Letters July 2021

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Method in Thinking

Rabbi: A reader defended sefirot: emanations or parts of God, which Maimonides teaches is heretical. God is not physical, and therefore, He is not subject to division into parts or emanations, whatever the latter means. The reader supported sefirot but without explaining what sefirot is. My reply:  Your defense of sefirot is of no substance. It is irrelevant that the Gra or others wrote about them. For if you cannot explain what they are, you can’t merely echo a Rishon as say, ‘Since he said it, it must be true.’ Ramban argues with Maimonides. I cannot simply say, ‘Since Ramban said such and such, it is true,’ as I have not grasped his position in order to defend it. Additionally, as Maimonides argues on Ramban, what makes Ramban any more correct? You see, merely quoting even the greatest mind without grasping their intent is of no value. It is as of you say  "XXXX is true.”

Defense of our great Rabbis is poor lesson taught today. For the Rabbis themselves did not subscribe to such a philosophy of defending great people, simply due to reputation. Instead, they followed their intellects and reason, which alone dictated what they accepted as truths. They argued on each other. That is their lesson to us: reject any idea when reason dictates it is false, regardless of the author, and never defend a position when you cannot grasp it, or explain it. 

Idolatry’s Roots

Rabbi: When young, a child craves security from the parent. His natural insecurities seek to be calmed and assured of safety. When one matures, the path one should take is to abandon the view of the parent as a “super being,” as this is a child’s view. But many young teens sense a void when they realize the parent is not a superpower and that they are equal to them. They replace the parent with either Jesus, a dead rabbi who they pray to in his grave, or idolatry, in order to maintain this psychological crutch of security in some power that protects them. But Torah’s mandate is to replace the parent with God alone. “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous man collapse” (Psalms 55:23). God designed the way humans enter the world, through parents. The institution and design of parents intends to cultivate a sense of respect for authority into man. This respect for authority is to then be transferred onto God. Thus, honoring parents is rightfully placed in the first tablet of the 10 Commands addressing laws between man and God. One might think honoring parents should be placed in the second tablet concerning laws between man and man. But as parents intend to direct our respect for authority towards God, the law of honoring parents is rightfully placed in the first tablet.

Does God Need to Test Man?

Reader: What is the meaning of Genesis 22 (Akedah, the binding of Isaac)? Why did God feel the need to test Abraham? Didn’t God already know the outcome? Isn't God all-knowing? Ralbag (and possibly ibn Ezra) felt that God is not all-knowing. God only knows generalities but not the details. 

Rabbi: Rabbi Israel Chait explained that this test was not for Abraham, but for the Torah reader: we should be inspired by Abraham’s level of perfection. The test was not for Abraham, for he already possessed the perfection that enabled him to sacrifice Isaac. The trial is for us today, that we should see how we are required to increase our perfection and strive to live as Abraham. And yes, God knew the outcome, which is why He asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

Regarding Ralbag and Ibn Ezra, they cannot possibly reject any knowledge is unknown to God. The reality of God rewarding and punishing man means He is aware of all man does and thinks. As idolatry is the worst sin, and this is a matter of a mindful acceptance, not only action, God punishes the idolater for accepting alien gods in his mind. Prayer makes no sense if God is unaware of man's thoughts. No Rabbi or sage could ever entertain that God is ignorant of anything. Psalms 33:10 reads, “The Lord frustrates the plans of nations, brings to naught the thoughts of peoples.”  Psalms 33:15, “He who fashions the hearts of them all, Who discerns all their doings.” Psalms 94:9 says, “Shall He who implants the ear not hear, shall He who forms the eye not see?”  As God created man’s mind (heart) He certainly knows its operations. 

Does God have Feelings?

Reader: Why does Scripture say that after the Flood, that God’s “heart was saddened”? Does God regret? Rambam did not think that God has emotions. “I am God who does not change” (Mal. 3:6). And if He were sometimes angry and sometimes happy, He would be changing (Rambam, Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah, 1:12). What is your view?

Rabbi: “Torah speaks in man's language” (Maimonides, Torah Fundamental 1:9). God formulated His Torah lessons so they relate to all levels of people, and thereby educate and motivate them. God’s “regret” over man’s sins means man has not attained the level God wishes. But of course, as God created human emotions, He does not possess them. Equally true is that God does not change, as you quoted. Change would imply ignorance, for change means that God would need to react (change) to what was unforeseen before Him. More essentially, God is above time, as He created it, and does not function in time, which is what change means.