Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Is Moral, Ethical and Intellectual Excellence Prophecy?.

The idea that prophecy is a natural human ability takes on a practical dimension when Rambam categorizes eleven levels of prophecy excluding Moshe. In MN 2:45 Rambam introduces the first level as follows:

“The first degree of prophecy consists in the divine assistance which is given to a person, and induces and encourages him to do something good and grand, e.g., to deliver a congregation of good men from the hands of evildoers; to save one noble person, or to bring happiness to a large number of people; he finds in himself the cause that moves and urges him to this deed. This degree of divine influence is called" the spirit of the Lord" : and of the person who is under that influence we say that the spirit of the Lord came upon him, clothed him, or rested upon him, or the Lord was with him, and the like. All the judges of Israel possessed this degree, for the following general statement is made concerning them --" The Lord raised up judges for them; and the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them" (judges ii. 18). Also all the noble chiefs of Israel belonged to this class. The same is distinctly stated concerning some of the judges and the kings:--" The spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah" (ibid. xi. 29): of Samson it is said," The spirit of the Lord came upon him" (ibid. xiv. 19):" And the spirit of the Lord came upon Saul when he heard those words" (I Sam. xi. 6). When Amasa was moved by the holy spirit to assist David," A spirit clothed Amasa, who was chief of the captains, and he said, we are yours, David," etc. (I Chron. xii. 18). This faculty was always possessed by Moses from the time he had attained the age of manhood: it moved him to slay the Egyptian, and to prevent evil from the two men that quarreled; it was so strong that, after he had fled from Egypt out of fear, and arrived in Midian, a trembling stranger, he could not restrain himself from interfering when he saw wrong being done; he could not bear it. Comp." And Moses rose and saved them" (Exod. ii. 17). David likewise was filled with this spirit, when he was anointed with the oil of anointing. Comp." And the spirit of God came upon David from that day and upward" (I Sam. xvi. 13). He thus conquered the lion and the bear and the Philistine, and accomplished similar tasks, by this very spirit. This faculty did not cause any of the above-named persons to speak on a certain subject, for it only aims at encouraging the person who possesses it to action; it does not encourage him to do everything, but only to help either a distinguished man or a whole congregation when oppressed, or to do something that leads to that end.”

Basically what Rambam describes as a first step towards prophecy, is someone who has a well-developed sense of right and wrong, one who is action oriented and fearless. Many people have a sense of justice and act on it. What makes one into a prophet?

Just as not all who have a true dream are prophets, so it cannot be said of every one who is assisted in a certain undertaking, as in the acquisition of property, or of some other personal advantage, that the spirit of the Lord came upon him, or that the Lord was with him, or that he performed his actions by the holy spirit. We only apply such phrases to those who have accomplished something very good and grand, or something that leads to that end: e.g., the success of Joseph in the house of the Egyptian, which was the first cause leading evidently to great events that occurred subsequently.”

It depends on the long-term outcome of his actions. It is not clear exactly what the criteria is but in general terms it is not something that affects only an individual. It has to have an effect on a population or group of people.

The next level is similar but more intellectual:

The second degree is this: A person feels as if something came upon him, and as if he had received a new power that encourages him to speak. He treats of science, or composes hymns, exhorts his fellow men, discusses political and theological problems; all this he does while awake, and in the full possession of his senses. Such a person is said to speak by the Holy Spirit. David composed the Psalms, and Solomon the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon by this spirit; also Daniel, job, Chronicles, and the rest of the Hagiography were written in this holy spirit; therefore they are called ketubim (Writings, or Written), i.e., written by men inspired by the holy spirit.”

Clearly we are talking about people with developed ethical, moral and intellectual capacities that undertake to do great things. Rambam makes it clear that we are not talking about prophecy per se but rather a kind of precursor to it. It is these same people as they continue in this process, combining their innate senses with intellectual growth, eventually reach levels that they themselves can accept as prophecy. It is the prophet who knows when he is prophesying; no outside person can tell him that it is so. Beit Din can only verify his claim.

What I find fascinating about this is that David and Shlomo who composed Tehilim, Mishlei and Kohelet, books that are at the core of Jewish theology, are not considered full fledged prophets. It is the Holy Spirit, Ruach Hakodesh, which inspired them. They themselves did not consider it prophecy just holy inspiration.

I have, therefore, pointed out to you, that the prophecy revealed to Daniel and Solomon, although they saw an angel in the dream, was not considered by them as a perfect prophecy, but as a dream containing correct information. They belonged to the class of men that spoke, inspired by the Ruach Hakodesh, the Holy Spirit."

Rambam and Kuzari according to the Rav - The intellect is king.

In Worship of the Heart, RYBS writes:

“Even Maimonides, the great rationalist, who considered the intellectual connection to God as the prime objective of man’s pursuits and cognitive attainments, as the safest way leading to God, admitted that a rational, intellectual approach is not enough. The intellectual quest must express itself in an act of love whereby man attaches himself to the Infinite. The distinction between Maimonides and Halevi (R. Yehudah Halevi in his Kuzari) is to be understood in terms of philosophical order rather then essence. Maimonides posits the intellect as the point of departure for the dramatic ascent of man to God that coincides with the great passionate love of man:” according to knowledge so is the love (Hil. Teshuvah 10:6). Yehudah Halevi, as an adherent of visionary experience, starts out with the emotional response of man to the vision of God to man; he depicts man confronted with the reality of the Infinite and from there he proceeds to the interpretation of the emotional experience in rational terms… The ecstatic moment in the religious experience must be harnessed by intellectual categories and must never exceed the bounds of rationality. Judaism has always tried to maintain a fundamental equilibrium of thought and emotion, of cognition and feeling.”

The Rav is warning us that we need to control our emotions with our intellect when we deal with issues of religion. Unbounded ecstasy and free flow of the imagination are not part of Judaism. It is not only Rambam’s approach but also is the understanding of the other school of thought represented by the Kuzari. It is a universal axiom in Judaism.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Interruptions during Shema- an example of Rambam's seamless integration of Halacha and Theology.

I am learning Hilchot Kryat Shema and I came across what I found to be an exceptionally interesting idea that I would like to share. The Halacha is that one may not interrupt while one is in the middle of Kryat Shema and its Berachot. That means that once one starts the Bracha of Yotzer Ohr through the Amidah one may not interrupt except in a case when a person that one has to respect, such as a parent or Rebbi, enters in which case if one holds between the chapters one may initiate a greeting. One may also respond between the chapters to a greeting offered by any other person. In the middle of the chapters one may initiate a greeting with a person one fears and respond to a greeting from a person one is required to respect. This is based on the Gemara in Berachot 11 and the Rishonim discuss if one should respond for Kedusha, Kaddish and generally Amen on Berachot. Some compare it to responding out of fear, others to respect and by the time we get to the Acharonim it becomes quite confusing. One comes away with a feeling of frustration and it seems to be almost a compulsion with minutiae. Unless one can understand the issues involved it makes little sense to spend so much energy on such an issue.

