Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Miracles as human psyche - a possible understanding of Rambam.

I was reading an article by Professor Tzvi Langerman and he brought to my attention two interesting comments by Rambam on free will and prophecy. In Shemona Perakim chapter 8 he discusses why Pharaoh was punished although the Torah repeats several times that God hardened his heart. He explains that part of punishment is the temporary removal of free will just as Yerovam had his hand paralyzed and the people of Sodom’s eyesight were removed. The way I understand removal of free will is that one becomes so entrenched in a position that he cannot see any other possibility. Pharaoh was so committed to thwarting the exodus of the Jews that he could not conceive changing direction. No amount of logical argument could sway him. How does that compares to Yerovam who’s hand was frozen and paralyzed stretched out towards the prophet who foretold the demise of his brand of religion (see Melachim 1:13)? How does it compare with the blindness of the people of Sodom?

It gets more intriguing when we read Rambam in MN 2:32, where he explains his understanding of prophecy that it is the result of study and contemplation following preparations in self-improvement. Theoretically anyone that goes through the proper preparatory regime prophesizes however not everyone does. He explains it as follows:

“For we believe that, even if one has the capacity for prophecy, and has duly prepared himself, it may yet happen that he does not actually prophesy. It is in that case the will of God [that withholds from him the use of the faculty]. According to my opinion, this fact is as exceptional as any other miracle, and acts in the same way. For the laws of Nature demand that every one should be a prophet, who has a proper physical constitution, and has been duly prepared as, regards education and training. If such a person is not a prophet, he is in the same position as a person who, like Jeroboam (1 Kings Xiii.), is deprived of the use of his hand, or of his eyes, as was the case with the army of Syria, in the history of Elisha (2 Kings Vi. 18).”

First note how he replaces the Sodom people with the camp of Aram (Syria). But even more striking is his seeing the withholding of prophecy as a miracle comparing it to the paralysis of Yerovam’s hand. He goes on to explain that the withholding of prophecy is a natural result of outside circumstances. In this chapter he touches on it and in MN 2:36 he expands:

“Imagination is certainly one of the faculties of the body. You find, therefore, that prophets are deprived of the faculty of prophesying when they mourn, are angry, or are similarly affected. Our Sages say Inspiration does not come upon a prophet when he is sad or languid. This is the reason why Jacob did not receive any revelation during the period of his mourning, when his imagination was engaged with the loss of Joseph. The same was the case with Moses, when he was in a state of depression through the multitude of his troubles, which lasted from the murmurings of the Israelites in consequence of the evil report of the spies, till the death of the warriors of that generation.”

What is common to all these examples is the human psyche element. Just like Pharaoh’s hardening of the heart can be seen as his entrenchment in an untenable position, so too can we understand Yerovam’s frozen hand as the result of internal conflicts. The Gemara in Sanhedrin 101 – 102 depicts Yerovam as a very complex person with many virtues. The Rabbis discuss in detail what did him in. As usual they were able to discern ambiguity in the way the story in Tanach relates to him.

Similarly the blindness of either Sodom people or Aram could be seen as the result of possibly some kind of hypnotic state brought about by the angels or the prophet (Elisha). The army of Aram that came to take Elisha followed him blindly to Shomron. Somehow Elisha convinced them to follow him. In the case of the sodomites it would seem that Rambam had a similar point of view. Especially as we know Rambam sees that whole episode with Lot and the angels as Avraham’s prophetic dream. That makes it even more telling that even in a prophetic dream Avraham saw the blindness as a natural event.

Rambam is consistent minimizing miracles wherever he can. Where did the hagiography that we hear so much about nowadays about great Tzadikkim and Talmidei Chachamim performing miracles that would put Moshe’s to shame come from? Even Rambam has suffered from this malaise as he is depicted in popular literature.

The Rav on miracles: Integrating Rambam and Ramban's views.

I find the following by RYBS an interesting approach, to miracles with echoes of both Rambam and Ramban’s thought.

The following is from R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Emergence of Ethical Man, pp. 187-188: (excerpt cut and pasted with permission from a R. Gil Student post on Hirhurim)-

"The supernatural miracle is not very welcome in the covenant society. We prefer the regular flow of life. The Halacha is completely integrated with the natural process. It never takes cognizance of any causalistic anomalies. Yet the central theme of the exodus tale is the miracle.What is a miracle in Judaism? The word "miracle" in Hebrew does not possess the connotation of the supernatural. It has never been placed on a transcendental level. "Miracle" (pele, nes) describes only an outstanding event which causes amazement. A turning point in history is always a miracle, for it commands attention as an event which intervened fatefully in the formation of that group or that individual. As we read the story of the exodus from Egypt, we are impressed by the distinct tendency of the Bible to relate the events in natural terms. The frogs came out of the river when the Nile rose; the wind brought the locusts and split the sea. All archaeologists agree that the plagues as depicted by the Bible are very closely related to the geographical and climatic conditions that prevail in Egypt. Behind the passages in the Bible we may discern a distinct intention to describe the plagues as naturally as possible. The Bible never emphasizes the unnaturalness of the events; only its intensity and force are emphasized. The reason for that is obvious. A philosophy which considers the world-drama as a fixed, mechanical process governed by an unintelligent, indifferent principle, may regard the miracle as a supernatural transcendental phenomenon which does not fit into the causalistic, meaningless monotony. Israel, however, who looked upon the universal occurrence as the continuous realization of a divine ethical will embedded into dead and live matter, could never classify the miracle as something unique and incomprehensible. Both natural monotony and the surprising element in nature express God's word. Both are regular, lawful phenomena; both can be traced to an identical source..."

DG: Here we see Ramban as seen by a contemporary thinker, “as the continuous realization of a divine ethical will embedded into dead and live matter”. The Nes Nistar, the cloaking of the miraculous in nature, has become the “continuous realization of a divine ethical will”. One must admire the ingenuity and brilliance of the Rav combining Providence and Reward and Punishment in one expressive statement.

"In what, then, does the uniqueness of the miracle assert itself? In the correspondence of the natural and historical orders. The miracle does not destroy the objective scientific nexus in itself, it only combines natural dynamics and historical purposefulness. Had the plague of the firstborn, for instance, occurred a year before or after the exodus, it would not have been termed "with a strong hand" (be-Yad hazakah). Why? God would have been instrumental in a natural children's plague. Yet God acts just as the world ruler. On the night of Passover He appeared as the God of the cosmos acting along historical patterns. The intervention of nature in the historical process is a miracle. Whether God planned that history adjust itself to natural catastrophes or, vice versa, He commands nature to cooperate with the historical forces, is irrelevant. Miracle is simply a natural event which causes a historical metamorphosis. Whenever history is transfigured under the impact of cosmic dynamics, we encounter a miracle."

DG: here he takes Rambam’s view and instead of emphasizing the prophet, he emphasizes History. He sees the prophet as one who knows nature and intuits history through his knowledge of God’s ways thus taking advantage of the situation. Although the Rav never mentions Moshe here, he clearly has him in mind for without Moshe’s forewarning the plague would not have been connected to the exodus of the Jews.

The Rav had both Ramban and Rambam in front of his eyes as he wrote this.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Francis Collins: Science and religion - a viewpoint of a scientist.

My brother pointed me to this fascinating interview with Francis Collins a renowned scientist involved in deciphering the human genome.

Some excerpts:

Re Freedom of choice:

"You're talking about genetic determinism, which implies that we are helpless marionettes being controlled by strings made of double helices. That is so far away from what we know scientifically! Heredity does have an influence not only over medical risks but also over certain behaviors and personality traits. But look at identical twins, who have exactly the same DNA but often don't behave alike or think alike. They show the importance of learning and experience—and free will. I think we all, whether we are religious or not, recognize that free will is a reality. There are some fringe elements that say, "No, it's all an illusion, we're just pawns in some computer model." But I don't think that carries you very far. "

Re the Holocaust and God:

"If God had to intervene miraculously every time one of us chose to do something evil, it would be a very strange, chaotic, unpredictable world. Free will leads to people doing terrible things to each other. Innocent people die as a result. You can't blame anyone except the evildoers for that. So that's not God's fault. The harder question is when suffering seems to have come about through no human ill action. A child with cancer, a natural disaster, a tornado or tsunami. Why would God not prevent those things from happening?"

Read more. There is some Ramban in there but mostly Rambam.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Miracles: Ramban and Rambam - two opposing views.

Continuing with the comparison of the theology of the two great medieval Jewish thinkers, Rambam and Ramban, I would like to contrast their respective understanding of miracles.

Ramban’s view: As we saw earlier Ramban sees nature as a manipulated system. To the general population of the world, the non-Jewish, the stars control and run nature. The Jewish population[1], the one that follows the Mitzvot, God controls directly through a constant series of hidden miracles which also feel like nature. In reality every minute happening in the life of a Jew is the result of a specific decision of God. (The same goes for the non-Jew just replacing God with the stars as His intermediates.) It just so happens that normally things follow a certain pattern which cloaks the involvement of the spiritual and disguises itself as nature. That is just an illusion. That illusion is unmasked when the unexpected happens. The unexpected being unquestionably the result of a specific decision of a thinking entity, proves that what we see as a pattern is in reality not so. The miraculous, the unexpected, the anomalous proves without any doubt that God (or some other power such as the stars) is needed constantly to decide on every little occurrence whether it seems to have a pattern or not. The fact that God has the power to override the decision of the stars is what makes Him the superpower, the ultimate arbiter. It is only because He so desires that the stars run things. They are just His servants. Ramban sees this power to control every little detail constantly, as the greatest attribute of God. When the Torah says
יב וְעָבַרְתִּי בְאֶרֶץ-מִצְרַיִם, בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, וְהִכֵּיתִי כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, מֵאָדָם וְעַד-בְּהֵמָה; וּבְכָל-אֱלֹהֵי מִצְרַיִם אֶעֱשֶׂה שְׁפָטִים, אֲנִי יְהוָה.
12 For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.
Ramban comments that the gods of Egypt are the stars that control it. God took away their power to control the Egyptians. It is just this ability to overrule stars that proves that “I am the Lord”.[2]

Rambam’s view: Rambam argues that a perfect Creator does not need to constantly adjust things. It is demeaning to God to see Him as unable to set things in motion making sure that everything will fall in place at the right time and moment. In fact there is an underlying predeterminism in the universe. It is part of the conundrum of how man can have Bechira (freedom of choice) when God knows the future. Rambam addresses this by arguing that God’s knowledge is just a word we use for lack of a better one. The question therefore is only a problem relative to our perspective but in reality it is like comparing two completely different concepts. (I have posted on this a little and will address more in the future). Therefore from God’s perspective everything that will happen has already happened. The universe follows natural rules set down by God at creation. The singularities which are what we see as miracles have been set in place and it is up to humans to find out about them and use them. A prophet is such a man, who through the study of physics coupled with metaphysics, senses or knows about the upcoming singular event and takes advantage of it. That is what happened at Kryat Yam Suf and all the other miracles.[3] From this perspective miracles have just the opposite effect; they make one question God’s omnipotence. It is therefore a good idea to try to explain them as natural events. Thus Rambam’s comment in MN 2:29:

He made it part of these properties [nature], that they should produce certain miracles at certain times, and the sign of a prophet consisted in the fact that God told him to declare when a certain thing will take place, but the thing itself was effected according to the fixed laws of Nature. If this is really the meaning of the passage referred to, it testifies to the greatness of the author, and shows that he held it to be impossible that there should be a change in the laws of Nature, or a change in the will of God [as regards the physical properties of things] after they have once been established. He therefore assumes, e.g., that God gave the waters the property of joining together, and of flowing in a downward direction, and of separating only at the time when the Egyptians were drowned, and only in a particular place… It is said there: R. Jonathan said, God made an agreement with the sea that it should divide before the Israelites: thus it is said, "And the sea returned to its strength when the morning appeared" (Exod. xiv. 27). R. Jeremiah, son of Elazar, said: Not only with the sea, but with all that has been created in the six days of the beginning [was the agreement made]: this is referred to in the words, "I, even my hands have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded" (Isa. xlv. 12); i.e., I have commanded the sea to divide, the fire not to hurt Hananya, Mishael, and Azaryah, the lions not to harm Daniel, and the fish to spit out Jonah. The same is the case with the rest of the miracles.”

