Letters Oct. 2022
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Why Sinai Occurred only Once
Reader: I’m not a Jew, but an ex-Christian who knows that Christianity misinterprets Torah. I also realized that Jewish mystics are a lie too, because of the “Jewish soul” claims [they think Jews are superior]. That leaves me with no one to talk with. I’m also having a lot of trouble believing in the God of the Torah lately. What is the point of God speaking at Mt. Sinai 3,300 years ago and never saying [another] word again? What is the purpose of that? Is it a test? Why is God so hidden?
Volta Redonda City, Brazil
Rabbi: Agreed: Christians, Jews and anyone misinterpreting Torah or defending mysticism cannot discuss truths, making them unfit Torah study partners for truth seekers as yourself. But thankfully there are accessible, reliable print and digital resources and rabbis with whom you can converse. Mesora’s goal is to offer all people authentic Torah education. I personally strive to answer all readers’ questions, basing answers on authoritative Torah sources. At times, it is also wise to relocate to Jewish communities to improve one’s Torah study.
Regarding belief in God, this does not depend on “continued” revelation. The single event of Revelation at Sinai is sufficient to validate God’s existence and His will for man. In fact, God said that event would be a one-time phenomenon:
God spoke those words to your whole congregation at the mountain, with a mighty voice out of the fire and the dense clouds—a great voice never repeated. And God inscribed them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me” (Deut 5:19).
With this verse—after his repetition of the 10 Commandments—Moses formulates the essential elements of Sinai’s revelation: the entire nation was present, they heard an intelligent voice emanating from fire, and those commands were embedded inside stone (sapphire). Those millions of attendees discount the possibility of a fabricated history, as mass conspiracy is impossible. The voice emanating from fire proved this Intelligence was not biological but metaphysical. And the sapphire’s internally written commands proved to all future generations that Torah is from God. The event was orchestrated as a testament to God and Torah, obviating any need for a repeat performance: “a great voice never repeated.”
One must realize that witnessing miracles does not defend a corrupt person from sinning. For the Jews heard God’s created voice at Sinai, and yet, they still created the Gold Calf. Thus, miracles are not the key to recognizing God. What is required is intelligence, where one derives from God’s actions and words His intended lessons and proofs.
Reader: While I personally believe any human being—Jew or gentile—can arrive at the truth of Judaism using reason, logic, research and critical thinking, a fellow believer in Judaism asked me this question: “Does one who has Jewish ancestors, and is not aware of it, cause one to seek monotheism or the faith of Israel? Meaning, is Jewish lineage like DNA?”
Rabbi: Had man benefitted from his father’s monotheism by “naturally” following his father, it would be unnecessary for God to command every member of mankind in Torah law…just command Adam, and the rest of world population should follow! However, that God and Moses do in fact ask each person to choose the proper life (Deut. 30:19), we derive that each person’s choice is not a natural reaction, but an independent decision. Moses’ descendants were idolatrous while the sinful city of Ninveh repented: freewill is not predetermined or genetic. God tells us “Each man in his own sin is punished” (Deut. 24.16).
Losing Olam Haba
Reader: Maimonides ridicules one who uses the mezuzah as an amulet. Doing so, “One loses his Olam Habah,” he writes. But in Hilchot Teshuvah where he lists all the categories of sins that forfeit Olam Haba, into which category would the amulet fall?
New York, NY
Rabbi: You refer to Hilchos Teshuva (chapter 3) where Maimonides identifies those with no share in the World to Come, but suffer excision. He identifies atheists (Min), infidels (Apikores) who deny prophecy, Torah traducers (Kofer) who deny Torah’s divine origin, and apostates (Mumar) deniers of the commandments. These sins refer to wrong ideas about God, prophecy and Torah. But there are other categories of sins which also forfeit Olam Haba, such as idolatry and superstitions (including belief in amulets) which might not fall into these categories. Idolaters accepted God and Torah, but believed in additional gods and other powers.
Reader: There are articles on your website which talk about the three parts of the soul: ruach, nefesh, neshamah or id, ego, superego. How does that fit with Rambam's division of imagination, emotions, rational?
Rabbi: Ruach is the individual emotion of ego, whereas nefesh is the faculty of all instincts/emotions, which contains the ego. Neshama is the soul and is separate from the instincts, and can control, the instincts. The intellect/rational element can enhance the soul’s attachment to truths and morals, while the instincts can steer the soul towards evil attachments. Imagination is part of the function of the mind in its search for answers, but can also be used to imagine sinful thoughts and lead man to perform them.
Magicians and Blessings
Reader: I had 2 different questions which I was hoping you could provide answers to.
I read your article regarding the Egyptian “magicians”and how they told Pharaoh that the redeemer of Jewish people will be destroyed by water, and how all the magicians’ powers are fake. However, at the end Moshe wasn’t allowed to enter the land of Israel because he was punished for hitting the rock instead of not speaking to it to get water. So one can say the Egyptian magicians were in fact right: Moshe was destroyed by water.
