Letters – July 2007
Please Veer “Rightly”
Omphile: Greetings Rabbi. Reading the article on Gematria, I read this, “When Moshe reiterated the Ten Commandments, he wasn’t concerned with preserving Hashem’s exact wording. Rather, his sole concern was conveying the ideas - ideas which could be conveyed in different words.”
What then is the difference between Moshe in this case, and Betzalel? Isn’t it true that the Torah praised Betzalel for doing exactly as Hashem instructed him? He didn’t decide to be creative. In addition, (I don’t know if this applies), but I learnt from Rabbi Chait that you can’t philosophize Halacha. (e.g. like what Korach tried to do)
Mesora: Betzalel was commanded in certain, precise activities and vessel constructions. Conversely, Moses was not commanded “how” to communicate what he did, or even “that” he should say what he did, which forms the boom of Deuteronomy. Thus, Betzalel was correct in not veering from commands to act with precision. And Moses too acted properly in reviewing God’s commandments as he saw fit. There was no restriction on Moses’ verbalization, as there was regarding the precise measurements and metals used in the Tabernacle’s construction.
Matter of Life & Death
Reader: Dear Rabbi: I am a rav and dayan. I followed a reference to your site and have read with interest a number of your articles. I cannot say that I necessarily agree with everything that you wrote (and I have not read it all either) but you did say a number of courageous things that need saying. I would like to disagree with you on two points.
In regard to the ba’alath ‘ov, you say that it was a lie and that the ba’alath ‘ov knew that it was Shaul seeking Sh’mu’el and that is why she said what she said. This is certainly the opinion of the Rambam, which is quoted in Shulhan ‘Aruch. On this statement the G’ra says, “philosophy awakened his error”. Why did the G’ra make this statement precisely in this connection? Because the Gemara says clearly that she knew it was Sha’ul because the ba’alath ‘ov sees the soul, but doesn’t hear what is said, while the seeker hears but does not see, and she saw that the soul of Sh’mu’el came up head first as opposed to the usual feet first. She realized that this was in honor of Sha’ul who was the king. It is fairly clear from here that the Gemara understood that the story literally happened as stated, and that the ba’alath ‘ov did successfully summon up the dead Sh’muel.
I am far from being a kabbalist or a seeker of magic. It is possible to be a rationalist and accept certain seemingly mystical happenings. They may be akin to physics. If I run an electric current through water, hydrogen and oxygen are released. If I put certain metals in a solution of acid, electric current is formed. If I press certain buttons, I get answers from my computer. All of these things have rational explanations and are in line with the laws by which Hashem governs the natural world. It may be that the workings of the ba’alath ‘ov are a physical fact of the creation.
Mesora: Rabbi, a wise Rabbi taught that the Gra’s student stated that this Gra is not his style, and is a forgery. Please also see the long Radak on this account in Neveim.
Furthermore, the Ibn Ezra (Lev. 19:31) states that what the Torah forbids, such as consulting the dead, is forbidden since it is “fallacy and does not work”: “Empty brained (people) state that were it not for the fact that conjurers and magic were actual truths, the Torah would not have prohibited it, but I say just the opposite of their words; for the Torah does not command against truth only what’s false, and the proof is the idols.”
Ibn Ezra says the Torah does not prohibit that which is true and works. The Torah prohibits only that which is a lie. This is why idolatry is prohibited, along with superstitions, and all assumed forces other than natural law, man’s power, and God or His angels. The Baales Ove is also a lie: humans cannot resurrect the dead.
Radak (Samuel I, 28:25 towards the end): “....although the implications of the words of the Rabbis - blessed their memory - imply from the Talmud that the (idolatrous) woman resurrected Samuel, we do not accept these words when our intelligence tells us the opposite”.
Radak is quite literally stating that any truth of the Ove is only “implied”, but not what he holds. He rejects Saadia Gaon and Hai Gaon (at the end of that Radak) who he says understood the Baales Ove as literally performing resurrection. And since we are all demanded to use our own reasoning - as Hashem gave “each” of us reasoning - I agree with Radak’s argument that if God wanted to communicate with Saul, He need not do so via Baales Ove, but could use prophetic dreams.
Finally, only God creates and takes life, and “taking life” means that the person is no longer available in communication to the living. So once God takes a life, it cannot partake in communication with this earthly existence. Baales Ove is a lie.
Radak and Saadia Gaon are at odds...one of them is wrong. There is no psak (ruling) here, so each of us - you and I - must choose based on our own reasoning.
Janet: Dear Rabbi, While I agree with you one hundred percent about red strings, etc., I have a question in your refutation of segulas. You included reciting Tehillim, giving challah with blessings and checking mezuzos in with red strings. It seems to me that there are a few different categories here.
