Letters July 2007 III
Reader: Was Rivkah actually 3 years old when she met Yitzchak?
Mesora: Rashi does say this is so. Rashi teaches that Rivkah’s birth was announced to Abraham right after the intended sacrifice of Isaac. At that time, Rashi says Isaac was 37 years of age, and he waited until Rivkah was of age for marriage, which is three years of age. It is quite hard to grasp this idea, that a mere child is ready for marriage, and that Isaac would accept someone this young. But we do learn that Abraham pondered God at that early age of three as well. Perhaps God granted mankind such gifted people to act as our leaders for a maximum amount of their life spans. Perhaps too, the nature of a marriage for the patriarchs centered only on the perfection of the person, and this perfection gave them the patience to wait for their spouse to mature. But they did not delay marriage once a special individual was found. Isaac must have seen qualities in Rivkah at her young age that he saw necessary for establishing the Jewish people. Therefore, Isaac married her even though she was quite young, to guarantee she would be his wife, but he also waited for her. Back then; this type of marriage was not odd at all. But we can also understand this metaphorically…
Perhaps describing Rivkah as a young girl conveys her perfection (watering Eliezer’s camels) at such a young stage of development. It teaches us that the matriarchs were not typical people, but highly perfected from their youth. The statement that Isaac married Rivkah when she was just three, means that at three years old, Rivkah already possessed some of her perfections.
Did God do it?
Reader: While davening this morning I read, “Abraham
raised his eyes and beheld a ram after it had
been caught in the thicket by its horns”. Question: The Torah spells out in great detail this event. However, I am puzzled by the ambiguity, giving no credit to “Hashem” for the ram’s sudden appearance. This sentence makes the ram’s entanglement appear accidental, as if it is only natural that a ram is caught by its horns. But since Abraham told Isaac that “Hashem” will provide the animal, why doesn’t he exclaim “You see Isaac, Hashem has done what He planned”?
Mesora: Ibn Ezra teaches, “Isaac could not have been older, for if this were so, Isaac would have deserved a much greater mention in Torah, since he sacrificed his life, whereas Abraham did not. Again, Isaac could not have been five years of age, for the Torah teaches that Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice, something a small boy cannot do. Ibn Ezra concludes he must have been approximately 13. Abraham must have forced him down upon the altar to sacrifice him, as we see that Abraham concealed the matter by saying ‘God will provide the ram’.” Therefore, according to Ibn Ezra, prior to finding the ram, Abraham did not truly think any ram would avail itself through God. He lied to Isaac concerning that ram to accomplish God’s command. This was a necessary lie. But had Abraham said later regarding the newly found ram, “You see Isaac, Hashem has done what He planned”, Abraham would have lied unnecessarily since he had no conclusive knowledge whether God had planted this ram in the bush, or not. But the Rabbis do say that this ram was prepared during the Six Days of Creation. This means that this ram was essential. My close friend Shaya Mann suggested a brilliant reason: Abraham was not “relieved” when subsequently; he was commanded not to slaughter his precious Isaac. The sacrifice of the ram displays a subtle, yet important lesson about Abraham. Abraham did not remove his attention from God, once ‘he had his son back’. Only someone on a lesser level of perfection would suddenly be overcome with joy that his son would remain alive with him, and then indulge that emotion with no attention to anything else. But Abraham’s perfection didn’t allow such a diversion from the entire purpose of the binding of Isaac. Although commanded not to kill Isaac, Abraham’s attention and love was still completely bound up with God. This is where Abraham’s energies were before the sacrifice, and even afterwards, when his only son was spared. Offering the ram teaches us that Abraham never removed his thoughts from God, even at such a moment when others would certainly indulge in such joy. Abraham did not rejoice in Isaac’s life, more than he rejoiced in obeying God. The ram teaches us this. Abraham remained steadfast with God. Abraham’s perfection was twofold; 1) he was not reluctant to obey God, at any cost, and 2) nothing surpassed his attachment to God.
Reputation vs. Truth
Reader: Hi. I stumbled across your website and am very impressed by a lot of the material thereon. However, there are some things I would like to know. First of all, can you provide me with some biography of Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim. Where did he learn? From whom did he receive semicha?
I am also very concerned with the attitude that one may question and not accept mitzvos if they don’t appear logical. I don’t know what the Ibn Ezra did or did not say, but I do know that all traditional orthodox Jews accept ALL of the mitzvos - all of the talmud, all of the mishna, and all of the shulchan aruch - although there are many things therein that are not logical. We even accept “Chukim” - God’s statutes which are laws, which, in their highest essence, are not amenable to logic.
I am also concerned that you don’t accept and take on the authority of the kabbalah and the zohar etc. This is a part of our tradition that is accepted by the entire Jewish people - from litvaks, to chassidim, to sephardim, to ashkenazim. Perhaps a few do question it but the vast majority accept it.
I want to conclude by telling you what I heard a very great Rabbi say was the definition of Torah, against which we cannot argue: Anything which was accepted by the mass majority of the Jewish people is Torah and we cannot argue with it. This means the gemara, the shulchan aruch AND the kabbalah.
I would appreciate it if you could explain how you can square your position with the aforementioned matters.
I’m not bashing your site, I think it provides a lot of great material and backing to our religion, but I am deeply unhappy with some of your philosophies, and am afraid you are sending wrong messages out to the public, alongside your wonderful material that supports our tradition.
Mesora: I don’t see the relevance of biographies. Such a philosophy where authorities are accepted based on reputation, and not on their content, favors people, over truths. If you follow this path, you are doomed to follow notions not tested by your reason. Perhaps this is why you can accept the notion that Chukim are meaningless.
But since you follow authorities, I am puzzled at your contradiction: you follow your peers on matters of following mitzvos, and disregard Ibn Ezra…without having read his words. And on whose authority do you claim that Chukim are not logical, and “are not amenable to logic”?
Regarding Kabbalah, there are some great minds who deny its authenticity, and some who accept it. Such a debate does not exist regarding the Five Books of the Chumash, Prophets, Writings, or the Talmud. So you should view those in a different light than Kabbalah. But that Torah is defined by what the majority accepts, would condone Conservative and Reformed Judaism. And as soon as a new form of “Judaism” arises that musters greater numbers, these two forms will become obsolete, and the “New Judaism” will become the “New Judaism.” This all smacks a bit similar to that 2000-year-old book…doesn’t it? I think you see the refutation of this view quite clearly. Now if you mean to say that what “orthodox” Jews accept becomes Torah, then the same problem occurs if most Orthodox Jews accept Red Bendels, and other idolatrous rites.
In truth, all God’s ways are logical and pleasant to our minds, “And all its ways are pleasant”. (Proverbs 3:17) No Rabbi or Sage follows your subjective opinion that “Chukim are not amenable to logic”. Don’t you recall the saying that “King Solomon knew the reasons for all the mitzvos…” which include many Chukim? Or that Talmudic portion in Chullin 124a where the Rabbi said he wouldn’t accept something even if stated by Joshua bin Nun? Aaron too disagreed with his brother Moses, and was correct in the end.
Torah’s sources unanimously support the view that we follow ideas, not people. It matters none what many Jews do, or who said what, if we know an idea to be false. See the Ibn Ezra.