Rambam totally ignores the question in Hilchot Kryat Shema. In Hilchot Tefilah 10:16 legislates as follows:

ואם התחיל להתפלל קודם שליח ציבור, והגיע שליח ציבור לקדושה--לא יפסיק, ולא יענה קדושה עימהן; וכן לא יענה אמן יהא שמיה רבה מברך, והוא באמצע התפילה, ואין צריך לומר, בשאר ברכות.

If one starts the Amidah before the Hazan and the Hazan gets to Kedusha, one should not stop nor should one respond to the Kedusha with the tzibur. Nor should one answer Amen etc… (for Kaddish) while in the middle of prayer, and of course not (Amen) for any other Bracha.

Just a little quirk in the Rambam’s language gets one’s attention. He seems to be wordy “one should not stop nor should one respond to the Kedusha with the tzibur”. Isn’t responding an interruption? Rambam is always precise in his language and one should pay attention to little nuances.

Rav Kafih in his edition of the Yad points to a Mishna in Avot 2:1:

והוי זהיר במצוה קלה כמצוה חמורה, שאין אתה יודע מתן שכרן של מצוות

Be as scrupulous about the lightest command as about the weightiest, for no man knows the result of his actions

Rambam in his Pirush Hamishna explains that this refers to Mitzvot Asseh (positive commandments) and is the basis behind two other rules – Haossek Bemitzvah Patur min Hamitzvah – While one is involved performing a commandment one has no obligation to perform another one even if that one is time sensitive. Furthermore – Ein Ma’avirin al Hamitzvot – While one is engaged in doing a commandment one may not stop this one to pursue another commandment. In other words there is a theological imperative against jumping from one Mitzvah to another because we have no basis for evaluating which Mitzvah is more important. When one is saying the Amidah one is involved in a Mitzvah, responding Amen to another Bracha is a different Mitzvah. By doing that, one shows a lack of understanding about our inability to set values to the different Mitzvot. One shows that one considers answering Amen to be a greater imperative than saying the Amidah. Unlike other Rishonim, Rambam even forbids stopping and being silent, listening to the Hazan saying the Kedusha or Kaddish. That would fall under the prohibition of Ein Ma’avirin al Hamitzvot. One must continue saying the Amidah without interruption. That explains the precise language in the Halacha - “one should not stop nor should one respond to the Kedusha with the tzibur”.

In a Responsa (Blau edition Teshuvah 180) Rambam was asked whether one may interrupt the Berachot before and after Kryat Shema with Piyuttim or make a Bracha for Tzitzit or Tefillin that arrive while he is engaged in saying them or make a Bracha on sound (Thunder) or smell (spices). He answers that it is forbidden, wrong and a mistake to say the Piyuttim. It also does not make sense to interrupt the Birchot Kryat Shema with other Berachot, being that one is engaged in a mitzvah why leave this one for another?

We gained from this discussion an insight into Rambam’s understanding of the issues involved in interrupting while saying Kryat Shema. It is not acceptable to interrupt the performance of a Mitzvah for another. However when we are interrupted by others, where it is an issue of respect to others, where the Rabbis tell us that “Gadol Kevod Haberyot Shedocha Mitzvat lo Ta’asseh Shebatorah”, respect for people is so great that it supersedes a biblical negative commandment, there are detailed rules of behavior.

This understanding is very different from the other Rishonim. To them Mitzvot are of greater value than respect for others. Thus they argue (Rashba, Rosh and Ritba – see Tur Orach Chaim 66) that answering Amen would at least be equal to showing respect to others. Rambam however is consistent in this Halacha with his general philosophy that Mitzvot are not the ultimate goal but rather a tool to be used for self-improvement and for proper Hashkafic development (Moreh 3:54 and other places).

This understanding explains why the Gemara does not discuss the issue of interrupting Shema with Amen and restricts the discussion to interruptions out of respect or fear. It was obvious to the Gemara that it is theologically wrong to do so. Not only does Rambam see Halacha to be consistent with philosophical and theological concepts, he sees that in the Gemara too.

Shana Tova and a Gmar Chatima Tova to all.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Uman again - A painful annual reminder -

Silence is not an option when one witnesses masses of simple Jews being misled into idolatry. I wonder if Uman were in Israel in the times of Sanhedrin, whether it would be considered an Ir Hanidachat. (The first one in history as per the Gemara Sanhedrin 71:1).

It is painful to read articles like this one around Rosh Hashana. Instead of making HKBH king they are turning a dead man into an idol.

We all pray that

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 all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. {S}

We hope that we will find God himself and not one of his dead creatures.

Good Yomtov and Ketiva Vechatima Tova to all.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Prophets and Moshe's prophecy - Two different experiences.

There are two very different kinds of prophecy – the prophecy of all prophets including Moshe Rabbeinu and the exclusive prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu through which he gave the Law. Although both have the same name, they are two different experiences. A prophet that makes decisions on how to lead the people takes into consideration all the consequences of his actions, whether they fit within the framework of God’s will. He tries to understand how the universe, society and history interact, deduces from his observations how God would act under the circumstances. He uses all his faculties to accomplish this. Starting with his rational faculty and the physical world he enters the realm of metaphysics and speculates about the future, at which point his imaginative faculty becomes active as is his intuition and courage. The combined effects of all these faculties allow him to act on his convictions. That is why most prophecies are metaphors or poetic language. It is an experience the prophet tries to transmit to others after interpreting it internally. The prophecies are filtered through the prophet’s personality and state of mind at the time. That is also why different prophets will report the same prophecy in different syntaxes. They are similar in content but use different words.

This type of prophecy cannot work when legislating. Laws require precision especially when they are the basis for an all-encompassing system that covers societal, social, personal and ritual behavior all with theological implications. The prophet’s personality cannot play a role in this type of prophecy. He must remove all outside interference and preferences so that the prophecy is 100% rational (Sechel) totally untainted by any other faculty. Moshe Rabbeinu to be able to give the Divine Torah had to completely divest himself of his physicality. Physical urges and needs had to be completely sublimated to the point that he could say about himself that he did not need to eat or drink for 40 days. No one else ever accomplished that level of attachment to God and removal from physical needs nor will there be another one like him. At Har Sinai Moshe reached this level of prophecy and he used it over the rest of his life as he gave the Torah to the people. The major accomplishment at Sinai was Moshe attaining this level of perfection and the Jewish people being able to get a glimpse, each according to his level, of the concept of this type of prophecy. That is the meaning of the Passuk:

ט וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי בָּא אֵלֶיךָ בְּעַב הֶעָנָן, בַּעֲבוּר יִשְׁמַע הָעָם בְּדַבְּרִי עִמָּךְ, וְגַם-בְּךָ יַאֲמִינוּ לְעוֹלָם; וַיַּגֵּד מֹשֶׁה אֶת-דִּבְרֵי הָעָם, אֶל-יְהוָה. 9 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and may also believe thee for ever.' And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD
(Shemot 19:9)

God is unknown as if covered by a thick cloud. He is completely outside anything physical. To “hear” Him “speak” to Moshe transmitting Laws, one has to realize that. One also realizes that to properly understand these and translate them faithfully, one has to remove himself from physicality. The people understood that and feared they could not abide by such a condition.

