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Avodah Zarah, 3
1) THE REVOCATION OF THE SEVEN MITZVOS OF "BENEI NOACH"
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that when Hashem saw that the Benei Noach did
not observe the seven Mitzvos that were given to them, He "permitted" those
acts to them at the time that He gave the Torah to the Jewish people. The
Gemara asks why Hashem would make it easier for them as a result of their
lack of compliance. The Gemara answers that Hashem did not makes it easier
for them; rather, Hashem decreed that even if they observe those Mitzvos,
they will not receive reward in the same way that one who is commanded to
fulfill a Mitzvah receives reward. Instead, they will receive reward as one
who is not commanded to fulfill a Mitzvah.
Why should they not receive reward as one who is commanded? It seems from
our Gemara that Benei Noach are *not* permitted to do whatever they want,
and that they *will* be punished for violating the seven Mitzvos! Why, then,
will they not receive reward for their fulfillment of their Mitzvos as one
who is commanded receives reward?
(a) The NACHALAS MOSHE in Bava Kama (38a) explains that the reason a person
receives greater reward for fulfilling Mitzvos that he is commanded to fulfi
ll is because a person who is not commanded to perform a Mitzvah does not
put as much effort into fulfilling it, since he knows that if he has
difficulty fulfilling it, he can stop his efforts and abandon it. In
contrast, when a person is commanded to fulfill a Mitzvah, he knows that he
must perform it, and that knowledge creates a greater burden upon him.
According to this, since the Benei Noach demonstrated that the Mitzvos did
*not* create any burden on them, they are not entitled to be rewarded as one
who is commanded, even though they indeed are commanded. (This might be the
reason why TOSFOS here and in Kidushin (31a, DH Gadol) explains the logic
for why a greater reward is given to one who is commanded to do a Mitzvah
and does it.)
However, this does not seem to be the intention of RASHI here. Rashi (DH
Lomar) writes that Benei Noach are *not* commanded to fulfill their Mitzvos.
In Bava Kama (38a), Rashi adds that they do not receive the reward of one
who is commanded, since they are not commanded; however, they are not exempt
from punishment for failure to fulfill their Mitzvos. Rashi makes a similar
comment later in Avodah Zarah (6a, DH Mishum Harvachah). It seems clear from
Rashi that although Benei Noach are *not* commanded to observe their Mitzvos
such that we might have thought that they are not punished for violating
them, nevertheless Hashem *will* punish them for violating their Mitzvos
(see also RAMBAM in Perush ha'Mishnayos to Chulin, ch. 7).
What, though, is the logic for this? Why should they be punished for failing
to fulfill Mitzvos that they are no longer obligated to fulfill? (See
TESHUVOS P'NEI YEHOSHUA YD 1:3 and EH 2:43, who proposes that Benei Noach
have no obligation today to fulfill the seven Mitzvos. He suggests that our
Gemara means that for the Benei Noach, the loss of not receiving reward
outweighs the gain of not being commanded, and that is why Hashem revoked
their Mitzvos. However, this explanation contradicts all of the Rishonim,
who write that a Ben Noach is punished for violating any of the seven
Mitzvos, even today, as the Gemara implies in many places.)
(b) There are two reasons for observing the Mitzvos. First, the observance
of the Mitzvos brings positive benefit to the person and to the world around
him. Second, Hashem commanded us to observe the Mitzvos, and by observing it
we show our deference and submission to Hashem. (See CHIDUSHEI AGADOS of RAV
ELCHANAN WASSERMAN, zt'l Hy'd, in the end of KOVETZ HE'OROS.)
Similarly, a Ben Noach must observe the seven Mitzvos because of two
reasons. First, there is a strong logical basis for observing them; his
Mitzvos preserve the peace and welfare of society, and thus he should be
motivated to observe them for this reason. Second, the Torah commands him to
observe these Mitzvos. When Hashem saw that the Benei Noach were not
observing the seven Mitzvos, Hashem removed the second reason for fulfilling
the Mitzvos. They now must fulfill their Mitzvos because it is necessary to
have universal laws of peace and order, but not because Hashem specifically
commanded them to fulfill these Mitzvos. Therefore, when they observe these
Mitzvos, they will not be rewarded for the second obligating factor (that
Hashem commanded them to observe those Mitzvos). Rather, they will be
rewarded only because they are obligated by logic to observe these Mitzvos.
If they violate the seven Mitzvos, then they will be punished because of
this obligating factor. (The NETZIV in MEROMEI SADEH to Bava Kama 38a offers
a similar answer.)
