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The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 14:6) expounds the Pesukim in Koheles (8:2-3):

Based on several incidents, the Midrash interprets "ani" as indicating that one's awe should be over you. Thus, "Ani, the king's command, obey" means "obey the king's command to fear him." I.e. don't rebel against him.

You might think this is true even if he says to disobey the Torah; therefore the passuk continues, "and above, the word of an oath of G-d." Just like one may not obey his parents if they tell him to disobey the Torah (specifically Shabbos is the example brought), so may one not obey a king if he tells him to disobey the Torah. Fine.

The Midrash continues: "Do not become flustered by his countenance and go" - even if he becomes angry with you, do not sin. It brings a proof that "countenance" indicates anger from a passuk in Daniel and that "going" means sinning from a passuk in Tehillim. "Do not stand because of an evil thing" - do not sin because of his threats. In the Midrash's wording, "that you should not be scared by his evil thing he says to you, that he'll burn you, that he'll kill you, that he'll torture you if you don't listen to him."

Yet, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) says that, typically speaking, one does not have to give up his life to fulfill mitzvos. So how can the Midrash say that one should not listen to the king's decree even on pain of death? From the comparison to parents ordering their children to disobey Shabbos, it sounds like that is the case of the king as well - ordering his subjects to disobey the "lighter" mitzvos. How can this be, when we have a rule that one shouldn't give up his life in such circumstances?

Granted, the above Gemara also says that in a time of persecution (read: they want you to denounce Judaism), one should be killed even for a well-rooted minhag such as the order of tying one's shoes (see Rashi there). The discussion of a king being upset with his subject would seem to indicate that he simply wants him to violate the Torah, not that he wants him to give up Yiddishkeit. Must we deduce that a king's order is comparable to a time of persecution, and if so, why?

  • First of all, there is not much reason for this Midrash to have been influenced by Rambam, so his view is not too relevant in this regard. More significantly, I don't see any evidence that the Midrash is referring to non-cardinal sins. Although perhaps the absence of explicit mention of cardinal sins, is more indicative of a "pious" martyr embracing Ashkenazi culture. Regardless, Midrashim frequently contradict each other, the Talmud etc. so what exactly is the question? – mevaqesh Jun 2 '17 at 5:01
  • @mevaqesh Fine. Took out the Rambam. As for your main point, the Midrash doesn't specify which sins it's referring to and would seem to imply that it doesn't matter. From the comparison to Shabbos especially it seems like even if it's a "lighter" mitzvah. And midrashim and Gemaras argue all the time in agadeta. This is a machlokes in Halacha. Must we say that it indeed is a machlokes? – DonielF Jun 2 '17 at 15:37
  • On the contrary, in the case of that parents, it specifies that even a non cardinal sin is included, no inference is to be drawn about a general threat. Imho. That being said, there are two options, say this midrash disagrees, which happens all the time even in halakha, and would be unsurprising given the Ashkenazi tendency towards martyrdom even in highly dubious cases, or one could say the midrash is talking about cardinal sins. These are the two possible answers. I've l one "need" not say either one in particular... – mevaqesh Jun 2 '17 at 15:47
  • @mevaqesh The Midrash explicitly compares the parents to the king. You can't argue with that. That alone should be enough to negate your second answer. As for your first, where else do Midrashim argue on Gemaras regarding Halacha? – DonielF Jun 2 '17 at 15:50
  • They are related in that for both God is a higher priority. Not necessarily that they are halakhically identical; this is an aggadic Midrash drawing a thematic parallel - not ah a halakhic code. All over. I don't know why you think they wouldn't. Some midrashim precede the gemara assume are contemporaneous and some post date it. That alone should suffice to give reason that there would not be a universal rule of agreement with gemara throughout the midrashim. – mevaqesh Jun 2 '17 at 15:56

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