Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why Does the Story of Yehuda and Tamar Interrupt the Narrative on Yosef

(Translations from
In this week's parsha we have the sale of Yosef, the incident of Yehuda with Tamar and then the situation of Yosef with Potifar's wife. A question to ask is why does the story of Yosef's sale get interrupted by Yehuda's shameful story (that seems to have nothing to do with the overall narrative) and then immediately following Yehuda's story we continue the narrative of Yosef by the incident with potifar's wife? Do all three stories really have a lot more to do with one another than it looks like or are they unrelated?

First, we must understand the relationship between Yehuda and Yosef. Yehuda led the brothers to sell Yosef into slavery because, at this point, HE was the leader of the brothers. This can clearly be seen (Genesis 37:26-27),
26And Judah said to his brothers, "What is the gain if we slay our brother and cover up his blood?
כו. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה אֶל אֶחָיו מַה בֶּצַע כִּי נַהֲרֹג אֶת אָחִינוּ וְכִסִּינוּ אֶת דָּמוֹ:

27Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but our hand shall not be upon him, for he is our brother, our flesh." And his brothers hearkened.

כז. לְכוּ וְנִמְכְּרֶנּוּ לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים וְיָדֵנוּ אַל תְּהִי בוֹ כִּי אָחִינוּ בְשָׂרֵנוּ הוּא וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶחָיו:
Therefore, in essence, he was responsible for whatever happened to Yosef. In light of this, we can say that Yehuda was blamed for Yosef's sale (or death) by his father and his brothers. Yehuda came up with the sale AND the lie, as it says (Genesis 37:32),
32And they sent the fine woolen coat, and they brought [it] to their father, and they said, "We have found this; now recognize whether it is your son's coat or not."לב. וַיְשַׁלְּחוּ אֶת כְּתֹנֶת הַפַּסִּים וַיָּבִיאוּ אֶל אֲבִיהֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ זֹאת מָצָאנוּ הַכֶּר נָא הַכְּתֹנֶת בִּנְךָ הִוא אִם לֹא:
The brothers state, later on by their trip to Egypt, how much they regret what they did to Yosef (Genesis 42:21), 
21And they said to one another, "Indeed, we are guilty for our brother, that we witnessed the distress of his soul when he begged us, and we did not listen. That is why this trouble has come upon us."כא. וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל אָחִיו אֲבָל אֲשֵׁמִים | אֲנַחְנוּ עַל אָחִינוּ אֲשֶׁר רָאִינוּ צָרַת נַפְשׁוֹ בְּהִתְחַנְנוֹ אֵלֵינוּ וְלֹא שָׁמָעְנוּ עַל כֵּן בָּאָה אֵלֵינוּ הַצָּרָה הַזֹּאת:
This allows us to understand what happened to Yehuda. After the sale, the Torah tells us (Genesis 28:1),
1Now it came about at that time that Judah was demoted by his brothers, and he turned away until [he came] to an Adullamite man, named Hirah.א. וַיְהִי בָּעֵת הַהִוא וַיֵּרֶד יְהוּדָה מֵאֵת אֶחָיו וַיֵּט עַד אִישׁ עֲדֻלָּמִי וּשְׁמוֹ חִירָה:
The brothers held Yehuda responsible for what they did and they were so distraught that they, essentially, banished him. 

Summing up what happened in the first "ACT" of this week's parsha we can see two main things. First, Yehuda was a leader that used his power to commit a grave sin. Secondly, instead of admitting to the sin, he created this elaborate lie to tell his father and had all of his brothers go along with it. So, the first part of this week's parsha focuses on Yehuda's failure to admit to a sin and this, as far as everyone knew, resulted in Yosef's death. As previously stated, this is why Yehuda was "outside of the camp" after the sale of Yosef.

The next "ACT" in this week's parsha is Yehuda's incident with Tamar, that he slept with her and gave her his signet ring and staff. This story does not, as some people think, come to embarrass Yehuda, but rather to exonerate him. 

In this occurrence we see Yehuda sin and have relations with a prostitute, as far as he knows (Genesis 38:15-16), 
15When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, because she covered her face.
טו. וַיִּרְאֶהָ יְהוּדָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לְזוֹנָה כִּי כִסְּתָה פָּנֶיהָ:

16So he turned aside toward her to the road, and he said, "Get ready now, I will come to you," for he did not know that she was his daughter in law, and she said, "What will you give me that you should come to me?"
טז. וַיֵּט אֵלֶיהָ אֶל הַדֶּרֶךְ וַיֹּאמֶר הָבָה נָּא אָבוֹא אֵלַיִךְ כִּי לֹא יָדַע כִּי כַלָּתוֹ הִוא וַתֹּאמֶר מַה תִּתֶּן לִי כִּי תָבוֹא אֵלָי:
However, we see that when Tamar is suspected of sinning in a similar way, becoming pregnant with no husband, Yehuda is ready to condemn her to death (Genesis 38:24),
24Now it came about after nearly three months, that it was told to Judah, saying, "Your daughter in law Tamar has played the harlot, and behold, she is pregnant from harlotry." So Judah said, "Bring her out, and let her be burned."כד. וַיְהִי | כְּמִשְׁלשׁ חֳדָשִׁים וַיֻּגַּד לִיהוּדָה לֵאמֹר זָנְתָה תָּמָר כַּלָּתֶךָ וְגַם הִנֵּה הָרָה לִזְנוּנִים וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוּדָה הוֹצִיאוּהָ וְתִשָּׂרֵף:
It seems a little strange that someone who sinned in a similar manner would be so fast to condemn another in a similar situation. But, this is just human nature. If someone sins in private then they are usually more likely to condemn that sin publicly than someone who is not even involved with that sin.

