Letters Jan. 2022

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Human Equality

Reader: I came across this assertion from the Internet: “Public prayer is not rejected, even if the individuals in the group are not entirely sincere” (Taanis 8A, based on Tehillim 78). 

First of all, is this a true Torah position? If so, what exactly does it mean that, “the prayer is not rejected?” I’m cognizant of the fact that it doesn’t say the prayer will be “answered” positively. What then exactly is the benefit to the people of the prayer not being rejected?

–Omphile Tshipa, Africa

Rabbi: “Not being rejected” means the public will not be turned away empty handed...they will receive some of what they wish for, or all of it. This is because God won’t reject Israel’s “national” merit, as God promised to be with Israel always, as He told Abraham, “I will maintain My covenant between Me and you, and your offspring to come, as an everlasting covenant throughout the ages, to be God to you and to your offspring to come” (Gen. 17:7).  Whereas “individuals” may not have personal merit sufficient to receive God’s positive grant of his/her request, the nation of Israel does have this guarantee. But King David also said that God does not forsake even individuals who search out God...who continually strive to study Torah and follow mitzvos: “Those who know Your name trust You, for You do not abandon those who turn to You, O Lord” (Psalms 9:11).

Reader: Ok, it gets clearer now. How about other nations, who do not have that promise…or do they? King Solomon's request for Hashem to answer the prayer of the nations when opening the Beis Hamikdash comes to mind. Was Solomon restating a previously known concept (that God answers prayers of nations) or it was a new concept? Is this what Nineveh did to reverse the decree of destruction?

Rabbi: You constantly impress me with your Torah knowledge and questions. King Solomon–and any human–merely perceives eternal truths with which God governs man since Creation. All mankind receive equal providence depending upon their level of perfection. This applies to individuals, nations, and the world. Maimonides teaches this in his Mishneh Torah: 

Each and every one of the sons of man has virtues and vices. He whose virtues exceed his vices is a just man, and he whose vices exceed his virtues is an evildoer; if both are evenly balanced, he is mediocre. The same applies to a nation. If the virtues of all of its inhabitants exceeded their vices, it is, indeed, a just state; but if their vices exceeded, it is, indeed, a wicked state. Even such is a standard for the whole world (Maimonides, Laws of repentance, 3:1).

Ninveh was spared as they exemplified proper repentance. Any nation–Israel and others–would be treated similarly. However, Israel does have some greater measure of providence due to God’s promise to Abraham. But again, any human can join Israel and share the providence.

Rabbi Israel Chait taught as follows: 

“And everyone that is called by my name I have created for my Glory” (Isaiah 43:7). Radak comments: “Israel, who believes in Me, I have created for my Honor, so that they spread My Glory to all the people.” Radak is saying that God’s compassion and kindness is not limited to the nation of Israel, but includes all mankind. It is incumbent upon Israel to be concerned also about all humanity and to teach all mankind the true ideas of Torah. This is stated in Isaiah 2:2,3 and elsewhere throughout the Prophets. It is God’s will that all mankind should have the opportunity to live according to the Torah way of life. 

Maimonides writes:

Not only the tribe of Levi, but each and every human who enters the world, whose spirit moves him and he understands from his knowledge to separate himself to stand before God, to minister before Him and to serve Him, to know God, and he walks upright as God created him, and he breaks off his neck the yoke of calculations of the masses that man pursues, behold he becomes holy of holies and God will be his portion and inheritance forever eternally. And he will merit in this world sufficient sustenance just as the priests and the Levites. David, peace be upon him said, "The Lord is my allotted portion and my cup; You hold my lot" [Psalms 16:5] (Maimonides, Laws of Shmitta and Jubilee 13:13). 


One would think that if mysticism, magic, astrology and luck actually existed, that those with the greatest knowledge of the universe—scientists—would have verified these assumed powers. But just the opposite is true: scientists have verified only natural laws, including cause and effect which operates only through nature. Mystics would retort that it is precisely because mysticism and astrology operate “not” within the observable world, that scientists have not found evidence. Of course scientists will respond that if this is the case, what forces one to suggest the existence of something which cannot be observed? If we look at the most mystical and astrological societies like ancient Egypt, we wonder why they did not use their astrology or black magic to terminate the 10 Plagues, or why Pharaoh always summoned Moses alone to terminate the Plagues—he never asked this of his magicians. Obviously, Pharaoh recognized that his magicians were powerless, he certainly recognized this after the magicians and astrologers could not remove the plague of boils from their own bodies.

Is Love of God all Emotional?

Reader: The Rambam emphasizes that the love of God is proportionate to the knowledge of God. That the intellect and rational thinking is the path to the love of God. My question is whether that love trickles down to one’s emotions and passions, or does remain something cerebral?

Rabbi: Rabbi Israel Chait addressed your question:

The only enjoyment we do not experience in this world is the soul’s enjoyment. Maimonides states this in his Commentary on the Mishna in Sanhedrin. In earthly life, there is no such thing as a spiritual enjoyment. Due to the nature of the merger between the soul and the psyche in the body, our enjoyments are purely psychological. Chazal agree with this view of Maimonides as well. It is a fundamental belief; we are prevented from enjoying spiritual pleasure on Earth. This means that our enjoyment of ideas and wisdom is only a psychological pleasure. But the soul has no enjoyment here. (Pirkei Avos 4:17, book IV pg 282).