Sunday, September 30, 2007

Doing Truth.

In my last post, I quoted Rambam in Hil Teshuvah 10:1 –

אלא עושה האמת, מפני שהוא אמת;

The only reason he does Truth is because it is Truth.

And I asked, “So how is my doing all these things seen as “doing” Truth?”

I attempted to answer the question as I developed the idea of “doing” to emulate to God but I walked away unsatisfied with my explanation. Over Chag I resumed learning a very interesting Sefer on Rambam, Minofet Tzuf, (in Hebrew), by Rabbi Jonathan Blass of Petach Tikvah. The author is clearly a Talmid Chacham steeped in the Torah of Rav Kook and Rambam and the combination produced a very different and interesting reading of the Moreh. It has two volumes and so far, I have only read (rather learned – one does not “read” such a Sefer,) about half of volume 1 and it is very thought provoking. As I was reading chapter 13, I finally, I believe, understood what Rambam means when he says that one can “do” Truth.

According to Rambam, one of the fundamental teachings of the Torah is that God has Will. Unlike Aristotelian thinkers who though agreeing that a non-contingent First Cause exists believed that it exists parallel with the universe from eternity. That entity did not choose at some point in time to cause existence. It just is there as a necessary component thereof. There always was and will be a non-contingent First Cause whose function is by definition to cause existence. The Torah on the other hand teaches that the world was created in time by HKBH. It teaches that God has Will and that He used it to create existence. Of course, the word Will as used in this context is just a concept that describes an attribute a human would need to accomplish such an act; however, the idea is that there was a voluntary act when God created. As time is not a function that we can ascribe to God, as by definition God does not change, Will in this context is a one-time and constant “event”. In fact, it is not an event but part of God’s essence as attributes can never be an appendage to God, or as the philosophers would term it, an accident.

In our search for understanding God, the route available to us is through the results of his actions which we understand are the result of his Will which is one with His essence. When we try to cleave to God by acting in a way we understand emulates His actions which have a result similar to the results caused by His will, we are “doing” His will which is Truth by definition. Rambam puts this in the following way in MN 1:69 –

The same argument holds good in reference to all ends, for when a thing has an end you should seek the end of that end.[Rambam is saying that we have to look for the reason why a certain series of cause and effect was initiated].… In this way, one purpose necessitates the pre-existence of another, except the final purpose, which is the execution of the will of God. … and the final answer will be, "It is the will of God." … the series of the successive purposes terminates, as has been shown, in God's will or wisdom, which, in our opinion, are identical with His essence, and are not any thing separate from Himself or different from His essence. Consequently, God is the ultimate end of everything. Again, it is the aim of everything to become, according to its faculties, similar to God in perfection: this is meant by the expression, "His will, which is identical with His essence," as will be shown below (ibid.). In this sense God is called the End of all ends.”

If we were to ask what the purpose of everything is, the answer would be to fulfill God’s Will. The whole of nature and existence is therefore a manifestation and, in a certain sense, the practical realization of His Will. As God is by definition Perfect, His handiwork is therefore Perfection. Nature’s end or “goal” is therefore to create and maintain perfection. This is what Rambam means when he says, as quoted above, “it is the aim of everything to become, according to its faculties, similar to God in perfection”. Everything in the universe except humans, do this perforce without having the ability to choose. Man is the only being that can choose to work toward perfection or not to. If he does, he is by definition emulating God but also acting in concert with God’s Will or “doing” Truth. After all God is Truth and His Will is one with His essence.

From a practical point, how does one know that he is “doing” Truth and not some figment of his imagination? Evanston Jew in his usual clear and thought out fashion made a comment on my last post posing this exact question. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. We humans with our limitations to physical existence and that being all we really know, can only try to understand beyond the here and now through speculation and deduction. We can only use the faculties we have and hope that our own little effort and contribution coupled with that of past generations and thinkers, will get us a step closer to the Truth, the ultimate Truth. We just read Kohelet last Shabbat which poses exactly this question and the ending/answer is -

יג סוֹף דָּבָר, הַכֹּל נִשְׁמָע: אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים יְרָא וְאֶת-מִצְו‍ֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר, כִּי-זֶה כָּל-הָאָדָם.

13 The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Spirituality and Mysticism: Love (part 2)

In the previous post, we saw Rambam describing love of God as an emotion that results from following God’s deeds by observing our existence and its causes. This observation triggers a mixture of feelings, awe, fear and a realistic evaluation of our own hierarchical place in relation to everything else and at the same time a pining and thirst to love the Entity that is the cause of all this. We have however not defined exactly what that feeling of love is. As we all know, love is a quite mysterious emotion. Much has been written about it and clearly, there are different kinds of love. What exactly is that feeling of love meant to be when applied to the relationship between man and God? How can there be a command to love? It sounds quite artificial. How can true love be commanded and obligatory?

In Hil Teshuvah 10:1 –
העובד מאהבה, עוסק בתורה ובמצוות והולך בנתיבות החכמה--לא מפני דבר בעולם, לא מפני יראת הרעה, ולא כדי לירש הטובה: אלא עושה האמת, מפני שהוא אמת; וסוף הטובה לבוא בכלל.

A person that worships [God] because of love, is not involved in Torah and Mitzvot nor following the paths of knowledge, because of anything else in the world, not fear of bad things happening nor to gain good things. The only reason he does Truth is because it is Truth. The good things will generally come at the end.

Rambam is telling us that the reason for learning Torah, doing the Mitzvot and studying the sciences [והולך בנתיבות החכמה - following the paths of knowledge] is because it is Truth. Ultimate Truth is non-contingency. When I say it is dark outside, I am making a contingent statement. There is a choice it can be light or dark outside. I am observing that in relation to the possibility of it being light it is dark now. God is by definition uniquely non-contingent. He is “out there” whether there is existence or not. He is independent of anything else. There cannot be another entity that is non-contingent because that in itself is what non-contingency means. That is ultimate Truth. So how is my doing all these things seen as “doing” Truth? Before we can answer that question, we need to define what it means to “worship God because of love”.

ד ומעלה זו היא מעלה גדולה עד מאוד, ואין כל חכם זוכה לה. והיא מעלת אברהם אבינו, שקראו הקדוש ברוך הוא אוהבו לפי שלא עבד אלא מאהבה. והיא המעלה שציוונו בה הקדוש ברוך הוא על ידי משה רבנו, שנאמר "ואהבת, את ה' אלוהיך, בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך, ובכל מאודך" (דברים ו,ה). ובזמן שיאהוב את ה' אהבה הראויה, מיד יעשה כל המצוות מאהבה.

This level [of worship] is an extremely elevated level and not every sage can attain it. It is the level [attained] by Avraham Avinu to whom God referred to as one who loves Him, because he only worshipped out of love. That is the level [of worship] that HKBH commanded us via Moshe Rabbeinu as it says, “You should love Hashem your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might”. When a person loves God with the proper love, he immediately does all the Mitzvot out of love.

I find this Halacha fascinating. First Rambam tells us that worship for love is not attainable by all, even by sages. At the same time, he tells us that we are commanded to do so! Clearly, this Mitzvah is a goal that we have to keep in front of us at all times and strive to attain it. The commandment is to set ourselves a goal and work towards it. In fact, the next verse is וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם--עַל-לְבָבֶךָ. The words that I command you today [to set this as a goal] shall be upon your heart [mind].

