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Vayikra 26:40-41:

והתודו את־עונם ואת־עון אבתם במעלם אשר מעלו־בי ואף אשר־הלכו עמי בקרי

And they shall admit their sin, and the sin of their fathers, with their betrayal which they betrayed against Me, and also they have walked with Me with meaninglessness;

אף־אני אלך עמם בקרי והבאתי אתם בארץ איביהם או־אז יכנע לבבם הערל ואז ירצו את־עונם

Then I too, will walk with them in a meaningless way, and bring them in the land of their enemies. If then, their clogged heart becomes humbled, then, will gain appeasement for their iniquity.

This is very powerful and enigmatic, and we don't discuss it much. I would very much like to hear different perspectives on the meaning of this. How did we treat Hashem meaninglessly and how did He repay that? I don't just want some translated commentaries, but an intuitive explanation that perhaps gives context from history, or mashalim.

I am happy to hear pshat, but I would like to know a more inner/deep explanation as well.

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    See the Or HaChaim for a great explanation on this.
    – Shmuel
    Jun 18, 2023 at 15:10
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    @Shmuel thank you! Btw, from wikipedia: Only a few rabbis were granted the title "Hakadosh" throughout Jewish history. Alongside the Alshich were the Shelah HaKadosh, the Ari HaKadosh and the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh <3 Very excited to learn this
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jun 18, 2023 at 15:12
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    My "intuitive" explanation is that "meaninglessness" refers to interpreting events as random and due to good or bad luck. Jun 18, 2023 at 15:15
  • I think we Westerners tend to translate קרי as coincidence, and that's probably wrong. I don't know if the ancients thought that way.
    – MichoelR
    Jul 21, 2023 at 1:40
  • @MichoelR the concept of deism is ancient and that also posits that Hashem made the universe like a machine, set it going, and left, and now nothing that happens has intrinsic meaning? I think this is expressing the exact same idea, in more ancient style
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Aug 4, 2023 at 11:20

6 Answers 6

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The Rambam says in the beginning of הלכות תענית the following:

אֲבָל אִם לֹא יִזְעֲקוּ וְלֹא יָרִיעוּ אֶלָּא יֹאמְרוּ דָּבָר זֶה מִמִּנְהַג הָעוֹלָם אֵרַע לָנוּ וְצָרָה זוֹ נִקְרָה נִקְרֵית. הֲרֵי זוֹ דֶּרֶךְ אַכְזָרִיּוּת וְגוֹרֶמֶת לָהֶם לְהִדַּבֵּק בְּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶם הָרָעִים. וְתוֹסִיף הַצָּרָה צָרוֹת אֲחֵרוֹת. הוּא שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה (ויקרא כו כז) "וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי" (ויקרא כו כח) "וְהָלַכְתִּי גַּם אֲנִי עִמָּכֶם בַּחֲמַת קֶרִי". כְּלוֹמַר כְּשֶׁאָבִיא עֲלֵיכֶם צָרָה כְּדֵי שֶׁתָּשׁוּבוּ אִם תֹּאמְרוּ שֶׁהִיא קֶרִי אוֹסִיף לָכֶם חֲמַת אוֹתוֹ קֶרִי:

Conversely, should the people fail to cry out [to God] and sound the trumpets, and instead say, "What has happened to us is merely a natural phenomenon and this difficulty is merely a chance occurrence," this is a cruel conception of things, which causes them to remain attached to their wicked deeds. Thus, this time of distress will lead to further distresses.This is implied by the Torah's statement [Leviticus 26:27-28]: "If you remain indifferent to Me, I will be indifferent to you with a vengeance." The implication of the verse is: When I bring difficulties upon you so that you shall repent and you say it is a chance occurrence, I will add to your [punishment] an expression of vengeance for that indifference [to Divine Providence].

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There a few approaches to this.

1) Coincidence - measure-for-measure

According to the Abarbanel it is a measure-for-measure treatment due to our somewhat blase approach in our avodas Hashem. He understands the word "בקרי" to stem from the word "במקרא" - "coincidence" (similar to what has been suggested).

