Sunday, July 30, 2006

God's will part 3 - a Paradox and Prophecy.

In my last post, I posited that God’s will is not temporal. It therefore follows that from God’s perspective everything has already happened and consequently is pre-determined. Even man’s actions, which are subject to his free will, are already known to God. This brings us to the paradox of God’s “knowledge” and man’s free choice. How can man be responsible for his actions if God already knows how he will chose? The answer is that although God “knows” it does not pre-determine man’s actions. We do not know how that works because God’s “knowledge”, just like His “will”, is just words that explain certain observations we make about the result of God’s actions. Rambam in Hilchot Teshuvah 5:5 legislates:

[ה] שמא תאמר והלוא הקדוש ברוך הוא יודע כל מה שיהיה קודם שיהיה: ידע שזה צדיק או רשע, או לא ידע; אם ידע שהוא יהיה צדיק, אי אפשר שלא יהיה צדיק, ואם תאמר שידע שיהיה צדיק ואפשר שיהיה רשע, הרי לא ידע הדבר על בורייו.
יא דע שתשובת שאלה זו "ארוכה מארץ, מידה; ורחבה, מני ים" (איוב יא,ט), וכמה עיקרים גדולים והררים רמים תלויים בה; אבל צריך אתה לידע ולהבין בדבר זה שאני אומר.
יב כבר ביארנו בפרק שני מהלכות יסודי התורה שהקדוש ברוך הוא אינו יודע בדעה שהיא חוץ ממנו כבני אדם שהן ודעתם שניים, אלא הוא יתברך שמו ודעתו אחד; ואין דעתו של אדם יכולה להשיג דבר זה על בורייו. וכשם שאין כוח באדם להשיג ולמצוא אמיתת הבורא, שנאמר "כי לא יראני האדם, וחי" (שמות לג,כ)--כך אין כוח באדם להשיג ולמצוא דעתו של בורא: הוא שהנביא אומר "כי לא מחשבותיי מחשבותיכם, ולא דרכיכם דרכיי" (ישעיהו נה,ח). וכיון שכן הוא, אין בנו כוח לידע היאך ידע הקדוש ברוך הוא כל הברואים ומעשיהם.
יג אבל נדע בלא ספק, שמעשה האדם ביד האדם; ואין הקדוש ברוך הוא מושכו, ולא גוזר עליו לא לעשות כך ולא שלא לעשות כך. ולא מפני קבלת הדת בלבד נדע דבר זה, אלא בראיות ברורות מדברי החכמה. ומפני זה נאמר בנבואה שדנין את האדם על כל מעשיו כפי מעשיו, אם טוב ואם רע. וזה העיקר, שכל דברי הנבואה תלויין בו

In other words we live in a dialectic reality which is pre-determined and not pre-determined at the same time. From our perspective some things are predictable and pre-determined, such as natural phenomena, and some are not such as human actions. From God’s perspective everything, past and present, has already happened and is known. It is the interaction of these opposites, nature’s predictability and man’s freedom of choice, thus his unpredictability and on the other hand God’s “knowledge”, that is, as we will see, the basis of Rambam’s understanding of prophecy and miracles.

One of the ways God’s will manifests itself in our universe is through the laws of nature. These laws in a certain sense contain in them everything that happened and will happen. When we look at the Universe without taking into consideration God as creator we look at it from the outside. We observe phenomena, analyze them, develop a theory of how they function and then verify if the explanation fits all manifestations of those phenomena. If we take God as Creator into consideration, from God’s perspective, He has designed these phenomena. He has an a priori knowledge of them and their effect. Rambam addresses this difference in Moreh 3:21 as follows:

Whatever we know of the things is derived from observation: on that account it is impossible for us to know that which will take place in future, or that which is infinite. Our knowledge is acquired and increased in proportion to the things known by us. This is not the case with God. His knowledge of things is not derived from the things themselves: if this were the case, there would be change and plurality in His knowledge; on the contrary, the things are in accordance with His eternal knowledge, which has established their actual properties, and made part of them purely spiritual, another part material and constant as regards its individual members, a third part material and changeable as regards the individual beings according to eternal and constant laws. Plurality, acquisition, and change in His knowledge are therefore impossible. He fully knows His unchangeable essence, and has thus knowledge of all that results from any of His acts. If we were to try to understand in what manner this is done, it would be the same as if we tried to be the same as God, and to make our knowledge identical with His knowledge. Those who seek the truth, and admit what is true, must believe that nothing is hidden from God; that everything is revealed to His knowledge, which is identical with His essence; that this kind of knowledge cannot be comprehended by us; for if we knew its method, we would possess that intellect by which such knowledge could be acquired. Such intellect does not exist except in God, and is at the same time His essence.”

Rambam here describes one aspect of God’s “knowledge” and how it differs from ours. It is an elaboration of what he wrote in Hilchot Teshuvah I quoted earlier. He considers this as an extremely important doctrine :

"Note this well, for I think that this is something most extraordinary and a true opinion; if it is carefully studied no mistake or distortion will be found in it, nor will incongruities be attached to it and no deficiency is ascribed through it to God .. "

Although God’s “knowledge” is something we can never acquire it is still man’s goal to, as impossible as it is, try to acquire some of it through getting to know as much as possible about God’s ways and His will. Medieval philosophers call the information available to man for that purpose, Sechel Hapoel – Active intellect. In our modern termwe would call it scientific knowledge however looked at from a perspective that allows for God as Creator to be part of it. It is a combination of empirical science with metaphysical interpretation. The metaphysical interpretation must however, first and foremost, not clash with the scientific evidence. Prophecy is when a person has reached that perfect balance between science and metaphysics.

Without having experienced prophecy we can only build a theoretical construct of what it is. However we can get this understanding from what we glean from Tanach and the rabbi’s interpretation thereof. The process needed to develop prophecy is in itself an interesting subject of great practical importance to every Jew. I will address these issues in future posts. Here I have outlined a sketch of what the goal is and how it relates to God’s will.

Finally, as I have discussed in earlier posts, the word angel describes any tool that God uses in the functioning of the universe. This Active Intellect being composed of the laws of nature that are behind the functioning of the universe is therefore referred to as an angel. Rambam in Yesodei Hatorah 2:5-7 explains that we designate different names to the various forces that function as sequences of cause and effect and govern our universe. To help us visualize them we separate them into ten groups with the last one in the sequence of cause and effect, the Active Intellect. That last group is also called “Ishim” –

ומעלה עשירית, היא מעלת הצורה שנקראת אישים, והם המלאכים שמדברים עם הנביאים ונראים להם במראה הנבואה; לפיכך נקראו אישים, שמעלתם קרובה ממעלת דעת האדם.

This post is already longer than I intended. I will leave it here knowing full well that I have only touched on “Rashei Perakim”. I just wanted to outline the connection between God’s “will”, “knowledge” and prophecy.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

God's will Part 2 - Constant and unchanging

In my God’s will part 1 post I left it that it is acceptable for God to have willed things into existence without implying imperfection. As we have discussed many times, when talking about metaphysical issues, all we need to do is show that a theory is possible. As the theory deals with issues that cannot be proven empirically, as long as it does not clash with science or logic, we are satisfied that it can be accepted. Rambam has shown that God having will is logically acceptable. We can therefore ontologically say that God willed everything. When we observe natural phenomena, analyze them and try to understand what caused them originally, we ascribe them to God’s will rather than spontaneity.

