Merits Transformed into Transgressions

Concerning Prime Minister Ariel Sharon z”l
Q: Rabbi, how should we relate to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – as a good or bad person? And besides, maybe we shouldn’t deal with such questions at all, because who are we to judge a person? Are we able to examine a person’s inner recesses, and know the secrets of his heart?
A: The question of how Ariel Sharon should be judged does not bother people unconcerned about the moral dimension of life. On the contrary, most probably they would condemn individuals who ask such questions, because they are opposed to moral judgment. But for someone who moral values are central to his life, this question cannot be ignored. In particular when the various media are busy dealing with eulogies and summaries of his life, it is imperative to discuss this question, for it also bears a lesson for future generations.
Indeed, with regards to religious observance, it is difficult for us to pass absolute judgment. This is due to the fact that in recent generations, for various reasons, many of our fellow Jews have regrettably stopped observing mitzvoth bein Adam laMakom (between Man and God). As a result, many eminent rabbis have previously expressed the opinion that their actions, to a certain extent, can be considered ‘onus’ (unwilling), and in order to judge such matters, an examination of a person’s heart and inner recesses is necessary.
However, concerning the national aspect of this issue, which touches on matters between man and his fellow man, and between man and his nation which are clearly visible, we are obligated to judge according to what we see.
We are Measured according to Our Final Actions
It is written in the Babylonian Talmud:
“Rabbi Simeon b. Yohai said: Even if he is perfectly righteous all his life but rebels at the end, he destroys his former [good deeds], for it is said: ‘The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression.’ And even if one is completely wicked all his life but repents at the end, he is not reproached with his wickedness, for it is said, ‘and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turns from his wickedness’.” (Kiddushin 40b).
Concerning this, our Sages asked: Why should a person’s final actions cancel out his previous ones? Seemingly, it would be appropriate to consider all of one’s merits and all of his transgressions, and weigh them against each other! Reish Lakish replied: “It means that he regretted his former deeds”, since he regretted his previous good deeds, he cancels them out.
All this is cited in the Jerusalem Talmud (Pe’ah 1:1) as well, with the addition of Rabbi Yochanan’s words, that if an evil person completely repented, not only are his previous sins erased, but “all the sins he committed are considered for him as merits”, or as Reish Lakish said: “Great is repentance for, because of it, premeditated sins are accounted as errors” (Yoma 86b). This is true, provided the repentance was complete and out of love.
Sanctification and Desecration of God
Beyond a person’s attitude towards his own actions determining their value, when a person’s final decision is well-known and publicized – it can be either a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God), or a chilul Hashem (desecration of God). For if an evil person reaches the conclusion that he had erred, indeed, his repentance is akiddush Hashem affecting many people, for here, someone who had encountered a variety of sins, in the end regretted them, and repented with all his heart. It turns out that retroactively, all the sins he committed become merits, because precisely as a result of them, many other people follow in his footsteps and repent.
On the other hand, if a righteous person decided there was no value in the mitzvoth he performed and chose to become sinful, this is a much greater chilul Hashem, for everyone says: Here is a person who genuinely understood the value of the mitzvoth,and nevertheless, decided to change his mind and become sinful – the damage caused by his actions is unending. All of the mitzvoth he performed become stumbling blocks, because precisely on account of them, others decide to abandon the proper path.
Consequently, everything Ariel Sharon did in building Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip was lost when he destroyed the settlements in Gush Katif and northern Samaria, and expelled their residents. However, his huge contributions in building the army, in the battles he waged fiercely and ingeniously, stand for him in good stead, seeing as he did not regret them. Presumably, even at the time of the Disengagement he believed he was concerned for the State of Israel’s security. And although his heart was apparently swayed by various personal considerations as well – in his mind, he thought he was acting for the sake of Israel’s security. Therefore, his merits as a fighter and commander stand for him in good stead, but his merits as a partner in building the country are lost.
“Do Not Believe In Yourself until the Day You Die”
Our Sages said: “Do not believe in yourself until the day you die, for lo, Yochanan the High Priest officiated as High Priest for eighty years, and in the end, he became a Sadducee” (Berachot 29a).
Likewise, our Sages also said:
“Typically, someone growing-up with another person in the same village for two or three years becomes his friend, yet this one (the evil inclination), grows-up with a person from his youth until his old age (always lurking to take his life). If he finds a way to topple him within twenty years – he topples him; within sixty years – he topples him; within eighty years – he topples him. Regarding Yochanan the High Priest, the Sages said he officiated as High Priest for eighty years, and in the end, he became a Sadducee. This is what King David said: “With every bone in my body I will praise him: LORD, who can compare with you? Who else rescues the helpless from the strong? Who else protects the helpless and poor from those who rob them?” – this alludes to [the rescuing of] the good inclination from the evil inclination (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, Beshalach 11).
