Death and Justice - Shabbat 32
Why in childbirth, the rabbis ask? Several sayings are brought to make the point that times of danger are when actions are judged: “leave the drunkard alone – he will fall of himself.” And so the next question is: when are men judged? The answer: when crossing a bridge. For this reason, Rab would not cross a bridge where a non-Jew sat, lest the non-Jew be judged and he be caught up in the tragedy! A more sober conclusion was reached by Rabbi Yannai, who proclaimed that “one should never stand in a dangerous place and expect a miracle, lest it not happen.” And, continued Yannai, even if one does happen, it’s deducted from your total of merit so don’t feel so good about yourself!
Indeed, even falling seriously ill is considered to be under death sentence – when you go in the street you’re arrested, when you have a headache you’re in chains, and taking to bed is like going to the gallows. What are the best advocates for clemency? Teshuva u’ma’asim tovim – repentance and good deeds. There are still more tragedies to explain: some women die from their husband’s unfulfilled vows, but others argue that unfulfilled vows cause one’s children to die instead. Or perhaps the latter tragedy is for neglect of Torah study, or of the mezuzah [doorpost], or tzitzit [fringes]. I suspect that few of these explanations do anything to really address the agonizing pain of losing a child, other than to add guilt to injury.
We also learn that ame’ ha-aretz [the ignorant] die for two reasons: calling the aron ha-kodesh [holy ark where the Torah is kept] an arna [chest – same word but in Aramaic], and for calling a beit kenesset [synagogue] a beit am [house of the people]. Heaven forbid that elements of rabbinic culture be more closely connected to the people’s life by using their own words and changing to focus of the synagogue from the supernatural to the human! To my mind, the synagogue should be a house of the people, by the people and for the people that it claims to serve.
Rabbi Adam Chalom