כב כִּי מִי כָל-בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַע קוֹל אֱלֹהִים חַיִּים מְדַבֵּר מִתּוֹךְ-הָאֵשׁ, כָּמֹנוּ--וַיֶּחִי. 22 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?
כג קְרַב אַתָּה וּשְׁמָע, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יֹאמַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ; וְאַתְּ תְּדַבֵּר אֵלֵינוּ, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֵלֶיךָ--וְשָׁמַעְנוּ וְעָשִׂינוּ. 23 Go you near, and hear all that the LORD our God may say; and you shall speak unto us all that the LORD our God may speak unto thee; and we will hear it and do it.'
(Devarim 5:22-23)

In other words the realization of what was required to receive the Law was too overwhelming even for the greatest among them. Only Moshe could reach that elevated state. He reached it over the next 40 days. Rambam Hil Yesodei Hatorah 8:2 -

ובמה האמינו בו, במעמד הר סיניי: שעינינו ראו, ולא זר, ואוזנינו שמעו, ולא אחר--האש והקולות והלפידים. והוא ניגש אל הערפל, והקול מדבר אליו; ואנו שומעים: משה, משה--לך אמור להם כך וכך. וכן הוא אומר "פנים בפנים, דיבר ה' עימכם" (דברים ה,ד), ונאמר "לא את אבותינו, כרת ה' את הברית הזאת" (דברים ה,ג).

It was the assembly at Mount Sinai that made them believe in Moses, when our eyes, and no-one else's, saw, and our ears, and no-one else's, heard, and Moses drew near to the darkness, and the voice spoke to him, and we heard it saying to Moses, "Moses, Moses, go tell them such-and-such". In connection with this it is written, "The Lord talked with you face to face", and it is also written, "The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us".

On the calendar Moshe was on Har Sinai for the second time (third according to some Rishonim) at this time of the year. Rosh Hashanah was the start of the last ten days before he came down with the second Luchot on Yom Kippur. May we grow in our own understanding of the Torah that Moshe gave us and follow in its teachings emulating our Creator. After all we are descendants of the one it was said:

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.' (Breishis 18;19)

Shana Tova Umevorechet.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Evolution of a Custom - Halacha, Aggada and Kabbalah - a revealing brew.

Recently I worked through an interesting custom that has become so mainstream that most of us do it automatically without thinking, twice daily. What intrigued me about it is that it entered Halacha even though it contravenes Halachik rulings.

Whenever we say Shema in shul with a minyan, the Mitpalelim wait for the Hazan to repeat aloud the last two words – Hashem Elokeichem – adding the word Emet, which is the first in the next paragraph. The most blatant issue is that it contravenes the prohibition of repeating words in Shema as ruled in Rambam Hil. Kryat Shema 2:11

קרא פסוק וחזר וקראו פעם שנייה, הרי זה מגונה; קרא מילה אחת וכפלה, כגון שקרא שמע שמע, משתקין אותו.

It is frowned upon someone repeating a verse. However if someone repeats a word, for example repeating Shema, Shema, he is silenced.

Although Rashi in the Gemara rules the opposite, one is silenced for repeating sentences while repeating words is only frowned upon, repetition in Shema is definitely not a priori acceptable.

The source for this interesting custom goes back to the Geonim and early Rishonim. The Ra’avyah R. Eliezer ben Yoel Halevi (d. 1225) quotes a Yerushalmi that the Shema has 245 words. The Rabbis added El Melech Ne’eman to make it 248 which equals the number of limbs of a person. The idea being that the Mitzvah of reading the Shema protects a person’s limbs. This Yerushalmi is not mentioned by anyone else nor does it exists in our current editions. (That is not surprising as there are other such cases where early Rishonim quote Yerushalmi that we have no record of. It was the basis for the famous Yerushalmi on Kodoshim forgery issue). The idea of adding EMN is that the acrostic thereof is Amen, אמןan appropriate response at the end of the Blessing before Shema. (I do not want to digress and discuss the issue of whether one responds Amen to this Bracha). Apparently this custom of adding EMN took hold in Germany - where Ra’avyah lived - and eventually in Spain too as we see from the Ramban’s (1194 – c.1270) query (see Chidushei Haramban on Berachot at the beginning) made to the Ramah – R. Meir ben Todros Halevi Abulafia (c.1170 Burgos, Spain - 1244) on the subject. Ramban himself has an interesting take on the basis for this custom. He suggests that in the earlier times, when it was more common for people who did not know the liturgy to be part of the congregation, the custom was for the Hazan to read the Berachot aloud. The Shema itself each one read for himself as the Halacha requires. They therefore answered Amen on the Bracha of the Hazan saying EMN. That evolved into the minhag of everyone saying it. Thus it is a minhag based on Amei Ha’aretz.

The Tur, R. Yaakov ben Asher, (1270-ca 1340) in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 61 reports the Ramah’s answer who considers the minhag erroneous. First one may not answer Amen on one’s own Bracha (except under certain conditions but this Bracha is excluded specifically see Rambam Hil Berachot 1:16). Second one mentions the name of Hashem in vain (El) and finally one is creating a hefsek, a separation between the Bracha and the Mitzvah. It would be acceptable to say Amen after the Bracha of the Hazan, but not when one says the Bracha himself. (Apparently this answer led to Ramban’s suggestion above.) The way the Tur reports this Ramah it is clear that he agrees with him and the Minhag is considered erroneous. However apparently it prevailed as we will see.

The Beit Yosef, R. Yosef Karo (born 1488, Spain-died March 24, 1575, Safed, Palestine) reports that at his time it was already a custom that the Hazan repeated the words Hashem Elokeichem Emet at the end of Shema. He explains that as the EMN idea was found to be incorrect and it was felt that the need to have 248 words in Shema was important, it was decided to replace EMN with the HEE repetition. He quotes a Zohar as the basis, to which I will return later.

This Minhag was not a straight evolution but rather a process. There is a report that in the time of the Geonim the Hazan said aloud from להיות לכם לאלהים onwards to remind people not to stop at the end of Shema but continue straight to Emet Veyatziv. At first, when the 248 words idea came into being, having finished the Shema ahead of the Hazan, the people would listen to the Hazan and that was seen as sufficient to count the Hazan’s words as if they had repeated those words to complement the number. As time went on different new methods were developed until the current minhag became mainstream. R. Moshe de Leon (born c. 1240, León-died 1305, Arevalo) offers two suggestions for the Hazan’s repetition – Ani Hashem Elokeichem and Hashem Elokeichem Emet.

Now let us revert to the Beit Yosef. He quotes the Tikkunei Zohar who clearly says that the earlier Rabbis had a custom to say EMN but had a problem with it and instituted the new approach of HEE. He further quotes a lengthy discussion from Zohar. There were apparently two versions in Zohar, the two suggestions of R. Moshe de Leon, and BY quotes his Rebbis who opted definitely for HEE.

