Interactive Learning Module
Despair of the Defenders of Jerusalem
1890 Holman Bible
לגרסה בעברית של יחידת לימוד זו, לחצו
Justice would seem to dictate that people should never get a greater punishment than they deserve. As such, verses which appear to imply that the nation, at times, might actually get more than its fair
share of retribution
pose a theological challenge.
This module will explore one such case, Hashem's repeated threat in
that, if the nation continues to sin, Hashem will punish them sevenfold for their crimes:
"וְיָסַפְתִּי לְיַסְּרָה אֶתְכֶם שֶׁבַע עַל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם"
. How does this manifest Divine justice?
An in depth analysis of the issue can be found at
. As you use this module, you are invited to compare your own analysis with the analysis found there.
2. Keyword: "קרי"
Frequently, the main message or theme of a unit is highlighted through repetition of certain
keywords or phrases
. What are the refrains in the unit of curses in
and what might they teach about
Hashem's system of retribution?
to access the
, where we will more easily be able to find and highlight these keywords.
Look at the table of computer generated keywords on the left side of the screen and click on the
which will order keywords taking into account both the number of appearances of the entry in the unit and their relative frequency in Tanakh as a whole.
Which word tops the list?
How many times does it appear here? How many times does it appear elsewhere in Tanakh?
Click on the word "קְרִי"
in the table so that all its appearances in the unit will be highlighted. What is the context of each?
3. Key Phrase: "הלך עם קרי"
is one of the most significant keywords in our unit, appearing
here and nowhere else in Tanakh.
Note that the word usually appears as part of a phrase, being accompanied by variations of the words
Highlight the phrase
in verse 21 and from the drop-down menu, choose
so that all will be colored.
Scan the phrases. How do they support the notion that Hashem punishes
"measure for measure"?
What, though, does it mean for either man or God to act with the other "בְּקֶרִי"?
4. Key Phrase: "שבע על חטאה"
There is one other phrase that repeats throughout our unit.
On the top of the table of computer generated finds, click on the button
to display key phrases of up to three consecutive words.
Note that the triplet that we just saw,
"הלך עִם קְרִי"
, tops the list.
Click also on the third phrase listed,
"שֶׁבַע עַל חַטָּאָה"
, so that all appearances of this phrase, too, will be highlighted.
5. "שבע על חטאה"
"שֶׁבַע עַל חַטָּאָה"
appears in verses 18, 24, and 28. What
of the phrase appears in verse 21 as well? Is this unique formulation synonymous with the others or does it mean something else?
What do these refrains teach about
Hashem's mode of punishment?
Does He punish in accord with one's deeds or more severely?
Finally, note the distribution of our two key phrases, "הלך עִם קְרִי" and "שֶׁבַע עַל חַטָּאָה". How often do they
? What does the juxtaposition imply?
6. A Theological Question
Our verses imply that there is a
cause and effect
relationship between "walking בקרי" and being punished sevenfold.
What, though, does the word "קֶרִי" mean and how does this justify why the nation is being punished seven times more than their crimes deserve? How is such
to be understood?
The question is one that has bothered many. Let's return to the
Mikraot Gedolot on Vayikra 26:18
to see how our commentators have dealt with the issue.
7. Removal of Divine Providence
Let's begin with
. To access his comments, click on the
"Show Additional Commentaries"
button at the bottom of the verse. We can begin a few lines into the commentary, from the words, "אמנם אחר כך אמר".
How does Keli Yekar understand the phrase
"אִם תֵּלְכוּ עִמִּי קֶרִי"
? When Hashem says
"וְהָלַכְתִּי אַף אֲנִי עִמָּכֶם בְּקֶרִי"
, what does He mean? What punishment is He inflicting? Why?
How does the
removal of Divine providence
result in sevenfold punishment?
According to Keli Yekar, despite the disproportionate severity of the punishment, how might it nonetheless be viewed as "measure for measure" retribution?
8. Natural Order is the Norm
According to Keli Yekar, at times Hashem might indeed
punish people more severely
than their sins call for.
If the nation does not recognize Divine providence, He removes that providence, leaving the people to chance which does not discriminate and has no mercy, easily leading to disproportionate punishment.
One, though, might go further and suggest that our case is not exceptional, and that Hashem
to disrupt the
, setting it (and not active Divine providence) as the norm.