In any case, when Tamar sends Yehuda his signet ring and staff he immediately confesses to his sin and to Tamar's righteousness, the exact opposite of how he dealt with Yosef's sale (Genesis 38:25-26),
25She was taken out, and she sent to her father in law, saying, "From the man to whom these belong I am pregnant," and she said, "Please recognize whose signet ring, cloak, and staff are these?"
כה. הִוא מוּצֵאת וְהִיא שָׁלְחָה אֶל חָמִיהָ לֵאמֹר לְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר אֵלֶּה לּוֹ אָנֹכִי הָרָה וַתֹּאמֶר הַכֶּר נָא לְמִי הַחֹתֶמֶת וְהַפְּתִילִים וְהַמַּטֶּה הָאֵלֶּה:

26Then Judah recognized [them], and he said, "She is right, [it is] from me, because I did not give her to my son Shelah." But he no longer continued to be intimate with her.
כו. וַיַּכֵּר יְהוּדָה וַיֹּאמֶר צָדְקָה מִמֶּנִּי כִּי עַל כֵּן לֹא נְתַתִּיהָ לְשֵׁלָה בְנִי וְלֹא יָסַף עוֹד לְדַעְתָּהּ:
In fact, this occurrence proves that Yehuda had done teshuva on his previous actions. By Yosef, Yehuda lied to his father by the sin, but by Tamar, even though it was the most embarrassing thing he could have done, he admitted to his misdeed. Yehuda showed that he had changed his ways and therefore was reaccepted by the brothers and, to this day, the leader of the Jewish people is supposed to come from Yehuda. Thus, the Yehuda type of leader is a leader that makes mistakes, but can admit to them and correct themselves when in error.

Yosef had a very different problem from the one Yehuda had, he was being pursued by his master's wife. However, Yosef never gave in to temptation and was sent to jail because of his integrity. It seems a little backwards here, Yehuda sinned by sleeping with a harlot and admitted to it and was thereby forgiven, but Yosef never gave in to a married woman and was punished for his celibacy? How does that work? 

The way I want to explain this is based on Rashi. Rashi says that Yosef, even in the house of Yaakov, would always make himself look nice and beautiful (Rashi Genesis 37:2),
and he was a lad: He behaved childishly, fixing his hair and touching up his eyes so that he would appear handsome. [From Gen. Rabbah 84:7]והוא נער: שהיה עושה מעשה נערות, מתקן בשערו ממשמש בעיניו, כדי שיהיה נראה יפה:
Basically, Yosef was a little vain, according to Rashi. This might have also been the source as to why Yosef told the brothers his dreams, because he was a little vain.

Later, we see that Yosef was in a household where the master's wife would always try to seduce him. Perhaps Yosef should not have been making himself look nice all the time and thereby Potifar's wife would have stopped pursuing him (Rashi Genesis 39:6),

and Joseph had handsome features: As soon as Joseph found himself [in the position of] ruler, he began eating and drinking and curling his hair. Said the Holy One, blessed be He: “Your father is mourning and you curl your hair! I will incite the bear against you.” Immediately afterwards“his master’s wife lifted up her eyes.” [from Tanchuma Vayeshev 8]ויהי יוסף יפה תואר: כיון שראה עצמו מושל, התחיל אוכל ושותה ומסלסל בשערו, אמר הקב"ה אביך מתאבל ואתה מסלסל בשערך, אני מגרה בך את הדוב מיד:

We see from here that, at this point, Yosef had not changed his ways, he was the same. Being sold into slavery never evoked a character change in Yosef. Yehuda, on the other hand, was able to realize his faults and do teshuva. This could be a possible explanation as to why all of these three stories are together and why Yosef was punished, but Yehuda was exonerated. These three stories teach us the power and importance of Teshuva. Yosef did not become humble and change his ways until after he was imprisoned, but Yehuda was able to change his ways once he realized his own hypocrisy.