As we can see Rambam and Ramban come from two opposite directions. Ramban lives in a miraculous world. Sciences are just illusions and patterns can be discerned. But the underlying laws that make things happen will never be discovered. They just do not exist. Rambam disagrees. Man has to learn about his environment and harness it to the point that he can use even the irregular and unexpected to his advantage.

So far we have seen how the two points of view of these greats affect the understanding of Providence and Miracles. We still need to look at Olam Haba and Techyat Hametim.

On a personal note again, I have a hard time accepting Ramban’s worldview and fit it into our contemporary understanding of science and nature. Rambam’s approach requires hard work to translate his understanding of nature which is based on Aristotelian Science to our contemporary one. It is doable though. For the life of me I cannot fathom how to deal with Ramban’s worldview in the same context. Ironically it is Ramban’s approach that is accepted nowadays by a majority of Orthodox Jews. It therefore cannot be ignored. That is why I got interested in Rav Kook’s thought. From the little I have read he seems to try to address it. As I read I will periodically share some insights.

[1] Ramban goes even farther and assigns EY as the place where God really runs things. It is another discussion but results from this position of his.
[2] רמב"ן שמות פרק יב פסוק יב

ועל דעתי ירמוז הכתוב לשרי מעלה, אלהי מצרים, כענין יפקוד ה' על צבא המרום במרום ועל מלכי האדמה על האדמה (ישעיה כד כא). והנה השפיל מזלם ושרי המזלות שעליהם. והכתוב ירמוז ויקצר בנעלם:

[3] For a thorough discussion of Rambam’s position see my article at Hakirah http://hakirah.org/Vol%203%20Guttmann.pdf

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"Skepticism is a Jewish thing and Healthy" so says Rashba!

Wolf posted on Pseudo Skepticism http://wolfishmusings.blogspot.com/2007/01/pseudoskepticism.html
It brought to mind the following Teshuvat Harashba.

שו"ת הרשב"א חלק ד סימן רלד

ואמנם, כלל הדברות עצמם, ומה שנמשך בזה, היה נבואי. ויורה ע"ז לדעתי, שלשה ענינים. האחד, שממנו למדו האבות, שלא (יתפקו) [יתפתו] אחר הדברים שיכנס בהם שום ספק, עד שיבחנוהו (הדבר) [הרבה], שאין בו צד פקפוק אלא האמת. והוא שהי' משה נביא האמת, עליו השלום, מסתפק אם יאמינו לו, אע"פ שהוא בא לבשרם להצילם מן העבודה הקשה. כאמרו: לא יאמינו לי. וכלל הענין ההוא, לפי שידענו שלא יאמינו, רק בדבר אמתי והכרחי, אין בו שום צד פקפוק. וע"כ אף כשהגדיל ה' לעשות הנפלאות והנוראות במצרים, עד שהוציאם בזרוע נטויה, ובמוראים גדולים. עוד הוצרך להוציא הפקפוק מלבבם, מפני שכל מה שנעשה במצרים, אפשר שנתפשטו בהם, או מקריים טבעים, או עניני החרטומי'. ולפיכך, לא האמינו במשה אמונה מוחלטת, עד עמדם בקריעת ים סוף יורה על זה, מה שאמר שם: ויאמינו בה' ובמשה עבדו. ותרגם המתרגם: ובנביאות משה עבדיה. שזה באמת נמלט מטבע המקריים, שאין הים נקרע במקרה בלילה אחד, ובבקר ישוב לאיתנו. וזה הוציא מלבבם הפקפוק, אמנם לשעתם. והוא שאמרה רחב הזונה: כי שמענו את אשר הוביש ה' את מי ים סוף מפניכם. לא הזכירה אחד מן הפלאים והמופתי' הקודמים במצרים, רק זה לבדו, לכונה שאמרתי. ואמנם, אף לאחר קריעת ים סוף, נכנס עוד בלבם (ספקו) צד פקפוק, אולי משה לבד שהיה חכם מכל האדם, ומכל מי שקדמו, ידע לעשות כן, והם לא יבחינוהו. וחזרו עוד להמשך אחר הספק והפקפוק. ומעתה, לא נשאר להם שום בחינה בנבואת עשה, זולתי שיגיעו הם בעצמם לענין נבואי, להוציא מלבם כל פקפוק. וזה היה במעמד הנכבד ההוא, ונתאמת האמת (ושכן) [ונצדק] קודש.

Rashba (R. Shlomo Ben Aderet (1235-1310)) was a pupil of Ramban, a Kabbalist but also a rationalist, one of the great Rishonim. He was asked to explain his understanding of Ma’amad Har Sinai. The questioner was having a hard time understanding how a general population which is not composed only of philosophers and prophets experienced prophecy? (What follows is a translation/paraphrase of the above excerpt). He explains that the core of the experience was prophetic. That Moshe and Aharon went up the mountain, the people stood at the bottom and were separated from the mountain, the tremors, the smoke, the sound of the Shofar and the thunder and lightning, all these Rashba sees no reason to interpret metaphorically. (As we will see in other posts Rambam does allegorize some or all according to some interpretation). However the words themselves were not heard physically, they were apprehended through a miraculous prophetic experience. One of three reasons is that our ancestors taught us (I read: Shemimenu limdu ha’avot) not to be seduced by things that can be doubted even slightly until one checks it out thoroughly and concludes that there can be no doubt it is so. That is why Moshe, the true prophet, was concerned that they will not believe him even though he was bringing them good tidings. That is because he knew that the people would not believe only in something that had to be so. That is why when God made the great miracles in Egypt until he took them out miraculously, there was still the need to remove the last shadow of a doubt. For all these miracles could be explained away as natural occurrences or magical. Their trust in Moshe however took a great leap forward at the splitting of the sea as the Passuk says VaYa’aminu Bashem Ubemoshe Avdo. After all the sea does not split and return to its original state by daybreak just by chance. However it did not take long for the people to start questioning what they experienced. They started wondering whether Moshe was such a great scientist that he knew how to take advantage of a rare though natural event. It is only as they themselves experienced prophecy that they knew the truth and were able to accept that Moshe was a true prophet. That happened at Ma’amad Har Sinai.

Quite a fascinating comment by a Rational Mystic. Our ancestors taught to doubt and disbelieve all contentions until a definite proof is presented to support it.

I will be discussing the rest of the Responsa in a future post as part of my series on Ma’amad Har Sinai. I just wanted to quote one of our great Rishonim and how he viewed the truth.

Is nature natural?

Let us analyze the differences between the various Ramban commentaries quoted in my last post and Rambam.

El Shaday and Yud Heh Vav Heh:

  1. Ramban’s Understanding: As we saw Ramban interprets El Shaday as seeing God as the reality behind the seemingly natural, the real hidden protagonist. YHVH is the understanding of God as the maker of miracles. He can and does act outside nature. It is the anomalous that demonstrates the real greatness of God and is the proof for His existence that also verifies that He is the real mover behind the seemingly natural.

  2. Rambam’s Understanding: Rambam understands these two attributes differently.[1] El Shaday refers to the understanding of God as the First Cause. One arrives at this understanding by contemplating nature, realizing that it operates through a cause and effect system and thus deducing that there must be a First Cause that causes things but is not the result of a cause. YHVH represents the concept of unknowability. It is not an attribute but a designation of an entity that we call “entity” by default only. The word itself connotes unknowability.
How does nature operate?

  1. Ramban’s Position: Although he does not expand too much on it in the material I quoted in last post, when he refers to God’s intervention as ובכולם תתנצח מערכת המזלות or שהוא מנצח מערכות שמים we get the picture that he sees nature as being controlled by the stars and God prevailing over them as if in a conflict. He expands on this in other places where he describes astrology as a science. He viewed the world as being under the direct influence of the stars, nature defined as the result of each star’s greater power at each particular moment. God is the superpower who steps in at will and takes over. A Jew, by submitting to God and His Torah, removes himself from nature, or to be more precise, the influence of the stars, and puts himself under the direct control of God, thus reward and punishment. There are therefore two very different natures. There is the one run by the stars and another run by God. The physical in either case is run by a non-physical entity; God or the stars. In his eyes science does not exist in the modern sense. It is a constantly manipulated system by a spiritual entity. Of course ultimately it is all God’s world. He just left the day-to-day running to His servants, the stars.

  2. Rambam’s Position: There is only one set of laws of nature. Astrology is bunk. The influence of the stars is a physical one. They provide motion to nature. Rambam had no concept of gravity but he did notice that the position of the stars has some influence on nature; the tides and the moon for one. God, at the dawn of Creation, set down the laws of nature and does not change anything after that ever. Science is exactly the way we see in our times, a system that is out there, responsible for our existence, which we try to decipher and thus control. It is by understanding nature, its laws, progression and evolution, attempting to get a feel for the thinking behind it, that man can chose to partake in it or not. The consequences of his choice are seen as reward and punishment.

The contrast between these two great Jewish medieval thinkers is stark. Ramban had no confidence in science. He could not understand many of the rarer phenomena as resulting from preset laws. He therefore saw the interference, sometimes seemingly whimsical, of spiritual entities as the only explanation for his observations. The decision is left to man to choose under what spiritual control he wants to be; God’s or the stars. That is to him the meaning of Bechira – free will. The Torah and Mitzvot are the specific tools that put man under God’s control. By following the Torah man declares that he belongs in God’s camp and is captured under His control.

Rambam on the other hand saw nature as immutable laws set down by HKBH. They are so elegant and deep that humanity is spending millennia trying to decipher them. In that process, deciphering the physical here and now together with the conceptual so to say macro plan, man can become an integral part of this great enterprise. That is Providence or Hashgacha.

What I find personally fascinating is that in contemporary Judaism Ramban’s view seems to prevail although it is clearly contrary to how we view science and nature. It has been a personal struggle for me, to deal with that. However once I started understanding Rambam’s outlook, I realized that there is a legitimate way, rather an obligation, to integrate the two – science and religion.

Furthermore, I am tone deaf to Mussar, I never understood it and my eyes glaze over when I read it. However I did pick up one little thing during my stay in Slabodka and that is Gadlut Ha’adam. I suspect my understanding of it is nothing like what the Alter visualized. However I see Rambam as giving a man full control over himself and his future which to me is the epitome of Gadlut Ha’adam. Ramban, on the other hand, limits that control and submits him to uncontrollable forces to a certain extent. That is why Rambam’s approach appeals so much to me.

