Sunday, December 24, 2006

Shabbat in Aminadav -

This shabbat we spent with our wonderful son Aryeh and lovely daughter-in-law Orly in Moshav Aminadav. It is a small Moshav outside Yerushalaym which was established in the 1950's by Yemmenite Olim. It is located on one of the mountains that surround Yerushalayim.

Shabbat we went to the beit haknesset and it was my first experience with Minhag Teiman prayer. Though long (over 3 hours in the morning) I was entranced by the word for word reading aloud of the Tefilah by one of the congregants and a little hypnotized by the monotonous niggun. The havara was also fascinating with the Cholam enunciated in a variation of the Litvisher "Ey" and the segol as "O", similar to a kametz by us. The Kryat hatorah was also interesting where some of the Olim Latorah chose to read their own segment and did it surprisingly well. Also I found interesting that they first took out one sefer together with a sefer Haftarot which they placed next to each other on the Bimah and only took out the sefer Maftir at the end just before reading in it. No hagba'ah was performed on the second sefer. Hallel was also interesting as everyone said it to themselves until Odecha. There the chazan said the Pessukim aloud until the end of hallel and the kahal repeated each passuk loud. In other words they did not repeat it, just said it passuk bepassuk. Rambam in Hilchot Chanukka 3:11 says that repeating the last pessukim is a minhag. It apparently has not taken hold in Teiman.
יא יש מקומות שנהגו לכפול מ"אודך, כי עניתני" (תהילים קיח,כא) עד סוף ההלל, כופלין כל
דבר ודבר שתי פעמים. ומקום שנהגו לכפול, יכפול; ומקום שנהגו שלא לכפול, אין כופלין

The most wonderful thing about Shabbat was to be with our loving children, seeing the love and warmth between them. It was a feast for all our senses, literally, emotionally and spiritually. No one makes a better Cholent, Morrocan Fish, artichoke, matbucha and babaganoush than Orly and Aryeh prepared. This and the beautiful setting with a gorgeous view of Yerushalayim on all sides made for a memorable experience.

ב יְרוּשָׁלִַם-- הָרִים, סָבִיב לָהּ:וַיהוָה, סָבִיב לְעַמּוֹ-- מֵעַתָּה, וְעַד-עוֹלָם.
2 As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, {N}so the LORD is round about His people, from this time forth and for ever

Friday, December 22, 2006

Yael and Shachar got married and I got inspired.

Wednesday night I attended the wedding of Yael and Shachar at Sdei Elyahu, a Dati Leumi Kibbutz near Beit She'an. Yael is the daughter of my wife's first cousin. That branch of my wife's mother's family moved to Israel after the war while another ended up in the USA. I was looking at the Israeli branch and had some interesting observations which I would like to share here as it has an impact on what I have been writing about Hashgacha.

First some impressions about the Kibbutz wedding. People dress simply, no fancy rags to say the least and the presentation of the food and the decoration of the hall is utilitarian. There were a lot of people - the whole Kibbutz practically plus the rest of the guests. Usually in such big crowds one would expect a certain distance. Here the warmth and happiness was palpable, everybody felt part of the simcha. Shachar is a career soldier and the underlying current was that here another family of dedicated Jews is being formed. Looking around at the crowd you saw a mixture of our bretherns from a few Chareidim to Dati Leumi types, white shirts with tzitzis hanging out, to chilonim and everybody was comfortable with each other partaking in the dancing and the emotional bonding. The dancing was intense and we all felt as one and equals. There was a feeling of belonging, where everybody practiced his religion according to his understanding, the common thread being that we are all servants of HKBH referring to Him within our individuality. The speeches all mentioned God and His relationship to us and our land. To me this is a small sample of what Avraham, Ytzchak and Yaacov followed by Moshe and the other early fathers of our nation set in motion thousands of years ago. A nation of people that are involved with God and acknowledge Him but also act and live a life dedicated to perpetuate this way of life in our own land. It is not just a philosophy but a way of acting creatively partaking in God's world.

Here we see the meaning of Hashgacha. The decisions made by an earlier generation, the first after the holocaust, has impacted the next few and we can see clearly how the underlying motive of those people affected their descendants. Those who looked beyond themeselves, those who wanted to partake in the enterprise of establishing our own nation with a land of our own, took the necessary risks and their reward is the fruition of a generation of independent, healthy and creative Jews.

Shabbat Shalom from Yerushalayim..

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Providence and Theodicy.

(Please read this post together with my three previous ones on Providence and Reward and Punishment – you can use the tags.)

The connection between Providence and Reward and Punishment is now obvious. Providence equals reward and its opposite Randomness equals punishment. At the same time we saw that Providence is result oriented and at times it is not always immediately clear what the result of an action will be. What we sometimes see as a bad outcome may be temporary and in the long term turn out to be good and meet the goal the person who acted has set for himself. That explains why we see people who act poorly seem to thrive at first. This brings us to the question of theodicy. It is one that has perplexed many and is the cause of much skepticism about God and His justice. Why do good people suffer and bad ones seem to flourish? Rambam in MN 3:19 addresses this as follows:

The Prophets have already stated the proof which ignorant persons offer for their belief that God does not know our actions: the fact that wicked people are living in prosperity and abundance. This fact leads also righteous and pious persons to think that it is of no use for them to aim at that which is good and to suffer for it through the opposition of other people. But the Prophets at the same time relate how their own thoughts were engaged on this question, and how they were at last convinced that in the instances to which these arguments refer, only the final outcome and not the beginning ought to be taken into account.”

Again we see the emphasis on the long term rather than the immediate. The underlying idea though in this whole issue of providence is that there is a rational Entity that set existence into motion, and that that Entity willed certain things and outcomes. Humans are expected to decipher that will and act in conformity with it. If they do that correctly they can only bring good which is the permanence of whatever their action affects. That explains the Torah’s insistence on the permanency of the Jewish people. The Torah is telling us that the actions of the founders of our religion the Avot, Moshe and the prophets who followed them understood God’s will and therefore their actions will result in the eternal existence of their progeny and followers.

