In Tzidkat Hatzaddik 43, we see:

Sometimes a person is subjected to such a difficult test that it is impossible that he not sin. As our Sages said [in explaining the sin of the Golden Calf: “This may be compared to a man who had a son. He had him bathed and anointed, he fed him and gave him to drink, he hung a purse around his neck and he put him at the door of a brothel.] What can that son do in order not to sin?” (Berachot 32a).

In such a situation, a person is considered to be completely coerced, in which case the Compassionate One absolves a person. And so too when a person’s [evil] inclination tempts him with incredible, overwhelming force, that is a situation of coercion. If Hashem compels his heart, his sin was no sin whatsoever. Rather, it was God’s will.

See Ketubot 51b describing a case of a [married] woman who is being raped: “Even if, at the end, she cries out that should the rapist stop, she would pay him [to continue, she is not considered to be an adulterer, and] she is permitted to return to her husband. Why? Because her [evil] inclination enveloped her.” Thus, we see that this is considered total coercion although [in the end] she was willing.

Thus, when a person’s [evil] inclination is so great that he cannot overcome it, he is [considered to be] under complete coercion. In that case, there is no punishment for [what he has done], even if he performed a prohibited act, because he was coerced. However, the person himself cannot testify about himself that this is indeed the case, because it is possible that he still had the ability to overcome his [evil] inclination (as I heard [from the Ishbitzer Rebbe] regarding Zimri, who erred in this matter [when he engaged in relations with a Moabite princess]).

(trad. Yaacov David Shulman)

I am confused.

I have several questions, of which the last two are most important to me right now:

1) Is R' Tzadok making a determination that one under the overwhelming influence of the yetzer hara is halachically a shoteh in this instance? If not, what is the practical difference between that and what he is saying?

2) How can the conclusions of this text (such as "his sin was no sin whatsoever. Rather, it was G-d's will") be reconciled with "Hakol b'yedei Shamayim chutz miyirat Shamayim"?

3) Why was Zimri at fault, if the guy at the door to the brothel and the women being raped are totally innocent? (It sounds like the temptation was more or less the same for all of them.)

4) "The person himself cannot testify about himself that this is indeed the case [that he could not stop himself from sinning]." Does this mean that one can never and may never self-assess that one is under coercion [and consequently do some act]?

5) How/why could such a situation of true impossibility ever be, if the reason that we and the yetzer hara exist is so that we can overcome it? What spiritual purpose would be served for G-d (kavyakhol) by creating occasions of an "impossible-to-resist" yetzer hara?


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    This is a fascinating question. All examples seem to point to another person/people (the erev rav, the father, the rapist) completely giving their own yetzer hara, the "sinner" is almost collateral damage. Nov 23, 2018 at 16:20
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    @JoshK Wow, very interesting read!
    – SAH
    Nov 23, 2018 at 16:39
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    The mentioned Izhbitzer is an incredible exposition of the Zimri episode in his Mei Ha’Shiloach. (Generally speaking the way I personally perceive these novel interpretations is that they’re typically part of more distinct, elaborate philo-theosophical ideologies not easily answered by unoriginal pilpulistic (drush) acrobatics. IOW, you’d need a fuller expose of R. Tzadok’s thought which is way beyond this [unintended] comment.)
    – Oliver
    Nov 23, 2018 at 17:46
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    Closely related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/31616/170
    – msh210
    Nov 24, 2018 at 17:11
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    Re question 2, the Ishbitzer believed that from a deeper perspective, hakol bidei shamayim ve-af yirat shamayim. sefaria.org/…
    – Joel K
    Nov 25, 2018 at 10:36

1 Answer 1


1.) Yes. Similarly see Talmud Sotah 3a: "No one sins unless a spirit of insanity enters them."

2.) Your level of Yiras Shomayim is subject to how much you work on it. It is also not limited by heaven; whereas your physical height or your IQ etc. are given by Hashem at birth etc.