2) THE LAUGHTER OF HASHEM
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that the only time Hashem laughs, as it were,
at his creations is on the final day of judgement when the nations of the
world reject the Mitzvah of Sukah, or throw off their Tefilin, Tzitzis, and
Mezuzos to go and join the war of Gog u'Magog. What provokes Hashem's
laughter at these times?
3) AGADAH: LAUGHING WITH THE "LIVYASAN," LEARNING WITH THE CHILDREN, AND
RIDING THE CHERUB
ANSWER: Laughter occurs when a person is faced with a sudden revelation of
the truth which he sees is the opposite of what he had expected. When Sarah
discovered that Hashem was going to give her a child, she laughed, saying,
"After I have become aged, I am becoming young again" (Bereishis 18:12). The
reversal of the aging process and her ability to bear a child provoked
This is what brings about Hashem's laughter on the day of judgement. The
evildoers of the nations who attempted to prevent the Jewish people from
fulfilling the Mitzvos try to look righteous in their own eyes and in the
eyes of others. The nations torment the Jewish people by saying that they
are a nation that has been rejected by Hashem and they deserve whatever
punishment they receive. The nations claim that they themselves are just and
G-d-fearing, and that is why they have been given dominion in this world.
The epitome of this audacity occurs on the final day of judgement when the
nations feign to wholeheartedly accept the Mitzvos of Hashem. However, when
it becomes difficult for them, their true intentions are revealed, as they
eagerly reject the Mitzvos. When the truth is revealed and the nations are
suddenly shown -- to the eyes of all -- to shun the Mitzvos of Hashem,
Hashem laughs, as it were.
In this world, the evildoer is often granted all of his worldly needs, which
conceals Hashem's disapproval of his ways. When the evildoer falls and is
defeated in this world, this is an exception to the normal way that Hashem
conducts this world. That is why Hashem does not express laughter until the
end of days.
The laughter and rejoicing of Purim is based on a similar concept. Until the
very end of the story of Purim, Hashem concealed His presence. It seemed as
though He had abandoned His people. Suddenly, the truth became revealed and
it became obvious to all that Hashem is still watching and protecting His
people, even in times of exile. The downfall of Haman and Amalek was felt
throughout the entire world, providing a spark of the revelation of the
ultimate fall of evil that will occur at the end of days.
The SEFER YETZIRAH writes that the month of Adar corresponds to the spleen
("Techol") in the body. This is because the spleen is connected to laughter
(Berachos 61b). In addition, the month of Adar corresponds to the letter
"Kuf," which means "monkey," an animal that provokes laughter by doing acts
that seem humanlike. In this sense, the monkey represents the wicked who
seem to be equal to the righteous in this world, but who actually will be
revealed to be no better than animals.
The author of the statement of our Gemara is Rebbi Yitzchak, who, in the
spirit of his own name, discusses the laughter of Hashem. The name of
Yitzchak Avinu reflects his attributes as well. We find that the attribute
of Yitzchak is Din, strict justice. It is when the full and complete justice
of Hashem is revealed that Hashem laughs at the downfall of the wicked.
The Gemara in Megilah (15b) says that Haman had 208 children. This number
corresponds to the Gematriya of "Yitzchak," since Haman was trying to
destroy the Jewish nation and prevent the true justice from ever being
realized. He thought that his power would remain eternally. When, in the
end, Hashem brought about Haman's downfall with a sudden turn of events and
the true justice of Hashem was revealed, the Jews had the last laugh.
QUESTIONS: Rebbi Yitzchak states that Hashem has laughter, as it were, only
on the final day of judgement (see previous Insight). The Gemara asks that
we find that Hashem has laughter at other times -- Rav Yehudah says in the
name of Rav that during the last three hours of the day, Hashem "laughs with
the Livyasan," as the verse says (Tehilim 104:26). The Gemara answers that
"with His creations (Im Beriyosav) He laughs," while "on His creations (Al
Beriyosav) He does not laugh" until the final day of judgement.
The Gemara continues and says that from the time of the destruction of the
Beis ha'Mikdash, Hashem does not laugh with the Livyasan during the last
four hours of the day, but rather during that time He learns Torah with the
children (Tinokos Shel Beis Raban).
The Gemara then asks what Hashem does during the night hours. One opinion
says that He does the similar types of activities that He does during the
day. The second opinion says that He "rides His light-footed Cherub" ("Keruv
Kal") and flies through 18,000 worlds. The third opinion says that He sits
and listens to the Shirah coming from the Chayos.
This series of Agadic statements is one of the most difficult to understand.
(a) If Hashem does not approve of laughter in this world, then why does He
laugh with the Beriyos?
(b) In what way does teaching the Tinokos Shel Beis Raban provide a
replacement from the Sechok, the laughter, with the Livyasan?