Coming back to where we started with the question of the contradiction in Rambam . He first introduces man’s ability to think and that reward and punishment depend on it. He then explains the shipwreck and collapsing roof as follows:

It may be by mere chance that a ship goes down with all her contents, as in the above-mentioned instance, or the roof of a house falls upon those within; but it is not due to chance, according to our view, that in the one instance the men went into the ship, or remained in the house in the other instance: it is due to the will of God, and is in accordance with the justice of His judgments, the method of which our mind is incapable of understanding.”

An observer of this calamity cannot know whether the long-term outcome of this event is good or bad thus, the method of which our mind is incapable of understanding. The will of God here is that man has freedom of choice and is a thinking being. Here is Rambam’s definition of God’s will in this context: (MN 2:48)

It is clear that everything produced must have an immediate cause which produced it; that cause again a cause, and so on, until the First Cause of all things is reached, I mean God’s will and free choice… After having heard this remark, listen to what I will explain in this chapter; direct your special attention to it more than you have done to the other chapters of this part. It is this: As regards the immediate causes of things produced, it makes no difference whether these causes consist in substances, physical properties, freewill, or chance--by freewill I mean that of man--or even in the will of another living being besides man. The prophets ascribe the production directly to God and use such phrases as, God has done it, commanded it, or said it: in all such cases the verbs "to say," "to speak," "to command," "to call," and "to send" are employed. What I desired to state in this chapter is this: According to the hypothesis and theory accepted, it is God that gave will to dumb animals, freewill to the human being, and natural properties to everything.”

In other words the fact that God gave man freewill and the person that boarded the ship availed himself of that ability, it is seen as if he boarded at God’s will. This same ability however puts him under the regime of reward and punishment. If he acted properly his actions will eventually be meaningful otherwise his death was meaningless and that in itself is his punishment.

I now need to go to Hilchot Teshuvah and Shemona Perakim, Iggeret Teiman, letter to the Cachmei Marseilles and Ma’amar Techyat Hametim where Rambam also discusses his stand on Providence and see if this explanation is correct and fits. I will do that In January after I return from my vacation where I will not have Seforim at hand.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Providence - practical implications.

The practical implications of the understanding of Hashgacha / Providence I proposed in my last post is that man can take control of his life or chose not to. He can act to satisfy his instinctual urges and live for the moment or act in a more meaningful way playing a constructive role in God’s universe. This explains an aspect of the Adam and Chava metaphor. Man’s ideal goal is to partake in creation and play a positive role in the continuity of the universe.

טו וַיִּקַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָאָדָם; וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן-עֵדֶן, לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ.
15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to till it and to watch it.

Losing this focus is seen as being thrown out of the ideal place and left to random chance.

When, however, Scripture says of Adam, "He changed his face (panav) and thou sent him forth" (Job 14:20), it must be understood in the following way: On account of the change of his original aim he was sent away… our text suggests that Adam, as he altered his intention and directed his thoughts to the acquisition of what he was forbidden, he was banished from Paradise: this was his punishment; it was measure for measure. At first he had the privilege of tasting pleasure and happiness, and of enjoying repose and security; but as his appetites grew stronger, and he followed his desires and impulses, (as we have already stated above), and partook of the food he was forbidden to taste, he was deprived of everything, was doomed to subsist on the meanest kind of food, such as he never tasted before, and this even only after exertion and labor, as it is said, "Thorns and thistles shall grow up for thee" (Gen. iii. 18), "By the sweat of thy brow," etc., and in explanation of this the text continues, "And the Lord God drove him from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground whence he was taken." He was now with respect to food and many other requirements brought to the level of the lower animals: "You shall eat the grass of the field" (Gen. 3:18). Reflecting on his condition, the Psalmist says, "Adam unable to dwell in dignity was brought to the level of the dumb beast" (Ps. 69:13)." May the Almighty be praised, whose design and wisdom cannot be fathomed."”(MN1:2)

The banishment from Eden, ideal life, is because of man’s absorption in feeding his own personal physical needs, ignoring the bigger picture. The picture I get in my mind is that the universe was created by God as a self-perpetuating entity –

The book which enlightened the darkness of the world says therefore, "And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Even the existence of this corporeal element, low as it in reality is, because it is the source of death and all evils, is likewise good for the permanence of the Universe and the continuation of the order of things, so that one thing departs and the other succeeds. Rabbi Meir therefore explains the words "and behold it was very good" (tov Me’od); that even death was good in accordance with what we have observed in this chapter.” (MN3:10)

Even death can be seen as good if it results in permanence of the Universe. The word “good” is synonymous with continuity. It is up to each man to figure out how he can contribute and he has the choice to join Creation and act constructively or be indifferent and lead a meaningless life. In religious parlance, that would mean choosing between Hashgacha, namely constancy, and Mikreh, randomness.

Those who approach Him are best protected, and "He will keep the feet of his saints"; but those who keep far away from Him are left exposed to what may befall them; there is nothing that could protect them from what might happen; they are like those who walk in darkness, and are certain to stumble.” (MN 3:18)

The only way man can approach Him is by knowing His ways as it is the most man can expect to know about Him.

The paradox is that the individual never knows for sure whether his conclusions are correct, whether the actions he undertakes based on those conclusions will be constructive in the long term. It is even more paradoxical because a contemporary observer cannot judge whether the actions of this individual were constructive. It is only much later that all the consequences of a particular action can be assessed and judged. The best that we can do is to constantly remind ourselves to evaluate all our actions with the long-term view in mind. Rambam in MN 3:51 -

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

It is when we look back at the accomplishment, “the providence of God watching over them”, of these four, the patriarchs and Moshe, that we have proof that all their actions were goal oriented and therefore under Divine Providence.

I think these four reached that high degree of perfection in their relation to God, and enjoyed the continual presence of Divine Providence, even in their endeavors to increase their property, feeding the flock, toiling in the field, or managing the house, only because in all these things their end and aim was to approach God as much as possible. It was the chief aim of their whole life to create a people that should know and worship God… The object of all their labors was to publish the Unity of God in the world and to induce people to love Him; and it was on this account that they succeeded in reaching that high degree; for even those [worldly] affairs were for them a perfect worship of God. But a person like me must not imagine that he is able to attain this degree of perfection.”