The Precise Wording of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook ztz”l
At the time when Ariel Sharon served as Minister of Defense, he came to the Jerusalem Day celebration at Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav. The master of ceremony introduced him, saying: “It is our honor and pleasure to welcome the ‘Minister of Defense’, Ariel Sharon”. When Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah – who chose his words with extreme precision – stood up to speak, he referred to Sharon as “our ‘military’Minister of Defense”. The listeners could have understood from his wording that only one who is also responsible for matters of emunah (faith) and trust in God, deserves to be called “Minister of Defense”. Bitachon (security), above all, is an attribute of spiritual faith, which cannot be acquired by way of political appointment.
It must also be accurately noted that while Ariel Sharon greatly assisted the building of settlements in Yesha, serving as an emissary of the government of Israel, he was not the “father” of the settlement movement. Quite the opposite, our revered mentor and teacher, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, who encouraged settling the Land, was the father of the settlement movement. Also, the first settlers who clung to the soil with miserut nefesh (unwavering self-sacrifice) and attracted others to follow in their path can be considered the fathers of the settlement movement.
Regarding Women and Men’s Preparations for Shabbat
Q: Rabbi, in a class on the laws of Shabbat, we learned from your book ‘Peninei Halakha’ (Shabbat 2:3) the following halakha: “A woman who has two options – or to cook for Shabbat on Friday and be tired on Shabbat eve, or to cook Thursday and refrigerate the food, and thereby enter Shabbat calmly – it is preferable to finish cooking on Thursday, leaving just a few preparations for Friday. This is because the main mitzvah is to honor and take delight in Shabbat and to do so, it is important for her to be alert and relaxed”. My question is, why did you write about women only, without mentioning the possibility that men can take part in the cooking?
A: When I wrote that, I could not picture in my mind’s eye a common situation in which men cooked for Shabbat. Indeed, in recent years there are more men who are happy to cook for Shabbat, and still, I debated whether or not I should change the wording for them. In a women’s class on Shabbat, attended by nearly a hundred women, I asked for their advice whether I should change the wording.  Although most of them did not mind the previous choice of words, nearly half of them thought that if it was possible to change the wording without harming the flow of the passage, it would be preferable. Incidentally, this is my usual custom in cases of uncertainty about accepted norms and human judgment – to present a number of options to the participants, and ask them to vote for the one they prefer. Therefore, the residents of Har Bracha and the Yeshiva students are partners in the books I write.
With God’s help, in the upcoming editions, the wording will be as follows:
“When there are two options – to cook for Shabbat on Friday and be tired on Shabbat eve, or to cook on Thursday and refrigerate the food, and thereby enter Shabbat calmly – it is preferable to finish cooking on Thursday, leaving just a few preparations for Friday. This is because the main mitzvah is to honor and take delight in Shabbat, and to do so it is important to be alert and relaxed on Shabbat eve.”
Shalom Bayit and Kashrut
Q: Rabbi, following our wedding, a question arose. My father-in-law is a rabbi, responsible for providing kosher certification for factories, and in their house, they are very careful about mehedrin kashrut (strictly kosher), and don’t buy any products that are not mehedrin and certified by Badatz. On the other hand, in my parent’s house, there was never a great awareness of the differences between the different levels ofkashrut. They eat any product labeled “kosher”, and until now, this is was my custom. Currently, a disagreement has arisen about how we should conduct ourselves in our own home, and what to do when we visit our parents.
A: In general, someone who merited marrying the daughter of a rabbi who deals withkashrut, should respect his expertise and be careful to eat only food with mehedrin kashrut. If possible, you should choose eating products that he himself recommends as being on a higher level of kashrut. However, if he requests that you never eat any food that has amehedrin hechsher from a competing Badatz, or from a local rabbinate that has strictkashrut supervision – do not listen to him, because he is forbidden to disqualify other rabbis, and it is also forbidden for you to accept such invalidation. Similarly, we learned in theShulchan Aruch:
“If a father tells a child to transgress the words of the Torah, whether a positive or negative commandment, or even a rabbinical ordinance, the child should not listen to him. If a father commands his son not to speak with so-and-so, nor to pardon him until a certain time, and the son would like to make up with the person immediately were it not for his father’s command, in such a case he should not be concerned by his father’s command” (Yoreh De’ah 240:15-16), because it is forbidden to hate a Jew. However, if your father-in-law personally knows about a certain product labeled mehudar, but in truth it isn’t, you should listen to him because this does not constitute a sweeping disqualification of a certain Badatz or rabbinate.
When you visit your parents, you should eat whatever they serve you because of kibud horim (honoring one’s parents). This was also the instruction of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l, that even someone whose custom is to eat glatt, as should be according to Jewish law, when a son visits his parents and there is a fear they might be insulted – if the parents eat kosher, he should eat whatever they serve. This includes your wife.
If you think you can talk about this with your parents without hurting them, ask them to eat glatt meat, for this is the most important area in kashrut. And explain to them that both you and your wife have decided to be careful about kashrut mehuderet out of respect for your wife’s father, seeing as this is his field of expertise.
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

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