ה [ג] וכיצד היא האהבה הראויה: הוא שיאהוב את ה' אהבה גדולה יתרה רבה, עזה עד מאוד, עד שתהא נפשו קשורה באהבת ה', ונמצא שוגה בה תמיד--כאלו חולי האהבה, שאין דעתם פנויה מאהבת אותה אישה שהוא שוגה בה תמיד, בין בשוכבו בין בקומו, בין בשעה שהוא אוכל ושותה. יתר מזה תהיה אהבת ה' בלב אוהביו, ושוגים בה תמיד, כמו שציוונו, "בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך" (דברים ו,ה; דברים י,יב; דברים ל,ו). והוא ששלמה אומר דרך משל, "כי חולת אהבה, אני" (שיר השירים ב,ה); וכל שיר השירים משל הוא לעניין זה

What is the proper love? A person should love God with such a greatly exaggerated and intense love that his soul is tied up with the love of God. He finds himself obsessed with it at all times, just like the people who are obsessed with love [literally lovesick]. Their mind does not free itself from the love of the woman they are obsessed with at all times, whether when going to sleep or awakening, whether when eating or drinking. The love for God should be even greater in the heart of his lovers, obsessing in it all the time as we were commanded “with all your heart and all your soul”. It is also, what Shlomo says as a metaphor “for I am sick with love”. All Shir Hashirim is a metaphor for this.

Rambam is describing a state of obsession where one thinks of God at all times and loves Him. This obsession is the manifestation of this great love with which man’s soul is tied up. He still has not told us what this love is. Finally Rambam in Hil Teshuvah 10:10, the last Halacha defines it for us.

[ו] דבר ידוע וברור שאין אהבת הקדוש ברוך הוא נקשרת בליבו של אדם, עד שישגה בה תמיד כראוי ויעזוב כל שבעולם חוץ ממנה כמו שציווה ואמר "בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך" (דברים ו,ה; דברים י,יב; דברים ל,ו): אלא בדעה שיידעהו. ועל פי הדעה--על פי האהבה--אם מעט מעט, ואם הרבה הרבה.

It is a well-known and clear fact that the love of HKBH does not become tied into a person’s heart other than through the knowledge he knows about him to the point that he obsesses correctly about it [the knowledge] at all times, abandoning everything in the world besides it. That is the meaning of the command “with all your heart and all your soul”. Love is commensurate with knowledge – much knowledge, much love, little knowledge little love.

Note: this Halacha is difficult to read. I have translated it based on Rav Kafih’s comment and my understanding thereof.

Real love, as opposed to just a fleeting love fueled by desire, is an intimate knowledge and appreciation of another person. In a human relationship between man and woman, that intimate knowledge of each other, to know how the other thinks, feels and acts, is a process that takes years and hard work. That is with another human being that we can touch and feel, converse with, exchange information and generally observe and interact with each other. Imagine how much more difficult it is when the other we are trying to get to know cannot be known except through following the traces of the results of His actions. There is only a one-way conversation, from us to Him, without ever a response. The natural human reaction is to ignore this whole issue. The great majority of people, with the exception of a few curious souls, are completely oblivious that there is a transcendental entity out there that is the cause of all things that exist, to even trigger a need to know and understand Him. Those who do talk about God, do so out of terror. They are confronted with the frailty of their existence and look for comfort in an all-powerful entity that their imagination creates. If they love and worship it, it will protect them and punish them if they ignore it. Their interest in knowing it is to try influence it in their favor. Their god is a figment of their imagination.

Torah and Judaism teach that the goal for man is to understand a transcendental God for no other reason except that He is the only Truth, the only non-contingent entity that “exists”. The Torah teaches that this learning to understand is a process of step-by-step development. By keeping the Mitzvot, those commandments that are an integral part of a Jews daily activity, he is asked to think why he is doing it. That brings him to God and when he tries to understand God, he looks at his existence. As he does that, he gets to know a little about Him and starts to experience awe and an urge to know more. This process then feeds on itself until it becomes an obsession that takes over a person’s mind where in every act he sees God in front of him and all his actions are geared towards knowing Him. That person’s mind is now intimately involved at all times with God. That state of mind is true love. When in this state, a person continues to do Mitzvot and know God because God is ultimately and by definition not knowable and the urge to know just grows more, the more he knows. He does the Mitzvot because he needs to know God more intimately and they keep him focused on this path and a way of serving Him by following His commands. His actions are now true worship. They are the physical manifestation of where his mind is – tied up with God who is the ultimate Truth. His actions are therefore doing Truth. (Of course, we have to remember that “knowledge” in this area is negative knowledge in Rambam’s worldview – for discussions see my article Negative Attributes and Direct Prophecy – linked on the side panel.)

יא לפיכך צריך האדם לייחד עצמו להבין ולהשכיל בחכמות ותבונות המודיעין לו את קונו כפי כוח שיש באדם להבין ולהשיג, כמו שביארנו בהלכות יסודי התורה.

Therefore, [to serve God and not a figment of the imagination - DG] a person has to focus himself to know and understand sciences and knowledge that allow him to know his Creator [literally - owner] to the limits that a person has the ability to know and apprehend as we explained in Hil Yesodei Hatorah.

This is of course the most important point. Without proper knowledge, we will not serve God but a figment of our imagination. Love of God is therefore, knowing Him and thinking about Him at all times to the point of obsession. There certainly is an element of spirituality, an awareness of HKBH, but I do not see any Mystical experience as defined. There is no hierarchical process of reaching that awareness. Prof. Blumenthal touches on the Rambam’s quoted here and agrees that as he puts it “in the Mishne Torah Maimonides is much more restrained”.

I will continue with a few more discussions in MT before looking at the Moreh in upcoming posts.

Chag Sameach.

Note: In my translation of Rambam MT on this post I have tried to stay much closer to the original Hebrew, at times causing for some lack of flow. I did this because the subject is very sensitive and I tried to convey some of the texture of the original. I hope I succeeded.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Spirituality and Mysticism: Love (part 1).

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I read the book by Prof. David Blumenthal, (PDB), Philosophic Mysticism, where he argues that Rambam understood that there is some kind of post rational mysticism in the quest for God. The book is excellent and makes some very good points. I agree with some but I have a different understanding in others. I am grateful to PDB as he triggered many thoughts which I will try to clarify to myself by writing them down. But first, I would like to define terms used by PDB in his book so that we are talking about the same thing.

“Spirituality” means experiencing the existence and Presence of some ultimate force in / or beyond, the world of daily experience. In Judaism, this force is called “God”, but people’s experience of it varies considerably. In other religions (and non – religions) the ultimate force (or forces) has other names and the experiences of it differ widely. To be “spiritual” is to be attuned to that Presence, to live in its company.

“Mysticism” is a subset of spirituality. For an experience of the ultimate to be “mystical”, it must have two qualities: First, it must flow of a well-recognized hierarchy which the mystic must navigate to arrive at the mystical awareness. Navigation of the hierarchy requires specialized knowledge – “gnosis”. And second, the awareness itself almost always has an abstract, non-representational quality.