The last sentence is fascinating. Rambam reveals his own inner thoughts and self-image. Although looking back from our perspective, Rambam affected Judaism deeply for generations; he was full of doubt about his contribution. Apparently the patriarchs themselves had the same doubts about their actions and their long-term impact. That explains the repetitive assurances that we find in the prophetic visions of the Avot. They always reviewed their actions and questioned whether they were correct and effective in accomplishing their goal for generations to come. That is also the meaning of Zchut Avot starting in Egypt –

כד וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-נַאֲקָתָם; וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּרִיתוֹ, אֶת-אַבְרָהָם אֶת-יִצְחָק וְאֶת-יַעֲקֹב.
24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

and repeated many times over in the Torah and Neviim. Failure would reflect poorly on the patriarchs. It would raise questions about the meaning of their life’s work. The Torah is confirming and Moshe is joining them in their vision for the future of their progeny and ultimately humankind. When we say in our prayers every day “Vezocher Chasdei Avot” it means we are joining them in their vision to bring about a perfect world – “Umevi Go’el livnei vneihem” and all that as part of God’s creation – “Lema’an Shemo Be’ahavah”.

Much more to come on this subject of Hashgacha / Providence.
Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Naturei Karta or Biryoni ?

One cannot remain silent on the great Chilul Hashem these so called Naturei Karta hooligans have committed. We have to openly distance ourselves from them. It is a travesty that our leadership has chosen to take a public stand on the ElAl affair and remained silent when some who present themselves as religious Jews desecrate our Kedoshim. Velamalshinim al tehi Tikvah!

Hashiva Shofteinu Kevarishona! Leaders that know what to emphasize.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Providence - an acquired state.

In my earlier post I ended up with two components of providence; freedom of choice of a kind that is universal and extant in all living. We also saw that Reward and Punishment is a direct result of an action; it is the consequence of any act.

(If the reader wants to verify my understanding of Rambam, the following chapters in MN are pertinent and should be read carefully: 3:17-18-51.)

If Reward and Punishment is a consequence of an action it should theoretically apply to all things that act, all living things. Why then do we not find the idea of Reward and Punishment in the Torah for any living thing other than man? Why are we permitted to slaughter animals for food? What did the animal do wrong to deserve that? This question really supports the understanding of Aristotle that what we consider a consequence of Divine will is nothing more than pure randomness. There is no empirical impetus for differentiating between humans and animals. The sentience of man just increases the randomness of his actions, adding a component to man’s decision process. Animals are impelled by their natural instincts and suffer the consequences thereof while man is restrained or pushed by his ability to think, which makes it more difficult to predict how he will act.

Because there is no empirical evidence for his position, Rambam introduces his understanding of Hashgacha with a strong proviso:

My opinion on this principle of Divine Providence I will now explain to you. In the principle which I now proceed to expound I do not rely on demonstrative proof, but on my conception of the spirit of the Divine Law, and the writings of the Prophets. The principle which I accept is far less open to objections, and is more reasonable than the opinions mentioned before.”(MN3:17)

It is how Rambam understands the ontological point of view of the Torah and the prophets. The importance of this statement cannot be minimized. What it says is that all observe the same phenomena; we see things happening in exactly the same way, the interpretation of the event, the perspective from which we look at it, are different and fit with the total teachings of the Torah and prophets.

Before we go further we need to define exactly what the word Hashgacha, usually translated as Providence, really means. When discussing Aristotle’s position earlier in chapter 17, Rambam states:

In short, the opinion of Aristotle is this: Everything is the result of management which is constant, which does not come to an end and does not change any of its properties, as e.g., the heavenly beings, and everything which continues according to a certain rule, and deviates from it only rarely and exceptionally, as is the case in objects of Nature. All these are the result of management, i.e., in a close relation to Divine Providence.”

Divine Providence is constancy. When there is no randomness and things are predictive, it is considered to be under Divine Providence. The movements of the stars are predictable and therefore are considered under Divine Providence. Of course this assessment is based on Aristotelian physics. We now know that things are different and there is randomness there too especially over long periods of time. The idea though remains that Hashgacha / Providence refers to predictable events. Rambam in fact contrasts Hashgacha with randomness:

But that which is not constant, and does not follow a certain rule, as e.g., incidents in the existence of the individual beings in each species of plants or animals, whether rational or irrational, is due to chance and not to management; it is in no relation to Divine Providence. Aristotle holds that it is even impossible to ascribe to Providence the management of these things.”

We can summarize by saying Hashgacha / Providence is the opposite of randomness. Humans who have free will and choice are therefore the most random entities in the universe followed by animals and other living things according to Aristotle.

Rambam sees it quite differently. Once man is able to understand the universe created by God and extrapolate from that the direction it is headed, or in religious parlance, understand the will of God and wants to partake in that endeavor, his actions are no longer random. They are goal oriented and therefore predictable.

Divine Providence is connected with Divine intellectual influence, and the same beings which are benefited by the latter so as to become intellectual, and to comprehend things comprehensible to rational beings, are also under the control of Divine Providence, which examines all their deeds in order to reward or punish them.”

It is incumbent on man to develop his intellect to the point where he understands the will of God. At that point he no longer acts in a random fashion. Hashgacha which is the opposite of randomness takes over. He becomes predictable and as he achieves his goal, that achievement is his reward. However if man does not develop his potential, he is left to randomness just like all other living entities. That is his punishment. Intellect and its proper use leads to predictable goal oriented behavior and consequent outcome. That is Hashgacha / Providence which therefore affects only humans who use their intellect constructively. Other living things remain under the influence of randomness, their natural state.

