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What is the meaning of וְנַסְתֶּם וְאֵין-רֹדֵף אֶתְכֶם (Leviticus 26:17)?

Literally of course it is simple: "You will flee with no one pursuing you" (Artscroll)

But this punishment does not really "fit" with the rest of the punishments that are in this section. The rest of them are God causing something to happen (everything from enemies, no rain, fruit won't grow, etc) that will impact the Jews, but for this line it seems that something else is going on.

What does it mean to flee with no-one chasing? A plague of paranoia?

References or answer would be appreciated.

Part 2: It also occurred to me that there might be free will implications with causing paranoia, in the sense that if God causes one to be paranoid, then they can no longer exercise all of their options (they are overpowered by fear). How is this issue dealt with?

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There is a story that some Jews were sitting together in the time of the Romans and heard the wind blowing. They thought that it was a Roman legion, so they ran away and in the process of running away many were trampled and died. Unfortunately, I don't remember the source (IIRC, it was in Midrash Says). –  Shmuel Brin May 18 '12 at 20:17
    
Very interesting. Are there any other possibilities other than paranoia? –  soandos May 18 '12 at 20:22
    
@ShmuelBrin see update. –  soandos May 18 '12 at 20:35
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@ShmuelBrin: in Sifra to 26:37 R. Yehoshua ben Korchah tells how this happened to him and a group of other Jews, but nothing about any of them getting killed while running away (though Shabbos 60a mentions several cases where people were killed in such panics while hiding out from the enemy). –  Alex May 18 '12 at 21:05

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Rashi explains that no one will chase you because you will be weak.

The implication is that there is a superior enemy to fear (as is written in the same verse) and good reason to run. But the only reason why an army would bother to give chase is they fear the other side will regroup and retaliate. G-d is saying that your enemies will not need to worry about you retaliating since you will have no strength to do so.

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That seems almost like a blessing in desguise –  soandos May 20 '12 at 4:07
    
@soandos, Being so weak that not only can't you defend your territory, but your enemy knows they don't have to put in any effort? –  YDK May 20 '12 at 6:21
    
It's a blessing in that you won't be attacked, not in other areas. –  soandos May 20 '12 at 15:04
    
@soandos, That's like saying that it's a blessing if an army is chasing you because if you are running, you must be alive! Why can't a weakened state in and of itself be considered a curse? –  YDK May 21 '12 at 2:07

R. Heshel of Cracow (the teacher of the Shach), in Chanukas Hatorah, explains this based on the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 27:5), that when it says "G-d looks after the pursued" (Eccles. 3:15) it means "even if a righteous person is persecuting a wicked one, G-d takes the side of the wicked person." So here, if the Jews are being pursued by their enemies, then they can expect G-d to aid them; but if in fact there is no persecution (and it's just that they're paranoid, as you suggest, or something like that), then even that comfort is denied them.

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I am I slightly confused. If no-one is pursuing them, them they are not really being pursued, and I would have assumed that in any case they would not be looked after because of that verse. In addition, since according to the Sifra this is the punishment for not believing in God at all, they would not be comforted by that pasuk in any case. –  soandos May 18 '12 at 20:21
    
see update to question. –  soandos May 18 '12 at 20:34
    
@soandos: I'm not sure I'm understanding your second sentence; indeed the Torah is not identifying the Jews as the ones being pursued, just saying that they'll think they are. And as for your last sentence: it is true that the seventh item in Sifra's list (also cited in Rashi) is כופר בעיקר, denying G-d's existence; but there are probably various levels within that itself. We find that the Jews of Yirmiyahu's time - who indeed suffered all of the punishments in the Tochachah - still believed that Hashem couldn't possibly allow His Beis Hamikdash to be destroyed (Jer. 7:4ff). –  Alex May 18 '12 at 21:00
    
Good points. Does part 2 of the question make any sense, or not really? –  soandos May 18 '12 at 21:15
    
@soandos: I think it does, but I'd have to see what sources can be brought to bear on it. –  Alex May 18 '12 at 21:18

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