Sunday, June 29, 2008

Why Belief in Resurrection Is Only Mentioned by Daniel During the Babylonian Exile?

Rambam in MN 3:32 discusses Korbanot explaining that they were necessary developmentally. As the Jewish people exiting Egypt, a culture that taught that there is a need to placate the gods with offerings to prevent them from harming us, the Korbanot were a method of weaning them from this dependency. By diverting the worship from idols to the one God and focusing their attention on Him, they eventually developed an understanding of Unity and transcendence. To drive home the point that, unlike the offerings to idols which were seen as bribes where the more the merrier, Korbanot were a very defined and circumscribed service or worship – Avodah. There are more rules on how to precisely bring and offer a Korban than for any other Mitzvah, where the slightest deviation may invalidate the offering. Korbanot became a paradigm for all Mitzvot, the positive commandments, which inherently have the same problem, especially those that are rituals – bein Adam lamokom. Our rituals cannot have an impact on a transcendental God and are meaningless from God’s perspective. Just like Korbanot, they are a form of service, defined and circumscribed by exacting rules that keep us focused on God, the source of the rules. These exact rules on how to perform them are necessary to remind us that they are not bribes but service and worship. We get not physical benefit in return when doing them other than the greatest good of all, a step closer to knowledge of God and hopefully, if we are diligent enough, an understanding of our role in His universe and how to fulfill that role of ours. Unlike idolatry, the Torah teaches that we cannot change God’s mind with our offerings nor can we change anything else in nature through manipulating the “spiritual” realm. We can try to understand God, try to discover His will and our role and act accordingly, making an impact on our physical existence. It is in the physical world that our actions have consequences. Those consequences are the “miracle” of reward and punishment – the blessing and curses – of the Torah.

This quest for understanding of God and our role in His world is not simple. It is quite complicated and difficult and people have had varying degrees of success in that endeavor. It involves not only understanding the world, the science that underlies it, it also entails knowing how to act on that knowledge and the impact those actions will have not only in the short term but also over time and generations. The most successful people, those who acquired this knowledge and acted responsibly, are referred to as prophets and their unique connection with the so to say, “mind of God”, the blueprint of existence, is called prophecy. Unlike the magical “knowledge” of the idol worshipper, this knowledge is based on reality and a realistic understanding of God and His world. It understands that everything operates according to laws of nature put in place by God, laws that are wisdom and not whimsy. This realization came first to Avraham Avinu and he transmitted it to his children and grandchildren. It was further reinforced (rather reintroduced) by Moshe Rabbeinu and the Torah and Mitzvot he gave us, whose aim it is to over time wean the Jewish people and through them the world, from the erroneous idolatrous beliefs. Those myths and beliefs are so deeply embedded in the human psyche that they are still present today, even in our community, even after several millennia of Torah. Clearly, this educational process is lengthy, drawn out and multigenerational.

As we can see, prophecy is central to this Torah worldview. It is through its medium that we can apprehend God’s will. One of the features of prophecy, indeed a test of its veracity especially when used to guide others, is its ability to foresee future events. Not only does it foresee normal natural sequences of events but also the anomalies in nature that I talked about in my last post. It is through this kind of insight, a result of deep study of the world and meditation on the metaphysical issues that pertain to its existence, that the prophets took advantage of these anomalies in what were seen as “miracles”, the same “miracles” that also demonstrate that God’s will was responsible for creation. The transition from believing that the vagaries encountered by man in his daily life are the result of magical forces to understanding a world run by God’s laws of nature and the ability of man to apprehend that and eventually acquire prophecy took a long time. Rambam in the Treatise on resurrections explains that at the time of Matan Torah, it would have been futile for God through Moshe to tell us about a future anomaly such as Techyat Hametim – the resurrection of some dead people - will occur at some point in the future. The people could not have accepted it and needed almost a thousand years of indoctrination before this concept could be accepted as plausible.

. ואיך יסופר למי שלא התבארה אצלו

הנבואה בדבר שאין ראוי עליו אלא האמנת הנביא, והוא גם כן נמנע אצלם לגמרי

לפי אמונתם בקדמות העולם,

כי לולי המופתים לא הייתה אצלנו תחיית המתים מכת


“Why would one tell someone who has not yet accepted prophecy, a subject that depends on belief in prophecy? Furthermore, [prophecy] was impossible according to their understanding that the world is eternal [a parte ante]. For without miracles [signposts] Techyat Hametim would not be possible in our minds. [See my last post for an in depth discussion of this statement].

