1) THE "DOR HA'MIDBAR" IN OLAM HA'BA
QUESTION: Rebbi Akiva in the Mishnah states that the people of the Dor ha'Midbar (the generation that left Mitzrayim) have no portion in the World to Come and will not rise to be judged on the final Day of Judgment. He proves this from the verse that states, "In this desert they will expire, and there they will die" (Bamidbar 14:35). The words "they will expire" refer to their death in this world, and the extra words "they will die" refer to their death in Olam ha'Ba. In the Beraisa later (110b), Rebbi Akiva brings further support to his view from the verse, "I have sworn in My anger if they (the people of the Dor ha'Midbar) will come to My resting place (Olam ha'Ba)" (Tehilim 95:11).
Rebbi Eliezer disagrees and states that they do have a share in Olam ha'Ba. He proves this from the verse, "Gather to Me My righteous ones who have made a treaty with Me" (Tehilim 50:5), which refers to the generation that received the Torah. In the Beraisa (110b), Rebbi Eliezer explains that the verse that Rebbi Akiva quotes from Tehilim refers only to when Hash-m was angry with the people, which was a temporary state.
The opinion of Rebbi Akiva is difficult to understand. How is it possible that the generation that received the Torah will not have a portion in Olam ha'Ba? Many of them were great Tzadikim, such as Nachshon ben Aminadav, as well as the seventy elders of Moshe Rabeinu's Sanhedrin. They were not allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael only because the Jewish people were judged as a nation, and thus they were included in the judgment. Alternatively, it was because of a relatively minor sin that they committed. How can Rebbi Akiva assert that they were such terrible sinners that they have no portion in Olam ha'Ba?
(a) The RAMA MI'PANO (in Ma'amar Chikur ha'Din) explains that Rebbi Akiva does not actually mean that they have no portion in Olam ha'Ba. Rebbi Akiva understands the verses to mean that the people of that generation committed sins for which they still need atonement. He expresses this opinion in the Mishnah in a harsh manner in order to give the people of the Dor ha'Midbar the atonement that they require; everyone who reads the Mishnah will view them in a bad light, and this disparagement will atone for their sins.
The approach of the Rama mi'Pano seems to have a basis in the Gemara in Megilah (25b). The Mishnah there states that when the Parshah of Egel ha'Zahav is read on Shabbos, the Targum translation is also read so that it will be understood. The Gemara there asks, why is it necessary to teach that the Targum is read for that Parshah, more than for any other Parshah? The Gemara answers that one might have thought that we should protect the honor of that generation and not translate the narrative of their evil deed. The Mishnah therefore teaches that the Targum is to be read "in order that they should receive atonement." This supports the Rama mi'Pano's statement that the Dor ha'Midbar, according to Rebbi Akiva, receives atonement when others are made aware of their sin.
(b) The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM quotes an opinion that this argument refers only to the sin of the spies and of those who complained during that generation. The others certainly have a portion in Olam ha'Ba. He proves this from many Midrashim and works of the Rishonim, which imply that the generation as a whole does have a share in the World to Come. (Y. MONTROSE)
2) THE DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF THIEVERY
QUESTION: Rebbi Yochanan derives the severity of the sin of thievery from what happened to the people of the Dor ha'Mabul (the Generation of the Flood). The people of that generation transgressed every sin, but their fate was sealed only because of the sin of thievery, as the verse states, "[The end of all flesh has come before Me,] because the land is filled with thievery from them, and thus I am going to destroy them from the earth" (Bereishis 6:13).
What makes thievery more severe than any other sin, such that it was the sin that sealed the fate of mankind's destruction?
(a) The BE'ER SHEVA quotes an opinion that states that the transgression of thievery is logical and obvious, and thus the people should have understood how detrimental it is to the welfare of society. However, the Be'er Sheva rejects this explanation because there are other sins that are just as logically detrimental, such as murder.
He explains instead that Rebbi Yochanan's words are based on the Mishnah in Avos (1:18). The Mishnah there states that the world endures because of three things: Din, Emes, and Shalom (justice, truth, and peace). This is why the Gemara in Shabbos (10a, 119b) states that one who judges a case truthfully is considered a partner with Hash-m in the creation of the world; without truth, the world cannot endure. Since the people of that generation were thoroughly steeped in acts of thievery and there was no judgment (because the judges themselves were thieves) or truth or peace, the world had nothing left on which to endure.
