Sunday, April 7, 2013

Is a person tested with a task beyond his ability? Two opposing views

The question has been raised as to whether G-d gives us tasks that we can't succeed and that failure is inevitable. There seem to be two different views.

Obligations are given only if it is possible to succeed - one cannot fail a task
Kesubos(67a): According to the camel is the load.[A camel is given a burden according to how strong it is- Rashi]
Bereishis Rabbah (32:3): A potter does not test defective vessels because he cannot even give them even a single blow without breaking them. Similarly G‑d does not test the wicked but only the righteous. When a flax worker knows that his flax is good then he knows that the more he beats it the more it improves. In contrast when he knows that it is poor quality he doesn’t bother beating it because he knows it will simply split. Similarly G‑d does not test the wicked but only the righteous. When a person has two cows one of which is strong and the other weak, obviously he puts the yoke on the strong one? Similarly G‑d does not test the wicked but only the righteous.
Rav Saadiya Gaon(Emuna V’De’os 5:3): The righteous suffer for two reasons. The first reason is that it is for the few sins they have committed… The second reason is that it a trial. G‑d tests them when He knows that they will be able to endure the suffering. Afterwards he will reward them to compensate them for the undeserved suffering. G‑d does not test a person who cannot endure it - because then it serves no purpose. The purpose in afflicting the righteous is in order that mankind should know that G‑d did not choose them for nothing. Job and his suffering is an example of this second type of suffering. If the suffering is the result of sin then typically G‑d will acknowledge that this is the reason - if He is asked. On the other hand if the suffering is because it is a trial - G‑d typically does not acknowledge it. This we see from the response to Moshe’s complaint “Why are you making it worse for this people.” Similarly Job was not answered when he asked why he was suffering. This lack of explanation is necessary so that the suffering of the righteous should not be simply dismissed by the average man as merely a means for the tzadik of getting additional reward. And I say that even the completely innocent person is sometimes afflicted in order that he gets reward for it. This is obviously the case for the infant who suffers. I have no doubt that they will be compensated for their suffering. A wise person views suffering as the chastisement of a father by means of a beating or detention to keep his son from harm. It is comparable to the disgusting bitter medicine that a person takes to be cured. A person might ask why is this suffering necessary because G‑d can give the good without the suffering? We answer him that good deservedly given as reward is better than receiving it out of kindness.

Impossible tasks are given which cannot be accomplished - we must fail sometimes in life

Ksav Sofer (Vayikra 10:1): And they offered before G‑d an unauthorized fire which He had not commanded them. Question: The Tanchuma (Achrei Mos #8) says that Aaron’s sons died because they didn’t get married and didn’t have children. Furthermore it says that they walked behind Moshe and Aaron and said, “When are these old men going to die so that we can take over the leadership of the community?” It is necessary to understand this medrash since it does not seem to fit in with the Torah which gives the explicit reason for their death as being punishment for offering an unauthorized fire before G‑d?  It is also astounding that these righteous men - who were in fact greater than Moshe and Aaron according to Rashi (10:3) – should transgress G‑d’s command and not fulfill the mitzva of having children and also that they would speak in such an arrogant manner – “when are these old men going to die?” Answer: It appears to me that the reason that they didn’t get married is that they saw that Moshe’s children did not turn out properly as is well known. If Moshe’s sons were not fit then they felt that a lesson could be learned that surely would apply to the masses. They ascribed the failure of Moshe’s children to the fact that Moshe was constantly preoccupied with the problems of the community and therefore he didn’t have the ability to properly supervise his children. (We see a similar judgment of Chazal regarding the children of Shmuel who did not go in his righteous path because he was constantly involved with community problems.) In contrast Aaron’s sons were great tzadikim because Aaron was not so much preoccupied with the community and thus was successfully able to supervise his children. On the other hand Aaron himself never reached Moshe’s spiritual level because his energy was devoted to his family. Being aware of this they decided that the best solution to the inherent contradiction between serving the needs of the community and the needs of the family - was not to get married. They were fully aware that with the death of Moshe and Aaron they would become the leaders of the community. They reasoned that if they had children they would not be able to supervise them properly and they would end up going in the wrong path. Or if they took the path of Aaron and properly supervised their children – then they would not be able to devote the needed time to leading the community. Consequently they decided the best way to serve G‑d and His people was not to get married. We need to add two other aspects from the medrash regarding their following after Moshe and Aaron and saying “When are they going to die?” It doesn’t mean chas v’shalom that they were looking forward to their deaths or that they were discussing between themselves that when they would die they would become the leaders. The medrash means to describe that they were concerned with understanding what Moshe and Aaron lacked. Moshe was very concerned with the needs of the community and therefore he had children who were not good. Aaron who supervised his children did not have so much time for the community and therefore he did not have the merit of serving the masses so much. Therefore Aaron’s sons concluded that they should get married. In truth they erred in this conclusion. Because “what business did they have with G-d’s secrets.” Their job was not to second guess what G-d wanted. Their job was to fulfill His mitzvos which clearly commanded them to have children. (We find a similar mistaken understanding described in Berachos (10a) concerning King Chezkiyahu. He also didn’t have children because he knew through the power of prophesy that his children would be wicked. However this was a mistake and his father-in-law, the prophet Yeshayahu, was sent to him with the message,”You will die now in this world and you will not have any portion in the next world because you didn’t have children.” Yeshayahu rejected Chezkiyahu’s justification that his children would be wicked people by saying, “What business do you have with G-d’s secrets?”). Thus we see that Aaron’s had a strong passion for loving G‑d and His people and therefore they decided that to be successful as leaders and serving G-d it was best not to have children. This in fact was the “unauthorized fire” which they had not received from G-d. They in fact had not been commanded to lead the people in a manner that differed from Moshe – but they were required to fulfill G‑d’s commandments and get married and have children. Thus this mistaken idea was the “unauthorized fire” and it was the reason why they died. So even though their motivation was for the sake of Heaven it was a mistake. This is my explanation and I think it is very correct.