This difference is seen in two different leaders later on in Tanach as well, King Saul and King David. King Saul had sinned by the war with Amalek by not listening to G-D and then denying his sin. As it says (Samuel 1 15:14-26),
14And Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears? And the lowing of the oxen which I hear?"
יד. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל וּמֶה קוֹל הַצֹּאן הַזֶּה בְּאָזְנָי וְקוֹל הַבָּקָר אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי שֹׁמֵעַ:

15And Saul said, "They brought them from the Amalekites, for the people had pity on the best of the sheep, and the oxen, in order to sacrifice to the Lord your God: and the rest we have utterly destroyed."
טו. וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל מֵעֲמָלֵקִי הֱבִיאוּם אֲשֶׁר חָמַל הָעָם עַל מֵיטַב הַצֹּאן וְהַבָּקָר לְמַעַן זְבֹחַ לַיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְאֶת הַיּוֹתֵר הֶחֱרַמְנוּ:

16And Samuel said to Saul, "Desist, and I shall tell you what the Lord spoke to me last night." And he said to him, "Speak."
טז. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל שָׁאוּל הֶרֶף וְאַגִּידָה לְּךָ אֵת אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהֹוָה אֵלַי הַלָּיְלָה וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ דַּבֵּר:

17And Samuel said, "Even if you are small in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? And the Lord anointed you as king over Israel.
יז. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל הֲלוֹא אִם קָטֹן אַתָּה בְּעֵינֶיךָ רֹאשׁ שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָתָּה וַיִּמְשָׁחֲךָ יְהֹוָה לְמֶלֶךְ עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל:

18And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, 'Go, and you shall utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and you shall wage war against them until they destroy them.'
יח. וַיִּשְׁלָחֲךָ יְהֹוָה בְּדָרֶךְ וַיֹּאמֶר לֵךְ וְהַחֲרַמְתָּה אֶת הַחַטָּאִים אֶת עֲמָלֵק וְנִלְחַמְתָּ בוֹ עַד כַּלּוֹתָם אֹתָם:

19Now, why did you not hearken to the voice of the Lord, but you flew upon the spoil, and you did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord?"
יט. וְלָמָּה לֹא שָׁמַעְתָּ בְּקוֹל יְהֹוָה וַתַּעַט אֶל הַשָּׁלָל וַתַּעַשׂ הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי יְהֹוָה:

20And Saul said to Samuel, "Yes, I did hearken to the voice of the Lord. I did go on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and I brought Agag, the king of Amalek alive, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.
כ. וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל אֶל שְׁמוּאֵל אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַעְתִּי בְּקוֹל יְהֹוָה וָאֵלֵךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר שְׁלָחַנִי יְהֹוָה וָאָבִיא אֶת אֲגַג מֶלֶךְ עֲמָלֵק וְאֶת עֲמָלֵק הֶחֱרַמְתִּי:

21And the people took from the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the ban, to sacrifice to your God in Gilgal."
כא. וַיִּקַּח הָעָם מֵהַשָּׁלָל צֹאן וּבָקָר רֵאשִׁית הַחֵרֶם לִזְבֹּחַ לַיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּגִּלְגָּל:

22And Samuel said, "Has the Lord (as much) desire in burnt offerings and peace-offerings, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than a peace-offering; to hearken (is better) than the fat of rams.
כב. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל הַחֵפֶץ לַיהֹוָה בְּעֹלוֹת וּזְבָחִים כִּשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל יְהֹוָה הִנֵּה שְׁמֹעַ מִזֶּבַח טוֹב לְהַקְשִׁיב מֵחֵלֶב אֵילִים:

23For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Since you rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you from being a king."
כג. כִּי חַטַּאת קֶסֶם מֶרִי וְאָוֶן וּתְרָפִים הַפְצַר יַעַן מָאַסְתָּ אֶת דְּבַר יְהֹוָה וַיִּמְאָסְךָ מִמֶּלֶךְ:

24And Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned, for I transgressed the Lord's command, and your words, for I feared the people, and I hearkened to their voice.
כד. וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל אֶל שְׁמוּאֵל חָטָאתִי כִּי עָבַרְתִּי אֶת פִּי יְהֹוָה וְאֶת דְּבָרֶיךָ כִּי יָרֵאתִי אֶת הָעָם וָאֶשְׁמַע בְּקוֹלָם:

25And now, forgive now my sin, and return with me, and I shall prostrate myself to the Lord."
כה. וְעַתָּה שָֹא נָא אֶת חַטָּאתִי וְשׁוּב עִמִּי וְאֶשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לַיהֹוָה:

26And Samuel said to Saul, "I shall not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being a king over Israel."
כו. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל שָׁאוּל לֹא אָשׁוּב עִמָּךְ כִּי מָאַסְתָּה אֶת דְּבַר יְהֹוָה וַיִּמְאָסְךָ יְהֹוָה מִהְיוֹת מֶלֶךְ עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל:
This is similar to Yosef. Saul was a humble person and because of his inability to control his humbleness he allowed himself to sin. Not only did he sin, but he denied the fact that he was doing the wrong thing. Yosef, too, could not even realize that beautifying himself was the wrong thing to do.

However, the story of Dovid shows someone who sinned, a terrible sin as is explained elsewhere on this blog (, was able to immediately repent when his errors are pointed out to him. He did not deny the sin, but immediately accepted the rebuke and changed because of it.