Regarding the concept of a father blessing his children as we see in the Torah when Yaakov blesses his sons, he blesses each one according to his own unique attributes and potential. So a father’s blessing does not possess some type of magical or mystical power. Yet, we see with Issac, how Rivkah has a whole plan for Yaakov to get the beracha of the first born by tricking Issac - so we see how significant it was for Yaakov to get this important beracha from Issac. This would seem to indicate that the beracha is a lot more than just a father telling his son of his own unique potential but something far beyond.
Thank you and Shana Tova,
Great Neck, NY
Rabbi: The magicians told Pharaoh many things, they must, lest they lose their positions as advisors. They incorrectly predicted Moses’ birthdate. They also could not perform anything more than sleight-of-hand, explaining why they could not produce lice ,or remove the boils from their bodies, or halt any plague. Their suggestion that the Jewish redeemer will perish by water was based on their historical knowledge of God previously destroying man by water (the Flood).
Regarding blessings, there are 2 types as you outlined: 1) a father’s natural advice for his children based on their traits, and 2) divine blessings such as Isaac’s blessing of Jacob.
Grave Praying Options
Reader: I watched your video on davening at tzaddikim's graves and I was wondering: If you have a choice between two tzaddikim’s graves, and there's only time to go to one of them, should one opt for:
1) the tzaddik with greater madreiga,
2) the tzaddik with closer familial relation,
3) the tzaddik related more to your particular situation of need, or
4) the tzaddik from a specific sect of Judaism (chassidish, modern-orthodox, sefardi, ashkenazi, etc.)?”
Asher Zelig Fogel
New York, NY
Rabbi: We must first clarify that we do not pray to the dead; this is a clear Torah prohibition.
Rabbi Israel Chait taught that what Judaism gave the world was not monotheism, as Jeremiah taught, “Who would not revere You, O King of the nations?” (Jer. 10:7). All nations accepted the single God. Rather, Judaism taught the world to reject their belief in intermediaries (sun gods, moon gods, etc.). We pray to God alone, as He is fully capable to alone hear each of our needs, and respond alone.
What then was Calev doing praying at the patriarchs’ and matriarchs’ graves? Calev prayed to God, not to the dead. Calev faced strong opposition from the other 10 spies seeking to defame Israel and reject the Jews’ ability to conquer the land. Calev wisely sought to fortify his conviction in God’s promise of successfully vanquishing the inhabitants. To do so, he visited the graves of those to whom God originally promised the land. Making God’s promise a tangible reality, Calev strengthened his values, but he directed his prayers to God alone (Tosfos, Sotah 34b). Thus, Calev followed your 3rd option above.
This question suggests that dead tzaddikim might improve our lives. However, we must be mindful of Torah’s most primary fundamentals, one being “Reward and Punishment”: we are the sole cause of our merits and sins. What others do, cannot remove our sins or earn us merit. Thus, praying to dead tzaddikim is prohibited, it is of no use, and it also denies Reward and Punishment. Many times Torah says, “Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents; each man in his own sin shall be killed” (Deut. 24:16, Kings II 14:6, Chronicles II 25:4). Thus, God’s system is where others do not impact our reward or punishment…we are the sole cause.
Visiting graves of righteous people should be done only to inspire us with their values. But we must not think they can hear us, that the dead have powers, or that God treats us differently based one the actions of others, dead or alive.
Sinful Jewish Arrogance
Reader: While having a conversation with a Chabad Rabbi, he informed me that only the Jew has a “special relationship” with God, and that a Noahide/Gentile does not. He went on to elaborate that even if a Jew was to walk away from his faith and Torah, that he would still be in a “special relationship” with G-d, and that G-d would bring him back at some time in the future. He added that a deeper relationship can be acquired by the Noahide/Gentile ONLY by his own initiative, but never to the level of the Jew—only if the Noahide/Gentile converted can he then reach this “special relationship.”
Well, that was discouraging to me to say the least, since I am presently a Noahide who faithfully attends a Chabad Shul and have always had a desire to convert, but cannot at this time. I must be honest with you Rabbi; I was extremely hurt and still very confused. Can you help shed some light on the subject.
PS: When I was a Christian and I would read the Old Testament, every promise of G-d, everything G-d said, I felt G-d was always speaking to me; I felt as though I was eating from a banquet table. But now I feel as though I am eating scraps from the floor. It is the place I see myself in: “If you are not in, you are out.” I do not want to feel this way.
Rabbi: While the Jew does have a unique role, this regards only obligations, not human design, the latter is equally shared by all, men and women. If a Jew sins, he can forfeit his Olam Haba, which contradicts the Chabad Rabbi. We see countless cases of sinful Jews like Korach, who God did not “bring back.”
There continues to exist a Jewish arrogance not based in Torah, but in man’s ego. God is the authority, and He rejects the Rabbi’s words you quoted.
God created “all” people with a soul, as He desires all people to attain the greatest good, which means knowledge of God and human perfection. Thus, all people possess the identical potential. Maimonides states (Shmitta v’Yovale 13:13) that “every one who enters the word” (not just the Jew) can equally earn God’s providence.
You can rest assured that you are a creation equal to every other human. But those who say otherwise are on a lower level than you as they disparage God’s words.
Reader: Thank you Rabbi for your response, you have helped me tremendously in my walk.