses the Midas ha'Rachamim so that it should not directly address the Midah.
The SIDUR OTZAR HA'TEFILOS (Introduction, ch. 3) cites a tradition that RAV CHAIM of VOLOZHEN changed the words of the Piyut that starts "Mal'achei Rachamim Mesharsei Elyon" to read instead, "Avos ha'Olam, Ahuvei Elyon," so that we are asking the Avos to pray on our behalf and we are not addressing the Mal'achim. Support from an early source for this view is found in the words of RAV YOCHANAN TREBISCH (circa 1500) in his commentary to the Sidur, "Kimcha d'Avishuna," as cited by the Otzar ha'Tefilos. He writes that it is better not to say Tefilos which address Mal'achim. We find no precedent for addressing Mal'achim anywhere in Tanach or in the words of the Chachamim.
(b) However, prayers which address Mal'achim have very early sources. The Piyut which addresses the Midas ha'Rachamim was composed by RABEINU AMTI (circa 1100). The RA'AVYAH (circa 1200) records Piyutim similar to that of "Mal'achei Rachamim." The SHIBOLEI HA'LEKET (#282) quotes the prayer of "Machnisei Rachamim" and defends it based on the Gemara here. He also quotes the Midrash in Shir ha'Shirim (which is not extant today) which relates that "the congregation of Yisrael asks from the Mal'achim who stand guard near the gates of Tefilah to bring our Tefilos and tears to Hash-m." This apparently is the source for the prayer of "Mal'achei Rachamim," as MAHARI ASAD writes in his Teshuvos (OC #21).
The Otzar ha'Tefilos cites further support from the Midrash Tanchuma (end of Devarim) which relates that Moshe Rabeinu went to the Mal'ach called "Sar ha'Penim" and asked him to beseech Hash-m that he not die. He also points out that the Gemara in Berachos (60b) says that when a person enters the bathroom, he should first say a short prayer to the Mal'achim which escort him, asking them to help him and to wait for him.
In fact, such a Tefilah is mentioned in the Torah when Yakov Avinu said that "the Mal'ach which has saved me from all evil should bless my children" (Bereishis 48:16; see, however, ha'Kesav veha'Kabalah, and Perush of Rav Sa'adyah Ga'on cited by ha'Kesav veha'Kabalah there). Similarly, it is a very widespread custom to ask the Mal'achim that arrive in the home on Shabbos night to bless us with peace -- "Barchuni l'Shalom." Why is it acceptable to ask the Mal'achim if they are only messengers of Hash-m, as the Rambam writes, and they cannot do anything on their own?
1. The Otzar ha'Tefilos quotes the TESHUVOS HA'GE'ONIM of RAV SHERIRA GA'ON ("Zichron la'Rishonim," #373) who writes that there are things which a Mal'ach can do according to his own will without requiring permission from Hash-m. This is why Yakov Avinu said that the Mal'ach should bless his children (he writes that this Mal'ach was the "Sar ha'Penim"). Similarly, the Mal'ach saved Lot seemingly of his own volition (see, however, Rashi to Bereishis 19:21). Since Hash-m gives Mal'achim permission to do things on their own, Hash-m also allows us to address those Mal'achim and ask them to do things, since that is the reason why Hash-m gives them permission to do as they are requested.
2. The ABARBANEL (ROSH AMANAH, ch. 12) writes that when Yakov prayed "ha'Mal'ach ha'Go'el," it was not a Tefilah to the Mal'ach, but rather it was a Tefilah to Hash-m that He send His Mal'ach to do what we ask the Mal'ach to do.
This may also be said about the Tefilah of "Barchuni l'Shalom," and prayers such as "Mal'achei Rachamim." We are asking Hash-m to have the Mal'achim bring our Tefilos before Him, as they are supposed to do. See also TESHUVOS SHEMESH U'TZEDAKAH (OC #23).
3. The TESHUVOS MAHARI BERUNA (#275) writes that when we pray to Hash-m with prayers such as "Machnisei Rachamim" and "Mal'achei Rachamim," we do not expect the Mal'achim to listen to us, but rather we are displaying humility, like a person who stands before the king and asks the king's advisors to speak to the king on his behalf, out of his awe and reverence, and out of his feeling of shame before the king. Accordingly, these prayers are just expressions of humility; they do not actually address the Mal'achim. Rather, we want Hash-m to hear the way we address the Mal'achim and answer our Tefilos.
4) THE TZADIK WHO WAS BURIED IN DISGRACE
QUESTION: Rashi records the incident in which the coffins of a Tzadik and a Rasha were being taken to be buried and were accidentally switched. The Tzadik was buried with the disgrace of a Rasha, and the Rasha was buried with the great honor that the Tzadik was supposed to receive. A Talmid of the Tzadik, who knew about the error, was greatly distressed, until the Tzadik came to him in a dream and told him that the burial that he received was a punishment for a misdeed that he had done in his lifetime. He had once heard someone defaming a Talmid Chacham and he did not defend the Talmid Chacham. Similarly, the Rasha received an honorable burial as reward for a Mitzvah that he once did. He had prepared a large meal which was then cancelled, and he gave all of the food to poor people.
Why was the Tzadik's punishment appropriate for his deed, and why was the Rasha's reward appropriate for his deed?
ANSWER: The punishment of the Tzadik was clearly Midah k'Neged Midah, measure for measure. Since he did not come to the defense of a Talmid Chacham who had been insulted, he effectively added to the disgrace of the Talmid Chacham. Therefore, he, too, was disgraced by having a disgraceful burial.
The reward of the Rasha who gave his meal to poor people was also a reward Midah k'Neged Midah. Although it appeared as though he was giving such a large amount of Tzedakah out of the goodness of his heart, the truth was that he was giving it only because he needed to get rid of the food anyway. For this act he was rewarded by being buried with honor normally accorded to a Tzadik, because the people did not realize who was inside the coffin. They saw only the outside of the coffin and they thought it was the Tzadik, just as the Rasha himself only gave the Tzedakah outwardly and not inwardly from the goodness of his heart.
The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM cites the ARIZAL who found an allusion in a verse to this reward for someone who gives Tzedakah. The Gemara in Bava Basra (10b) says that Shlomo ha'Melech was asked how great the merit of Tzedakah is, and he answered, "See what my father said: 'He gave expansively to impoverished people, his righteousness endures forever, and his pride will be raised with honor'" (Tehilim 112:9). The Arizal explains that "Pizar" -- "he gave expansively," describes a person who gave Tzedakah like the Rasha mentioned in the Gemara. He gave to the poor the food which he had prepared for another purpose. Nevertheless, such a person is rewarded, as the end of the verse says, in that his Tzedakah will remain as a merit for him forever, and his reward will be that "his pride will be raised with honor" -- he will be given a show of honor that he really does not deserve.