The above is almost verbatim as defined by PDB. Before I get into this subject which I expect will take more than one post, I would like to make an observation. Rambam’s philosophy is probably one of the most studied since it was written almost 900 years ago. Immediately after publication, while he was still alive, commentators started addressing some of his ideas. In fact, he responded to some early critics as we see in Iggeret Techyat Hametim. Since then, there is not a generation that passed that many books were not written about his thought in both Halacha and the Moreh Hanevuchim. Rationalists, Kabbalists, European Philosophers from Aquinas to Kant to contemporary thinkers, availed themselves of MN and addressed Rambam whether overtly or indirectly. Haskallah starting with Mendelssohn and almost every subsequent Maskil dealt with Rambam’s thought. Scholars at universities in Europe at the turn of the last century and throughout the 20th century into our days have written about Rambam. Journals that deal with Jewish subjects all have at least one article dealing with him. Perusing all this literature, one finds two approaches to Rambam: the religious and the dispassionate/scholarly. I believe that although the dispassionate/scholarly approach has given some excellent insights into Rambam thought, it cannot capture the real essence of it. Rambam was a religious Jew par excellence, as Professor Leibowitz dubbed him “the Great Believer”, and it is impossible to understand him without sharing some of the experience he had as he thought and wrote. Professor Blumenthal recognizing this prefaces his book by introducing himself as a religious Jew. It is the only way to approach Rambam if he is to be understood in depth.

Now let us turn to Rambam and see where we can find a description of these two experiences, Spirituality and Mysticism.

Let us start with love. In sefer Hamitzvot positive commandment 3 we read –

ספר המצוות לרמב"ם מצות עשה ג

והמצוה השלישית היא שצונו לאהבו יתעלה וזה שנתבונן ונשכיל מצותיו ופעולותיו עד שנשיגהו ונתענג בהשגתו תכלית התענוג וזאת היא האהבה המחוייבת. ולשון סיפרי (פ' שמע) לפי שנאמר ואהבת את י"י אלהיך איני יודע כיצד אוהב את המקום תלמוד לומר והיו הדברים האלה אשר אנכי מצוך היום על לבבך שמתוך כך אתה מכיר את מי שאמר והיה העולם. הנה כבר בארו לך כי בהשתכלות תתאמת לך ההשגה ויגיע התענוג ותבא האהבה בהכרח

The third Mitzvah is that we are commanded to love Him. That means that we should contemplate and understand His Mitzvot and His deeds [note the two methods to be used – understanding God’s laws and the universe] until we apprehend Him and we experience the ultimate enjoyment in His apprehension. This is the obligatory love. In Sifre we read: From the words, “you should love Hashem your God” I would not know how one loves God. We are therefore taught, “these words I command you today should be on your heart [mind – heart means mind in certain contexts in Tanach] because that is the way to know the One who said the world should come into being. The Rabbis thus taught that through contemplation, apprehension is confirmed which brings enjoyment which automatically leads to love.

Rambam is telling us that true love can only come when there is an intimate knowledge of the beloved. In our quest to apprehend God, we learn about Him through the things He created and through the laws, He gave us. As we apprehend Him, we experience the ultimate enjoyment; having an insight in a difficult and elusive subject is the source of great enjoyment. It is the oft-described experience of those who made great discoveries in all disciplines. This apprehension and enjoyment then are translated into an emotional attachment to the discovered subject which is true love.

Rambam breaks down this process into its components. In Hil Yesodei Hatorah 4:12 he writes –

[יב] בזמן שאדם מתבונן בדברים אלו, ומכיר כל הברואים ממלאך וגלגל ואדם וכיוצא בו, ויראה חכמתו של הקדוש ברוך הוא בכל היצורים וכל הברואים--מוסיף אהבה למקום, ותצמא נפשו ויכמה בשרו לאהוב המקום ברוך הוא; ויירא ויפחד משפלותו ודלותו וקלותו, כשיערוך עצמו לאחד מהגופות הקדושים הגדולים, וכל שכן לאחד מהצורות הטהורות הנפרדות מן הגלמים, שלא נתחברו בגולם כלל. וימצא עצמו, שהוא ככלי מלא בושה וכלימה, ריק וחסר

When a person contemplates these things [physics and metaphysics as they pertain to our existence] and gets to know all created things, angels, spheres, man and similar things, he sees the wisdom of HKBH in all creations. His love of God increases, his soul thirsts and his flesh pines to love HKBH. He becomes fearful and scared [realizing] his own relative lowness, poverty and lightness when compared to one of the great holy bodies. How much more will he see himself as a vessel full of shame, empty and lacking when compared to the pure matterless Forms that never attach themselves to matter.

The process one takes in the search for God is working backwards analyzing the results of His willing things into being and trying to understand how they are all causally connected leading back to an apprehension of God. That process makes us aware of God’s greatness and an urge to love Him overcomes us. It is a mixture of awe and love that is experienced because the more we think we know we realize how far we are from him, how minuscule we are in the scheme of things yet we still want desperately to get closer to that source of all.

There are a few more citations in Mishne Torah that deal with this. I will discuss them in my next post. We will then try to see if any of this fits into the definitions of “Spirituality” and “Mysticism” that we started with.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Random Reflections for Yom Kippur - Gmar Chatima Tova.

In my earlier post regarding Rosh Hashana, , I quoted Rambam in his Pirush Hamishna where he suggests that the idea of being judged on Rosh Hashana has an esoteric (not obvious) meaning. The post generated several excellent comments to explain the meaning of judgment in this context. I strongly recommend those reading the current post to read the insightful discussion there. I would like to introduce a few more ideas into the discussion. They came to me as I was reading the comments and might help clarify the issues.

First, I am struck by the comparison Rambam makes between the day of death and Rosh Hashana. In Hil Teshuvah 3:3 Rambam says

ו כשם ששוקלין עוונות אדם וזכייותיו, בשעת מיתתו--כך בכל שנה ושנה, שוקלין עוונות כל אחד ואחד מבאי העולם עם זכייותיו ביום טוב של ראש השנה:
מי שנמצא צדיק, נחתם לחיים; ומי שנמצא רשע, נחתם למיתה. והבינוני, תולין לו עד יום הכיפורים: אם עשה תשובה, נחתם לחיים; ואם לאו, נחתם למיתה

Just as the sins and merits of man are weighed at the time of his death so too are, the sins and merits of each inhabitant of the world weighed on the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashana. Whoever is found righteous is sealed to life and whoever is found to be a Rasha is sealed to death. The Beinoni (one whose merits and sins are in exact balance) is suspended until Yom Kippur. If he repents, he is sealed to life. If he does not he is sealed to death.

What is clear is that the day of death is a reflective moment restricted to the past. The dying individual has no longer an opportunity to change the future. The consequences of his actions are in play and he cannot any longer influence them. On the other hand, Rosh Hashana is a time of change. Reflection brings about repentance which is the paradigm of change. I therefore suspect that the weighing of sins and merits is an attitude to be taken by an observer. When one sees another person on his death bed, there is a feeling of identification and the attitude should be that just as the dying man’s dreams and aspirations have come to an end so too must the observer stop and look at his past as if it is about to come to an end. That triggers a moment of accounting where, just like the dying person, a balance sheet is drawn up. Similarly, Rosh Hashana is a time for making a balance sheet which is the meaning of weighing. The period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is an opportunity to repent and actually start acting according to this new apprehension. Thus

ט ומפני עניין זה, נהגו כל בית ישראל להרבות בצדקה ובמעשים טובים ולעסוק במצוות, מראש השנה עד יום הכיפורים, יתר מכל ימות השנה

That is why all Jews have the custom to increase charity and good deeds and be involved in Mitzvot [during this period] from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur more than any at other time all year round.