When it comes to giving challah with blessings, I think it might be construed either way. It could be viewed as a "segula" which might not be appropriate, or perhaps it could be viewed as taking on a mitzvah in the zechus of which the person should receive the refuah, etc. Isn't it dependent upon the person's thought process?
By checking mezuzos, I assume you mean as a result of a problem as opposed to the normal requirement. Don't people who do those things do it as a grasp to see if there is something amiss that they can correct in their performance of this mitzvah rather than as a segula? Perhaps, believing someone who says that there is something wrong may be a stretch, but if they on their own choose to check, is it really a denial of Hashem?
On the other hand, isn't reciting Tehillim really a form of prayer and beseeching Hashem as opposed to denying Him? Isn't it therefore an appropriate as opposed to inappropriate response?
To equate all of these with superstitions seems to be a stretch to me. I don't think that those who recite Tehillim do it as a superstition or a perceived guarantee of anything as opposed to a supplication for help.
I would be very obliged to hear your comments on this matter.
Mesora: Janet, you are correct, that the intent is the issue. Any person who feels doing an act – even a mitzvah – will cause fertility or the like, in engaging in idolatrous notions. But if one feels they earn merit by performing mezuza for example, and through that merit, God might shed His providence over them, then this is fine, and actually recorded verbatim in the Shulchan Aruch. And again you are correct that checking a mezuzah to determine if it has become weathered and nullified is a proper act. Our argument against segulas is the practice of those who claim specific acts cause specific results.
Warren: Hi Rabbi. Firstly thank you for all your effort. Your web site has been very useful as I have challenged my Christian beliefs and find them lacking in many ways. You have provided for me brilliant articles and audio teaching that have answered many of my questions, and as a result no longer accept my past Christian theology.
I have a question that I would greatly appreciate your thoughts: We know that G-d is perfect. Now, being perfect, why did He create anything? The reasoning for this question is as follows; G-d being perfect, He would have no need or want for anything, hence the act of creating would seem to me to imply a need or desire which would indicate something not being perfect.
Again thank you and looking forward to your reply.
Mesora: Warren, to seek a “motive” as you do for God’s acts is a futile pursuit, since He is not moved by motive, a human phenomenon. You incorrectly project onto God, a human quality. We don’t know why he created anything, nor does God need a reason to act as man does. “Man cannot know God while alive”. (Exod. 33:20) To quote Maimonides, this is a question for which man cannot offer any answer, other than “it is God’s will”.
Reader: Dear Rabbi, When I left Christianity to follow the Truth of the Torah, and rest of Tanakh, I decided that if the Torah failed me in any way, then, there is no hope for humanity.
At the beginning of my new journey, I found myself in a place where I was constantly testing the teachings of the Torah. Every time, the teachings kept proving themselves to be truth. Then, I started to see the differences within Judaism's different groups and realized how normal and human Israel is. You see, I had a higher standard for all of Israel based on the Tanakh. What I didn't realize was that not all accept the authority of it.
I found that in the different groups many different issues were espoused by them, one of which is the soul superiority of B'nai Israel compared to Noachides. I wanted to extend my thanks to you for standing up for what is right. You have dealt with the issue in a very valiant way and all because you know what the Torah says. There's a lot that I still have to learn, but I know Truth when I see it. If it is not Truth at first glance you have to dig into it and see if it is just a falsehood that only seems to be truth. In every case, real Truth will reveal itself.
I respect you for sticking to your guns and continuation for spreading Truth in your Newsletter. I pray that Hashem will bless you greatly in your life journey and your loved ones as well.
Now, I had question: why are there some rabbis who claim that in Genesis 4 we are getting a revelation of angels that went against Hashem's will to the point of getting kicked out of Heaven and have intercourse with the women of the time? Who are Uzza and Azazel?
Are we truly getting a description of "abnormal offsprings" being a result of such copulation?
In all honesty, this seems like folklore; therefore, I inquire for proof of such accounts to be possible. Does "bnei elohim" mean in all truthfulness these angels that were "fallen" from heaven? Did the "giants" truly come out of this coming together that some rabbis claim?
Sorry, if I'm being ignorant or not willing to accept this as a Truth until proven. I just think that if this was something that was written in more detail in much later times, how these interpretations could be projected to a much earlier text?
My understanding is that the "bnei elohim" is talking of the rulers or judges that became known as men of renown; thus, equaled to giants, which in ancient times where thought of as children of the gods. You see that being evident in Egyptian history, so it would make sense why the Torah would mention that these were merely men of renown and where not some form of supernatural being.
Again, if I'm wrong, I would like to know why.
