Be Careful What You Wish Forby Avi Shinnar
“Tzaddikim say, and Hashem brings to pass.” This famous statement of Chazal is normally taken to be an assertion of the power of Tzaddikim. While this is undoubtedly true, it is also a responsibility imposed upon them. Hashem causes what Tzaddikim say to come true, whether they mean for it to happen or not. Tanach and Chazal provide many examples of Tzaddikim’s words producing unexpected side effects. Of them, three stand out.
In Sefer Bereishit, Yaakov stays and works for Lavan, after which he leaves in stealth. Without his knowledge, Rachel steals Lavan’s תרפים, which most commentaries interpret as idols. Lavan chases after Yaakov and upon catching him accuses Yaakov of stealing his תרפים. Yaakov promises death upon the perpetrator; however Rachel, who stole the תרפים, manages to conceal her deed. Rashi (31:32) comments, “And from the same curse, Rachel died on the way.” Rashi attributes Rachel’s dying during childbirth to Yaakov’s curse. Yaakov clearly did not mean to kill his wife! However, this is the responsibility that Tzaddikim carry. They have to be very careful, as their words may have unintended, adverse consequences.
In Sefer Bemidbar Sinai (26:46), the Chumash uncharacteristically includes a woman, Serach bat Asher, in the genealogical list. Ramban explains that this is because she, like the daughters of צלפחד, had an inheritance in Israel. Rashi, however, quotes a celebrated Midrash that Serach was accidentally granted eternal life. The Midrash says that when Serach told Yaakov that Yosef was still alive, Yaakov disbelievingly gave her a Beracha that if the news was true she would live forever, and she did. While this is not necessarily a harmful result, it was surely unintended, as Yaakov did not believe Serach.
Another example is found in this week’s Parsha. In an effort to part from Esav, Yaakov tells Esav to go ahead, and Yaakov will join him in his land later. Rashi is troubled by this apparent deception of Yaakov and quotes the Midrash, which says that in the times of the Mashiach, Yaakov’s children will have to pass through Seir. This again illustrates the idea that what a Tzaddik promises comes to pass, whether intended or not.
One can see from these examples how careful one has to be with his words. The idea the Gemara expresses of “Tzaddikim say, and Hashem brings to pass” is almost a threat. The equivalent English idiom is “Be careful what you wish for: you might get it.” This, perhaps, is one reason Chazal are so vehemently against oath taking.