By attributing will to God we are essentially saying that God caused the Big Bang rather than it having come about spontaneously. It is a choice that we, as religious people make as it is not based on empirical evidence (see also my post on a related issue). It has many ramifications and consequences for the way we act and also how we react to events.

That being the case we need to define what we mean when we say that God has will. We have to realize that God’s will precedes Creation. God’s will caused Creation. In other words, God’s will is not temporal. Time is defined as: A non-spatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future. (American Heritage Dictionaries). Time is therefore a measure of physical and changing events. Before physical existence there are no changing events and therefore no time. God’s will having preceded physicality is therefore not time dependent. It is always there. It is a constant.

This idea is very difficult for us, humans who live in a physical world, to grasp. The idea of eternity in itself is difficult enough. It becomes more difficult when we say that to God, even after Creation, nothing changed and time is still non- existent. In other words everything that happened and will happen is now, happening at this moment from God’s perspective. We say that because God, by definition is perfect, and therefore unchanging. We can now get a glimpse of why we have to constantly invoke the idea that God is transcendent and unknowable to us, why attributes are only words we use to convey a concept and why God’s will is equivocal. (For a discussion of this idea see my posts: and

So far we have defined God’s will as not being temporal and therefore as being constant and unchanging. Past and future are always in the present. This has tremendous impact in every area of thought. It affects how we understand providence, miracles, freedom of choice and consequently almost every area of our theology. If to God everything is happening now, He knows everything that to us is future, He knows how we will decide, and so where is our freedom of choice? Much more on all this in future posts.

It is important to keep in mind that we are only interpreting nature and events from our perspective, trying to work our way back to God. We however know that we will never learn anything about God’s essence. We can only deal with our observations and try to explain them ontologically. We do this to try to understand God’s thought and partake in His universe creatively, emulating Him.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

God and Science in the New York Times

There is an interesting article in the New York Times today reviewing several books dealing with Science and Religion Hereis an excerpt that is pertinent to many of my posts:

Of course, just as the professors of faith cannot prove (except to themselves) that God exists, the advocates for atheism acknowledge that they cannot prove (not yet, anyway ) that God does not exist. Instead, Drs. Dawkins and Dennett sound two major themes: a) the theory of evolution is correct, and creationism and its cousin, intelligent design, are wrong; and b) a field of research called evolutionary psychology can explain why religious belief seems to be universal among Homo sapiens.

But these sermons, which the authors preach with what can fairly be described as religious fervor, are unsatisfying.

Of course there is no credible scientific challenge to Darwinian evolution as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on earth. So what? The theory of evolution says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of God. People might argue about what sort of supreme being would work her will through such a seemingly haphazard arrangement, but that is not the same as denying that she exists in the first place.

There is much more in the article.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

God's Will Part 1 - Can God have will?

A central theme in Judaism is God’s will. We perform Mitzvot because it is God’s will, we accept our fate saying it is God’s will and it is inculcated in us since childhood when we say without thinking “Im Yirtzeh Hashem” whenever we discuss a future event. However it is not a simple matter and has many theological problems touching on God’s omnipotence, omniscience, our freedom of choice, revelation and Torah. In other words it touches every aspect of our belief and religion. I will be discussing this in several posts as it would be too lengthy for one or even two posts. I will try to take every aspect of the problem separately and address it.

We have shown that there is strong and irrefutable evidence that there is a First Cause and we call that entity God. As He is transcendent, beyond the ability of our minds to grasp Him, completely unknowable, we cannot say much about Him. We can however try to infer, by looking at our existence, some things about Him. These inferences are not always empirically provable nor are the conclusions able to tell us anything about God’s essence. They only describe His abilities in human terms, meaning that if a human wanted to accomplish such a feat, he would have had to have this particular ability. God being a unique entity different from anything we can imagine, He does not necessarily need to have that ability. The results we perceive could have been brought into existence through a completely different action, indeed no action at all, for God does not act. With that in mind any attribute that we append to God is nothing more than a word we use to help us understand and communicate about God and his deeds.

God’s will is such an attribute. If a human being wanted to create the Universe at some point in time, he would have to have a will that precipitated his action. We therefore say that God created the universe at the time He willed to do so. As He does not act He created everything by willing it all.

Aristotle however believed that attributing will and change to God would mean that God is not perfect. A perfect entity does not change. Aristotle sees change as an adjustment implying imperfection.

“He (Aristotle) asserts - though he does not do so textually, but this is what his opinion comes to - that in his opinion it would be an impossibility that will should change in God or a new volition arise in Him is impossible that a volition should undergo a change in Him or a new will arise in Him. (Moreh 2:13)”

In other words Aristotle’s position is not only that God has no will but also that it is impossible that He should have any. Rambam however points out that Aristotle missed one little detail, God’s transcendence. The idea that God has will is only a human description of what would be required for something to occur at a point of time. It does not mean that God has a changeable will as He can make things happen in time without those attributes.

“... it is only by equivocation that our will and that of a being separate from matter are both designated as “will”, for there is no likeness between the two wills (Moreh 2:18)”.

The fact that God has will and decided at a point in time to exercise it and create the universe does therefore not imply imperfection. Rambam has taken the first step in showing that what Aristotle considered impossible to attribute to God is really not far-fetched and in fact plausible.

Having shown that it is possible for God to have willed, it remains to be shown on what basis we attribute will to God. What makes us say that God willed? Why can we not say that the First Cause and the universe are two parallel entities, one physical and one conceptual eternally existent and unified? They are just there, which is Aristotle’s position as described by Rambam in Moreh 2:25:

“The belief in eternity the way Aristotle sees it - that is, the belief according to which the world exists in virtue of necessity, that no nature changes at all, and that the customary course of events cannot be modified with regard to anything …”

As we are dealing with a question that is outside the realm of physicality, we are dealing with something that precedes it, there is no possibility for empirical proof. It will have to be something arrived at by inference, logic and subjectivity.

Furthermore as we are dealing with something that precedes time itself, it is eternal. As hard as it is to conceive, God’s will has always been there and always will be.

I will address these issues in my upcoming posts.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Torn Soul - a man of God.

I am reading Rav Avraham Itzhak HaCohen Kook - Between Rationalism and Mysticism by Benjamin Ish Shalom recommended by Chardal. I am intrigued by Rav Kook who was a rational thinker quite aware of all the scientific knowledge of his time and still was steeped in Kabbalah which seems to be quite contrary to that type of thinking. I figure that he must have had a way of understanding it that makes sense. His writings however are very poetic and difficult to decipher. I therefore hope that this book offers a shortcut and will give me enough insight to allow me to go back to his writing and understand them.

Right in the preface there is a quote that talked to me and I wish to share it.

"Whoever said of me that my soul is torn put it well, for torn it is indeed. Our minds cannot conceive of a man whose soul is not torn. Only the inanimate is whole. But man's aspirations contradict one another, and battle is constantly waged within him. All of man's efforts are to unite the opposing forces of his spirit by means of a general idea, whose greatness and sublimity holds everything and leads to perfect harmony. That, of course, is an ideal we strive for, though not every child born of woman can reach it. Still, our efforts can bring us closer and closer, and that is what Kabbalists call "Yichudim"."

