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The Gemara (Bab. Shab. 55a) discusses when Zechuth Avoth ceased. I am aware of several opinions in Tosafoth that it ended for wicked people, or it ended for everyone but the very righteous or it ended but Berith Avoth didn't end - whatever that means. But - what does that mean? So much of our religious culture seems to assume that we are still in G-d's good graces because of the merits of our forefathers! What does it mean if we've used up that merit?! On what basis are we waiting for redemption, for one thing? On what basis do we pray for mercy and favor, for another thing? But my question is broader - generally, what does it mean for us not to have that merit in our favor?


This question is part of the Daf Yomi Challenge

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"So much of our religious culture seems to assume that we are still in G-d's good graces because of the merits of our forefathers!" Can you clarify? –  Double AA Dec 3 '12 at 3:34
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Rabbi Yochanan beats Shmu'el in the rock-paper-scissors of paskening. So our "religious culture" probably just goes according to the halachah. –  b a Dec 3 '12 at 4:44
    
@double aa, I gave a couple of examples. –  Seth J Dec 3 '12 at 4:59
    
@SethJ I don't see them. Are you assuming that we are waiting for redemption solely based on their merits? How would you know that? This question is very "vague and overly broad"; I think you need to be more precise in what you are looking for. –  Double AA Dec 3 '12 at 8:41
    
No more zechut avot? How does R. Shmu'el understand "kindness to the thousandth generation"? We haven't used that up yet, at least. –  Monica Cellio Dec 13 '12 at 21:42
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4 Answers 4

The Meshech Chochma on parshat Bechukotai explains the difference between zchut avot and brit avot as follows. If one invests in his friend's business and subsequently sees his friend's children carrying on the business in the same good way as the father he will be inclined to continue investing in the business as he sees the same positive qualities that caused him to invest in the first place. If, however, the investor sees that the children are failing in the business he will be inclined to step in and make sure that his initial investment does not go to waste and will reinvest so as not to let the business go belly up. the same is true for us - If we are walking in the ways of our forefathers, doing chesed and following the path - then we remind God of why he initially invested in the Jewish people - and in turn will deal with us on the level of Zechut. If on the other hand we are not following the path then he will deal with us on the level of Brith (covenant) and not allow all he did for our forefathers to go to waste. (giving us time to regain our footing and get back to following the path). I hope this helps

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This is interesting. Can you provide a citation for this? Also, does this account for (what seems to be the Gemara's assumption, which is) the fact that the Zechuth is gone? Does the Gemara mean it can come back? Or does the Gemara mean it's gone forever, and if it's gone forever, how does this fit in? –  Seth J Dec 6 '12 at 13:21
    
@SethJ It sounds like he's saying that it is gone, but since Hashem remembers that it used to be there, He more easily will grant us our own zechuyos if we act like the Avot. –  Double AA Dec 6 '12 at 13:38
    
emmlinisrael, thanks for the answer and welcome to Mi Yodeya! I hope you stick around and enjoy the site. Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. –  msh210 Dec 6 '12 at 14:58
    
it seems from the meshech chochma (Vayikra 26:42) and the sources he sites that we can reignite zechut avoth by doing chesed, etc. –  emmlinisrael Dec 9 '12 at 20:03
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glad to be here - it is a very impressive site, i am surprised that i only came across it now. –  emmlinisrael Dec 9 '12 at 20:04
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One of the basic principles in the kabbalah of the Ramchal is the need to rectify (m'takein) the female aspect of the presence of God (the shechina) which is currently in exile among the husks (klipot). Furthermore it is basic to all kabbalistic systems that there are a multiplicity of worlds, each of a more spiritually refined nature then the next, with our own world being the least connected to divinity.

In Tikkunim Chadashim (also known as Shivim Tikkunim) the Ramchal explains that the idea that zechus avos is no longer available means that while in the times of the avos the rectification of the shechina was achieved above (in the supernal realms/worlds) with the ramifications issuing downward evetually into our existence, that is no longer possible. Hence any new rectification (which according to the Ramchal would come through the 2 moshiachs and Moshe) must be instigated from below and raised to the higher realms. See further Jonathan Garb's article pg 191 and note 19.

To summarize: The Ramchal sees the termination of zechus avos as a special quality of the avos which enabled them to to achieve unique spiritual feats which can no longer be replicated in the same fashion.

Thus to address your questions I would extrapolate two things 1) the merit of the achievements of the avos may still very well exist and benefit their descendants and 2)when we pray and invoke the avos we are noting both their accomplishment and the fact that we seek to achieve similar ends (a tikkun of the shechina) in our own way.

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One approach is that of the Ri (Tos. ad loc., s.v. uSh'muel), who maintains that z'chus avos was suspended only for the wicked. The Zohar also takes this position (זוהר - רעיא מהימנא כרך ג פרשת שלח).

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I don't believe that the intention of Shmuel is to say that the entirety of Zchut Avot has been exhausted, but rather only a certain aspect of it (perhaps as you mentioned for the wicked) or that the concept that is referred as Zchut Avot here is merely the concept that through merit of the Avot we receive things with Grace - there is clearly a chiluk in Tosfos and elsewhere between Zchut Avot and Brit Avot.

The being said, as mentioned in the comments above, Shmuel's opinion does not necessarily reflect the reality - he is one opinion in the Gemara.

Finally, I will direct the reader to the First Introduction of the Sefer Eim Habanim Semeicha for an interesting idea about the land of Israel and the protection its merit offers even beyond the Brit Avot. (http://www.tsel.org/torah/emhabanim-eng/73.html#link)

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