Interestingly we find a very similar idea in Hilchot Aveil 13:12.

[יב] כל מי שלא מתאבל כמו שציוו חכמים, הרי זה אכזרי; אלא יפחד וידאג ויפשפש במעשיו, ויחזור בתשובה. ואחד מבני חבורה שמת, תדאג כל החבורה כולה.
יד כל שלושה ימים הראשונים, יראה את עצמו כאילו חרב מונחת לו על כתפו; משלושה ועד שבעה, מונחת בקרן זווית; מכאן ואילך, עוברת כנגדו בשוק. כל זה כדי להכין עצמו לחזור, וייעור משינתו, והרי הוא אומר "הכית אותם ולא חלו" (ירמיהו ה,ג), מכלל שצריך להקיץ ולחול

Whoever does not mourn as commanded by the sages is cruel[1]. One should be fearful, worry and analyze one’s deeds and repent. Should one of a group [of friends] die, the rest of them should worry.

The first three days [of mourning], he [the mourner] should see himself as if a sharp sword is placed on his shoulder. From the third to the seventh day [the sword] is in a corner and from then on [for the remainder of his mourning – my understanding] as if it [the sword] is passing opposite him in the market. All [mourning processes performed] are to prepare him to repent and wake up from his slumber. [See Hil Teshuvah 3:4 re Shofar where Rambam uses similar language]. As it says, “you hit them and they did not feel” we therefore can deduce that one is supposed to wake up and feel.

There is a parallel between the mourning periods and the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Asseret Yemei Teshuvah; both events, death of a relative or friend and Rosh Hashana are triggers for self-reflection and repentance. One is a natural marker while the other is artificial. Death comes to us; we come to Rosh Hashana and the Asseret Yemei Teshuvah.

I also think that it is interesting to see how Rambam presents Rosh Hashana, Asseret Yemei Teshuvah and Yom Kippur in MN 3:43 –

“The object of the Fast of Atonement is evident. The Fast creates the sense of repentance; it is the same day on which the chief of all prophets came down [from Mount Sinai] with the second tablets, and announced to the people the divine pardon of their great sin; the day was therefore appointed for ever as a day devoted to repentance and true worship of God [Avodah]. For this reason all material enjoyment, all trouble and care for the body, are interdicted, no work may be done; the day must be spent in confession; everyone shall confess his sins and abandon them.”

I read the avoidance of material enjoyment as a reenactment of Moshe on the mount who did not eat nor drink. Moshe was so involved with God that he did not require physical nourishment.

“One of these [prophets, namely Moshe] has attained so much knowledge, and has concentrated his thoughts to such an extent in the idea of God, that it could be said of him, "And he was with the Lord forty days," etc. (Exod. xxxiv. 28). during that holy communion he could ask Him, answer Him, speak to Him, and be addressed by Him. And because of the great joy in that which he apprehended, "he did neither eat bread nor drink water" (ibid.). His intellectual energy was so predominant that all coarser functions of the body, especially those connected with the sense of touch, were in abeyance.” (MN3:51)

Our Avodah needs to be so intense that we do the same at least one day.

Continuing in MN 3:43 with Rosh Hashana –

“New-Year is likewise kept for one day; for it is a day of repentance, on which we are stirred up from our forgetfulness. For this reason, the Shofar is blown on this day, as we have shown in Mishne-torah. The day is, as it were, a preparation for and an introduction to the day of the Fast, as is obvious from the national tradition about the days between New-Year and the Day of Atonement.”

Just a few unfinished thoughts for Yom Kippur.
Gmar Chatima Tova to all.

[1] The concept of cruelty when refusing to repent is also found in Hil Ta’aniyot 1:2
ג אבל אם לא יזעקו, ולא יריעו, אלא יאמרו דבר זה ממנהג העולם אירע לנו, וצרה זו נקרוא נקרית--הרי זו דרך אכזרייות, וגורמת להם להידבק במעשיהם הרעים, ותוסיף הצרה וצרות אחרות:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hakirah Volume 5 At The Printers

Note: Although I am an editor of Hakirah, what follows are my personal opinions and was not vetted with the rest of the editorial staff. Please see it as such.

Hakirah Volume 5 is at the printers since just before Rosh Hashana. It will hopefully get into distribution immediately after Sukkoth. A listing of the articles is available at the website, including the first two pages of each. In my unbiased opinion, we have again succeeded in presenting a wide variety of topics that challenge the popular understanding of religious praxis and beliefs. It is through this critical look at accepted wisdom based on in depth analysis of the sources that the extraordinary greatness of Jewish thought and practice is perceived.

A translation of Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitch article on Emunat Chachamim debunks the current understanding that it endorses blind faith in a human being. Rabbi Buchman’s article gives us a fresh look at what it means to receive support for learning. Professor Kaplan presents an excellent review of Worship of the Heart by the Rav with some great insights into the Rav’s thought. Dr. Krakowsky presents an interesting look at the Adam and Chava story from a psychological perspective. In the same section is my article on how I read Divine Providence in Rambam.

The article by Professors Epstein, Dickman and Wilamowsky gives a completely new interpretation of a very difficult Gemara which has baffled both Gedolei Yisrael and scholars for generations. I am convinced that their insight will redirect the dialog regarding this Gemara and at the same time offer a new perspective on the physical aspects of a sefer torah. Rabbi Lieberman addresses the issue of Tikkunei Soferim which is also indirectly impacted by the preceding article. Heshey Zelcer offers an excellent review of a biography of the Bach and his unsuccessful attempt to weaken the influence of the Beit Yosef and his Shulchan Aruch.

The Hebrew section has an article by Rabbi Gedalia Rabinowitz discussing the Gra controversy from the perspective of a Chassidic Rebbe and a Halachik review of the separation of co joined twins by Rabbi Zucker.

I believe that we succeeded in presenting articles on a wide range of topics written by a broad spectrum of authors from academia to the Beit Hamidrash and everything else in between.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Are There Prophets Nowadays?

I finished reading Rosh Hashana the excellent book Philosophic Mysticism by Professor David Blumenthal. He argues for a post rational mystical experience in Rambam’s thought. Although I am not convinced that “mystical” is the correct word, there is no question that Rambam understands that there is an experiential awareness of God that comes after rational exploration. I will discuss this in a separate post, or series of posts. I want to focus on a very interesting and insightful idea that Professor Blumenthal proposes on page 138, note 20.

In MN 3:51, the famous chapter towards the end of the Moreh where Rambam lays out a summary of what he sees as the goal of the religious man, he makes a rare personal statement. He starts by describing a process we would call “behavior modification”, where a person trains himself to concentrate on what he is doing without allowing any distractions. As he perfects his concentration and directs it towards thinking of God, that person finds himself in a state of true awareness of being in God’s presence.