Veahavta et hashem elokecha bechol levavecha - bishnei yetzareicha. (Rashi from Sifre)

Some more Sechel on the JBlogosphere

A new blog has appeared by Hallachikman. I just read his first post and was exposed to a few comments. It looks like we have another thoughtful and rational place to address our issues in yahadut. Let us support him and visit here . I wish him Hatzlacha.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Prayer at a time of crisis - Repentance or superstition?

In view of the call to prayer in the community, with many Shuls saying Tehilim for what is happening in our Holy Land, I was reflecting trying to understand the meaning of this activity and how a religious Jew should view this.

Rambam and Ramban have a very basic argument about the Mitzvah of prayer. Ramban holds that Tefilah is a rabbinic obligation while Rambam holds it to be a Mitzvat Asseh. However Rambam counts two separate Mitzvot for Tefilah, one as part of the obligation to worship God in Mitzvah 5 and another one in Mitzvah 58 as prayer in time of peril. The first kind of prayer is a constant obligation to worship God and reflect about Him on a daily basis without requesting anything other than reasserting His attributes as they relate to us. The second type is an obligation that arises on certain occasions when bad things happen. The idea is to introspect, analyze where we went wrong, repent and not repeat our earlier mistakes. Rambam in Hil Tanyot legislates:

א מצות עשה מן התורה, לזעוק ולהריע בחצוצרות על כל צרה שתבוא על הציבור, שנאמר "על הצר הצורר אתכם--והרעותם, בחצוצרות" (במדבר י,ט)--כלומר כל דבר שיצר לכם כגון בצורת ודבר וארבה וכיוצא בהן, זעקו עליהן והריעו.

ב ודבר זה, דרך מדרכי התשובה הוא: שבזמן שתבוא צרה ויזעקו לה ויריעו, יידעו הכול שבגלל מעשיהם הרעים הרע להן--ככתוב "עוונותיכם, הטו אלה" (ירמיהו ה,כה) לכם, וזה הוא שיגרום להם להסיר הצרה מעליהם.

ג אבל אם לא יזעקו, ולא יריעו, אלא יאמרו דבר זה ממנהג העולם אירע לנו, וצרה זו נקרוא נקרית--הרי זו דרך אכזרייות, וגורמת להם להידבק במעשיהם הרעים, ותוסיף הצרה וצרות אחרות: הוא שכתוב בתורה, "והלכתם עימי, בקרי. והלכתי עימכם, בחמת קרי" (ויקרא כו,כז-כח), כלומר כשאביא עליכם צרה, כדי שתשובו--אם תאמרו שהוא קרי, אוסיף עליכם חמת אותו קרי

I find this Rambam fascinating. Everything in this world is a result of cause and effect. If a bad thing happens it usually is because of a decision made at some time whether in the near past or long ago, that resulted in this outcome. Attributing tragedy to chance is cruel because it almost certainly insures that it will repeat itself. The only way repetition can be avoided is by introspection, pinpointing the problem, changing our approach and thus the outcome. The prayer is part of repentance. Praying one reflects on our goals, the goals set out by HKBH for us in the Torah, and reviewing whether our actions were always geared towards reaching that goal. Were we influenced by other more mundane goals? Were we greedy, egotistic, power hungry or other such human foibles? How far have we deviated from our primary goal? This type of prayer falls under the rubric of repentance.

Taking the above into consideration, the prayer in Israel by its inhabitants, the place the current tragedy is happening, should be reflecting on the decisions made during its short existence. Was the goal always clear? Did the people and their leaders keep in mind all the time that the purpose of Eretz Israel, is to provide a haven for the Jewish people to live in peace to allow the nation to develop, without interference, as a people who know God? Were all the decision made with that in mind? It is not our place, living in comfort in America to even dare judge the issue but it certainly is an important exercise that Israelis have to undertake. Doing that they will know how to deal with this crisis and insure that this type of tragedy does not reoccur.

For us in Galut, our prayer should make us introspect and think if we have done enough to support in deed and in spirit, our brethrens who live there and are our vanguard? Have we used all our influence to make sure that the countries we live in support Israel? Have we supported the country enough financially? I am not talking just Tzedakah but economically, with investments and other such activities? What should we be doing going forward?

Tehilim is composed of many chapters dealing with introspection. Reading it and reflecting on the meaning of the words should direct our thoughts to review our activities and decisions.

I believe that this approach is the correct one. There is no advantage in praying to God and expecting Him to listen without action on our part. That prayer is a superstition and like all superstition is meant to assuage personal anxiety and cover up for lack of responsibility and inaction.

Let us hope we make the correct decisions and peace will come to our land, the ultimate home of our people.

Monday, July 17, 2006

What makes the Torah divine?

In my previous post on Torah min Hashamayim I quoted Rambam on why our Torah is divine as opposed to others and Jewish Skeptic made the following, point which seems valid at first blush: (Edited slightly)

The Rambam's arguments are neither here nor there. Christianity can claim it is superior to Judaism in as far as it has been accepted by so many & God’s will is to benefit all mankind & not just a tiny nation. The Jews were scattered throughout the world & despised everywhere - a sure sign of God's displeasure with them. Do I have to quote you more of Christian theology throughout the ages on why they consider their religion superior to ours?The Muslims make similar arguments. In addition they claim that no one can reproduce a book of equal beauty to the Koran. I read it & it is much inferior to our neviim. But of course they'll say I am prejudiced & lack emunas chachomim-Islamic...)So I don’t see the point of quoting the Rambam-if it's all a matter of choice, not based on rationality.

One has to read Rambam in context because he is consistent and sees things in a macro perspective. The question that we have to answer is what is it that Judaism is trying to accomplish? What is the Torah a guide for? The goal is not social justice on its own, nor is it proper interaction with fellow human beings alone nor is it only proper performance of rituals. All these things are only tools that we are supposed to use to arrive at an answer to the most pressing existential issue of humankind – why am here? What is the meaning of this existence?

The Torah starts with stories, stories of Creation – to teach us that by trying to understand the universe we will find God the First Cause. Stories of early humankind – to teach us about the struggles of early humankind to understand their surroundings, the development of idolatry and its consequences in the enslavement of man to their rulers. Stories of the Avot – to tell us about the early development of Judaism and its goals –

יט כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו, לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת-בָּנָיו וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו, וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט--לְמַעַן, הָבִיא יְהוָה עַל-אַבְרָהָם, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר, עָלָיו. 19
For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.'

And finally the stories of the formation of a nation with a covenant with God and the Torah as a tool that will, if used properly and implemented, produce people and leaders that will lead the nation to know God and His ways. This will eventually spread to all nations of the world and it will become universal knowledge.

The Torah’s purpose is thus twofold: individual and National (eventually universal). On an individual basis it gives man the ability through speculation and meditation to grasp the eternal and assimilate it. Understanding God’s ways is taking in the eternal into oneself, a kind of fusion with eternity. It is an experience that we all have in a small scale when we grasp concepts that bring us new understanding. It is the experience of the scientist who discovers a new wrinkle in the laws of nature and contemplates the greatness, intricacy and beauty of it all. Rambam in Hil Yesodei Hatorah 7:1 describes the experience very eloquently:

אדם שהוא ממולא בכל המידות האלו, שלם בגופו, כשייכנס לפרדס ויימשך באותן העניינות הגדולים הרחוקים, ותהיה לו דעת נכונה להבין ולהשיג, והוא מתקדש והולך פורש מדרכי כלל העם ההולכים במחשכי הזמן, והולך מזרז עצמו ומלמד נפשו שלא תהיה לו מחשבה כלל באחד מדברים בטילים, ולא מהבלי הזמן ותחבולותיו, אלא דעתו תמיד פנויה למעלה, קשורה תחת הכיסא, להבין באותן הצורות הקדושות הטהורות, ומסתכל בחכמתו של הקדוש ברוך הוא כולה מצורה ראשונה עד טבור הארץ, ויודע מהם גודלו--מיד רוח הקודש שורה עליו.

