Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Vaetchanan
God’s Loving Wrath
The last several weeks have been filled with an unusual amount of death, pain and anguish in our community. We have lost loved ones. Some at the twilight of their lives. Some at the prime of their lives. And some when they were just getting started. Some slowly. Some violently. All painfully.
It is difficult to understand God’s calculations as to the when or why of His afflictions or His rationale for taking loved ones away. A Chasid once told me that tribulations are a punishment, or a reward, or a challenge, or all three. The pain of bereavement is not only for those that have departed. It is for all of us that they have left behind. We are diminished by their absence.
Moses tells over a long list of bad things that will happen to the Children of Israel if we don’t behave. Really bad things. Things that seem disproportionate to the actual crimes.
Rabbi Hizkiyah ben Manoach (Hizkuni) wonders as to the extreme attention the Children of Israel receive in the punishment department. The list(s) are long and bloodcurdling. So what if we worshiped some graven images? Why should that trouble an omnipotent God? Does it diminish Him? Does it threaten Him? Does it truly deserve God’s wrath?
Rabbi Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University, wrote that Moses asks the same questions. He asks them to highlight an apparently ridiculous reality. Does the Creator of the Universe need to vent His anger against creatures of dust and earth for worshipping inanimate objects of bone and clay?
Hizkuni answers that God afflicts us so much, because He loves us so much. He has given loving, unique and particular attention to the Jewish people for millennia. He loves the Jewish people so much that whenever we betray Him, even in the slightest way, He lashes out. He uses the rod of punishment most on His beloved people.
This may be true, but it is unsatisfying, especially in the pain of loss or even uncertainty. There is no answer to grief. Perhaps only time.
May we be consoled on this Sabbath of Consolation (Nachamu) and may tears of sorrow be turned to joy.
To Ilan’s complete and rapid recovery.