(b) The Be'er Sheva explains, alternatively, that the thievery in which the people were involved was representative of the destructive power of the transgression of commandments that involve interactions between man and his fellow man (as opposed to interactions between man and Hash-m). The transgression of commandments between man and his fellow man causes punishment in this world. Stealing is the epitome of such transgressions. The victim of robbery cries out in anguish and Hash-m responds. Therefore, the Torah says that this was the sin for which the world was destroyed.
(c) Perhaps another explanation may be suggested. Noach was involved in constructing the Teivah for 120 years in order to give the people of his generation the opportunity to repent. How is it possible that during all of that time, not a single person repented?
The Gemara later (108b) relates the dialogue between Noach and the people of his generation. The Gemara says that after Noach told them that Hash-m plans to bring a great flood upon the world, they challenged him, saying, "What sort of flood will it be? If it is a flood of fire, then we have fireproof material! If it is a deluge of water, then we can stop up the water!" They did not fear Hash-m, and they relied on their own power. The still could have saved themselves by acknowledging that their very lives came from Hash-m, but they failed in this respect as well; they severely lacked the trait of Hakaras ha'Tov, recognizing the good that Hash-m did for them. The Gemara in Berachos (35a) states that one who does not recite a blessing before he eats, and thus fails to recognize the kindness that Hash-m has bestowed upon him, "steals" from Hash-m. One who constantly steals shows that he believes that everything belongs to him and that he owes nothing to anyone. It was because of this evil trait of the Dor ha'Mabul, which they demonstrated through their stealing, that they could not come to fulfill any Mitzvos. This is why Rebbi Yochanan says that their fate was sealed by the sin of stealing. (Y. MONTROSE)
3) THE RAVEN THAT SPOKE TO NOACH
OPINIONS: The Gemara discusses Noach's attempt to send out the raven to discern whether or not the floodwaters had receded. When Noach sent it out, the raven immediately returned to the Teivah. The Gemara relates that the raven said to Noach, "Both Hash-m and you hate me! Hash-m commanded to take seven pairs of each Tahor species [to survive the flood], but only one pair of each Tamei species. You hate me, because you did not take a Tahor species, of which there are seven pairs on the Teivah, for your mission. Rather, you chose me; if the heat or cold will kill me, the world will lack a species (since the other raven will die without offspring)!"
Did the raven actually speak to Noach?
(a) The YAD RAMAH says that although animals do not actually talk, they can express their thoughts through various signs that people can understand. This is similar to the type of expressions made by trees called "Sichas Dekalim," which Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai was able to understand (Sukah 28a, Bava Basra 134a). Certainly Noach, who was a prophet, was able to understand these hints as well. (Although RASHI in Sukah says that he does not know what "Sichas Dekalim" is, the ARUCH there cites an explanation from RAV SHERIRA GA'ON who explains that when there is no wind, two people can spread out a sheet between two trees and decipher the way their branches move in a conversational manner.)
(b) The BE'ER SHEVA states that ravens certainly cannot speak. The Gemara is describing what the raven was thinking and what it would have said had it been able to speak.
Alternatively, he explains, the raven is not a creature with advanced intelligence, and it was not thinking such thoughts. Rather, the Gemara is describing what the raven would have said had it been an intelligent creature, in order to teach a lesson from the actions of Noach. Similarly, RABEINU YONAH in Berachos (page 21b of the pages of the Rif) explains that when the Gemara in Sanhedrin (100b) says that the "Torah dons sackcloth," it is merely giving a metaphor to emphasize the matter.
The TORAS CHAIM in Eruvin (100b) states resolutely that animals do not speak. The Gemara in Eruvin there says that we could have learned the trait of modesty from the behavior of the chicken, and it goes on to describe the conversation that a chicken has with its mate. The Toras Chaim there says that not only do chickens not talk, but they also do not think the thoughts that the Gemara ascribes to them. Rather, Hash-m merely made animals to act in a way in which they appear to be expressing certain ideas from which we can learn important lessons.
The Toras Chaim says that this is also the explanation of the incident regarding the cow chosen to be sacrificed by the false prophets of the Ba'al in the times of Eliyahu. The Midrash comments that after being chosen to be sacrificed to the Ba'al, the cow refused to move since it did not want to be sacrificed to an idol. Only after Eliyahu spoke to it did it consent. The Toras Chaim says that not only did the cow have no idea what was going on, but it did not even understand what Eliyahu said to it! Hash-m's intention was to show the people that it is wrong to follow the idol, and thus Hash-m made the animal's movements insinuate this idea. (Y. MONTROSE)