So, I asked him if he'd be willing to start writing a post a week for Emunaroma, and he agreed. Here's his first contribution.
Rav Yehoshua questions this idea. After all, we all have free will. Perhaps all of Am Yisrael won’t choose to make teshuva? Rather, Rav Yehoshua concludes, if Am Yisrael don’t choose from their own free will to make teshuva, G-d will set over them a king whose decrees are worse than Haman, and then they’ll certainly all make teshuva.
Now, there are at least two problems with this piece of Gemara.
Firstly, what does it mean ‘decrees that are worse than Haman’? Haman decreed to kill every Jew in the entire world: man, woman and child. What could possibly be a worse decree than that?
Next problem, let’s say that ok, we’re talking about ‘the same type of decree’. For example, Hitler (yimach shemo) who also decreed something similar on Am Yisrael. But, did we see Am Yisrael rushing to make teshuva when he came along? In fact, we saw almost no teshuva at all at that time (only many years later did the teshuva wave begin, and not as a result of the harsh decrees).
So, this Gemara is problematic. First, how can there be decrees worse than death and, second, we saw that those types of harsh decree didn’t move anyone to make teshuva. So, what is this Gemara coming to teach us?
I think the answer may be as follows.
In the book of Kohelet, King Solomon calls the yetzer hara ‘the Old and Foolish King’. This is the ‘king’ that the Gemara is telling us will rule over Am Yisrael ‘with decrees worse than Haman’. When the yetzer hara takes control, when our own bad middot start to take over, when our own inner critic unleashes torrents of abuse against us, when we have no inner peace and find ourselves full of jealousy, anger, sadness and despair, it can well feel worse than death. Much worse. Death is a one-time deal. Suffering with bad middot and self-persecution is a continuous life-sentence.
When we can no longer ignore our yetzer hara, when we can no longer cover it up with excuses, comfort eating, surfing or shopping, when it gets too loud to ignore any longer, and when we see that the therapy sessions and the pills no longer work, then we’ll have no choice but to turn to the only place we know will fix us, to the only One who has the answer. Then, we’ll return to Hashem.
But, for now, we’ll keep pushing that day away. We’ll keep choosing the easy option. The fat bar of chocolate, the friends on Facebook or the little white pills to make the pain go away. But we’re only forestalling the inevitable, the day when we’re going to have to face our problems face on.
As we get closer to that inevitable day, G-d is turning the heat up. You may notice in yourself, and for sure in those around you, that the yetzer hara seems to be getting louder, more aggressive and less easy to ignore. It’s a good sign, though, it means that day is getting closer.
But, let’s take the hint at this point, and let’s not wait until the Old and Foolish King gets given permission to make those decrees which are far worse than death. Hashem is kind, Hashem is compassionate, but ultimately, Hashem wants us all to make teshuva. He’s told us in advance, so we can’t say we didn’t know.
So let’s grab the white flag and start waving it. No more pretence, no more hiding, no more cover up. It’s time to admit that we’re in trouble, we have strayed far from Hashem and we have no idea how to get back - but He does. And He’s just waiting for us to call out to Him.