The problem is that it is not a simple matter to know with certainty what the will of God is. It will sometimes take more than a lifetime, many lifetimes and generations, before we find out if the understanding and consequent actions of a particular individual were correct. Reward and Punishment is no longer just how an individual fares in his own physical well-being. It takes on a macro view. It is the impact that a life has that counts. I understand that to be the unknown that Rambam refers to; “and is in accordance with the justice of His judgments, the method of which our mind is incapable of understanding”. The good outcome of an individual’s action is the only evidence whether he acted correctly. That is why we find even our patriarchs like Yaakov full of doubt about their actions and goals as the Rabbis say it “Shema yigrom hacheit”. It is also why Rambam sees Moshe and the patriarchs as the paradigms of people who were blessed with Hashgacha. After all their actions are still felt thousands of years later by their descendants, their goal of building a nation that knows God still evolving.

All that is mentioned of the history of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a perfect proof that Divine Providence extends to every man individually.”

It therefore makes sense that Providence is a function of the correctness of a person’s understanding and consequent actions.

The relation of Divine Providence is therefore not the same to all men; the greater the human perfection a person has attained, the greater the benefit he derives from Divine Providence. This benefit is very great in the case of prophets, and varies according to the degree of their prophetic faculty: as it varies in the case of pious and good men according to their piety and uprightness. For it is the intensity of the Divine intellectual influence that has inspired the prophets, guided the good in their actions, and perfected the wisdom of the pious. In the same proportion as ignorant and disobedient persons are deficient in that Divine influence, their condition is inferior, and their rank equal to that of irrational beings: and they are "like unto the beasts."” (MN3:18)

And again Rambam sees Moshe and the patriarchs as the paradigm of perfect recipients of Divine Providence:

Consider how the action of Divine Providence is described in reference to every incident in the lives of the patriarchs, to their occupations, and even to their passions, and how God promised to direct His attention to them. Thus God said to Abraham, "I am thy shield" (Gen. 15:1); to Isaac, "I will be with thee, and I will bless thee" (ibid. 26:3); to Jacob, "I am with thee, and will keep thee" (ibid. 28:15); to [Moses] the chief of the Prophets, "Certainly I will be with thee, and this shall be a token unto thee" (Exod. 3:12); to Joshua, "As I was with Moses, so I shall be with thee" (Josh. 1:5). It is clear that in all these cases the action of Providence has been proportional to man's perfection.”

We can sum up that Hashgacha / Providence is a state a person acquires through his intellect and proper actions. It is only a posteriori, when the consequences of these actions are evaluated, that we know the correctness of the original act. However every human has the potential to emulate God and partake in acts that have long-term constructive goals – or under the umbrella of divine Hashgacha / Providence.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Reward and Punishment - Miraculous or natural?

Popular understanding of Reward and Punishment is that it has no direct cause and effect correlation to man’s action but is rather divine reward or punishment for his deeds. Man does his thing and if he is worthy God protects him. It assumes no causal relationship between a man’s action and the consequences of that action. If I keep the Mitzvot, wear a talit Katan that has a proper size, check my mezuzah periodically, put a filter on my tap, am extremely machmir on Kashrut and so on, I am protected and no harm will come to me. These good deeds accumulate points and God weighs them on His fine and mysterious scale and offsets them against all my other deeds and if they outweigh the bad deeds I am safe. In fact if I do all these things I am allowed to cheat a little, steal a little, never mind Goyim, Jews too as I have this great store of Mitzvot that will surely outweigh these little perversions of mine.

This thinking is the bane of our society and the root of many of the ills in our community. It is pure superstition and does not belong in Jewish thought. It is a reversion to idolatry or as I prefer to think of it a remnant of idolatry that has not yet been eradicated completely even after 3000 years. Bribing the deity is what Avodah Zara is all about. Just read the prophets starting with Hoshe’a and ending Malachi.

Rambam introduces Hashgacha as follows:

“I will show you [first] the view expressed on this subject in our prophetical books, and generally accepted by our Sages. I will then give the opinion of some later authors among us, and lastly, I will explain my own belief.” (MN 3:17)

Rambam tells us that here are three possible understandings of Hashgacha in Jewish thought; one found in the prophetical books also accepted by “most”[1] of our sages; another accepted by later scholars and thirdly his own opinion. This is intriguing already and apparently a subject not clearly defined by the Mesora. But as we will see there are several components that are unanimous in all versions diverging only in the details but as they say the devil is in the details.

Here is the common ground:

It is one of the fundamental principles of the Law of our Teacher Moses, and of those who follow the Law, that man has an absolute ability to act. According to this principle man does what is in his power to do, by his nature, his choice, and his will; and his action is not due to any newly created thing for his benefit. (Free will is not because of anything special in man such as his ability to think – DG[2]). All species of irrational animals likewise move by their own free will. This is the Will of God; that is to say, it is due to the eternal divine will that all living beings should move freely, and that man should have power to act according to his will or choice within the limits of his capacity. Against this principle we hear, thank God, no opposition on the part of our nation.”

What hits us at first is the universality of free will to all living species, man and animal. It would seem that a sentient being’s free will should operate differently than a non-sentient being. The answer is that there are two kinds of free will. The one generally discussed when we talk about Bechira, clearly not universal, is the choice between right and wrong which requires a higher level of thought and is therefore sentience dependent. The other one to which Rambam refers to here is choices that we have on a daily basis, crossing the street or not, eating this apple as opposed to the other and other such continuous decisions. This freedom of choice is common to all living things sentient and non-sentient. This understanding of this type of free will is unanimous “in our nation” and note Rambam’s sigh of relief about that! (Unfortunately nowadays Rambam’s relief is misplaced. The opposite view is very close to popular belief.)

The second view that is common ground:

Another fundamental principle taught by the Law of Moses is this: Wrong cannot be ascribed to God in any way whatever; all evils and afflictions as well as all kinds of happiness of man, whether they concern one individual person or a community, are distributed according to justice; they are the result of strict judgment that admits no wrong whatever. Even when a person suffers pain in consequence of a thorn having entered into his hand, although it is at once drawn out, it is a punishment, for some action of his, that has been inflicted on him, and the least pleasure he enjoys is a reward for some action; all this is meted out by strict justice; as is said in Scripture, "all his ways are judgment" (Deut. 32:4); we are only ignorant of the working of that judgment.”

