Letters — Feb. 2023

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

They Saw God?

Torah says Moshe and the 70 elders saw Hashem. How was it possible? What did they see? What is it telling us? 

-Saul  Aptekar

“And they saw the God of Israel—under whose feet was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity. Yet [God] did not raise a hand against the leaders of the Israelites; they beheld God, and they ate and drank.”

Rashi clarifies: “They gazed intently and failing in this they peeped in their attempt to catch a glimpse of the Supreme Being, and thereby made themselves liable to death.”  The leaders sinned, Moses did not. These leaders sought to render God into a viewable being. They made God tangible, which is a great sin. In fact, all they saw was their imaginations. 

Good Traits

“He who covers up his faults will not succeed; [but] he who confesses and gives them up will find mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). It is a valuable trait to admit error. This allows us to learn greater truths. But if ego rules over us, we will reject what is disagreeable at the cost of forfeiting knowledge, and we won’t change and improve our behaviors. By covering up faults, success cannot be had, as success is a result of an honest, intelligent path…not one of denial and faults.

Another beneficial trait is excitement and anticipation when learning Torah or science. If we have the true perception of God, that He created the universe and Torah, we will never be satisfied with mediocre explanations, but we will earnestly toil in our studies to find God’s brilliance: the “buried treasures” King Solomon said we should seek (Proverbs 2:4). Only when we seek answers do we find them, and only when we seek the best answers, we will dismiss mediocre explanations and toil until God shows us His marvels. As King David said, “Open my eyes, that I may perceive the wonders of Your teaching” (Psalms 199:18).


Student: Can we determine the exact criteria of justice in every area of life? 

Rabbi Morton Moskowitz: Studying Proverbs, your mind is trained in a certain way of thinking. When a particular situation arises, that training comes into play and using your training, you evaluate all factors at hand. Variables are infinite, but principles are not. This is why a trained mind is so important. One will be happy as Torah trains one to learn their nature and how to deal wisely in all areas. 

Communicating with the Dead

Reader: What do we make of stories (whether within Judaism or outside) of the dead coming to a person in a dream and revealing something they otherwise would not have known? Some claim that certain stories can be corroborated first hand. Do the dead really come to us in dreams?

-Jack Hazan

Rabbi: Science and Torah approach wisdom assuming the least. This principle is called Occam’s Razor or the principle of parsimony. The simplest answer here is that one already subconsciously knew the information, and he constructed a dream scenario where someone else in that dream was unveiling what he already knew. Upon waking, the dreamer only “thinks” he learned something new.  

Ibn Ezra said, “Torah prohibits not what is true, but what is false, and the proof are idols” (Lev. 19:31). Torah prohibits consulting the dead for the reason that we cannot communicate with them. Therefore we don’t suggest dreams of the dead to be any different; such communication contradicts Torah. I also don’t recall any Torah precedent of the living having dreams where they communicated with the dead. And more, Isaiah 64:3 says that God alone knows what exist afterlife. This would preclude contact with the dead in dreams.

Finally, first hand corroboration for dreams is impossible. As only the dreamer experienced the dream, no one else can corroborate such an independent experience, if this is what you mean.