Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Avraham: Philosopher, Prophet - Introspective and a Nation Builder.

Commenter R. Phil Goode posed some interesting questions that I felt deserved detailed answers. As I do not believe in too long posts let me answer them in more than one. (The questions are in italics, edited and rearranged in a different order than the original)

Let me give you an example of how I lose track of what is being said: “According to Rambam’s understanding of prophecy, the conversation between Avraham and God are all internal experiences triggered by the prophet’s speculation about God and His actions.”Ok. I think when you are saying “conversation” you are referring to the entire Akedah event as described by the Rambam in the passages that follow. When you say they are “internal experiences” you mean that they are a vision or dream – again, as described below.

Am I misreading something here?

No and let me explain:

Prophecy is an internal process where the prophet, in contemplating God’s actions comes to certain conclusions. In the case of Avraham he concluded that the world had lost its way and it was necessary to propagate that there is only One God who created the universe.
ח וַיַּעְתֵּק מִשָּׁם הָהָרָה, מִקֶּדֶם לְבֵית-אֵל--וַיֵּט אָהֳלֹה; בֵּית-אֵל מִיָּם, וְהָעַי מִקֶּדֶם, וַיִּבֶן-שָׁם מִזְבֵּחַ לַיהוָה, וַיִּקְרָא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה.
8 And he removed from thence unto the mountain on the east of Beth-el, and pitched his tent, having Beth-el on the west, and Ai on the east; and he build there an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.

See Ibn Ezra ad locum on the last three words “and called upon the name of the LORD” interpreting them as proselytizing.

Also, why was his “whole purpose to create a nation, etc.”?

That is the meaning of the story of Brit Bein Habetarim where he saw the beginnings of a nation in a prophetic vision. In the process of proselytizing, during a moment of introspection and contemplation, he concludes that the best long-term way to do this is to bring about a nation that worships God. The telling of this private experience is clearly intended to explain Avraham’s subsequent actions and their purpose.

Now I am expecting to see something about “the prophet’s speculation about God and His actions.” But what you suggest is that Avraham was questioning his own motivation –


If you understand prophecy as internal visions and dreams that the prophet puts into action, does it not make sense that Avraham, who developed this whole theology on his own, including that man can prophesize, should at some point stop and question whether he is not off on some ego trip? Is he just making all this up? True he experiences prophecies but are they real? Don’t you think that prophets were human beings albeit great ones? Isn’t introspection a sign of greatness? The Akedah experience addressed both his questions. It told him that he was willing to sacrifice his ambitions if God so demanded. It also confirmed that prophecy is such a powerful human ability that it conveys certainty. Based on a vision he was willing to sacrifice all.Also, why the incidental description of Avraham as the great philosopher? Where is this established? Is this just culling from Midrashim?

Let me quote Rambam Hilchot Avodah Zara 1:3 (a little lengthy, but I wanted the Hebrew in Rambam’s beautiful language for those who read Hebrew – courtesy of Mechon Mamre. English translation courtesy of Jonathan Baker.)