Rav Tzadok(Tzedkas HaTzadik 43): There are times when a person is presented with such a great test that it is impossible that he should not sin. This is described in Berachos (32a): “How could the son not sin?” This is considered an overwhelming force and the Torah says he is exempt. Also there are times when the yetzer harah seduces with such overwhelming force that it can’t be defeated. This is also described as beyond free‑will (onas). If G‑d twists a person’s heart so that he sins - that is not considered a sin at all since it was G‑d’s will. Look at what it says in Kesubos (51b) in reference to a woman being raped and she protests strongly but at the end she says that the experience was so pleasurable she would have even paid for it. Nonetheless the gemora says she is still permitted to her husband because her lust was aroused so strongly she had no free will. She is not punished even though it is prohibited – because she was forced. However a person cannot testify on himself that he didn’t have free‑will. That is because it is still possible that he did have the power to control his desires. I heard this in regard to the incident with Zimri who erred in this matter.


  1. Constantly dealing with the community is a great risk factor in raising children but can be overcome. It is not inevitable. Aharon's sons did not want to expose themselves to the risk of having bad children.

  2. I don't really see that the Ksav Sofer points to an impossible task at which they must fail. I see that they made a mistaken cheshbon - but certainly they could have reached the conclusion that it was not their issue at all.
    It is clear from Rav Dessler's letters on the nikudas habechira in the Michtav Me'Eliyahu, that if a person is presented with a situation in which he MUST fail, that he will not be punished for it. As such, is it an aveiro for him at that point in his life? I'm not sure.
    My Rebbe (who knows a bit about my background) said that if I had turned into a drug dealer, I could not be blamed. Does that mean that I would not have been able to resist that path? But I did! So would I have been blamed or not?
    Finally, even when a bas kol said that Acher could not do Teshuva, this too was a test that he could have passed by ignoring it and doing Teshuva. By accepting the bas kol, he failed a passable test.

    1. But that is the point of the Ksav Sofer. They felt the only way to avoid failure was not to get married. They felt that they had to succeed and the only way was to disregard the mitzva of marriage and children.

      Their analysis that they could not have both worlds was correct - the course of action that they decided was wrong. Thus we see that a person can be put in an impossible situation - but he has to accept the impossible and do the best he can.

    2. I still don't see it that way. In fact, had they married and had children who would either have distracted them from their leadership role or who would have not have lived up to their fathers' level, they would have succeeded.
      Their aveiro was in striving for success from their own vantage point. But the goal is not to do what feels right to you, but what Hashem commands you to do!

  3. 1) Is this R. Tzadok relevant(I've seen it quoted in more than one article, but haven't seen the original, see Avodah, below)?

    "His main point was that everyone should remember that we are human beings and HKBH expects us to sin and that we just have to keep on trying to
    improve ourselves. People often say about nisyonos that "HKBH wouldn't
    have given you a nisayon that you couldn't overcome."

    This is false. R' Reisman said in the name of R' Tzadok that sometimes
    the nisayon is so great that when a person fails the nisayon, he wasn't
    a ba'al bechira in this regard - he became an "oinais" [sorry for my
    creative spelling]."

    Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2006 17:23:59 -0500
    From: "Aryeh Stein"
    Subject: Dealing with guilt and depression
    Avodah: Volume 16, Number 167

    2) This topic("Impossible tasks are given") is perhaps somewhat similar to the issue of homosexuality:

    From Torah Declaration:

    "From a Torah perspective, the question whether homosexual inclinations and behaviors are changeable is extremely relevant. The concept that G-d created a human being who is unable to find happiness in a loving relationship unless he violates a biblical prohibition is neither plausible nor acceptable. G-d is loving and merciful."

    1. yes it is very relevant. Question is where is it?

