Friday, March 31, 2006

Does my Prayer help another ? - Empirical Evidence.

From The New York Times today:

Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found.

And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested.

Because it is the most scientifically rigorous investigation of whether prayer can heal illness, the study, begun almost a decade ago and involving more than 1,800 patients, has for years been the subject of speculation.

The question has been a contentious one among researchers. Proponents have argued that prayer is perhaps the most deeply human response to disease, and that it may relieve suffering by some mechanism that is not yet understood. Skeptics have contended that studying prayer is a waste of money and that it presupposes supernatural intervention, putting it by definition beyond the reach of science.

At least 10 studies of the effects of prayer have been carried out in the last six years, with mixed results. The new study was intended to overcome flaws in the earlier investigations. The report was scheduled to appear in The American Heart Journal next week, but the journal's publisher released it online yesterday.

In a hurriedly convened news conference, the study's authors, led by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston, said that the findings were not the last word on the effects of so-called intercessory prayer. But the results, they said, raised questions about how and whether patients should be told that prayers were being offered for them.

"One conclusion from this is that the role of awareness of prayer should be studied further," said Dr. Charles Bethea, a cardiologist at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City and a co-author of the study.

Other experts said the study underscored the question of whether prayer was an appropriate subject for scientific study.

And further on in the article:

Dean Marek, a chaplain at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a co-author of the report, said the study said nothing about the power of personal prayer or about prayers for family members and friends.

How does Judaism look at it? After all "Shehem Mishtachavim Lahevel Varik Umispallelim el El lo Yoshia" (although with Islam especially and Christianity according to the Ba'alei Hatosafos - here Meiri agrees with them - they are not considered idolaters) :

Meiri in his Chibur Hateshuvah addresses this issue (page 502) and basically questions how would prayer by one person help another. See my post on this issue here
and here

Good Shabbos.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Great post on Kabbalah and practice.

On the Main Line has a nice post here about practice and Kabbalah.

I am much more sanguine than he is but it is a good start.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Why GH and I care how God is perceived?

Why is it so important to have a proper apprehension of God? Just believe that there is a God and who cares if He is a body or is not, has emotions or does not, has attributes or does not? Here is Rambam in 3:51:

Those, however, who think of God, and frequently mention His name, without any correct notion of Him, but merely following some imagination, or some theory received from another person, are, in my opinion, like those who remain outside the palace and distant from it. They do not mention the name of God in truth, nor do they reflect on it. That which they imagine and mention does not correspond to any being in existence: it is a thing invented by their imagination, as has been shown by us in our discussion on the Divine Attributes (Part 1. chap. 1.). The true worship of God is only possible when correct notions of Him have previously been conceived.

GH has posted that God does not exist in the sense the word “exist” is understood. He is correct and any one who disagrees with him is one of those Rambam refers to in the above quote. It is not only Rambam who believes so but every single Rishon does from R.Saadya Gaon to Kuzari, Ramban, and down to all the Mekubalim.

Rambam insists that even children have to be dissuaded from attributing any physicality or action to God, which includes comparing His existence to our see Moreh 1:35 and my post "Can we "know" that God exists? - Definitions" . The argument among the Rishonim is only to what degree is the transgression that one commits when one does attribute such to God. Rambam considers such a person a Min while Ravad does not. That it is erroneous, no one argues.

Where Rambam allows room to wiggle, where he allows for unsophisticated people to remain with an erroneous notion is when discussing God’s attributes, His creations, providence and how He runs His world, His will and knowledge. He does not say that anyone thinking differently in those areas is right, because Rambam does not doubt for a second that his understanding in those areas is correct, he just allows for deviant ideas and does not instruct us to change them in others. But when it comes to the basics, God’s corporeality and existence, he insists that any deviation be corrected. No wonder GH is a Godol!

Mysticism in Judaism - why I cannot accept it.

Chardal has been putting forth his arguments for a mystical understanding of Judaism on his blog and disagreed with my earlier post where I described the two Theologies of the Rishonim and openly sided with the rational approach.

His arguments are not new and it might work for some especially his brand of rational mysticism. I personally cannot deal with it. I find it to be a fantasy. I tried working with it in my younger years and read Ramban, Rabbeinu Bachya (which I periodically do just to better understand the rationalist schools when contrasted with it), Rav Tzodok, Maharal, and Sifrei Chassidus such as Sfas Emes, Shem Mishmuel, Tanya and Torah Ohr and ended up with nothing. It is only when I turned to Rambam and his school that Judaism took in me. I cannot live with anything but "Ein lo ledayan ela mah sheinav ro'ot". I have read Rav Kook perfunctorily as I come from a Chareidi background, right wing Yeshivos are my foundation, and by the time I got around to it I was already elsewhere. I am planning to go back to Rav Kook because I suspect he is trying to bridge the two worlds.

Regarding miracles Chardal commented: What is the contradiction between science and miracles? They are by definition out of the realm of science. Rav Kook advocated the stance that Chazal relied on the science of their time (I believe that Rav Dessler did so as well) while not closing the door for genuine miracles to occur.

I do not believe that HKBH ever changes nature. Not that He cannot but He does not. The world and its progression are from His perspective always in His timeless present. He is perfect by definition, so adjustments, which miracles are, reacting to unforeseen circumstances, would indicate imperfection. All "miracles" are in reality natural occurrences that are very rare, and are therefore seen as such. The time the "miracles" occur has been preset at Creation, and it is man's job to know about them and take advantage of them just like any other scientific discovery. Kriyas Yam Suf was a natural event that Moshe knew how to take advantage of.

The minute you bring miracles into play, where nature is changed, you deny all science. Science is based on empirical observation and if a phenomena, rare as it is, occurs it must be taken into account and a theory adjusted to explain it. Mysticism kills that ability, and therefore discourages science. It denies the reality of our world. The idea makes me schizophrenic and leaves me cold to such a religion

Religion is how we view our world and bring HKBH into it from our perspective. It is like science, an empirical endeavor. We take a fact and try to fit into the theory that HKBH created the world. We adjust the theory to fit the fact and not the other way round. That intellectual effort is the greatest Avodah a man can do. He looks for HKBH’s traces in the Briah - Creation.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Science, Torah and Religion - Two Theologies- only one for our times.

My friend Rabbi Ben Zion Buchman in an article in Hakirah wrote that Ramban and the Rishonim that believed in a more spiritual explanation to our physical world, based their position on their understanding of science in their times. Ramban disagreed with Rambam’s assessment that magic was bunk as was astrology; because he asked how else explain why a magnet attracts metal. It must be a spiritual force! RBB makes a very cogent argument that had Ramban lived in our times he would surely agree with Rambam and disavow magic and spirituality. (I am paraphrasing and it is worth reading that article as it has tremendous impact on our current theology).

