Letters July 2012 - Part III
I have had a bit of a disagreement with a local rabbi about various 'customs' surrounding the Havdalla wine at the Sabbath conclusion, which seem to me to be omens or amulets and therefore, according to you, forbidden. For instance, wine overflowing and dipping fingers in the wine afterwards and putting it on ones eyes and in ones pockets to ensure success for the upcoming week. I would like your comments please.
Rabbi: Yes, these are Nichush (omen) violations. See Mishne Torah, Avoda Zarah chapter 11. Any act that has no demonstrated effects, and people claim it causes certain results...is Nichush and a form of idolatry.
Arieh: I suppose the same applies to the the following, taken from a shiur sent out last week (davka on hilchot teshuva of the Rambam):
"As my own simple example, there were times in the past when I would leave morning synagogue services more promptly in order to make it to work sooner. I began to notice that whenever I would do that, I would somehow get on the entirely wrong traffic-light cycle, and find myself waiting 5+ minutes at red lights -- something which never seemed to occur to me when I stayed in the synagogue longer. I got the message. And there is nothing unique about my case. Any one of us will notice -- if we only pay attention -- that the little things which go wrong in life are often G-d's veiled way of nudging us in the proper direction. We need only notice it and hear G-d's message."
I wonder if he did a statistical analysis of his supposed phenomena. Where does G-d indicating something to him appear on the graph? 50%, 80%?
Rabbi: This would not be Nichush. Certainly, saying God did something is baseless, as we don't have that knowledge. But it's not Nichush, since he doesn't attribute a cause and effect to some inanimate object, like your first case where people put Havdala wine on themselves as a segula. Here, he doesn't say his speed in leaving shul caused the lights, but it was God who caused this as a punishment.
Witchcraft: A Fallacy
Reader: Hello rabbi. I appreciate your site, and your perspective, but I'm curious: in your article about how you guys think the Baal Ha Ov or witch that Saul spoke to put on a ruse to make him THINK he was hearing Saul, you never mentioned how she also seemed to automatically become aware, without prior knowledge, of Saul's true identity. This happened only AFTER she supposedly saw Saul's specter. It seems the book is implying that she received knowledge from some kind of spiritual-means through the craft she was practicing, perhaps her familiar spirit appeared with his spirit and told her?
I don't believe in ghosts and witchcraft, but this part section seems to kill your argument. What do you think happened?
Rabbi: Why is it difficult to accept that the most popular figure - the king - is not know by face to the masses? Or, perhaps, his promise that the witch would not be harmed can only be ensured by the king himself.
In any case, there is nothing in this account forcing our acceptance of powers never evidenced. The path of the Torah and reason is just the opposite: we only state something is fact based on evidence or reason. Both are lacking here. Additionally, God's prohibition against witchcraft is precisely because it is false. Ibn Ezra (Leviticus, 19:31) says the following, "Those with empty brains say 'Were it not that fortune tellers and magicians were true, the Torah would not prohibit them.' But I (Ibn Ezra) say just the opposite of their words, because the Torah doesn't prohibit that which is true, but it prohibits that which is false. And the proof is the prohibition on idols and statues."
Easier to Bear
"When we know this we shall find everything that may befall us easy to bear; mishap will create no doubts in our hearts concerning God, whether He knows our affairs or not, whether He provides for us or abandons us. On the contrary, our fate will increase our love of God." This is a quote from Maimonides.
Since your last email about repentance, wherein you quoted Maimonides analysis of Job in the Guide for the Perplexed…I have been going over that section...I highlighted the portion above, whose conclusion still eludes me.
How does knowledge that God's providence, intention, rule and management is so different from any concept we can conjure up in our minds of what those terms mean in relation to God, make anything that may befall us "easy to bear?" I can see how knowing that God management and knowledge (being so different in nature to our own) would help relieve doubts of whether God is aware of our affairs, and that He does not abandon us, but not sure how that knowledge makes mishaps easy to bear.
Did I make myself clear?
Rabbi: God knows our suffering and can respond. We are not left without an avenue for relief. God is there, He knows. He can help. This is in contrast to one who does not know about God, or HOW God operates, so when he is in pain he despairs:
"mishap will create no doubts (whether He knows...whether He provides)" meaning we know He CAN do these, we have no doubts. This conviction does not lead to despair, but in trusting God, who can perform, since He knows our plight.