ואף אשר הלכו עמי בקרי כי מלבד העבירות העצומות שהיו ביניהם כמו שהיו באבותיהם הנה היו מיחסים ענשי ההשגחה למקרה כאנשי בית ראשון ומפני שלא היה הודוי ההוא עם עזיבת החטא מהעם אמר אף אני אלך עמם בקרי ר"ל שמהפגעים והמקרים שיבואו לא ישמרם ה

"And also they have walked with Me with meaninglessness" - because despite their personal transgressions that were among them as they were with their ancestors, here they were ascribing the punishments of providence to sheer coincidence, like the people of the First Temple and because there was no confession with the departure of sin from the people, He (resultantly) said, "I will also go with them meaninglessly (i.e. as if by coincidence)" in other words, G-d will not protect them from harm that might "happen" to come.

(For a similar approach - note the Orach Chaim)

I guess a mashal might be that of a school that has to legally maintain certain standards. Despite seeing certain areas slip, the administrators see it as just a blip within the system, or a happenstance that would not effect their standings. When the school inspectors rock up and see the evident failings, they are notably upset. Wanting them to fix their ways, rather than fail them outright, they choose instead to withdraw state funding ensuring they have to work harder to fix the problems.

2) Half-baked repentance - teshuva accompanied with justification

The HaKesav VeHakabbalah's approach is that despite the fact they were confessing their sins, it was accompanied with constant justification, and as such, it wasn't sincere repentance.1

In addition, (as mentioned also in the Ohr HaChaim) they saw historically that their ancestors had acted improperly but were not punished, and so their whole understanding of the reward and punishment system became skewed.

So in that context it was "meaningless".

3) It marked an active move against Hashem's hashgocho The Netziv explains that they knew that they had sinned and

שהלכו נגד רצונו לצאת מהשגחתו עליהם

They went against His will in order to evade His Providence.

In other words, they wanted to blaze their own trail devoid of Hashem's directing light as it were. So here the meaninglessness was they wanted to live a life devoid of Hashem's presence which translates by extension, devoid of meaning.


1 This idea of it being a non-heartfelt confession is supported by Ramban on Devarim 31:17 which brings our pasuk:

איננו וידוי גמור כענין והתודו את עונם

This is not a total confession like [the confession in the verse] "And they shall confess their iniquity".

The Tosafos Yom Tov on Pirkei Avos 4:11 notes that such a confession does not represent true repentance:

ונ"ל כי התשובה היא החרטה וההכנעה כי הם עיקרי התשובה. והוידוי בלי הכנעה אינה כלום. וזהו והתודו (עונותם) [את עונם] בלי חרטה

And it appears to me that Teshuva requires regret and contrition as these are fundamental to repentance. Confession without contrition is nothing. And this is the meaning of the verse, "And they shall confess their sin" - namely, without regret.

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    @Rabbi_Kaii thank you so much for the bounty! Much appreciated - keep asking great questions!
    – Dov
    Aug 10, 2023 at 17:47
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Another perspective on this could be found in Maayanah Shel Torah by Rabbi Alexander Zusia Friedman. In parashas Bechukosai (p. 111), the Maayanah Shel Torah quotes the Binah L'Ittim and says:

If they confess their sins, why would they still be deserving of punishment? The Sages explain that a confession unaccompanied by teshuva is of no avail. [...]

The treachery mentioned in this posuk thus means:

if they make their confession in the midst of their betrayal (sinning), without ceasing to sin, their confession will be of no avail and this in itself is a transgression deserving of punishment

A similair idea of this "treachery" can be found in the comment of the Orchos Tzadikim:

And he should be very careful at the time of the confession to resolve in his heart to abandon his evil ways, for if he returns to them and does not abandon them he is like one who immerses himself but grasps an unclean creature (Ta'anith 16a).

This then, might be the answer to "How did we treat Hashem meaninglessly". The sinning wasn't stopped, but confessions were made.

