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.

33 comments:

  1. I followed you most of the way, but then you seemed to jump at the end.

    What does it mean that absolute Truth is only known Internally, which is by definition, subjective truth?

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  2. >What does it mean that absolute Truth is only known Internally, which is by definition, subjective truth?

    You use the word absolute truth which to my understanding can only be applied to HKBH not even to Torah.
    Rambam Hilc. Yesodei Hatorah1:2

    לפיכך אין אמיתתו כאמיתת אחד מהם. [ד] הוא שהנביא אומר "וה' אלוהים אמת" (ירמיהו י,י)--הוא לבדו האמת, ואין לאחר אמת כאמיתו. והוא שהתורה אומרת "אין עוד, מלבדו" (דברים ד,לה), כלומר אין שם מצוי אמת מלבדו כמותו

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  3. Irviner, one more point. Absolute truth is such that it exists independently. Torah is for people so by definition it cannot be absolute.

    But really that is not the issue we are discussing. We want to know what makes our Torah better than sacred texts of other religions.

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  4. How does that fit with "Moshe Emet, V'Torat ha'Emet"?

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  5. >>But really that is not the issue we are discussing. We want to know what makes our Torah better than sacred texts of other religions.

    Which sacred texts are you refering to?

    Christanity and Islam are both based off of Judaism. the only other "sacred texts" I know of, are Hindu.

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  6. The Hindu texts, may very well be acurate stories of which to worship specific angels and powers in relation to India. although it seems unlikely, because of the way the religion changed from Polytheism, to essentially monotheistic, but with a few twists.

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  7. See here http://tinyurl.com/pu3vc
    for an interesting letter from the Rambam regarding the revelation of Moshe, and his rejection (according to my understanding) of the scrolls of the forefathers theory

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  8. >Christanity and Islam are both based off of Judaism. the only other "sacred texts" I know of, are Hindu

    Please read carefully rambam I quoted in my earlier post. he addresses both issues.

    i know very little about Budhism but all i know - there is no sacred text that covers all 3 aspects.

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  9. Rael, I know the letter. there is a pirush Hamishna in chulin along the same lines. i don't have it here in the office. i will respond overnight. (or over day at your end)

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  10. The scroll of the forefather theory (the maharzu's theory) is not that Moshe copied the texts, but that god regave them to Moshe. The Rambam has no inclination in this direction and it's unlikely he thinks that htis is what happeneed, but it doesn't formally contradict the ikar or seem to formally contradict this letter.

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  11. Rael, I did reread the letter and he seems to be saying that Avraham did not leave a written record and the only way we know of what happened is because HKBH told Moshe.

    However the point of Rambam is that there cannot be a law that is binding on a general population unless it is told or at least confirmed by Moshe. It is a basic rule in Nevuah that Rambam emphasizes here but also in Chulin 7:5, in Hil Melachim 8:11 and in Moreh several times that Moshe was the only Navi that had the ability to legislate.

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  12. David,
    The way you speak of the individual and nationhood sound almost Hirschian.
    I think that these concepts of the Rambam have been lost over the years, or at least at my Shabbos table.

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  13. Neil, I never could read Hirsch. My eyes glaze over but if he thinks like me great! (just kidding).

    What I write about Rambam's thoght is not new,as there is a major debate among scholars. Some believe that the last chapter in Moreh is appologetic (Strauss et al) on the hand believe it is the center and ultimate goal in rambam's hashkafah. The problem with scholars is that they forget or ourposely ignore the fact that Rambam was religious!

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  14. >>What does it mean that absolute Truth is only known Internally, which is by definition, subjective truth?

    I don't follow you. Why do you assume a definitional relationship between "internal" and "subjective"? There are many things that we know internally but that we consider to be objective truths (i.e. that I exist).

    David, as far as your articulation of Rambam's view of Torah min ha-shamayim, I think you're basically right. The brit between Am Yisrael and HKBH, forged at the foot of Har Sinai, is the "ground-zero" of Jewish philosophy (and Halakhah in general for that matter). Everything in Judaism follows from it.

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  15. David, you put it succinctly. It is a little disappointing to some because we are geared to this fantastic proof that Sinai happened otherwise it is untrue. The realization that it is only based on Kabalat ol Malchut Shamayim it sounds too musserdik and yeshivadik. to me it is exhilarating that it all depends on man taking it upon himself by choice. Wait untikl we get a glimpse of rambam's providence.

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  16. >"Some believe that the last chapter in Moreh is appologetic (Strauss et al"

    The Yabets (R.Yaakov Emden) was convinced that Moreh iii,51,was a forgery,because in the mashal the Rambam gives,The rabbis are put on a lower pedestal than the philosophers...
    He stated that the baal Yad Hachazakah coudn't have have written such a kefiredik perek.