If you assume that this reward or punishment is other then causal read on.

We, however, believe that all these human affairs are managed with justice; far be it from God to do wrong, to punish any one unless the punishment is necessary and merited. It is distinctly stated in the Law, that all is done in accordance with justice… Our Sages declare it wherever opportunity is given, that the idea of God necessarily implies justice; that He will reward the most pious for all their pure and upright actions, although no direct commandment was given them through a prophet; and that He will punish all the evil deeds of men, although they have not been prohibited by a prophet, if common sense warns against them, as e.g., injustice and violence.”

Pure and upright actions not commanded by a prophet and evil deeds that common sense warns against are things man does for his survival and the survival of the species, what we call natural law. Included are rules that society sets to protect one individual from another, to allow for peaceful coexistence among men. Breaking those rules wreaks havoc with a society, retaliation is to be expected and the consequences are inevitable. It may take a day, month, years and even several generations but eventually the consequence catches up with the wrongdoer or his progeny. It also includes self-control for health reasons, protecting the environment and pretty much every human act that is necessary for survival. The same consequence that Aristotle sees as random we see as Divine justice. The consequence does not change just the interpretation. Clearly Reward and Punishment is not some kind of Divine and supernatural concept. It is a purely natural one. God is seen as being the original cause of existence and in that role Reward and Punishment is ascribed to Him.

What have we so far? Man’s actions are left to him and his actions have consequences. We have not addressed Hashgacha as yet. Next post will bring this third component into play and Hashgacha will start to be fleshed out.

[1] As translated by R. Kafih. Schwartz notes that the Arabic word can be translated in different ways. Rambam seems to have been a little vague intentionally.
[2] I understand Rambam to mean this. R. Kafih understands it to refer to some Muslim thinkers that believed that every little change is specifically created for that action. ShemTov in his commentary seems to agree with R. Kafih.

In God's Image - Betzelem Elokim

Excellent article in commentary.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Of Visions, Angels and dislocated hips.

Rabbi Maroof post here brought to mind an interesting Rambam on the same verses at the end of last week’s Parsha and the one we will be reading this Shabbat.

Just before the story of Yaakov’s sending messengers to Eisav the Torah cryptically mentions the following:

ב וְיַעֲקֹב, הָלַךְ לְדַרְכּוֹ; וַיִּפְגְּעוּ-בוֹ, מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים.
2 And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
ג וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב כַּאֲשֶׁר רָאָם, מַחֲנֵה אֱלֹהִים זֶה; וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא, מַחֲנָיִם. {פ}
3 And Jacob said when he saw them: 'This is God's camp.' And he called the name of that place Machanaim. {P}

Just before Yaakov meets his brother again an angel gets into the story:

כה וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב, לְבַדּוֹ; וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ, עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר.
25 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
כו וַיַּרְא, כִּי לֹא יָכֹל לוֹ, וַיִּגַּע, בְּכַף-יְרֵכוֹ; וַתֵּקַע כַּף-יֶרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב, בְּהֵאָבְקוֹ עִמּוֹ.
26 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was strained, as he wrestled with him.
כז וַיֹּאמֶר שַׁלְּחֵנִי, כִּי עָלָה הַשָּׁחַר; וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא אֲשַׁלֵּחֲךָ, כִּי אִם-בֵּרַכְתָּנִי.
27 And he said: 'Let me go, for the day breaks.' And he said: 'I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.'
כח וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, מַה-שְּׁמֶךָ; וַיֹּאמֶר, יַעֲקֹב.
28 And he said unto him: 'What is thy name?' And he said: 'Jacob.'
כט וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ--כִּי, אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל: כִּי-שָׂרִיתָ עִם-אֱלֹהִים וְעִם-אֲנָשִׁים, וַתּוּכָל.
29 And he said: 'Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.'
ל וַיִּשְׁאַל יַעֲקֹב, וַיֹּאמֶר הַגִּידָה-נָּא שְׁמֶךָ, וַיֹּאמֶר, לָמָּה זֶּה תִּשְׁאַל לִשְׁמִי; וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתוֹ, שָׁם.
30 And Jacob asked him, and said: 'Tell me, I pray thee, thy name.' And he said: 'Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name?' And he blessed him there.
לא וַיִּקְרָא יַעֲקֹב שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם, פְּנִיאֵל: כִּי-רָאִיתִי אֱלֹהִים פָּנִים אֶל-פָּנִים, וַתִּנָּצֵל נַפְשִׁי.
31 And Jacob called the name of the place Pniel: 'for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.'

Rambam understands that this story is composed of two layers. The main story is that Yaakov met angels in a vision or dream. That vision came about while he was preparing himself for the meeting with Eisav which is the second story. His introspection about whether he was doing the right thing putting all these people, his family into danger, prompted this whole episode. When alone and tired after crossing the whole caravan across the river at Yabok, he had a vision where an angel reenacted the struggle with Eisav and though wounded, Yaakov prevailed.

Here is Rambam in MN 2:42:

The same, I hold, is the case when it is said in reference to Jacob, "And a man wrestled with him" (Gen. 22:25); this took place in a prophetic vision, since it is expressly stated in the end that it was an angel. The circumstances are here exactly the same as those in the vision of Abraham, where the general statement, "And the Lord appeared to him," etc., is followed by a detailed description. Similarly the account of the vision of Jacob begins, "And the angels of God met him" (Gen. 32:2); then follows a detailed description how it came to pass that they met him; namely, Jacob sent messengers, and after having prepared and done certain things, "he was left alone," etc., "and a man wrestled with him" By this term "man" [one of] the angels of God is meant, mentioned in the phrase, "And angels of God met him"; the wrestling and speaking was entirely a prophetic vision.”

If we were to retell the story according to this, we would begin with Yaakov’s preparation to meet Eisav and while resting he has a vision where a group of angels pass and one of them separated and struggled with Yaakov.