ח והחכמים שהיו בהן כגון הכומרין וכיוצא בהן, מדמין שאין שם אלוה אלא הכוכבים והגלגלים שנעשו הצורות האלו בגללן ולדמותן. אבל צור העולמים, לא היה שם מכירו ולא יודעו, אלא יחידים בעולם, כגון חנוך ומתושלח ונוח ושם ועבר. ועל דרך זו, היה העולם מתגלגל והולך, עד שנולד עמודו של עולם, שהוא אברהם אבינו עליו השלום.
ט [ג] כיון שנגמל איתן זה, התחיל לשוטט בדעתו והוא קטן, ולחשוב ביום ובלילה, והיה תמיה: היאך אפשר שיהיה הגלגל הזה נוהג תמיד, ולא יהיה לו מנהיג; ומי יסבב אותו, לפי שאי אפשר שיסבב את עצמו. ולא היה לו לא מלמד ולא מודיע דבר, אלא מושקע באור כשדים בין עובדי עבודה זרה הטיפשים.
י ואביו ואימו וכל העם עובדים עבודה זרה, והוא היה עובד עימהן. וליבו משוטט ומבין, עד שהשיג דרך האמת, והבין קו הצדק, מדעתו הנכונה; וידע שיש שם אלוה אחד, והוא מנהיג הגלגל, והוא ברא הכול, ואין בכל הנמצא אלוה חוץ ממנו.
יא וידע שכל העם טועים, ודבר שגרם להם לטעות, זה שעובדים את הכוכבים ואת הצורות, עד שאבד האמת מדעתם; ובן ארבעים שנה, הכיר אברהם את בוראו.
יב כיון שהכיר וידע, התחיל להשיב תשובות על בני אור כשדים ולערוך דין עימהם, ולומר שאין זו דרך האמת, שאתם הולכים בה. ושיבר הצלמים, והתחיל להודיע לעם, שאין ראוי לעבוד אלא לאלוה העולם, ולו ראוי להשתחוות ולהקריב ולנסך--כדי שיכירוהו כל הברואים הבאים; וראוי לאבד ולשבר כל הצורות, כדי שלא יטעו בהן כל העם, כמו אלו שהן מדמין, שאין שם אלוה אלא אלו.
יג כיון שגבר עליהם בראיותיו, ביקש המלך להורגו; נעשה לו נס, ויצא לחרן. והתחיל לעמוד ולקרות בקול גדול לכל העם, ולהודיעם שיש אלוה אחד לכל העולם, ולו ראוי לעבוד. והיה מהלך וקורא ומקבץ העם מעיר לעיר ומממלכה לממלכה, עד שהגיע לארץ כנען, והוא קורא, שנאמר "ויקרא שם--בשם ה', אל עולם" (בראשית כא,לג).
יד וכיון שהיו העם מתקבצין לו ושואלין לו על דבריו, היה מודיע לכל אחד ואחד לפי דעתו עד שיחזירהו לדרך האמת, עד שנתקבצו אליו אלפים ורבבות, והם אנשי בית אברהם. ושתל בליבם העיקר הגדול הזה, וחיבר בו ספרים. והודיעו ליצחק בנו, וישב יצחק מלמד ומחזיר; ויצחק הודיעו ליעקוב ומינהו ללמד, וישב מלמד ומחזיר כל הנלווים אליו.
טו ויעקוב אבינו לימד בניו כולם, והבדיל לוי ומינהו ראש, והושיבו בישיבה ללמד דרך ה', ולשמור מצוות אברהם; וציווה את בניו שלא יפסיקו מבני לוי ממונה אחר ממונה, כדי שלא ישתכח הלימוד.
טז והיה הדבר הולך ומתגבר בבני יעקוב ובנלווים עליהם, ונעשת בעולם אומה שהיא יודעת את ה'

"But as for the Creator, there was not a single person who recognized Him, except for various individuals, such as Hanoch, Methuselah, Noah, Shem and Ever. Things continued in this manner until Abraham the Patriarch, supporter of the world, was born.
3) Once Abraham was weaned, he, as a child, began contemplating and thinking day and night, and wondered how a sphere could follow a fixed path without being directed. If so, who directed it? Surely it would be impossible for it to rotate on its own! Abraham did not have a mentor, but was immersed amongst the stupid idolaters of Ur Casdim, where everyone, including his mother and father, served idols, as did he. In his heart, however, he continued to contemplate, until he realized the way of truth and understood the ways of righteousness from nature, and knew that there is a God who directs the spheres, created the world, and besides whom there is none other. He also knew that the whole world was erring, and knew that what caused the mistake was that they [had] worshipped the stars and figures for so long that the truth had vanished. Abraham was forty years old when he recognized his Creator. Once he achieved this, he began to reason with the inhabitants of Ur Casdim and to argue with them, saying that by serving idols they were not following the way of truth. He broke their images, and began to proclaim that it is not fitting to serve anyone other than God, and to Him it is fitting to bow down and to offer drink sacrifices and sacrifices to, so that all creation will recognize Him. Abraham also proclaimed that it was fitting to break and destroy all the figures, so that nobody will err on account of them, like those who imagined that there is no God except for their idols did. Since people were listening to him, the king, Nimrod, sought to kill him, but a miracle was performed for Abraham, and he went to Haran, where he got up and proclaimed to the whole world that there is just one God in the world, whom it is fitting to worship. He went and gathered people together from cities and kingdoms, until he reached the land of Canaan, where he continued his proclamations, as it is written, "...and called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God". Since agnostics were coming to him with questions about this matter, he would answer each person [in a way] so that he would return to the way of truth, until thousands and tens of thousands came to him. These were the people of the house of Abraham. He placed this important principle in their way of thinking, wrote books, and taught it to his son Isaac. Isaac also brought people back [to the way of truth], and taught it to Jacob, instructing him to teach as well, who then taught and brought back those who accompanied him. Jacob the Patriarch taught all his sons, but distinguished Levi, appointing him as head, making him stay in a seminary to teach the way of God and to fulfill the commandments of Abraham. He commanded his [other] sons not to cease supporting the children of Levi, in order that this teaching would not be forgotten. This matter became more and more publicized amongst the children of Jacob and those who accompanied them, and a nation who knew God was established in the world.
Rambam’s sources are Pessukim in Nach and Chazal. He tells a similar story in MN 3:29. I am sure a study comparing the two will yield great information and should be a worthwhile enterprise."