This is the lesson we must take away, Saul and Yosef were great people, but they could not understand where they were lacking. This is why Yosef not only was sold into slavery, but was then thrown into jail, and why Saul lost his kingship. However, Yehuda and Dovid committed even greater sins than Yosef or Saul, but because they were horrified and disappointed with themselves because of their sins they repented and kept or regained their leadership roles. This just shows how great the act of repentance is.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rambam- Yesodei HaTorah- Chapter 9 Halacha 1: No Prophet Can Alter The Torah and G-D's Knowledge of the Future

 דבר ברור ומפורש בתורה שהיא מצוה עומדת לעולם ולעולמי עולמים אין לה לא שינוי ולא גרעון ולא תוספת שנאמר את כל הדבר אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם אותו תשמרון לעשות לא תוסף עליו ולא תגרע ממנו. ונאמר והנגלות לנו ולבנינו עד עולם לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת. הא למדת שכל דברי תורה מצווין אנו לעשותן עד עולם. וכן הוא אומר חוקת עולם לדורותיכם. ונאמר לא בשמים היא. הא למדת שאין נביא רשאי לחדש דבר מעתה. לפיכך אם יעמוד איש בין מן האומות בין מישראל ויעשה אות ומופת ויאמר שה' שלחו להוסיף מצוה או לגרוע מצוה או לפרש במצוה מן המצות פירוש שלא שמענו ממשה. או שאמר שאותן המצות שנצטוו בהן ישראל אינן לעולם ולדורי דורות אלא מצות לפי זמן היו. הרי זה נביא שקר שהרי בא להכחיש נבואתו של משה. ומיתתו בחנק על שהזיד לדבר בשם ה' אשר לא צוהו. שהוא ברוך שמו צוה למשה שהמצוה הזאת לנו ולבנינו עד עולם ולא איש אל ויכזב: 

It is a clear [idea] in the Torah that it (the Torah) is a [conglomeration] of commandment[s] that were established to last forever. It is not [meant] to have any changes, deletions, or additions, as it says (Devarim 13:1), "Everything I command you, be careful to do it. You shall neither add to it, nor subtract from it." It also says (Devarim 29:28), " But the revealed things are for us and our children forever: that we must fulfill all the words of this Torah." This is to teach us that all of the words of the Torah are commands for us to perform, forever. It also says (Vayikra 23:14), "An eternal statute throughout your generations." 
It also says (Devarim 30:12), "It is not in heaven." This teaches us that the prophet does not have permission to [reveal a] new [law that was not revealed previously.] Therefore, if a prophet arises from among the men of Israel or from among the nations and performs signs and wonders and then says that G-D sent him to add a commandment, to delete a commandment, to explain one of the existing commandments in a way that was not heard from Moshe, or he says the commandments that Israel were commanded to follow were not meant for the generations, but only for a specific time, this [person] is a false prophet because he is coming to contradict the prophecy of Moshe! His death penalty is strangulation because he [falsely claimed] to be speaking in the name of G-D, but he was not really commanded [by G-D.] For, [G-D] commanded Moshe that this testament (the Torah) was for us and our children for eternity and [G-D] is not like a man, who lies.    

The Rambam here is introducing us to the idea that once the Torah was given to Moshe, that is the final draft of the Torah. G-D was working on the Torah and was "tweaking it" until he finally gave it to Moshe and the Jews at Mount Sinai. However, once G-D gave the Torah, that was it. There was no more alterations, G-D wanted the Torah that was handed over to be the final draft. Any further alterations were unnecessary. Therefore, if a prophet comes and says, "G-D wanted to tweak the Torah a little more," we call him or her a liar. The reason is because the Torah was given and it is "no longer in heaven!" Man was given the perfect code.

How do we know this code was perfect and no future alterations are necessary? For starters, it was given to us by G-D. If G-D is perfect and omniscient then the code he gave us must apply for all time.  

This brings me to an interesting and very important discussion, does G-D know the future and if he does, how can there be free will?

This has been a personal struggle for me and I believe I have a decent explanation. However, first let me state the dilemma clearly. The problem is this: If G-D knows what a person will do, then how does that person have free will to perform that action? Is the person not forced into performing that action because G-D already knows it will occur?

There are three main sources to discuss if you are interested in the rationalist approach to G-D's foreknowledge. The statements made by Rabbi Akiva, the Rambam and the Ralbag. Let's start with Rabbi Akiva. 

It states in the name of Rabbi Akiva in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our fathers, 3:15), "All is foreseen, and freedom of choice is granted." This does not help us understand anything. It is a simple statement that allows us to say that we have freedom of choice, but G-D knows everything. It seems like a contradiction, but it isn't and we must take Rabbi Akiva's word for it. This is a very unsatisfying answer. 

The Rambam gives us a little more, but not much. He bases his opinion on his approach to divine attributes (found in The Guide section 1 chapters 51-68). Basically, the Rambam says G-D's foreknowledge does not remove our freedom from our choices (See The Guide section 3 chapter 20). The reason for this is because we don't understand the idea of G-D Knowing something. G-D does not have features that are knowable. We do not have the ability to understand any attributes of G-D, therefore, we can not understand why His knowledge of events does not contradict our free will, but it does not. This answer is more detailed than Rabbi Akiva's, but it is still very unsatisfying.