Ramban and the thinkers who followed his approach, for reasons that are not for this post, have over time become the mainstream Jewish theology and influenced thinkers through the ages such as Arizal, Remak, Maharal, Ba’al Shem Tov and the Chasidic movement as well as the Gra and his followers. This continues through our times with Rav Dessler and many of the Mashgichim and thinkers in the Yeshivish and Chassidish world including many “Modern Orthodox”. They have therefore continued with their “spiritual” understanding of things and consequently accept Ramban’s understanding that the world is to be viewed as a miracle in progress. Every natural event is miraculous, under God’s immediate control and input, hidden from view until a rare event happens. The impact on religious thought is enormous as it encourages its supporters to accept Pessukim and Chazal literally. There is no impetus to interpret as everything can be explained away with a miracle. It also has unfortunately brought about a Judaism that is racked with superstition and Emunos Tefeilos (red bendlech, miraculous mekubalim etc…).When confronted with overwhelming scientific and other empirical evidence that undermines their argument, proponents of this approach resort to all kinds of difficult explanations, such as ID, the Gosse theory et al. arguments that GH and others have railed against. Judaism has become the religion of the simple and uneducated or the schizophrenic.

Fortunately there is an alternative way of seeing Judaism which has been ignored by many. It was accepted by the best and brightest in all our past generations but ignored by the masses and their heroes. There was no compelling reason, at the time, for the enlightened thinkers to shake up the beliefs of the masses as their belief, erroneous as it was, did not lead to anything worse than some occasional quirky behavior. The people were not so well educated in worldly matters nor were they confronted by modernity. They lived a secluded life ( which BTW is trying to be maintained in contemporary society by Yeshivot and Chassidim alike) and were not bothered by the advances of science other than how it impacted their health.( For a thorough analysis of past and present orthodox society see Prof Haym Soloveitchik’s seminal Rupture and Reconstruction here: )We live in a different world today and the approach of Rambam must be promoted, taught and developed if we want to retain our religion in the face of reality.

Rambam’s approach is that religion does not create science. It is man’s obligation to understand the world he lives in and tame it. Religion takes science at face value and interprets what it sees from a religious perspective. Rambam did so with the philosophy and science of his time, we have to do the same in our time. Rambam did not write a book of apologetics, the Moreh. That argument is false and is shown to be by the great R. Meir Simcha of Ohr Sameach fame and R. Yosef Rozen the Rogatschover. Rambam after all, legislated the philosophies he lays out in the Moreh. One only has to go through the Yad in Hilchos Deos, Yesodei Hatorah, Avoda Zara, Teshuva, Melochim and interspersed among the other books such as the end of Hilchos Me’ilah. and many other places, and find these ideas expounded sometimes subtly at others less so. Science is part of the Torah inasmuch as it is the material that the Torah wants us to know and interpret in such a way that it becomes our conduit to God. Science is not the enemy – science is our only way to get close to God. We must change our way of thinking and see how this is the way to God and to maintain our position of “Am novon vechochom hagoy hagodol hazeh” – this great nation is composed of wise men.(devarim 4:6)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Can we "know" that God exists? - Definitions.

The mitzvah of Yedias Hashem requires that a person use his rational faculty and accept through it that God exists. That is what the word Yediah – knowledge means. To do that we have to first develop a basic concept of what God is. Here is Rambam in Moreh 1:35

For in the same way as all people must be informed, and even children must be trained in the belief that God is One, and that none besides Him is to be worshipped, so must all be taught by simple authority that God is incorporeal; that there is no similarity in any way whatsoever between Him and His creatures: that His existence is not like the existence of His creatures, His life not like that of any living being, His wisdom not like the wisdom of the wisest of men;

(Even children must be indoctrinated that God is different in all senses and that even the word “existence” as applied to Him is different!)
Rambam further on finishes:

Anything predicated of God is totally different from our attributes; no definition can comprehend both; therefore His existence and that of any other being totally differ from each other, and the term existence is applied to both homonymously, as I shall explain. This suffices for the guidance of children and of ordinary persons who must believe that there is a Being existing, perfect, incorporeal, not inherent in a body as a force in it-God, who is above all kinds of deficiency, above all affections.

Rambam tells us that even the simple need to be taught that God is different. When they grow up and the simple become wiser and want to “know” God, they will have an idea of what they are trying to understand. Unfortunately, because of reasons that I do not want to go into here, we have not lived up to Rambam’s expectations of how God should be represented in the general population’s imaginings. A pious Jew is considered more religious if he believes in a God that “exists” in a way that He can be pointed out, “felt”, intuited etc… When that Jew is confronted with the need to prove the God that is a figment of his imagination, he is unable to do so. He must resort to “faith” or some other stratagem. He has to allegorize “Yediah”. That is why Rambam insists that the correct image of God needs to be developed in the mind of children and the simple.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Faith is NOT wishful thinking - It is knowledge based.

GH has been discussing faith here and at other times in the past. The word he refers to in Hebrew is commonly known as Emunah and the assumption is that it is a blind acceptance of something that is not necessarily always rational or can even be understood. It is something similar to saying “I have faith in Jesus Christ and therefore I am saved”. Again we find an infiltration of a foreign idea into Judaism that is completely erroneous. There are two ways that one can be a Maamin- and they are usually sequential. First one believes because he was taught to believe in certain things by his parents or rebbis without really understanding why that is so. It is an unsophisticated belief which is based on trust – that is what we call Emunah Peshutah - simple faith. As one grows, not only chronologically but also intellectually and develops a critical sense, a person is expected to question and understand that belief rationally. Rambam starts Mishne Torah, Yesod Hayesodos veamud hachochmos leidah sheyesh shom … The key word is Leidah – to know that there is a God not Leha’amin” to believe. A Jew is supposed to work hard and acquire the knowledge that will allow him to know that there is a God. Not only that, but a Jew has to work hard at developing a correct understanding of what God is. That process will end with Ahavas hashem – as Rambam says in Hil Teshuvah – Veal pi hadeah al pi ha’ahavah im me’at me’at veim harbeh harbeh – Love is commensurate with knowledge.

The idea that there is a God is based on realizing that there is a First Cause. There has to be an “entity” that is hierarchically, if not in time, the First Cause of the first physical entity. Rambam understands that when the Rabbis say that Anochi and Lo Yh’yeh lecha – the first two commandments of the ten, that there is a God and that He is unique, are “mipi hagevurah” means they are known through rational analysis – Gevuras hasechel. Revelation is NOT the basis for these two beliefs. Har Sinai is only the basis for the belief that God “interacts” with man or to be more exact man can find and “hear” God.

The next important step is to try to develop a proper notion in one’s mind of what God is. The reason that so many are skeptical of God’s existence is because they develop an incorrect idea of what God is. Developing the proper notion about God is a lifetime process and the purpose of the Torah and the Mitzvos. It is through study and practice that man develops his intellect and his personal characteristics to apprehend these concepts about God.

I know that some will come back and say you are describing the God of the philosophers, religion believes in a personal God. True, but it is man that makes God personal not the other way around. Many people stay with Emunah Peshutah and personalize God in a simplistic fashion. That is fine from a Jewish continuity point of view but they did not fulfill the Mitzvah of Yedias Hashem “Leidah sheyesh shom…” If they have the potential to know they have not fulfilled their potential to grow intellectually. The Torah expects us to personalize God by making Him part of us constantly by thinking about Him and “seeing” Him in all our endeavors. But it has to be the correct notion of God otherwise we are worshipping a figment of our imagination or worse an idol, a false god.

