21 June 2016

It's Always "Midah K'Neged Midah"

15 Sivan 5776

Something interesting came up in a discussion at home this morning. I'm sure you've heard that reference to how if the Jews find themselves under spiritual attack, they are required to make a physical response and vice versa, if they find themselves under physical attack, then the appropriate response is a spiritual one. Traditionally, this has been illustrated through Purim and Hanukah. At Purim, the Jews were threatened with physical annihilation and responded with prayer and fasting, while at Hanukah, the Greeks forbid us to practice our religion and our response was a physical one - war.

The question came up as to whether this was the correct explanation or could it be a case of the response being dictated by the location. In other words, in the Purim story, the Jews were outside the Land of Israel where the gentiles ruled, so they had no power to do more than fast and pray until the gentile king decreed they could do more. But, the Hanukah story took place inside the Land of Israel where the Jews had self-determination and actually had the power and the authority to declare a war.

I consulted Rav Yehudah Richter for the source of this idea and asked his opinion on which approach was more valid. I took notes as we spoke on the phone, so if anything appears to be in error, it's either my lack of understanding or a misstatement of what he communicated to me.

Apparently, the original source for the concept of physical threat/spiritual response and vice versa comes from the Bach who wrote a halachic commentary on the Tur's commentary on the Shulchan Aruch. (I really hope I got that right.) In any case, what has commonly come down to us is missing a few very important details, which when understood, actually explain how neither of the two above approaches adequately expresses the real situation.

In the case of Purim, for example, it wasn't precisely that they were under a physical threat or that they were residing in the Diaspora that dictated the appropriate response and the same goes for the events of Hanukah.

Rav Richter explains that it is all about the sin for which they needed to do teshuvah, how to make that teshuvah and then how they commemorated those events all in a midah k'neged midah framework.

At Purim, the Jews sinned through eating and drinking at Ahashverosh's banquet. Consequently, their teshuvah was expressed through the absention from eating and drinking. And those days of Purim are celebrated through holy eating and drinking.

At Hanukah, the Jews sinned through laxness in their service in the Beit Hamikdash, so they were punished midah k'neged midah by being denied their spiritual service to Hashem. Their teshuvah came in restoring it and the historical commemoration of those events involves spiritual actions like kindling lights. There is no mitzvah to eat or drink on Hanukah

Thank you, Rav Richter!!

So, now, knowing this, we might be better able to figure out what we are supposed to be doing about our situation today. I don't know about you, but I'd heard sinat chinam and lashon hara repeated so often as the source of all our present difficulties that I think I had come to view it as a kind of knee-jerk explanation lacking a real basis in reality. But, if we concentrate on the principle of midah k'neged midah, this, I think, is the key to the truth and lo and behold...

What characterizes the most recent decree upon the Jews of Eretz Yisrael? Stabbing attacks and car rammings. Stated another way: running people down and stabbing them in the back. Aha! Wow! Sinat chinam and lashon hara!

Lest we err further, ahavat chinam is not the correct answer. That just goes to the other extreme. And we know that there are instances in which, by law, lashon hara is not only permissible but a mitzvahSo, how do we do teshuvah for this? Very simplistically, we need to lift our brothers and sisters up and defend their character and their honor. 

Life is a balancing act and as every tightrope walker knows, it ain't simple and it ain't easy. But, if we realize that harboring ill-will toward a neighbor out of envy or sharing gossip about a friend out of our own insecurity could result in a mass-casualty car-ramming in Tel Aviv or a stabbing in the Old City, maybe it will make us think twice and make a real effort to change our attitudes. 

On the other hand, if we are successful in squelching that temptation to evil thought or speech, we might just be instrumental in preventing the next attack!

Everything has its consequence - midah k'neged midah.


It was only after I had posted this that I found this wonderful article which complements it so remarkably and picks up where I left off. You must not miss this!


  1. Thank you. Very well written. A very important lesson for all of Klal Yisroel, this idea of Midah K'Neged Midah. It seems so apparent now that you've mentioned it.
    One note: The Bach indeed wrote his commentary to the Tur in the mid 16th century. The Tur, was written in the early part of the 14th century. Rav Yosef Karo wrote the Shulchan Aruch 200 years after the Tur. He used the Tur as a "template" of sorts for the way he codified and organized the Shulchan Aruch. Rav Yosef Karo actually wrote a halachic commentary on the Tur, entitled Bais Yosef. Simply put, he used his halachik findings in the Bais Yosef and condensed and summarized them in the book he called Shulchan Aruch.

    Hayim Regensberg

    1. Thanks for the additional details. Rav Richter told me all that, but I didn't get it down on paper. I'm grateful for your contribution.

  2. My friends in Boro Park were raised from babies to always speak with Kosher words and express Kosher thoughts. This is how the girls are taught in their schools, and has been the norm for many generations. It is a pleasure to speak with them, upbeat, warm, purity of thought and word and deeds. This is the old time Chasidish/religious way. That is why the Shoah was so shattering in a way beside the loss of life. The morality and finekeit was lost among the greater amount of survivors. The non religious Jews have lost so much in the way of Jewish values since then. America has ruined them. And is the way in many many frum homes. The religious Jews on the whole should not be compared with the Israeli religious; it's different. The Torah as handed down from Mt Sinai and its ways is very different from that practiced today. I'm not speaking of halachos, but the way of their living. Refinement of character is found among very few today.

  3. The truth ensconced in this post really resonates.
    Thanks so much for sharing these ideas, Devash.
    It's very inspiring and good practical guidance, too.
    And also many thanks to Rav Richter, of course.