1) REDUCING THE NUMBER OF MITZVOS
QUESTION: The Gemara says that Moshe Rabeinu taught the 613 Mitzvos, but the later Nevi'im reduced the number. David ha'Melech narrowed them down to 11, Yeshayah made them 6, Michah made them 3, and Yeshayah narrowed them down to 2. Finally, Chabakuk categorized all of the Mitzvos as one single Mitzvah.
What does the Gemara mean when it says that the number of Mitzvos was reduced?
(a) The RAMAH (cited by the BEIS ELOKIM in Sha'ar ha'Yesodos 35, the MAHARSHA, and HA'KOSEV in the Ein Yakov; see also RITVA) explains the Gemara here based on the Gemara in Sotah (21a) which states that the performance of Mitzvos protects a person from the Yetzer ha'Ra (see also Avos 4:2, "Mitzvah Goreres Mitzvah"). Originally, a person merited this special protection only if he fulfilled all of the Mitzvos of the Torah. However, David ha'Melech and the later Nevi'im prayed that Hash-m should have mercy even on the person who does not fulfill all of the Mitzvos, and grant the same protection to such a person.
The CHIDA (in Pesach Einayim) adds that perhaps David ha'Melech narrowed them down to 11 Mitzvos to correspond to the 11 herbs that comprise the Ketores, which, the Gemara in Shabbos (88a) relates, has the power to repel the Mal'ach ha'Maves, who also is the Yetzer ha'Ra (Bava Basra 16a).
The IYUN YAKOV and KOS YESHU'OS add that perhaps the reduced number of Mitzvos that the later Nevi'im categorized will also protect a person from physical harm, and not only from the Yetzer ha'Ra. The Gemara in Sotah there mentions that this is also one of the effects of Mitzvah observance.
(b) The SEFER HA'IKARIM (3:30, cited by the Beis Elokim and Maharsha) and MAHARAL explain that the later Nevi'im saw that it was too difficult for a person to concentrate on 613 individual Mitzvos when he fulfills each one. They therefore placed the Mitzvos in general categories, where each category includes a large number of the Mitzvos of the Torah. In this way, it would be easier for a person to fulfill the entire Torah while concentrating only on a limited number of Mitzvos.
The Maharsha adds that in truth, all of the 613 Mitzvos are based on certain general categories, as the Aseres ha'Dibros allude to all 613 Mitzvos. Moreover, all of the Mitzvos can be narrowed down to one basic Mitzvah that encompasses all of the Mitzvos -- the Mitzvah of Emunah in Hash-m. This is the intention of David ha'Melech when he says, "Kol Mitzvosecha Emunah" -- "All of your Mitzvos are Emunah" (Tehilim 119:86). The Maharsha adds that this is necessarily so, since Hash-m is One, and thus His will must be one. This is why Hash-m Himself spoke to the Jewish people at Sinai and told them all of the Aseres ha'Dibros at once, and then He later began to repeat them separately so that the Jewish people could hear each one individually. This means that from Hash-m's perspective, the Mitzvos are all one; they are all the unity of Hash-m's will. However, man cannot understand all of the Mitzvos from that perspective, and therefore he needs them to be spelled out individually, into 613 Mitzvos.
This is what the Gemara means when it introduces its discussion by saying that the Jewish people heard the Mitzvos of "Anochi" and "Lo Yiheyeh" directly from Hash-m. These two Mitzvos are the two parts of the Mitzvah of Emunah (to accept Hash-m and not to accept any other power), and this is the Mitzvah that the nation heard directly from Hash-m when He began to repeat each individual Mitzvah. It is this Mitzvah in particular that He expressed to the nation, because it is the Mitzvah of Emunah which encompasses all of the Mitzvos.
(See the Beis Elokim, ibid., for an additional approach.)
2) MOSHE RABEINU'S PROPHECIES OF DOOM
QUESTION: The Gemara teaches that Moshe Rabeinu prophesied four decrees that the later Nevi'im rescinded. It is clear from the verses cited by the Gemara that these Gezeiros refer to prophecies of destruction that Moshe Rabeinu foresaw.