ג ובעת שתנוח עליו הרוח--תתערב נפשו במעלת המלאכים הנקראים אישים, וייהפך לאיש אחר, ויבין בדעתו שאינו כמות שהיה, אלא שנתעלה על מעלת שאר בני אדם החכמים: כמו שנאמר בשאול, "והתנבית עימם; ונהפכת, לאיש אחר" (שמואל א י,ו).

From a universal perspective the goal of the Torah is to create a nation and eventually humanity that contains in itself people that have developed to the point I described. Having reached this understanding, these people will realize that it is their obligation to emulate God’s ways and thus partake with Him in the development and maintenance of the universe and its content. That is the meaning of the prophet’s ultimate goal for humanity;

ט לֹא-יָרֵעוּ וְלֹא-יַשְׁחִיתוּ, בְּכָל-הַר קָדְשִׁי: כִּי-מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ, דֵּעָה אֶת-יְהוָה, כַּמַּיִם, לַיָּם מְכַסִּים. {ס} 9
They shall not hurt nor destroy in my entire holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. {S}

To allow for all this to happen, society has to be stable so that the men who have the natural ability to advance knowledge can develop. There also has to be an ethical and moral underpinning to that society otherwise we will end up with Nazi Germany. It also helps if there is something in the practice of man that will make him aware and remind him that he has to think about existential issues and search for God and tear himself away from the mundane to do so. Thus the need for societal, moral, ethical and ritual laws to address each of the above respectively.

That is how I understand Rambam that I quoted. He is saying that none of the other sacred or legal texts address all these issues. They may address one or the other but none have integrated all that man and humankind needs to attain their ultimate perfection into a harmonious system. A text and a system that does it is divine – none other.

Thus Rambam ends the Moreh thus:

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. We have explained this many times in this treatise.”

The divinity of the Torah is thus internal. The fact that other sacred texts have been adopted by a larger amount of people, that fact that the Jews who try to follow the Torah are persecuted nor any other argument will take away one iota from the Torah's divinity. The goals and the system it proposes to attain them are Divine by definition.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Why do I believe the Torah is Divine and uniquely so?

I was avoiding the issue of Torah Min Hashamayim, Ma’amad Har Sinai and generally the divinity of Torah and Mitzvot until I tackled prophecy and providence. However an intelligent and erudite debate has been going on at Divrei Chaim on that and related subjects and I could not resist jumping in and just discuss some Rashei Perakim.

I already posted that at Ma’amad Har Sinai the important aspect from a revelatory point was the fact that all bystanders were somehow convinced that Moshe Rabbeinu was transmitting God’s word. Exactly what the experience was will never be known but there are certain clues that help us get a feel of what happened. I will address it in depth but first I need to explain prophecy for it to make sense. I will do that as I get around to it.

Be it as it may, from a religious point the most important happening was the acceptance by the Jews of the Torah and its system. They committed themselves and their future generations, to keep, cherish, nurture and develop the system within the parameters set out by the Torah. They made a covenant to that effect.

ז וַיִּקַּח סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית, וַיִּקְרָא בְּאָזְנֵי הָעָם; וַיֹּאמְרוּ, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע. 7
And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the hearing of the people; and they said: 'All that the LORD hath spoken will we do, and obey.'

ח וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַדָּם, וַיִּזְרֹק עַל-הָעָם; וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּה דַם-הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר כָּרַת יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם, עַל כָּל-הַדְּבָרִים, הָאֵלֶּה.
8 And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said: 'Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you in agreement with all these words.'

Having created a covenantal society, using a RYBS term, those who renege break the bond. They have the choice to do so, but the consequence is severance.

That is why at the end of the 40 years Moshe in his farewell speech says:

ב יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, כָּרַת עִמָּנוּ בְּרִית--בְּחֹרֵב. 2

The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.

ג לֹא אֶת-אֲבֹתֵינוּ, כָּרַת יְהוָה אֶת-הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת: כִּי אִתָּנוּ, אֲנַחְנוּ אֵלֶּה פֹה הַיּוֹם כֻּלָּנוּ חַיִּים. 3

The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.

ד פָּנִים בְּפָנִים, דִּבֶּר יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם בָּהָר--מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ. 4

The LORD spoke with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire--

In other words remember that at Sinai you were convinced about the divinity of my prophetic revelation and accepted that the laws I will give you are divine and the result of my unique attainment in prophecy.

For the system to work, the Torah has to be immutable. The Torah tells us:

י וְלֹא-קָם נָבִיא עוֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, כְּמֹשֶׁה, אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוֹ יְהוָה, פָּנִים אֶל-פָּנִים. 10

And there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face;

In other words his prophecy is unique both past and future. He is the only prophet who had a face-to-face experience when he got to know God which is why he was the only prophet that ever legislated. The prophecy he attained allowed for a verbatim transmission of the laws that he apprehended in his revelatory experience. That is why Rambam legislates:

שלושה הן הכופרים בתורה: האומר שאין התורה מעם ה', אפילו פסוק אחד, אפילו תיבה אחת--אם אמר משה אמרו מפי עצמו, הרי זה כופר בתורה; וכן הכופר בפירושה, והיא תורה שבעל פה, והכחיש מגידיה, כגון צדוק ובייתוס; והאומר שהבורא החליף מצוה זו במצוה אחרת, וכבר בטלה תורה זו, אף על פי שהיא הייתה מעם ה', כגון הנוצריים וההגריים. כל אחד משלושה אלו כופר בתורה.

One, who does not accept that Moshe’s prophecy was unique, repudiates the Torah and breaks down its immutability. By doing that he destroys the system and that cannot be tolerated. We are compelled by the torah itself to accept that it is divine. (Please note that the Oral Torah is included as are the interpreters, a long subject for another time)

I know that some will immediately jump on me and say that I am putting forth an idea that Torah is really not Min Hashamayim but is so just because it works better that way. God forbid. I believe it is Min Hashamayim with all my heart. However the reason I accept it is so is because the Torah tells me it is. And I have accepted Torah as Torat Emet. It is impossible to verify it further than that. If I am true to the covenant my forebears made regarding the Torah, I have to accept it as a whole system and not only those parts I can prove empirically.

Now comes the question every skeptic thinks is a killer. Why is our Torah, both written and oral a better and more reliable Mesora than the Christian New Testament for example? For that matter as GH points out the book of Mormon, Koran et al.?

Rambam addresses it in Moreh 2:40: ( I recommend you read this piece in the other editions Pines, Kafah or Schwartz - the latter available here as this translation is horrible but the only one available on line)

I will, however, fully explain this to you, so that no doubt be left to you on this question, and that you may have a criterion by which you may distinguish between the guidance of human legislation, of the divine law, and of teachings of those who stole from prophets.