    2. Found it

      ר' צדוק הכהן מלובלין (צדקת הצדיק אות מג): פעמים יש אדם עומד בניסיון גדול כל כך עד שאי אפשר לו שלא יחטא כדרך שאמרו (ברכות ל"ב א) מה יעשה הבן וכו' ובזה הוא נחשב אונס גמור דרחמנא פטריה. וגם בהסתת היצר בתוקף עצום שאי אפשר לנצחו שייך אונס [ואם ה' יתברך הסיב את לבו הרי אין חטא זה חטא כלל רק שרצון ה' יתברך היה כך] ועיין מה שאמרו (כתובות נ"א ב) גבי תחילתו באונס אפילו צווחת לבסוף שאלמלא מניחה היא שוכרתו מותרת לבעלה, מאי טעמא יצר אלבשה הרי דזה מיחשב אונס גמור אף על פי שהוא מרצונה מכל מקום יצר גדול כזה אי אפשר באדם לכופו והוא אונס גמור ואין בזה עונש אף דעשה איסור כיון דהיה אנוס. אבל האדם עצמו אין יכול להעיד על עצמו בזה כי אולי עדיין היה לו כח לכוף היצר [וכמו ששמעתי בזה מענין זמרי שטעה בזה]:

    3. need to reconcile it with this

      (3-4) ספר דברי סופרים - אות ז
      ז) השם יתברך מנסה כל הצדיקים כמו שנאמר (תהלים י"א ה') ה' צדיק יבחן, ונאמר (שם פסוק ד') ועפעפיו יבחנו בני אדם משמע כל בני אדם, ובשמות רבה (ריש פרשה ב' ב') מפרש עלה ולמי בוחן לצדיק וכו', והיינו רק לאפוקי הרשעים שאין יכולים לעמוד וכמו שאמרו (בראשית רבה ריש פרשה נ"ה ב'), ועמך כולם צדיקים שאין לך אדם מישראל שאין עליו שם צדיק באיזה דבר [שמי שהוא צדיק לגבי דבר אחד אף דבדברים אחרים רשע, נקרא צדיק באותו דבר כמו שכתב בחידושי הרמב"ן נדה (י"ד ריש ע"א)]:
      ובתנחומא (שמות ז', ושמות רבה ב' ז') אין הקב"ה נותן גדולה לאדם עד שבודקהו בדבר קטן, ולאו דוקא גדולה והתנשאות על זולתו אלא הוא הדין כל מעלה ומדריגה, והנסיון הכל לפי מה שהוא אדם כפי מה שיוכל לעמוד, וכמו שאמרו (סנהדרין י"ט סוף ע"ב) תקפו של יוסף ענותנותו וכו', והשם יתברך בוחן לבות ויודע איך לנסות כל אחד לפי מה שהוא:
      ובכתובות (ל"ג ע"ב) אלמלא נגדוהו וכו' ובתוס' שם דפלחו משמע על זה דהיו מחויבים לסבול גם יסורים קשים, ועל כרחך משום דהיה נסיון יותר מכפי כוחם וכדרך שאמרו (שוחר טוב מזמור ט"ז) בדורו של שמד אינו יכול לעשות ומה היו וכו' עיין שם, ולמדו זה מדלא הביא הקב"ה הנסיון בנגדא כי הנסיון הוא בדבר היותר גדול שיוכל לעמוד והיה לו להביא הנסיון בנגדא, ועל כרחך דידע יתברך שלא יוכלו לעמוד בזה והביא כפי כוחם:
      ועל כן אמרו (עבודה זרה ד' סוף ע"ב) לא היו ישראל ודוד ראוים לאותו מעשה, כי איך הביא השם יתברך נסיון יותר מכפי כח אדם, וההוא דדוד המלך ע"ה נסיון היה כמו שאמרו בסנהדרין (ק"ז.), וכן חטא עגל כמו שאמרו (ברכות ל"ב ריש ע"א) על פסוק (דברים א' א') ודי זהב מה יעשה הבן וכו', ועל כרחך דהיה בכוחם לעמוד נגד יצרם בזה:

  4. Someone on Hirhurim said it's in Tzidaks Hatzadik(Joel Rich posted about the question this week).

    R Simcha Feurman in one of his psychology columns in the Jewish Press also quoted it.

  5. If HQBH gives you a situation that requires an action you're incapable of doing to get out of, then clearly He isn't testing you. Straight logic: it's not a test if there is only one possible outcome.

    OTOH, it could be that the outcome He is seeking is not removal from the danger, but your attitude in how it's faced. In which case, what is off is our understanding of success -- and yes, it is a test the person could pass.

    I wouldn't dwell on the quotes from R' Tzadoq, since Izhbitz notions of what is included in bechirah chafshi are so far from my own intuitions. If you believe that the only choice a person can make is whether or not he thinks he is doing Hashem's Will when he acts, that the action itself is not decided through bechirah, then of course your notions of testing and success will be different than most. More along the lines of "my other hand".

    According to R' Dessler, whether or not a sin someone did because his nequdas habechirah was nowhere near making the right choice counts as an aveirah is really secondary. A person's perfection inheres in which direction their decision point is moving and how quickly, and it's that -- not a tally of actions -- that the heavenly court judges.

    1. Interesting. Mathematically that suggests a first-order approximation :).

  6. Companies often include "stretch goals" in their budgets, knowing that some could be impossible to meet. In those cases, the rationale is that the result will be be better than it would have been with a conventional goal.


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