A gutte Voch!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Textual Analysis of Gemara - Truth and Consequences

In an article I mentioned earlier byR. Neria Guttel in BDD #15, titled “Layers” in Revadim, discusses the Research Approach versus Yeshiva Approach in learning. He presents the issue from three different perspectives, Truth, Pedagogical and Educational.

From the perspective of Truth, which this post will limit itself to, RNG states that there is no question that the Gemara is layered with different strata, Amoraim, Stamaim and Sevoraim. He however tries to show that the great scholars of the past were aware of the layers and consequently that there are alternative understandings to the Gemara’s when explaining quotations from earlier generations. Rambam in Pirush Hamishna Zavim 4:6 notes a Sevorai interpolation, as does the Ritva in many places. Tosafos Yom Tov in Nazir 5:5 notes that Rambam learns a Mishna differently then the Gemara does, however only when it does not impinge on Halacha. The Gra was also reputed to learn Mishnayos with a different understanding then the Gemara. Gra also was reputed saying that “Chasira Mechsera” is an alternative explanation to the Gemara’s traditional understanding. RNG goes on listing others, Ramban, Rashbam, Netziv etc… concluding that there was a clear understanding among the great Gemara scholars that it is layered and one can interpret differently.

RNG points out that to go from scattered examples to a new theory in the composition of the Gemara is a long way. (Here Halivni I think has shown that it is more than scattered examples). But ultimately he admits that truth be said there is no question that there are “layers” in the Gemara and it was accepted by Rishonim and Acharonim.

(Most of the quotes from Rishonim and Acharonim, as far as I can ascertain, deal mainly with alternative explanations to Mishnayos rather then later Amoraim versus earlier ones. It is not clear that, other then the few notes in Rishonim about interpolations of Sevorai and R.Yehuda Gaon, they accepted alternatives to Amoraitic understanding of their predecessors. It is one thing to disagree on a reading of a ruling Mishna style, another disagreeing on a discussion Gemara style; unless one accepts Halivni’s conjecture that Gemara consisted of rulings rather than dialogue. I am not an expert in this area, but it would seem to me that RNG, confronted with reality, is making a big effort trying to lessen the novelty in the approach).

RNG points out that to go from scattered examples to a new theory in the composition of the Gemara is a long way. (Here Halivni I think has shown that it is more than just scattered examples). But ultimately he admits that truth be said there is no question that there are “layers” in the Gemara and it was accepted by Rishonim and Acharonim.

RNG points out further that from a practical point, the alternative explanations are only alternatives and cannot be seen as the only truth. There is no basis to accept them rather then the Gemara’s or the Stamaim’s understanding. Arguments like “simpler”, “easier” etc… do not necessarily make the suggestion correct. The alternative approaches can therefore have no impact on Halachik rulings and can only be seen as “personal” explanations. (Interestingly RNG does point out that alternative readings in Gemarot suggested by Acharonim did affect Halacha. I think Prof Marc Shapiro in his book on RYY Weinberg reports a query to R. S. Lieberman regarding a reading in a Tosefta to help in a decision relating to an Agunah.) RNG quotes R. S. Lieberman in Tosefta Kefshuta where he cautions in seeing the “Layers” approach as a panacea and answer to all textual difficulties. RNG however concludes that the Gemara is layered is a fact.

In my opinion we are witnessing a major revolution in learning which will eventually affect Halacha. RMS in Meshech Chochma in Bechukosai points out that with the lack of Sanhedrin and the introduction of novel Halachik rulings, learning can become static. There is a limit to how much one can do with a sealed system. This new approach has broken the seals and opened up a channel of study that can go a long way in making learning more innovative. Perhaps it is a way of preparing tools for the Sanhedrin to use in their deliberations when they are reinstituted, hopefully in our times. (I am too realistic to believe we can bridge our differences in such a short time, but one can hope).

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Rav Ovadya Yosef - Review of a biography - Part 1. Early years.

I finished reading a few weeks ago a book by R.Benny Lau titled Mimaran ad Maran – (from R. Yosef Karo to R. Ovadiah Yosef both titled Maran) an analysis of R.Ovadyah Yosef thinking and his approach to Psak. I picked it up at Beit Morasha in December during my visit to Jerusalem, where I went for an advertised lecture by Prof. Halivni who, to my great disappointment, had to cancel because of an emergency. R.Lau, a nephew of the Ashkenazi ex-Chief Rabbi did his Phd dissertation on ROY and was welcomed into his inner circles with access to many of his unpublished writings.

The first part of the book deals with ROY life story which is fascinating. He was born in Baghdad in 1920 to a silversmith and came to Jerusalem when he was four. He was a prolific writer from tender youth, having written his first comments in the Reishis Chochma which he received at the age of 9 as a present for repeating 5 masechtot mishnayos and 4 prakim gemara by heart. At 12 he wrote his first book, a collection of puzzles and their solution. He also wrote a small booklet of stories where he first coined the name of one of his later famous She’elot Uteshuvot Yabia Omer – Yabia being the acronym Ovadiah Yosef ben Yakov backwards. At 12 he also joined the Yeshiva Porat Yosef where he met Rav Ben Zion Aba Shaul Z’L , another Posek to be. They remained friends for life and were very much involved with each other. He became famous for his diligence and brilliance and got to know many of the Jerusalem greats of the time, Rav Uziel, R.Z.P.Frank, R.Zevin et al.

At an early age he developed his unique way of thinking regarding Halacha. He believed that The Beis Yosef was the Godol of the Middle East, and his authority is binding to this day on all Sefardi communities. He therefore felt that the erosion of BY rulings in Shulchan Aruch over time with the influence of Remah and other Ashkenazi Possekim had to be reversed. He took on at an early age the Ben Ish Chai, which was a daring and controversial move. Ben Ish Chai was Rav Yosef Chaim (1835 – 1909), Rav of Baghdad, and was considered the Posek of his generation, a great Gaon and Mekubal, who had a tendency to adopt the Remah’s stringencies. R.Ezra Attia, the Rosh Yeshiva of Porat Yosef, supported him in his position which eventually became a lifelong campaign.

In 1940, at the age of 20, he was already corresponding with the Sefardi Gedolim of his day, disagreeing and challenging them wherever they strayed from the Shulchan Aruch. He also developed a friendship and dialogue with Harav Eliezer Waldenberg and began a long and fruitful interchange of correspondence with many heated discussions where they differed in their rulings. In 1948 he became Rav of Cairo, Egypt, where he had his first real opportunity for leadership. It was a tough time for the community as it was the early years of Medinat Israel and Egyptian Jewry was in its last years. It is there that he started editing and preparing for publication his SHUT Yabia Omer.

More on a coming post.

Professor Halivni and the Sealing of the Gemara - a new chronology

In Sidra #20, Professor Halivni just published a very interesting article proposing a new theory for the date when the Gemara was published in its present form. It is a summary of Halivni’s lifetime study of the Gemara, deconstructing it into its different layers. The article directly confronts the traditional theory proposed by R.Y.E.Halevi in Dorot Harishonim, which bases itself on the Iggeres Rav Shrira Gaon, the Seder Tanaim Veamoraim, Sefer Hakaballah by Ravad (the first) and other accepted sources.

