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In the daily recitation of the Shema, we mention God's anger (וחרה אף) as a potential motivation for adhering to the Torah. However, there seems to be a concern that some individuals might overemphasize or overly focus on God's wrath, potentially hindering their commitment to Torah observance. This perspective is arguably imbalanced or misguided.

For example, I recall a lecture by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger from years ago, where he recounted an incident involving a couple who had tragically lost a child. They were worried that this loss might be a punishment from Hashem for speaking ill of a family member. Rabbi Weinberger, to the best of my recollection, dismissed this notion and expressed surprise that people view Hashem as a punitive or vindictive figure.

On one hand, Rabbi Weinberger's viewpoint resonates with me strongly. On the other hand, classical Jewish texts and teachings, include statements like "בעון נדרים בנים מתים," and works such as "ראשית חכמה" and "יסוד ושרש העבודה," convey a sense of a pervasive and potent attribute of divine justice, מדת הדין.

Specifically in Rabbi Weinberger's example and in life in general, is there a limit to how one should interpret challenging situations as an expression of God's wrath? Are there any sources that explicitly discourage (or encourage) such a punitive perspective of God?

Please provide sources, the earlier in history the better.

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R Weinberger is referring to a widely taught idea. We can see it in Tanach. Mishlei (3:11-12):

מוסר ה' בני אל־תמאס ואל־תקץ בתוכחתו כי את־אשר יאהב ה' יוכיח וכאב את־בן ירצה

Do not hate the scolding of Hashem, my son, or tire of His rebuke, because He rebukes those that He loves, like a father and the son of his delight.

It's a huge compliment that we are so close to Him that He can and does get upset with us due to His love for us, and His patient desire to help us "get there".

He is not punitive, ch'v. Yechezkel 33:11

אמר אליהם חי־אני  נאם  אדקי ה' אם־אחפץ במות הרשע כי אם־בשוב רשע מדרכו וחיה שובו שובו מדרכיכם הרעים ולמה תמותו בית ישראל

Say to them, by My Life, says my Master Hashem, I have no pleasure in/desire for the death of the wicked; but that the wicked return from his way and live: return, return from your evil ways: for why will you die, O house of Yisrael?

Punitive is a chiddush. All we know is that His rebuke can be very tough, and that He hates having to do it, which does not imply (and generally contradicts the notion) that He is punitive. It just conveys how serious and important we are, and our missions are.

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  • love your answer. You specifically reminded me how important it is to study Tanach; I had little recollection of these pesukim. However, I still wonder about the particular case with Rabbi Weinberger, because I believe it is a paradigm for day-to-day experiences we all encounter. For example, I have a relative who has a strong relationship with Hashem, but he almost always interprets negative experiences as rebuke from Hashem. I sometimes wonder if this is correct. Sometimes my intuition tells me that certain interpretations are extreme, similar to the parents' thinking here.
    – Yehuda
    Oct 6, 2023 at 4:59
  • But I'm curious if there are sources that have a more precise understanding of when an interpretation of negative events as rebuke is appropriate, and when it is not. So perhaps my question wasn't so clear or specific, but this is included in it.
    – Yehuda
    Oct 6, 2023 at 5:01
  • @Yehuda I was listening to a shiur last night where the Rav was saying what the Lubavitcher Rebbe would say all the time: in this generation, after 2000 years of suffering, and silence from Hashem, it is unthinkable that He is angry when we sin. He is not a monster and is in fact over the moon with us for whatever little we still do, even after all that. It's a miracle. I can send the shiur if you want but it doesn't have sources. I can find some sources though.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Oct 6, 2023 at 7:43
  • @Yehuda very important note though: I've heard this said many times and the context is always talking about now, after 2000 years etc. When we were in the land, with peace and miracles and great leaders and kings, it was understandable that Hashem would be outraged at our sins. Therefore finding "old" sources, might be problematic. However, of course the new ones will base their principles on the old principles, so I'll see if I can research this for, and yes, I'll try to focus on the point of rebuke.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Oct 6, 2023 at 8:17
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    @Ruminator thank you too. I hope you stay, it's good to learn with you
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 26, 2023 at 16:29
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Rabbeinu Yonah Pirkei Avot (1:3)

ויהא מורא שמים עליכם. לעבוד את ה' מיראה ומאהבה כעבד שעובד רבו מפני גדולתו ומעלה על דעתו שיכול לעונשו ונמצא משמשו מיראה לא מפני יראתו מן העונש אלא מפני גדולת הרב שיש בידו לענוש:

The fear of heaven shall be upon them: To serve Hashem from fear and love like a servant his master due to his greatness and it should be on his mind that he has the ability to punish him. Thus he will serve from fear, not fear of punishment; rather, fear of how great the Master is that he has the ability to punish

Rabbeinu Yonah is pointing out that fear of Hashem is more akin to Awe. Ie: He has that complete power and control..

Love will draw one close, "fear" here makes the person realize that he should be concerned/impressed by Hashem's greatness. Ie: Familiarity breeds Contempt and fear prevents that and creates boundaries. So one must serve from both.

And so even the lowest level of fear, fear of punishment, is actually fear that he has the ability to punish, and also a form of awe.

This kind of fear (ie:awe) is certainly commendable!

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