Abarbanel and Rabbeinu Avraham the son of Rambam have a problem with this interpretation. How can one call the same place Machanaim and Pniel at the same time and in the same vision? Rav Schwartz in his Yekev Ephraim explains that although in his vision when he first saw the angels he called the locale Machanaim, when he awoke he called it Pniel to reflect the central theme of the vision, God protecting him which is the meaning of seeing an angel face to face. Ramban takes the story a step further and explains that it is a metaphor for the almost total destructions of the Jews after the Romans put down the Bar Kochba revolt.

What is so interesting with the Ramban is the fact that he attacked Rambam’s understanding of the whole story being a vision. He is adamant that it happened in real life, how else can one explain Yaakov’s lameness, and at the same time he interprets the story as a metaphor.

Again Rav Schwartz in Yekev Ephraim has an interesting take on this. Yaakov dreamt about his fight with the angel and him being wounded on the hip. Next morning as he was moving on, he tripped and dislocated his hip. The dream was thus a foreboding of what happened next. He proves this because as he awoke he called the place Pniel, and only after leaving it did he become lame –
לב וַיִּזְרַח-לוֹ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, כַּאֲשֶׁר עָבַר אֶת-פְּנוּאֵל; וְהוּא צֹלֵעַ, עַל-יְרֵכוֹ.
32 And the sun rose upon him as he passed over Pniel, and he limped upon his thigh.

The fact that he had that foreboding signaled that there was some real significance in this happening. It was a metaphor that presaged some important event in his descendant’s lives. That also explains why the Gid Hanashe is forbidden to us. It is a reminder of that event and what it foretold.

When Ramban uses the Bar Kochba tragedy as the object of the metaphor, in my mind he is not talking about that specific tragedy. He sees that as the first tragedy during this current exile as a harbinger of all the future calamities that befell us starting then and culminating with the recent terrible holocaust of 1939- 1944.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Rambam on Providence: A contradiction?

I would like to pose a question and ask readers if they would be so kind and suggest an answer. Reading MN 3:17 would be very helpful as I am laying out a contradiction within the same chapter, and we know Rambam told us in his introduction that only a fool contradicts himself in his writings.

Having established that natural disasters or calamities, whether personal or universal, cannot be seen as evil, how do we address the suffering of the victim(s)?

Aristotle according to Rambam saw that too as a random natural event and nature has no ethics. Isn’t man just another component of the whole universe? If the earthquake is necessary for the maintenance of the planet, the fact that the inhabitants, whether vegetable, animal or human, that happen to be in its vicinity suffer, is irrelevant. As Rambam in MN 3:17 explains Aristotle’s position:

All other movements, however, which are made by the individual members of each species are due to accident; they are not, according to Aristotle, the result of rule and management; e.g.

when a storm or gale blows, it causes undoubtedly some leaves of a tree to drop, breaks off some branches of another tree, tears away a stone from a heap of stones, raises dust over herbs and spoils them, and stirs up the sea so that a ship goes down with the whole or part of her contents.

Aristotle sees no difference between

The falling of a leaf or a stone and the death of the good and noble people in the ship;

Nor does he distinguish between

the destruction of a multitude of ants caused by an ox depositing on them his excrement and the death of worshippers killed by the fall of the house when its foundations give way;

Nor does he discriminate between the case of a cat killing a mouse that happens to come in her way, or that of a spider catching a fly, and that of a hungry lion meeting a prophet and tearing him.”

Rambam on the other hand agrees that as far as non-sentient beings, defined as everything except humans, there is no providence (Hashgacha). However humans have freedom of choice. That quality is a result of man’s ability to think independently, his intellectual capacity. Man can therefore choose to act within the parameters of divine providence or not.

Divine Providence is connected with Divine intellectual influence, and the same beings which are benefited by the latter so as to become intellectual, and to comprehend things comprehensible to rational beings, are also accompanied by Divine Providence, which examines all their deeds from the point of view of reward and punishment.”

How do we explain the same events, the strong wind and its consequences, the spittle and the dung?

For I do not believe that it is through the interference of Divine Providence that a certain leaf drops [from a tree],

Nor do I hold that when a certain spider catches a certain fly, that this is the direct result of a special decree and will of God in that moment;

It is not by a particular Divine decree that the spittle of a certain person moved, fell on a certain gnat in a certain place, and killed it;

Nor is it by the direct will of God that a certain fish catches and swallows a certain worm on the surface of the water.

In all these cases the action is, according to my opinion, entirely due to chance, as taught by Aristotle.”

Now comes the tough part:

It may be by mere chance that a ship goes down with all her contents, as in the above-mentioned instance, or the roof of a house falls upon those within; but it is not due to chance, according to our view, that in the one instance the men went into the ship, or remained in the house in the other instance: it is due to the will of God, and is in accordance with the justice of His judgments, the method of which our mind is incapable of understanding.”

If the method that God decides whether this is right or wrong is incomprehensible, what does it have to do with our intellect and freedom of choice? What exactly does the will of God mean in this context? Is the fact that he is in that collapsing building or sinking ship by his choice or God’s? To me this last statement is at first blush confusing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Jacob's Ladder - God, Prophecy, Providence and History.

This post is going to be longer and more complicated than the usual ones I write. The subject is however very important to my mind and covers many aspects of Jewish thought; providence, prophecy and History. I therefore ask you to kindly bear with me.

This Shabbat we read Yaakov’s dream of the ladder and the angels. In his introduction to the Moreh Rambam uses it as an example of a prophesy that is given in a metaphor where every word has meaning. He compares it to another prophesy where the general message has meaning while the details are not necessarily important.