Prof. Halivni suggested about 30 years ago that the “Stamaim” are the ones who wrote the discussions in the Gemara. They lived after the Amoraim, namely Ravina and Rav Ashi who were considered the editors of Shas. Halivni suggests that the original Gemara, at the time of Ravina and Rav Ashi (R&RA) was similar to the Mishna a compilation of rulings with very little records of discussions. That is how he understands the meaning of R&RA sof Hora’ah – in other words the last rulings. However the explanation and interpretation of these rulings began immediately after the demise of R&RA, and the Gemara as we know it took form. There was a formal transmission of the rulings through memorization from generation to generation, but the explanations and arguments were kept in a much more informal way. As time went on some were completely forgotten, others were partially lost and questions arose about what exactly was said. The Stamaim reconstructed whatever was forgotten and resolved most of the questions creating the discussions we find in the Gemara. The names of these great editors were never mentioned and they remained anonymous. Halivni also suggests that there were different schools involved in the process, explaining the different styles of the tractates. The analysis that Halivni used to arrive at these conclusions is mostly internal, linguistic and stylistic.

This article dates the Stamaim from about 550 until about 750. There was an immediate transition to the Sevoraim for a short period of about 50 years (750-800) followed by the Geonim. The Sevoraim still added short pieces to the Gemara but the Stamaim did the main work over a period of 200 years. That explains why we have this hiatus of 250 years after the death of Rav Ashi with no published Seforim until about 800. They were completely involved in putting together the Shakla Vetarya of the Gemara. It is only after that period that we find new publications by the Geonim such as R.Yehudai Gaon, Sheiltot and Halachot Gedolot.

This is completely different from the traditional theory, which is based on the Iggeret Rav Sherira, where R&RA sealed the Gemara with all its discussions, letting the Sevoraim just emend and add some short explanations. Halivni understands that the sof Hora’a was sealing the short rulings a generation or two after Rav Ashi, which are the same dates that Halevi proposed. However the Gemara continued evolving for over two hundred years, where these rulings were further analyzed and clarified, of course implying change. Only then was a final second sealing agreed to, and the Gemara as we know it published.

Halivni proves every position extensively. What I found the most daring is his disagreement with Rav Sherira who must have had a very reliable Masora. It is because of that mainly that he insists that his dating is only a conjecture that would explain many difficult Gemaros.

It is not clear to me how this new theory would affect Psak. There is a very interesting article in BDD #15 on the “Layers – Revadim method” by R. Neryah Gotel. He addresses the issue at length, with an interesting essay by R. Z.N.Goldberg on a sugya in Bava Kama and the consequences of the new approach. Although he finds the Derech interesting he shows that the traditional understanding of the Sugya is correct and therefore the Halacha remains unchanged.
However these new ways of looking at sources have a tendency over time, sometimes several generations, to enter the mainstream and influence Halachik rulings. More about this in another post.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Admor John Paul

On CNN today:
ROME, Italy (Reuters) -- Last year, Monsignor Slawomir Oder opened one of the many letters he receives from people who think Pope John Paul should be declared a saint.
He felt a strange sensation. This letter was different.

That is what is said about Rebbes too!

In it, a French nun said she had been suffering from a precocious form of Parkinson's disease but that the symptoms disappeared after she prayed to John Paul for nine days.
"The letter was very simple and delicate, not triumphal," Oder recalled in his cluttered office in the Basilica of St. John Lateran as the Vatican prepares to commemorate the first anniversary of John Paul's death on April 2.
"The way she described what happened was humble, not demanding. She did not say 'I have been cured by a miracle.'"
The softly spoken 46-year-old Oder, who is in charge of promoting the sainthood case for the late Pope for the diocese of Rome, went to France to see the nun and talk to her doctors.
"I am encouraged because from the medical charts and medical history, we so far have not found a human explanation," he said.
John Paul suffered from Parkinson's disease in his last decade. He trembled violently and could not pronounce his words or control his facial muscles. In the end, his throat was so ravaged that he needed tubes for air and food.

Ein Ossir motzy atzmo mibeis hassurim - Lomdos too!

An initial probe by doctors and Catholic Church investigators did not find a rational medical explanation for the cure. Investigators will now start a more formal and detailed inquiry of the suspected miracle cure.

The point of this is to clarify where we get the stories about Tzadikkim and their supposed miracles. It has now become become de rigueur in Yeshivish hagiography about Gedolim such as Chazon Ish et al. It is clearly outside influence. One can be an Oved Hashem only if one can perform miracles.

It is plain and simple Kefirah. Those are the books that should be banned!

Gedolim banned and forgotten - A possible ban and its consequences.

Professor Moshe Halbertal’s book “Bein torah lachochma” is a very interesting study of the Meiri and his coreligionists in the 13th and 14th century. At the end of the book he makes a very interesting observation which I am paraphrasing with some explanations.

The Rosh (Rabeinu Asher) when he moved from Germany to Toledo passed through Provence (that is the area of France where Meiri lived. It includes most of the French Mediterranean coast from Lombardy to the border with Spain, all the way to the Atlantic north of the Pyrenees). He recorded in a letter his impressions about the people saying that they were “fluid speakers, clear minds and intelligent. I thanked God for bringing me here. However when I dug deeper I found them white on the outside and black on the inside. Only very few, one here another there, had God inspire them to strengthen in His torah and separate from the general population who turn to idols and false ideas”. In other words he considered their Hashkafos suspect. (Rosh was very fundamentalist in his thinking. He was against all philosophy and theology. More at another occasion)

The Rashba ( Rabeinu Shlomo ben Aderet) was considered one of the great Posskim and leaders of his time who lived in Barcelona, (Catalonia – Spain). Although much better versed in philosophy and Kabbalah then Rosh, he was also suspicious of the Provencal way of thinking. We can see that from his Responsa where he got involved in the controversy about learning philosophy before 25 years of age. (R.Abba Mari of Montpellier, a friend and correspondent of Meiri instigated it).

Provence, after a bout with Kaballah was populated in the early 1200’s by refugees from Muslim Spain who brought with them Rambam’s way of life and thinking. For about 150 years, until their expulsion in the late 1300’s a Maimonidean society flourished very successfully with great thinkers, philosophers and halachik experts. The Tibon family, the great translators of Arabic works were there, R. Yakov Antuli, author of the seminal work “Malmad Hatalmidim”, Meiri, his Rebbe R, Reuven ben Chaim, R. Avraham min Hahar (Montpellier) R. Shmuel Shkeil about whom the Meiri writes with great awe, R. Shlomo of Lunel, R. Ytzchak de Lattes, R. Dovid Hakochavi (Estrelle), R. Levi ben Avrohom (Livyat Chen), R. Nissim of Marseilles (Ma’aseh Nissim) and many others. (How many of us have even heard these names?).

