NOTE: For a PDF copy of this segment, please click here. This will enable you to print out the entire text of the article. [Rev 1]
Key Concepts of Mishlei 11-20 (Justice)
The human hand is a powerful metaphor, for it symbolizes the ability to take action, whether by man or Hashem. Furthermore, the fact that we have two hands suggests the possibility of carrying out conflicting courses of action, doing good while at the same time committing a sin.
The idea of two hands also suggests the interaction of two individuals, one giving and the other receiving. Thus, the expression “hand to hand” can be used to refer to the actions of Hashem applying justice to those who deserve it. A punishment received directlly from “the hand” of Hashem, rather than through intermediaries is likely to be more immediate.
Those hoping to evade such punishment should look to the merit of their righteous forefathers. Depending on the circumstances, Hashem’s appreciation for the righteousness of tzadikim may be great enough to warrant His application of merciful justice, going beyond the letter of the law and granting either complete forgiveness or a delay in punishment. Such a delay gives the individual the opportunity to realize what he is doing wrong and to do teshuvah.
(כא) יָד לְיָד לֹא־יִנָּקֶה רָּע וְזֶרַע צַדִּיקִים נִמְלָט:
(21) [Justice will meted out from] hand to hand, evil will not be exonerated. But the offspring of the righteous may escape.
Here Mishlei contrasts the basic concept of Hashem’s consistent application of justice with the possibility of tempering that justice in consideration of the merit of our forefathers.
(כא) יָד לְיָד לֹא יִנָּקֶה רָּע
וְזֶרַע צַדִּיקִים נִמְלָט:
Justice will meted out directly from the hand of Hashem to the hand of the one who is judged and evil will not be exonerated — יָד לְיָד לֹא־יִנָּקֶה רָּע . But the offspring of the righteous may escape — וְזֶרַע צַדִּיקִים נִמְלָט , if only for a time so that they are given the opportunity to do teshuvah.
A series of insights illuminating this proverb are presented below. The numbers identifying the insights refer to the listing of sources at the end of the segment.
WHEN PUNISHMENT IS DIRECT
(1) The expression “hand to hand” indicates that punishments are applied in proportion to the severity of the sin, measure for measure.
(2) The expression “hand to hand” indicates that a punishment from the hand of Hashem may be direct as well as immediate, so that the rasha is not even given time to regret his crime and do teshuvah.
(3) The expression “hand to hand” suggests the possibility of a person committing a serious sin but hoping to evade punishment by also doing a mitzvah (with the other hand, as it were). However, he will not be exonerated.
(4) The expression “hand to hand” suggests the possibility of a rasha seeking to evade the harshness of justice by moving from place to place. But this won’t save him either.
WHEN PUNISHMENT IS TEMPERED
(5) Under certain circumstances the offspring of tzadikim will be able to avoid a calamity because of the merit of their fathers. Hashem’s appreciation for the devotion of tzadikim is so great that he may go beyond the strict rerquiremernts of the law, sparing not only the tzadik, but his descendants as well.
(6) The merit of ancestors may be sufficient to gain their descendant extra time to do teshuvah and avoid punishment.
The primary sources used for the additional insights illuminating this segment are listed below.
(1) – הגר”א
(2) -רש”י, המאירי, רלב”ג, מצודות, מלבי”ם
(3) -מדרש משלי, שבט מיהודה
(4) – חנוך לנער
(5) – אבן עזרא, רבינו יונה, הגר”א
(6) – המאירי