Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rav Saadia Gaon tackles Chivi haBalchi

[This week's Toronto Torah is here; enjoy!]

I'm delivering a shiur next Wednesday night [first in a series on "Responsa that changed Jewish History"], on Rav Saadia Gaon's replies to Chivi haBalchi.

There's a lot more to the topic than I can include here, but I thought readers might be interested in an excerpt from Rav Saadia Gaon's replies, from which one can also the questions troubling this man, and many other Jews as well (per Ibn Daud's Sefer haKabbalah) a millenium ago.

The Hebrew is courtesy of Samuel Poznanski's תשובות רב סעדיה גאון על שאלות חיוי הבלכי, the translation is my own.

(The question: Why did Gd not protect Hevel, His favored one?)
שאת בניו מנחות רצה א-ל את הקטן כי ממיטב מיחיו הוביל למלך השלטון
נמבזה ונמס הביא הרב לקטן והודיעו כי הומאס ולא שב ויסטון
נגף אח ושאלו אלו-ה למען יודה ויתהולל בתשובתו כמסבב וצודה
על כן נקמו א-ל באף רודה כי דם עבדיו יקום ונפשו פודה
ענה אענך על שאלתך תשובה נצחת אשר אמרת למה לא שמרו ונינו לא נשחת
כן היה לך אמר אלו היה עולם אחד וישיבה אחת אבל בהיות עולם שני הכל בר לתוכחת:
שוש אל ישישו העושקים פה בעושקם כי לעת תמוט רגלם שם יאל לשלם נקם
ולא יתאבל כל עשוק ורצוץ ונעקם כי יש לא-ל להחליפו טוב ולא ישוב ריקם
יען כי לא ימנע עושק מנטות ידו ולא בכל עת יציל נחמס מאודו
כי יש יום לכל אחד בחוקו למדדו בין עובד א-ל לאשר לא עבדו
When Adam’s sons brought offerings, Gd accepted the younger, for from the best of his food he brought to the royal ruler. The degraded and rejected, the greater brought compared to the smaller. Gd informed him he was rejected, and he did not repent and he hated.
He struck his brother, and Gd inquired so that he might admit it. He played the fool in his reply, like a trickster and a hunter. Gd punished him, striking him with rage, for the blood of His servants He will avenge, and his life He will redeem.
I will answer your question with a mighty reply, as far as your question as to why Gd did not guard him, and his descendant was not destroyed. This would be right to say, were this the world of one person, with one dwelling, but because there are others in the world, all was created for education.
Rejoice not, those who cheat others here in their plots; their leg will stumble at the time when Gd chooses to punish them. Those who are cheated, crushed and bent need not mourn, for Gd is able to reward them, and they will not return emptyhanded.
Because corruption does not cease to extend its hand, and one who is attacked is not always saved from its brand, but there is a day for each one, his allotment for his measure, whether one who serves Gd or one who does not.

(The question: Why do people suffer?)
עוד שאלת על מיני היסורים הרעב והחלי והפחד והשוד והשברים
והחום והקור למה מן האדם לא נעדרים כל אלה שאלה אחת והרבית דברים:
דע וראה כי אלו-ה לטובת יצורים ייסרם למען ידעו כאב המוסרים ותמרורם
ויחדלו מעשות רע אשר לזה יסגירם ולא היו מכירים אלו העדירם
You also inquired about the types of suffering – the famine, illness, terror, theft and damage, the heat and the cold; why are these not lost from man? All of these are one question; you were overly verbose.
Know and see that Gd rebukes creatures for their benefit, that they may know the pain and bitterness of rebuke, and so that they will cease to practice evil. For this He will give them over. They would not learn this, were suffering lost.

(The question: Why do people die?)
פלאות התמהת והקשית לשאול למה לא יחיה האדם לעד ולא ירד שאול
מי יתן ונוצר מתחלה בעולם הבא לגאול ואף כי תתאיו לעמדו פה במצור ובתאול:
בעשותו כל אלה יש רבים מורדים ובהפחידו אותם בצרותיהם יש בדתו בוגדים
קל וחומר אם לא היו פוחדים אז היו שכם אחד כולם לא היו עובדים:
צורתך המן החכמה לחיותה לעד או להצילה מצרה וצוקה ורעד
אי זו דעת תשפוט לחלצך ממעד כי סרה דברת על שוכן עד:
נכונו ללצים שפטים ומהלומות ערוך למו מאתמול תפתה בחמות
אשר חשך לעת צר ליום קרב ומלחמות גם אתה כאחד מהם בכעס א-ל נקמות:
You have expressed wonder, and asked stubbornly, why a man does not live eternally, without descending to Sheol. Would that Man had been created initially in Olam haBa, to be redeemed! And instead Gd desired to place him here, in pain and exhaustion.
[Even with] Gd having done all of this, there are still many who rebel. [Even though] Gd intimidates them, there are those who rebel against His law. How much more so if they were not afraid! Then, as one group, none of them would work.
Would it be wise for your form to be kept alive forever, or to save it from trouble and pain and trembling? What intelligence could judge to save you from stumbling – when you have fomented rebellion against the Eternal One?
Verdicts and suffering are prepared for scorners; angry tifteh was arranged from yesterday for them. It will be dark at the time of trouble, the day of battle and wars. You will be as one of them, in the rage of the punishing Gd.

(The question: How does a mikvah purify a person?)
קדוש איך לא יצרו – אמרת – מבית ומחוץ וכלי מלא צואה מה יועיל בהיותו רחוץ
ומשלתו בשרץ ובלבינה בטמאתו לרחוץ הנני אשיבך מלין ודברי נחוץ
ידע תדע כי אין טומאה בחדרי האדם כי כל מימיו לא יקראו טמאות עד היפרדם
על כן בהיפרדם כאשר צוה יוסדם קדושים המה מלפנים ולחיצון בכל מאדם
רק הטמאות טומאת הרשע בהם תבך אזלו מים מני ים ולא יטהר מאבך
ומה יועילו ללב כופר כל מיני נבך והוא אמר כבסי מרעה לבך:
How were they not formed holy, inside and out, you asked. And what good would it do for a vessel filled with excrement to be washed? You compared Man to a sheretz and a clay receptacle, in its impurity to wash. I will offer words of reply to you, and my message will be quick.
Know that there is no impurity in the innards of Man; his liquids are not deemed impure until they separate from him. Therefore when they [do not yet] separate as their Founder commanded, they are holy inside and [impure only when] outside.
Only the case of those who are impure with the impurity of wickedness will cause you confusion. The water can depart from the sea and your arrogance will not be purified. What will all manner of waves benefit the heart of a heretic? He has declared: Cleanse your heart of evil.


  1. Interesting that the big questions don't really change.

  2. The poetic Hebrew and rhyme is a little too much for this simple reader. Was it originally in Arabic and Samuel Pozanski translated it to Hebrew?

  3. Daniel-

    Originally in Hebrew, actually. Poznanski theorizes he had to do it that way because his answers included comments against Zoroastrianism. Most of Rav Saadia Gaon's other writing was in Arabic, a concession to the unlearnedness of the population.