ההכרח לא ישובח ולא יגונה?‏

R. Ysoscher Katz writes:

Apologizing For Our Necessary Collective Evil

Sometimes we have to repent for transgression we commit even if they are perhaps justifiable. For example: when I fight a war of self-defense and people get killed in the process, the killing is justified, but I still took a life. For that I need to repent.

Those charged with ensuring the security of Israel’s airports have to be hyper-vigilant, to not let anything slip under the radar. If something in Meyer’s bags looked suspicious, they had every right to question him and make sure that it did not pose a security threat. That, however, does not take away from the fact that in the process Meyer was degraded.

Our challenge is to hold on to both feelings simultaneously; to unequivocally support Israel’s security apparatus but, at the same time, not allow our sensitivities to go numb in the process. Israel, on behalf of us, hurt another human being (albeit rightfully) and we need to repent, and also ask for forgiveness from the aggrieved person; we as individuals, and the state as a collective.

As an orthodox rabbi, that is the mode in which I operate all the time. I constantly remind my congregants: Orthodoxy is by definition discriminatory. People are denied full entry based on their gender, or various other factors. I love Orthodoxy and appreciate tremendously all that it gives me, but that does not absolve me of my complicity in its exclusionary ethos. I remind my community every Yom Kippur that we need to add this to our list of al cheits. We need to plead for forgiveness for the discrimination inherent in being orthodox. Justified behavior does not necessarily diminish the criminality (albeit without malice) such behavior sometimes entails.

R. Avrohom Gordimer (unsurprisingly) disagrees:

No Apologies Necessary

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz’ Apologizing For Our Necessary Collective Evil sends some troubling messages. …

While we have all been subjected to zealous and seemingly harsh security practices at one time or another, we are aware that such is the nature of things – there are wicked, bloodthirsty people in the world, who have caused governments to invest countless billions of dollars and ordinary citizens to lose countless billions of hours by being unduly inconvenienced, harassed and downright humiliated in the interests of safety. Intrusive and dehumanizing security protocols are sadly part of life, and I do not think that apologies are necessary. On the contrary, it is the terrorists who owe the world an apology for necessitating the enactment of these extremely imposing security measures (as well as, obviously, for the vicious acts of violence and murder that have shaken humanity to its core). Security should be as civil and sensitive as possible, and never cruel, but unfortunately, nations have been quite understandably forced into very tough positions in order to defend lives, for which apologies seem out of place and perhaps even counterproductive. One can disagree, but I think that we must be very careful before introducing apologies into the realm of security procedures.

Rabbi Katz then takes his theme of apology for necessary evils to a theological level …

God does not need to apologize for His Torah, nor do we need to apologize for heeding the Torah. Heaven forbid to declare that adherence to the Torah makes one complicit in criminality, with or without malice. The Al Chet prayer for forgiveness is prescribed for those who violate the Torah and not for observance of the Torah. …

R. Katz’s basic idea that a course of action can be both necessary and permissible, but simultaneously sinful, while certainly not a common one in our tradition, does have apparently solid precedent in Tosafos:

אמר שמואל כל היושב בתענית נקרא חוטא. וקשיא דאמרינן בפ’ החובל (ב”ק דף צא: ושם) החובל בעצמו רשאי אבל אחרים שחבלו בו חייבים ומפרש התם הא דקאמר החובל בעצמו רשאי אמר שמואל ביושב בתענית אלמא משמע דשמואל קאמר דיושב בתענית לא נקרא חוטא
ויש לומר דודאי הוי חוטא כדאמרינן הכא מקל וחומר מנזיר ומה נזיר שלא ציער עצמו אלא מיין וכו’ אבל מכל מקום המצוה שהוא עושה התענית גדול יותר מן העבירה ממה שהוא מצער נפשו דמצוה לנדור כדאמרינן (סוטה דף ב.) הרואה סוטה בקלקולה יזיר עצמו מן היין ומכל מקום יש קצת חטא מידי דהוה אמתענה תענית חלום בשבת דקורעין גזר דינו ונפרעין ממנו תענית של שבת ומאי תקנתיה ליתב תעניתא לתעניתיה:1

[We have previously touched on the remarkable implication of this Tosafos here.]

An even closer parallel can perhaps be found in the Mishnah and Talmud:

מתני’ מסרוהו זקני בית דין לזקני כהונה והעלוהו בית אבטינס והשביעוהו [רש”י: שלא יהא צדוקי לתקן מבחוץ ולהכניס בפנים כדאמרינן בגמרא] ונפטרו והלכו להם ואמרו לו אישי כהן גדול אנו שלוחי בית דין ואתה שלוחנו ושליח בית דין משביעין אנו עליך במי ששכן שמו בבית הזה שלא תשנה דבר מכל מה שאמרנו לך הוא פורש ובוכה והן פורשין ובוכין2

גמרא … הוא פורש ובוכה שחשדוהו צדוקי [לתקן הקטורת ולתת אותה על מחתת האש בהיכל ולהכניסה אחרי כן לבית קדשי הקדשים שכן אומרים הצדוקים כדלקמן] והם פורשין ובוכין דא”ר יהושע בן לוי כל החושד בכשרים לוקה בגופו וכל כך למה שלא יתקן מבחוץ ויכניס כדרך שהצדוקין עושין3

Just as Israelis have ample reason to suspect arbitrary Palestinians of nefarious intentions, the elders of the second Commonwealth Era certainly had ample reason to suspect High Priests of Sadducee sympathies – and yet they felt great distress at the possibility of having suspected a blameless individual.