The first thing you must do is this: Turn your thoughts away from everything while you read Shema or during the Tefilah, and do not content yourself with being devout when you read the first verse of Shema, or the first paragraph of the prayer. When you have successfully practiced this for many years, try in reading the Law or listening to it, to have all your heart and all your thought occupied with understanding what you read or hear. After some time when you have mastered this, accustom yourself to have your mind free from all other thoughts when you read any portion of the other books of the prophets, or when you say any blessing; and to have your attention directed exclusively to the perception and the understanding of what you utter… When you are alone by yourself, when you are awake on your couch, be careful to meditate in such precious moments on nothing but the intellectual worship consisting in nearness to God and being in His presence in that true reality that I have made known to you and not by the way of affections of the imagination. In my opinion, this end can be achieved by those of the men of knowledge who have rendered their souls worthy of by training of this kind.”

We see Rambam giving practical instructions to his contemporaries and the future readers of his treatise on how to develop this keen awareness of God’s presence. He then continues by describing a higher level of connection to God where the person is able to retain a sense of God’s presence during all his normal day-to day activities.

“And there may be a human individual who, through his apprehension of the true realities and his joy in what he has apprehended, achieves a state in which he talks with people and is occupied in his bodily necessities while his intellect is wholly turned toward Him …. I do not say that this rank is that of all prophets; but I do say that this is the rank of Moshe…”

He then continues describing this higher level of intense awareness of God ending it with this surprisingly personal statement:

This rank is not a rank that, with the view of attainment of which, someone like myself may aspire for guidance. But one may aspire to attain that rank which was mentioned before this one through the training that was described.”

Though there is some controversy among scholars what exactly Rambam meant - is he saying that he could not attain such a level of cognizance or is he saying that he could not teach others while he himself could attain it? Either way he quite clearly believed that the first type of cognition is possible even nowadays. Furthermore, as we saw earlier, he refers to the higher cognition as “I do not say that this rank is that of all prophets” implying that the lesser one is that of all prophets. Putting these subtle statements together, it would seem that Rambam does hold that prophecy is possible even nowadays. Professor A. J. Heschel wrote a seminal paper “Did Maimonides Believe He Had Merited Prophecy” on the subject. Prof. Blumenthal in his note differentiates between what he calls a legal-dogmatic type of prophecy, which is not attainable, and an experiential- mystical type which is attainable through the training process described by Rambam. Though I do not agree with Prof. Blumenthal definition of the difference, I agree that there is a type of prophecy that is extant in our times as in all times. I would like to expand a little more about this, as I believe it is at the core of Rambam’s weltanschauung.

Rambam’s prophecy is not some miraculous event but rather as I have written many times a natural human ability. In fact, it is a state that all humans can attain through hard work and development. It is the ultimate human goal for perfection. It has however more than one manifestation. It is a personal experiential state of apprehension of God but can also be a feeling of overflowing excitement and need to share this experience with others. The latter is at the root of holy poetry and music as well as the writing of philosophers and in general religious leaders and teachers. It also can bring about an intuitive knowledge of the future which again can manifest itself in personal behavior and action or with the overwhelming need to tell others and prevent them from following a doomed path for example. The highest manifestation which was so unique that it is called prophecy only equivocally (MN 2:35), is the prophecy of Moshe with which he legislated the Torah. The human faculties involved in the prophetic experience are in all cases, except Moshe’s prophecy where the imaginative takes no part , the rational faculty developing information and filtering it through the imaginative (see my August 2007 posts on the subject of these two faculties). These two faculties alone are not enough to compel the prophet to act by telling others, leading and even teaching. As the story of Yonah tells us, a person that has apprehended a future event and knows how to try to prevent it, will not necessarily act on that information. For acting, one needs the additional component of courage.

“Every man possesses a certain amount of courage; otherwise he would not stir to remove anything that might injure him. This psychical force seems to me analogous to the physical force of repulsion. Energy varies like all other forces, being great in one case and small in another… The prophets must have had these two forces, courage and intuition, highly developed, and these were still more strengthened when they were under the influence of the Active Intellect. Their courage was so great that, e.g., Moses, with only a staff in his hand, dared to address a great king in his desire to deliver a nation from his service. He was not frightened or terrified, because he had been told, "I will be with thee" (Exod. iii. 12). The prophets have not all the same degree of courage, but none of them have been entirely without it.” (MN2:38)

I believe that when Rambam suggests that he can teach us how to reach a certain level of prophecy he is referring to the ability of all men to reach a level of experiential awareness of God which is the main component of prophecy at the personal level. It does not mean that a person who has reached that level will feel compelled to act and prophesize to others. That action-oriented prophecy in its First Temple manifestation has been abrogated as of the start of the Second Temple. For whatever reason the courage necessary for the prophet to act even at the risk of ridicule or worse, life and limb, is no longer extant. However, experiential personal prophecy is alive and well.

I believe that to be the explanation of Rambam’s comment in his introduction to Pirush Hamishna (page 6 in the R. Kafih edition) that the reason Yaakov feared Eisav although God had promised him that He would protect him, was because it was a personal prophecy. It depicts the internal struggles a person has in acting based on his own convictions. A prophecy becomes infallible once it has passed the test of public action. When the prophet has enough surety that he can go public with his conviction, it becomes infallible, so infallible that he puts his life at risk.

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

Gmar Chatima Tova.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Reflection for Rosh Hashana

משנה מסכת ראש השנה פרק א משנה ב

[ב] בארבעה פרקים העולם נידון בפסח על התבואה בעצרת על פירות האילן בראש השנה כל באי העולם עוברין לפניו כבני מרון שנאמר (תהלים ל"ג) היוצר יחד לבם המבין אל כל מעשיהם ובחג נידונין על המים:

The world is judged at four periods [yearly]. On Pessach, they are judged about crops, on Shavuot about fruits of the tree. On Rosh Hashana the whole population of the earth passes in front of Him [God] like sheep as it says, He who created their hearts as one, He who knows all their deeds. On Sukkoth, they are judged about water.

פירוש המשנה לרמב"ם מסכת ראש השנה פרק א משנה ב

בני מרון, הצאן, ותרגום כבשים אמריא, כלומר שמחשבין עם בני אדם ודנין אותם לבריאות ומחלה ומות וחיים וזולת זה משאר מצבי האדם. ופשט לשון זה ברור כמו שאתה רואה, אבל סודו וענינו אין ספק שהוא קשה מאד.

Rambam comments on the Mishna as follows:

Bnei Meron – sheep. Targum translates sheep – Imraya. The Mishna is saying that men are evaluated and they are sentenced to health, illness and death, life and such other human states. The simple meaning of these words is clear as you can see, but its secret and subject are very difficult without question.

I would be interested in your thoughts what the Rambam sees as so difficult.

If I were asked, I would say that I can understand setting a time aside for repentance and reflection, but presenting it as a time when God judges us is quite difficult to my simple mind. Is God bound by time to start with? I can think of a few more issues – but I am interested in hearing what others see in this.

Petitionary Prayer - What does it mean?

Nachum brought to my attention that in May I had promised to discuss petitionary prayer and that so far have not done so. As Rosh Hashana is nearing and prayer is going to take up a large part of our days, it is time that I get back to it.