9. Natural Order
If natural order is the norm rather than the exception, it might often be possible to suffer from the vicissitudes of
. Once Hashem unleashes His messengers to destroy, they might
act on their own
, resulting in unwarranted punishment.
support this possibility? [See also
regarding Hashem's command to the nation not to leave their homes during the plague of Firstborns.]
If one takes this approach, when, if ever, do people receive their just deserts? What does
R. Nissim Gerondi (Ran)
to access his Derashot from the
. [We'll begin towards the end of the derashah, looking at the paragraph beginning, "ועל זה הדרך לא ישאר ספק מתמיה בענין צדיק ורע לו".]
10. Seven Sins
Not all are comfortable with the notion that Hashem might ever punish more than deserved, and some maintain that, contrary to first impressions, the verses are not implying this at all.
to return to the Mikraot Gedolot.
Let's look at the
. [As above, click on the
"Show Additional Commentaries"
button so that the Midrash Halakhah will appear.]
How does the Sifra understand our verse?
11. Seven Sins Continued
According to the Sifra, how is a sevenfold punishment
"measure for measure"
How might the unique variation of our refrain in verse 21, "וְיָסַפְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַכָּה שֶׁבַע
חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם", support this position?
Can you find
in the previous verses?
R"Y Bekhor Shor
who enumerates the sins to which the Sifra is referring.
How might this position understand the word "קֶרִי"? What does
12. Punishment Less Harsh
Let's now turn to a third approach to our question which also agrees that Hashem's punishments are
and that our initial reading of the verse was mistaken.
However, instead of suggesting, like the Sifra, that the nation must have sinned more than an initial reading would imply, this position suggests that the
than it first appears.
Scroll up to
. How does he understand the word "שבע"? What
does he bring to support his reading?
How can this solve our theological difficulty?
13. Round Numbers
Rashbam suggests that the number seven is simply a
, used to connote a large quantity.
Our verse is not saying that the nation will get seven times more than they deserve, but simply that they will be punished severely (according to the magnitude of their sins).
A quick concordance search reveals several more examples where numbers such as seven or ten are used figuratively to refer to "many".
Click on the word "שֶׁבַע"
in our verse to access the
. In which verses might the number seven connote abundance?
14. Seven and Ten
Many of the verses in which the word "שֶׁבַע" appears employ the number seven literally, but
down in the concordance list to Shemuel I 2:5 (#214), Yeshayahu 4:1 (#266), Yirmeyahu 15:9 (#269) and Tehillim 119:164 (#302) where it is used metaphorically.
in the input box, choosing the
form from the drop-down menu. [Make sure "עֶשֶׂר" appears and not "עָשׂר".]
In how many verses is the number used
to connote abundance? See, for example, Bemidbar 14:22 (#46), Shemuel I 1:8 (#69), Amos 6:9 (#140), and Iyyov 19:3 (#144).
15. Application to Other Cases
Our verses are not the only ones which imply that Hashem might punish the nation more than they deserve. See
). What words in this verse are similarly troubling?
Which of the approaches discussed above might be applied to this verse as well?
on this verse. With which of the above approaches does he identify?
of the verse. How might his first suggestion here be applied to the verses in Vayikra?.
Finally, how does the case of disproportionate punishment relate to the well-known problem of
"צדיק ורע לו"
? How might the various approaches to our issue be applied to the more general question of why bad things happen to good people? For a full discussion of the problem, see:
Theodicy – צדיק ורע לו
In summary, we have seen that commentators disagree regarding whether Hashem ever punishes the nation more than it deserves.
, at times Hashem indeed does so. When the nation rejects Divine providence, Hashem removes that providence, leaving them to the whims of nature and the potential for unwarranted suffering.
Others claim that the verses only make it seem that Hashem is excessive in His punishment. In reality, though, the people have either
punished less severely
than implied by the verses.
multiplies the nation's crimes, suggesting that the sevenfold punishment is actually "measure for measure" retribution for seven distinct sins.
, in contrast, reduces the extent of the punishment, suggesting that " וְיִסַּרְתִּי אֶתְכֶם... שֶׁבַע עַל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם " simply means that Hashem will punish the nation severely, but not out of proportion to its transgressions.
May we all merit to follow in Hashem's ways so as to be granted the blessings of the Parashah and not its curses.
17. Additional Reading
For further discussion of this topic, see:
For other topics related to Parashat Bechukotai, see:
Parashat Bechukotai – Topic List
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