As regards those who declare that the laws proclaimed by them are their own ideas, no further test is required: the confession of the defendant makes the evidence of the witness superfluous. I only wish to instruct you about laws which are proclaimed as prophetic. Some of these are truly prophetic, originating in divine inspiration, some are of non-prophetic character, and some, though prophetic originally, are the result of plagiarism. (DG: NT, Koran, book of Mormons)

You will find that the sole object of certain laws, in accordance with the intention of their author, who well considered their effect, is to establish the good order of the state and its affairs, to free it from all mischief and wrong: (DG: the Constitution of the US) these laws do not deal with philosophic problems, contain no teaching for the perfecting of our logical faculties, and are not concerned about the existence of sound or unsound opinions. Their sole object is to arrange, under all circumstances, the relations of men to each other, and to secure their well-being, in accordance with the view of the author of these laws. These laws are political, and their author belongs, as has been stated above, to the third class, viz., to those who only distinguish themselves by the perfection of their imaginative faculties. You will also find laws which, in all their rules, aim, as the law just mentioned, at the improvement of the material interests of the people: but, besides, tend to improve the state of the faith of man, to create first correct notions of God, and of angels, and to lead then the people, by instruction and education, to an accurate knowledge of the Universe: this education comes from God; these laws are divine.

The question which now remains to be settled is this: Is the person who proclaimed these laws the same perfect man that received them by prophetic inspiration, or a plagiarist, who has stolen these ideas from a true prophet? In order to be able to answer this question, we must examine the merits of the person, obtain an accurate account of his actions, and consider his character. The best test is the rejection, abstention, and contempt of bodily pleasures: for this is the first condition of men, and a fortiori of prophets: they must especially disregard pleasures of the sense of touch, which, according to Aristotle, is a disgrace to us: and, above all, restrain from the pollution of sensual intercourse

Rambam feels this to be so important that he ends the statement a little further with: Note what is meant by these words.

He is addressing the claims of others about their laws and theological books. The new testament does claim to give moral teachings, it does address theological issues, (I have never read it in its entirety myself – never had the patience – but from excerpts it seems to do that) – it however declared the Laws of the Torah to which it appended itself, to be null and void. Koran did the same. Furthermore Mohammed certainly did not stand the test of a prophet as Rambam explains.

I do not think I need to go further; the statement speaks for itself.

Have a good Shabbos.

Edit: As I reread this longer than usual post I realized I did not summarize so here goes:

It is futile to look for external empirical proofs for TMS. It is purely a matter of choice. If one wants to remain part of Klal Israel, the covenant that our forebears made has to be accepted as valid. Part of that covenant was to follow the Torah both oral and written. The Torah tells us it is divine and immutable. The strongest argument for its divinity is internal. it is a way of life that covers all aspects, social, societal and theological.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

It feels like war

The situation in Israel is deteriorating by the minute. Reserves are being called up and the army is on high alert. Our hearts are with our brethern who have the Zechut to be home and we wish them strength, courage and peace.

ט וְכִי-תָבֹאוּ מִלְחָמָה בְּאַרְצְכֶם, עַל-הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם--וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם, בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת; וְנִזְכַּרְתֶּם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, וְנוֹשַׁעְתֶּם, מֵאֹיְבֵיכֶם.
9 And when ye go to war in your land against the adversary that oppresseth you, then ye shall sound an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies.

Shalom Le'artzeinu.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What to do about the Washington Post -Al Ta'amod al Dam Re'eycha - Write and protest

I received this email and please follow the instructions to protest the Washington Posts anti Israel bias.


We have set forth two recent Alerts below. Before we get to those, however, we want to tell you another reason why the anti-Israel bias of the Washington Post is so important, not only to readers of the Post in Washington, DC, but also in many cities worldwide. The distribution of the Washington Post brings home the famous quote of Sir Winston Churchill that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Despite your distance, the Washington Post is in your neighborhood, not only on your news stands but also in your home town newspapers. It influences your friends and associates with a distorted picture of what is taking place between Israel and the Palestinians. The Washington Post has its own wire/news service, and its articles, complete with reporters' bylines, appear in a huge number of newspapers around the country and around the world. That means that each and every time the Post's correspondent in Israel, Scott Wilson, writes an article that emphasizes or sympathizes with the Palestinian side of the dispute, falsely depicts Israel as aggressive and brutal, repeats without question lies told to him by Palestinian sources, buries or hides important facts, uses terminology to soften the image of terrorists, or fails to supply important context to enable readers to understand the conflict, his articles may appear verbatim in a newspaper local to you. The following 62 news outlets have each republished complete articles by Washington Post reporters within the last several weeks, and this is just a partial list:

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As you can see, no location is safe from the impact of a news outlet such as the Washington Post that is both influential and at the same time distorts the news to fit its own agenda on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Please disseminate these alerts to as many people as you know who are concerned about the damage being done to Israel's image by a biased press.
Saturday, July 8, 2006(click here to read this alert online)
The Post Emphasizes Only One Side Of The Fighting, Palestinian Injuries Death And Property Damage From Israeli Tanks and Missiles - Downplays and Ignores The Continuing Stream Of Terrorist Attacks On Israel That Forced Israel To Re-Enter Gaza
Ever since Israeli troops were provoked into re-entering Gaza, first by months of almost daily bombardment of Israeli cities by the terrorists within Gaza and then triggered by the terrorist infiltration into Israel and kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the Post's correspondent, Scott Wilson, has placed himself in Gaza among the Palestinians. He isn't trapped there.
"No, I don't feel trapped, although Gaza is a small, crowded place and when fighting starts here (even on small scales) it can be frightening. I, of course, can leave - whether to get medical attention or if I feel the situation is too dangerous." (Online Transcript of Scott Wilson Interview, 6-28-06)
(click here to read the balance of this Alert online)
Tuesday, July 4, 2006(click here to read this alert online)
Washington Post Views And Reports Israel's Struggle Against Terrorism Through the Prism of Moral Equivalence - Equates Infiltration and Seizure of Israeli Soldier to Arrests and Imprisonment of Terrorists and Accomplices - Says Kidnapping of Israeli Soldier Provides Hope to Families of Jailed Terrorists - Seeks To Shed Doubt On Israel's Sincerity In Saying Gaza Offensive's Primary Purpose Is To Recover Kidnapped Soldier
An article today by the Post's Scott Wilson demonstrates the distorted perspective of moral equivalence that permeates much of Mr. Wilson's reporting. (In Gaza, Not Just a Soldier -- or Prisoner, Corporal's Capture Emboldens Israel's Bid to Weaken Hamas, Palestinians' Pleas for Detainee Releases, 7-4-06, A09) Mr. Wilson harbors the bankrupt notion that Arabs and Israelis, terrorists and soldiers, aggression and defense all are morally equivalent, and he often injects this opinion into his writing.
(click here to read the balance of this Alert online)
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The Washington Post -Hamas Mouthpiece

Read the outrage the Washington Post is perpetrating by blatantly supporting terror. What next
? Bin Laden?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Of angels and men.

Aristotelian cosmology explains the movements of the heavenly bodies more or less as follows:

The heavens are composed of transparent spheres embedded with stars. The number of spheres depends on the point of view of different philosophers and their understanding of the varying speeds of the heavenly objects. As gravity was an unknown, they explained their motion by attributing to each sphere a mind and a wish to attain perfection by moving at optimal speed and direction. Each sphere’s movement follows a specific intellect that exists for that sphere. That intellect is similar to the Form that we described in the previous post. By apprehending that intellect, each sphere’s movement is circular, which is considered the perfect motion, and moves at a certain speed. The variance in speed of different spheres is the result of differing levels of comprehension. Rambam counted nine intellects that directed the spheres and a tenth one that governs the four elements on earth. That last one is the Active Intellect that man, by connecting with it and assimilating it, learns the sciences.

