Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Are Jewish Souls Eternal?
Reader: Are Jewish souls eternal? Since the axiom, that from nothing, nothing can be made.
New Jersey, USA
Rabbi: A) You cite, "from nothing, nothing can be made," but this is a fallacy. B) I don't understand how this quote affects your question on souls. And there’s no difference between the soul of one born to Jewish or gentile parents. God created Adam and Eve, not Jew and gentile…which refers to one’s obligations, not one’s design. But the design of every human and all souls are identical, be one Jew or gentile.
Reader: A) Could you expound why it is a fallacy?
B) The axiom,“from nothing, nothing can be made” applies here to souls, only if souls are eternal and not created [meaning souls can’t be created from nothing, they exist only if they are eternal].
Rabbi: The idea “from nothing, creation is impossible” is a fallacy, for this misconception is based on what humans experience “after” creation, when natural laws now exist, where all we witness are only things that are created from preexisting matter. But earthly “natural” reality is not the only reality. While it's true that “now” no one cannot create anything without matter…this is true only “after” creation. But prior to creation, such laws did not yet exist. Back then—and even now—God was not constrained by any pre-creation law that restricted Him from creating from nothing. Souls are creations like all else. God created them from nothing. Maimonides explains this error of assuming laws operating now, are the same laws that always existed. Nothing demands this to be true. Maimonides’ example is a boy who never saw a woman, and was told he existed inside the stomach of a female for 9 months. He would look at his current state of requiring air, excretion and other needs, and would reject that idea. So too, we cannot suggest creation from nothingness is impossible, simply due to current natural laws, which too were created from nothing.
 Guide for the Perplexed, book II chap. XVII
Reader: What is the connection between the homiletical explanation, that Jacob kept the 613 mitzvot, with the simple meaning of the verse, that he sojourned as a stranger with Laban? Also, why was it important for Jacob to let Esau know that he kept the 613 mitzvot? And finally, what lesson are we meant to learn from this?
Mbale City, Uganda
Rabbi: I believe the idea that Rabbi Israel Chait mentioned is that Jacob was seeking to diffuse his brother’s anger for obtaining the birthright. His brother Esav could only justify his anger if Jacob failed to follow his father's philosophy represented by the 613 mitzvos. Of course, as Torah was not yet given, the 613 commands did not yet exist. But the patriarchs’ “observance of Torah (the 613)” mentioned euphemistically by the rabbis refers to the patriarchs’ embodiment of the perfections of the later-given Torah. Esav could care less about 613 mitzvos, but vengeance requires justification, and Jacob subtly conveyed to Esav that any animosity was unjustified. Jacob knew how to diffuse others.
The lesson derived is one of managing confrontation. Rabbi Chait said Jacob was a chief psychologist, and that the rabbis would review this Torah portion before their political dealings, thereby aligning their minds and emotions with Jacob’s strategies, optimizing their personal interactions and respect for alien authorities. Torah addresses many aspects of life, from commandments which imbue us with metaphysical, philosophical, psychological and moral ideals, to perfected human role models who guide human interplay towards greater harmony, happiness and success. Here, Jacob teaches us the latter in his political dealings.
Getting to Heaven without God?
Reader: Everyone knows that in Judaism, Jews don’t proselytize. We are not like the Christians, “believe in Jesus or else.” Jews always say you don’t have to be Jewish to make it to heaven. But, do you have to be a righteous gentile, a noahide? My question is this: Is it good enough to just be moral? Can an atheist or idolatrous Hindu or a Buddhist, who are moral, make it to heaven even if they do not accept the Noahide commandments or the Torah or even God? And, can someone be a righteous gentile if they keep the 7 laws of Noah only because it makes sense, and not only because a God commanded it.
Rabbi: It is irrelevant if one feels he leads a moral life, as all morality is based on God’s authority, and thus, he in fact is immoral without God. Heaven is a greater relationship with God. If one denies God, there is no heaven for him. As one of the 7 Noahide laws is denying idolatry and recognizing one God, one is not observing the Noahide system until he accepts God.
Reader: So a moral atheist or idolatrous Hindu or Buddhist does not make it to heaven. So you’re saying that besides a handful of Noahides and a minority of religious Jews the rest comprising of atheists and idolaters (different religions), in short, most of humanity, won’t make it?
Rabbi: The messiah will teach the world and correct their errors. We pray this comes soon so many are saved and Jeremiah’s words are speedily fulfilled when the entire world will say, “We have inherited falsehood from our fathers” (Jeremiah, 16:19).
A Stronger Ego
Reader: Do you have any articles/advice how to strengthen one’s ego? There are articles of yours that demonstrate its importance in religious life. Do you know how to make it stronger?
Rabbi: God created ego; it’s essential to our objective of recognizing and loving God. Foremost, ego empowers self-preservation. It helps us defend rights and property. It gives us confidence to speak our minds and helps maintain civilization. We must find satisfaction only when we comply with God’s will in all areas, and not seek ego in matters outside Torah, or for mere self-aggrandizement. This leads to conflicts, and does not contribute to happiness for anyone. Humility avoids many arguments and spares us much headache.
Torah’s role models portray humility and satisfaction with simple lifestyles. They found true happiness in wisdom and in teaching others. There may be cases where an individual had a poor upbringing or was traumatized by individual incidents, and this can deplete one’s ego. In such cases, it is vital to seek counsel in your specific case from wise rabbis and psychologists.
Ego is made healthy when our values are aligned with Torah. We then don’t feel inadequate when having less than others, or when not popular. For when we agree with God’s plan for man, to pursue wisdom and help others, we are satisfied and dignified when doing so, and we are like, Abraham who was satisfied, humble, and generous.
Our society is unfortunately bent on fame, power, lusts and wealth. We must ignore these, and follow what God knows to provide real happiness.
Our self-image—our ego—must be derived from truth and not fantasy, from Torah values and God’s approval, and not from human opinion.