Next I will address how the worldviews of these two greats influences their understanding of Prophecy, miracles, the place of Eretz Israel in Jewish thought, Olam Haba and Techyat Hametim.

[1] The following is an excerpt from my article in Hakirah volume 1: Rambam definesאל as follows: “As for the expressions, the G-d [Elohe] of the heaven and also G-d of the world [El olam] they are used with respect to His perfection, and theirs [heaven and the world]. He is Elohim - that is He who governs - and they are those governed by Him, not in the sense of domination but with respect to His rank, in relation to theirs” (Moreh 2:30, pp. 358-359). אל is a relative term which indicates a high position in a hierarchy.[1] It is an understanding of G-d as the highest ranked existent in relation to other existents. The concept of rank is the placement of a being as a precursor of another. A parent is higher in rank than an offspring. G-d who is the cause of all being is the highest rank in this type of evaluation.

The other concept of G-d that results from this speculation is represented by the attribute Shaday. All other existents are necessary due to their position in the hierarchy of things. If there is an offspring there must be a parent thus a parent is necessary by virtue of the offspring’s existence. The two are interdependent. There is no offspring without a parent and no parent without an offspring. On the other hand G-d, as the First Cause, is not an “offspring” nor is He necessarily a “parent” until He created of his own free volition the first being. G-d is therefore an independent existent. “Accordingly the meaning [of Shaday] is he who is sufficient; the intention here being to signify that He does not need other than Himself with reference to the existence of that which He has brought into existence or with reference to prolonging the latter’s existence, but that His existence, suffices for that” (Moreh 1:63, p. 155). These two concepts, El and Shaday, see G-d as an existent, supreme and independent entity. Avraham and his children developed this concept of G-d as expressed in the verse “וארא אל אברהם אל יצחק ואל יעקב באל שדי - and I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as El Shaday.”[1]

Monday, January 22, 2007

Which is the natural order -The Physical or the Spiritual? Ramban's (Nachmanides) worldview.

I want to present Ramban’s understanding of Providence and then discuss the difference between his understanding and Rambam’s and the consequences from a Hashkafah perspective of their respective theories. This will sharpen our understanding of their positions and show the worldview of each. It is a difficult undertaking and I look to your input as I am sure my own personal bias will cloud my view here and there. So I hope the readers will keep me honest. I will have the original text of Ramban in the notes.

Ramban on Breishit 17:1 introduces us to his understanding of Providence or Hashgacha.[1] Ramban understands that when Avraham refers to God as El Shaday, it means that Avraham’s apprehension of God was through his interpreting nature as being under the constant and total control of God. Every thing that we would interpret as natural, Avraham saw as a specific act or result of a specific will of God willing that outcome. To Ramban the idea of Reward and Punishment is a consequence of just this divine intervention. However this Divine intervention is cloaked in nature. Because it happens repetitively and can be predicted, one can assign a scientific explanation to it. In reality it is not so. The idea of the existence of God itself is to Ramban an axiom and needs no proof (at least for Avraham’s children see Torat Hashem Temimah). Avraham and his children taught how to understand God and were not concerned in proving His existence.

He reiterates this perspective on how things work in last week’s Parsha (Shemot 6:3) where the Torah contrasts the way the Avot arrived at understanding God and the way Moshe will understand Him and make the people believe in Him.[2]

According to Ramban the name Yud Heh Vav Heh, introduced by Moshe, refers to God as Creator. The inference is that just like at creation a singular event occurred so too God creates singular events as needed to protect His people. These singular events are no longer cloaked in nature but it becomes clear to the observer that they are miraculous. Moshe introduced this concept and performed the miracles that demonstrated God’s involvement in every minute detail. It is the singular event that proves the routine to be under the divine immediate and specific control. It is only cloaked in nature but its inner reality is miraculous.[3]

There is a statement by Ramban in this last piece which is indicative of his thought process.

ומפני זה תאריך התורה ביעודים שבעולם הזה, ולא תבאר יעודי הנפש בעולם הנשמות, כי אלה מופתים שכנגד התולדה, וקיום הנפש ודבקה באלהים הוא דבר ראוי בתולדתה שהיא תשוב אל האלהים אשר נתנה

The Torah talks about the rewards in the physical but nothing about the soul’s reward in the coming world. That is because the spiritual reward of the soul is a natural event! The rewards here on this world are unnatural and require special divine intervention. The spiritual to Ramban was as real as the physical. It has its own laws of nature. It is an interesting perspective and fits with his understanding of magic. (See my post on that http://yediah.blogspot.com/2006/05/astrology-and-magic-ramban-and-rambam.html)

Ramban expands on this theme in this week’s Parsha (Shemot 13:16).[4]
Miraculous events prove that God exists, that He created and controls the universe. The fact that a prophet was involved shows that there is contact between God and the physical world. Having established that connection, legitimizes the torah as divine.

The reason for all the rituals is to remind us of those times that we saw the miracles and that will keep the idea fresh in our minds. Just by affixing a Mezuzah on the door the Jew declares that he admits that God created the universe, watches over it and prophesizes man. The Parshyot contained in that Mezuzah are the proof for these beliefs.

Even more fascinating! The purpose of Creation is for man to admit that God created him. And now the surprising comment: We pray loudly and in public gathering so that we should declare to all that we declare ourselves God’s creations.Finally, the flagrant miracles show that everything, including what we consider natural, in reality is dependent on God’s minute control.

This gives us a glimpse into Ramban’s worldview. He had a very skeptical view of nature and science. Science and nature are only a front for what really goes on – a constant stream of miraculous events. Both the spiritual and the physical seem to be natural events. The spiritual though is really governed by a natural order while the physical is under a specific detailed control of God and only appears to be natural.

In Vaykra 26:11[5] Ramban summarizes his worldview of Hashgacha.[6] Daily occurrences are cloaked in nature. However when they happen to a nation, when there is a constant flow of good outcomes to a whole country time after time, people see it as God’s specific intervention. The same when the opposite occurs. When everything goes wrong in a whole country repeatedly it shows God’s involvement. It uncovers the underlying hidden truth that God is intervening every instant in the seemingly natural. Once this truth is uncovered we extrapolate that everything in reality is dependent on God’s intervention. A Tzaddik therefore, who performs good deeds, is rewarded directly by God and is protected. It goes so far that if he gets sick he does not require doctors. God himself will heal him. (Ironically Ramban himself made a living from medicine. He apparently was well aware of how poor medical knowledge was during his time.)

Summarizing Ramban’s view we have three categories. There are the daily occurrences that we observe in the life of individuals. Though in reality they are miraculous events, God intervening constantly, they are cloaked in nature. When it is a national event, that is repetitive and constant, we see God’s hand in it. We therefore extrapolate that it is the same for the mundane. As additional proof, we have the historical miracles performed by Moshe which we are ordered to remember by doing certain rituals. They prove without question that God is involved in the mundane daily occurrence.

Rambam has a totally different outlook. In next post I will contrast the two approaches and how each deals with the different issues that result from their respective postions.

We still need to see how Ramban treats the theodicy question. Why does a Tzaddik suffer and an evil person flourishes? Ramban is forced into the mystical to explain that. Gilgul is the only way out for him. We will deal with that elsewhere.
[1] בראשית פרק יז פסוק א

ויהי אברם בן תשעים שנה ותשע שנים וירא יקוק אל אברם ויאמר אליו אני אל שדי התהלך לפני והיה תמים:

וטעם להזכיר עתה זה השם, כי בו יעשו הנסים הנסתרים לצדיקים, להציל ממות נפשם, ולחיותם ברעב, ולפדותם במלחמה מיד חרב, ככל הנסים הנעשים לאברהם ולאבות, וככל הבאים בתורה בפרשת אם בחקותי (ויקרא כו ג - מו) ובפרשת והיה כי תבא (דברים כח א - סח) בברכות ובקללות שכולם נסים הם, כי אין מן הטבע שיבואו הגשמים בעתם בעבדנו האלהים, ולא שיהיו השמים כברזל כאשר נזרע בשנה השביעית, וכן כל היעודים שבתורה, אבל כולם נסים ובכולם תתנצח מערכת המזלות, אלא שאין בהם שנוי ממנהגו של עולם כנסים הנעשים על ידי משה רבינו בעשר המכות ובקריעת הים והמן והבאר וזולתם, שהם מופתים משנים הטבע בפירסום, והם שיעשו בשם המיוחד אשר הגיד לו:
ולכן אמר עתה לאברהם אבינו כי הוא התקיף המנצח שיגבר על מזלו ויוליד, ויהיה ברית בינו ובין זרעו לעולם, שיהיה חלק ה' עמו, וברצונו ינהיגם, לא יהיו תחת ממשלת כוכב ו

שמות פרק ו פסוק ג

וארא אל אברהם אל יצחק ואל יעקב באל שדי ושמי יקוק לא נודעתי להם:

וענין הכתוב, כי נראה לאבות בשם הזה שהוא מנצח מערכות שמים ולעשות עמם נסים גדולים שלא נתבטל מהם מנהג העולם, ברעב פדה אותם ממות ובמלחמה מידי חרב, ולתת להם עושר וכבוד וכל טובה, והם ככל היעודים שבתורה בברכות ובקללות, כי לא תבא על אדם טובה בשכר מצוה או רעה בעונש עבירה רק במעשה הנס, ואם יונח האדם לטבעו או למזלו לא יוסיפו בו מעשיו דבר ולא יגרעו ממנו. אבל שכר כל התורה וענשה בעולם הזה הכל נסים והם נסתרים, יחשב בהם לרואים שהוא מנהגו של עולם, והם באדם עונש ושכר באמת. ומפני זה תאריך התורה ביעודים שבעולם הזה, ולא תבאר יעודי הנפש בעולם הנשמות, כי אלה מופתים שכנגד התולדה, וקיום הנפש ודבקה באלהים הוא דבר ראוי בתולדתה שהיא תשוב אל האלהים אשר נתנה. ועוד אפרש זה (ויקרא כו יא ד"ה ונתתי) אם גומר ה' עלי:
והנה אמר האלהים למשה נראיתי לאבות בכח ידי אשר אני שודד בו המזלות ועוזר לבחירי, אבל בשמי של יו"ד ה"א אשר בו נהיה כל הווה לא נודעתי להם לברוא להם חדשות בשנוי התולדות, ולכן אמור לבני ישראל אני ה', ותודיע להם פעם אחרת השם הגדול כי בו אני עושה עמהם להפליא, וידעו כי אני ה' עושה כל

[3] . It is clear that the names of God are seen by Ramban, like the other Rishonim, as a code for a particular understanding of God. The Rishonim only argue among them what the code means.
[4] שמות פרק יג פסוק טז

וְהָיָה לְאוֹת עַל יָדְכָה וּלְטוֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ כִּי בְּחֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ יְקֹוָק מִמִּצְרָיִם:

ועתה אומר לך כלל בטעם מצות רבות. הנה מעת היות ע"ג בעולם מימי אנוש החלו הדעות להשתבש באמונה, מהם כופרים בעיקר ואומרים כי העולם קדמון, כחשו בה' ויאמרו לא הוא, ומהם מכחישים בידיעתו הפרטית ואמרו איכה ידע אל ויש דעה בעליון (תהלים עג יא), ומהם שיודו בידיעה ומכחישים בהשגחה ויעשו אדם כדגי הים שלא ישגיח האל בהם ואין עמהם עונש או שכר, יאמרו עזב ה' את הארץ. וכאשר ירצה האלהים בעדה או ביחיד ויעשה עמהם מופת בשנוי מנהגו של עולם וטבעו, יתברר לכל בטול הדעות האלה כלם, כי המופת הנפלא מורה שיש לעולם אלוה מחדשו, ויודע ומשגיח ויכול. וכאשר יהיה המופת ההוא נגזר תחלה מפי נביא יתברר ממנו עוד אמתת הנבואה, כי ידבר האלהים את האדם ויגלה סודו אל עבדיו הנביאים, ותתקיים עם זה התורה כלה:
ולכן יאמר הכתוב במופתים למען תדע כי אני ה' בקרב הארץ (לעיל ח יח), להורות על ההשגחה, כי לא עזב אותה למקרים כדעתם. ואמר (שם ט כט) למען תדע כי לה' הארץ, להורות על החידוש, כי הם שלו שבראם מאין ואמר (שם ט יד) בעבור תדע כי אין כמוני בכל הארץ. להורות על היכולת, שהוא שליט בכל, אין מעכב בידו, כי בכל זה היו המצריים מכחישים או מסתפקים. אם כן האותות והמופתים הגדולים עדים נאמנים באמונת הבורא ובתורה כלה
ובעבור כי הקב"ה לא יעשה אות ומופת בכל דור לעיני כל רשע או כופר, יצוה אותנו שנעשה תמיד זכרון ואות לאשר ראו עינינו, ונעתיק הדבר אל בנינו, ובניהם לבניהם, ובניהם לדור אחרון. והחמיר מאד בענין הזה כמו שחייב כרת באכילת חמץ (לעיל יב טו) ובעזיבת הפסח (במדבר ט יג), והצריך שנכתוב כל מה שנראה אלינו באותות ובמופתים על ידינו ועל בין עינינו, ולכתוב אותו עוד על פתחי הבתים במזוזות, ושנזכיר זה בפינו בבקר ובערב, כמו שאמרו (ברכות כא א) אמת ויציב דאורייתא, ממה שכתוב (דברים טז ג) למען תזכור את יום צאתך מארץ מצרים כל ימי חייך, ושנעשה סכה בכל שנה:
וכן כל כיוצא בהן מצות רבות זכר ליציאת מצרים. והכל להיות לנו בכל הדורות עדות במופתים שלא ישתכחו, ולא יהיה פתחון פה לכופר להכחיש אמונת האלהים. כי הקונה מזוזה בזוז אחד וקבעה בפתחו ונתכוון בענינה כבר הודה בחדוש העולם ובידיעת הבורא והשגחתו, וגם בנבואה, והאמין בכל פנות התורה, מלבד שהודה שחסד הבורא גדול מאד על עושי רצונו, שהוציאנו מאותו עבדות לחירות וכבוד גדול לזכות אבותיהם החפצים ביראת שמו:
ולפיכך אמרו (אבות פ"ב מ"א) הוי זהיר במצוה קלה כבחמורה שכולן חמודות וחביבות מאד, שבכל שעה אדם מודה בהן לאלהיו,

וכוונת כל המצות שנאמין באלהינו ונודה אליו שהוא בראנו, והיא כוונת היצירה, שאין לנו טעם אחר ביצירה הראשונה, ואין אל עליון חפץ בתחתונים מלבד שידע האדם ויודה לאלהיו שבראו, וכוונת רוממות הקול בתפלות וכוונת בתי הכנסיות וזכות תפלת הרבים, זהו שיהיה לבני אדם מקום יתקבצו ויודו לאל שבראם והמציאם ויפרסמו זה ויאמרו לפניו בריותיך אנחנו, וזו כוונתם במה שאמרו ז"ל (ירושלמי תענית פ"ב ה"א) ויקראו אל אלהים בחזקה (יונה ג ח), מכאן אתה למד שתפלה צריכה קול, חציפא נצח לבישה (עי' ערוך ערך חצף):
ומן הנסים הגדולים המפורסמים אדם מודה בנסים הנסתרים שהם יסוד התורה כלה, שאין לאדם חלק בתורת משה רבינו עד שנאמין בכל דברינו ומקרינו שכלם נסים אין בהם טבע ומנהגו של עולם, בין ברבים בין ביחיד, אלא אם יעשה המצות יצליחנו שכרו, ואם יעבור עליהם יכריתנו ענשו, הכל בגזרת עליון כאשר הזכרתי כבר (בראשית יז א, ולעיל ו ב). ויתפרסמו הנסים הנסתרים בענין הרבים כאשר יבא ביעודי התורה בענין הברכות והקללות, כמו שאמר הכתוב (דברים כט כג כד) ואמרו כל הגוים על מה עשה ה' ככה לארץ הזאת, ואמרו על אשר עזבו את ברית ה' אלהי אבותם, שיתפרסם הדבר לכל האומות שהוא מאת ה' בעונשם. ואמר בקיום וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם ה' נקרא עליך ויראו ממך.

[5] רמב"ן ויקרא פרק כו פסוק יא

והנה הברכות האלה כפי פשוטן, עם היותן רבות כלליות בענין המטר השובע והשלום ופריה ורביה, אינן כמו הברכות שברך כבר בקצרה (שמות כג כה) וברך את לחמך ואת מימיך והסירותי מחלה מקרבך, כי שם יבטיח במאכל ובמשתה, ושיהיה לברכה עד שלא יארע שום חולי בגופינו, ועל כן יהיו כלי הזרע שלמים ובריאים ונוליד כהוגן ונחיה ימים מלאים, כמו שאמר (שם פסוק כו) לא תהיה משכלה ועקרה בארצך את מספר ימיך אמלא, וכן אמר תחילה (שם טו כו) כי אני ה' רופאך. והטעם בזה, כי הברכות אע"פ שהם נסים, הם מן הנסים הנסתרים שכל התורה מלאה מהם כאשר פירשתי (בראשית יז א). והם אפילו ליחיד העובד, כי כאשר יהיה האיש החסיד שומר כל מצות ה' אלהיו, ישמרהו האל מן החולי והעקרות והשכול וימלא ימיו בטובה:
אבל אלו הברכות שבפרשה הזאת הן כלליות בעם, והן בהיות כל עמנו כלם צדיקים, ולכך יזכיר תמיד בכאן הארץ, ונתנה הארץ, לבטח בארצכם, שלום בארץ, מן הארץ, לא תעבור בארצכם וכבר בארנו כי כל אלה הברכות כולם נסים, אין בטבע שיבאו הגשמים ויהיה השלום לנו מן האויבים ויבא מורך בלבם לנוס מאה מפני חמשה בעשותנו החוקים והמצות, ולא שיהיה הכל היפך מפני זרענו השנה השביעית:
ואף על פי שהם נסים נסתרים, שעולם כמנהגו נוהג עמהם, אבל הם מתפרסמים מצד היותם תמיד לעולם בכל הארץ. כי אם הצדיק האחד יחיה, ויסיר ה' מחלה מקרבו, וימלא ימיו, יקרה גם זה בקצת רשעים. אבל שתהיה ארץ אחת כולה, ועם אחד תמיד, ברדת הגשם בעתו, ושובע, ושלוה, ושלום, ובריאות, וגבורה, ושברון האויבים, בענין שאין כמוהו בכל העולם, יוודע לכל כי מאת ה' היתה זאת. ועל כן אמר (דברים כח י) וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם ה' נקרא עליך ויראו ממך:
והיפך זה יהיה בקללות, בעונשי הארץ שאמר (פסוק יט) ונתתי את שמיכם כברזל, ועונשי החולי כמו שאמר (דברים כח נט) וחלאים רעים ונאמנים, שיקולל המאכל ויחליא, ויתפרסם הנס בהיותו תמיד קיים בכולם. על כן כתוב (שם כט כא) ואמר הדור האחרון בניכם אשר יקומו מאחריכם והנכרי אשר יבא מארץ רחוקה וראו את מכות הארץ ההיא ואת תחלואיה, שלא יתמהו באיש ההוא אשר רבצה בו כל האלה (שם פסוק יט), כי כן יהיה פעמים רבים כמנהגו של עולם בכל האומות שיבאו מקרים רעים באיש אחד, רק בארץ ההיא יתמהו וישאלו כל הגוים על מה עשה ה' ככה לארץ הזאת (שם פסוק כג), כי כולם יראו וידעו כי יד ה' עשתה זאת ויאמרו (שם פסוק כד) על אשר עזבו את ברית ה' אלהי אבותם:
והכלל כי בהיות ישראל שלמים והם רבים, לא יתנהג ענינם בטבע כלל, לא בגופם, ולא בארצם, לא בכללם, ולא ביחיד מהם, כי יברך השם לחמם ומימם, ויסיר מחלה מקרבם, עד שלא יצטרכו לרופא ולהשתמר בדרך מדרכי הרפואות כלל, כמו שאמר (שמות טו כו) כי אני ה' רופאך

[6] There are additional discussions on the issue in many of his writings. See Torat Hashem Temimah, Introduction to Iyov (there he expands on Gilgul too) and in Sha’ar Hagemul in his Torat Ha’adam.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hakirah Volume 4 is at the printers.

You can go to www.hakirah.org and see the table of content and synopsis of the articles in volume 4. Now is the time to subscribe if you have not done so yet. This volume is now at the printers and should be ready for distribution early February.

You can now access all the articles of the first 3 volumes on line.

Empirical Facts, Axioms and Beliefs -

It is important to differentiate between what is empirically provable, axiomatic and what is an accepted belief. If we were to list Rambam’s 13 Ikarim we would organize them as follows:

Ikarim that are provable empirically or are axioms:

The first four namely, existence of God, His unity, that He is not a physical entity and that He is Eternal.

The fact that man can reach the level of prophecy is an axiom. Of course we are talking about Rambam’s prophecy which is a natural ability that man has similar to intuitive knowledge and inspiration.

Ikarim that are accepted beliefs:

1. To serve God and not idols.
2. The uniqueness of Moshe’s prophecy. ( This one I decided to list here though it could be argued that it is axiomatic and an offshoot of Prophecy. I leave it up to the reader to argue either position).
3. Torah Min Hashamayim
4. Immutability of Torah
5. Providence.
6. Reward and Punishment.
7. Moshiach
8. Revival of the Dead.

The difference is that the five that are axiomatic or empirically provable one has to really understand them to prove their correctness. One has to really understand the definition of what they mean and only then can we hope to “know” them as Rambam uses the word Leidah on all of them in his various writings. The other eight are things that we are asked to accept. They are all tools to arrive at the first five and apprehend them correctly especially the first four.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Muslims and Christians: May one teach them Torah? A Rambam Responsum

On the subject of Torah min Hashamayim there is a fascinating responsum by Rambam (Blau edition #149):

שו"ת הרמב"ם סימן קמט

השאלה הל"א שאלה מאמר ר' יוחנן (סנהדרין נ"ט א') גוי שעסק בתורה חייב מיתה, האם זה הלכה והחייב כל בר ישראל להמנע (מללמדו) דבר מן המצות חוץ משבע מצות או להעמידו עליהן, אם לאו?