I detect underlying questions that R. Phil and others always struggle with namely historicity and Midrashim. The Torah is not a history book. It tells a story with a purpose other than conveying historical fact. In fact it does not convey history but interprets it. It is a book of ethical and theological teachings and as such uses and adapts history to its intended lessons. The Rabbis knew this and used the Midrashim to pull the lessons, they understood were meant to be taught, out from the text. That is as it should be if the Torah’s purpose is to be understood and accomplished. It is irrelevant what happened only how it is seen and understood.

This is longer than I intended. I will address the last questions in next post.

20 comments:

  1. Shalom Shalom,

    I believe Phil is asking if the internal questioning or doubt (of Avraham) was your own chidush, or whether it has some kind of support within traditional sources. That Avraham was introspective, we can see clearly and nicely "demonstrated" from what you wrote.

    Perhaps the answer to Phil's question lies in the usage of the word "Nissayon". You postulated (in the beginning) that it meant demonstration. You quoted Rambam:

    Rambam in MN 3:24 analyzes four cases composed of six instances where the word Nissayon is used. All are interpreted to mean demonstration rather than test.

    From the Avraham example (alone), the internal struggle is not yet totally clear (to me) from the text alone. Perhaps we can see the "demonstration" idea developed in other examples. Let's see it interpreted in this way a bit clearer. This can then prove the contention, that demonstrations were obviously solving the internal questioning they were dealing with.

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  2. The idea of Avraham's introspection is my own. The meaning of Nissayon as demonstration or flag is Rambam's chiddush based on a midrash (see Yalkut Shimoni on Nissah et Avraham).

    I will address the other 3 cases of nissayon next.

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  3. This is quite a leap (many would say) on your part.

    Is there any hope to support your idea in the definition of DEMONSTRATION. By this very definition (at least in English), there could be room for a lesson of sorts. But I think it is hard (a large stretch) to prove or contemplate what our Patriarchs were thinking in their heads. And why G-D does what he does. Not to be personal... but perhaps you are struggling with the verse (which is good)? I know I am.

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  4. On the other hand, I also lend myself towards that concept of "no man was/is infallable". So it is certainly possible he could have "struggled".

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  5. Jewishskeptic11/08/2006 5:19 PM

    >"It is a book of ethical and theological teachings and as such uses and adapts history to its intended lessons. The Rabbis knew this and used the Midrashim to pull the lessons, they understood were meant to be taught, out from the text. That is as it should be if the Torah’s purpose is to be understood and accomplished. It is irrelevant what happened only how it is seen and understood."

    The above,David,isn't my understanding of traditional Judaism. It's very RELEVANT if the history in the Torah happened or not!
    I am a skeptic(only in the sense that I question & dont take things for granted-for the word has different connotations,of which I am not)but I take a keen interest in the study Judaism.
    Traditional Judaism from the time of the Talmud untill modern times believed in the historicity of the Bible.
    Yes,the Chazal made all kinds of drashot,some of them very forced & artificial,in order to teach morals or ethics,but they never doubted the historical veracity of the Bible.Shivim panim laTorah & certainly P'SHAT is one of them."Ein mikra yotse midei f'shuto"
    Later on,you have PERDES,p'shat,remez, d'rush,sod.
    (I read by some scholar that this was borrowed from Christian Scholatics).But the p'shat is AlWAYS THERE WITH THE PLAIN UNDERSTANDING THAT IT WAS ALL TRUE!
    Yes,you find in Chazal opinions that Job never existed or the m'tei Yechekel never happened.But these are the exceptions rather than the rule.You dont find them saying this about HISTORICAL EVENTS IN THE TORAH!
    I recall reading in a perush on the Moreh (I cant recall the mareh makom),I think it was Crescas,where Rambam discusses Gen.2 that no one doubts that there was a eits hadaat or a woman called Chavah,but Rambam gives more meaning to it.
    So you see rationalists like Crescas,or maybe it's Ephodi or Shem Tov believed in ALSO THE P'SHAT.
    But that's not my point.My point is that Judaism IS NOT WHAT THE RALBAG NIGHT HAVE THOUGHT or the MALMAD HATALMIDIM or even WHAT THE RAMBAM THOUGHT.
    Judaism is WHATS BEEN ACCEPTED BY THE MASSES! The masses accepted what Rambam taught that God has no body & that became part of Judaism. IT'S THE ACCEPTANCE BY THE PEOPLE THAT MAKES IT JUDAISM.
    Even the Rambam himself in Hakdamah to the Mishnah says so.He writes that the rulings of the Talmud are obligatory BECAUSE THE TALMUD WAS ACCEPTED BY ALL THE PEOPLE.
    I repeat it's the MASSES who make a religion by either accepting or rejecting certain creeds.

