The human hand is a powerful metaphor, for it symbolizes the ability to take action, whether by man or Hashem. When two hands are involved, we can visualize an agreement between two parties, a handshake to confirm a deal. Thus, the covenant between Hashem and Yisrael can be understood as a commitment by the two parties.
The idea of two hands also suggests the interaction of two individuals, one giving and the other receiving. The hand that is giving can then be understand as the hand of Hashem meting out justice to Yisrael, as a consequence of their failure to keep their commitment in full. The other hand then symbolizes Yisrael receiving its judgment.
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.
Strict justice will meted out directly
from the hand of Hashem to the hand of Yisrael. — יָד לְיָד
evil will not be exonerated. — לֹא־יִנָּקֶה רָּע
But the offspring of the righteous — וְזֶרַע צַדִּיקִים
may be allowed to escape — נִמְלָט
in the merit of the righteousness of their ancestors.
WHEN PUNISHMENT IS DIRECT
(1) The expression “hand to hand” indicates that punishment is applied in proportion to the severity of the sin, measure for measure. (הגר”א)
(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. (רש”י, המאירי, רלב”ג, מצודות, מלבי”ם)
(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. (מדרש משלי, שבט מיהודה)
(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. (חנוך לנער)
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. (אבן עזרא, רבינו יונה, הגר”א)
(6) The merit of ancestors may be sufficient to gain their descendant extra time to do teshuvah and avoid punishment. (המאירי)
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