התשובה היא בלא ספק הלכה . וכאשר יד ישראל תקיפה עליהם, מונעים אותו מתלמוד תורה עד שיתגייר. אבל לא יהרג, אם עסק בתורה, לפי שאמר חייב מיתה ולא אמר נהרג כמו שאמרו( סנהדרין נ"ז א', ) על שבע מצות בן נח נהרג. ומותר ללמד המצות לנוצרים ולמשכם אל דתנו, ואינו מותר דבר מזה לישמעאלים, לפי מה שידוע לכם על אמונתם, שתורה זו אינה מן השמים, וכאשר ילמדום דבר מן כתוביה (וימצאוהו) מתנגד למה שבדו הם מלבם לפי ערבוב הסיפורים ובלבול העניינים אשר באו להם, (הרי) לא תהיה זו ראיה אצלם, שטעות בידיהם, אלא יפרשוה לפי הקדמותיהם המופסדות ויוכלו להשיב עלינו בזה בטענתם ויטעו כל גר וישראל, שאין לו דעת, ויהיה זה מכשול לישראל האסורין ביניהם בעונותם. אבל הערלים (ר"ל הנוצרים) מאמינים בנוסח התורה שלא נשתנה, ורק מגלים בה פנים בפרושם המופסד ומפרשים זאת בפירושים, שהם ידועים בהם, ואם יעמידום על הפרוש הנכון, אפשר שיחזרו למוטב, ואפילו לא יחזרו, כשרוצים שיחזרו, לא יבוא לנו מזה מכשול ולא ימצאו בכתוביהם דבר שונה מכתובינו.

This is a fascinating Teshuvah and I will paraphrase it with my comments.

The question is whether it is permitted to teach a non Jew Torah?

Rambam answers that it is so Halachikally. When we Jews are in control, we may not teach them until they decide to convert. Although the rule is formulated as "Chayav Mita", Rambam makes a distinction between "Neherag", which would be a legal obligation to punish with death while this formulation only reports a fact; he will die but it is not up to the courts to implement.

He distinguishes between Christians and Muslims. The Muslims do not accept the divinity of the Torah. That being the case should the Torah contradict their confused traditions, they will have no problem explaining the Torah in a way that would make it compatible with their traditions. That would risk confusing uneducated Jews and converts becoming an obstacle for those who are living among them, under their jurisdiction. This point is very much in agreement with Rambam’s general understanding that the idea of divinity of the Torah is to make it immutable. No future prophet can change it. Muslims who deny Moshe’s superiority and thus the divinity of his Torah would accept future prophetic changes.

On the other hand the Christians do believe in the divinity of the Torah, they believe that Moshe had a special relationship with prophecy. They also believe that the current Torah we have is the original one. They only interpret it according to their beliefs. They see the Mitzvot as allegorical rather than practical. Interpretations can be shown as erroneous and there is always the possibility they will see the light. Should they not see the light, they will have little impact on even the uneducated among us.

The last sentence is quite interesting. Rambam says the version of the Old Testament the Christians have is similar to our version. I am no expert in that field and I leave that to the specialist to decide what edition Rambam had in front of him. Was there an Arabic version of the Bible written by Christians in his times? Was he referring to the Latin one? Greek or Aramaic? the Septuagint?

I also wonder how Rambam would have felt after Wellhausen came up with his DH theory? Would he still agree to teach Christians?

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Irony of Ironies: The skeptics prove the Torah works.

I have been watching more or less on the sidelines the raging debate between so-called skeptics and Rabbi Maroof on the various Blogs. To tell the truth I find myself cold and very bewildered about the commotion. Rabbi Maroof is valiantly trying to defend the Mesora from a historical perspective while others are trying to show inconsistencies and question the historicity of the stories in Tanach and Chazal. Some are enamored of the DH while others question the ethics and humaneness of the Torah laws. Belief in God and Torah min Hashamayim is questioned and all based on a completely, to me, erroneous understanding of what it is all about. Let me explain:

The way I see it is that the Torah is suggesting that man needs to address his existential issues and try to understand what he is doing here. The Torah suggests that to find the answer to this question one must try to find God, understand how He operates, what His plans are for the Universe and emulate Him partaking in its continuity. The Torah introduces us to the Avot starting with Avraham who apparently was the first one to have succeeded in getting a following in his quest. All previous philosophers, for varied reasons, did not go beyond their own personal insights. Avraham however succeeded to plant a kernel of this idea into people.

יט כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו, לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת-בָּנָיו וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו, וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט--לְמַעַן, הָבִיא יְהוָה עַל-אַבְרָהָם, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר, עָלָיו.
19 For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.'
(Breishis 18:19)

However without a formal structure of beliefs, rituals and laws it took only a few hundred years of hardship for Avraham’s ideas to almost disappear. That is the story told about Egypt and the Galut there. Moshe realized that for this way of thinking to have longevity and survive the vicissitudes of time it would have to be anchored in a system of beliefs, rituals and laws.

It is also clear that the answers cannot be found in a short time not even a generation but it will be the work of humanity over millennia. First we have to understand how the universe operates and at each step of the way, at every discovery of a new law, the search for God, for the ontological interpretation of existence, a new approach has to be developed to fit the new understanding. This system of beliefs, rituals and laws would have to be deep rooted but at the same time extremely adaptable so that it can exist in tandem with all possible future developments and understandings. The purpose of the societal laws (bein Adam lacheveiro) is to first make sure that society can function smoothly. Without a smoothly running society people are too preoccupied with personal survival to give them the leisure to address existential questions. It also has rituals that make one think about existence, the world and its creation, the Creator and all the other questions that need addressing. Some of those rituals are open ended without a clear reason other than to make one question and think. Basically the Torah has set up a system that touches every moment of a person’s life; from the minute he wakes until he goes back to sleep there is always something to remind him that he has to retain a perspective about his existence. By being aware of all his actions, by imposing a rule on everything he does, by making him do things a person is reminded to think about the entity that put these rules in place namely God.

For this system to work, while being adaptable, it has to have a strong foundation that is immutable otherwise with time it will lose its value. Thus we accepted that the torah Moshe gave us, the Torah Shebiktav and Sheba’al peh, is like a constitution. It is interpretable to a degree but the basic concepts have to remain unchanged. We therefore accepted that it is Min Hashamayim. Something happened during the time of Moshe that convinced all to accept for them and for generations to come, that this Torah will remain unchanged. To make this a strong commitment we agreed to accept that every single word was agreed to by HKBH directly with Moshe. Note the language Rambam (from the Gemara) uses to legislate this rule:

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

Note how Rambam uses the word האומר – one who says – not one who believes otherwise. We are not interested in the proof, the historical fact; we are only interested in the acceptance. When Rambam talks about God he uses the word Leidah, to know, because one has to prove that, when he talks about prophecy he also uses Leidah, because that is a concept that is provable. Here it is something we have to accept and not prove. The same for Yetziat Mitzraim, the Exodus, we also have to remember and not prove. We have to remember it because it teaches us many basic concepts about freedom, providence and evil.

I am not saying Chas Veshalom that it is all a myth, that it is a made up story. I believe it happened in some form or other. Every story told in the Torah is an interpretation of a happening in a way that teaches us how to look at things in our experience. The historicity is irrelevant though for its purpose. I look at all who spend time trying to figure out how the torah was composed, the DH ands all the other theories, no different from those who waste their time in pilpulim without purpose. (See my last post). It may be an interesting exercise but to what purpose?

Now let us see if the system works. Well just the debate on the Blogs, the skeptics and the defenders of the tradition, all of us prove how well it worked. By agreeing and rebelling we are discussing God and are keenly aware of Him, whether in a positive or a negative way. Mis-nagid, XGH, Ben Avuyah, Big S Skeptic, Mike Skeptic, DNA and all the rest just like RJM, Y. Aharon and all their supporters prove that the system works extremely well. You are all debating God and His ways and that is the only way to find Him.

That is the point Rambam makes at end of Hilchot Melachim (chapter 11:12 - 13):

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.

When the nations debate whether the Torah is true or not they are moving a step closer towards ultimately finding the truth.

Now that I got this off my chest, back to the sources. It is there that we will find the way to HKBH.

Pilpul and Chumrot: are they meaningful goals for a Jew?

Rambam wrote many letters both as responsa to Halachik questions and general correspondence on issues that were brought to him. In one of these letters (Sheilat edition page257) he writes as follows: (paraphrasing)

I already enjoined you to know the whole Sefer (Mishne Torah) and make it your own, teaching it to everyone. The goal of the writing of the Talmud and other such books is attained with the Mishne Torah. The goal of the Lamdanim which is wasting time in the Talmudic give and take is only to become expert in argumentation, not more than that. This expertise was not the goal of the Talmudic give and take but resulted accidentally when a saying had more than one interpretation and there was the need to find the correct one. The main purpose of the Talmud though was to teach what one must do or what one must not do. That is clear to someone like you. (The letter is addressed to a R. Yosef, apparently a learned man). That is the purpose of my book, to help memorize the rules which are lost in the argumentation of the Talmud allowing for people to devote their time in the ultimate goal, dealing with the “great” things…

R. Sheilat explains the last sentence as a veiled reference to the Gemara which considers the discussions of Abaye and Rava as “small” things and metaphysics as “great” things.

The letter is interesting as it gives us a glimpse into the thinking of the greatest Halachist of all times. All the learning has only one goal to help us find God, the “great” thing. We learn the halachot which teach us how to live our lives in a way that makes us think about HKBH and the existential issues. It is not an exercise in sophistry and argumentation. Rambam saw his Mishne Torah as the ultimate synopsis of all the rulings in the two Talmudim. (see his introduction to Mishne Torah and Ra'avad comment ad locum).

Nor are chumrot a goal in Judaism. In a letter to Rabbi Yosef ben Yehudah, the pupil he dedicated the Moreh to, he discusses his response to the Baghdad Rosh Yeshiva, R. Samuel ben Eli regarding traveling on river boats on Shabbat. He asks him not to react against the RY by insulting him. He explains that by supporting Rambam he has diminished the RY’s authority and that is the reason for his strong attacks against R. Yosef. He then goes on to write: (Sheilat Edition page 308)

There is no purpose in your asking: “where is Yra’at Shamayim (fear of Heaven)?” for he (the RY) and similar people who are greater than he, even those from earlier generations, their whole Yra’at Shamayim consists of following Chumrot (verbatim: refraining from Chumrot) as it is with the general populace. However a moral obligation to them (verbatim: Chovot hamidot hatovot) is not considered Yra’at Shamayim. They are also not careful with their words as God fearing people should be. Most of these autocratic men of religion, when someone attacks their authority, their fear of God disappears. Do not expect all of them to be like Hanina ben Dossa or Pinchas ben Yair A”H. Not all who have not reached their level is necessarily devoid of Yra’at Shamayim.

Need I say more?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The purpose of the event at Sinai - Questions that beg answers.

As the culmination of the coming Parshyot is the event at Sinai I want to work through a few of the issues about the subject. Chazal and the Rishonim debate every detail at Sinai and quite a few opinions have resulted of the exact sequence of events. Anyone interested in this see Gra in Aderet Elyahu on Shemot 33:7 and Rabbi David Luria in his Pirush on Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer chapter 46 quoting Gra on Seder Olam for a summary.