The Ralbag's answer is intriguing, because he has such a unique approach to G-D's foreknowledge. He explains (In section 3 of The Wars of The Lord) that G-D does not know the future, because the future has not yet occurred, but G-D knows all of the possible outcomes based on different decisions that a person can make.

All three of these answers are difficult to take. Rabbi Akiva does not give any explanations as to why or how his statement is believable. The Rambam gives an explanation that would disallow any type of logic in Judaism, because if we can't really understand anything about G-D how can we truly understand what he said or passed down to us? Finally, the Ralbags approach would take away too much power from G-D. For, if G-D does not know the future, how can His Torah be relevant for all generations and unchangeable, like the Rambam says it is (Granted the Ralbag goes on to explain this difficulty, but the answers are still unsatisfying)?

I think the following approach makes the most sense. All of these previous approaches either lacked a way of explaining something or were the best effort for the thinking of their time. However, if we understand that space and time are finite and G-D exists outside of the finite universe, then we can understand that G-D knows everything that has occurred and everything that will occur. It is similar to watching a movie for the second time, just because I know what is going to happen in the movie, does that make the choices of the person in the movie any less of a choice? Also, it must be that G-D knows all future events in order for the Rambam's approach to be valid, because, as I stated earlier, if G-D did not know the future how could the Torah be unalterable? Obviously, the Torah would need to adjust as reality changed. However, with our approach, using a superficial understanding of space and time, we can somewhat understand how G-D's knowledge of the future works. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Rambam-Mishna Torah Yisodei Hatora Chapter 8 Mishna 3: Why a Prophet's Miracles Do Not Prove Anything

לפיכך אם עמד הנביא ועשה אותות ומופתים גדולים ובקש להכחיש נבואתו של משה רבינו אין שומעין לו ואנו יודעין בבאור שאותן האותות בלט וכשוף הן. לפי שנבואת משה רבינו אינה על פי האותות כדי שנערוך אותות זה לאותות זה. אלא בעינינו ראינוה ובאזנינו שמענוה כמו ששמע הוא. הא למה הדבר דומה לעדים שהעידו לאדם על דבר שראה בעיניו שאינו כמו שראה שאינו שומע להן אלא יודע בודאי שהן עדי שקר. לפיכך אמרה תורה שאם בא האות והמופת לא תשמע אל דברי הנביא ההוא. שהרי זה בא אליך באות ומופת להכחיש מה שראית בעיניך והואיל ואין אנו מאמינים במופת אלא מפני המצות שצונו משה היאך נקבל מאות זה שבא להכחיש נבואתו של משה שראינו וששמענו:

Therefore, if a prophet arises and performs great wonders and miracles and tries to contradict the prophecy of Moshe, our teacher, we do not listen to him and we know with certainty that those wonders [were performed with] trickery and magic. For, the prophecy of Moshe, our teacher, was not [based] on the signs [he performed] so we could compare this sign to another [prophet's] sign. Rather, we saw with our eyes and heard with our ears like [Moshe] heard. This [prophet that is giving a prophecy that contradicts Moshe's prophecy] is similar to witnesses that testify to a man concerning something that he saw with his own eyes, [but they claim to have] seen something different than what this man saw and different from what this man heard, therefore, this man knows with certainty that these are false witnesses. Therefore, the Torah says that if a false prophet comes with signs and wonders, you should not listen to his words, because this [false prophet] is bringing you signs and wonders to contradict something that you have seen with your own eyes. And since we only believe in wonders because of the commandments that Moshe commanded us, how can we accept this sign that is being brought to contradict the prophecy of Moshe that we saw and we heard?  

The Rambam here bases this Mishna on a foundation of his philosophy. The Rambam believes that there is no such thing as an unnatural event that occurs in this world, except for those things that G-D built into creation to be unnatural. This is found in the Rambam's explanation on the Mishna in Avos (Perek 5) that speaks about the ten things that were created on the eve of Sabbath. Over there, the Rambam says that all miracles and wonders are within the realm of the natural. 

With this in mind, we can understand his stance that a prophet producing a miracle proves nothing, because this miracle is within the realm of nature. However, the Torah, G-D and Moshe's prophecy are supernatural and thus, "untouchable" by any subsequent prophet. Every miracle is a natural phenomenon and thus can not be used to overrule something supernatural that is experienced with the senses. This is why we believe in miracles only because of Moshe's prophecy, because that is what brought the supernatural into this world. Without Moshe speaking to G-D and the Jewish people witnessing it, we would not believe that anything is supernatural. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Rambam Yesodei HaTorah Chapter 8 Halacha 2- Why There Was No Need For Moshe To Provide Miracles For People To Believe Him