Apparently in Minhag Ashkenaz EMN remained (see Remah who kept it only for someone who says Shema by himself) and in Frankfurt HEE was not repeated just the word Emet was announced loudly by the Rav. Rav Kafih in his three volume letters, printed a responsa by R. Moshe Tzarum, the last Rav of Sana’a, the capital and largest city in Yemen, who also argues that HEE is a new Minhag introduced by the Mekubalim, and that the normative Minhag Teiman is to not say EMN nor HEE.

What fascinates me in this story is the coincidence of the two versions of R. Moshe de Leon finding their way into the Zohar. He also seems to be the earliest to suggest this idea. Ramban the great Kabbalist had no tradition for the HEE minhag, rejected the EMN one and did not find the need to have 248 words in Shema. Apparently as the Kabbalah evolved these new ideas took hold and were so strong that they prevailed against all Halachik objections. Making sure that a person limbs are protected is apparently an irresistible imperative.

It is also fascinating how much history and complications a simple Minhag has. I have only summarized and reported what was pertinent for my observation. For a comprehensive discussion of all the different versions of this Minhag see Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz by Rav Hamburger Vol. 2 where it takes up over half of that volume.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Thirteen Midot (attributes) in prayer -

Starting tonight and for the next two and half weeks we will repeatedly say what is called[1] the 13 Midot. I would like to address the meaning of these words, how to they fit in the prayers and what exactly are they supposed to accomplish. The source is in Shemos 34 -

ה וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָה בֶּעָנָן, וַיִּתְיַצֵּב עִמּוֹ שָׁם; וַיִּקְרָא בְשֵׁם, יְהוָה. 5 And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.
ו וַיַּעֲבֹר יְהוָה עַל-פָּנָיו, וַיִּקְרָא, יְהוָה יְהוָה, אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן--אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם, וְרַב-חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת. 6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed: 'The LORD, the LORD, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth;
ז נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים, נֹשֵׂא עָו‍ֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה; וְנַקֵּה, לֹא יְנַקֶּה--פֹּקֵד עֲו‍ֹן אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים וְעַל-בְּנֵי בָנִים, עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים. 7 keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.'

Moshe having descended from Har Sinai and found the Jewish people worshipping the Golden Calf, prays for God’s forgiveness, asks to learn God’s ways and how He runs His universe so that he could understand how to emulate Him and lead the people properly. God told Moshe that he can learn how He acts by studying the results of His action. In other words pay good attention to your surroundings, learn how God made the universe permanent and from that you will be able to deduce how God operates. The results of that speculation are the 13 Midot which are the attributes of God. Rambam describes the attribute רַחוּם as follows:

Whenever any one of His actions is perceived by us, we ascribe to God that emotion which is the source of the act when performed by ourselves, and call Him by an epithet which is formed from the verb expressing that emotion. We see, e.g., how well He provides for the life of the embryo of living beings; how He endows with certain faculties both the embryo itself and those who have to rear it after its birth, in order that it may be protected from death and destruction, guarded against all harm, and assisted in the performance of all that is required [for its development]. Similar acts, when performed by us, are due to a certain emotion and tenderness called mercy and pity. God is, therefore, said to be merciful… Such instances do not imply that God is influenced by a feeling of mercy, but that acts similar to those which a father performs for his son, out of pity, mercy and real affection, emanate from God solely for the benefit of His pious men, and are by no means the result of any impression or change -- [produced in God].” (MN 1:54).

By understanding these attributes of God and in the process assimilating them into one’s person, one starts to emulate Him.

The governor of a country, if he is a prophet, should conform to these attributes. He must perform Acts [of punishment] moderately and in accordance with justice, not merely as an outlet of his passion. He must not let loose his anger, nor allow his passion to overcome him: for all passions are bad, and they must be guarded against as far as it lies in man's power. At times and towards some persons he must be merciful and gracious, not only from motives of mercy and compassion, but according to their merits: at other times and towards other persons he must evince anger, revenge, and wrath in proportion to their guilt, but not from motives of passion”.

Nature acts without passion. It acts out of necessity. God has set those rules in place and they very effectively keep the universe going. Man emulates them not only in running society but also in his private life and in his interactions with fellow men. God gave him freedom of choice and when he decides how to act, the basis for his actions should be emulating God. Every act of a man is judged whether it is productive and therefore a good deed, or counter-productive and sin. If someone wants to repent and do the right thing, he should learn God’s ways and try to emulate them. That is the meaning of our saying these 13 Midot. We remind ourselves to look at God’s ways and emulate them. The 13 Midot have no impact on God, they change us by reminding us to seek Him. Rambam ends the Moreh with this thought (MN 3:54):

My objective is that you shall practice loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. In a similar manner we have shown (Part I. liv.) that the object of the enumeration of God's thirteen attributes is the lesson that we should acquire similar attributes and act accordingly”.

In a separate post I will discuss which the 13 Midot are, how we count them and how they evolved into our current liturgy.

Shavua Tov.

[1] Ibn Ezra ad locum questions the validity of the number. Rambam addresses this too: “Although Moses was shown all His goodness," i.e., all His works, only the thirteen Midot are mentioned, because they include those acts of God which refer to the creation and the government of mankind, and to know these acts was the principal object of the prayer of Moses.” (1:54)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bat Kol, Prophecy and Inspiration.

As I posted before prophecy according to Rambam is the ultimate development of a natural human ability. It is the combination of the various mental capacities of a human being focusing them all on understanding the world we live in, where it came from and where it is going. In short it is dealing with the existential questions of humankind. The way I see it is that every person, from childhood on, as he learns new things about the world, as he experiences it through living in it, at times encountering suffering and despair, at others ecstatic happiness, he is growing and developing himself. He is already taking a small step towards prophecy. If he continues with this process of learning and growth he can eventually reach levels of prophecy. Of course to reach a level that one becomes a prophet is rare. It takes a combination of natural abilities, a will and a temperament that few have.

In Tanach we read many stories of simple people having great insights. Hagar stumbling in the desert with her son dying of thirst, at the moment of her greatest despair, when she is ready to give up, gets an inspiration that she need take only a few more steps, and right behind the next dune there is water. The same with Manoach, the father of Shimshon, and his wife who are full of despair about their childlessness. Avimelech is full of guilt about his kidnapping Sarah. The vision that came from their inner self to do the right thing, in the case of Manoach to try one more time and if successful dedicate the child to God, in the case of Avimelech to release Sarah, is a kernel of the prophet’s experience. That same human ability of getting inspired is used by the prophet albeit in a much more developed form. They are not prophets but they experienced a facet of prophecy. Rambam explains that in MN 2:42:

From the rule laid down by us that prophecy requires preparation, and from our interpretation of the homonym" angel," [one of its meanings is human inspiration. DG] you will infer that Hagar, the Egyptian woman, was not a prophetess; also Manoach and his wife were no prophets: for the speech they heard, or imagined they heard, was like the Bat-Kol (prophetic echo), which is so frequently mentioned by our Sages, and is something that may be experienced by men not prepared for prophecy[1]… This is the principal method by which most of the difficult passages in the Bible can be explained. Consider the words," And an angel of the Lord found her by the well of water" (Gen. Xvi. 7), which are similar to the words referring to Joseph-" And a man found him, and behold, he was erring in the field" (ibid. xxxvii. 15). All the Midrashim assume that “man” means angel in this passage.”