Here are the pertinent verses:

יב וַיַּחֲלֹם, וְהִנֵּה סֻלָּם מֻצָּב אַרְצָה, וְרֹאשׁוֹ, מַגִּיעַ הַשָּׁמָיְמָה; וְהִנֵּה מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים, עֹלִים וְיֹרְדִים בּוֹ.
12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
יג וְהִנֵּה יְהוָה נִצָּב עָלָיו, וַיֹּאמַר, אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ, וֵאלֹהֵי יִצְחָק; הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה שֹׁכֵב עָלֶיהָ--לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה, וּלְזַרְעֶךָ.
13 And, behold, the LORD stood beside him, and said: 'I am the LORD, the God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac. The land whereon thou lie, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed.
יד וְהָיָה זַרְעֲךָ כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ, וּפָרַצְתָּ יָמָּה וָקֵדְמָה וְצָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה; וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כָּל-מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה, וּבְזַרְעֶךָ.
14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. And in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
טו וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ, וּשְׁמַרְתִּיךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-תֵּלֵךְ, וַהֲשִׁבֹתִיךָ, אֶל-הָאֲדָמָה הַזֹּאת: כִּי, לֹא אֶעֱזָבְךָ, עַד אֲשֶׁר אִם-עָשִׂיתִי, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבַּרְתִּי לָךְ.
15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever you go, and will bring thee back into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.'

Here are Rambam’s words in the introduction and I will append the explanation to each segment by connecting each with MN 1:15 where Rambam explains what he meant here.

“The word "ladder" refers to one idea: - In MN 1:15 “This ladder all may climb up who wish to do so, and they must ultimately attain to knowledge of Him who is above the summit of the ladder”. The ladder is a metaphor for the process a prophet uses to find God and learn His ways. Metaphorically this type of thinking presents as climbing.

"Set up on the earth" to another "and the top of it reached to heaven" to a third: - In MN 1:15 a cryptic few words: “the upper end of which reached to heaven, while the lower end touched the earth”. I understand that as a metaphor of the direction of thought needed in the search for God. The prophet starts with the earthly, the physical, the sciences – Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy etc… and in the process as he goes along the question of God and His role in all this takes shape.

"Angels of God" to a fourth: - There are two possible interpretation of the word Alav in the text; on him (Yaakov) or on it (the ladder). In MN 1:15 “It must be well understood that the term "upon it" is employed by me in harmony with this metaphor. “Angels of God" who were going up represent the prophets. That the term "angel" was applied to prophets may clearly be seen in the following passages: "He sent an angel" (Num. 20:16); "And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim" (Judges 2:1)."

"Ascending" to a fifth; "descending" to a sixth; - Again in MN 1:15: “How suggestive, too, is the expression "ascending and descending on it"! The ascent is mentioned before the descent, inasmuch as the "ascending" and arriving at a certain height of the ladder precedes the "descending," i.e., the application of the knowledge acquired in the ascent for the training and instruction of humankind. This application is termed "descent," in accordance with our explanation of the term Yarad”. The purpose of the prophet’s search for God is to learn from His ways how to lead and teach people. (See also MN 1:54 for a similar understanding in Moshe’s question to God וְעַתָּה אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ, הוֹדִעֵנִי נָא אֶת-דְּרָכֶךָ). The search for God is not just an empty intellectual quest but has the purpose to teach correct leadership and behavior.

To better understand the significance of the order of ascent followed by descent, we turn to MN 1:10 where Rambam discusses the terms Yarad and Alah when in that specific order: “When it pleased the Almighty to grant to a human being a certain degree of wisdom or prophetic inspiration, the divine communication thus made to the prophet and the entrance of the Divine Presence into a certain place is termed (yeridah), "descending," while the termination of the prophetic communication or the departure of the divine glory from a place is called ‘Aliyah, "ascending."Whenever "Alah" comes after "Yarad" it means that the prophet disconnected from God however when it is the reverse, "Alah" before "Yarad" it connotes the opposite, a connection to God. That is the meaning of his comment that here the ascent is before the descent. It depicts the climb towards and connecting with the Divine rather than the completion of the process.

"The Lord stood upon it" to a seventh: - MN 1:15 -“And, behold, the Lord stood upon it" (Gen. 18:13), i.e., God was stably and constantly "upon it," namely, upon the ladder”. The idea here is that God is unchanging and is not affected by anything or anyone.

So what do we have so far? A ladder that is a metaphor for the path one takes when speculating about God to learn from Him the way He runs the world and consequently emulates Him. We also know that this information is stable and unchanging.

Now let us look at the whole picture. Why are the angels plural if it is a metaphor for the mind of the prophet? Furthermore there are at least four as there is more than one going up (Olim) and more than one going down (Yordim). Midrashim quoted by Rambam confirm it and say that there are four angels. In addition in the vision at some point all four must have met at the same point, the ones going up and the ones going down. (The assumption based on the text is that each pair operates in tandem). What are these four angels? There are many interpretations of this Rambam and I like the one that sees the angels as the four composites of the earth; the inorganic, the vegetative, the animal and the human. Rambam quoting the Midrash which says each angel takes up a third of the world, while the four together make up the world plus a third, confirms that. When seen from a physical standpoint, humans are part of the animal kingdom. However humans also have the capacity to grasp abstract non-physical concepts, to understand and apprehend things outside the physical universe. When looking at what the world is composed of we therefore have the three physical entities, inorganic, vegetative and animal, which together comprise the physical world while the human capacity adds a third non physical component to it. Thus all together they make up world plus a third.

The prophet in his speculation about existence contemplates the components of his surrounding and as he ascends the ladder he finds the unchanging God who has willed everything. He learns from this how the world operates and deduces what his role in this whole is. He descends back to physical reality and applies this information, which includes both physical elements and non-physical ones, metaphysical and theological ones, in his interaction and leadership of people.
What did Yaakov apprehend as it applies specifically to himself?

[ג] הדברים שמודיעין לנביא במראה הנבואה--דרך משל מודיעין לו, ומיד ייחקק בליבו פתרון המשל במראה הנבואה, ויידע מה הוא: כמו הסולם שראה יעקוב אבינו, ומלאכים עולים ויורדים בו, והוא היה משל למלכייות, ושיעבודן

Rambam sees the dream as a metaphor for the subjugation of the Jewish people by the nations. Yaakov’s exile because of Eisav’s jealousy is a forerunner of the Jewish people’s fate among the nations of the world. Yaakov thus saw the tribulations and risks that Galut brings. The survival of his descendants as a nation will depend on their attachment to HKBH. It is there, among the nations where
, וּפָרַצְתָּ יָמָּה וָקֵדְמָה וְצָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה; וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כָּל-מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה, וּבְזַרְעֶך that they will influence the civilizations they live with and bring to them the knowledge of the existence of a transcendental God.