נמצאו אלו ששולח להן הם העדים על נבואתו שהיא אמת ואינו צריך לעשות להן אות אחר. שהם והוא עדים בדבר כשני עדים שראו דבר אחד ביחד שכל אחד מהן עד לחבירו שהוא אומר אמת ואין אחד מהן צריך להביא ראיה לחבירו. כך משה רבינו כל ישראל עדים לו אחר מעמד הר סיני ואינו צריך לעשות להם אות. וזהו שאמר לו הקב"ה בתחילת נבואתו בעת שנתן לו האותות לעשותן במצרים ואמר לו ושמעו לקולך. ידע משה רבינו שהמאמין על פי האותות יש בלבבו דופי ומהרהר ומחשב והיה נשמט מלילך ואמר והן לא יאמינו לי. עד שהודיעו הקב"ה שאלו האותות אינן אלא עד שיצאו ממצרים ואחר שיצאו ויעמדו על ההר הזה יסתלק הרהור שמהרהרין אחריך שאני נותן לך כאן אות שידעו שאני שלחתיך באמת מתחילה ולא ישאר בלבם הרהור. והוא שהכתוב אומר וזה לך האות כי אנכי שלחתיך בהוציאך את העם ממצרים תעבדון את האלהים על ההר הזה. נמצאת אומר שכל נביא שיעמוד אחר משה רבינו אין אנו מאמינים בו מפני האות לבדו כדי שנאמר אם יעשה אות נשמע לו לכל מה שיאמר. אלא מפני המצוה שצוה משה בתורה ואמר אם נתן אות אליו תשמעון. כמו שצונו לחתוך הדבר על פי שנים עדים ואע"פ שאין אנו יודעין אם העידו אמת אם שקר. כך מצוה לשמוע מזה הנביא אע"פ שאין אנו יודעים אם האות אמת או בכישוף ולט:

We find that [the Jewish people] that [Moshe] was sent to, they were witnesses to his prophecy that it was truth and[, thus, Moshe] did not need to perform another sign for them. For [the Jewish people and Moshe] were witnesses [for his prophecy] similar to two witnesses that see an occurrence together, that both of them are witnesses that the other is speaking the truth and neither of them have to bring proof to each other. Therefore, with regards to Moshe our teacher, all of the Jewish people were witnesses for him after the events of Mt. Sinai and he did not need to perform a sign for them. 

[This idea is backed up by the conversation between G-D and Moshe by the burning bush, specifically] this that G-D said to [Moshe] at the beginning of his prophecy, at the time [G-D] was giving [Moshe] the signs that he was to perform in Egypt: And G-D said (Shemos 3:18), "They will listen to your voice." Moshe, our teacher, knew that one who believes because of a sign has fault, suspicion and suspect in his heart. [Therefore, Moshe tried to] abandon [the idea] of going and he said (Shemos 4:1), "They will not believe me." 

[Moshe pursued this course] until G-D made it known [by telling Moshe,] that these signs will only last until the [Jewish people] left Egypt. [However,] after [the Jewish people] will leave and they will stand at this mountain (Mt. Sinai) I (G-D) will remove the suspicion that they suspected after you (Moshe) for I will give you a sign here that it will be known that I sent you, in truth, from the beginning and there will not remain in their hearts any suspicion. This is what the verse [means] when it says (3:12), "This will be for you a sign that I sent you, when you take out the [Jewish] nation from Egypt you will worship G-D on this mountain."     

[The only sign that removes all doubts is that the Jewish people saw G-D speak to Moshe with their own eyes, therefore,] you will find the statement that every prophet that arose (or will arise) after Moshe, our teacher, we do not believe in him (or her) solely because of the sign [he or she performs. The reason for this is] because it would be said that if he (or she) performs a sign then we will listen to him (or her) for everything that he (or she) says. However, [the reason we believe this prophet is] because of the commandment that Moshe commanded in the Torah and said (Devarim 18:15), If a sign is given, "to him you shall listen." 

[This can be] compared to the commandment that we make a judgement by the word of two witnesses, even though we do not know if their testimony is true or false. Similarly, it is a commandment to listen to this prophet [that has a sign] even though we do not know if it is a true sign or magic and trickery." 

The Rambam here is trying to clarify his position as to how valid prophecy is and how it can be utilized. In this halacha, the Rambam is setting up the reason as to why no prophet could ever come to nullify or permanently alter the prophecy of Moshe. His point, although subtle, is that the only prophecy that can be determined to be true by others is the prophecy of Moshe. All other prophets can be lying. This is why all future prophets depend upon Moshe's prophecy and can not contradict his prophecy. This is how the Rambam can immediately brush off any claims of the Muslims or Christians.

I find the Rambam's point of view refreshing for several reasons. Mainly, the Rambam does not believe in mysticism and this idea shines through in this chapter of his Mishna Torah. The idea that one should be suspicious of anything that can not be seen with your own eyes is lacking in most circles. Only in the scientific community, and even then it is not constant, are people only swayed by empirical and reproducible evidence. An argument from authority without any tangible evidence is, according to the Rambam, inherently flawed. The sole reason that we believe Judaism is the correct religion is, simply put, because of the witnessed events at Mount Sinai. Without that single event, according to the Rambam, we would not be obligated to follow Judaism or even believe in G-D.

This point can not be over stated or overemphasized. People who claim to have prophecy or special powers and do not even produce a sign are certainly to be ignored. For, even if they had a sign we can not be sure they are telling the truth. With this as a foundation for Judaism, I think, people would stop making arguments from authority and be more open to intelligent discussions.    

