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  KD MAGAZINE!         ב"ה              
 
 
  PARASHAT RE'EH  
 
Understanding the Tempter
By Rabbi Asher Brander
 
RABBI ASHER BRANDER
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

   

In our parsha, we are introduced to the sinister character know as the meisis (the tempter)

 If one shall incite you,[ your brother, or the wife of your bosom, or your neighbor who is your soul mate,] clandestinely, saying, "Let us go and serve other gods" whom you never knew--- neither you nor your forefathers. Do not be favorably inclined towards him, and do not listen to him; and do not view him compassionately, .. For you must surely execute him. ..  for he sought to mislead you from Ad-noy, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.

These are tough words. The tempter must be dealt with harshly; even as he is ultimately unsuccessful[1], he is subject to no mercy or favor[2]. We shall yet probe the potential rationale.  

First, let us briefly explore a basic halachic point. Given its context, it would appear that the law of the meisit is unique to idolatry. Because the sin is so grave, it needs to be greatly discouraged. However a Talmudic section confounds [Sanhedrin 29a]:

In capital cases, if the defendant himself did not advocate, we advocate for him. ...with the exception of the meisis ... R. Samuel b. Nahman said in R. Jonathan's name: How do we know that we do not advocate for the meisis - From the [story of] the ancient serpent. for R. Simlai said: The serpent had many pleas to put forward but did not do so. Then why did not the Holy One, blessed be He, plead on its behalf? Because it offered none itself. [What could it have said [to justify itself?] - 'When the words of the teacher and those of the pupil [are contradictory], whose words should be hearkened to; surely the teacher's!]

The serpent, it would seem did not tempt Chava to engage in idolatry; thus the whole application of meisis seems misplaced. Baalei Hatosafos and others bridge the gap [Bereishis, 3:14 - cf. Rashi, ad loc.]  

וא"ת והא אין מסית כי אם ע"ז. י"ל כיון שאמר לה והייתם כאלהים יודעי טוב ורע כלומר בוראי עולמות הוי כמסית לע"ז.

And if you shall ask? There is no meisis save for idolatry. Since the serpent told her that you shall be like God who knows good and bad, in other words - you will be endowed with the power to create worlds, that it was

The serpent's intoxicating offer to Chava was an idoltraous one in that sense that it offered her Divine powers. It was an offer she was unable to refuse. Thus one may justifiably apply the laws of the tempter to the primordial sin

Others argue. Indeed Ramah [Kiddushin 43] derives precisely from our Talmudic section that the categorical meisis applies in all aspects of Torah life[3]. About 500 years later, in a fascinating responsa, R. Moshe Feinstein [Igros Moshe-Orach Chaim, 1:99] assumes this to be normative halacha. Thus in dealing with the question of whether one may invite a non-observant Jew to a Shabbat meal in a way that will perforce require him to violate Shabbos, Rav Moshe writes[4]:

And I believe that to invite one to come for Shabbos in a manner that they have no choice but to violate Shabbos is worse than lifnei iveir [placing a stumbling block before the blind] - but rather is in violation of meisis which applies to the whole Torah - as we see from the story of the Serpent

The particular issue with which Rav Moshe deals is a complex and weighty one that has drawn different halachic approaches. Rav Moshe's striking application must us give us pause to ponder where to draw the line between the prohibition of lifnei iveir [placing a stumbling block in fron of the blind] and the greater prohibition of meisis; the latter category evoking the Torah's no advocacy and no mercy rule - also a halacha that requires understanding.

Here's one possible notion:

Lifnei Iveir is marked by the raw temptation. The tempter is fundamentally irrelevant. The moment that the dieter is shown the donut, the nazir offered the pinot noir or the addict offered the cocaine, he may give in simply because of the enormity of the temptation.   

In the Torah paradigm of meisis, the tempter is a fundamental part of the challenge. He is your sibling, spouse or close friend and he/she leverages the relationship for unholy ends[5]; Caught in a gripping and poignant drama, the victim must choose which relationship to give up. Pain lurks at every turn. Certainly some will fail.

It is the meisis who creates this terrible dilemma. For this alone, his cruelty is remarkable. He abuses his position and creates psychological havoc. To overcome, the intended victim must elevate cold and hard logic above all else. To extricate oneself from the grasp of the meisis, who preys on one's emotional reality, the Torah demands rationality to the extreme.

So much of the ba'al teshuva's challenge is inherent in this dynamic. It may be the parent who leverages family against religion or the spouse who demands religious concession [or the child who wields religion ...]. As we make key decisions in life, a key notion to consider is that whom we choose in our voluntary relationships, and what pressures and choices we may create for others in our familial relationships, do  matter.

May God give us the strength to harbor pristine motivations and be ever so careful in our relationship choices.
 

Good Shabbos from Israel.

Asher Brander
 


[1] Sefer HaChinuch explains that even though the meisis is ultimately unsuccessful, the temporary doubt that he might have evoked in the potential victim is a terrible irretrievable loss.

[2] Many unique halachos govern the meisis: the victims themselves may testify against him as valid witnesses [as opposed to the reuirement that the witnesses not be the ba'alei din; once found guilty - one  does not reopen the case to attempt to exonerate the meisis; the victim takes an active role in the killing of the meisis

[3] Of course the capital punishment associated with meisit only applies for the idolatrous tempter; nevertheless in theme and in prohibition - it is universal. Rav Moshe's formulation is that a generic.

[4] Cf. Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah, 1:149 for another application of this idea. Rav Moshe rejects Ba'alei HaTosafos notion that the serpent is a manifestation of idolatry since he views the prohibition of meisis as relating only to the essential act that the tempter seeks to engage the victim in. The particular argumentation to convince the victim is irrelevant. The act of eating from the tree was not inherently an idolatrous one.

[5] Cf. Ramban, Ibn Ezra who explain the challenge due to the closeness of the relative.
 

Rabbi Asher Brander is the rabbi of The Westwood Kehilla, an orthodox synagogue in Los Angeles, CA. Their website is: http://www.kehilla.org/

 
   
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