    By saying that it doesn't matter whether historical events are true,you are actually saying what the Bible critics have been saying all along,that Ezra & other priests or "prophets",made up the Torah for theological & political purposes.

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  6. JS, You are 100% right the masses believe that everything is historically true, and they are the mainstay of the religion. Without them there would be no religion. But let me ask you who was present when Avraham and Ytzchak were at the Akeda besides them? Who saw the dream at Bein Habetarim besides Avraham? And don't tell me that was real! Who was there when Yakov fought with the Malach? Who was there when Yosef saw the man? Who was there when Moshe saw the burnung bush? I can go on with this ad infinitum.

    The point is that it is a story told by someone. Moshe received the story through his nevuah. Do I need to say more? If you understand Rambam's nevuah it is an apprehension and an interpretation. It is God's story.Do you call this history? I don't.

    Of course there was a yetziat Mizraim, but the Ani velo Malach was an interpretation. All the Makot could have been natural events. It is the Torah that interpreted them as miraculous. In fact Rashba in a teshuva explains that after every miraculous event the people questioned whether it was Moshe's doing at all. They explained it away as Moshe being a scientist who was able to predict natural events and take advantage of them.That goes for Kryat Yam suf. Of course it happened but interpreting it as a miracle is the Torah.

    I believe that it goes even farther. The point of every story is a limud. The limud comes from how it is presented rather than what happened. That is the point that skeptics, bible critics, DH theorists don't get. It is how the story is told that counts not the composition, the historicity and all the other issues. They matter only as far as they impact the limud. Trying to reconsitute the original story is a nice metal exercise but is totally irrelevant to the intended goal of the Torah.

    There is much more to be said on this subject and i will if i have the fortitude and perseverance to keep this blog going long enough.

    I find that one of the problems we face is that the masses, those that in past generations were kept uninformed because it was not necessary to as they were not bothered nor would they grasp the more sophisticated ideas, are ecoming scarcer. Many more people are better educated and have a better grasp of nuances and abstract concepts. The rabbis have not adapted to the new reality and treat everyone as they did in the olden times. You therefore have people going up against what they think is "traditional" or "orthodox" beliefs when it is in fact the belief of the ignorant. They get turned off and leave Judaism because of their disullision with an illusion.

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  7. David, I heartily agree with your final paragraph, and I look forward to further expositions of your approach.

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  8. Jewishskeptic11/09/2006 9:29 AM