To me understanding the meaning of petitionary prayer has always been one of the most difficult problems in our daily praxis. I could understand prayer as a way of thinking about God, focusing our minds on the philosophical/theological/existential issues that face us constantly but what does it mean to ask for something, for help? It certainly cannot be to bring it to God’s attention or to expect that He will change something in the natural order to help. Does He need to be told that I have a problem? Is He not omniscient? Even more difficult is the daily repetition, thrice daily, of requests that may not apply to the individual at the time he prays. If I am not sick at that moment why say Refa’einu?

I am convinced that prayer is a very complicated and multifaceted praxis that is also very individualized. In other words, it takes on different meanings with different people and at different times with the same person. After all Rambam tells us, in the beginning of Hil Tefilah, that originally, prayer did not have a formulaic presentation and each individual composed his own on a daily basis.

What follows is where my current understanding is. It probably will change as I think about it more. I know that it is different then what it was in May though I cannot remember what it was then. (A man from last generation, Rav Shlomo Shapiro ZL, who influenced me a lot in my teenage years used to tell me that a person has to constantly change. Once you stop changing, you are dead!)

I suggest that before you read on, see my posts

To summarize the above posts:

One aspect of prayer is a time for refocusing and connecting with our constant search for God. It stops our daily routine, our involvement in the minutiae of day-to-day life and reminds us that we need to find answers to the pressing question of what is this all about? God, the First Cause for everything, the non-contingent Entity, is at the crux of the discussion. One part of prayer does address this aspect, as we will see, but what about the rest, the petitionary part? Is it just a formula that we mouth while thinking of loftier things? Is it for the masses who do not understand the more abstract ways of thinking? I used to think so. I believe otherwise now.

In my second post, I explained that as humans we are always racked with doubts. Even when we act in concert with what our intellect tells us is correct, based on its understanding of our environment, viewed through the lenses we are taught by our Torah and search for God, and the resulting understanding of what is correct, we still question our actions. We only know if we were right when the outcome is as we hoped. Unfortunately, sometimes we are not able to be present to know if the outcome is good. We have to operate on faith that doing what we believe is right will have the intended outcome.

In addition to the two points above, we have to define what is right. How exactly do we know how to act? First, we have to set ourselves a goal. As I have written many times, quoting MN 3:51, the paradigm of establishing a long-term goal are the Avot and Moshe whose wish was to establish a nation that worships God. All their actions were directed towards that end, even their day-to-day interactions. They established that goal as a result of their contemplation of their environment, its First Cause, and deducing from that, using the human ability to prophesize, the direction things were evolving and how they could partake and do their part in it. Then every action has to be weighed if it works towards the goal we establish. I understand this to be Rambam’s Hashgacha or Divine Providence. (For detailed discussion, see my article in the forthcoming Hakirah volume 5).

Looking at the structure of our prayers, before each Tefilah (in this context the Shemona Esreh – the 18 (19) blessings we say thrice daily) we always say a chapter or chapters of Tehilim (Pessukei De’zimrah) which include Ashrei (except at Ma’ariv where we rely on the Birchot Kryat Shema). Those are meant to place us in a contemplative mood regarding our immediate environment and how a religious person looks at it, seeing God’s actions in it. (For a fascinating explanation of the composition of prayer, see Shiurim Lezecher Aba Mari by RYBS Volume II the article on Pessukei De’zimrah). The Birchot Shema at Shacharit and Ma’ariv take us to the next level, touching on the metaphysical aspects of our existence. They also bring an historical perspective starting with the Exodus and a short exposition of our tribulations as a nation through time, ending with the proclamation that we are still around thanks to HKBH. The deeper meaning of that last statement in my mind is that we, as a group, as a nation, are still on the path set out by our founders, Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov and Moshe.

All this is a build up to the climax of prayer which is the Tefilah – the Shemona Esreh. The first Bracha, which is referred to in Halacha as Avot, introduces the concept that the patriarchs had a goal, as the Rav says they took possession of God by finding Him abandoned in the gutters thus “the God of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov”. Their goal was to keep this find forever and build a nation around it, a nation that will slowly bring this insight, this understanding of how man can partake in creation, to the whole of humanity. When we invoke our patriarchs in our prayers, when we say Vezocher Chasdei Avot – He remembers the loving-kindness of the patriarchs – we are saying that our very existence, our continued existence in the face of all the attempts to destroy us, proves that the Avot had it right. We are recommitting ourselves to continue their path towards the goal they set out thousands of years ago. (I have struggled all my life with the centrality of the patriarchs in our prayers, the emphasis on Zchut Avot, the merit of our predecessors in our prayers, the Zichronot in the Tefilah of Rosh Hashana. I never understood why it is relevant to a contemporary Jew, other than an emotional trigger, until recently as I was working on my article on Providence and I had this insight.)The next Bracha reminds us that we see God as the First Cause, but more than that, a God that willed everything and is omnipotent. The following Bracha reinforces that although we are searching for God, He is unknowable, the ultimate transcendent Entity.

In this context, petitionary prayer takes on a very different perspective. The first thing that strikes us is that we pray as a community. The prayers are all in plural, teach “us”, bring “us” back, forgive “us” and so on, and never is there a “me” in those formulas. Our physical well being as a community and as individuals who make up this community, is committed towards the goal set for us by our founders and ancestors. When I as an individual say Refa’einu- heal us – I am saying that the efforts that I put into healing myself as a component of this community, is for the purpose of surviving so that we continue the path and fulfill the goal we took on ourselves at the start of our existence as a community. To me I see it as standing in front of God and reminding me that I have to work towards subsuming my own personal selfish and narcissistic urge to survive to the communal goal of spreading the knowledge of God throughout humanity. It reminds me that my day-to-day activities for survival have meaning only as a means to accomplish the goals set out by our understanding of God. Thus petitionary prayer is a method of bringing perspective to our daily struggles, putting them in the context of our goals. (I will discuss the middle Berachot in a separate post, as this one is getting out of hand).

The last three Berachot are the closing statements. We acknowledge and thank God for our survival. We are saying that by the mere fact that we are still here we have proven that our paths is correct. The last prayer, Sim Shalom, is to me very poignant and appropriate as an ending. It acknowledges that the human mind has the capacity for abstract thinking necessary to understand the existential questions facing us. The “light of God’s face” is the ability of man to apprehend, to a certain extent, the existence of a transcendental Entity. It tells us that Man has the ability to acquire prophecy and thus set long-term goals. Thus, not all our efforts are for naught. We can be confident that we are on the right path.

Note: For a comprehensive and insightful understanding of communal versus individual prayer, I highly recommend the article of the Rav on Pessukei De’zimrah I referred to earlier. I hope to post on it more in the future.

To be continued.

I wish a Shana Tova and Ketiva Vechatima Tova to all my friends and readers.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Freud and God

Fascinating article in The New York Times Magazine this week.

Between atheism and believing in God is as thin as a hair (Kechut Hase'arah).

Had Freud lived a little longer ...


Friday, September 07, 2007

How can one be commanded to believe?

The discussion whether believing in God can be commanded is an old one and already Rambam and Ramban discuss it. Rambam counts it as a Mitzvat Asseh while Ramban notes that the Behag does not, explaining that it is a general principle of accepting the yoke of heaven which is the reason for all Mitzvot. The argument is much more subtle than appears at first blush, as we will see.