Interestingly the term Kol – sound is found in Tanach when it describes the prophetic experience. It is constantly used during Ma’amad Har Sinai, the experience the Jewish people had at Sinai. It is also used in describing Moshe’s experience (e.g. Bamidbar 7:89). Manoach, Hagar and Yosef experienced a Bat Kol, an echo of prophecy.

Rambam in his introduction to Pirush Hamishna discusses the fear Yaakov had of annihilation when he confronted Eisav. After all had he not had a prophecy that God will be with him and watch over him? Is it not a rule that if a prophet foretells good it must come to pass? Rambam explains that although Yaakov had a prophetic experience, it was just an internal experience between him and God. The Halachik prophecy, the prophecy that can be tested, is only when the prophecy is for public dissemination, when it is such that the prophet feels compelled to share it with others. That need to share it with others is not particular to prophecy. MN 2:37:

A member of the first class, the man of science, may have his mind influenced either only so far, that he is enabled to search, to understand, to know, and to discern, without attempting to be a teacher or an author, having neither the desire nor the capacity; but he may also be influenced to such a degree that he becomes a teacher and an author. The same is the case with the second class. A person may receive a prophecy enabling him to perfect himself but not others; but he may also receive such a prophecy as would compel him to address his fellowmen, teach them, and benefit them through his perfection. It is clear that, without this second degree of perfection, no books would have been written, nor would any prophets have persuaded others to know the truth. For a scholar does not write a book with the object to teach himself what he already knows. But the characteristic of the intellect is this: what the intellect of one receives is transmitted to another, and so on, until a person is reached that can only himself be perfected by such an influence, but is unable to communicate it to others, as has been explained in some chapters of this treatise (chap. xi.). It is further the nature of this element in man that he who possesses an additional degree of that influence is compelled to address his fellowmen, under all circumstances, whether he is listened to or not, even if he injures himself thereby. Thus we find prophets that did not leave off speaking to the people until they were slain; it is this divine influence that moves them, that does not allow them to rest in any way, though they might bring upon themselves great evils by their action. E.g., when Jeremiah was despised, like other teachers and scholars of his age, he could not, though he desired it, withhold his prophecy, or cease from reminding the people of the truths which they rejected. Comp." For the Word of the Lord was unto me a reproach and a mocking all day, and I said, I will not mention it, nor will I again speak in His name; but it was in mine heart as a burning fire, enclosed in my bones, and I was wearied to keep it, and did not prevail" (jer. xx. 8, g). This is also the meaning of the words of another prophet," The Lord God hath spoken, who shall not prophesy?" (Amos iii. 8) Note it.”

It is striking how Rambam juxtaposes men of science and prophets. Just as a scientist may not necessarily publish his knowledge, a prophet may not share his vision with others. It is when each of these people feels compelled to share with others the information they have, one becomes a teacher, the other a prophet.

This understanding of prophecy brings out a whole new meaning to Moshe’s reaction to Eldad and Meidad:

כט וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מֹשֶׁה, הַמְקַנֵּא אַתָּה לִי; וּמִי יִתֵּן כָּל-עַם יְהוָה, נְבִיאִים--כִּי-יִתֵּן יְהוָה אֶת-רוּחוֹ, עֲלֵיהֶם. 29 And Moses said unto him: 'Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all the LORD'S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His spirit upon them!'

[1] I left out a sentence because I believe Friedlander misunderstood it. Pines translates it correctly but it would confuse the reader.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Mea Culpa - I switched to Beta Blogger

I switched to beta Blogger in a moment of misguided inspiration.It will not allow commenters to log in. They say it is temporary. Please log in under anonymous leaving your ID in the comment or via other. Try using your gmail log in if you have it. Sorry . I would switch back to Blogger but have no idea how to do that without losing everything.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Levi, the proselyte, the orphan and the widow.

My son Alex repeated to me this morning a thought that he told Gavriel my grandson as a Dvar Torah for school. I thought it was excellent and asked him to post it as a guest but he refused and insisted that I write it up.

In this week’s Parsha we read:

יג וְאָמַרְתָּ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בִּעַרְתִּי הַקֹּדֶשׁ מִן-הַבַּיִת, וְגַם נְתַתִּיו לַלֵּוִי וְלַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה, כְּכָל-מִצְוָתְךָ, אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתָנִי: לֹא-עָבַרְתִּי מִמִּצְו‍ֹתֶיךָ, וְלֹא שָׁכָחְתִּי. 13 then thou shalt say before the LORD thy God: 'I have put away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all Thy commandment which Thou hast commanded me; I have not transgressed any of Thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them.

When in the third year of the Shemita cycle one finishes giving the Ma’aser Rishon to the Levi, Ma’aser Ani to the poor and has distributed all the Ma’asrot accumulated in the house, one says what is called the Viduy Ma’aser. The text lists the order of the recipients first Levi followed by the Ger, orphan and widow. Why would the Ger be listed before the orphan and the widow? Should it not rationally be the opposite? Do not the poor orphan and widow come first?

Rambam in Hilchot Shemita Veyovel 13:11 says:

י [יב] ולמה לא זכה לוי בנחלת ארץ ישראל ובביזתה עם אחיו: מפני שהובדל לעבוד את ה' ולשרתו, ולהורות דרכיו הישרים ומשפטיו הצדיקים לרבים--שנאמר "יורו משפטיך ליעקוב, ותורתך לישראל" (דברים לג,י). לפיכך הובדלו מדרכי העולם--לא עורכין מלחמה כשאר ישראל, ולא נוחלין, ולא זוכין לעצמן בכוח גופן; אלא הם חיל ה', שנאמר "ברך ה' חילו" (דברים לג,יא), והוא ברוך הוא זיכה להם, שנאמר "אני חלקך ונחלתך" (במדבר יח,כ).

יא [יג] ולא שבט לוי בלבד, אלא כל איש ואיש מכל באי העולם אשר נדבה רוחו אותו והבינו מדעו להיבדל לעמוד לפני ה' לשרתו ולעובדו לדעה את ה', והלך ישר כמו שעשהו האלוהים, ופרק מעל צווארו עול החשבונות הרבים אשר ביקשו בני האדם--הרי זה נתקדש קודש קודשים, ויהיה ה' חלקו ונחלתו לעולם ולעולמי עולמים; ויזכה לו בעולם הזה דבר המספיק לו, כמו שזיכה לכוהנים וללויים. הרי דויד אומר "ה', מנת חלקי וכוסי--אתה, תומיך גורלי" (תהילים טז,ה).