(c) What does the Gemara mean when it says that Hashem "rides his Keruv Kal"
through 18,000 worlds? Where do we find that there are so many worlds, and
what is their significance?
(d) What is Hashem's purpose in listening to the Shirah from the Chayos at
(a) Let us first understand the difference between laughter "with His
creations" and laughter "on His creations." The Sechok of Hashem (as we
explained in the previous Insight) refers to the revelation of the complete
truth, the moment when the world will behold the destruction of all evil.
This laughter is the Sechok Al Beriyosav, Hashem's laughter *at* His
creations. The Sechok comes about at the downfall of the Resha'im, through
Sechok Im Beriyosav involves a similar concept but works in a slightly
different way. This expression refers to when Hashem brings salvation *not*
in order to destroy the wicked, but in order to protect the righteous. The
Gemara (Megilah 10b) tells us that Hashem is not happy when the Resha'im are
vanquished. When the verse (Devarim 28:63) says that Hashem will rejoice, it
specifically uses the word "Yasis" and not "Sas," making the point that
Hashem will cause *others* to rejoice at the downfall of the wicked (but not
that He himself rejoices). This means that He will bring the downfall of the
wicked in order to protect the righteous, but not for the inherent purpose
of destroying the wicked themselves. This is the expression of "Sechok Im
Beriyosav" -- the destruction of the wicked that comes about *for* the sake
of the righteous, rather than for the purpose of destroying the wicked.
What, then, is the reason Hashem will rejoice in the destruction of the
wicked in the World to Come, while he does not rejoice in it in this world?
The answer to this question is that even that which seems evil in this world
is not entirely evil. Something entirely evil, with absolutely no positive
quality, could have no part in this world and could not exist. The reason
why Hashem does not rejoice in the downfall of the evil in this world is
because the hidden good that is latent in the evil is also being destroyed
when the evil is obliterated, and the evildoers no longer have the ability
to exercise that positive quality. Their destruction is not an entirely good
thing, because an element of good is also being destroyed. They are being
destroyed only to protect the righteous who will suffer at the hands of the
wicked if Hashem does not punish the wicked in this world.
The Gemara (Sukah 52a)n teaches that in the World to Come, Hashem will
slaughter the Yetzer ha'Ra. This means that in the World to Come, all of the
good will be separated from the evil, and the pure evil that remains will
have no more place in this world and will be destroyed. The world will
return to the state that it was in before the sin of Adam ha'Rishon; in that
state, the Nachash was the embodiment of evil, as an external force that was
not part of the person himself. At that point in the future, evil will have
no more purpose in the world and Hashem will rejoice at the destruction of
the evil. (See Insights to Megilah 10:2.)
This manner of interacting with the world was used by Hashem until the Beis
ha'Mikdash was destroyed. There were times when Hashem brought about a
miraculous salvation to the Jews in a way in which the miracle was evident
to all, and in a way which showed that Hashem protects the Tzadikim. This is
the laughter that was produced through the salvation, as we explained
earlier. However, once the Beis ha'Mikdash was destroyed, Hashem no longer
provides open miracles, even when He shows His salvation to the Jews (as we
see in the miracle of Purim, which was accomplished through "Hester Panim").
Hence, even when Hashem saves the Tzadikim, the salvation no longer produces
the same laughter. That is what the Gemara means when it says that Hashem
has no laughter, even with His creations, after the Churban.
What does this have to do with Hashem laughing with the Livyasan? The RASHBA
(in Chidushei Agados to Bava Basra 74b) discusses the deeper meaning of the
allusion of the Livyasan. He explains that the Livyasan refers to a person
who uses his mind properly to discriminate between good and evil. When the
Sechel, the discriminating element of the mind, combines with the Nefesh --
the person's ability to think -- in such a manner, he is referred to as
Livyasan. The word "Livyasan" implies a bond (or "Chibur"), as in the verse,
"ha'Pa'am *Yilaveh* Ishi Elai" -- "Now my husband will become *attached* to
me" (Bereishis 29:34). It also means an adornment worn upon the head, as in
the verse, "Ki Livyas Chen Hem l'Roshecha" -- "for they shall be an
adornment of grace for your head" (Mishlei 1:9). Here, too, the Livyasan
alludes to the Tzadikim with whom Hashem laughed by destroying the Resha'im
in order to provide the Tzadikim with salvation.