Friday, November 15, 2013

Giving a Get (Document of Divorce) In Jewish Law

I saw this discussion over on and I felt I needed to comment:

Disappointed in HNNovember 7, 2013 at 1:56 PM DT --
I realize it must be difficult to answer these all day, I should have been more brief and specific in order not to confuse. I read R' Dovid Feinstein's letter, it doesn't answer question -- a very simple question, is it halachically legitimate to use a get as leverage in a divorce proceeding. I.e., "I will not give you this get unless and until I get what I want." I did happen to read your brother's lengthy letter regarding the fact that ma'us u'lai is not a strong enough reason to "force" a get. Again, I refer to R' Sternbuch's teshuva that clearly indicated that the husband "should" give a get in that scenario. But, again, I've been lengthy...

Daas Torah November 7, 2013 at 2:08 PM
I haven't found any teshuva which says that it is not legitimate. Furthermore often the husband is simply trying to gain that which is his according to the halacha - do you consider that illegitimate also? Again the issue is whether it is halachically or morally wrong to use the get as leverage for what you think you deserve. The answer seems to be no. BTW this applies also to a wife refusing to accept a get which Rav Eliashiv doesn't seem to think is immoral

Daas TorahNovember 7, 2013 at 2:35 PM
There should be demands which are unacceptable - but I haven't seen any discussion of what constitutes an unacceptable demand.

Disappointed in HNNovember 7, 2013 at 3:04 PM
My personal feeling, which seems to have some support from halacha, is that any husband who sits down with his to'ein and says ok, let's talk division of assets and custody and when I'm satisfied I'll give her a get, is a pretty bad guy...

---End of discussion---

Now, I think the point that Disappointed makes is a very important one. Can or should a Get ever be used as leverage for a man to receive what he wants, especially when halacha says he should receive it, but the woman won't let him have it? I am clearly no expert, but I have learned Maseches Gittin and hilchos Gittin, so I do feel like I can share my opinion.

The idea that one can use a Get as leverage is clearly a perversion of Judaism, plain and simple. The only time a man can withhold a Get is if he believes the marriage can be saved and he wants to remain married to the woman. Otherwise, halacha dictates that a Get must be given.

For example, if a woman cheats on her husband and there are not two witnesses to convict her, but the husband saw her cheating or knows from some other source, he must give her a Get. Now, one might think he is allowed to withhold a Get in this situation to cause her to suffer like he has because of her cheating, but the Gemara is clear that he must divorce her, aka give her a Get. Once a man is no longer going to live with his wife as man and wife he is supposed to, according to halacha, give her a Get. In a situation where he knows she cheated he is forbidden to live with her as husband and wife and must, therefore, give her a Get.

The question here is not whether we can force him or not and if that forced Get would be kosher or not. That is a technical and ridiculous question. The fact of the matter is, if someone is withholding a Get after a civil divorce where it is clear they will never live as husband and wife again that person is not following halacha. It is as if they are eating non-kosher, desecrating shabbos, having illicit relations, etc... Why do I compare it to the three big sins? Well, these cases where a man is withholding a Get become very public. Therefore, this is a pubic sin, not to mention a Chilul Hashem. We know that if a person is holding a gun to your head in public and says eat that cheeseburger, the Rambam is clear that one must give up his or her life and not eat that cheeseburger. Why? Because we know the reason the gun holder is doing that is specifically to cause the Jew to desecrate the commandments in front of an audience. Here too, the husband is desecrating G-D's name in public. He is transgressing more than just being "bitul an aaseh" (Not doing a positive commandment), but he is causing pain to the woman.

Even if you want to claim that the woman caused him pain, that does not make it ok for the man to cause pain to the woman. There is no revenge claus in the Torah, I am sorry, but there is not. Even if the woman was horrible to the man, the Get is not something that should or even can be used by the husband, according to Jewish law. Only a wicked or misguided person would use a Get as leverage.

Recently, someone wrote a post about withholding a Get if the woman makes false claims against the husband in order to receive full custody of the child. This is a classic case of two wrongs do not make a right. Just because the woman is clearly evil does not mean the man should demean and degrade himself to go down to her level. She obviously does not fear G-D or care about His commandments. However, a G-D fearing man needs to follow halacha and do what is right. One must have faith in G-D and His laws. Should I cheat in business because everyone else is doing it? Should I lie because I will then get what I want? Should I kill because then I will receive benefit? If you answered no to these questions why would you withhold a Get? If you answered yes to these questions you are not really an orthodox Jew, so do what you want.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Rambam-Yisodei HaTorah-Perek 8 Halacha 1: The Basis For Jewish Belief