How do we translate this cosmology into contemporary scientific understanding? It is very important as Rambam uses it to explain angels, prophecy, men’s intellectual attainment and Olam Haba.

We now know that gravity is the underlying force behind movement. We can replace the spheres’ intellect with the natural laws of gravity, the Active Intellect with the totality of the rules of nature. The role of the planets mediated by the forces of gravity on our world is similar to the one observed and described by the Greeks although much better understood. The human mind learns and assimilates those laws and using that knowledge gets an understanding of the Creator that is the cause of it all. That brings us to angels. Rambam in 2:7 makes a very concise statement describing them:

WE have already explained that the term" angel" is a homonym, and is used of the intellectual beings, the spheres, and the elements: for all these are engaged in performing a divine command”.

Thus an angel is an adjective that describes anything that is an intermediary in the performance of an act. To give the word meaning it must follow, overtly or implicitly, a term that would explain who it is an intermediary for. It is not an independent entity but describes a function. Rambam in 2:6 says as follows:

This is also the view we meet with in all parts of Scripture: every act of God is described as being performed by angels. But" angel" means" messenger”: hence every one that is entrusted with a certain mission is an angel. Even the movements of the brute creation are sometimes due to the action of an angel, when such movements serve the purpose of the Creator, who endowed it with the power of performing that movement; e.g.," God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths that they have not hurt me" (Dan. vi. 22). Another instance may be seen in the movements of Bila'am's ass, described as caused by an angel. The elements are also called angels. Comp." Who makes winds His angels, flaming fire His ministers" (Ps. 96: 4). There is no doubt that the word" angel" is used of a messenger sent by man; e.g.," And Jacob sent angels" (Gen. 32:4): of a prophet, e.g.," And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim" (judges ii. I):" And He sent an angel, and hath brought us forth out of Egypt" (Num. xx. 16). It is also used of ideals, perceived by prophets in prophetic visions, and of man's animal powers, as will be explained in another place”.

Understanding the concept of Form and the idea that an angel is not an entity but a description of a function are two important ideas that we must keep in mind as we try to understand Rambam’s rational theology.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Form and Substance (Matter) -

Scholars, when they study Rambam’s philosophical/theological writings, focus on the historical context in which those works were authored. As Rambam based his theology on medieval Aristotelian philosophy interpreted by Muslim thinkers, scholars read him in that context. A man of religion who is looking to Rambam to help him with his beliefs must translate those ideas into contemporary language, for them to have any value. I have attempted to do that with some success, (a personal judgment), enough to give me confidence that, with a lot of hard work, the same is possible in other areas that still seem obscure. One of the difficult ideas that I have struggled with is Form and Substance or Matter, a crucial component in Rambam’s thought process. I am going to try to deal with it in this post and ask for input if anyone can help clarifying further.

One of the basic ideas in Rambam’s thought is that everything physical has two components – Matter and Form. It is a mental construct that helps one understand things. Matter is the Physical component which needs Form to make it what it is. For example water is a combination of the atoms of two gases, oxygen and hydrogen. The idea behind the combination, the amount of each component and the method used to combine them, is what medieval thinkers referred to as Form. The concept that the combination of the two gases will result in water existed before water came into being. The concept itself is seen as an existing non-physical entity. Rambam in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 4:7 explains this as follows: (my translation paraphrased)

לעולם אין אתה רואה גולם בלא צורה, או צורה בלא גולם. אלא לב האדם--הוא שמחלק הגוף הנמצא בדעתו, ויודע שהוא מחובר מגולם וצורה, ויודע שיש שם גופים שגולמם מחובר מארבע יסודות, וגופים שגולמם פשוט ואינו מחובר מגולם אחר. והצורות שאין להם גולם, אינן נראין לעין, אלא בעין הלב הם ידועים, כמו שידענו אדון הכול בלא ראיית עין.

"One never sees Matter without Form or Form without Matter. It is man that separates, the body that he visualizes in his mind, into the two components; Matter and Form. He knows that there are bodies that are composed of four elements while others are simple and composed of only one. Forms without Matter are not visible but are concepts just like we know [of the existence] of the Creator of everything without seeing."

The last words in this Halacha כמו שידענו אדון הכול בלא ראיית עין. as I read them are extremely important and emphasize how crucial it is to understand this concept of Form. It is only if this is clear in our minds that we will be able to grasp Rambam’s ideas about God.

Rambam applies this idea to almost every area of theological exploration. One of those is right at the start of Moreh Hanevuchim where he discusses what makes man different. What the Torah refers to as Tzelem, Rambam explains as follows in Moreh 1:1-

In the phrase" Let us make man in our Tzelem" (Gen. i. 26), the term signifies" the specific form" of man, viz., his intellectual perception, and does not refer to his" figure" or" shape."

The Form of man is what differentiates him from other living things. It is as if when God planned Creation, he prepared a list of the different living organisms He was going to bring about. In that list the characteristic that differentiates man from the others would be his intellectual perception. That concept in God’s mind, so to speak, is the Form or Tzelem in the verse.

In a similar vein one can visualize the laws of physics that govern the Universe as the Form of the world. When a person understands one of these laws his personal Form, the intellect, fuses with that other Form, the particular law of physics and they become one. (Read Moreh 1:68 with this in mind.)

I would appreciate any and all comments and input that would improve my presentation.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Does Jewish Hashkafah evolve?

In an earlier post I proposed a dynamic approach to Ta’amei Hamitzvos. R. Chaim B. brought to my attention a Rambam that is quite clear about it. It is at the end of Hilchos Temurah, where he explains the reason for why both the original Kodesh item (an item that through a pledge was given to the Beit Hamikdash) and its replacement are both Kodesh and cannot be redeemed. Rambam delves into human nature, greed and self-serving. Introducing that explanation he makes the following statement, which is the interest of this post:

יד אף על פי שכל חוקי התורה, גזירות הן כמו שביארנו בסוף מעילה, ראוי להתבונן בהן; וכל שאתה יכול ליתן לו טעם, תן לו טעם: הרי אמרו חכמים הראשונים, שהמלך שלמה הבין רוב הטעמים של כל חוקי התורה

“Although the Chukim of the Torah are Gezeirot (rulings without apparent reason) as we explained at the end of Me’ilah, a person should contemplate them and wherever he can find a reason he should do so. Our earlier sages said that Shlomo Hamelech understood most reasons for all the Chukim of the Torah.”

The language Rambam uses here is a little surprising - , שהמלך שלמה הבין רוב הטעמים של כל חוקי התורה – when it should have been the reason for most of the Chukim of the Torah rather than most reasons for all the Chukim of the Torah – the implication is that each Mitzvah has more than one reason. In other words there is a personal rather than a universal reason for each Mitzvah. As a person performs a Mitzvah and contemplates the reason for the commandment, he develops new understanding about his relationship to God, new insights about God and at the same time a new understanding of the reason for doing the Mitzvah.

