Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Rejoicing at Death II

The Gemara in Berakhos (10a) quotes Beruriah, R. Meir's learned wife, who pointed out that the verse says "May sins be removed from the earth" (Psalms 104:35) and not "May sinners be removed from the earth" (although the grammatical basis of this point is highly suspect). The implication being that one should pray for the wicked to repent and not to die. The Gemara in Megillah (10b) relates the famous story of angels reciting praise at the downfall of the Egyptians in the Reed Sea and God rebuking the angels because "My creatures are drowning in the sea and you are singing praise?"

However, it is important to note that, despite that, the Jews did sing praise even if the angels did not. Additionally, the Gemara in Berakhos (ibid.) states that King David saw prophetically the downfall of the wicked and, at that point, sang praise to God. On the one hand, we see that the death of the wicked is not something desirable or joyful. On the other, we see that it is. How do we resolve these two trends in rabbinic thought?

R. Yehezkel Landau, in his Tzelah to Berakhos ad loc., points out that there are other places in rabbinic literature in which the verse cited by Beruriah is understood contrary to her explanation. He concludes, therefore, that when the wicked are alive we should desire their repentance. However, absent their repentance, their death is the best outcome for the world. It is unfortunate that they die still wicked, but it is better than if they remain alive. It is a good thing, but is it something about which to be happy and to sing praises of God?

R. Hayim Volozhiner resolved the matter of reciting praise at the drowning of the Egyptians as follows. The Jews, who were personally saved by a miracle, were able to - more likely, obligated to - sing praise to God over their miraculous salvation from peril. The angels, however, were not saved and, therefore, should revert to the normal rule of not being joyful at the death of the wicked. Applying this to our current situation, no one is being saved by a miracle when a terrorist like Arafat lives to the ripe old age of 70+ and then dies of natural causes. This is not a miracle and no one is saved by this. Therefore, it seems to me, that we are like the angels and should not sing praise.

R. Avraham Minsker, in his Ahavas Eisan to Ein Ya'akov, Berakhos ad loc., offers a number of resolutions to the contradiction noted above:

1. It is proper to sing praise when God's patience with the wicked has ended and his complete wrath comes down upon them, i.e. the final Messianic destruction of evil. (Not relevant to today)

2. It is proper to sing praise for the raising of God's glory when He defeats evil. (Not relevant to Arafat dying of natural causes. If he were struck by lightning, then maybe.)

3. When a righteous person sees that he is saved because of his own merit, he realizes that he is righteous and, on this, sings praise to God. (Unfortunately, definitely not relevant today.)

In conclusion, there is no miracle in Arafat's death and, therefore, no impetus to sing God's praises. Because of this, we must revert to the angel's position of silence and perhaps contemplate why we did not merit a miracle.

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