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PARASHAT TAZRIA-METZORA 5758
There are seven sins for which one is punished with Tzara'at [leprous outbreaks]: slander, murder, swearing needlessly, adultery, arrogance, theft, and stinginess.
The Gemara in Shabbos begins by challenging a statement made by Rav Ami which relates death to misdeed, and suffering to sin. How can one say, asks the Gemara, that one only dies for his own sins and not for another's? We find that Moshe and Aharon, who scrupulously observed all the Mitzvot of the Torah, passed away? And according to an Agaddic tradition, "Four people passed away, sinless, simply because the serpent persuaded Adam to sin and eat from the Tree of Knowledge and for no other reason." (These four were Binyamin son of Yakov, Amram father of Moshe, King David's father and his son, Kil'av.) It must be that Rav Ami is mistaken. Death, concludes the Gemara, may indeed occur without being brought about by misdeed, and suffering may occur without being brought about by sin.
This conclusion is extremely puzzling:
(c) The Gemara in Berachot 7a deals with the suffering of the righteous. At first, the Gemara suggests that the righteous will suffer only if their parents were wicked. But the Gemara immediately rejects this statement, asserting that "children will not die because of the sins of their fathers (Devarim 24:16)" unless they themselves follow in the evil ways of their fathers. Rather, when a righteous person suffers it is because he is not fully righteous -- he is flawed, albeit in some minor way, and that is why he is being punished.
How can this Gemara be reconciled with the Gemara in Shabbos, which
seems to come to the opposite conclusion -- an entirely righteous person
can indeed be punished simply for his fathers' sins?
Closer scrutiny of these last two questions leads us to the answer to all of our questions.
When the Gemara tells us in Berachot that a righteous person only suffers if he is flawed, it is referring to *any* flaw -- even the most minute. A flaw of the heart is also reason for suffering. (The proportion of the suffering to the misdeed is subject for another discussion: Why should a nearly-perfect person suffer, at times, more than an established sinner -- see Yevamot 121b, "u'Sevivav Nis'arah....").
Similarly, although Moshe and Aharon acted inappropriately in the incident of the "Waters of Strife" (Bamidbar 20), they certainly did not transgress any of the Torah's commandments. According to the Rambam (in Shemoneh Perakim, end of #4), Moshe's sin was simply that he expressed anger without being told to do so by Hashem. Such "mis-emoting" is common even among the prophets, the Rambam writes.
The Gemara in Shabbos does not mean to assert that a person can suffer unjustly. It means to say that death and suffering do not always stem from transgressions of the Torah's commandments. They me be traced, at times, to much smaller infractions, such as desires and emotions that run uncontrolled. The verse cited by Rav Ami may also be interpreted in this manner. A person will die only if *he* sins; but expressions of lust and inappropriate emotions also qualify as sins ('Chet' and 'Avon') in this connotation.
To answer this question, we must refer to the teachings of the Ramban in Bereishit (2:9). Before Adam sinned, Ramban explains, Man was emotionless and lustless. He was able to sin only through the influence of external forces -- the Primeval Serpent's evil persuasion. After he sinned, though, these forces became a part of him. He himself became a creature ruled by emotion and lust. Performing the Divine Will became a constant battle, which we must fight to this very day.
The verse indeed provides strong support for this interpretation: "Hashem created Man straight (i.e., without desire to sin); but Man brought upon himself all sorts of figuring (i.e., forces, such as lusts, that cause him to do evil)" (Kohelet 7:29 and Rashi). Ever since Adam and Eve, the Evil Inclination is integrated into our very being. It is "the bogus god that is inside the body of a person." This may be part of what Chazal are alluding to by saying that "The serpent [= Evil Inclination] injected into Eve its putrefaction" (Shabbos 146a).
Even the most perfect of people cannot fully control their emotions and lusts (as evidenced by the Rambam in Shemoneh Perakim, cited above). The four sinless people who died fell because of faulty expressions of emotion and minute shows of desire. Since these stemmed from Adam's sin, it is indeed appropriate to attribute their deaths to "the persuasion of the serpent" and the sin of Adam, their ancestor. In a sense, they died due to the 'sins' of others (i.e., transgressions of a Divine decree, the first category of sin in section III). But on the other hand, those acts manifested themselves as personal 'sins' as well (emotions and lusts, the second category of sin). The Gemara thus means to say that death may be brought about by an ancestor's transgression-type sin, even if the descendant never transgressed a commandment of the Torah. The descendant is punished for "following in his father's evil way" by allowing the effects of his father's sin to influence his own behavior detrimentally, albeit to a smaller extent.
(Although we have discussed only the effects of *Adam's* transgression on his descendants, the same applies to others. A father's level of respect of disregard for the Torah is passed on, in some measure, to his children.)
Meanwhile, we must make an effort to take over the reins from the Evil Inclination to whatever extent we can, until the time when "Hashem will take the Evil Inclination and slaughter it before us!" (Sukah 52a)