    David,I am trying hard to understand you. First,let me say that I consider my Jewishness as being ethnic & cultural,so you know where I am coming from.However,you consider yours much more than that.You wrote many times that you believe in God from observing the laws of nature of the Universe & also from the First Cause argument.Let's assume that,how does this lead to Torah? Here are a few observations of mine & questions on your last comment to me.
    1)> "The point is that it is a story told by someone. Moshe received the story through his nevuah. Do I need to say more? If you understand Rambam's nevuah it is an apprehension and an interpretation. It is God's story.Do you call this history? I don't"
    Well,if it's God's story,I expect it to be factually true! If God can't write factual history,who can?! You have a problem,you accept the Torah as divine ( or want to accept it -on your terms) & at the same time you find it written as a fiction work,like you ask in the 1st par. who witnessed all these stories? So to escape from this dilemma you come to the conclusion that they are not true histories but only stories & fables to teach us morals!... A traditional Jew would of course answer that since God wrote it He certainly knew what was going on.But you consider such a view as being of the ignorant masses.
    Woudn't it be much simpler & honest to just say that the stories are indeed not true & therefore not Divine,written by a human,maybe to teach us morals,but not divine? Actually,what you are saying amounts to the same thing,but you don't dare to say it explicitely.
    2)>" If you understand Rambam's nevuah it is an apprehension and an interpretation"
    No,I don't understand it.How is that different from saying it was a figment of his imagination. The Rambam says that we we don't believe in the nevuah of Moshe because of miracles he performed,those he could have done by trickery,but because we ourselseves witnessed the event of Har Sinai.(einenu rau velo zar).But this tradition was passed on to us by the IGNORANT MASSES who as you admit yourself could believe in anything.
    3) Many times you are projecting your own views on the Rambam,without sufficient justification.He wasn't as modern & liberal as you make him out to be.
    4)>"I find that one of the problems we face is that the masses, those that in past generations were kept uninformed because it was not necessary to as they were not bothered nor would they grasp the more sophisticated ideas, are ecoming scarcer."
    As I wrote in my previous comment,it wasn't just the uninformed masses who accepted the history of the Torah as true facts,the Talmud does so & all later great rabannim.As I noted,you may find certain opinions explaining some passages in the tanach not literally(e.g. Job.metei ye. the witch of ein dor).,but not on Torah.& the Jewish religion is based on the consensus of the IGNORANT MASSES,WHO PASSED US ALONG ALL THIS TRADITION,notwithstanding what an isolated rabbi-no matter how great he was -might have held.
    5)>"You therefore have people going up against what they think is "traditional" or "orthodox" beliefs when it is in fact the belief of the ignorant. They get turned off and leave Judaism because of their disullision with an illusion"
    But it is this believe which is traditional Judaism,no matter how unpleasant you may find it.What you are doing is making up your own brand of Judaism,to your liking.
    6)If the histories are not necessarily true,why is it different with the mitsvot? Why can't we say the mitsvot were given to the then ignorant & uninformed masses as a means to educate them but today we have no use for them(I mean the ritualts e.g. tsitsis,tfilin,kashrut,etc.).If histories were used to educate the people why cant we say the same about the mitsvot? Is it because of Masoret? But this Masoret was passed on to us by IGNORANT PEOPLE.
    I am NOT trying to be sarcastic,I am just trying to understand you.
    7) How is your view of Judaism different from Reconstructionism?

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  9. JS – So many questions! Let me address them one at a time.


    > Well, if it's God's story, I expect it to be factually true! If God can't write factual history, who can?! You have a problem, you accept the Torah as divine ( or want to accept it -on your terms) & at the same time you find it written as a fiction work, like you ask in the 1st par. who witnessed all these stories? So to escape from this dilemma you come to the conclusion that they are not true histories but only stories & fables to teach us morals!... A traditional Jew would of course answer that since God wrote it He certainly knew what was going on. But you consider such a view as being of the ignorant masses.

    I did not say the stories are not factual when the Torah tells you that it is interpreting a historical event like Kryat Yam Suf or Yetziat Mizraim or other such events. Where it is obvious that it is telling you an internal experience it is irrelevant if it was historical or not. I can accept it as a fact or not it will teach me the same lesson so why waste time thinking about that. Skepticism when carried to an extreme leads to a fundamentalism that blinds and distorts objective reading of a text.



    Re my comment about Rambam’s Nevuah you said: How is that different from saying it was a figment of his imagination.
    You can ask that about all prophecies. It depends how you define prophecy. I don’t see as a supernatural event but an ability that great men have. It manifests itself through what they produce. Moshe who had advanced to such a high level, his output is the Torah which speaks for itself. BTW I understand the special status of Moshe’s prophecy has the purpose of making it immutable. But that is a separate discussion.
    >But this tradition was passed on to us by the IGNORANT MASSES who as you admit yourself could believe in anything.

    Who said that it was transmitted by the masses? I don’t think that the transmission eas the Kolot Uberakim if you understand them as literal, but rather the experience as Rambam says “Vanu Some’im Moshe Moshe lech emor lahem”. They experienced a level of Nevuah each to his level. That is the tradition that was transmitted.

    >Many times you are projecting your own views on the Rambam,without sufficient justification.He wasn't as modern & liberal as you make him out to be.

    That is possible but I believe he would want me to do so. He was projecting onto Chazal things they may not have meant when they said their ma’amar.

    >If the histories are not necessarily true,why is it different with the mitsvot? Why can't we say the mitsvot were given to the then ignorant & uninformed masses as a means to educate them but today we have no use for them(I mean the ritualts e.g. tsitsis,tfilin,kashrut,etc.)


    Again you are being a generalist. Why can a story not be a lesson in ethics or theology and therefore a “story”, while a Mitzvah an obligation? You are saying I don’t believe in the Torah stories. I do I just try to understand what they are telling me like any intelligent person would do. The Mitzvot are obligations and I try to understand them as such.

    >If histories were used to educate the people why cant we say the same about the mitsvot? Is it because of Masoret? But this Masoret was passed on to us by IGNORANT PEOPLE.