As we know, every event the Torah tells us there must be a lesson that it wants to teach us. Torah is not a history book and it only reports meaningful events that affect our thinking. We therefore have to understand what the purpose of this event at Sinai was. This will also help shed light on the character of the event, what exactly happened? Rishonim have different ideas and their opinion gives us a glimpse of how they struggled with the issues of miracles, revelation and Torah min Hashamayim.

Let us look first at the verses in the Torah that deal with the issue of the purpose of Ma’amad Har Sinai.

Shemot 3:12 - in response to Moshe’s reluctance to start the process of the Exodus:

יב וַיֹּאמֶר, כִּי-אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ, וְזֶה-לְּךָ הָאוֹת, כִּי אָנֹכִי שְׁלַחְתִּיךָ: בְּהוֹצִיאֲךָ אֶת-הָעָם, מִמִּצְרַיִם, תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, עַל הָהָר הַזֶּה.
12 And He said: 'Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.'

It will prove retroactively that Moshe was genuine. The difficulty is obvious. Moshe is afraid that the people will not listen to him now. What will the event at the end of the whole process do for him?

Shemot 19:9 – God is introducing the event to Moshe:

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

Is it because the people will hear God speaking to Moshe, they will believe in him forever or are they two different things; “hear” and separately believe in him? The word וְגַם seems to support the latter.

In Shemot 20:18-19 we read:

יח וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כֹּה תֹאמַר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם--כִּי מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם, דִּבַּרְתִּי עִמָּכֶם.
18 And the LORD said unto Moses: Thus thou shall say unto the children of Israel: Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
יט לֹא תַעֲשׂוּן, אִתִּי: אֱלֹהֵי כֶסֶף וֵאלֹהֵי זָהָב, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם.
19 Ye shall not make with Me--gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you.

And in Devarim 4:15 we read:

טו וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּם מְאֹד, לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם: כִּי לֹא רְאִיתֶם, כָּל-תְּמוּנָה, בְּיוֹם דִּבֶּר יְהוָה אֲלֵיכֶם בְּחֹרֵב, מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ.
15 Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves--for ye saw no manner of form on the day that the LORD spoke unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire--

When God spoke to them there was no physical entity; only “heaven” and “fire” were the source of the speech. Is this one of the goals at Sinai or a result of the event?

Shemot 20:17- as the people were afraid and asked that Moshe speak to them rather than God -
טז וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-הָעָם, אַל-תִּירָאוּ, כִּי לְבַעֲבוּר נַסּוֹת אֶתְכֶם, בָּא הָאֱלֹהִים; וּבַעֲבוּר, תִּהְיֶה יִרְאָתוֹ עַל-פְּנֵיכֶם--לְבִלְתִּי תֶחֱטָאוּ.
16 And Moses said unto the people: 'Fear not; for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before you, that ye sin not.'

What kind of test was this? What was its purpose? They are afraid and testing will make them less afraid? What does testing them have to do with them fearing Him from now on? A very cryptic and difficult to understand verse. (Of course DH has answers but it assumes an idiotic editor).

Let us summarize the reasons we have so far found:

To prove that Moshe was sent by God to take the Jews out of Egypt.
To insure that the people will believe in Moshe forever.
To make it clear that God is not physical.
To test the people so that they will fear God.

In the coming posts I will present the different opinions among the Rishonim. In the meantime I would love to hear your ideas.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Rambam, Rav Kook and Einstein on intuitive knowledge.

Rambam in MN 2:38 describes certain prophetic experiences as follows:

The true prophets undoubtedly conceive ideas that result from premises which human reason could not comprehend by itself; thus they tell things which men could not tell by reason and ordinary imagination alone; for [the action of the prophets' mental capacities is influenced by] the same agent that causes the perfection of the imaginative faculty, and that enables the prophet thereby to foretell a future event with such clearness as if it was a thing already perceived with the senses, and only through them conveyed to his imagination. This agent perfects the prophet's mind, and influences it in such a manner that he conceives ideas which are confirmed by reality, and are so clear to him as if he deduced them by means of syllogisms.”

The intuition of a developed mind allows arriving at conclusions without going through the systematic process of sequential thought.

Here is Rav Kook in Orot Hakodesh:

The truth does not reveal itself to a person piecemeal. It appears in one all-encompassing concept. All the hard work that one puts into learning and acquiring information is to facilitate the appearance of that all-encompassing concept.

Again we see a description of an intuitive grasp of truth.

A description of how Einstein arrived at his insights:

The young man had asked Einstein how he had arrived at his famous relativity theory. Einstein said that after much work he found he had not advanced very far toward a solution to his problems. One night he retired in utter discouragement and feeling very depressed. He told himself there was nothing more to be done. Then he experienced an intuitive flash illuminating his subject and piecing together the parts as in a puzzle. The next day he began to work out his equations, in appropriate sequence.”

The question of how this mechanism works, the existence of the all-encompassing concept before it has been grasped by the mind is referred to in medieval philosophy as the “active intellect”. Trying to understand it and define it is the basis of all Rational and mystical thought. It is through it that we try to find God.

Free the creative soul!

I am reading Orot Hakodesh by Harav Kook Z”L and will be posting occasionally pieces that speak to me particularly loudly. I am no translator so I will paraphrase most of the time and therefore must caution that my own understanding of his words may not be what he meant. Here is a short piece on creativity and learning.

Someone who has the soul of a creator must create ideas and thoughts. He cannot limit himself to superficial study because one cannot control the soaring flame of one’s soul.

A thinking person always strives for broadness of thought. Superficial study tends to rein in thought and confuses it at the moment of birth. Constant superficial study exacerbates this sickness of constrained thinking and we must use all efforts to liberate ourselves from it so that we redeem our souls from self-imposed pressures and take it out of Egypt and slavery.

What this means to me:

In every area of thought we have to start with acquainting ourselves with the current state of the information. We cannot go back every time to the start and investigate from scratch. In physics for example we have to learn and understand the current science and only then can we move on if we want answers to the many open questions. The same goes with Jewish thought. We have to study the texts and understand them before we can develop our own understanding. The goal though is to develop a personal understanding because knowing the unknowable is very personal and cannot be transmitted. That is the meaning of the Mishna in Hagigah “Ein dorshin… velo bemerkavah beyachid ela im kein hayah Chacham umeivin mida’ato” – one does not teach in public … nor does one teach metaphysics to one unless he is wise and can extrapolate on his own. Rambam legislates this Mishna as follows:( Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 4:11)

שעניין מעשה מרכבה, אפילו לאחד אין דורשין בו, אלא אם כן היה חכם ומבין מדעתו, נותנין לו ראשי הפרקים

Metaphysic we do not teach even one person, unless he is wise and can extrapolate on his own in which case we transmit to him chapter headings.

Knowing the current state of thought in metaphysics is only a stepping-stone for further personal extrapolation.

Reading the text literally and insisting that it is the ultimate truth as read because Chazal or great Rishonim wrote it and that interpretation is heretic, Apikorsus, stifles the human creative soul. Freeing the mind, letting it take the accumulated information and translate it into a meaningful understanding that allows for glimpses of the ultimate truth is the goal of a freed creative mind. In his introduction to MN Rambam describes the experience as follows:

At times the truth shines so brilliantly that we perceive it as clear as day. Our nature and habit then draw a veil over our perception, and we return to a darkness almost as dense as before. We are like those who, though beholding frequent flashes of lightning, still find themselves in the thickest darkness of the night.”

In the search for the truth one must allow the creative side of our personality to expand and soar. After all we are searching for the Creator, the ultimate source of creativity.

Friday, January 12, 2007


The first anniversary of my blog is approaching and I wanted to do a little Cheshbon Hanefesh. For me it has been very exciting as it forced me to put down in words many of the thoughts that were flying around in my head. Writing about things for public consumption forces you to clarify and organize all these diffuse ideas into coherent statements. Ideas that were just fleeting concepts had to be fleshed out. To me writing this blog was real disciplined Talmud Torah.

I have kept track of the traffic on the site and have so far recorded about 20,000 unique visits. I do not know into how many different people that translates to but many have read what I wrote. I wish there were more comments but the ones I did get were very thoughtful and consequently helpful. I did not always agree but it did make me think about alternative ways of looking at things.

I am planning to continue writing about Rambam’s way of thinking or at least the way I read him. Eventually I would like to contrast the other thinkers such as R. Yehudah Halevi, Rav Sa’adyah Gaon, Ramban and Rav Hasdai Crescas with Rambam’s approach.

I have received approbations from many who I respect and who felt many of the things I write about had to be told. I am always conscious that in matters of Hashkafah there is always the danger of coming to erroneous conclusions. I therefore reiterate that these are just my thoughts and they reflect the truth as I see it not necessarily as it really is.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Acquiring Providence - an arduous task. Part 2.

In my last post on Hashgacha I presented Rambam’s 5 groups that make up the different levels of development that people have to go through to be able to aspire to the highest level, that of prophets. (In total there were eight groups including the prophets. The first two groups are either uninterested or misguided, leaving us with five developmental groups and one utopian.) Group 3 and 4, the first step of development, involve keeping the commandments. Unlike popular understanding that the ultimate goal is to keep the Mitzvot to their minutest detail, here we see that as only a first level stepping-stone to proper understanding. I am not ready here to address Ta’amei Hamitzvot but we already get a sense from Rambam that they are to be seen as part of a development process and not a goal in themselves. Clearly besides pure knowledge, the highest moral and ethical standards are required, if one wants to act on his conclusions about God and his world. Without that strong grounding, personal bias and desires will mislead. Keeping the commandments in the Torah, studying their intricacies and applying the laws to daily life, teach the discipline, moral and ethical underpinnings as well as the theological axioms needed for becoming a bona fide prophet. (I am talking only about the Mitzvot part of the Torah and the study of the Halachot themselves. The Torah itself is much broader and encompasses other necessary areas of knowledge such as metaphysics.) Looked at from this perspective,

י רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה, יִרְאַת יְהוָה--
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;

takes on a different meaning. It is a vital component without which all this intellectualization cannot be transformed into action.

Group 6 is made up of those who take the study of Torah a step further. They “have plunged into speculation concerning the fundamental principle of religion”, in other words are trying to understand the meaning behind the Mitzvot and the theology they represent and at the same time are also involved in learning the sciences and observing the universe that surrounds them. As Rambam explains in MN 1:34:

We can only obtain a knowledge of Him through His works; His works give evidence of His existence, and show what must be assumed concerning Him, that is to say, what must be attributed to Him either affirmatively or negatively. It is thus necessary to examine all things according to their essence; to infer from every species such true and well-established propositions as may assist us in the solution of metaphysical problems. Again, many propositions based on the nature of numbers and the properties of geometrical figures, are useful in examining things which must be negated in reference to God, and these negations will lead us to further inferences. You will certainly not doubt the necessity of studying astronomy and physics, if you are desirous of comprehending the relation between the world and Providence as it is in reality, and not according to imagination.”

The sciences are the way of translating the theology one gets from the Torah into imagination free concepts about God.

Those that try to understand the underlying logic of the Mitzvot, addressing the existential issues of life and speculate in philosophy, theology and metaphysics belong to Group 7. When these people are so connected and have absorbed that knowledge making it an integral part of their self, they have approached the level of man qua man, the ultimate human – a prophet.