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Rabeinu Yonah in Shaarei Tshuva (2-2) https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=38229&st=&pgnum=28 explains that the meaning of קרי here means "coincidental" i.e. if you, instead of recognizing that the tragedies were sent by G'd as a warning/punishment, in order to cause you to repent, you say it's מקרה, it's a coincidence, then G'd will continue to send you such "coincidences"! See below where I quote Rabeinu Bachya, in his Kad Hakemach, say the same thing.

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  • That's a beautiful answer, although I'm not sure it fully explains the chiddush of the word קרי regarding Hashem's treatment of us. If events are happening to warn us, and He just continues them (except now with some spite, so to speak), then why are they now called קרי instead of "spiteful warnings" or something?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jun 21, 2023 at 19:17
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    @Rabbi Kaii G'd forbid that He sends us ANYTHING to spite us. The way I understand it, is that when He continues to send us those "coincidences", eventually we will come to understand that they are not a fluke but further warnings, after which we'll hopefully will repent. I'll try and look in how the מפרשים explain it, as Rabeinu Yonah doesn't really seem to explain the second part.
    – Imanonov
    Jun 22, 2023 at 21:00
  • Good point about spite.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jun 22, 2023 at 21:37
  • @Rabbi Kaii I have now found that רבינו בחיי in his כד הקמח ערך מטר (hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=41685&st=&pgnum=9) and (hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=41685&st=&pgnum=10) also learns like רבינו יונה and explains the continuation of the פסוק as השם saying "then I'll send many more of those coincidence and let מזל (= טבע?) run its natural course.
    – Imanonov
    Nov 27, 2023 at 7:54
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Someone who sinned and walk in front of Hashem with meaninglessness. Hashem would also walk with him same way...

What does that mean?

It means if someone sinned and walk in front of Hashem with no meaning and no recognition. He will live the life with no meaning.

How?

Life events will not make sense to him, there will be no meaning, connection between consequences and reasons, cause he doesn't recognize Hashem. So when he recognizes then all events will become full of meaning and rewards and punishments, cause all comes from His kindness.

Then I too, will walk with them in a meaningless way, and bring them in the land of their enemies

What land of their enemies means?

Who are bad enemies to me?

Hashem will bring bad desires - land/eretz/malkhus of their enemies and it will be full of meaningless so everything he does will not satisfy him.

Only when person comes to Him and walk with Hashem with meaning, then persons life will make sense before that person sins and walk in front of Hashem with no meaning so he will need to suffer cause Hashem prepared light for everyone and if someone doesn't recognize Him or walk in life without Hashem, he needs to suffer because Hashem is pure kindness, for person to be ready to receive light in future that Hashem prepared for him.

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  • Hi, welcome to MY and this is beautiful and deep, ty! I would like to know your sources? It sounds like you are interpreting the pasuk of Hashem treating us with meaninglessness as not something Hashem actively does, but something that happens in our perception as a result of our not viewing life through the lens of emuna, correct? In your last line, do you mean Hashem's deeds and character are purely good? If not, what is your intent by "Hashem is pure kindness" and what's the source?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jun 21, 2023 at 19:21
  • @RabbiKaii thank you for your response! Hashem treats everyone with kindness ONLY. He is a pure Good. What is the kindness? Light at end of the creation. That kindness I receive as rewards and punishments in my reality depends how I am prepared to final kindness. So my reality is built based on my decisions - freedom of choice - But! I feel reward or punishment depends how I walk towards final kindness, how I am prepared to receive Hashems kindness, I can't receive it if I am not ready, if I am not ready then I receive punishments to learn. Punishments here are the tool, not a reason. Jun 21, 2023 at 23:27
  • @RabbiKaii great punishments may mean 2 things, either I am not ready at all and going against Hashem OR someone who is Tzadik suffers for entire Adam. Second one is very rare and only for great ones, most of the time we face first one. Source: there is no any source, that's how I feel Hashem. Jun 21, 2023 at 23:32
  • @RabbiKaii it's very similar to the road from A to B. Considering people are not listening and trying to take detours to enjoy the road, Hashem is taking them back to the road, if they are out of road - punishments, if they are following the road - rewards and enjoyments. Jun 21, 2023 at 23:35
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DISCLAIMER: This answer is purely my own theory. There are no authoritative commentaries that I know of which say that this theory applies to these pasukim, not to mention that this theory is even correct.