Mesora: You are in consonance with Rashi who explains “Bnei Elohim” (lit. “children of God”) as “children of judges”. Te word “Elohim” is also used to refer to judges. Thus, no angles fell from heaven. It is merely describing the motive of those corrupted…it was due to their societal status as children of judges that led them to seize all they desired.
Larry: Rabbi: Rambam said, "...Christians falsely ascribe marvelous powers to Jesus the Nazarene...the resurrection of the dead and other miracles. Even if we would grant them for the sake of argument, we should not be convinced by their reasoning..."
This means that even if Rambam had seen Jesus rise from the dead with his own eyes, he would still prefer Aristotle's perceived "intellectual perfection" even though Rambam claimed that his own faith was grounded in Sinai revelations.
Mesora: Witnessing miracles cannot determine that 2+2=5. It also cannot cause a denial of Sinai. Rabbi Reuven Mann gave a similar analogy: if Jesus were to resurrect the Twin Towers, and then claim Christianity is thereby true, we would not accept Jesus. For reason tells us Christianity is false, and nothing can alter that fact…not even a miracle. This is because a miracle has no relationship at all to the fallacy of Jesus, and claims regarding him.
Larry: You say that human perfection is not a Jewish birthright but a human accomplishment. Yet God told Job that only when he (Job) created his own universe would He (God) THEN concede that Job was righteous enough to save himself (Job 40:14).
Mesora: God’s statement is to say, that the Creator is the only one who may determine what is just, and what is unjust. Thus, Job can only maintain his complaint on God’s justice if Job were the creator…which he is not. God was not suggesting that Job could be the creator, and thus, have a superior birthright.
Larry: Could it be that Noachide Law was what God had in mind when He said, "Their lips do honor Me, but (they) have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear toward Me is like rote learning of human commands.” (Isaiah 29:13)
Mesora: This is a critique of the “lip service” practice. Nothing more.
Larry: It sure seems that way because if God has no anthropomorphisms then He couldn't possibly have made Himself understood at Sinai. Thus any concept of God is merely a manmade concoction based on arrogance and all religions are indeed on par with Torah.
Mesora: If God commanded us to “Know Him”, then it is within our capacity to gain some truthful insights concerning God’s existence, although we don’t know “what” He is. We can know something blocks the sun, if we see a shadow…although we did not turn around to see “what” was blocking the sun. Similarly, we know a Creator exists, as we witness creation. And through miracles and His Torah, we gain knowledge of His will.
Other religions are not based on proof, but on belief, so they have no comparison to Torah, which is based on the proof of Sinai, and not blind faith. Our Torah is God’s word; all other religions are the corrupt lies of men.
Eli: Rabbi, Just a brief note to let you know how very much I enjoy your writings. I really do learn something new every day and I share much with my wife that I have learned. It gives us quality time together discussing your views.
Today I shared your view on "moods" and she said she certainly agreed with you but that you had overlooked one very important aspect of moods. That being hormones.
Apparently there doesn't need to be a reason for a bad mood when a woman's hormones are acting up. The only solution to the problem then…is chocolate.
Also, I'm having a major problem with the validity of Talmud as Oral Law but will not bother you with it until I have exhausted you articles on Mesora.org.
Have a great day and thank you for the easy to understand way you write making it simple for we non-academics to understand. Sincerely, Eli
Mesora: You must thank Doug Taylor and Rabbi Moskowitz, the true authors of “Moods”.
Untalented: Without Blessing?
Bentzion: Thank you for your last answer to my question - very easy for you, but not so easy for me.
Reading your text about "World to Come", there came to mind the following doubt: are we new creations since we are born…without any existence before? If so, why do some people have more abilities than others from childhood and before any training, such as the knack to play musicals instruments, and others do not? Or people (like me) who know from childhood - and without any proper training - how to draw and use it to sustain ourselves, and others who try it and do not succeed…how is this? Who decides about those specials abilities: God? Or this is merely biological? Do those humans who receive from God these special abilities that provide for them a better life more blessed than others? And those who don’t: are they devoid of this blessing? Yes, no, and why? I hope I expressed myself properly.
Thank you again,
Mesora: Yes, every infant is a new creation; both his body and soul are new creations. We recite this each morning. Our abilities can be innate, with inclinations as God wishes; or as genes determine. Or our abilities can be learned. If God determines the abilities as He did with King Solomon, in this case, He gave us Torah context to study why He did so. If God gives abilities from youth, we cannot say with any certainty why He did so.
But a person is not without God’s blessings, even if he has no talents. If one lives in accord with Torah, He has God’s blessings. While an accomplished artist who denies Torah will live without God’s blessings. His magnificent painting skill is of no value to his soul. God has many means to sustain man. Talents is just one of them.
So “blessings” must not be understood as the talents we possess, but rather, if we are living in line with God’s will. Only such a person has blessing.