It took years of educating and teaching, experiencing the great “miracles” the Torah teaches us, those that were signposts that HKBH created and willed this world, for this lesson to sink into the people’s psyche. It is only after this long process, at the time of Daniel, when the long-term consequences of the stubborn belief in idolatry brought them into exile again, that the prophet could predict the future anomaly of Techyat Hametim and be believed. It is only after going through short and long-term cycles of actions and their “miraculous” consequences, of “miraculous” anomalies that occurred at propitious times, that this revolutionary and new understanding really took hold.

וכאשר רצה השם יתעלה לתת תורה לבני אדם, לפרסם בהם מצוותו ודתו ואזהרתו על

ידי הנביאים בכל העולם, כמו שאמר "ולמען ספר שמי בכל הארץ". חידש המופתים

הגדולים הכתובים בכל התורה, עד שהתאמת בהם נבואת הנביאים וחידוש העולם. כי

המופת האמיתי ראיה ברורה על חידוש העולם כאשר בארנו ב"מורה הנבוכים

והתמיד העניין כן, עד שנתחזקו אלו הפינות והתאמתו בהמשך הדורות, ולא נשאר

ספק בנבואות הנביאים ובחידוש המופתים. ואחרי כן ספרו לנו הנביאים מה

שהודיעם ה' יתעלה מעניין תחיית המתים, והיה קל לקבלו

When God wanted to give Torah to humankind, to make His commandments, religion and warnings [that there are consequences to our actions] known in the whole world, as it says, “so that My name is told in the whole earth”, He brought about the great miracles [signposts] that the Torah reports. This verified that there is prophecy and the world is created. For the true “miracle” [signpost] is clear proof that the world is created as we explained in MN. This continued until this fundamental belief was strengthened and verified over generations so that there was no longer any doubt that prophecy exists and “miracles” [signposts] occur. It was only then that the prophets told us what God told them about TH, and they accepted it with ease.[1]

To summarize, Rambam sees TH as one more anomaly among many. These anomalies, when they occur under the conditions Rambam enumerated, are signposts that HKBH has will and willed this world into existence with wisdom and omniscience. They teach that this world has embedded in it a system of actions and consequences that is incumbent on humankind to learn and discover. In this process of discovery, humankind will understand what its role is in the promotion of continuity of the whole of existence as will each individual who takes his responsibility seriously find his own role in that great whole. This belief in TH is therefore one of the fundamental cornerstones of Judaism.

What I find exhilarating and beautiful about Rambam’s approach is that he gives us a great vision, an optimistic and positive vision, of what Torah’s goals are for the Jewish people and the whole of humankind. He shows us how all the pieces fit together and ultimately are stepping-stones in the fulfillment of that great goal. As we say in our daily prayer ותלמדם חוקי חיים – when God gave the Jewish people the Torah, He taught them the “laws of life”. To me these few words say it all.

[1] It is noteworthy that Rambam uses here the same justification he used for explaining the reasoning behind Korbanot. He compares it to the reluctance on the part of God to use a direct route from Egypt to Israel that ran through the land of the Philistines for fear of a war disheartening the newly freed slaves.

ואתה תמצא כמו התחבולה הזאת בעצמה עשה השם יתברך עם ישראל, אמר עליהם

ולא נחם אלהים דרך ארץ פלשתים כי קרוב הוא כי אמר אלהים" וגו'. ואם

הורגלו בענייני העולם מפני שחשש עליהם שישובו למצרים ויבוטל מהם המכווין

בהם, כן חשש עליהם עוד שלא יקבלו זה הדעת, רצוני לומר התחייה, ויבוטל בו

התכלית המכוון בהם ומהם

1 comment:

  1. Is it only a coincidence that second berocho in shemoneh esreh is dedicated to techias hamasim.If one studies nature, he will constantly see life rising from death. Trees that die become fuel for man. Animals(including humans)become fertilizer for plants.From slavery in egypt a religion of eternal life is born. The dissapearing moon again appears to the birth of a new month.The death of an animal on the alter forgives ones sins.The death of king saul leads to the birth of the kingdom of David.From the ruins and ashes of the holocaust rises the modern State of Israel.A family member dies and the surviving member feeds the shul with a kiddush-this last one was a sarcastic joke:) It is however only one tiny leap to say after seeing that life and rebirth comes from destruction and death that man will rise from the dead-whatever this will mean....