The true worship of God is only possible when correct notions of Him have previously been conceived. When you have arrived by way of intellectual research at knowledge of God and His works, then commence to devote yourselves to Him, try to approach Him and strengthen the intellect, which is the link that joins you to Him… For it is said, "To love the Lord your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. xi. 13), and, as we have shown several times, man's love of God is identical with His knowledge of Him. The Divine service enjoined in these words must, accordingly, be preceded by the love of God. Our Sages have pointed out to us that it is a service in the heart, which explanation I understand to mean this: man concentrates all his thoughts on the First Intellect, and is absorbed in these thoughts as much as possible. … It has thus been shown that it must be man's aim, after having acquired the knowledge of God, to deliver himself up to Him, and to have his heart constantly filled with longing after Him.” (MN 3:51)

It is the people in this last group that enjoy the full force of Providence. Their actions are guided by “correct notions”; they are emulating God’s actions, which they have understood after arduous preparation. They have acquired high levels of ethical and moral standards, they have developed their intellect to its highest capacity and their actions are guided by these considerations. Their actions fit seamlessly into the fabric of the universe and its continuity.

Providence is a function of man’s actions.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Egyptian land grab - the real story.

There are a few very interesting verses in Divrei Hayamim 1:7:20 that when understood shed light on a slew of odd verses in Chumash. What I am going to write is based on a comment by Professor Yehudah Kill Z’L, author of various parts of the Da’at Mikrah Nach, where he quotes the Pirush on Divrei Hayamim by a pupil of Rav Sa’adyah Gaon and the Pirush on Chumash by R. Yehudah Hachassid.

כ וּבְנֵי אֶפְרַיִם, שׁוּתָלַח; וּבֶרֶד בְּנוֹ וְתַחַת בְּנוֹ, וְאֶלְעָדָה בְנוֹ וְתַחַת בְּנוֹ.
20 And the sons of Ephraim: Shuthelah--and Bered was his son, and Tahath his son, and Eleadah his son, and Tahath his son,
כא וְזָבָד בְּנוֹ וְשׁוּתֶלַח בְּנוֹ, וְעֵזֶר וְאֶלְעָד; וַהֲרָגוּם, אַנְשֵׁי-גַת הַנּוֹלָדִים בָּאָרֶץ, כִּי יָרְדוּ, לָקַחַת אֶת-מִקְנֵיהֶם.
21 and Zabad his son, and Shuthelah his son--and Ezer, and Elead, whom the men of Gath that were born in the land slew, because they came down to take away their cattle.
כב וַיִּתְאַבֵּל אֶפְרַיִם אֲבִיהֶם, יָמִים רַבִּים; וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶחָיו, לְנַחֲמוֹ.
22 And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him.
כג וַיָּבֹא, אֶל-אִשְׁתּוֹ, וַתַּהַר, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן; וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ בְּרִיעָה, כִּי בְרָעָה הָיְתָה בְּבֵיתוֹ.
23 And he went in to his wife, and she conceived, and bore a son, and he called his name Beriah, because it went evil with his house.
כד וּבִתּוֹ שֶׁאֱרָה, וַתִּבֶן אֶת-בֵּית-חוֹרוֹן הַתַּחְתּוֹן וְאֶת-הָעֶלְיוֹן, וְאֵת, אֻזֵּן שֶׁאֱרָה.
24 And his daughter was Sheerah, who built Beth-horon the nether and the upper, and Uzzen-sheerah.

כה וְרֶפַח בְּנוֹ, וְרֶשֶׁף וְתֶלַח בְּנוֹ--וְתַחַן בְּנוֹ.
25 And Rephah was his son, and Resheph, and Telah his son, and Tahan his son;
כו לַעְדָּן בְּנוֹ עַמִּיהוּד בְּנוֹ, אֱלִישָׁמָע בְּנוֹ.
26 Ladan his son, Ammihud his son, Elishama his son;
כז נוֹן בְּנוֹ, יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בְּנוֹ.
27 Nun his son, Joshua his son.

Here is a report about a personal tragedy that Ephraim suffered when his sons were killed while tending to cattle. They were killed by the locals in Gath, an area in the land of Israel (Canaan at the time). He then gave birth to a daughter who consoled him by building two cities again in Israel. The author of Divrei Hayamim, Ezra Hasofer, records an old document for posterity. What were Ephraim’s children doing in EY while they were still in Egypt in apparent bondage? Do not tell me that these people lived extraordinarily long lives and Ephraim and daughter was alive when they were settled in EY 300 plus years later. Beside it not being mentioned anywhere we find that Yehoshua who brought the Jews to EY was the seventh generation from Ephraim (verses 25-27) suggesting normal generational continuity. So what was going on?

Apparently when Yaakov descended to Egypt he retained his properties in EY. By settling in Egypt these properties came under the control of the Egyptian government based on the laws promulgated by Yosef compensating the government for arranging for food during the drought. (See the end of Vaygash, which explains the relevance of that report). Yosef and his family were responsible to administer this land and periodically traveled to EY to oversee it. Apparently on one of these trips, the tragedy occurred and eventually Ephraim’s daughter took over her brother’s role.

These verses also seem to be the basis for the Midrash that the children of Ephraim wanted to leave Egypt early and were decimated.

This sheds light on what was really going on in Egypt. The government was very suspicious that these new settlers would one day leave and retake possession of those properties, removing Egyptian control. That is why Yosef had to ask special permission to accompany Yaakov’s bier and received it on condition that he leave the children and cattle behind as guarantee.

ח וְכֹל בֵּית יוֹסֵף, וְאֶחָיו וּבֵית אָבִיו: רַק, טַפָּם וְצֹאנָם וּבְקָרָם--עָזְבוּ, בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן.
8 and all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his father's house; only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen.

That explains the slow erosion of the good relationship between the Israelites and the Egyptians. It was in Egypt’s interest to try to distance the people from their original land.

י הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה, לוֹ: פֶּן-יִרְבֶּה, וְהָיָה כִּי-תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם-הוּא עַל-שֹׂנְאֵינוּ, וְנִלְחַם-בָּנוּ, וְעָלָה מִן-הָאָרֶץ.
10 come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalls us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us, and go up from the land.'

The biggest fear of the Egyptians was that in case of war the Israelites would leave and take their property rights with them. That explains later on the stubborn refusal of Pharaoh to let the people leave.

The idea that the Israelites maintained contact all along with EY comes through in other verses. Just one example:

לט וַיֵּלְכוּ בְּנֵי מָכִיר בֶּן-מְנַשֶּׁה, גִּלְעָדָה--וַיִּלְכְּדֻהָ; וַיּוֹרֶשׁ, אֶת-הָאֱמֹרִי אֲשֶׁר-בָּהּ.
39 And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead, and took it, and dispossessed the Amorites that were therein.
מ וַיִּתֵּן מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַגִּלְעָד, לְמָכִיר בֶּן-מְנַשֶּׁה; וַיֵּשֶׁב, בָּהּ.
40 And Moses gave Gilead unto Machir the son of Manasseh; and he dwelt therein.
מא וְיָאִיר בֶּן-מְנַשֶּׁה הָלַךְ, וַיִּלְכֹּד אֶת-חַוֹּתֵיהֶם; וַיִּקְרָא אֶתְהֶן, חַוֹּת יָאִיר.
41 And Jair the son of Manasseh went and took the villages thereof, and called them Havvoth-jair.
מב וְנֹבַח הָלַךְ, וַיִּלְכֹּד אֶת-קְנָת וְאֶת-בְּנֹתֶיהָ; וַיִּקְרָא לָה נֹבַח, בִּשְׁמוֹ. {פ}
42 And Nobah went and took Kenath, and the villages thereof, and called it Nobah, after his own name. {P}

In the middle of a listing of cities built by the 21/2 tribes that settled across the Yarden we find this listing of cities built by Yair son of Menashe, a much earlier generation. Clearly Yossef’s sons were active in EY all along.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Acquiring Providence - an arduous task. Part 1.

This is the first in several posts on this subject. It is impossible to fully discuss this issue in one manageable post so please bear with me and read them together as I write them. I also suggest you have MN 3:51 open next to you while reading these posts.

When I was writing the posts on Providence, this little voice kept on nagging me. A person that decides he is partaking in God’s creation, setting goals that are also God’s could be quite dangerous. There were quite a few megalomaniacs in the History of humankind that perpetrated Genocide and other abominations using this argument. The point is how does one know that he is doing the right thing? That he is interpreting correctly what he is observing especially if it leads to actions whose results, many times, are assessable only after long periods of time? Clearly it is crucial that one follow a very controlled process of observation and analysis to insure as much as possible that one arrives at a correct understanding. Rambam in MN 3:51, a key chapter in the Moreh, explains the process at length. He introduces the chapter as follows:

“… explaining the worship as practiced by one who has apprehended the true realities peculiar only to Him after he has obtained an apprehension of what He is; and it also guides him toward achieving this worship, which is the end of man, and makes known to him how providence watches over him in this world until he is brought over to the bundle of life.”

Rambam says that this chapter will teach someone who has reached a level of understanding of God and His ways, how to proceed to the next step and act based on this information (worship) which is the goal of a man’s life. (Note: the goal is to act, not stop at the philosophizing.)It also will describe how Providence relates to such a person and his eventual death and the passage to the “Bundle of Life” (Tzror Hachaim). All these things, worship, apprehension, Providence, death and reaching the “Bundle of Life” are interconnected.

This chapter is quite complex and has many parts. The first part addresses the learning process per se. Rambam uses a metaphor of a palace with a king residing at the center in a great throne room. To enter the room one must pass through corridors that abut at an entrance door. People are floating around the palace and all over the city facing in every direction, some are going away, others are coming closer, the usual busy street. Then there are those who are outside the city itself. (Much has been written about this metaphor and interpretation. I am proposing my own reading which is a composite of the various commentaries I have read.)

Here are the groups in order from the least developed to the highest level. I understand that Rambam is depicting the process of learning and how a person is viewed at each stage of development.

Group 1: Those outside the city represent man as tabula rasa with untapped potential. It is those who have not reached any level of inquiry and completely lack any interest in understanding what they observe if they even do so.

Group2: Those inside the city with their back to the palace, walking away, are those who have inquired and arrived at erroneous conclusions. They came to them on their own or follow others who have done so. These people, the more they stay with their ideas, the further they get from the palace. The fact they entered the city, have speculated and erred makes them dangerous as they have the potential to become the megalomaniacs I described earlier.

Group3: Those inside the city facing the palace but have never seen the palace itself, are the plain folk who follow the Law blindly, “the ignoramuses who observe the commandments”. The way Rambam describes them they know there is a palace but do not know where to find it. The way I read this is that they believe that by doing the Mitzvot alone they are doing a good deed but have no clue why.

Group 4: Those inside the city at the wall of the palace walking all around it are “the jurists who believe true opinions on the basis of traditional authority and study the law concerning the practices of divine service, but do not engage in speculation concerning the fundamental principles of religion and make no inquiry whatever about the rectification of belief.” Note how these people, the jurists, are not even aware that one has to find the entrance to the palace. They are happy just walking around it.

Group 5: Those inside the city and walking around the palace looking for its entrance are the people who are aware that one must find the key and are willing to go through the arduous task of preparatory study. They are at the stage of accumulating information and observations but have not come yet to the stage of analyses.