Age of the World
You wrote, "There is no contradiction to say that the world is both 5761 years old, and 16 billion years old. Time is different when measured from different portions of the universe, as proven by Einstein's law of relativity".
Given that the Torah was accepted 1200-1300 BCE, why did G-d wait so long to give the Torah? Why has the vast majority of human kind been forced to live without it or observed other beliefs? It makes no sense that such a small minority would be given the truth? This makes me think that Orthodox Judaism can't be the only way. Where do I start to rectify this?
Rabbi: Please see my article "God's Plan for Man" where I answer your question: www.mesora.org/planforman.html
"Numerous as the Stars"
Where did God fulfill His promise "to make the Jews as "numerous as the stars of heaven", for God said, we are "smallest among all nations (Deut. 7:7)."
Rabbi: That quote is to remind the Jews not to feel arrogant, as the following verse says, He made us numerous "to keep His oath to our forefathers (Deut. 7:8)," and not due to our own greatness.
But despite this, that we are smallest, nonetheless, Moses says, "God has made you today as numerous as the stars of heaven (Deut. 1:10)," and "And now Hashem your God has placed you numerous as the stars of heaven (Deut. 10:21)."
So, although we are smallest, God did fulfill his word to make us many.
The question is, what was God's intent in making us numerous? Why is this of such importance, that He promised this to Abraham, and without his asking? We can suggest that as Abraham desired to teach the masses how foolish their religions were, and to help them, to guide them towards truth using reasoning and proofs…God encouraged Abraham and endorsed his mission by promising to assist in spreading Abraham's message of monotheism.
God desires the good for all mankind. This is precisely why God created the human species. It is therefore reasonable that God desires to help religions who err, to see the light, and abandon idolatry, deification of man and other fundamental errors. Once Abraham found God, God desired to assist Abraham, so as to assist all mankind in our most vital purpose on Earth; to recognize the One Creator and appreciate His amazing wisdom, "For this is all of man (Koheles, 2nd to last verse)."
Judaism: The Incomparable Religion
Where do other religions share Judaism' s view not to teach those who aren't of our religion.
Rabbi: The concept of not teaching Torah to gentiles targets the same idea as their prohibition to observe sabbath. That is, that the Jew to the exclusion of all others, must retain the identity as the authority on Torah. Had the lines been blurred between Jew and gentile via gentiles sharing a "Jewish" identity through similar Sabbath practice or positions as Torah educators, the world might turn to them – and not Jews – to learn God's will. The problem that ensues is this: their lack of obligation in the 613 will not compel their exhaustion of the laws, so as to practice properly. Their teaching must, by definition, be compromised, and Torah thereby will eventually become distorted.
That's the reason we don't teach gentiles, unless they wish to add to their 613, or concerning their 7 Noachide laws. The Talmud is actually more forbidding as it says a gentile who learns Torah is worthy of death (Sanhedrin 59a). We understand the severity: God desires all mankind to have the Torah available in its original form, and unless a person accepts 613, the lack of commitment must distort Torah, causing the next generation of Jews and gentiles to receive a faulty transmission, and a corrupted version of Torah.
There is no parallel between Torah and other religions. Torah is of Divine origin, addressing every aspect of human nature to ensure the happiest life. Only the Creator has complete knowledge to create such a system. In contrast, literally all other religions are man made. Thereby, all other religions are built around human considerations for all their principles. Even the best works of man cannot approach the perfection of our God-made Torah.
This explains why other religions jump at the opportunity to convert alines to their religion. Ego, fame, power, and the human misconceptions that "might makes right," and "there's power in numbers" – all human insecurities – fool the masses to believe that with more followers, a religion is "more correct." Their insecurities compel them to make others convert, as if this corrects their flawed teachings in any measure.
It is wrong to seek parallels between Judaism and any other religion. Doing so suggests we share common ground. And as most other religions are based on the deification of man, a heresy, this core fundamental difference makes the comparing of Judaism to others, like comparing color to weight. There is no relationship at all.