    No it is not the masses that transmit Mitzvot. It was the Batei Dinim and Sanhedrin all the way back to Moshe. They did not transmit stories though other than in Agaddah which are homilectics.

    >How is your view of Judaism different from Reconstructionism?


    If they believe in Torah min Hashamayim and ol Mitzvot, in HKBH that has a Ratzon, I agree with them. If they don’t believe I disagree.

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  10. Oh, R. David, I am more confused than ever.
    Let me try to pin you down on a narrow topic.

    Nevuah – is it entirely an internal phenomenon? Is it entirely introspection and contemplation? Or to put it another way – God does not communicate with the navi, it’s just that the navi philosophizes and comes to the truth. The Tanach decribes this as God communicating with the navi.

    Is that your position? If so, how do we understand all the Tanach narratives where the navi is informed of the future? Is every one of these an allegory? Does every story have to be re-interpreted? And as someone asked above - then where do all the mitzvos come from? Surely they are not human philosophy! So they must be a communication from God. So God does communicate with humans. So why do I need to postulate that all nevuah is contemplation?

    PG

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  11. R. Phil,

    I have posted about Nevuah earlier. Unfortunately I have not gotten around to labeling all ot them as yet.

    This is a long discussion. There are two distinct schools of thought about Nevuah, R.Yehaudah Halevi and Rambam. Rambam's nevuah is a human capacity to connect with the wisdom that HKBH put out there in the universe. It is called Sechel Hapoel. It is a way of understanding how a human being learns things. When the passuk says God spoke to man it means man read HKBH's mind. Rashi also seems to buy into that theory see Rashi on The last passuk in Nasso "Vayshma et hakol midaber". and Srorno ad locum who is a little obscure but worth deciphering.

    The problem with seeing everything as God's miraculous interference is that it makes Him less than perfect. He needs to make adjustments to his universe. A perfect God would see to it that everything runs smmothly without interference. If He has to tell man what to do what greater interference? However if the information is out there for man to find and do it using the free will and brains that God gave him, leaves us with a great Boreh who has foreseen everything.

    That is why all thinkers (serious ones ) try to reduce the amount of interference and increase natural events wherever possible.

    I cannot answer everything in commments but I am directing your thinking to an area of thought. I will post hopefully much more as time allows.

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  12. David,

    So when God visits Abraham and gets into a whole discussion about the doom of Sodom how do you understand this? Who is Abraham speaking to? Is he talking to himself? Does he think that this discussion will change the course of events? Or is this whole discussion just a dream and it never happened?

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  13. The farther we go into this subject, the harder it is (to stay focused). This topic is very complex, and can not be dealt with (in a full or clear way) on the internet. It is just too large, and requires careful clarification and qualification along the way. Dawid, too many unqualified assertions can hurt your efforts. Also, there is the danger that people will over-generalize (based on certain situations) in the Nakh, without carefully comparing usages.

    It might be wise to explore other usages of the same words and concepts throughout Torat Moshe. Perhaps we would all be wise to breath a bit. Dawid, this may indeed be too wonderous (of a topic) to discuss here. At the least, it must be done slowly.

    Regarding Navuah (prophecy): There is more to it than just intellectualism, internalism or imagination. Navuah was a trance-like state achieved by people who were able to go through ascetic states (periods) of mind, achieved over time. Words like Kavode, Bat Kol, hitbodeduth, and Shekhina also get thrown around. Indeed, these words are in the vocabulary of the Rambam too. He certainly discusses Kavode (a Created presentation of G-Dliness that a chosen, finite man could behold).

    Some of these ideas are discussed (early on) by the Geonim, with hints in the Gamara. These concepts were later developed (corrupted if you ask me) by the Laurianic and Zohar schools of Qaballa, who just couldn't fathom an unexplanable divide between man and his Creator.

    By the way, I believe the Torah speaks of the qualifications for a Navi. Perhaps someone can bring this topic back down to earth with a bit of relevant Rambam to address this. I can not dig it up right now, as I've already spent too much TIME here. Dawid, I fear that people are getting the wrong idea here.

    Surely, a navi was someone who had mastered law, and was well versed in the masorah. This isn't some guy tripping out on his own wisdom or imagination or internal feelings. There was a method to achieving this STATE, where the presense of G-D would rest (anthropomorphic expression) upon him. The main point is that G-D is involved in this interaction. It was all directed by man's actions. When Benai Yisrael moved, so did the clouds of Glory respond. He is reaching down (sorry for the terrible anthropomorphic symbolism here) WHILE the Prophet is reaching up. It was a two way street, based upon the merit, lifestyle, focus and actions of the Prophet. By studying the Geonim and Amoraim, we can summize methods (prereqs) for this. I am sure Dawid is aware of this.