As I was driving home last night, it crossed my mind that I could not remember there being a command in Tanach to believe in God. Nowhere is Emunat Hashem a command in the scriptures. I checked in the concordance and confirmed it. There is no such command using the words which have the root אמן in the sense of a commandment related to belief in God. The words used are Yediah as in

אַתָּה הָרְאֵתָ לָדַעַת, כִּי יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים: אֵין עוֹד, מִלְּבַדּוֹ.

35 Unto thee it was shown, that thou might know that the LORD, He is God; there is none else beside Him.

Or love of God as in

ה וְאָהַבְתָּ, אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ, וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ.
5 And thou shall love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Or to fear as in
יג אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ תִּירָא, וְאֹתוֹ תַעֲבֹד; וּבִשְׁמוֹ, תִּשָּׁבֵעַ.
13 Thou shall fear the LORD thy God; and Him shall thou serve, and by His name shall thou swear.

Some bloggers where going at it earlier this week where one argued that one does not have to believe as long as one performs Mitzvot while R. Chaim B., ( and the two posts following this one), quoting Ramban and Rabbeinu Yonah argued that without belief where is Kabbalat Malchut Shamayim. I agree with R. Chaim B. but with a different twist. I also believe that I can pinpoint the problem that XGH and some other so-called skeptics are having and the source of their frustration, which comes through loud and clear. Let me explain:

To understand trigonometry and advanced mathematics one needs to know the basics and slowly progress until one gets the more difficult concepts. One certainly cannot comprehend advanced math, which is conceptual, without proper preparation. I do not understand it nor do I even have inkling what exactly it is all about. There is a parallel, though not exactly comparable, with believing in God. Emunah is a state that one has to arrive at. It is not an a priori state but one that a person has to grow into. How he arrives at it, what he believes about God, the God he believes in are the criteria for the kind of believer that person is. It is the goal of the whole Torah, the Mitzvot, the learning, even the Brisker Torah to bring us to some level of Emunah. So what is this process? How do we know that we are not deluding ourselves into believing a fairy tale? That fear, believing in a fantasy, is in fact the greatest challenge and the underlying meaning of Avodah Zara. It is exactly why Chazal tell us that Avodah Zara is the greatest challenge and is the sine qua non of the whole Torah. It is a misunderstanding that it has been eliminated nowadays (see this lucid explanation at ). People still believe in a fairy tale God!

If we look at the way the Torah presents itself to us, we see this process quite clearly. Sinai, the experience that all had of God, is to me like a goal post. It is telling us that we can glimpse where we want to be at the end of the process, know God. It is the goal to strive for and we all can attain a certain level of it. To make sure that we don’t get off the track and fantasize (this is the meaning of the story of the Egel), we are given a process that has to be followed very carefully. If followed properly we will then end up with not only an intellectual but also an experiential belief in God. The process is multifaceted and is composed of Yediah, knowledge, philosophical and theological study and Mitzvot that direct us towards that (Shabbat etc…), while at the same time experiencing God through the action oriented Mitzvot. Intellectually we try to understand an entity that is the ultimate transcendence. One tries to find Him through our environment, the sciences and general observation of all that He caused to exist. At the same time, we accept the yoke of heaven by doing the Mitzvot. I understand that to mean that if we do the Mitzvot thoughtfully, we keep God as the source of the commandment, in our consciousness. It permeates our daily life and is thus the impetus for us to continue with the philosophical/theological quest. It reminds us of it and keeps our minds focused on the search for understanding. We also come to realize that our minds are the connecting link between God and us and the closest experience to a non-physical existence we can experience. Our mind is a ubiquitous part of our existence as man, thus we are always connected with God if we allow ourselves. That is the meaning of fear of God and is the experiential part of the process. Rambam in MN 3:52 explains this:

We do not sit, move, and occupy ourselves when we are alone and at home, in the same manner as we do in the presence of a great king. We speak and open our mouth as we please when we are with the people of our own household and with our relatives, but not so when we are in a royal assembly. If we therefore desire to attain human perfection, and to be truly men of God, we must awake from our sleep, and bear in mind that the great king that is over us, and is always joined to us, is greater than any earthly king, greater than David and Solomon. The king that cleaves to us and embraces us is the Intellect that influences us, and forms the link between us and God. We perceive God by means of that light that He sends down unto us.”

How do we arrive at a state where we feel God’s presence, we experience Him?

“What I have here pointed out to you is the object of all our religious acts. For by [carrying out] all the details of the prescribed practices, and repeating them continually, some excellent men may attain human perfection. They will be filled with respect and reverence towards God; and bearing in mind Who is with them, they will perform their duty. God declares in plain words that it is the object of all religious acts to produce in man fear of God and obedience to His word - the state of mind which we have demonstrated in this chapter for those who desire to know the truth, as being our duty to seek.”

Inducing this feeling of fear of God is the purpose of all the Mitzvot that require us to act. Many of both the positive and negative commandments are there to remind us of God’s ubiquitous presence.

At the same time, we also try to understand God and in that, process is also experiential. It generates a desire to cleave to god. That is described as love of God. (See my recent posts on this)

But the truths which the Law teaches us--the knowledge of God's Existence and Unity--create in us love of God, as we have shown repeatedly. You know how frequently the Law exhorts us to love God.”

It is this dual process that brings us to the ultimate goal.

The two objects, love and fear of God, are acquired by two different means. The love is the result of the truths taught in the Law, including the true knowledge of the Existence of God; whilst fear of God is produced by the practices prescribed in the Law. Note this explanation.”

So coming back to the original question. Yes, there is a commandment to believe in God. However, one cannot be ordered to believe. One can however be commanded to work towards believing. One can be shown a goal and told to now work towards attaining it. Both Rambam and Ramban agree here totally. Kabbalat Ol Malchut Shamayim, is accepting upon oneself the commitment to develop an understanding and a belief in God. That is accomplished through first accepting the strictures of the Mitzvot. They are structured in such a way that if you follow them properly at the end you will find God and not a fantasy. Properly means both the action oriented Mitzvot as well as the intellectual/theological ones. (Much more about this as I discuss Ta’amei Hamitzvot.)[1]

[NOTE added after posting: The astute reader will note that Ramban explains the first mitzvah, Yediat Hashem, as the acceptance of the yoke of heaven while Rambam sees it only in Mitzvah 2, Yichud Hashem, the unity of God. I will discuss that in a separate post.]

Shabbat Shalom

[1] Re the argument in Sefer Hamitzvot, Ramban explains that though he agrees with Rambam he can see the point of Behag. Behag argues that a goal is not a commandment.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Love the proselyte - A lesson in human relations and love.

Finishing the various responsa Rambam wrote to R. Ovadyah the Proselyte, here is the last piece which I find the most touching and pertinent from a human relation point of view. R. Ovadyah told Rambam that when he asked his Rebbe a question about whether Muslims were idolaters and whether the wine they touched, though forbidden to drink, may be traded, his Rebbe insulted him and told him that of course they are idolaters. Don’t they worship Mohammed by throwing stones in Mecca? Isn’t that the Avodah Zara referred to in the Gemara in AZ that one may not worship Markolis? Rambam answers in a lengthy discussion explaining that though it seems to be a similar act, the Muslims do this as a sign of respect rather than worship. I will skip that part and leave it to those who want to work through this Halacha in Hil. Ma’achalot Assurot chapter 11. I want to concentrate on Rambam’s response regarding the insults by R. Ovadyah’s Rebbi.