How could the later Nevi'im contradict what Moshe Rabeinu taught? The Gemara in Sanhedrin (90a) teaches that if a prophet says a prophecy which contradicts anything that the Torah says, he is Chayav Misah (unless his prophecy is temporary and for a specific situation; see Yevamos 90b).
(a) The BEIS ELOKIM (Sha'ar ha'Yesodos 35) and the MAHARAL explain that Moshe Rabeinu's attribute was Din, or strict justice (see Sanhedrin 6b). Moshe Rabeinu saw that the Jewish people would deserve these severe punishments in accordance with the letter of the law. However, the later Nevi'im, who represented the attribute of Rachamim, or mercy, prayed to Hash-m to repeal the destruction that Moshe Rabeinu foresaw. Hash-m in His mercy accepted their prayers.
(b) The KOS YESHU'OS and ARUCH LA'NER explain this further. They explain that Moshe Rabeinu's words did not necessarily presage the doom that they apparently implied. Rather, his words could be interpreted in a number of ways. Had the later Nevi'im not taught a more merciful interpretation of the verse, then the prophecy of Moshe might have manifest itself in the severest form of interpretation of the verse. The later Nevi'im repealed that interpretation with their prophecies (and prayers).
The Aruch la'Ner explains how the prophecies of the later Nevi'im may be reconciled with Moshe Rabeinu's words.
1. Amos taught that when Moshe Rabeinu said that the Jewish people will be spared destruction only if they conduct themselves "like Yakov," his words did not mean that the people must be as righteous as Yakov Avinu in all respects. Rather, the verse is to be read as Rashi translates it (in Devarim 33:28): "You will be safe even when sitting alone as individuals, like the blessing with which Yakov blessed the Jewish people (in Bereishis 48:21), when he said that Hash-m will protect the Jewish people during times of exile, and He will eventually bring them back to Eretz Yisrael."
(Alternatively, Moshe's words meant that the Jewish people will be spared destruction as long as they still identify themselves with the descendants of the forefathers and with Klal Yisrael (excluding a person who intermarries, or one who rejects the covenant with Hash-m by removing his Bris Milah). He also might have meant that they would be spared destruction if they would toil in Torah learning, which was the attribute of Yakov Avinu (Bereishis 25:27).)
2. When Moshe Rabeinu said that "you will not rest among the nations to which you will be exiled," his words did not mean that there will never be any respite during exile. Rather, his words are to be read as a continuation of the previous verse, which says that "in the exile you will serve idols, and then you will have no rest among the nations." This prophecy was conditional on the conduct of the people; if they would serve idols, then they would have no rest in exile.
(See Aruch la'Ner, who suggests a different explanation.)
3. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (27b) explains that when Moshe Rabeinu said that the sins of fathers will be visited upon the sons, he was referring only to sons who follow the evil ways of their fathers.
4. When Moshe Rabeinu said "you will be lost among the nations, and the land of your enemies will consume you" (Vayikra 26:38), the Gemara here explains that these words mean that the Jewish people will become lost like a lost object, which its Owner eventually will search for and reclaim.
Alternatively, the verse can be understood as Rashi (in Vayikra 26:38) explains: "You will be lost" to each other due to the great distances that will separate you, "the land of your enemies will consume you" like large fruits which are never fully eaten, as the Gemara explains. (The Aruch la'Ner suggests that these large fruits, "Dilu'im," were not fully eaten because some were left to be used as seed for the crop of the coming year; see Shevi'is 2:10.) While some people will die in Galus, their children and future descendants will survive and return to Eretz Yisrael.
3) "AKIVA, YOU HAVE COMFORTED US"
QUESTION: When Rebbi Akiva saw the fox emerge from the Kodesh ha'Kodashim, he laughed. He explained that when Yeshayah associated the prophecy of Uriyah with the prophecy of Zecharyah, he intimated that the prophecy of Zecharyah -- that the Jews will return to Yerushalayim in great joy -- will come to fruition only if the prophecy of Uriyah comes to fruition first. Uriyah prophesied that Har ha'Bayis would become like a desolate forest. Rebbi Akiva said that now that he sees the prophecy of Uriyah coming true, he has no doubt that the prophecy of Zecharyah will come true, and that is why he laughed.
