G-d Sees Shades of Gray
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 407, Hesech Ha’daas and Tephillin. Good Shabbos!
The Medrash says that when Moshe descended from Mt. Sinai and saw that Aaron was apparently an active participant with the Jewish people in making the Golden Calf, he was exceedingly upset. The Medrash explains that Aaron’s intent was only to stall until Moshe came back down from the mountain. However, Moshe believed that his brother had been of one mind with the people and he had severely criticized him.
The Medrash says that G-d told Moshe not to be upset with Aaron, assuring him that his brother’s intentions were appropriate. Not only that, but G-d insisted: “I swear I will only accept the offerings of my children if they will be offered by Aaron in the role of Kohen Gadol.” This is alluded to in the pasuk [verse] “And you, bring near to yourself Aaron your brother and his sons with him from among the Children of Israel so that he shall be a Kohen to me… [Shemos 28:1].
What does this Medrash teach us? Was Aaron right or wrong in his strategy of going along with the Jewish people and trying to delay while they built the Golden Calf? The clear implication of the Medrash is that he was right and that he war rewarded for this strategy.
The problem is that the Torah states just the opposite: “And with Aaron, G-d was very angry (intending) to destroy him…” [Devorim 9:20]. G-d, too, was very upset that Aaron was not a more forceful opponent of the nation in their evil desire to create a Golden Calf. Avodah Zarah requires martyrdom. Aaron should have stood up in opposition — even if it would have cost him his life (as was the case with his brother-in-law, Chur).
How do we reconcile the Medrash with the explicit pasuk in the Torah which states the opposite?
The same type of paradox is found in a Medrash regarding the Burning Bush. The Torah says that Moshe hid his face because “he feared to look at G-d” [Shemos 3:6]. The Medrash implies that this was not an appropriate response from Moshe. The Medrash states that when Moshe [Shemos 33:13] later asks to see G-d’s Presence, G-d tells him “When I wanted you to look, you did not want to look; now that you want to see, I don’t want to show you.” The Medrash thereby implies that Moshe acted incorrectly when he hid his eyes at the Burning Bush.
On the other hand, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi — in this very same Medrash –states that Moshe Rabbeinu was rewarded for covering his face at the Burning Bush by the fact that later on G-d spoke to him ‘face to face’ [Shemos 33:11].
Again, which way is it? Did Moshe act properly or improperly? We seem to be getting mixed signals from the Medrash.
Rav Elya Meir Bloch (1894-1955) explains that we learn from both sets of “contradictions” raised by these Medrashim that G-d has the ability to look at a person’s deed and see within it multi-faceted activities. With G-d, things are not just black or white. With G-d there are shades of gray.
There were good intentions behind Aaron’s act of attempting to stall the people at the gate. He and his descendants received reward for that action. This does not contradict the fact that, ultimately, he should have stood up against the people even at the cost of martyrdom. Ultimately, his act was wrong and in fact ‘angered’ G-d.
Moshe Rabbeinu should have aspired for more at the appearance of the Burning Bush. At that moment, his desire to grasp an understanding of G-d should have overcome his awe and reverence for G-d. For that lack of aspiration, he later suffered and his subsequent aspiration to understand G-d’s Essence was denied. Nevertheless, he was rewarded for the overpowering awe and reverence that he did demonstrate at that time.
The bottom line from all this is that G-d’s Truth is able to resolve that which appears to us to be contradictory. G-d can look at a person’s deed and see in it both good and bad. The good must be recognized and acknowledged and rewarded. At the same time, G-d in His Wisdom, can see shortcomings and see that those shortcomings must be rectified or even punished.
Rav Bloch explains that we face these challenges all the time. We see people who do things that are not 100% right (perhaps not even 10% right), despite having had good motivations. We must have the ability to say “but it’s not all bad — he meant well!”
We need to emulate G-d and recognize that things are not all black and white. We must be able to at least discern and seek out good motivation, even in actions which may deserve condemnation.
Rav Aryeh Levine (the famous “Tzadik of our Times”; 1885-1969) had a very bitter and hostile opponent. For whatever reason, this person was put in jail. Rav Aryeh Levine went to visit him in jail. The jail guard asked Rav Aryeh “Why are you coming to visit this person? He hates you! He always publicly criticizes you!”
Rav Aryeh’s response was “He’s doing it honestly” (e.g — he means well.) That is a response that perhaps requires Reb Aryeh Levine’s level of righteousness. He was able to credit his enemy with persecuting him for well-intentioned reasons.
So many times, we observe incidents where we think “Okay there is good and bad, but the good is totally nullified by the bad.” G-d does not just nullify good actions. We too, should not nullify good so quickly. We should not just view the world as black and white. We should look for shades of gray.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Yerushalayim.
This write-up was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tape series on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic topics covered in this series for Parshas Tezaveh are provided below:
- Tape # 045 – The Gartel: To Wear or Not to Wear
- Tape # 088 – Parshas Zachor and Other Purim Issues
- Tape # 136 – Purim Costumes: Anything Goes?
- Tape # 183 – Candle Lighting on Friday Night
- Tape # 229 – Purim Issues II
- Tape # 273 – Taanis Esther and the Personal Purim
- Tape # 319 – Conditional Licht Benching
- Tape # 363 – The “Mazik” on Purim
- Tape # 407 – Hesach Ha’daas and Tefillin
- Tape # 451 – How Many Shabbos Candles
- Tape # 495 – Reneging on a Tzedakah Pledge
- Tape # 539 – Matanos Le’evyonim
- Tape # 583 – The Bracha of Blossoming Trees
- Tape # 627 – Having Your Own Megillah
- Tape # 670 – A Woman’s First Candle Lighting
- Tape # 715 – Parshas Zachor: More Fascinating Insights
Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from:
Yad Yechiel Institute
PO Box 511
Owings Mills, MD 21117-0511
Call (410) 358-0416 for further information.
Also Available: Mesorah / Artscroll has published a collection of Rabbi Frand’s essays. The book is entitled:
and is available through your local Hebrew book store.
Rav Frand, Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Yissocher Frand and Torah.org.