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I heard a rabbi say that the penalty of kareis does not really exist today, because we do not appreciate the concept of infinity, or something to this effect. Does anyone know where this rabbi would have seen this cited or heard it?

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    AFAIK no such classical source states this. There are individual issues where karet may or may not apply today, (like entering parts of the Temple mount while ritually impure), but the entire discussion of these exceptions assumes that in general karet applies today. Literature throughout the ages continuously speaks of karet penalties with no indication that it ever ceased. – mevaqesh May 21 '17 at 19:35
  • Perhaps it is a loose interpretation of a famous Chazon Ish about how heretics in an age without miracles are not as culpable as those in an age with miracles. – Loewian May 21 '17 at 19:56
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Summary

Kares is still in effect. According to R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi, we no longer see that one dies at a young age from it since Kares kills one by cutting off his source of life from the side of Holiness, while nowadays, one can now live from the unholy side.


R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi writes in Tanya (Iggeres HaTeshuva ch. 5):

First he explains the Kabbalah behind Kares:

. אך באמת אין שום דבר גשמי ורוחני חוצץ לפניו ית' כי הלא את השמים ואת הארץ אני מלא ומלא כל הארץ כבודו ולית אתר פנוי מיני' בשמים ממעל ועל הארץ מתחת אין עוד ואיהו ממלא כל עלמין וכו' אלא כמ"ש בישעי' כי אם עוונותיכם היו מבדילים ביניכם לבין אלקיכם. והטעם לפי שהם נגד רצון העליון ב"ה המחי' את הכל כמ"ש כל אשר חפץ ה' עשה בשמים ובארץ (וכמש"ל שהוא מקור השפעת שם הוי' ונרמז בקוצו של יו"ד). וזהו ענין הכרת. שנכרת ונפסק חבל ההמשכה משם הוי' ב"ה שנמשכה מה"א תתאה כנ"ל. וכמ"ש בפ' אמור ונכרתה הנפש ההיא מלפני אני ה'. מלפני דייקא. ובשאר עבירות שאין בהן כרת עכ"פ הן פוגמין הנפש כנודע. ופגם הוא מלשון פגימת הסכין והוא עד"מ מחבל עב שזור מתרי"ג חבלים דקים ככה חבל ההמשכה הנ"ל כלול מתרי"ג מצות וכשעובר ח"ו על אחת מהנה נפסק חבל הדק וכו'. אך גם בחייב כרת ומיתה נשאר עדיין בו הרשימו מנפשו האלקי' ועי"ז יכול לחיות עד נ' או ס' שנה ולא יותר

The truth is though that nothing material or spiritual is a barrier before Him— "Do I not fill heaven and earth !" "All the world is full of His glory." "There is no place devoid of Him." "In the heavens above and on the earth below there is none else." "He fills all worlds..."

But Isaiah declares, "Only your sins separate you from your G‑d." The reason is that sins oppose the Supreme Will Who gives life to all, as in the verse, "Whatever G‑d wills He did in heaven and earth." (It has been noted above, that the Supreme Will is the source of the benevolence issuing from His Name, the Tetragramma-ton, and is represented in the "thorn" atop the letter yud.)

This is the significance of excision, the consequence of certain grave sins. The "cord," the soul— or as the verse has it— Jacob, drawn from the final hai in G‑d's Name, the Tetragrammaton, is severed, cut off. "That soul shall be cut off from before Me, I am the Lord." The soul is cut off from before Me.

Other sins that do not incur excision do cause at least a defect in the soul, a "defect" being similar to the "defect" or nick that invalidates a blade for ritual slaughter.

Returning to the analogy of the cord— a thick rope woven of 613 thin strands parallels the Scriptual "cord," the downward flow from G‑d mentioned above, comprising 613 mitzvot. When man violates one of them, G‑d forbid, a thin strand is severed ...

But even if one has incurred excision or death, there yet remains an impression within him of his divine soul, and through this he may live until fifty or sixty years and no more. (The statement attributed to the Ari, that the Encompassing enters him ... is irrelevant to the life of the physical body, and applies until fifty years, or to the contemporary period, as will be noted.)

So Kares is the cessation of G-dly light on one's soul. And when one runs out of G-dly light, he dies.

So why are people who are Chayav Kares not passing away at 50 or 60*?

The Alter Rebbe answers in Chapter 6:

אמנם זהו בזמן שהיו ישראל במדרגה עליונה כשהיתה השכינה שורה בישראל בבהמ"ק. ואז לא היו מקבלים חיות לגופם רק ע"י נפש האלקי' לבדה מבחי' פנימי' השפע שמשפיע א"ס ב"ה ע"י שם הוי' ב"ה כנ"ל. אך לאחר שירדו ממדרגתם וגרמו במעשיהם סוד גלות השכינה כמ"ש ובפשעיכם שולחה אמכם דהיינו שירדה השפעת בחי' ה"א תתאה הנ"ל ונשתלשלה ממדרגה למדרגה למטה מטה עד שנתלבשה השפעתה בי"ס דנוגה המשפיעות שפע וחיות ע"י המזלות וכל צבא השמים והשרים שעליהם לכל החי הגשמי שבעוה"ז וגם לכל הצומח כמארז"ל אין לך כל עשב מלמטה שאין לו מזל וכו'. ואזי יכול גם החוטא ופושעי ישראל לקבל חיות לגופם ונפשם הבהמיות כמו שאר בע"ח ממש כמ"ש נמשל כבהמות נדמו.

...

וזהו שאמרו רז"ל אין בידינו לא משלות הרשעים וכו' בידינו דוקא כלומר בזמן הגלות אחר החורבן.

However all this pertained when Israel was on a higher plane, when the Divine Presence dwelt among Israel in the Beit Hamikdash. Then the vitality of the body came only through the divine soul, from the internal of the life-giving power issuing from the Infinite, through the Tetragrammaton, as described above.

But after that they had fallen from their estate, and through their actions caused the mystery of the exile of the Divine Presence. "By your sins was your mother expelled," meaning that the benevolence flowing forth from the latter hai as mentioned descended far down, from plane to plane, until it entered into the Ten Sefirot of nogah. The benevolence and vitality proceed through the hosts of heaven and those charged over them to every living physical being in this world, even to vegetation. "There is no blade of grass that has no spirit above..."

Thus even the sinful and deliberate transgressors of Israel may receive vitality for their bodies and animal souls, exactly as other living beings do, for "They are compared and equal to beasts."

...

Hence the statement, "Not within bur hands is the reason for either the tranquility of the wicked ..."— in our hands, in this time of exile after the destruction. This is the sense of the "Exile of the Shechinah," as it were, His granting benevolent life-force to the chambers of the sitra achra that He despises.

The answer is that nowadays, people can live off the not-holy side, so one who is above 60 and Chayav Kares can live, but from impurity.


* Until that age, one lives off a "battery" of G-dly light, of sorts.

  • This is all true, however, there is no oath that G-d made saying he will impose kares no matter what. As with all punishments in the hands of heaven, it remains in the hands of heaven. One should pray to G-d, and change their ways and give themselves over to G-d's mercy. Sometimes repentance causes the death of such a sinner, sometimes it makes them a different person and the decree no longer applies. – David Kenner May 21 '17 at 21:47
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I asked the Rabbi in question and this is the response he gave: "I am sorry but I really don't remember who I heard it from, but I am pretty sure it was from a reliable source and the idea makes sense that you cannot be mazid if you have no concept of the punishment as opposed to misa and malkos."

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