Thursday, November 6, 2008
Why Were Avraham's Descendents Punished For His Sin?
We know the story that when Avraham came to Eretz Yisroel (E"Y), the land of Israel, at Hashem's command, from Charan, Hashem caused a famine in the land. That famine forced Avraham out of Eretz Yisroel and he had to go to Mitzrayim, Egypt, to get through the time of the famine. It is known that Rashi and the Rambam, as well as Pirkei Avos, hold that the command to go to E"Y was one of Avraham's ten tests, which he passed. Rashi explains that the test was to see whether he would second guess Hashem's intentions when he was forced to leave the land that Hashem had just commanded him to go.
However, it is the well known that the Ramban held that Avraham committed a sin and failed this test. He holds that the test was whether Avraham would stay in E"Y despite the famine, since Hashem Himself had commanded him to go there. Ramban says that because Avraham left E"Y to go to Mitzrayim because of a famine, Avraham was punished that his descendants would be forced to descend to Mitzrayim due to a famine and suffer a long slavery there.
My first question on this is, according to the Ramban's shita that Avraham sinned and failed this test, how could Avraham's descendants be punished for his sin?! The Torah says "Ish b'cheto yumas." "Each man shall die for his own sin."!
Then I realized that the Ramban is explaining this punishment from Avraham's perspective and not his descendants' perspective.
We know that Hashem is just and fair. "Tzadik v'yashar hu." Whenever Hashem punishes one person, that person is not the only one who suffers. His family friends and other loved ones suffer as well because of his suffering. Therefore, Hashem's justice and Divine Providence demand that every time Hashem punishes someone, he calculates how that punishment will affect everyone else associated with that person and must determine whether those people deserve the suffering that they will experience due to that person's punishment.
So I think the underlying question is, "How does Avraham deserve to suffer from the knowledge that his descendants will suffer exile and slavery in Mitzrayim?! How is it just and fair to Avraham that he suffer in such a way regarding knowing how his descendants will suffer in Mitzrayim?" It is this question that the Ramban is answering when he explains the connection between Avraham's sin and his descendants' suffering in Mitzrayim.
We have many reasons from Chazal regarding why the Jewish people had to go through what they had to go through in Mitzrayim. The Ramban isn't coming to answer this question. But he is coming to explain, derech agav, tangentially, why Avraham deserved to have his descendants suffer in such a way.
(Picture courtesy of imageenvision)
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