    On the subject of TRADITION: The blurring of mesorah and law (a great tradition of today's generation), with a complete interdependence on each other, is a complicated but incorrect assertion (with bits of the truth and false).

    The following sentence contains approximately 3-5 (built-in) assumptions, that simply can not pass uncontested.

    To say that "based on the consensus of the IGNORANT MASSES,WHO PASSED US ALONG ALL THIS TRADITION, notwithstanding what an isolated rabbi-no matter how great he was -might have held"

    The implications of these assertions are unfathomable to me. To address this would require an entirely separate chat board - all by itself.

    Back to Dawid's issues: I agree with Dawid on a critical issue. As the Rambam said: it is better to find (live in) a cave then to live in a community where Jewish people are doing things (mitswoth) wrong! The concept of concensus, as it relates to law, does NOT depend on the ignorant masses (in terms of transmission). Although implimentation is another story. Of course no burden could be placed upon our people by the Great Court, without a concensus. However, this related to the times of the Sanhedrin. The concensus of the masses can not add to nor diminish from Torah in any time period. Perhaps the Sanhedrin had some temporary ability to do this though.

    Many times, masorah is outright incorrect and corrupted.

    Anyway, I can only wonder how this all isn't one big waste of time... although I sure love reading and participating here, I'd probably be better off learning RAMBAM!

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  14. I'm copying the comment I left in the akeda thread:

    This is..it flies in the face of the rambam.

    The rambam's point is how seriously they take the neuva, so that there is no doubt about it, b/c if there is doubt about it, he wouldn't have acte on the neuva and tried to sacrifice yitzchak. Somehow this become for you that the whole akeda sacrifice was in a fantasy with no action whatsoever?

    the ramban does *not* understand the rambam this way. He doesn't mention the akeda at all, and this is clearly for a simple reason. Unlike by eg lot, the malachim are not part of the story. By lot, if malachim are in nevua the whole episode must occur b'nevua. Similarly with feeding the malachim in their visit
    The akeda is not problematic at all in this respect, and that is why the ramban doesnt mention it! There is a tzivuy in the beginning, kach na es bincha etc and no malach until the end, where the malach comes to tell him not to sacrifice yitzchak. Even the sacrifice of the ayal is not problematic b/c the malach speaks twice, once before and once after, w/ vayisa avraham es eynav inbetween

    If it all happened in a dream, then yitzchak is not a participant at all, and the traditional understanding of yitzchok's z'chus is now gone - yitzhchok is not a player at all! Avraham has a dream about yizchok and comes to an understnding and this is yizchok's great zchus? That makes no sense.

    the rambam's hakdama is not an excuse for me to say that the rambam is talking about space travel. it's not a blank check. What is deduced must be backed up that logically it must be the rambam's intent, esp in an understanding like this which subverts the rambam's own point and everything we understand about yitzchok

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  15. son of tzelem elokim11/09/2006 7:46 PM

    To anonymous,JS and B. Spinoza-check out the Abarbanel on the Moreh-Chelek 2 Perek 42 where he answers all the questions(beautifully)that the Ramban had on the Rambam.He also asks why the Ramban didn't ask on the Rambam a question from the Akeida also being a dream acc. to the Rambam.Its also interesting where he explains how the Rambam would understand the story of Lot.He says that The rambam understood that it never happened except in the prophecy of Abraham.There were no angels sent to rescue Lot,No blind people encircling Lots house Etc.Sound familiar.....Apparently my father is not the first or last of a group of brilliant minds to explain the Rambam's possible non- literal understanding of some of the stories of the Torah. PS-I dont think that the Abarbarnel was a founder or considered a member of the reconstructionist movement-or was he? :)

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  16. Anonymous 2 (Tafkaa)

    Your undersatnding of Ramban is also how Abarbanel understood him (my son Alex reminded me of that)and he also understands Rambam as having two separate nevuot, one at the start and one at the end and he did take Ytzchak in between to the Akedah. That is why I was a bit cagey saying that it is irrelevant if he did it or not. Your other argument about Ytzchak's contribution Rambam holds that Ytzchak was a young child and not 37 ( see R.Avraham's testimony on his father's position). Akedat Ytzchak would therefore mean by Avraham and nothing more. However my friend Rabbi Buchman noted that Chazal talk about the effect of the akedah on Ytzchok, apparently he was traumatized by it. That is to me the strongest proof that Abarbanel's approach may be correct. But it does not change my interpretation of, according to this the first nevuah , nor the second.