Where I am taking this is that it explains why we are keeping Mitzvot that at first blush seem archaic and their original intent seems to be no longer applicable. It is an argument that is always thrown at practicing Jews and many are at a loss how to respond. However the question should be viewed as a challenge and is in itself the answer. One should question why a Mitzvah that apparently has no reason must still be performed. The search for the answer should open a train of thought that addresses where the person is in his theological development and how the performance affects it. It is the stubborn performance coupled with an open-minded questioning and search for a reason that allows one to fulfill the intent and goal of the commandment. Although Rambam was talking mainly about Chukim, Mitzvot that were originally given without a reason appended to them, I believe that is so with other Mitzvot too. That explains Rambam at the end of Hilchot Me’ilah:

והמשפטים, הן המצוות שטעמן גלוי, וטובת עשייתן בעולם הזה ידועה, כגון איסור גזל ושפיכות דמים וכיבוד אב ואם; והחוקים, הן המצוות שאין טעמן ידוע. אמרו חכמים, חוקים שחקקתי לך, ואין לך רשות להרהר בהן. ויצרו של אדם נוקפו בהן, ואומות העולם משיבין עליהן--כגון איסור בשר חזיר, ובשר בחלב, ועגלה ערופה, ופרה אדומה, ושעיר המשתלח.
ז וכמה היה דויד המלך מצטער מן המינים והגויים, שהיו משיבין על החוקים; וכל זמן שהיו רודפין אותו בתשובות השקר שעורכין לפי קוצר דעת האדם, היה מוסיף דבקה בתורה, שנאמר "טפלו עליי שקר, זדים; אני, בכל לב אצור פיקודיך" (תהילים קיט,סט), ונאמר שם בעניין "כל מצוותיך, אמונה; שקר רדפוני, עוזרני" (תהילים קיט,פו).

What is interesting in the above Halacha is that Rambam only lists two categories; Mishpatim which he explains as social laws and Chukim which do not have self-evident reasons and seem to include all Mitzvot that are not of the first category. Some of those latter Mitzvot have reasons appended to them in the Torah but detractors would argue that they no longer apply. In spite of that David Hamelech stubbornly keeps them.

I believe that Rambam promotes a similar approach regarding Hashkafic issues. The belief in the resurrection of the dead is a cornerstone (Pinah) in Judaism and is not mentioned in Torah or in Tanach until Daniel who was one of the last prophets and lived at the time of the Babylonian exile. Rambam addresses the question in his Essay on the Resurrection of the Dead, Ma’amar Techyat Hametim (TH). He explains that had a prophet, including Moshe, told about the resurrection of the dead at an earlier time, the people would not have believed it. It is only after 800 years from Sinai that Daniel could tell about it and his prophecy would be accepted. A basic concept of Judaism could only be developed when the people were ready for it. Rambam tells us that prophecy was not accepted unquetionably during the days of the First Temple. Contrary to popular belief that prophecy was prevalent then, apparently real prophecy that taught proper theology was not accepted. They may have gone to the "Roeh", seer for every litlle thing as told in Shmuel, they had not accepted it as binding for theology.

Here is the full text of Rambam’s explanation:

והיו בני אדם כולם בזמן ההוא מכת הצאב"א, אומרים בקדמות העולם שהם היו מאמינים שהשם רוח הגלגל, כמו שבארנו ב"מורה הנבוכים" ומכזיבים הגיע הנבואה מאת השם לבני אדם. וכן יתחייב להם לפי אמונתם הכזבת המופתים, וייחסו אותו לכישוף ולתחבולה. הלא תראה אותם משתדלים לחלוק על מופת משה רבינו ע"ה בלהטיהם וישליכו איש מטהו. והלא תראה איך אמרו, מתמיהים, "היום הזה ראינו כי ידבר אלהים את האדם וחי". הורה שהייתה הנבואה אצלם מכת הנמנע. ואיך יסופר למי שלא התבארה אצלו הנבואה בדבר שאין ראוי עליו אלא האמנת הנביא, והוא גם כן נמנע אצלם לגמרי לפי אמונתם בקדמות העולם, כי לולי המופתים לא הייתה אצלנו תחיית המתים מכת האפשר.
וכאשר רצה השם יתעלה לתת תורה לבני אדם, לפרסם בהם מצוותו ודתו ואזהרתו על ידי הנביאים בכל העולם, כמו שאמר "ולמען ספר שמי בכל הארץ".
חידש המופתים הגדולים הכתובים בכל התורה, עד שהתאמת בהם נבואת הנביאים וחידוש העולם. כי המופת האמיתי ראיה ברורה על חידוש העולם כאשר בארנו ב"מורה הנבוכים
ולא הוציאם מענייני העולם הזה בגמול ובעונש
ומהעניין אשר הוא בטבע והוא השאר הנפש או היכרתה, כמו שזכרנו רצוני לומר העולם הבא. ולא נכנס לזולת זה מעניין התחייה וכרת
והתמיד העניין כן, עד שנתחזקו אלו הפינות והתאמתו בהמשך הדורות,
ולא נשאר ספק בנבואות הנביאים ובחידוש המופתים. ואחרי כן ספרו לנו הנביאים
מה שהודיעם ה' יתעלה מעניין תחיית המתים, והיה קל לקבלו

(For a detailed discussion of my understanding of miracles according to Rambam, see my article in Hakirah vol 3 – the latest volume. Subscribe at or email me and I will send you a copy of the article.)

It is the same with all other aspects of theology. As humanity evolved and the Jewish people along with it, new insights into how to understand the universe came about. As God can only be perceived through nature, new ways of understanding God developed as our understanding of nature changed. Of course this evolutionary process is not without constraints. It does not allow for new dogmas, but for a better understanding of the ones we already have from tradition.

Ironically this idea of Rambam was the impetus for the development of Kabbalah and the underlying argument of its legitimization. Chardal in his comments correctly pointed that out. However I believe Rambam limited this to where a person can go rationally. Prophecy was stopped at the beginning of the Second Temple and revelation no longer exists.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Is Kabbalah just a variation on the Christian belief in the Trinity?

This will be my last post in this series about Kabbalah as I want to revert to positive talk and present Rambam’s rational approach to creation. I expect that process to take a while.

Rabbi Yitzchak bar Sheshet (Ribash) (1326-1408) (see for details about him) was a pupil of Rabbeinu Nissim ben Reuven (RaN) and was considered the greatest Halachik authority of his days. He ended his long career as the Chief Rabbi of Algiers and environments. For a comprehensive discussion of his and his younger colleague Rabbi Shimon Ben Zemach Duran (Rashbatz) activities see Sinai Volume 134 page 92 onward. Being a pupil of RaN, who was a philosopher and from the school of the great Spanish Mekubal, Ramban, and also being a colleague of R. Hasdai Crescas author of Ohr Hashem, a philosophical work that tries to argue against Rambam thought and supports the more mystical approaches, Ribash was well aware and knew of the Kabbalah and its ways quite well. A reader of my blog brought Teshuvah 157 in the Shut Haribash to my attention. I had seen it a long time ago, in fact we went over it during one of our Shabbat learning groups but it slipped my mind as I was writing the earlier two Blogs. I will translate some pertinent segments.