The puzzling thing is that not only are there very few Seforim from that period – the few that we have, like the Meiri which was discovered in the 19th century in one manuscript only, were not known for about 500 years. Most of the others were only reprinted in the last few decades from rare manuscripts and only very few have been found. This can be blamed on luck and circumstances such as persecution but what is even more puzzling is the total silence in the writings of the period that have been with us all along, about the works of these Provencal gedolim. There was correspondence that we know about but almost no mention of their works, chidushim or Divrei Torah. This too could be blamed on them being deemed not innovative enough, but is very unlikely. After all the Meiri works are quite extensive and useful and so are the other works that are resurfacing. What is even more intriguing is the very small amount of manuscripts of each sefer. It shows a lack of interest or will by scribes to copy these books.It is only a conjecture as there is no official record of a ban, but it is probable that they were ignored on purpose. In other words they were blacklisted. Both the authors and their works were ignored by the Rabbis of the time. It is a great loss and a great wrong if true. The seforim that have been rediscovered are extremely interesting and very helpful in understanding the thought process of the great Jewish medieval thinkers.

I personally find that their way of thinking talks to me and helps me work out the issues that seem irrational in our religion. The sad thing is that a similar movement is building in the Yeshivish community and I wonder how many good and thoughtful thinkers are being suppressed. It will only prolong the Golus which will only end when we are enlightened enough to gain the respect of the nations for our intellectual prowess.

(after some reflection overnight I renamed and republished this post)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Is it permitted to say Tehilim for a sick person?

R.Harry Maryles on Emes Vemunah posted about Tefillah for a sick person . I commented quoting Rambam in Hilchos Avoda Zara 11:12 who after forbidding to say pessukim from the Torah for physical relief quite vehemently, saying that not only is that considered magic it also includes the one who does it among Koferim in the Torah! because the words of the Torah are supposed to heal the Nefesh and not the Body. He then continues
"avol habori shekoro pesukin o mizmor mitilim kedei shetogen olov zechus kerioson veyinotzel mitzoros unezokim harei zeh mutar." A healthy person who reads verses or a poem of Tehilim so that he should be protected by the Zechus of reading, that is permitted. Note that there is no way that someone is allowed to read for another person. It is only permitted to say it for oneself.

Clearly Rambam does not allow for any magical incantations and he considers saying Tehilim for a sick person as possible Kefirah. (I say "possible" although Rambam is quite clear that it is, because I am wary of pointing at so many Jews who are nichshal in this unfortunately). It is very difficult to adhere to this prohibition as we have been so conditioned to accept it. In my mind though any mishap that a person experiences and it can be traced to a misdeed, and I mean traced to one rationally, then Tehilim would be appropriate. I as a businessman if a business deal goes bad, I usually can trace it to a decision that was based on greed or some other such reason. It is appropriate for me to read Mizmorim that deal with the greed and meditate on how to improve myself in the future. But a sickness that is not a result of the person's actions I do not see any reason that Tehillim is permitted.

I also pointed out that, even when healthy, one can only say pessukim for himself . The Meiri in Hibur Hateshuva explains why on the Yomim Noroim a Ba'al Tefila Hogun is required. He asks in general what is the idea of praying for someone else? The Rabbis tell us that when one prays for a friend the petitioner is answered first - why should praying for another have any value? He says that the idea is that we cannot tell a suffering person directly to take heed and review his actions. It would be very hutful, blaming the victim. However that person will not be helped unless he introspects and mends his ways so that he does not repeat the same mistake again.We do this indirectly by showing through our own prayer that we are looking at ourselves as that will encourage the sufferer to introspect too. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we look to the Ba'al Tefila to be a role model for the Tzibur on how to pray and do teshuva. ( No wonder Hibur Hateshuva is not a central sefer mussar in Yeshiva - In fact I never heard about it until I was pointed to it by an article I read by Moshe Halbertal). (to be exact the part explaining the Ba'al tefila is from Chibur Hateshuva- the part about the sick person I saw in a sefer of the same school - I could not find it now but it fits nicely with Meiri's thinking)

Now to say a Mi sheberach for a choleh and especially with name of patient and mother, to me that is totally nonsensical and probably ossur completely. Now I know that many other possekim think differently, but as everybody is machmir on every little sfek sfeka of a minhag by a little known possek , I indulge in being machmir in a vaday Avoda Zara according to Rambam.

Judaism's goal - The ultimate worship- Emulating God.

This week, Parshat Ki Tisah, contains many seminal concepts in Judaism. I wish to focus in on Rambam’s understanding (of course based on my reading) of “Nikras Hatzur”. After being on Har Sinai to receive the Tablets and finding the Jews worshipping the Golden Calf, Moshe plants a tent outside the camp where he meditates and develops his prophetic abilities to the level of “Ponim el Ponim ka’asher yedaber ish el re’ehu” - Face to face like a person talks to his friend. It describes a type of meditation controlled by the rational faculty without the interference of the imaginative one. It is a very high level of apprehension of God.

Moshe’s meditation is not only a self - actualization program but also just as importantly a process that involves leadership issues, how best to lead the people further on their way to Canaan. It is the ultimate goal of the search for God, to emulate Him by understanding how God runs the universe. In that quest Moshe asks God to show him how to lead the people – “Hodieini noh es derocheicha …ure’eh ki amcha hagoy hazeh” Show me your ways so that I know you considering that this is your nation. God promises him that he will fulfill this request, doing so later when Moshe ascends the mountain for the Forty days. God shows him how he runs the world, teaching him the 13 midos, each representing an attribute that humans deduct from analyzing God’s deeds and apply to Him.

Moshe then asked God to show Himself to him. God’s answer is that He will show Moshe how to go about learning all there is to know about the physical world and its workings. “Anochi a’avir kol tuvi “ I will show you all my goodness – Rambam notes that at Creation God used the word Tov and Tov Meod, which he explained as meaning the creations had continuity and permanence. The word “Tuvi” refers to the same idea of permanence in nature. God told Moshe that to find Him, he needs to study where all this came from. “Nikras hatzur” – the rock in which the cave that was pointed out to Moshe was – is a metaphor for provenance. ( the word Tzur – literally a hard rock- is seen as a foundation – one builds a strong building on a hard rock) Moshe was told to look at the provenance of the world, the First Cause, that is as far as he as a human can expect to grasp of the Divinity. That is metaphorically referred to as the back, as one can recognize another person from the back by his gait and comportment. God is recognized in a similar fashion and cannot be known more.

At the end of the Moreh, when Rambam summarizes his philosophy, he explains that after doing all the contemplation and searching for God, the ultimate goal is to emulate God. In Rambam’s own words:

“ The prophet thus, in conclusion, says," For in these things I delight, says the Lord," i.e., My object [in saying this) is that you shall practice loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. In a similar manner we have shown (Part I.:54.) that the object of the enumeration of God's thirteen attributes is the lesson that we should acquire similar attributes and act accordingly. The object of the above passage is therefore to declare, that the perfection, in which man can truly glory, is attained by him when he has acquired-as far as this is possible for man-the knowledge of God, the knowledge of His Providence, and of the manner in which it influences His creatures in their production and continued existence. Having acquired this knowledge he will then be determined always to seek loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, and thus to imitate the ways of God.”

After reaching the highest levels of metaphysical speculation man returns to the world he inhabits and works along his Creator emulating Him as to His relationship to the universe and its inhabitants.

This last step is missing in Professor Yeshayahu’s understanding of Rambam. Here man no longer does what he feels obligated to do because of the yoke of heaven only. Here he does it because he has apprehended His creator to the extent a human can, and feels impelled to emulate Him to reach perfection. It is a labor of love not a yoke.

