Who's WE, White Man?


In your weekly Chumash class, you raised the following question: If Hashem only sends one mal'och per task (see Rashi on Bereishis 18:2), why did the angels tell Lot that "we" are destroying this area (Bereishis 19:13)?

In response to your question about "mashchisim anachnu" (in the plural), you mentioned an opinion that the mal'och who saved Lot also contributed to the destruction of Sedom by removing the tzaddik from the area, thus taking away its remaining support. I believe you quoted the Ran. Can you confirm this and give me the source? I was thinking along the same lines.


The response was based on the Malbim's commentary at the end of 19:13. The Malbim explains the use of the plural form mashchisim, even though only one mal'och was charged with the destruction of Sedom, based on a principle that he got from the Ran: that making a process possible by removing an impediment is equivalent to activating the process.

I think he is referring to a statement by the Ran in Derush Shelishi (pp. 40-41 in the Feldman edition). The context is an analysis of the pasuk "Who gave man a mouth? Who makes a person dumb or deaf?" (Shemos 4:11).[1] The Ran focuses on the word yasum ("makes"). Is that word appropriate for the lack of the power of human speech? No one is born able to speak. Speech is a gift bestowed and a skill learned. The inability to speak does not require an action. You can say I taught you how to write or I made you a writer, but I cannot have made you illiterate. The same goes for speech. The answer the Ran offers is that when a person is unable to speak, it is because this ability is being purposely withheld. Placing an impediment in front of a process, thereby preventing its proper development, can be termed an act. Similarly, removing the impediment and allowing the process to continue is also an act.

For example, there is a pasuk that speaks of the creation of darkness.[2] Darkness is the absence of light and, technically, not a creation. Still, when we turn off a light we say we made the room dark. The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim uses this analogy to explain the pasuk "Who makes a person dumb?"[3]

The Maharal in Gur Aryeh[4] explains the plural form of mashchisim just as the Malbim does, although he makes no mention of the Ran.

This concept can be validated based on halacha. The Chazon Ish forbids opening a curtain during Shevi'is if one's intention is to allow sunlight to reach an indoor plant. That would be considered an act of zorei'a, even though no action is performed on the plant or on the source of light (the sun). The plant receives the necessary energy to grow by the removal of a partition between it and the sun.

Rav Zvi Pesach Frank rules the same way regarding Shabbos.[5] One is forbidden to purposely open window shades in order to allow light to enter so that indoor plants will grow.[6]

To support his opinion Rav Frank cites the prohibition in the Gemara on opening a door that will allow a strong wind to enter and put out a flame.[7]

In all these cases, the principle attributed to the Ran is being used. A melacha for Shabbos and Shevi'is needs to be classified as an action; a gerama – causing the melacha to happen – is not sufficient. Nevertheless, removing an impediment that blocks a process is tantamount to actively making the process take place. It is considered a maaseh and not a gerama.[8]

The Malbim noticed this important principle in the Torah's use of the plural mashchisim. The mal'och who took Lot out of Sedom participated actively in its destruction by removing the person who was preventing the force of destruction from consuming the city.

Perhaps that is why the plural form is used in the present tense. Only when the destruction is in progress and is blocked by an impediment is removal of the impediment akin to an action. If the angel of destruction had spoken in the future tense, saying that he was going to destroy the city, the angel removing Lot would not have been considered an active participant.

Hopefully, the moral message concerning accountability for our actions, no matter how insignificant they may seem in our eyes, will not escape our notice.

BookID: 5 Chapter: 19

[1] מי שָם פה לאדם או מי יָשוּם אלם או חרש או פקח או עור, הלא אנכי ד'.

[2] יוצר אור ובורא חשך (ישעיהו מה:ז).

[3] מו''נ ח''ג פ''י.

[4] וירא (י''ח:ב) על רד''ה והנה שלשה אנשים בסד''ה כי לא אוכל. וז''ל מה שכתוב כי משחיתים אנחנו לפי שע''י המלאך המציל את לוט היה יכול המלאך המהפך להפוך, לכן כתיב כי משחיתים אנחנו עכ''ל.

[5] בשו''ת הר צבי או''ח סימן קל''ג כתב דאם עומדים השתילים סמוך לחלון חייב על זורע בשבת דהסרת מונע הוי מעשה.

[6] שמעתי ממו''ר הרב ז''נ גולדברג שליט''א ששמע מחמיו הרשז''א זצ''ל, דאף לדעת הרב צבי פסח פרנק זצ''ל כשאדם פותח וילון המכנסת אור לצמחים אבל אינו מתכוין לכך כלל, לא שייך לאסור מטעם פס''ר ושרי, דאין ע''ז שם מעשה זריעה כלל. וכמדומה הדברים כבר נדפסו על ידי הרב אויערבאך או בשמו.

[7] הר צבי הנ''ל. ועיין מנחת שלמה ח''א סימן י' אות ח' דהביא ראיה משבת קכ: שאסור לפתוח דלת כנגד המדורה בשעה שיש רוח מצויה גזירה אטו רוח שאינה מצויה. ומשמע שאם עושה כן בשעה שיש רוח שאינה מצויה הרי היא מלאכה גמורה מדאורייתא. ואין שום סברא לחלק בין פתיחת הדלת בפני רוח לבין פתיחת גג לחדירת קרני שמש עכת''ד. במקום אחר במנחת שלמה משמע דסובר לדינא דליכא איסור תורה לפתוח הגג בפני קרני שמש אף אם כוונתו לכך, וצ''ע בשיטתו למעשה.

[8] If one puts barrels of water around a fire, when the fire reaches the barrels and is extinguished, the person has only enabled the fire to go out (gerama). This is because no force that could have put out the fire was active at the time the barrels were placed there.

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