Levi’im were designated as the teachers of Klal Yisrael and God’s army. That is why they are subsidized with Ma’aser Rishon. But Levi is not the only one that can do so. “Every person from all nations” who devotes himself to serve God and to know Him, is assured that he will receive all he needs. Note how Rambam does not limit this to Jews. He includes all peoples who join in searching for God. Is not the Ger, the proselyte, the archetype of such a person? The Mitzvah of giving Ma’aser Rishon is to subsidize the Levi. The proselyte, although he receives the subsidy as Ma’aser Ani - for the poor, he is closer to the Levi than the others. He too has dedicated himself to God. Thus he is listed immediately following him.

The Kessef Mishna could not find a source for this Rambam and assumed it was his own Sevara. It is in this Parsha.

Shabbat Shalom.

Of angels and prophets.

The word Mal’ach is common in the Torah and traditionally it is translated angel. Popular imagination sees an angel as a semi transparent benevolent entity usually white (as opposed to the evil Black Angel) with wings that appears at crucial moments to save the hero. Paintings by medieval artists have reinforced that impression and it takes an intellectual effort to realize the misconception. Of course the basis of the misconception is Tanach itself especially the two depictions of God and His Hosts in Yeshayahu and Yechezkel. Both ends of the spectrum, the Literalists and the Biblical Critics, will argue that those verses are to be seen literally either because it is the truth or because that was the understanding of the thinkers at the time those verses were written.

Rambam in MN 2:5-6-7 dispels that notion. The word Mal’ach means intermediary, anything that brings about existence. It is much closer to a concept than an entity per se. A person sent on a mission is a Mal’ach as in Breishis 32:4

ד וַיִּשְׁלַח יַעֲקֹב מַלְאָכִים לְפָנָיו, אֶל-עֵשָׂו אָחִיו, אַרְצָה שֵׂעִיר, שְׂדֵה אֱדוֹם. 4 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the field of Edom.

Therefore anything that is a medium for accomplishing a goal is a Mal’ach. The Rabbis took this concept seriously and use it for anything that is the cause for an action. For example the imaginative faculty of man, which plays a role in prophecy, is a Mal’ach.

In Midrash-Kohelet (on Eccles. x. 7) the following passage occurs:" When man sleeps, his soul speaks to the angel, the angel to the cherub." The intelligent reader will find here a clear statement that man's imaginative faculty is also called" angel," and that" cherub" is used for man's intellectual faculty. How beautiful must this appear to him who understands it; how absurd to the ignorant!” (MN 2:6)

In an earlier post I discussed the concept of Form and Matter. Angels are the Forms of the Universe. A very inexact but humanly conceivable description would be that they represent God’s will or ideas. When a person acquires knowledge, he taps that font of information that is out there and it becomes part of him. Medieval philosophers saw reciprocity here. Just as the acquired knowledge fuses with the human brain so does the human brain, or better its thought, merge with that eternal knowledge. It is the closest that humans can get to God, merging with Chochma or Knowledge that emanates from Him the source of everything.

What I am trying to get at is the idea that a prophet, in the process he uses in acquiring knowledge, deals with abstract concepts that he translates in his mind into humanly comprehensible ideas. That process from the intellectual to the intuitive and imaginative, all those processes are what is referred to as angels.

שינוי שמות המלאכים, על שם מעלותם היא; ולפיכך נקראים חיות הקודש והם למעלה מן הכול, אופנים, ואראלים, וחשמלים, ושרפים, ומלאכים, ואלוהים, ובני אלוהים, וכרובים, ואישים.

ט כל אלו עשרה השמות שנקראו בהם המלאכים, על שם עשר מעלות שלהם הם. ומעלה שאין למעלה ממנה אלא מעלת האל ברוך הוא, היא מעלת הצורות שנקראת חיות; לפיכך נאמר בנבואה, שהן תחת הכיסא. ומעלה עשירית, היא מעלת הצורה שנקראת אישים, והם המלאכים שמדברים עם הנביאים ונראים להם במראה הנבואה; לפיכך נקראו אישים, שמעלתם קרובה ממעלת דעת האדם.
(Yesodei Hatorah 2:7)

Each level of angel has a different name. The highest level consists of the Holy Chayot, next are the Ophanim, the Er’elim, the Chashmalim, the Seraphim, the Mal'achim, the Elohim, the Cheruvim and the Ishim. The highest level is that of the Holy Chayot and there is none other above it, except that of God. Therefore, in the Prophecies, it is said that they are underneath God's throne. The tenth level consists of the Ishim, who is the angel who speaks with the Prophets and appear to them in prophetic visions. They are therefore called Ishim - `men' - for the reason that their level is closest to that of the intellect of Man. (translation courtesy of Jonathan Baker with slight edits).

In other words metaphysical concepts are translated into human language and are called angels. In the process of Creation, the transition from an “idea” of a transcendental God to physical reality, we humans see sequences and categories of steps. We give them names. We visualize them. When the prophet takes these ideas into himself, lives with them and become almost obsessed with trying to conceptualize them corralling all his mental capabilities in doing so, he merges with “Ishim”, the Mal’ach or Angel he sees in prophecy.

ב 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).
(Yesodei Hatorah 7:2-3)

“A person who fulfils these criteria, and is of perfect health, will, when studying metaphysics and is attracted by those elevated issues and is of an appropriate temperament to understand and comprehend them , and sanctifies himself by moving away from anybody who concerns himself with ephemeral matters, and encourages himself not to have any thoughts about useless matters and its contrivances, have his thoughts permanently attuned to above, from under God's Throne, to understand the pure and holy forms, and looks upon the wisdom of God [in Creation] in its entirety, from the first form [i.e. the Holy Chayot] till the centre of the Earth, and sees in them God's greatness, prophecy will immediately come to him. At the time when prophecy comes to him, his soul will be on the same level as that of the Ishim angels, and he will become a different man, and he will realize that he is not [any more] as he was, but will rise above the level of other wise men, as it is written, "...and you shall prophesy with him, and shall be turned into another man".”

This is another step in understanding Rambam’s idea of prophecy.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Prophecy and the Laws of Nature

It dawned on me overnight that a Beferush Rambam was staring at me for a while without me realizing the depth behind his words. Here it is translation courtesy of Jonathan Baker’s little corner: (with my edits)

א כל נביא שיעמוד לנו ויאמר שה' שלחו, אינו צריך לעשות אות כאחד מאותות משה רבנו או כאותות אלייהו
ואלישע, שיש בהן שינוי מנהגו של עולם; אלא האות שלו שיאמר דברים העתידין להיות בעולם, וייאמנו דבריו, שנאמר "וכי תאמר, בלבבך: איכה נדע את הדבר . . ." (דברים יח,כא).

ב לפיכך כשיבוא אדם הראוי לנבואה במלאכות ה', ולא יבוא להוסיף ולא לגרוע, אלא לעבוד את ה' במצוות התורה--אין אומרין לו קרע לנו את הים או החיה מת וכיוצא באלו, ואחר כך נאמין בך. אלא אומרין לו, אם נביא אתה, אמור לנו דברים העתידין להיות; והוא אומר, ואנו מחכים לו לראות היבואו דבריו: אם לא יבואו, ואפילו נפל דבר אחד קטן--בידוע שהוא נביא שקר.