(When we say the 13 midos in davening, they are said as part of teshuvah – repentance. If we want to repent the way to go about it is by changing our ways and contemplating God’s ways to emulate them. That is the meaning of those words not some magical incantation. )

Good Shabbos

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Where the Modern Orthodox and Yeshiva worlds converge

In the current Tradition there is a wonderful article by Prof. Daniel Statman – Negative Theology and the Meaning of the Commandments in Modern Orthodoxy. He argues that what is currently the theology of Modern Orthodoxy (in his notes he blurs the outlines of this categorization), is counter intuitively, suffering from the same underlying malaise of the Yeshivish way of thinking. He argues that Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s philosophy, which is based on a radical reading of Rambam’s Negative Theology, takes God out of religion and the performance of Mitzvos. Being that God is transcendental there is no hope of man ever grasping Him truly. The search for God is therefore a hopeless enterprise that one performs because it is required of us. Just like all Mitzvos the purpose is to submit to the yoke of Heaven, “Kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim”. This applies to everything including ethics. There is no other purpose in Bein Odom Lachavero or Bein Odom Lamokom, not even perfection of society, because that would mean that God is serving man while religion requires the opposite – man to serve God.

He then refers us to a seminal paper written by Prof. Haym Soloveitchik in 1994 , a sociological study of the current orthodox community. The thrust is that after the holocaust and being confronted with modernity, God has lost His place in the day to day life of the Orthodox Jew. As opposed to the European shtetel where the Divine presence was felt all the time, modernity has robbed us of this feeling. To make up for it, stricture in Halacha has taken the place of the Divine Presence. The emphasis has been changed from an intellectual and emotional approach to Mitzvos to a more mechanistic focus where the underlying theology is ignored. Quoting Soloveitchik “Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke”. Thus both the Orthodox and the “modern” orthodox, keep the Mitzvos with a similar imperative, accepting the yoke of Heaven.

In a recent exchange with a Yeshivish individual I asked him to tell me why he learns and why he keeps mitzvos. His answer to the first question was: For the same reason one does any mitzvah – Hashem commanded us to. While to the second his reply was: Because that is how one gains the world-to-come.

Clearly the first answer is purely Leibowitz, while the second he would consider Avodah Zara – God serving man by affording him the opportunity for reward.

On a personal note, several years ago, when I discovered Leibowitz, I was completely enthralled by his philosophy. It took me a while to realize that the philosophy he ascribes to Rambam is really based on his personal interpretation of religion which he then appended to Rambam’s writings. Although there is merit to a lot of what he says I disagree with its conclusions. It is a long discussion better left for another post.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

R. Meir Simcha choses Rambam over the Maharal - Omniscience versus Intelligent Design.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was enthralled with an essay by R. Meir Simcha Hacohen of Dvinsk (1843-1926) in his Magnum Opus Ohr Sameach at the end of Hilchos Teshuva. I will just highlight one of the ideas he sets out there. The issue is the famous conundrum of Yediah and Bechira – God’s omniscience hence knowing everything including the future and man’s freedom of choice. How can we understand this freedom if everything is already pre – determined by God’s knowledge? Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva 5:5 addresses it and basically says that we do not understand God’s omniscience - it is different. Ravad and many others misunderstood those cryptic words, and in a typical sharp rejoinder comments that one should not publish a question to which one does not have an answer. Ravad proceeds to propose an answer that he ends with "vechol zeh einenu shoveh -it is still not clear”.The Maharal, R. Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1525 – 1609) in his introduction to Gevuros Hashem argues that Rambam’s mistake was accepting the philosopher’s idea that God and His knowledge are one or as Rambam puts it in Moreh 1:68 “He is the intellect as well as the intellectually cognizing subject and the intellectually cognized object”. In other words to God knowing everything is His essence. There are no senses that perceive things and process these perceptions sending them to the brain, reprocessing and deciding on a reaction just as we do. God does not do that. Exactly how He “knows” we cannot apprehend but we do know that He does not “know” our way.

Maharal argues that this is incorrect. Though God is not physical, He is however a “Sechel Poshut” – a simple spiritual entity - without boundaries and therefore knowledge is not part of His essence. When God perceives a new thing, it does not imply a change in Him, because it happened as a result of His action which is also not an essence. (The difficulty becomes obvious immediately. If He has no boundary how can something be outside Him?). In other words He has set things in motion which can have different outcomes. God finding out the outcome does not change God’s essence just as the act itself does not. When God split the sea and the Egyptians were destroyed, that event did not change God nor did the knowledge of that event change Him. Maharal thus understands that God set nature into motion, with a plan which includes free will to man and randomness in nature. God does not necessarily know how the outcome will be but at the same time He interferes at will and controls the outcome. That new action or the new knowledge does not change His essence. They are outside Him.

RMS is astounded by this argument and implies that it is heresy (ossur leomrom)! He marvels at how Maharal can describe God as a spiritual entity. Any positive description of God’s essence is heresy and tantamount to anthropomorphism. We can only know what God is not! Furthermore by saying that God has set the world in motion allowing for randomness, thus not knowing the outcome, limits God’s omniscience.

RMS therefore totally disagrees with Maharal. He explains that God’s knowledge is different and is just called that. God can know everything as His knowledge and His will are one, both outside time, thus everything has already happened from His perspective. We still have freedom of choice, because His knowledge does not affect us, even though we do not understand how that is.

Maharal’s approach is generally accepted in contemporary Jewish thought. It is the basis for accepting “Intelligent Design” as an Ikkar. As I have shown in my earlier post ID is not the same as Judaism’s concept of God as Creator. Stubbornly staying with Maharal and ID makes for very difficult arguments when one tries to reconcile science with Torah.

I believe that it is time for our Yeshivos to bring back real Machshovo as taught by the great thinkers of our past, followers of Rambam's derech, who were also the great Possekim. As Rav Kook said, if not for Rambam, Judaism would have no foot to stand on in our era. His approach is the only one, among all the other approaches of the Rishonim, that is compatible with our contemporary scientific understanding. Ralbag should be dusted off as other thinkers such as Meiri (see his Chibur Hateshuva). Professor Chaim Kreissel, a few years ago published two Provencal Rishonim, R. Nissim of Marseilles's Maseh Nissim and Livyas Chen by R.Levi ben Avrohom. The malaise of our time is starkly shown when a sefer like Malmad Hatalmidim by R,Yaakov Antuli, a great Tzaddik and thinker, son in law of R. Shmuel ibn Tibon, was last printed in Lick in 1866.

Discard Intelligent Design – Discover Yediah. Ki hi chochmaschem ubinaschem le'enei hoamim.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Is intelligent design compatible with Judaism?

The doctrine of Intelligent Design is brought up a lot in discussions of Jewish theology. Although it seems similar to our concept of Creation, it is at heart a fundamentalist Christian import and there is a very basic difference between the two ideas. Intelligent design argues that we cannot explain all of nature without pointing to an intelligent entity that planned it all. The existence of God is dependent on His creations. Rambam in Moreh 1:71 describes a similar method used by Islamic philosophers of his time:

“They set forth the propositions which I shall describe to you, and demonstrated by their peculiar mode of arguing that the Universe had a beginning. The theory of the creation ex nihilo being thus established, they asserted, as a logical consequence, that undoubtedly there must be a Maker who created the Universe. Next they showed that this Maker is One, and from the Unity of the Creator they deduced His Incorporeality. This method was adopted by every Mohammedan Mutakallem in the discussion of this subject, and by those of our co-religionists who imitated them and walked in their footsteps“

Rambam takes strong exception to this approach. The argument he uses sound very much like the argument used by scientist nowadays to attack ID.