Taking the pshat of the pasukim, it seems to be talking about our relationship with Hashem, as His people. What does it mean for a relationship to be meaningful, vs. a relationship be meaningless?

I would say one approach would be to say that if we look at the word קרי, which means "it doesn't matter" (see this answer for full discussion), one way of looking at it might be viewing the relationship as "happenstance". There is no higher truth to the relationship, it just happens to be, and didn't have to be for that matter, ch'v.

It seems that if we treat our relationship with Hashem like this, He will, midda kneged midda, give us a relationship like that. Did we treat our relationship with Hashem like this? I don't know, I am not an expert, but it seems we did. One possible example might be that when Hashem said "I am yours", we kept saying "but we don't deserve" (קָטֹנְתִּי), and this is the equivalent of saying "we don't think You have any True connection to us, because if we don't deserve, then You will abandon us". Perhaps that is too nuanced, maybe simply worshipping idols could be considered treating Hashem like "our relationship doesn't matter". I don't want to speculate further on this, as at the end of the day, I am presuming that indeed we did commit this sin at some point.

However, my main point is to speculate on how Hashem has treated us בקרי. It seems to me that over the last 1000+ years, the close, personal and intimate side of our relationship with Hashem has been "pushed back against" to say the least.

For example, Tanach is absolutely replete with intimate statements from Hashem about His relationship with us. We are the apple of His eye, we are His children who He adores, His desire is upon us, He cries for us, and so much more. The gemara and midrash are full of very romantic aggadata, all of which place a very strong focus on how much we mean to Hashem. The Zohar, which was ostensibly written at that time, is perhaps the most romantic of all, solidifying to the most absolute that our connection to Hashem is meaningingful to the infinite superlative.

Then what happens? Well, the Zohar goes "underground". Then we seem to recieve a message that "all of this is a mashal, that only ignoramuses believe, and the truth is Hashem is completely beyond such petty things as love and relationships, and the truth is He doesn't need us, or our mitzvot, and it's all really just a kindness on His part, for our benefit". I am paraphrasing the Rambam's Moreh Nevuchim (at least, as it is understood by many, as is witnessed by many hundreds of answers on this very site who quote it). This hashkafa; this way of thinking has come to dominate the way we view "the truth" of Torah and our relationship with Hashem, even to this very day. It is a "way of thinking" that is shared בארץ איביהם, by the Greeks, the Christians, Moslems and many more.

This accomplishes an inner conviction that Hashem doesn't actually care about us, in His Truth, ch'v. We are but the lucky beneficiaries of a chance to get some eternal reward from Him, if we choose to follow the good advice He gave us in the Torah. Effectively, our relationship with Him is objectively meaningless, ch'v, and we can choose to make it subjectively meaningful to us personally if we want. This indeed is a "love that won't endure", as it is based on a "thing" - reward.

There is a huge case to be made that this is grave mistake. We either misunderstood the Rambam et al. by mistake, or perhaps this was "meant to be" and Rambam's hands were tied in the way he had to write things, and what he was meant to teach to his and future generations, perhaps to fulfil the "decree" of the pasukim in question (there is evidence for both of these claims, perhaps out of scope for this answer but I might make some footnotes later). I don't know, this is pure speculation on my part, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Feel free to upvote or downvote to express whether it makes sense to you too.

There is overwhelming evidence that indeed this understanding is mistaken, and our relationship with Hashem is completely essential. He needs us, as I went to great length to elaborate in this answer, and indeed finding out this good news could be the reversal of the decree, and a hint that we are close to Moshiach.

Note: I would like to spend time adding citations and other bits of evidence to this question at some point. Feel free to ask about anything specifically.

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