His colleagues exclaimed, "Akiva, you have comforted us! Akiva, you have comforted us!" According to the Midrash in Eichah, they added, "May you be comforted by beholding the herald of Mashi'ach!"
The Gemara implies that before he saw the fox emerge from the Kodesh ha'Kodashim, Rebbi Akiva doubted whether the prophecies of Zecharyah or Uriyah would come true. How could Rebbi Akiva have had such a doubt? Certainly he trusted the prophecies, as "the word of Hash-m always come true" (Yeshayah 55:11)!
(a) The RIF in the EIN YAKOV, the ANAF YOSEF there, and the ARUCH LA'NER explain the Gemara based on the words of TOSFOS here. Tosfos points out that it is clear from Rebbi Akiva's statement that he understood that the words of Zecharyah refer to the future redemption. How, though, could he be sure that this was the intention of Zecharyah? Zecharyah's prophecy occurred before the redemption from the Babylonian exile, Galus Bavel, at the time of the Churban of the first Beis ha'Mikdash. Perhaps the prophecy of Zecharyah refers not to the future redemption, but to the return of the exiles from Bavel at the end of the seventy years of exile! This was Rebbi Akiva's doubt. When he saw the fox emerge from the Kodesh ha'Kodashim, he realized that Uriyah's prophecy of destruction was being fulfilled after the Churban of the second Beis ha'Mikdash. Since the prophet states that the prophecy of Zecharyah will follow the fulfillment of the prophecy of Uriyah, Rebbi Akiva now was certain that Zecharyah's prophecy refers to the future Ge'ulah.
(b) The MAHARAL (Netzach Yisrael 26) explains that Rebbi Akiva did not doubt that the prophecy of Zecharyah would come true. He merely questioned whether the extent of the joy that Zecharyah foresaw would apply only to a small number of Jews, or whether the entire Jewish people would experience it. The vastness of the destruction that came about through the prophecy of Uriyah showed him that the Ge'ulah will counter that destruction and engender an unprecedented degree of rejoicing.
Rav Hadar Margolin shlit'a explains that the Maharal alludes to what the verse in Tehilim (90:15) teaches. Hash-m will send a Ge'ulah that is proportionate to the days of affliction that the Jewish people suffered. This theme is evident even in the verses of the prophecy of Zecharyah (in 8:13-15, which follow the prophecy mentioned by the Gemara here), in which Zecharyah says that "just as you were accursed among the nations until now, so will Hash-m save you and you will be a blessing.... Thus Hash-m says, 'As I have plotted to punish you because your fathers angered Me, so shall I plot in these days for the good of Yerushalayim."
The Maharal's words, however, do not seem to be consistent with Rebbi Akiva's statement that "I was afraid that the prophecy of Zecharyah would not be fulfilled," which implies that he feared that it would not be fulfilled at all. Perhaps his words may be understood based on the following insight.
The RAMBAM (in his introduction to Perush ha'Mishnayos) writes that a prophecy of good is never rescinded, while a prophecy of destruction can be rescinded (see Insights to Sanhedrin 17:1:c). According to this principle, the prophecy of Uriyah would not necessarily have to come true, while the prophecy of Zecharyah would have to come true. However, the prophet implies that the prophecy of Zecharyah was given with a clause; it will come true only if the prophecy of Uriyah comes true before it. The reason for this condition is, as mentioned above, that the prophecy of Zecharyah was intended as an appeasement for the suffering described in the prophecy of Uriyah. If there is no suffering, then the prophecy does not have to come true. Therefore, even though a prophecy for good normally must come true, the prophecy of Zecharyah was an exception to this rule.
This is the meaning of Rebbi Akiva's statement. "Had the prophecy of Uriyah not come true, I would have questioned whether the prophecy of Zecharyah would come true at all. Now that I see that the prophecy of Uriyah has occurred as described, I can be certain that the prophecy of Zecharyah will also occur as described." When Rebbi Akiva's colleagues heard this lesson of hope and inspiration, they blessed him that he should merit to see the fulfillment of the prophecy with his own eyes. (M. KORNFELD)
May we merit to see the fulfillment of Zecharyah's prophecy in our day!