“I have examined this method, and find it most objectionable. It must be rejected, because all the proofs for the creation have weak points, and cannot be considered as convincing except by those who do not know the difference between a proof, a dialectical argument, and a sophism. Those who understand the force of the different methods will clearly see that all the proofs for the creation are questionable, because propositions have been employed which have never been proved.”

In Judaism God exists independent of the universe and its Creation. We state it in Davening every day “ato hu ad shelo nivro haolom veato hu meshinevro haolom”. God “is” independently of the world. We are not so concerned about the existence of God. We accept that a priori. What we are concerned about is what God is, or rather as Rambam says what He is not, His actions and wishes. We do this to understand His ways and act according to them – Veholachto Bidrochov ma hu af ato. We have a concept about how God acts that we call Rotzon and Chefetz, will and volition. This Will is not temporal, it is there before the world was created. And because with HKBH there is no potential, everything is in actu, the results of that Will are already in place. In simple language whatever happens, past present and future from our perspective,is already happening from God’s. Just like God’s omniscience does not affect anything from our perspective, we have Bechira in spite of His knowing how we will act, because His knowledge is different than ours so is His will different than our will. It therefore does not affect the physical world from our perspective. All the questions about how the physical world functions is to be resolved from our perspective because we cannot understand what His is. There is no contradiction between Evolution and God’s will, just as there is no contradiction between God’s omniscience and our freedom of choice. This is a very difficult concept for us humans to accept and requires much thought and contemplation. Rambam therefore repast this idea many times in all his writings - it is after all what Echod means - unique. It is also an important yesod in the machshava of Ramban and the genuine Mekubalim. For a very thorough analysis see the Ohr Someach in Hilchos Teshuva.

I believe that if this idea is absorbed properly many of the issues of science versus Torah disappear. This is the deep thought behind Rambam 2:25:

“We answer to all these questions: He willed it so; or, His wisdom decided so. just as He created the world according to His will, at a certain time, in a certain form, and as we do not understand why His will or His wisdom decided upon that peculiar form, and upon that peculiar time, so we do not know why His will or wisdom determined any of the things mentioned in the preceding questions.”

Evolution is a result of God’s will. Nothing is random from His perspective as it has already happened. From our perspective it is all part of natural law and its cause and effect system. Science therefore does not clash with Judaism theologically. If it does not then reconciling Torah with it is only a mechanical process that requires some creativity. As Rambam says in a different context “Nor are the gates of figurative interpretation shut in our faces….” (Moreh 2:25.)

Good Shabbos.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Divine Providence- a consequence of one's actions.

More on Hashgacha. Here is Rambam in Moreh 3:51 interspersed with my comments: (Rambam in Italics)

For it is known from statements made in Scripture that these four, viz., the Patriarchs and Moses, had their minds exclusively filled with the name of God, that is, with His knowledge and love; and that in the same measure was Divine Providence attached to them and their descendants.

In other words Hashgacha Pratis – Divine Providence - is dependent on how well one knows God.

When we therefore find them also, engaged in ruling others, in increasing their property, and endeavoring to obtain possession of wealth and honor, we see in this fact a proof that when they were occupied in these things, only their bodily limbs were at work, whilst their heart and mind never moved away from the name of God.

What does it mean to be heart and mind in close proximity to god?

I think these four reached that high degree of perfection in their relation to God, and enjoyed the continual presence of Divine Providence, even in their endeavors to increase their property, feeding the flock, toiling in the field, or managing the house, only because in all these things their end and aim was to approach God as much as possible.

In other words, being close to God is when one sets for oneself as a goal to approach Him as much as possible. And what does that entail? Now comes the key point:

It was the chief aim of their whole life to create a people that should know and worship God.

Divine providence is available to those who are close to God, and they are those whose goal it is to create a people of worshippers of God. How is someone whose chief aim is to create a people that worships God considered close to god? Isn’t being close to God knowing Him? Rambam closing idea in the Moreh 2:54 are:

…that the perfection, in which man can truly glory, is attained by him when he has acquired-as far as this is possible for man-the knowledge of God, the knowledge of His Providence, and of the manner in which it influences His creatures in their production and continued existence. Having acquired the knowledge he will then be determined always to seek loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, and thus to imitate the ways of God.

The process of attaining perfection is to learn about God and His ways with the goal to emulate His actions. Creating a people of worshippers is one way of emulating God’s actions. That is why the Patriarchs were close to God and were always under divine providence. There is a relationship between being under Hashgacha Pratis and one’s goals and actions. In other words if one understands God’s ways and emulates Him, that person can do no wrong. That is the protection that divine providence affords. That God created the world in this way and man with the ability to avail himself of that knowledge means that God did not abandon the earth and is Mashgiach on it. God being omniscient, this has been set in place at Creation; it is how the world operates.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Hashgach Pratis – Introduction – what does it mean to be close to God?

I was not planning to get into the issue of Hasgacha yet as I am still deciphering miracles, but I am pushed into it as Tafkaa , Dude and others on GH have been building up a head of steam on my cryptic comments there. I will from time to time ask GH to post one of these pieces, when I deem it worthy of greater dissemination. After all he does have a well deserved large following. ( GH – just keep your personal rhetoric in check – I know it makes good reading but these guys, the “G…. “ do learn day and night, which deserves some respect.)

The subject is complicated and lengthy and I still don’t have a clear picture in my mind of how to proceed and organize the presentation, but I will jump into the fray (like Nachshon into the sea).Rambam at the end of the Moreh in 3::51 (BTW the last chapters starting 3:51 to the end are magnificent, easy to read, and should be reread often by anyone serious about his religion) lays out an idea of what status we should aspire to reach in our quest for self improvement. Rambam first gives a summary of what it means being close to God: (I use Friedlander – easy to copy – pretty inaccurate sometimes): (my highlights and brackets)

Those, however, who think of God, and frequently mention His name, without any correct notion of Him, but merely following some imagination, or some theory received from another person, are, in my opinion, like those who remain outside the palace and distant from it (palace is a metaphor for being close to God, He being in the inner chambers of a metaphorical palace (Beis Hamikdash as metaphor?)). They do not mention the name of God in truth, nor do they reflect on it. That which they imagine and mention does not correspond to any being in existence: it is a thing invented by their imagination, as has been shown by us in our discussion on the Divine Attributes (Part 1. chap. 1.). The true worship of God is only possible when correct notions of Him have previously been conceived. When you have arrived by way of intellectual research at a knowledge of God and His works, then commence to devote yourselves to Him, try to approach Him and strengthen the intellect, which is the link that joins you to Him. (Intellect not belief, mesorah or some other such notion – Rambam is quite explicit) …. Thus the Law distinctly states that the highest kind of worship to which we refer in this chapter, is only possible after the acquisition of the knowledge of God. For it is said," To love the Lord your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. xi. 13), and, as we have shown several times, man's love of God is identical with His knowledge of Him. The Divine service enjoined in these words must, accordingly, be preceded by the love of God. Our Sages have pointed out to us that it is a service in the heart, which explanation I understand to mean this: man concentrates all his thoughts on the First Intellect, and is absorbed in these thoughts as much as possible

Clearly metaphysical speculation and intellectual understanding is not for the “Perplexed” only – (note LY and others). As we will see later Hahgacha Pratis is dependent on and in reality means being close to God. Being close to God is a result of our choice, our free will. Hashgacha is therefore a function of man’s actions. This is the first glimpse into what the great Rishonim, Ibn Ezra, Rambam and Ramban meant that Hashgacha Pratis only is available to Tzadikkim. Next post will deal with how being close to God affects our actions.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Why do we pray?