Maintaining a focus on the objective of looking for the ultimate truth which is nothing other than God is the key to understanding providence. Providence is not something bestowed on a person; it is a quality that a person acquires if he has clear goals that go beyond his immediate physical sustenance. Yaakov’s goal was to create a nation that knew God and spread His knowledge through their search for Him.

Consider how the action of Divine Providence is described in reference to every incident in the lives of the patriarchs, to their occupations, and even to their passions, and how God promised to direct His attention to them. Thus God said … to Jacob, "I am with thee, and will keep thee"” (MN 3:18)

The Patriarchs likewise attained this degree of perfection; they approached God in such a manner that with them the name of God became known in the world… I think these four reached that high degree of perfection in their relation to God, and enjoyed the continual presence of Divine Providence, even in their endeavors to increase their property, feeding the flock, toiling in the field, or managing the house, only because in all these things their end and aim was to approach God as much as possible. It was the chief aim of their whole life to create a people that should know and worship God. "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him" (Gen. 18:19). The object of all their labors was to publish the Unity of God in the world and to induce people to love Him; and it was on this account that they succeeded in reaching that high degree; for even those [worldly] affairs were for them a perfect worship of God.” (MN 3:51)

The famous Jacob’s ladder is thus a metaphor for all the basic issues a Jew confronts daily, finding God, understanding Prophecy, Providence (Hashgacha), Galut, its purpose and ultimately the meaning of worshiping God. Rambam Hilchot Melachim 11:11-13 gives us an historical insight in how this process of being among the nations worked:

יא אבל מחשבות בורא עולם--אין כוח באדם להשיגם, כי לא דרכינו דרכיו ולא מחשבותינו מחשבותיו. וכל הדברים האלו של ישוע הנוצרי, ושל זה הישמעאלי שעמד אחריו--אינן אלא ליישר דרך למלך המשיח, ולתקן את העולם כולו לעבוד את ה' ביחד: שנאמר "כי אז אהפוך אל עמים, שפה ברורה, לקרוא כולם בשם ה', ולעובדו שכם אחד" (ראה צפניה ג,ט).
יב כיצד: כבר נתמלא העולם כולו מדברי המשיח, ומדברי התורה ומדברי המצוות, ופשטו דברים אלו באיים רחוקים, ובעמים רבים ערלי לב; והם נושאים ונותנים בדברים אלו, ובמצוות התורה--אלו אומרים מצוות אלו אמת היו, וכבר בטלו בזמן הזה, ולא היו נוהגות לדורות. ואלו אומרים דברים נסתרות יש בהם, ואינן כפשוטן, וכבר בא משיח, וגילה נסתריהם.
יג וכשיעמוד המלך המשיח באמת, ויצליח וירום ויינשא--מיד הם כולן חוזרין ויודעים ששקר נחלו אבותיהם, ושנביאיהם ואבותיהם הטעום

It is the conflict itself with Judaism, the clash of civilizations that brings about a dialogue though mostly confrontational, that keeps the question of God and what God means at the forefront. That dialogue will ultimately result in the whole world accepting the Unique God, the ultimate truth.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What does a prophet and a great scientist have in common? Guest post by my son Alex.

Scientists/ mathematician always build on previous research or axioms in order to create or prove their own theories. Very rarely do you find a scientist that questions or tries to prove or disprove an existing axiom and then in the process creates his own theory. It is even rarer to find a scientist that will go back to the original building blocks of science and try to prove or disprove the axiom that everyone assumes is true. This is because it can take a life time of work to prove or disprove basic axioms of science and it is much easier to assume that enough critical analysis has been done in the previous generations and to build on what already exists by taking a small part of the existing axiom or an entire axiom and moving on from there. There are exceptions and these exceptions usually turn out to be the greatest scientists in a generation or even in history. These scientists/mathematicians question the original axioms either disproving or creating an entirely new axiom as result of studying the assumed axiom. These people usually create an impact that can change the way all future generations perceive their world around them, their existence and their quality of life. We see this with great scientists/mathematicians such as Plato, Aristotle, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Newton, Einstein etc.
In Judaism a similar process takes place. Most Jews take the previous generations axioms as a given and then build from there .We believe that there is a one G-D and we also believe in Torah Misinai, Torah Sheba’al peh Etc. It is very rare that someone questions or tries to prove the previous assumed axioms. It is ironic since the founder of our religion was one that questioned his generation’s axiom and came up with the belief in one G-D. When someone does try to prove the original axioms it is then that he reaches the level of prophecy. It is then, like the scientist that he is able to change the way people look at religion and change the quality of life not only for his generation but also for future generations.

The Rambam writes in his parable to describe the different levels of closeness to GD in Volume 3 Chapter 51 "Those who have plunged into speculation concerning the fundamental principles of religion have entered the antechambers. People there indubitably have different ranks. He, however, who has achieved demonstration, to the extent that this is possible, of everything that may be demonstrated; and who has ascertained in divine matters, to the extent that that is possible, everything that may be ascertained; and who has come close to certainty in those matters in which one can only come close to it-has come to be with the ruler in the inner part of the habitation.” He immediately writes right after this "If however, you have achieved perfection in the natural things and have understood divine science, you have entered in the ruler's place into the inner court and are with him in one habitation. This is the rank of men of science; they, however, are of different grades of perfection.

There is an interesting Meshech Chochma in this past week’s torah portion that I will be creative and build on using this concept. It says in Chapter 32 the end of verse 1 and the beginning of verse 2 that Lavan returned to his place and Yaakov went on his way. Lavan returned to his previous axioms and beliefs and therefore remained a wicked person. Yaakov went on his way constantly questioning previous axioms in his search for God. This is the way of the philosopher/prophet.