One of the acclaimed characteristics of Hashem is that He administers punishment middah kineged middah (loosely translated as having ‘the punishment fit the crime’). We praise Hashem for this attribute for it is a fundamental quality of His method for reward and retribution. Middah kineged middah is much more than the creative ability to construct a punishment that is in line with the sin. It speaks to the nature of His middas hadin (Divine Punishment) – a thoughtful, reflective decree that has a clear theme and message. This is sharp contrast to mortal kings, who strike out in anger and rebuke at their whim.
With this in mind, it is fair to pose the question, “Where was the middah kineged middah in the instance of the Mabul (the Flood)?” Surely such a public and seminal event in the history of the world must have a clear line of reasoning that links the collective sins of that generation to their penalty.
Among the many responses to this question offered by our commentaries, one that resonates deeply is the mashul (parable) offered by the Da’as Zekeinim Meba’alei Tosfos (the thoughts of the sages who compiled the ‘tosfos’ commentary found in our gemorah. Many of these talmidei chachamim lived in France in the Twelfth Century and were grandchildren and talmidim of Rashi).
A Moshul (Parable) …
There was once a benevolent king who was deeply concerned about the welfare of his subjects. Of particular concern to him were the living conditions of the disabled in his kingdom. After much reflection, he decided to take a proactive step to improve their lives. He had his craftsmen build a beautiful compound for the blind men and women in his kingdom in a wooded area near his palace. In this complex were all the amenities that one could wish for; lodging, food and drink – all done in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
The king took great joy in this progress of this compound and would stop by often to see how the sightless people were managing. As the king’s entourage would pass by, the blind men and women would turn in the direction of the thunderous hoof beats of the royal horses and bow to the king. They would do so to thank the king for all he had done to provide for their comfort and elevate their living standards.
One day the king stopped his carriages outside the compound and heard the passionate praises of the inhabitants. The king was deeply touched by their gesture and felt gratified that his efforts on their behalf were appreciated to that extent.
Several weeks later, however, a thought crossed the mind of the king. If blind people who cannot see the splendor of the compound are so grateful, imagine how much more so would the complex be appreciated by people who are blessed with the gift of sight. He then ordered all the blind people to be moved to one side of the compound and brought in people who could see. Those people were placed in rooms formerly occupied by some of the sightless people. Initially, the people with vision greatly appreciated the beauty of the compound and praised the king. After a while, however, they became ungrateful and began complaining about petty inconveniences and discomforts.
Months later, the king was traveling by, and stopped to hear the comments of the new residents of the compound. He was shocked to hear them complaining and heaping insults upon him for placing them there. He immediately regretted bringing them to that magnificent area and took decisive action. He informed his advisors to remove and banish the ungrateful people from the compound and to allow the blind men and women to move back to their original roomy accommodations.
… And the Nimshal (Its Application)
In the first days of creation, the entire surface of the world was covered with water. During that time, the angels – and even the waters themselves (“nosu nehoros kolam; the waters raised their voices” See Tehilim 93:2) – sang the praises of Hashem. At that point, Hashem concentrated the waters of the world in the oceans and lakes. He created the beautiful world in which we live on the dry land; complete with majestic mountains, beautiful plains and fruit-bearing trees. Imagine how humans will appreciate this wonderful world, thought Hashem.
Sadly, it did not turn out that way. Appreciation was short-lived. The people rebelled and failed to display basic gratitude to Hashem. At that point, He ordered the world back to its original state – completely covered with water. This was the clear middah kineged middah, punishing the inhabitants of the world for their failure to display their hakoras hatov.
Feeling – and showing – appreciation is the root of all our mitzvos. We should strive to give thanks to Hashem for all that He has provided for us in this beautiful world. We are similarly obligated to give thanks to our fellow humans who have assisted us in any way. Doing so enriches our lives and brings meaning and purpose to Hashem’s world.
Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos
© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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