“… I also told you that my teacher Rabbi Peretz Hacohen never spoke nor appreciated those Sefirot. I also heard from him that R. Shimshon of Chinon, who was the greatest Rabbi of his generation, (I remember him though I never saw him with my own eyes), used to say: “I pray according to the mind of this child.” (In other words – my prayer is uncomplicated). He meant to contradict the Mekubalim who at one time pray to one Sefira and at another to another, depending on the subject of the prayer… All this is very strange to someone who is not a Mekubal; it makes one think that this is a belief in “Shenyot” (a term that refers to God as being composed of more than one essence). I once heard a philosophically minded person denigrating the Mekubalim saying: The idolaters (Christians) believe in the Trinity (three essences) and the Mekubalim in Ten essences.”

He then goes on to tell about a friend of his, a great Talmudist, philosopher and Mekubal who explained that the prayer is to God. However just like when one petitions the king, depending on the issue that one needs help for, one avails oneself of different intermediaries so too at prayer. Different Sefirot represent different types of intermediaries as needed for the specific petition. Ribash grants that explanation a very curt “Tov Me’od” and proceeds to say:

But who needs all this? Isn’t it better to pray simply to God with the proper intentions and He will know how to satisfy the petition… that is what R. Shimshon from Chinon meant in my earlier quote. I also told you what my Rebbi Rabeinu Nissim told me that Ramban went out too much on a limb believing in that Kabbalah. That is why I do not stake a position myself in that Chochma (wisdom) being I did not receive it from a learned Mekubal.”

He then proceeds to list a number of books he has read in Kabbalah and philosophy with short opinions about each one. He then discusses a book written by a Mekubal (I am not sure if he refers to R. Yitzchak de Latif or someone else) of which he is quite critical commenting:

This is not at all the opinion of the Mekubalim and I think that he invented this on his own and from his own intellect without receiving it from anyone, as he mentions in the fifth chapter of his book. Who can bother to figure out the new ideas that he made up and that he is so secretive about that he conceals them. I therefore decided let them be his and no one else’s. (He is annoyed that the author has the audacity to present individually developed ideas in an esoteric and difficult to decipher language. He sees it as arrogance.)… I therefore say that one should not rely on anything unless taught by a reliable Mekubal, and even then who knows?”

Ribash criticizes the whole idea of praying with Sefirot in mind. He also questions the validity of inspired metaphysical ideas. He considers Kabbalah questionably authentic, only if transmitted by a reliable Mekubal ostensibly it then having a chance of being an ancient and authentic Mesora. Even in that case only does Ribash accept Kabbalah as authentic with great reservation. We are talking about a person who shows an extensive knowledge of the Kabbalah of his day. I wonder what he would have thought of the Arizal’s Kabbalah which was developed completely from personal inspiration, as described by his pupils R. Chaim Vital et al. as quoted in my earlier post.

I think this Teshuvah talks for itself and I rest my case.

If you email me I will be glad to send you the original Teshuvah in a Pdf. (I do not know how to place it on the post).

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Kabbalah and Plato

Rambam quotes a Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer several times in the Moreh with wonderment and dedicates the whole Chapter 26 in the second part of the Moreh in trying to explain it. (See also in 2:30 where he refers to it in passing).

“IN the famous chapters known as the Chapters of Rabbi Eliezer, I find R. Eliezer the Great saying something more extraordinary than I have ever seen in the utterances of any believer in the Law of Moses. I mean the following passage:" Whence were the heavens created? He took part of the light of His garment, stretched it like a cloth, and thus the heavens were extending continually, as it is said: He covereth Himself with light as with a garment, He stretcheth the heavens like a curtain" (Ps. civ. 2)." Whence was the earth created? He took of the snow under the throne of glory, and threw it; according to the words: He saith to the snow, Be thou earth" (job xxxvii. 6). These are the words given there; and I, in my surprise, ask, What was the belief of this sage ? Did he think that nothing can be produced from nothing, and that a substance must have existed of which the things were formed? And did he for this reason ask whence were the heavens and the earth created? What has he gained by the answer? We might ask him, whence was the light of His garment created? Or the snow under the throne of His glory? Or the throne of glory itself? If the terms" the light of His garment" and" the throne of glory" mean something eternal, they must be rejected; the words would imply an admission of the Eternity of the Universe, though only in the form taught by Plato… In short, it is a passage that greatly confuses the notions of all intelligent and religious persons. I am unable to explain it sufficiently. I quoted it in order that you may not be misled by it.”

What we are discussing is Creation. There are three basic schools of thought as to creation according to Rambam. Aristotles believed the universe as we know it existed eternally parallel with God. Plato believed that God created the universe at some point in time from a substance that existed eternally parallel with God. The Torah according to Rambam teaches that, God created everything from total nothingness, in time. (I will discuss this at length as I go along.)

Rambam cannot accept R.Eliezer’s statement because it seems to imply that he held like Plato and not according to Torah. He tries to kvetch a pshat into it but does not really accept it because four chapters on, in 2:30, he refers back to R. Eliezer as Platonic. He therefore dismisses R. Eliezer as he did in this quote and there again:

“The above saying is, in my opinion, certainly of the same character as that of R. Eliezer," Whence were the heavens created," etc., (chap. xxvi.). In short, in these questions, do not take notice of the utterances of any person. I told you that the foundation of our faith is the belief that God created the Universe from nothing; that time did not exist previously, but was created: for it depends on the motion of the sphere and the sphere has been created.”

Now let us see how the Mekubalim read R.Eliezer. In Kitvei Haramban R. Chavel has a Pirush on Shir Hashirim that had been attributed to Ramban but Chavel shows that it is from Rabbi Azriel a Chaver of Ramban. On Shir Hashirim 3:9 he quotes R.Eliezer and comments; (my translation)-

“This is according to the opinion of Plato who says that it is an impossibility for the Creator to create something from nothingness, because there is a matter that exists [eternally] which is metaphorically, like the raw material for an artist or like iron to the smith to create whatever he wishes, so too the Creator blessed be He, creates from a matter heaven and earth and sometimes He will create other things. (I am not sure what he means with the latter). Do not wonder and argue that this sets limits to the Creator’s omnipotence by saying that He cannot create something from nothingness. It is the same as Him not being able to create incongruous things, for example a rectangle whose side is the same length as the diagonal, and to gather two opposites at the same time.”

He goes on to show that Shlomo Hamelech had the same opinion. There is nothing wrong with this opinion and as Rambam says it can accommodate the whole religion, but that is not what he believes nor what the Torah teaches. (I am simplifying to stay on subject). Rambam goes to great length to dissuade us from this opinion and shows that Shlomo Hamelech was not Platonic.

Ramban in Chumash is very cagey and the Ritva in his Sefer Hazikaron comments on it and is baffled (see Ramban on Breishit 1:1 – 1:8 (where he addresses R. Eliezer creating more confusion). Clearly Mekubalim were not as convinced as Rambam that God created everything from nothingness in time – in time being the key word. This position led to the development of the later theories of Tzimtzum and Tehiru which were the key to Arizal’s Kabbalah.

The point I am trying to make is that although the accepted opinion in the Orthodox community is that Kabbalah is Kodesh Kadashim and anyone that doubts it is suspect, it is a great distortion of the truth. If anything Kabbalah stands on wobbly legs and the burden of proof is on it to show that it is legitimate. The argument that so many great people believed it as authentic has no value, just as the numbers of his opponents did not dissuade Elijah at Har Hacarmel. There are very many theories of why this has been accepted by so many great Jewish thinkers. One of those is the article by rabbi Buchman in Hakirah which is a must read - U-madua lo Yeresem - .