Letters June 2022

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

King vs. Creator

Reader: When blessing God before eating, I wonder why we refer to God as “king of the world” and not “creator of the world”? He created the food, so creator seems more fitting.  

Rabbi: Rabbi Israel Chait said, “creator”can imply that God created the world and then abandoned it. Whereas “king” refers to God’s sustained relationship with man. “King” refers to a greater involvement with man, and is therefore a greater praise of God. “The acquirer of heaven and Earth” (Gen. 14:19) means creation is God’s acquisition; he constantly relates to creation. 

Maimonides writes as follows:

All blessings accordingly fall into three kinds; blessings recited when partaking of material enjoyments, blessings recited when fulfilling religious duties, and blessings of thanksgiving, which have the character of praise, thanksgiving and supplication, and the purpose of which is that we should always have the Creator in mind and revere Him (Laws of Blessings 1:4)

The rabbis coined blessings to make man mindful of God throughout the day. They formulated a standard format: “Blessed are you God, our God, King of the world, who did such and such.” All blessings refer to God's kingship—which refers to governing man instead of a Creator—because creation is a one-time event, whereas governing refers to God’s continual guidance over man's affairs. Governing is a greater praise as God performs more, and a more accurate and inclusive blessing is preferred. It a complete praise, and we do not wish to compromise praises of God, so we might have a most complete understanding of Him, as far as humanly possible. So even though it is true that God “created” fruits, providing food comes under a greater and more impressive category of continually governing man throughout time.

Reader: I see your point. However I'm still struggling to get the idea of creation being inferior to governing man. Mainly because of the idea you have espoused before that the natural laws governing the world were embedded in creation 

Rabbi: Yes, there are natural laws that govern Earth. But there are other laws of providence that govern man, and if he deserves food. This additional providence is more inclusive of God's greatness than natural law alone. Thus, blessing God not only as Creator, but as governor is a greater praise. 

Reader: I see. I remember one shiur, I don’t remember by who, about the Jews in the desert wanting to go back to Egypt. The gist of the shiur as I understood it was that Jews saw that Egypt was naturally blessed with fertile land and Nile water. Contrast that with the land of Israel which is always under God's providence, and would yield its produce if the Jews deserved it, but could be harsh if their level dropped. Naturally, man prefers the predictable Egypt (though chance disasters do happen now and then) to the demanding Israel. Since God stated that the land of Israel would continually be under His providence, I guess one can infer that  it is higher level to be under continual providence than natural law?

Rabbi: Yes, man benefits more when guided by God’s instruction through reward and punishment. But this addresses a different point of “human benefit.” What we are focused on in your original question is which praise of God is greater, “Creator” or “King.” We concluded that king refers to more than creator. “Creator” can imply God made earth and then abandoned it, whereas “King” refers to a constant providence over Earth and man. 

Is Every Human Death God’s Will?

Student: Does God determine when every person dies? Such a significant event would seem to be God’s decision.  If so, what of suicide, or Maimonides’ view that providence is proportional to one’s perfection...some people have no providence. Thus, some people die by chance or naturally.

Rabbi Israel Chait: You answered your own question: without following Torah, one has no providence from God. His death is natural, not God’s will. Providence operates in the sphere of human will; Maimonides says it operates through the imagination.

And what happened once Achashverosh awoke? Haman was in the courtyard. This association of the king’s nightmare and Haman’s presence can change the entire way the kingship plays out. In Achashverosh’s mind, this association can drastically change his actions. Chazal interpret this incident as, “Streams of water is the heart of the king in the Lord’s hand; He directs it wherever he desires” (Proverbs 21:1). God’s providence works through man’s unconscious. And this applies to anybody, not just to a king.

Student: Perhaps Maimonides corroborates this point:

 Divine Providence is connected with Divine intellectual influence, and the same beings [man] which are benefited by the latter so as to become intellectual, and to comprehend things comprehensible to rational beings, are also under the control of Divine Providence, which examines all their deeds in order to reward or punish them. It may be by mere chance that a ship goes down with all her contents or the roof of a house falls upon those within; but it is not due to chance, according to our view, that in the one instance the men went into the ship, or remained in the house in the other instance: it is due to the will of God, and is in accordance with the justice of His judgments, the method of which our mind is incapable of understanding (Guide, book III chap xvii).

Maimonides states “Divine Providence is connected with Divine intellectual influence.” Meaning, God’s providence relates to man, not inanimate or animal creations. It is amazing that the Megilla, Proverbs and Maimonides all share the same principle: providence operates in the sphere of human will.

Lying for Justice?

Reader:  The police’s main objective is to put people in jail, to bring a strong case to the prosecutor, to use in court against the defendant. They do this by using anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. Even a word. Even your temperament under questioning. They also do this to break people down to ''get them'' so they confess, making going to court in a trial non essential but only for sentencing. Often, the questionee is innocent but feels trapped and confesses because he feels he lost. He may have even forgot to ask for a lawyer during questioning. The police also lie to the questionee, telling him for example that a witness saw him leaving the house where the crime took place. This can also fool a young kid who knows nothing about these tactics which are legal for the police to use. Of course, in all fairness, I must say that the police question because they know the person is guilty but they do not have enough to win in court because the defendant will have a lawyer that will raise a reasonable doubt in the mind of the judge or jury. What do you make of all this?

Rabbi: I am not certain you cite a general rule of police conduct, or is it an exception. Torah endorses tiring the person to force true confessions. But the judges or witnesses cannot lie or mislead. One certainly cannot use tricky methods as honesty must guide all Torah areas including justice, witnesses and all court proceedings.

Purpose of Mitzvah

Reader:  Is there benefit to wearing tzitzis while asleep? 

Rabbi: Just as the mitzvah is to “don” tefillin, this mitzvah is to “wrap” oneself in tzitzis, which cannot be done when awaking if one sleeps wearing tzitzis. He forfeits the daily mitzvah. The very wrapping is the mitzvah and has a perfecting quality. “Wearing” has 2 parts: enrobing, and maintaining the garment on one’s body. God’s will is that man daily goes through the act of dressing, and tzitzis should form part of man enrobing himself. 

Secondly, mitzvah intends to perfect man, and this only occurs when man’s mind is engaged. This cannot occur during sleep, so sleeping with tzitzis is useless.

Meeting Others in Heaven

Reader: In Olam Haba, will people (souls) recognize parents, siblings, spouses and friends…even great people they lived under, or who were known to the public, like presidents, military people (if righteous), their teachers etc?  Saying otherwise is difficult, because an aunt could have been filled with love but had not indulged in deep ideas aside from her emotions [and perhaps not inherited the afterlife].

Rabbi: “No eye has seen it God, except You” (Isaiah 64:3). Rashi interprets this to mean, “The prophets prophesied only regarding the Messianic era, but not about the World to Come.”  Thus, man is ignorant of the experience of the afterlife. Talmud Sanhedrin says, “All of Israel have a share in the Olam Haba.” Talmud continues to cite those grave sinners who lost their portion. So your family member does not lose Olam Haba, even though she was not heavily engaged in Torah or wisdom. All Israel have a share in Olam Haba. But there are degrees of the afterlife based on one’s perfection and knowledge of God.  

The soul departed from a body does not carry the psychological feelings, so the projection that such feelings exist after death is not accurate. Do souls recognize other souls? We do not know.