Any prophet who arises and says that God sent him does not have to perform a sign of the type that Moses, Elijah or Elishah did, which involved irregular behavior of nature. Instead, the sign that he has to perform is to predict the future, and we have to believe him, as it is written, "And if you say in your heart, `How shall we know the word which the Lord has not to spoken?'". Therefore, when a man suitable for prophecy comes in the Name of God, without wanting to add to or take away from, any of the commandments, but wants us to serve God properly, we do not ask him to split the sea, or to resurrect the dead, or to perform some other supernatural event, and then believe him, but we tell him to predict the future because he is a prophet, which he does, and we wait to see if what he says happens or not. Even if was wrong in only a small matter, he is a false prophet.

What I read here is that Prophecy to be real needs to agree with the laws of nature. In other words a person who reaches the levels of prophecy, does that through contemplating the Laws of Nature and trying to deduce some pattern that will help him get a peek into God’s will. He uses many faculties, the rational, imaginative, intuition and even courage. These human faculties can easily derail him and send him off into imaginary speculation which is false and ultimately is idolatry. If someone professes prophecy, he must first prove that he is not misled himself. He proves that by showing that he understands nature and its laws, enough to predict a natural occurrence. Prophecy follows nature and not the reverse as many want to argue.

Monday, September 04, 2006

ID (intelligent design) in Jewish Action.

The latest issue of Jewish Action (Fall 5767/2006) has three articles on Intelligence Design by three Orthodox scientists. The articles go from seeing ID as a possible idolatrous concept to the other extreme, as mainstream Jewish Hashkafah.

The first article by Professor Nathan Aviezer of Bar Ilan is, in my opinion, the best from a rational Jewish point of view. He argues that there is a clear delineation between science and religion. Science discusses “how” the universe functions while religion discusses who created it or if in fact it was created. Science deals with empirical evidence while religion deals with subjective interpretations of observations. What is important is that the religious explanation should not conflict with the empirical evidence. Professor Aviezer then explains that the Laws of Nature are unchanging. In fact science tries to define these unchanging laws thus explaining how everything functions and what can usually (emphasis on usually) be expected. God as creator does not conflict with science because He created the universe within the confines of the Laws of Nature by choice. Idolatrous religions on the other hand saw one or more intelligent beings who created the universe at a whim and continue running it that way. That idea is similar to ID thus putting ID squarely in the camp of idolatrous concepts. Professor Aviezer argues for the Anthropic principle as a better explanation. I have not read about it enough to discuss it intelligently. I do however have a minor problem with Professor Aviezer’s presentation where he states: “all of this should not be interpreted as implying that God does not interact with the physical world. This is certainly not the case as Rambam emphasized. Otherwise, our prayers for Divine help would have no meaning.” I believe he misunderstands Rambam on providence and prayer at times of distress. This type of prayer is seen by Rambam as part of Teshuvah compelling one to improve their behavior so that the bad consequences do not reoccur. I will be discussing that when I deal with Hashgacha. Otherwise Professor Aviezer’s article is very well presented and should be read by every thoughtful Jew. That cannot be said about the other two articles as we shall see.

Dr. Gerald Schroeder argues that there is an underlying “sentience” or non-physical component to the Universe. He identifies it as the entity that ID sees as the intelligence behind the design. He argues that it is statistically improbable that the complexities we see in the Universe would come about without an underlying design plan just randomly. Quoting Dr.Schroeder – “Mind is the essence of the creation. Light could become alive and sentient because within the light of the creation is the mind of God”. These are very dangerous words that border on pantheism if not full-blown pantheism. God is not a mind and anything that we can conceive as the essence of God, which this statement seems to imply, cannot be God. It would negate His uniqueness. His argument for a Creator from the Big Bang is also very flimsy. See my post on that issue here .

The next article by Dr. Arnold Slyper a pediatric endocrinologist is even more problematic. First he argues that Darwinism is anti religious because it negates God’s influence in the running of the universe. Quoting - “If one agrees with Darwin that evolution proceeded randomly, then it follows that God is no longer involved in His universe, either because He has no interest or because He lacks the power to do so. In either instance, the concept of a God who has an intimate and ongoing involvement with this world has been negated.” A random world is meaningless “a life without meaning and without absolute morality would be a prescription for despair.” He therefore argues that the universe is probabilistic rather than deterministic. That allows for God to interact through nature without contravening its laws. In his words “God is responsible for chance”. Thank God he admits that this not science only religion. He then continues with a discussion of blueprints, genetic code and Junk DNA which is completely irrelevant to the issue. He concludes that ID is “Jewish to the core and one of our fundamental beliefs”. A little further down he states “There is no one Jewish position on Evolution”. In short the article is confusing and makes very little sense. It is a model for a not thought out position governed by popular beliefs and philosophies. These have no relationship with real Judaism.

Concluding Professor Aviezer wins easily with a clear and well thought out article. It makes one excited about the greatness of HKBH and the beautiful and complex universe we believe He created. Dr. Schroeder uses the BT standard arguments that are dangerous because they smack of Pantheism while Dr. Slyper unfortunately is clearly confused.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

What is Prophecy?

How does one become a prophet?

In Moreh 3:51 Rambam states:

When you understand Physics, you have entered the hall; and when, after completing the study of Natural Philosophy, you master Metaphysics, you have entered the innermost court, and are with the king in the same palace. You have attained the degree of the wise men, who include men of different grades of perfection.”

One step below prophets are the “wise men”, the scientists and philosophers who have mastered physics and metaphysics. They are not prophets yet. To become a prophet the “wise men” have to translate their knowledge into a state of mind:

There are some who direct all their mind toward the attainment of perfection in Metaphysics, turn wholly towards God, exclude from their thought every other thing, and employ all their intellectual faculties in the study of the Universe, in order to derive from it a proof with regard to God, so as to learn in every possible way how God rules all things; they form the class of those who have entered the palace, namely, the class of prophets. One of these [Moshe] has attained so much knowledge, and has concentrated his thoughts to such an extent in the idea of God, that it could be said of him, "And he was with the Lord forty days," etc. (Exod. xxxiv. 28); during that holy communion he could ask Him, answer Him, speak to Him, and be addressed by Him, enjoying beatitude in that which he had obtained to such a degree that "he did neither eat bread nor drink water" (ibid.); his intellectual energy was so predominant that all coarser functions of the body, especially those connected with the sense of touch, were in abeyance. Some prophets are only able to see, and of these some approach near and see, whilst others see from a distance.”

It is not enough just to know about God, a level attainable by us, (note how Rambam talks in first person until the ‘wise men” and switches to third person when talking about prophets), but one has to act on it by devoting all of one’s thoughts to God and the investigation of His actions. Only then can one become a prophet. In other words the essence of prophecy is apprehension of God and cleaving to Him. Knowledge of the future is only a by- product of prophecy.

Rambam in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 7:2 legislates this with feeling and eloquence:

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.

What can a prophet expect to apprehend about God if he reaches a level of prophecy? Can anyone really get to know anything about God’s essence through prophecy? Rambam in his preface to the Moreh discusses this issue.