ואשר השיבך רבך שלא כהוגן והעציבך והכלימך וקראך כסיל עבירה גדולה בידו וחטא גדול חטא וקרוב בעיני ששוגג הוא וראוי לו לבקש ממך מחילה, אע"פ שאתה תלמידו ואחר כך יצום ויזעק ויתפלל ויכנע אולי יתכפר לו וימחול לו האל יתעלה, וכי שכור היה זה [ולא ידע] שבשלשים וששה מקומות +ב"מ נ"ט ב', ועי' בהקדמת ס' המצות שורש ט'+ הזהירה תורה על הגר ואיה דבר וגר לא תונה +[- שמות כ"ב כ',] עי' ה' סנהדרין פ"כ הי"ב וה' מכירה פי"ד הט"ו+ והיא אונאת דברים. אילו אמר הוא האמת והיית אתה התועה היה לו להסביר לך פנים ולדבר לך רכות כל שכן שאמרת האמת והוא התועה ועוד שזה דורש אחר הישמעאלים אם הם עובדי ע"ז אם לאו היה לו לחוש לעצמו על הכעס שכעס עד שהכלים גר צדק שלא כדין וכבר אמרו רז"ל +שבת ק"ה ב', ועי' נדרים כ"ב ב', [1]כל הכועס יהיה בעיניך כעובד ע"ז. דע שחובה שחייבתנו התורה על הגרים גדולה היא. על האב ועל האם נצטוינו בכבוד ומורא ועל הנביאים לשמוע להם ואפשר שיכבד אדם ויירא וישמע ממי שאינו אוהבו, ועל הגרים צונו +עי' ס' המצות מ"ע סי' ר"ז וה' דעות פ"ו ה"ד+ באהבה רבה המסורה ללב ואהבתם את הגר וגו' כמו שצונו לאהוב את שמו ואהבת את ה' אלהיך. והקב"ה בכבודו אוהב גר, שנ' ואוהב גר לתת לו לחם ושמלה. וזה שקרא לך כסיל תמה גדול הוא, אדם שהניח אביו ומולדתו ומלכות עמו וידם הנטויה והבין בעין לבו ובא ונדבק באומה זו שהיא היום למתעב גוי עבד מושלים והכיר וידע שדתם דת אמת וצדק והבין דרכי ישראל וידע שכל הדתות גנובות מדתם זה מוסיף וזה גורע זה משנה וזה מכזב ומחפה על ה' דברים אשר לא כן זה הורס יסודות וזה מדבר תהפוכות והכיר הכל ורדף אחר ה' ועבר בדרך הקדש ונכנס תחת כנפי השכינה ונתאבק בעפר רגלי משה רבינו רבן של כל הנביאים ע"ה וחפץ במצותיו ונשאו לבו לקרבה לאור באור החיים ולהעלות במעלת המלאכים ולשמוח ולהתענג בשמחת הצדיקים והשליך העולם הזה מלבו ולא פנה אל רהבים ושטי כזב, מי שזו מעלתו כסיל יקרא. חלילה לך לא כסיל קרא ה' שמך אלא משכיל ומבין ופקח והולך נכוחות תלמידו של אברהם אבינו שהניח אבותיו ומולדתו ונטה אחרי ה' ומי שברך את אברהם רבך ונתן לו שכרו בעולם הזה ולעולם הבא הוא יברך אותך ויתן לך שכרך כראוי בעולם הזה ולעולם הבא ויאריך ימיך עד שתורה במשפטי ה' לכל עדתו ויזכה אותך לראות בכל הנחמות העתידות לישראל והיה הטוב ההוא אשר ייטיב ה' עמנו והטבנו לך כי ה' דבר טוב על ישראל. משה ב"ר מימון זצ"ל.

Paraphrase/Translation as is my custom:

Regarding your Rebbi answering you improperly, saddening and shaming you, calling you a fool, he sinned greatly! I am almost positive that he did this inadvertently and he should apologize to you even though you are his pupil. He should then fast, cry out, pray and humble himself and maybe God will forgive him. Was he drunk and did not remember that the Torah warned 36 times that a proselyte must be treated properly? Where is the prohibition to insult a proselyte? Had he been correct and you wrong he still would have been commanded to treat you respectfully and speak softly to you, how much more when he is wrong and you are right! Furthermore, while this person is questioning whether Muslims are idolaters he forgets to worry about his anger that went so far as to insult a proselyte incorrectly! Did not the rabbis say, one who gets angry should be looked upon as if he worshiped idols?

Know that the obligation the Torah put on us regarding proselytes is very great. We were commanded to respect and fear our mother and father, we were commanded to hearken to prophets. One can respect, fear and hearken to, someone that one does not love. However, we were commanded to love proselytes. Love has to be heartfelt and genuine! We were commanded to love a proselyte just as we were commanded to love God! God Himself loves proselytes as it says, “He loves a proselyte giving him bread and clothing”.

How could he call you a fool? A person who leaves his parents, his birthplace, his nation that is dominant, understands with clarity [the truth] and joins this nation that is nowadays despised, a slave to masters and all this because he realized that their [Israel} law is true and just? He understood the way of Israel, saw that all the other religions are copies of it, one adding and one subtracting, one making changes another denying and accusing [literally: covering up] God of things that are not so, one destroys fundamentals while the other talks nonsense [literally: overturned things]! This man recognized all this and ran after God, went in the holy path, entered under the wings of the Shechinah, covered himself with the dust of Moshe Rabbeinu’s feet, the father of all prophets, desired his commandments and decided to partake in the Eternal light [literally: light of life]. He wants to elevate himself to the level of angels, rejoice and enjoy the happiness of the righteous, throwing away worldly pleasures and turning away from false hopes. Can one call such a person a fool? God forbid, you are not a fool but a thinker, a smart and knowledgeable person who follows the straight paths of Avraham Avinu who also abandoned his parents and birthplace to follow God. The One who blessed Avraham our father rewarding him in this world and the world to come, will bless you and give your reward in both worlds. He will lengthen your days until you teach God’s laws to His community and make you partake in all the good things that will befall us – Moshe the son of Rav Maimon ZL.

It is interesting to note that Rambam predicts that this R. Ovadyah will eventually teach God’s laws to the Jews from birth. Not only is he part of the community but also has the potential to lead it. But what always inspires me when I read this is the idea that there is a commandment to love a proselyte just like there is one to love God. If we are to take this literally, Rambam told us many times that loving God means knowing Him, loving a proselyte means therefore also getting to know him. It is necessary to understand what impelled him to decide to join us, what did he see that impelled him to give everything up for the service of God. We may be jaded but looking through his eyes, we can renew our understanding and commitment to HKBH.

[1] הוספת א"ן: ליתא שם, כידוע, ועיין פירוש המשניות לר"מ אבות פ"ב ובהלכות דעות פ"ב ה"ג ועיין שם בהגהות בני בנימין לרא"ד רבינאוויטץ ובהערה שם וכבר ציין בקובץ הפסגה שנה א עמוד ע' כמה מקומות בזוהר וזוהר חדש ותיקונים שנמצא שם מאמר זה, ועיין אף הגהות הגר"ח העליר בספר המצות שהוציא עמוד נ' הערה ה'+