(b) After the Churban of the Beis ha'Mikdash, Hashem does not reveal His
presence openly, as He did when the Beis ha'Mikdash was standing, as we
explained. His presence is revealed through the Torah, through the secrets
of Torah she'Ba'al Peh, which He reveals only to the Jewish people and which
no other nation is able to understand, as the verse says, "He did not do
this for any other nation, and such laws they cannot understand" (Tehilim
147:20). This is what the Gemara means when it says that instead of laughing
with the Livyasan, Hashem now teaches Torah to the children; He gives them
special assistance to understand the Torah. This perhaps also explains why
the salvation of Hashem comes about through the Tinokos Shel Beis Raban who
are studying Torah, as occurred in the times of Mordechai and Esther, as the
Midrash teaches (Esther Rabah 7:13, 9:3-4; see Insights to Megilah 16:1 and
The BEIS YOSEF (end of OC 560) records an argument between the RAMBAN and
RABEINU YONAH regarding whether the prohibition of filling one's mouth with
laughter until the final redemption (Berachos 31a) applies even when the
Beis ha'Mikdash is standing, or only after the Churban of the Beis
ha'Mikdash. It appears that the Rishonim are arguing about the definition of
filling one's mouth with laughter. According to Rabeinu Yonah, who says that
even in the times of the Beis ha'Mikdash it is prohibited to fill one's
mouth with laughter, "filling one's mouth with laughter" refers to laughter
"Al ha'Beriyos," at the creations. Such laughter will only occur in the
future, after the final day of judgement. According to the Ramban, who says
that this prohibition applies only after the Churban but not while the Beis
ha'Mikdash is standing, "filling one's mouth with laughter" refers to
laughter "Im ha'Beriyos," with the creations. Such laughter *does* have a
place in this world, when the Beis ha'Mikdash is standing. Laughter is
permitted as long as Hashem is revealing Himself at least in the minor way
of laughing *with* the Beriyos (i.e. destroying the Resha'im in order to
save the Tzadikim).
(c) What is the meaning of Hashem riding the "Keruv Kal" through 18,000
worlds? The IYUN YAKOV points out that the source for the existence of
18,000 worlds is undoubtedly the last verse in Sefer Yechezkel (48:35) which
states that "there are 18,000 surrounding [Hashem]," which the Gemara
(Sanhedrin 97b) explains to mean that there are 18,000 Tzadikim who have a
place in the innermost circle around Hashem, even closer to Hashem than the
Mal'achei ha'Shares. A Tzadik is referred to by our Gemara as an Olam
("world"), because he is the foundation of the world that enables the world
to endure, as the verse says, "Tzadik Yesod Olam" (Mishlei 10:25).
The "Keruv" alludes to Kneses Yisrael, the love shown to Hashem by the
Jewish people as a whole, just as the two Keruvim in the Beis ha'Mikdash
represent the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people (see Bava
Basra 99a). "Kal" means light-footed, as in Yehudah ben Teima's statement in
Avos (5:20/23), "Be as light as an eagle (Kal ka'Nesher)" to do the will of
Hashem. The Gemara is teaching that Hashem's bond with, and protection of,
the Jewish people is maintained at night, when the people are sleeping and
not involved in Mitzvos, because Hashem remembers the 18,000 Tzadikim in His
inner circle, who lived throughout the generations of the history of the
Jewish people and who were "Kal ka'Nesher" to give up their lives for their
love of Hashem.
(d) The other opinion states that at night, during the time when people are
not involved in Mitzvos, what preserves the bond between Hashem and the
Jewish people is that Hashem listens to the song of praise coming from the
Chayos. The fiery Chayos also represent the Mesirus Nefesh of the Jewish
people for Hashem, for the Jewish people are "burning" with an intense love
for Hashem. Their Shirah, their song, is one that rises to Shamayim even
while the Jewish people are sleeping. The Gemara (Chagigah 13b) teaches that
the Chayos are "Chayos Esh Memalelos," which "are sometimes silent, and
sometimes speaking." The song of the Chayos in Shamayim is aroused by the
deeds of the Jewish people below. The praise of the Jewish people for Hashem
is sometimes vocalized, out loud, when they sing praises to Hashem for His
salvation, while sometimes their Shirah arises from their silence, when they
are silent in acceptance of Hashem's decrees, as the verse says, "va'Yidom
Aharon" (Vayikra 10:3) -- Aharon was silent in acceptance of Hashem's decree
when his two sons were killed. A silent acceptance of Hashem's decrees is
just as beautiful before Hashem as the songs of praise that are expressed at
the time of a salvation. Together, these forms of song comprise the Shirah
of the Chayos.
According to this opinion, the bond between Hashem and His people is
preserved at night through the Tzadikim of this world who silently endure
their fate, trusting totally in Hashem. This is especially evident during
the night, as the verse says, "To relate Your kindness in the morning (i.e.
the praises of Hashem for His salvations), and Your trust in the nights
(i.e. the expression of our trust in Hashem during times of darkness)"
(Tehilim 92:3). This is the song of the Chayos that Hashem listens to
throughout the night.