Do not imagine that these most difficult problems can be thoroughly understood by any one of us. This is not the case. At times the truth shines so brilliantly that we perceive it as clear as day. Our nature and habit then draw a veil over our perception, and we return to darkness almost as dense as before. We are like those who, though beholding frequent flashes of lightning, still find themselves in the thickest darkness of the night.”

The truth that we see in a flash of insight suddenly disappears and is gone. We cannot acquire a clear understanding only a fleeting insight into the truth. Even the greatest of all prophets, Moshe Rabbeinu -

On some the lightning flashes in rapid succession, and they seem to be in continuous light, and their night is as clear as the day. This was the degree of prophetic excellence attained by (Moses) the greatest of prophets, to whom God said, "But as for thee, stand thou here by Me" (Deut. v. 31), and of whom it is written "the skin of his face shone," etc. (Exod. xxxiv. 29).”

Even Moshe only “seems” to be in continuous light but in reality he knows that the God he is trying to grasp is ultimately unknowable. Much more so with the other prophets -

“[Some perceive the prophetic flash at long intervals; this is the degree of most prophets.] By others only once during the whole night is a flash of lightning perceived. This is the case with those of whom we are informed, "They prophesied, and did not prophesy again" (Num. xi. 25). There are some to whom the flashes of lightning appear with varying intervals; others are in the condition of men, whose darkness is illumined not by lightning, but by some kind of crystal or similar stone, or other substances that possess the property of shining during the night; and to them even this small amount of light is not continuous, but now it shines and now it vanishes, as if it were "the flame of the rotating sword”.

Those that see flashes of light are the prophets, those that see” the substances that possess the property of shining” are probably the philosophers and scientists with great insight, though Rambam does not make it clear here who he is referring to.

The picture we get of the prophet is that of a philosopher-scientist who has reached the heights of human knowledge and is searching for God, the unknowable God. That process brings him close to God, seeing “flashes of light” during the times he is able to divest himself from his physicality. God is not physical; He is transcendental and unique, totally incomprehensible to a physical human who can only apprehend something composed of matter and form. All a human can expect to get are momentary flashes of insight of what God is not. Prophecy is only a more advanced level in that ultimately endless search. So why search? If the goal is unattainable why put in so much effort into it? The answer is that the opportunity of experiencing that one flash of insight in a lifetime, even if it is not even direct light, just a reflection on a crystal, is worth all the effort. That is Olam Haba.

I was going to say that I am glad to be back but I have to be honest and admit that vacationing is a good thing. Maybe not at the level of Olam Haba but not that far from it! I will be continuing with a series of posts about prophecy because it is an important foundation that is the basis for many beliefs of Judaism and is the ultimate goal of a human being according to Rambam. I have not answered all questions in the comments on earlier posts on the subject because the answers will become clear as I continue. (Yes Rambam did address Bilam, Avimelech and Laban’s prophecies).

We are still making news.

From the Columbus Dispatch

Ohio's greatest newspaper
Diplomacy is Israel’s only survival hope
Friday, September 01, 2006
In C.P. Snow’s 1958 novel The Conscience of the Rich, set in England between the two World Wars, a wealthy, Jewish man says, "I wish the Jews would stop being news," and is embarrassed by it sounding like a jingle.
The defeat of Adolf Hitler and the end of the Holocaust seemed the right time for the Jews to stop being news. After 2,000 years of persecution by Romans, medieval Christians and Cossacks, the defeat of the Nazis seemed as if it could and should mark the end of all this.
But it was not to be. There has been nearly constant war, terrorism and reprisal between Israelis and Arabs since Israel’s founding in May 1948, and there is no end in sight because each side is certain that God and the truth are with them.
Arabs say Israel was created against their will on Arab land, that 600,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled and that Israel has seized more land by planting settlements in occupied territories after the 1967 war.
Israelis say Israel is their historic homeland, and it is believed by many Jews (and, amazingly, by even more American evangelical Christians) to be promised to the Jews by God, and, after 2,000 years, they are not about to lose the Land of Israel again.
The quality of Hezbollah’s most recent fighting in southern Lebanon, the Israeli government’s indecisiveness and the failure to quickly evacuate civilians in range of Hezbollah rockets — all this is ominous because the Arabs got a morale boost, and they are likely to fight at least as well next time.
I hink it was a mistake to create Israel. Much better would have been to invite all the Jewish refugees from Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust to the United States, where they would have become good Americans, prospered, supported philanthropic causes and would not have had divided loyalties. Those who wished to live in Palestine under British or Arab rule most likely could have done so, as Jews did long before 1948.
But, alas, we cannot crank the universe back 60 years. They weren’t invited to America, Israel exists, and if it is to continue to exist beyond the short term, we all have to start thinking differently. It amazes me that Israel’s leaders don’t look at the future with icy clarity because time is not on Israel’s side. Israelis are overwhelmingly outnumbered by Arabs; the Palestinians, including Israeli Palestinians, are having far more babies than are Israelis.
Without a political solution, Israel will continue as a garrison state and it eventually will be destroyed. Or only the toughest will remain, and Israel will become another tragic chapter in the history of the Jewish people. This will reinforce the prejudice that the Jews are a marked people who are perpetual trouble and who never will cease being news.
Do the Israelis really want this to go on indefinitely and simply not think that a horrible weapon will be sneaked or lobbed into Tel Aviv? Do they think the Arabs will tire of tit-for-tat reprisals and stop attacking Israel?
The Arabs are getting stronger and they, too, have ideals and principles that outweigh practicalities, common sense and life itself.
The only hope for Israel is a political settlement involving the United States, Europe, the United Nations and moderate Arab governments, including Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
If Israel gives up all or nearly all the land it captured in the 1967 war, if moderate Arab governments, with enticements and assistance from Europe and the United Nations, use their intelligence services to suppress their own fanatics and terrorists and intercept or expose those from other countries, then Israel might still be there in 2048.
It is pointless to try to negotiate with fanatics and terrorists, but not with moderate governments. It is in their interests to have peace with Israel and America because they want trade, economic and technical assistance, tourism and prosperity. Egypt, for example, cannot draw the tourists it wishes if occasional tourist buses are blown up.
Israel must rely on agreements, peacekeeping troops and European and American security guarantees, instead of reprisals, Berlin-style walls and seizing strategic territory.
The United States cannot escape this. Most Arabs and a great many other Muslims hate America and the reason is mindlessly simple. One can float bad reasons, such as envy, radical Islam’s intolerance and rigidity, anger and chagrin, at their glorious past and second-rate present, and nonsense reasons such as "hating freedom." But it’s Israel. Arabs didn’t hate America before the creation of Israel.
All this can and must stop, for the sake of America, Israel and Jews everywhere. Otherwise, terrorism will continue, and America will continue to be despised by much of the world.
Andrew Oldenquist is professor emeritus of philosophy at Ohio State University.
Copyright © 2006, The Columbus Dispatch

Professor Oldenquist wishes all Jews would have moved to the USA and he would now be proposing the Final Solution.