Group 6: This group is composed of those who passed the palace’s entrance and are roaming in its corridors. This group is the most startling as Rambam assigns to it two seemingly different people. First he includes in this group those that “have plunged into speculation concerning the fundamental principle of religion”. He then includes those that “have understood the natural things”, those who have started analyzing all the information and observations they have accumulated. They are into scientific research and understanding the physical world. What we have here are two separate people, a theologian and a scientist, both partners in the search for God. I see this as parallel tracks that have to be pursued in the search for existential answers. One cannot reach next level without following both tracks simultaneously.

Group 7: Those who entered the inner chamber, the throne room, comprise this group. Again Rambam portrays two separate people that slowly merge into one, confirming my understanding of group 6. First he portrays someone who “has achieved demonstration to the extent that that is possible, of everything that may be demonstrated; and who has ascertained the 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”. [1] It is not clear whether he refers to someone who has been dealing with the “fundamentals of the law” that he mentioned in the earlier sentence, or he includes general knowledge. But later he places at the same level one that “has achieved perfection in natural things and has understood divine science”. I believe he sees theology, physics and metaphysics as the necessary components for entering the king’s chamber.

Group 8: This is the culmination of all this development process. It is those who sit in the king’s council. “There are some who direct all their mind toward the attainment of perfection in the divine sciences, devote themselves entirely to God, exclude from their thought every other thing, and employ all their intellectual faculties in the study of the beings, in order to derive from them a proof with regard to Him so as to know in every possible way how God rules all things; they form the class of those who are present in the king’s council, namely, the class of prophets.”

The last group, the utopian man, the one that has developed his potential must go through a rigorous process of development. From tabula rasa to a renaissance man, having a fully rounded education comprising theology, science and metaphysics, only such a person may feel comfortable in deciding what is God’s will.

To summarize: The learning process starts with man following commandments by rote (group 3) joining group 4 who are the general learned yeshiva person and their Rashei Yeshiva and Possekim. Stopping here does not even bring one to the level of knowing that there is a door to look for. Sciences and metaphysics combined with Torah knowledge so that one can keep the commandments leads one to his goal.

Much more to come on this subject.

[1] It is very important to note the caveats on the limits of knowledge in these descriptions.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Can Rav Elyashiv impose his rulings on Klal Yisrael?

Baruch Horowitz at Mishmar has this interesting post http://mishmar.blogspot.com/2007/01/chareidi-insularity-and-blogger.html discussing the strong negative reaction of non – Chareidi observers of Chareidi insularity. I would like to add my two senses to it and give you a personal point of view.

I am non-sectarian Jew meaning I believe in Metziut Hashem, TMS and the supreme authority of Halacha on our daily life. I also believe in truth and that it is the goal in life to find it. The basis for this last statement is that HKBH is the ultimate truth and we are supposed to seek Him out.

הוא שהנביא אומר "וה' אלוהים אמת
הוא לבדו האמת, ואין לאחר אמת כאמיתו
והוא שהתורה אומרת "אין עוד, מלבדו"
כלומר אין שם מצוי אמת מלבדו כמותו. ,(Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 1:2)

וּמְבַקְשֵׁי יְהוָה, יָבִינוּ כֹל but they that seek the LORD understand all things (Mishlei 28:5)

To me all Jews who strive to live a life with these principles as their guideline, no matter what degree of success they have attained, are my brothers in arms, coreligionists and we are all one. The problem is that the meaning of some of these principles is quite open to interpretation. Metziut Hashem would seem to be an open and shut case – either you accept it or do not. It is not so simple though as evidenced by the arguments among the Rishonim where some believed God had a physical existence (R. Moshe Taku). TMS has even a wider range of possibilities of what it really means. Here again the Rishonim filled in the void with the different positions. (For an overview see Torah Shleima Miluim on Parshat Mishpatim – Kuntras Ketivat Hatorah and after Parshat Pikudei). Now we come to Halacha which is really the issue we are discussing and causes the friction, though sometimes Hashkafic issues crop up like the Slifkin affair.

Halacha is a system based on the original Torah Shebiktav and Torah Sheba’al peh with the addition of Gezeirot and other rules implemented by Sanhedrin over time and by the gathering of all Chachmei Yisrael in Bavel after the Sanhedrin were discontinued. The last such gathering was at the time of Rav Ashi. All rules that were set until then were included in the Talmud which was written down during his time and the next generations. As the Jews were slowly spreading all over the globe and central authority was eroding from both an implementation and legislative (no longer able to gather all Chachmei Yisrael) perspective, they all undertook to abide by the rulings of the Talmud. Of course what those rulings are lends itself to interpretation, but at least there is framework for discussion. Thereafter each Rav and Beit Din could legislate for its own community but the rules are no longer binding on Klal Yisrael. I am simplifying. The subject is very complicated and broad with many opinions about the details but I am summarizing based on Rambam’s introduction to Mishne Torah. Here are some excerpts: (I will not translate as I have summarized above already).

ועניין שני התלמודין--הוא פירוש דברי המשנה וביאור עמוקותיה, ודברים שנתחדשו בכל בית דין ובית דין מימות רבנו הקדוש ועד חיבור התלמוד. ומשני התלמודין, ומן התוספתא, ומספרא ומספרי, ומן התוספתות--מכולם יתבאר האסור והמותר, והטמא והטהור, והחייב והפטור, והכשר והפסול, כמו שהעתיקו איש מפי איש מפי משה מסיניי.
כה גם יתבאר מהם דברים שגזרו חכמים ונביאים שבכל דור ודור, לעשות סייג לתורה, כמו ששמעו ממשה בפירוש "ושמרתם את משמרתי" (ויקרא יח,ל), שאמר עשו משמרת למשמרתי.
כו וכן יתבאר מהם המנהגות והתקנות שהתקינו או שנהגו בכל דור ודור, כמו שראו בית דין של אותו הדור, לפי שאסור לסור מהם, שנאמר "לא תסור, מכל הדבר אשר יגידו לך--ימין ושמאל" (ראה דברים יז,יא).
כז וכן משפטים ודינין פלאיים שלא קיבלו אותן ממשה, ודנו בהן בית דין הגדול של אותו הדור במידות שהתורה נדרשת בהן, ופסקו אותן הזקנים, וגמרו שהדין כך הוא. הכול חיבר רב אשי בתלמוד, מימות משה ועד ימיו.
נמצא רבינא ורב אשי וחבריהם, סוף גדולי חכמי ישראל המעתיקים תורה שבעל פה, ושגזרו גזירות והתקינו תקנות והנהיגו מנהגות ופשטו גזירותם ותקנותם ומנהגותם בכל ישראל, בכל מקומות מושבותיהם.

This is important; Ravina and Rav Ashi were the last of the transmitters of the Torah Sheba’al Peh whose rulings were disseminated among all Klal Yisrael.

ל ואחר בית דינו של רב אשי, שחיבר התלמוד בימי בנו וגמרו, נתפזרו ישראל בכל הארצות פיזור יתר, והגיעו לקצוות ולאיים הרחוקים; ורבתה קטטה בעולם, ונשתבשו הדרכים בגייסות. ונתמעט תלמוד תורה, ולא נתכנסו ישראל ללמוד בישיבותיהם אלפים ורבבות כמו שהיו מקודם.
לא אלא מתקבצים יחידים השרידים אשר ה' קורא בכל עיר ועיר ובכל מדינה ומדינה, ועוסקים בתורה, ומבינים בחיבורי החכמים כולם, ויודעים מהם דרך המשפט היאך הוא.
לב וכל בית דין שעמד אחר התלמוד בכל מדינה ומדינה וגזר או התקין או הנהיג לבני מדינתו, או לבני מדינות--לא פשטו מעשיו בכל ישראל: מפני רוחק מושבותיהם, ושיבוש הדרכים; והיות בית דין של אותה המדינה יחידים, ובית דין הגדול של שבעים בטל מכמה שנים קודם חיבור התלמוד.
לג לפיכך אין כופין אנשי מדינה זו לנהוג במנהג מדינה אחרת, ואין אומרין לבית דין זה לגזור גזירה שגזרה בית דין אחר במדינתו. וכן אם למד אחד מן הגאונים שדרך המשפט כך הוא, ונתבאר לבית דין אחר שעמד אחריו שאין זה דרך המשפט הכתוב בתלמוד--אין שומעין לראשון, אלא למי שהדעת נוטה לדבריו, בין ראשון, בין אחרון.

This is a key paragraph so I will paraphrase it:
We therefore do not force people in one area to follow the rules of another, and we do not tell one Beit din to abide by a gezeirah that was implemented by another. And so too if one Gaon concluded that the law is such and such and another Beit din that followed him felt otherwise, we follow the one that makes the most sense whether earlier or later.
This paragraph does away with precedence from after the time of the Gemara. Not all Possekim agreed with Rambam and at some point in time there was a consensus to follow certain Rishonim. See the introduction of the Beit Yosef to his Kessef Mishna. That in itself generated quite a controversy especially when he published his Shulchan Aruch. Rambam himself accepts certain Takanot of the Geonim as binding on everybody.

לד ודברים הללו, בדינים וגזירות ותקנות ומנהגות שנתחדשו אחר חיבור התלמוד. אבל כל הדברים שבתלמוד הבבלי, חייבין כל בית ישראל ללכת בהם; וכופין כל עיר ועיר וכל מדינה ומדינה לנהוג בכל המנהגות שנהגו חכמים שבתלמוד, ולגזור גזירותם וללכת בתקנותם.
לה הואיל וכל אותן הדברים שבתלמוד הסכימו עליהם כל ישראל, ואותן החכמים שהתקינו או שגזרו או שהנהיגו או שדנו דין ולמדו שהמשפט כך הוא הם כל חכמי ישראל או רובן, והם ששמעו הקבלה בעיקרי התורה כולה, איש מפי איש עד משה רבנו

Clearly there is no basis for a universal Halachik authority nowadays. The big cities such as New York et al in America and Yerushalayim et al in Eretz Israel do not have a central Beit Din accepted by the whole population. It therefore is left up to each person to chose a Possek and abide by his rulings.

Now let us come back to Baruch Horowitz’s question – why do people care about the insular Chareidi rulings? It is the way they are promulgated. If Harav Elyashiv rules the Chareidi community expects everybody to abide by his ruling. True he is a great Talmid Chacham; let us say the greatest in our time but his rulings are still not binding. He can rule for those who wish to follow his rulings but do not try to impose on the rest of the community. There is no basis for that. Saying that traveling on ElAl is a Chilul Hashem is nonsense. Tell your constituents to boycott it but do not impose your Meta Halachik rulings on everybody. Education for women has to be curtailed. Sure – you want to test the resilience of your constituents – go ahead but why impose this on the rest of the world?

By the way it is clear to me that this is probably not Rav Elyashiv’s position either. He knows the extent of his authority Halachikally better than I would dream of understanding it in my lifetime. Power hungry sycophants who take control of the life of these great people as they get old, present things to them with their own bias. They themselves do not have the authority to impose themselves on the Klal based on their own merit; they therefore develop this mythical Godol canard and use it by taking over the great man’s persona.

That is why I am pained when I hear these nonsensical rulings. What can be more painful than the Chilul Hashem these rulings engender? What is a plain Jew supposed to do with them? He is taught that he has to listen to the Rabbis but this does not make sense. His choice is to ignore it but feel guilty or follow it and be resentful. It makes the Torah and its way of life a joke.