We believe that in the beginning, before Creation, God willed the world into existence from nothing – yesh meayin. I say “willed” because to us humans, to will is the precursor of an action. As God does not act, action being something a physical being does, will is the least physical term we can use in describing an event that we perceive as the consequence of an action. That being the case when we use the term “will” as regards to God we are really describing a resulting product. Applying this to Creation, it means that God set in motion a sequence of cause and effect that from our perspective has brought the world to the present moment and continues onward to eternity. From God’s perspective, for whom time is irrelevant, all the past, present and future has always been there. In spite of that we have freedom of choice and we can chose to do good or bad. We also believe that our actions have consequences, and depending on the choice we make, rewarded and punished. I can accept the concept that there is no contradiction in these two ideas -God’s omniscience and our freedom of choice, as mentioned earlier, God is different. But how am I as man, knowing this, supposed to relate to God? Obviously when I pray to Him, I am not asking Him to change anything because that would be asking Him to be imperfect. So what exactly is prayer?

Rambam presents two separate types of prayer. One is part of Avodah -service to God (Sefer Hamitzvos Asseh #5) – the other is part of Teshuvah – repentance (Asseh #59 and Hilchos Taanis 1:1-3). The first type of prayer is part of the process of contemplation and study we engage in throughout our life, searching for God and trying to understand Him and follow in His steps – Veholachto Bidrochov. (Much more about that in future posts). “Good” and “bad” deeds are judged by how close a person has come to follow in God’s steps. Reward and Punishment are direct results of these same deeds. If we chose to do the correct thing we are the instrument to bring about the “good” result that God willed at Creation and the wrong choice brings about the “bad” result willed then. When we chose the wrong action, Teshuvah – repentance is the only possibility. That is the second type of prayer which is a step in the process of repentance. We meditate about the actions that brought about the “bad” and eventually change our ways. (Our early Rabbis wrote the prayers we say today and they fit both types of prayers.)

We can start to see why the Rabbis were so full of wonderment at the concept of repentance – how does it change the outcome. But it works just like freedom of choice which we have in spite of God’s knowledge. I will try to get a better grip on this in the future but to put it simplistically – we operate from our perspective taking God’s perspective into account only as a philosophical issue not a practical one. Na’aseh veNishma - we do, expecting to understand what we do as we proceed.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Does God interfere in the world?

“If you told a man who is one of those who deem themselves the Sages of Israel (in other words Gedolim) that the deity sends an angel, who enters the womb of a woman and forms the fetus there, he would be pleased with this assertion and would accept it and would regard it as a manifestation of greatness and power on the part of the deity, and also of His wisdom, may He be exalted. Nevertheless he would also believe at the same time that the angel is a body formed of burning fire and that his size is equal to that of a third part of the world. He would regard all this possible with respect to God” These are the words of Rambam in Moreh 2:6 and this seems to be the opinion of most of the yeshivish/chasidish world nowadays. Anyone thinking differently is considered suspect in his Hashkafos. The question is if by denying God’s direct involvement in everything that happens at all times we are taking something away from His omnipotence? Putting it another way, has God willed the world into existence at the beginning, set the rules of nature into place and does not interfere in them at all? Or, because He is so powerful and smart he can multitask and personally make everything happen as in the example?

Rambam believes that accepting the idea of the supposed “Sages of Israel” is demeaning to God. “It is as if he said that the thing that is changed , is changed because of a deficiency in it that should be made good or because some excess that is not needed and should be got rid of. Now the works of the deity are perfect, and with regard to them there is no possibility of an excess or a deficiency. Accordingly they are of necessity permanently established as they are, for there is no possibility of something calling for a change in them.” Moreh 2:28. God’s greatness is that He Created the world not in a temporal beginning, time being a measure of physical change and therefore created too, with everything in place for it to run itself forever without the need for Him to interfere.
Furthermore when the first instant began all the future of the universe and its content ad infinitum was/is known to God. Past, present and future do not apply to Him. And here we are faced with the conundrum that if all is preset and has to happen where is man’s freedom of choice? The answer is that God’s knowledge is different and is only called such by us for lack of a different concept. The fact that He knows the outcome does not interfere with our freedom to make wrong or right decisions. This idea affects many areas of religion, Hashgacha, prayer, reward and punishment, and I will discuss this further in future posts.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Hakol Tzofuy - All is predicted- a connundrum

The concept of divine transcendence is the key to all of Rambam's theology. He applies it to every aspect of how we view God. The idea is that God is an entity that is totally different than us and the same applies to all His possible attributes. We see the results of His "acts" and assume that He used some type of mechanism to accomplish those acts but in reality it is only our imagination that sees it that way based on our experience. God on the other hand says "Ani Hashem lo shanisi"- I God have not changed.

This applies to every aspect, including knowledge of the future. Even though God knows the future as there is no time from His perspective, still we have Bechira - freedom of choice. Rambam explains the apparent connundrum very simply - the question only exists because of our concept of knowledge. It does not apply to God because His knowledge functions differently.

Over the generations many had difficulty accepting this proposition, starting with Ravad in his comment in Hilchos Tshuva on Rambam's exposition on the connundrum. Mekubalim tried to explain it but ultimately Rambam remains the only logical acceptable position on this matter. That is why he spent so much effort on showing that all mention of physical attributes in Tanach are allegorical. Only if one really absorbs that idea can we understand all actions of God and conform them with our reality.

I read this morning a two page essay by R.Meir Simcha of Dvinsk in his Ohr Sameach, at the end of Hilchos Tshuva on this subject discussing the Mishna "Hakol Tzofuy Vehareshus Nesuno" - All is predicted however one is still free to chose. It is instructive as he takes us through the whole subject and arrives at the conclusion I summarized above. It is even more intersting how he deals with Kabbalah rationally. He respectfully disagrees with the Maharal and R. Meir Ibn Gabai ( one of the importnat Mekubalim) and really shows how wrong they are. At the same time he very cryptically explains the Kabbalah concepts so as not to conflict with Rambam. It is an eye opener because the picture is different than one gets reading books and seforim on the subject. I am sure Rav Kook and others of his stature were in the same wavelength.

I don't know too much about Kabbalah but I would be surprised if many of the contemporary Kabbalistic "greats" have any inkling what they are talking about. I say "many" as there might be a few hidden R. Meir Simchas. Unfortunately I doubt even that .