משה רבינו לא האמינו בו ישראל מפני האותות שעשה. שהמאמין על פי האותות יש בלבו דופי שאפשר שיעשה האות בלט וכשוף. אלא כל האותות שעשה משה במדבר לפי הצורך עשאם. לא להביא ראיה על הנבואה. היה צריך להשקיע את המצריים קרע את הים והצלילן בתוכו. צרכנו למזון הוריד לנו את המן. צמאו בקע להן את האבן. כפרו בו עדת קרח בלעה אותן הארץ. וכן שאר כל האותות. ובמה האמינו בו במעמד הר סיני שעינינו ראו ולא זר ואזנינו שמעו ולא אחר האש והקולות והלפידים והוא נגש אל הערפל והקול מדבר אליו ואנו שומעים משה משה לך אמור להן כך וכך. וכן הוא אומר פנים בפנים דבר ה' עמכם. ונאמר לא את אבותינו כרת ה' את הברית הזאת. ומנין שמעמד הר סיני לבדו היא הראיה לנבואתו שהיא אמת שאין בו דופי שנאמר הנה אנכי בא אליך בעב הענן בעבור ישמע העם בדברי עמך וגם בך יאמינו לעולם. מכלל שקודם דבר זה לא האמינו בו נאמנות שהיא עומדת לעולם אלא נאמנות שיש אחריה הרהור ומחשבה:

The Jews did not believe in Moshe, our teacher, because of the signs he performed. For one who believes [in anything] because of signs has a blemish in his heart since it is possible that a sign was done through trickery and magic (and this person's faith is reliant on a fallacy). Rather, all the signs that Moshe performed in the desert were done out of necessity. [They were] not done to bring proof [as to the validity] of his prophecy. It was necessary to drown the Egyptians, so the sea was split and they were dunked in it. We (the Jews) needed sustenance so the manna was brought down [from the sky] for us. They (the Jews) were thirsty so the stone was split [and water came forth] for them. The congregation of Korach rebelled against [Moshe] so the earth swallowed them. And so too by all the other signs (miracles). 

What is the reason we believe in [Moshe's prophecies? Because of] the events at Mt. Sinai that our eyes saw them and not a strangers [eyes] and our ears heard them and not another's [ears. These events were] the fire, the sounds (thunder, voices?), the lightning, and then [Moshe] approached the fog and the voice [of G-D] spoke to him and we heard "Moshe, Moshe, go and say to them such and such." And so he said, "Face to face G-D spoke with you." And so it says (devarim 5:3), "G-D did not make this covenant with our fathers."

From where [do we know] that the events at Mt. Sinai, in and of themselves, are a proof to [Moshe's] prophecy that [we should believe] it has no faults? For it says (Exodus 19:9), "Behold, I am coming to you in the thick cloud in order that the nation will hear when I speak to you and also that they will believe in you forever." This implies that before this [event, the Jewish people] did not have a belief in [Moshe] that would last forever, rather it was a belief that was speculation and apprehension.             

This idea that the Rambam brings down is of critical importance. Signs, wonders and miracles are completely WORTHLESS when it comes to having a belief in anything. Jesus stood on water, the Baal Shem Tov flew across the world, and so on. These "miracles" have nothing to do with a JEWISH belief in G-D. The ONLY reason a Jew should believe in G-D is because of eyewitness proof. Just like I know my parents exist because I am an eyewitness, or I know president Obama exists because other people have told me he does and I see him on television. This is the Jewish belief in G-D, it is not some she said he said confusion, it is based on actually witnessed events. 

This is the basis for the Rambam's belief in G-D, that this event at Mt. Sinai actually happened. It isn't something that occurred in a dream or was verified through "miracles," it was based on an event in reality that can be substantiated. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Autopsies In Halacha

Since I am a pathology resident, I do a fair amount of autopsies (50 are required to graduate). Therefore, it was incumbent upon me as an orthodox Jew to look into the legal challenges with this subject. I have become accustomed to ask my questions to Rabbi Tendler, but since I was reading through the Nishmat Avraham and I found this paragraph I thought I would share:

and here are the sources:
The previous pages of the Nishmat Avraham go through why it is forbidden to perform an autopsy on a deceased Jew. He quotes one opinion that it is allowed for learning medicine, but firmly brushes that opinion aside and says it is irrelevant since most opinions say it is forbidden. He goes on to say how even if the person himself, let alone his family, requests an autopsy or donates the body to science since they do not have ownership over their body their words are meaningless and an autopsy may not be performed.

The only time an autopsy may be performed is when it will somehow save a life. (Most, if not all, autopsies are not done to save lives.)

The reason I find this specific paragraph intriguing is because the law in the Shulchan Orech (Yoreh Deah 349:1) which all of this is derived from equates a Jewish corpse and a non-Jewish corpse. Why then are there so many special rules by a Jewish corpse, but a non-Jewish corpse can so easily be used?

I have not looked through all of the sources since I am limited with my referencing materials. However, using I was able to find a good Shulchan Orech, Yoreh Deah that had many commentaries. There, I was able to find the Pischei Teshuva on this halacha (Yoreh Deah 349:1) which gives a foundation to the seemingly lenient opinion by non-Jews, but the much stricter opinion by Jews. It says that the prohibition that one may not benefit from a Jewish corpse is biblical, but not benefiting from a non-Jewish corpse is only rabbinically prohibited.

This actually helps explain HOW one could be allowed to perform an autopsy on a non-Jewish corpse when there is minimal reason and a Jewish corpse would need a maximal amount of reason, but I still need to understand WHY it should be that one is biblically prohibited and one is only rabbinically prohibited. I hope to translate one or both of Rav Moshe Feinstein's Responsa on this subject in the coming days.