    Re children of 11. Chanoch Lan'ar al pi darko. some children can absorb abstarct ideas earlier than others. My experience is that those who understand, it does not harm and those that are not up to it are not interested and it passes them by.

    Anonymous 2 (Al) I understand your concern about these discussions on the internet. I think that after the discussions on other blogs it is important to address these issues openly from a rational Jewish approach. Some of us are trying at the risk of sometimes going too far Vehashem Hatov Yechaper.

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  17. Jewishskeptic11/10/2006 9:28 AM

    David,I am afraid you got me lost in all this discussion.
    I am grateful to Tsalem (he is your son,I take it),for pointing out the Abarbanel.I opened up my old Moreh with the classical mefarshim & noticed that I marked the relevant passeges mentioned by your son.If only I rememberd them in the post about the Akedah,I could have used it as a rebuttal to your claim that the Binding of Yitschak took place in a dream.

    Let's get something clear.
    The difficulty that people have with the Akedah is :how could Avraham be prepared to carry out such a gruesome act,even when he thought the order was given to him to him by God in a vision .That's plain murder,& of his own son!
    He should have rejected it out of hand & said to himself,this can't be from God,I must be deceived & tempted by the Devil!
    & the torah PRAISES him for willing to commit this atrocity!

    Now in your post on Akedah we had the exchange over whether it happened in reality.You argued that the Rambam interprets as ALL having taken place in a dream,whilst I said that the command was in a vision but the carrying out actually took place.
    Thanks to your son which reminded of the Abarbanel I have a


    תנא דמסייע לי
    Now Ab. says, and as you wrote that Avr. had 2 nevuot.In the second nevuah 3 days later Ab.writes (I am only citing 1 or 2 sentences as it's a very long Ab.as is his style & I don't think it's online)
    וזה שלשה ימים אחר המראה, ואי אפשר אם כן לומר שהיה מראה ,אלא שנעשה כן בפועל ובאותה שעה "
    & he goes on to show that it happened 'behakits'.
    Actually,there should be no argument between us, according to Ab.,I agree that the order was given in a dream,it says so plainly in the Torah,the only question is whether Av,attemted in reality,According to Ab. as he understands Rambam,he did.

    So my question to you is:how does your post on the Akedah in anyway address the difficulties that I raised above with regard to the Akedah?
    מה הועילו חכמים בתקנתם?

    Shabbat Shalom.

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  18. JS, I know that Abarbanel interprets Rambam as it being reality. I am not sure he is right. You have very succinctly put out the problem that we all struggle with. Therefore if it was in a dream it makes it less difficult. I know that it creates other problems but that is quite normal. "Rov hasefekot emet verov havadaot sheker" is a comment I believe is reported from the Chazon Ish or the Maharsha, (I don't remember now,) about Gemara problems. I believe it applies here too.

    On another note years ago at a Brit I herad Profeesor Gevaryahu explain the beracha "asher kidash yedid" yedid being the firstborn that used to be offered by mesopotamians to their god. the dam brit replaced that idolatrous custom. That child is referred to as Jedid, and the bracha refers to that transformation. In taht context the story of the akedah makes a lot of sense, as it describes a process where Avraham took Avodah Zara and transformed it into avodat hashem and korbanot.

    There is a book by professor Avraham Nuriel that you would enjoy a lot. It is acollection of his papers mostly on rambam.

    Shabbat Shalom and by the time you read this Shavua Tov.

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  19. >The difficulty that people have with the Akedah is :how could Avraham be prepared to carry out such a gruesome act,even when he thought the order was given to him to him by God in a vision .That's plain murder,& of his own son!
    He should have rejected it out of hand & said to himself,this can't be from God,I must be deceived & tempted by the Devil!

    I don't exactly understand your problem here. Just two weeks ago, God destroys the entire world. Rashi 6:13 states that in such a circumstance, it kills Good people and bad ones.

    By Sodom, Avrohom's claim was "Ha'af Tispeh Tzadik Im Rosha", implying that God was about do to so. Further, if Avrohom doesn't find a Minyan of Tzadikim, he's willing to accept that God will kill the handful of Tzadikim.

    So why should he have a problem believing that God wants his son? If God can kill Tzadikim in Sodom and wipe out the entire world (Avrohom met "Malki Tzedek" which is accepted that he was Shem Ben Noach, a Mabul survivor, a first hand witness), why is it so unfathomable that God would command him to kill his son?

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