A truly provocative comment ostensibly on our topic is the Talmudic assertion that G-d requires atonement for having diminished the moon and thereby hurt its feelings:

רבי שמעון בן פזי רמי כתיב ויעש אלקים את שני המאורות הגדולים וכתיב את המאור הגדול ואת המאור הקטן אמרה ירח לפני הקב”ה רבש”ע אפשר לשני מלכים שישתמשו בכתר אחד אמר לה לכי ומעטי את עצמך …

חזייה דלא קא מיתבא דעתה אמר הקב”ה הביאו כפרה עלי שמיעטתי את הירח והיינו דאמר ר”ש בן לקיש מה נשתנה שעיר של ראש חדש שנאמר בו לד’ אמר הקב”ה שעיר זה יהא כפרה על שמיעטתי את הירח4

But of course, despite academic scholarship that takes such Rabbinic statements at face value:

[Prof. Dov] Weiss shows that God in the Tanhuma-Yelammedanu literature becomes humanized and shares a life of Torah with Jews. God even goes into exile with the Jewish people, and needs redemption by Israel and through history. God recognizes that His past act or decision does not comport with the moral ideal and makes a concession of his fault; God is able to concede and thereby acknowledge faults and mistakes.

traditional Jewish theology considers the very ideas of G-d erring or requiring atonement unthinkable, and reinterprets the problematic aggadic passages accordingly, e.g.:


אמר לה הקב”ה הנני עושה לך כבוד שמישב דעתך תחת שמיעטתיך ומאי ניהו שיהו ישראל בכל ר”ח מקריבין קרבן לפני לכפר עונותיהם לפיכך אמר הקב”ה הביאו כפרה לפני בר”ח לכפר עליכם כדי שתשלימו עלי בקרבן כפרה זה את הכבוד שאמרתי לעשות לירח בשביל שמיעטתיו וזה הוא פירוש הביאו כפרה עלי שמיעטתי וכו’:5

  1. תוספות תענית יא. ד”ה אמר שמואל []
  2. יומא יח: []
  3. שם יט: []
  4. חולין ס: []
  5. רי”ף שבועות דף א: בדפי הרי”ף, ועיין עוד פה ופה []

4 thoughts on “ההכרח לא ישובח ולא יגונה?‏”

  1. Yasher koach, R. David.

    I was in the middle of putting together a list of sources which support the idea that one sometimes needs expiation for a meritorious act when a friend pointed me to your blog. Yasher kaoch. You mentioned all the sources I was going to use. I will just add two more:

    1) Penina the wife of Elaknah: The midrash tells us that she would constantly tease Chanah about her infertility and she was punished for that-even though chazal tell us that לשם שמים נתכוונה. If she was doing it for God’s sake, why was she punished. It must be that sometime a justified act can still be considered evil.

    2) The same is true with מקושש. He too, according to chazal, was מכוון לשם שמים and still was punished. Again, a meritorious act which is considered sinful.

  2. On the face of it, some of these analogs appear…strained:

    1) With regard to questions of security and chashad, one need only viz. Pres. Abbas’ recent declaration that the last PA penny would go towards pay-for-slay to put to bed any notion that there is any chezkas kashrus to worry about violating. Certainly even the most Sadducidic Kohen Gadol deserves some consideration: he was taking his life into his hands. Security threats don’t deserve anything in degree or kind approaching that.

    2) With regard to Tzelophchad and Penina: Tzelophchad’s execution indicates that the out-and-out avera part of the equation far outweighed any “lishma” angle, there being no hesistancy as to the result, only the means; Peninah’s severe punishment might indicate that she might have justified her tzaraesque behavior by telling herself she was helping Chana—and G-d was as it were responding that her it was really none of her business, as no one told her to do that. If one wants to conjure up an avera lishma, the paradigmatic example is Yale, whose action (as a non-Jew!!!) in furtherance of Jewish military aims and Chazal praising her for her action while avoiding even a hint of chastisement for the liaison doesn’t further a thesis of remorse.

    3) G-d’s asking for “atonement” for diminishing the moon is a Henavenly matter akin to not allowing the angels to sing at the Yam Suf, while on Earth, BY themselves sang about G-d being an Ish Milchama and Egyptians drowning like stones.

    Point being: none of those examples indicate that there is to be any feeling of guilt or sinfulness on the part of those carrying out security measures. In fact, one might find better attitudinal analogs in the various examples of rachmanus al haachzarim in the literature, whether in Matos, or Shmuel, or Esther.

    Sometimes not only do you not have to apologize, but it might be the more “sinful” course of action.

    1. Regarding פנינה, there are certainly a variety of possible approaches. Your idea that “it was really none of her business” is indeed espoused by R. Avraham Rivlin of KBY, but I was specifically citing the apparent understanding of R. Chaim Shmulevitz and R. Eliyahu Lopian that פנינה was not wrong, but was nevertheless punished for hurting חנה.

      With regard to the rest of your comment, הרואה יראה והבוחר יבחר.

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