Haftorah: The Affliction of Evil
By: Rav Avraham Rivlin
This week's haftorah, the second of "the three of punishment," is a continuation of Yirmiyahu's opening prophecy rebuking Am Yisrael. We would like to focus our attention on the pasuk, "Teyaseraych ra'ataych, umeshuvotayich tochichuch - Your evil shall afflict you; your waywardness shall rebuke you" (2:19), and its various levels of interpretation.
Most of the commentators relate to evil and its affliction as cause-and-effect. The evil that Bnei Yisrael did results in their being afflicted. In this manner Rashi writes, "Your evil shall afflict you: In the end, your evil will bring upon you affliction." Similarly, the Metzudot writes, "The evil that you do will afflict you with musar. In other words, on account of them you will be afflicted." From his language it appears that "teyaseraych" refers not only to affliction, but also to musar, the lesson that Bnei Yisrael are to learn from the affliction. The Radak highlights this point, "Your evil and waywardness will serve as musar and rebuke so that you will not longer return to the evil path." Indeed, it is fitting that affliction should turn into musar to bring a person back to the proper path.
The common denominator of these interpretations is that although there is a direct link between evil (sin) and affliction (punishment), they are not one-and-the-same. R. Chaim Volozhiner, zt"l, however, explains at great length in Nefesh Hachaim (1:12) that punishment is not a result of sin, but rather sin actually creates the punishment. It is a mistake to think that Gan Eden and Gehenom are predefined "concepts," and the question at the time of a person's death is to where he will go or what portion he will receive in them. When a person in born there is no Gan Eden and there is no Gehenom for him! Each person creates his own Gan Eden through his good deeds, and creates his own Gehenom through his sins. R. Chaim writes, "The truth, however, is that Olam Haba (the word to come) is the work of the person himself, who broadened, added and prepared a portion for himself through his actions. ... Similarly, the punishment of Gehenom is also that the sin itself is his punishment."
R. Chaim proceeds to explains many pesukim and statements of Chazal based on this principle. For example: "The deeds of man repay him" (Iyov 34:11) -- A person's deeds, whether good or bad, are themselves his payment. Similarly, "The iniquities of the wicked one will trap him." (Mishlei 5:22) In the same vein he explains, not in the conventional manner, the maxim of Chazal that the wicked, "They deepen Gehenom for them." (Eruvin 19a) It is not the angels of harm who deepen Gehenom for the wicked, but rather the wicked themselves deepen their own Gehenom. This is also Yeshayahu's intention (50:11), "Go in the flame of your fire, and in the sparks you have lit," that the wicked kindle their own fire of Gehenom. This is also the meaning of Chazal's statement, "Schar mitzvah - mitzvah, u'schar aveira - aveira." (Avot 4:2) The repayment of a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself and the repayment of a sin is the sin itself.
R. Chaim also quotes our pasuk, "Your evil shall afflict you." Affliction is not just a side-effect of the evil of sin. The evil is what afflicts, and the waywardness forms the rebuke as two sides of the very same coin.
However, our pasuk has a third, even deeper, level of interpretation. Whereas even Nefesh Hachaim does not totally identify affliction with sin itself, the midrash does. On the pasuk, "You shall not steal ... You shall not swear falsely by My Name and profane the Name of G-d - I am Hashem," (Vayikra 19:11-12) Torat Kohanim comments, "and profane: You become profane ("chulin") to the beasts and wild animals." The Netziv explains that the midrash is saying that the person becomes profane along with the Name of G-d. "The person himself becomes profane and removes from himself the image of G-d and becomes like a monkey, so that no creature is lower than he."
According to the Netziv's explanation of the midrash, the greatest punishment of the thief and the criminal is that instead of being a man of perfection, about whom it says, "You have made him but slightly less than angels" (Tehillim 8:6), he becomes profane, monkey-like, lower than all the creatures. "The repayment of sin is sin," can then mean that the punishment of sin is that the person becomes a sinner! Theft turns a person into a thief! What greater punishment can there be?! All other punishments that exist, whether fines, lashes or imprisonment are external. However, the act of sin converts the person himself, his very essence, from an upright man into a criminal, and this is the greatest punishment possible!
This is the profound meaning of Yirmiyahu's words, "Your evil shall afflict you." Fortunate is the person who feels afflicted by his becoming evil, because that is the beginning of the path to repentance and improving his deeds!
Shiur ID: 3834