However, Hashem, for whatever reason He sees fit, could override your current level of fear of sin by coercing you anyway. This doesn't change your level, but temporarily overrides it.

3) and 4) are tied together. :

If I make a vow to go on a special diet for 2 months so I can lose 20 pounds, then I may not sin by breaking my vow.

However, Hashgachah Pratis!! I happened to be driving my car past my favorite bakery and in the window was my favorite Napoleans and Eclaire pastries!

My Yetzer Hara was talking to me....

Hashgachah Pratis!!! There is usually never a parking space right in front of this busy bakery! Suddenly, the clouds parted, the rain stopped, the sun shined through... and there before my eyes was an empty parking spot in front of the bakery calling to me.

I parked and bought the cakes because I couldn't help myself. I am not at fault, for my Father put a credit card around my neck and placed me in free parking by the door to the bakery.

I know it was orchestrated by Hashem Himself as a true miracle (proving my coercion) because I had circled the bakery 10 times for over a half hour first; and according to Teva (nature) it was impossible to find an empty space! So it must have been a miracle....

SO If a person suddenly finds themselves faced by a challenge (like the boy delivered to the door of the brothel, or the woman one moment after being raped etc.) then they might be under such strong feelings, that it is called coercion.

If however, you circle the bakery ten times, when your inclination was not overwhelming yet, and then park and put yourself in front of the window, then that's not coercion from heaven. That's the person coercing themselves.

Zimri was not in the midst of war and suddenly faced with Kozbi in the bedroom of an abandoned enemy base camp. He was hearing reports of the Midianite women seducing a few men. Then he heard they were beautiful and willing...then he investigated, then he started working on legal arguments, then he met Kozbi etc.

Somewhere along the line, he was given the chance to listen to the good side before things got out of hand.

you also cannot say he was coerced at the moment he sinned, because at that point he already convinced himself he was legally entitled to do it.

As to a person trying to claim they know when they are coerced so let them just give in? No that would be wrong.

It is an example of a catch-22. If you are feeling emotionally forced to sin, to the extent of insanity, then you will probably sin; and do so without sitting and making reasoned decisions about it.

If you are under your own control enough to sit and talk to yourself about how you must be feeling pretty coerced about doing this sin, then you are not fully insane at that point. You still have access to reason. So, you cannot honestly declare yourself to be insane and hence issue a permission to yourself.

It would be like a man thinking about the kind of woman that would absolutely overwhelm his desires. Once he has "her" in mind, he says: If I met her, I wouldn't be able to control myself...therefore, its a sin that has no punishment or liability since I cannot overcome it. So...for me its allowed.

Then based on that premise, he makes a few phone calls to local brothels, asking if such a woman exists in their employ? Low and behold, there is such a woman. He runs down there (being coerced :) ) and finds her, declaring that he is about to do something which is totally allowed due to Heaven having coerced him.

Nope, it is not considered coercion, since he built the whole inclination himself!

5) There could be many reasons why Hashem would bring someone to fall into a sin.

One example is given in Talmud Sanhedrin, 107a regarding David and Bathsheva.

King David asked Hashem why people don't pray with his (David's) name, like they do with Abraham, Issac, and jacob?

Hashem answered that they were tested but you were not.

David asked: "Test me!"

Hashem tested him with the sin of a married woman, and David did not overcome it.

Sometimes we need to experience something to learn the lesson in life. Hashem telling us is just not good enough for some of us. We have to taste it for ourselves.

Sometimes, if we are too smug or arrogant in our assessment of our own character, Hashem puts us into a situation that reminds us we can sin. So, we should never ask to be tested. But if we do judge others or assume we can pass a test, then failing the test helps us to be humble afterwards; and to learn that overcoming a particular sin takes more than just immature confidence.

  • 1
    Nice job. Do you want to add in Chazals reason for David - to teach a lesson on teshuvah
    – LN6595
    Nov 25, 2018 at 23:41

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