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  17. jewishskeptic7/18/2006 3:14 PM

    The above comment is mine.

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  18. >>The realization that it is only based on Kabalat ol Malchut Shamayim it sounds too musserdik and yeshivadik.

    I wasn't thinking of it quite that way, actually. I prefer an existentialist motif a la RYBS. In the light of the mesorah, the mysterious and enigmatic God becomes visible, keveyachol.

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  19. >don't follow you. Why do you assume a definitional relationship between "internal" and "subjective"? There are many things that we know internally but that we consider to be objective truths (i.e. that I exist).

    If I say that I exist, but everybody else has evidence that I don't exist, my view that I exist becomes subjective.

    For example, does Mickey Mouse exist? Does Mickey Mouse think he exists?

    I'm still curious what the responce to the phrase "Moshe Emet, V'Torat ha'emet"

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  20. >"Moshe Emet, V'Torat ha'emet"

    Any idea who coined it?

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  21. Its from a midrash, which states that Korach and his followers are in Gehenom saying that phrase over and over again.

    (Gemara Bava Batra 74a)

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  22. R' Nachman said: "I was once walking in the desert and an Arab said, 'Come! I will show you where Korach's gang was swallowed up.' I saw two cracks in the ground and smoke rose from between them. He took a woolen cloth, dipped it in water, stuck it on the end of a spear and threw it into the smoke. When he took it out, the cloth was burnt. He said to me, 'Listen to what they are saying.' I put my ear to the ground and heard, 'Moshe is true and his Torah is true, and we are liars'." (Gemara Bava Batra 74a)

    R' Yaakov Lorberbaum of Lissa z"l (early 19th century; author of Nesivot Hamishpat) explains as follows: Korach was not a fool. His dispute with Moshe occurred because, like so many philosophers, his profound, but wrong, thoughts led him astray. Specifically, the two cracks in the earth represent the two foundations of Judaism which Korach and other philosophers denied: (1) The principle of prophecy; and (2) that Moshe was the teacher of Torah par excellence. The smoke which came from between the cracks represents the fact that Korach was blinded by his own logic.

    The white cloth represents a mind which is a clean slate, and dipping it in water represents teaching it Torah. When this mind was hurled with force into the smoke, it was burnt because if a Torah scholar rushes into debate with a philosopher, the Torah scholar may lose. Rather, the arguments of a Korach (or any philosopher) must be thought through and refuted calmly and patiently. If you take the time to put your ear to the ground and listen very closely, then you can hear Korach saying, "Moshe is true and his Torah is true, and we are liars." (Emet Le'yaakov)

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  23. >>If I say that I exist, but everybody else has evidence that I don't exist, my view that I exist becomes subjective.

    Either you exist or you don't. There's no room for subjectivity. The fact that nobody may know about has no bearing on the trueness of your existence.

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  24. >Its from a midrash, which states that Korach and his followers are in Gehenom saying that phrase over and over again.

    thank you. I could not remember the context. Korach was arguing that Moshe's revelation was ordinary,Ki Kol Ha'edah Kulam Kedoshim - thus his Torah was ordinary - Talit Shekula Techelet etc...- repenmting they asserted Moshe Emet - his revelation is unique - Vetorato emet - his Torah is unique- therefore they are both true relative to other prophets and laws. There is only one truth that is not relative - God.

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  25. Those two posts, side by side contradict eachother...

    Oh nevermind, your saying relative vs. Subjective... hmm.

    However, In refrence to, you either exist or you don't.. how exactly does that fit into a person with multiple personality disorder? Does the dormant personality keep comming in and out of existance?

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  26. >However, In refrence to, you either exist or you don't.. how exactly does that fit into a person with multiple personality disorder?

    You seem to be talking about the body/mind problem. If you eamil me i will give you recommended reading on the subject - that is if you like headaches!

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  27. No, its not a body/mind problem, its a consiousness problem.

    I have read a book called the Mind's I, if you have any others that would be interesting.

    Do I stop existing when I sleep?

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  28. You stop being a man when you stop thinking. :-)

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  29. sleeping is only 1/60th of death, not enough to say I stop being me. :)

    I still exist because there are external realities to myself that show that I exist. Subjectivly however, I stop existing when I sleep a dreamless sleep.

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  30. >sleeping is only 1/60th of death, not enough to say I stop being me. :)

    A man thinks when he sleeps though he might not know it. Prophecy comes in sleep for one and that is thinking to the utmost.

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  31. A man thinks when he sleeps though he might not know it. Prophecy comes in sleep for one and that is thinking to the utmost.

    Thats the same as saying that someone can exist without them knowing it...

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