Did the Earth Miscalculate?

Chizkiyah Hamelech had fallen ill, and Yeshayah Hanavi had come to be mevaker choleh him, with a message from Hashem.

“Instruct your household, for you are dying, and you will not live,” the Navi informed the king, who was one of the most righteous men in all of history.

The word dying was referring to this temporal world, and you will not live to the World to Come.

When the king asked of the Navi why he had deserved such a terrible punishment, Yeshayah answered that it was because he had decided not to marry and perform the mitzvah of piryeh v’rivya.

“This was because I saw with ruach hakodesh that I will have children who will not be virtuous,” Chizkiya explained.

“Why do you concern yourself with the hidden things of Hashem?” the Navi told him. “What you are commanded to do, you must do,” he continued, “and what is good before Hakadosh Baruch Hu, He will do.”

Having learned that he was being punished for his failure to marry, Chizkiya sought to rectify this immediately. He married the daughter of Yeshayah and fully recovered from his illness.

We can’t possibly fathom the lofty levels of a Chizkiyah Hamelech, but the words of Yeshayah taught Klal Yisrael an eternal lesson, one that is applicable in countless situations.

It is often tempting for mortals to try to make cheshbonos, to try to find a clever way around what has been preordained. But in reality, it isn’t for us to be concerned with the hidden things of Hashem.

According to the one explanation, this concept helps explain a seemingly perplexing Chazal that Rashi (1:11) teaches us in this week’s parashah.

Hakadosh Baruch Hu instructed that the flavor of the tree should be like the flavor of the fruit, yet the earth failed to do this, and instead while it produced trees yielding fruit, the trees themselves didn’t have the taste of fruit.

Later, after the sin of the Eitz Hadaas, when Adam Harishon and Chavah were punished for their sin, the earth too was cursed for its actions.

Why indeed didn’t the earth follow the instructions it was given? Humans — who have within them a yetzer hara — have an inclination to sin. To a certain degree, so do animals. But why should the earth — which has no yetzer hara — even think of not fulfilling the Will of Hashem?

The Chizkinu explains that the earth meant well. It reasoned that if the trees would be as tasty as fruits, mankind would cut the trees down for consumption, and there would many fewer trees in the world.

Yet the earth was punished because it should not have made any cheshbonos, and should have left such details up to the Ribbono shel Olam, Who in His infinite might and wisdom would have ensured that sufficient trees would remain in the world.

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In the sefer Oheiv Yisrael, the Apta Rav offers an illuminating explanation for the actions of the earth.

The earth was cognizant of the vital role that Adam Harishon and his descendants — which were the focal point of creation — would play in the future of the world. It knew that if man would stay on the right path, this would spiritually elevate the entire temporal world, but if he wouldn’t, the ramifications of man’s sinning would have a devastating impact on all creation.

Aware that man — who is endowed with an evil inclination — would likely sin, the earth decided to take preemptive action and lay the groundwork for a defense of man. The earth therefore disobeyed the instructions of Hashem, and grew trees that produced fruits — but didn’t themselves taste like fruit.

After the sin of the Eitz Hadaas, man was able to claim that it was the fact that the physical elements of Adam and Chavah came from the earth — a creation that had already disobeyed Hashem’s Will — that caused it to sin. By shifting all the blame to the body, it sought to absolve the soul — and linking it to the misdeed of the earth — it considerably minimized the gravity of the sin and the degree of the punishment it would receive.

Since the intentions of the earth were pure and lofty, it wasn’t punished immediately after it disobeyed the Will of Hashem. Only later, after Adam sinned, was the earth punished. For if Hashem would have seen fit not to punish the earth — it wouldn’t have been apparent that it too had “sinned” — the punishment of man would not have been lessened and the goal sought by earth not accomplished.

So, in order that the desire of the earth be fulfilled, it too was punished — although it meant well, and according to this explanation actually did the right thing after all.