Letters July 2o20
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Does God Observe Torah?
Friend: Does God observe the Torah?
Long Island, NY
Rabbi: Torah addresses the human condition, including our emotions, behaviors, thoughts and interactions with others. And Torah teaches us truths. As such, Torah cannot apply to God, who is not human and Who authored all truths. He cannot learn. However, Torah does embody God’s values: God says all found in Torah is what He determines is valuable. Torah also says we are to mimic God, so there is some “sharing” between man and God, but not that God is similar to man or anything in any way. We don’t know what He is, but we know His ways as stated in Torah. So, although God is not “obligated” in giving charity as a man is, charity is a value in God’s eyes, and thus, God is charitable towards His creatures. God does not operate with stubbornness which is a human emotion typically bent on ego. So God says we are not to be petty but to forgive, as this is a perfected trait where man rises above his emotions and acts as God acts. Man requires this perfection, God does not, so Torah is not followed by God. But Torah shares God’s values.
Can God Do Anything?
Friend: Isn’t God unlimited? Can’t He do anything?
Long Island, NY
Rabbi: God is perfect, but He is not unlimited. He lacks nothing, as nothing can impose restriction on the Creator. But saying that God is limited is correct, and is not an imperfection. God cannot be ignorant. This is a limitation, but it is a positive trait. Again, limitation does not indicate something negative, that God is imperfect or lacking. If a judge could not make a mistake, if he was limited to always deciding the correct verdict, we would certainly say he is a perfect judge. This limitation is not a negative, but a positive. We must abandon our infantile views that, “God can do anything,” like Superman. Torah contains immense brilliance, and we must not assume notions we learned as children are correct, while Torah is false. Torah teaches that God knows all, so this limitation that God cannot be ignorant is a truth, while “God doing anything” (even making Himself ignorant) is false. We must be objective, and view our ideas as if they are someone else’s ideas, with which we can disagree when exposed as false.
Reader: Shalom Aleichem Rabbi.
1. Is it a commandment to hate the rasha [one who is evil to the core]?
2. If someone tried to murder us or someone is always jealous, gossips and slanders and wants our downfall, is it a mitzvah to hate such a person?
3. Is there a differentiation between hating Hashem's enemy i.e with utmost hatred (Tehillim 139) and hating our own enemy with lesser hate?
Mark Stanley Gomez
Rabbi: Psalms 139:21,22 reads, “Is it not so that I hate Your haters, and loathe Your adversaries? I possess the epitome of hatred toward Your enemies.” One must hate those who oppose God’s will. It is not a personal hatred, but a desire that God’s will is not extinguished, thereby harming others. It is a desire that all who desire God can approach Him without opposition. Maimonides teaches that we must hate those who oppose the 13 Principles. This hatred applies to those like Amalek, Haman, Hitler, Hamas, Hezbollah, suicide bombers, Palestinian terrorists, murderers and the like. I don’t think King David’s “epitome of hatred” is a different hatred. In fact, Ibn Ezra says this means that King David hated God’s enemies as if the evil was directed at King David himself. Not that it is a greater hatred, but that King David reacted no less towards God’s haters than towards his own enemies. This shows the level of King David’s values. He defended God as himself.
But for lesser sins, hatred is not warranted. Everyone sins, and as we wish forgiveness for our sins, we should afford others the same lenience.
Reader: In preparation for the battle against Og, God tells Moshe not to be afraid. What is it about this battle and not any other task that only here, God tells Moshe not to be afraid? What do we learn from it? How was Og alive from the time of Abraham until Moshe?
Thanks and regards,
Saul S. Aptekar
Rabbi: Longevity back then extended to 1000 years...literally. Rashi answers your question: Moshe feared Og had earned merit by assisting Abraham. He feared that merit would shield him from Moshe’s attack, placing the Jews in danger.
Predetermination & Free Will
Reader: My question is about predetermination. I have personally never believed in it; it seems to contradict free will. I have heard many lectures from rabbis which teach this concept. Does everything that happens to us, happen for the good and is predetermined by Hashem? I believe every one is responsible for their own actions and is not the “messenger of Hashem,” [meaning we aren’t coerced to harm others who sinned as a punishment from God]. In some cases however I believe when we are hurt by someone, it’s because Hashem removes his protection from us when we are sinful or act against His Torah. What are the rabbis’ opinions about predetermination?
Mark Stanley Gomez
Rabbi: The rabbis agree: “And Rabbi Ḥanina said: Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of Heaven.” Man has free will to serve God, as it is stated, “And now Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you other than to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all of His ways, to love Him and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12). The Lord asks man to perform these matters because ultimately, the choice is in his hands. And when evil occurs, most of the time it is self-inflicted (Maimonides). But regarding evil inflicted from others or nature, God can protect one if he is worthy. However, Torah does say that God will use one person to bring justice to another, but this does not mean free will is suspended. Rashi comments o Exodus 21:13:
Two men, one of whom killed a person with premeditation and the other killed inadvertently, and in neither case were there any witnesses to the deed who could testify about it. Consequently, the former was not put to death and the latter was not forced into banishment to a city of refuge. Now God brings them together at the same inn. He who killed with premeditation happens to sit beneath a ladder, and the other who killed inadvertently ascends the ladder and falls upon the man who killed with premeditation and kills him. Witnesses now being present testify against him, compelling him to be banished to one of the cities of refuge. The result is that he who killed inadvertently is actually banished and he who killed with premeditation actually suffers death.
But this does not mean in every case God has orchestrated what happens to us. Maimonides teaches this all depends on our level of deserving God’s providence. Sforno too says (Lev. 13:47) that most people–Jew and gentile alike—are not on the level of providence and are left up to chance like animals.