Monday, March 30, 2009

Rambam-Warning Against Teaching Maaseh Merkava- Yisodei Hatorah perek 2 halacha 12

The Rambam now discusses why he can not go further into the subjects that he has been discussing. He says,

צוו חכמים הראשונים שלא לדרוש בדברים אלו אלא לאיש אחד בלבד והוא שיהיה חכם ומבין מדעתו ואחר כך מוסרין לו ראשי הפרקים ומודיעין אותו שמץ מן הדבר והוא מבין מדעתו וידע סוף הדבר ועומקו. ודברים אלו דברים עמוקים הם עד למאד ואין כל דעת ודעת ראויה לסובלן. ועליהם אמר שלמה בחכמתו דרך משל כבשים ללבושך כך אמרו חכמים בפירוש משל זה דברים שהן כבשונו של עולם יהיו ללבושך כלומר לך לבדך ואל תדרוש אותם ברבים. ועליהם אמר יהיו לך לבדך ואין לזרים אתך. ועליהם אמר דבש וחלב תחת לשונך, כך פירשו חכמים הראשונים דברים שהן כדבש וחלב יהיו תחת לשונך:

"The earlier wise men commanded that these things [that we have discussed in the first two chapters] should not be expounded upon in front of more than one man. Even this should not be done unless this man is wise and has an acute mind to understand things. After this condition is ascertained then this subject should be transmitted to this man, first by just skimming the surface of these subjects and then by only revealing some of the subject. He should then be able to understand these ideas through his wisdom and then be able to figure out the rest of the subject and its deeper meaning through his own intellect.

The ideas that this subject deals with are very deep and not every one's knowledge is able to bear this information. Concerning these deep ideas King Solomon, in his wisdom, gave a parable, 'Let the sheep be your clothes.' The wise ones explained this parable that those things which are secret (the hebrew word word sheep can be read differently and means secret as explained in Chagiga 13A) should be like your clothes, meaning that the esoteric understanding that you attain should be kept for yourself and you should not expound upon them for the multitude. King Solomon also says regarding these matters, 'This shall be for you alone and not for a stranger [to share with you].' King Solomon states further regarding these matters, 'Like honey and milk it lies under your tongue.' The earlier wise men expounded this pasuk to be telling us that these esoteric things are like honey and milk that should be kept under your tongue."

The idea of Maaseh Merkava throughout Kabbalah is that which is mystical. However, the Rambam does not believe in mysticism so it must be understood what exactly he thought the Maaseh Merkava was teaching. In The Guide for the Perplexed the Rambam points out that he thinks the Maaseh Merkava is the subject of metaphysics that can be attained through philosophy as is pointed out in the following passage (Section 1 CHapter 34):

"Now, consider how, in the writings of the Rabbis, the admission of a person into discourses on metaphysics (Maaseh Merkava) is made dependent on distinction in social qualities, and study of philosophy, as well as in the possession of clearsightedness, intelligence, eloquence, and ability to communicate things by slight allusions. If a person satisfies these requirements, the secrets of the Law are confided to him. In the same place we also read the following passage :-R. Jochanan said to R. Elasar, 'Come, I will teach you Maaseh Merkava.' The reply was, 'I am not yet old,' or in other words, I have not yet become old, I still perceive in myself the hot blood and the rashness of youth. You learn from this that, in addition to the above-named good qualities, a certain age is also required."

The Rambam points out that this is why the subject of Maaseh Merkava is only to be taught on an exclusive level. Philosophy is something that is dangerous for the general population to become involved in. In the past, we have seen many people stray away because they have become infatuated with philosophy or science in general. This is why only an extremely wise person that will be able to figure out the truth on his own is taught metaphysics. He will be able to enhance his love of G-D and his understanding of G-D as opposed to someone who will use this knowledge to turn away from G-D.

The Rambam also points out that there are three locations where King Solomon points out that these subjects must remain hidden. There are certain ideas that the general population should not contemplate because they will not understand it and then because of their failed understanding they will turn away from G-D. We can see this to be true based on history. when someone understands some information incorrectly that leads a person in the wrong direction. It is very important to first attain a level that will allow you to understand the more complicated information before diving head first into the complicated information. It is similar to math. A person can not hope to understand complicated math theories without first attaining a knowledge of algebra and calculus. To do so would be irresponsible and foolish. This person is no more equipped to be a mathematician than I am to be an astronaut.

I think an underlying theme that exists here is that a person should not learn any subject that will test the faith of that person if they are not ready for it. Meaning, a person should not learn evolution if they believe that evolution is incompatible with the Torah. The reason for this is that if somehow the person is convinced that evolution is correct they will abandon their religion. However, if they believe that evolution could be compatible with Torah then what is the harm in learning the theory, it will not effect the persons religion in the slightest bit.

Rambam-Maaseh Merkava (Subject Title for discussing G-D's Existence)- Yisodei Hatorah perek 2 halacha 11

The Rambam wants to define the subject matter that he has been discussing for the first two chapters of Yisodei Hatorah. He says,

דברים אלו שאמרנו בענין זה בשני פרקים אלו כמו טיפה מן הים הם ממה שצריך לבאר בענין זה. וביאור כל העיקרים שבשני פרקים אלו הוא הנקרא מעשה מרכבה:

"These things that we have said regarding the matters in these first two chapters is like a drop in the ocean of what must be explained about these matters. The explanation of all of these fundamental ideas in these first two chapters is referred to as Maaseh Merkava."

Now that the Rambam has brought up the phrase "Maaseh Merkava" it is important to understand what that means. According to Rambam the "maaseh Merkava" refers to Metaphysics. Basically, the understanding of G-D. The words refer to the vision of Ezekial that he saw a chariot (Merkava) that G-D was on being led by four Chayos, the highest level of angels.

The Rambam is simply pointing out that he is not giving a detailed description of the "Maaseh Merkava," rather he is just teaching the foundations that one needs in order to understand it on a basic level. This is is why the Rambam devotes a small section to these ideas in the Mishna Torah. However, in his famous work The Guide for the Perplexed, the Rambam discusses the "Maaseh Merkava" in great detail.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rambam- How G-D's Knowledge and Existence Can Relate to Man- Yisodei Hatorah Perek 2 Halacha 10

How does G-D think? How does G-D exist? These are some of the questions that are dealt with in the Rambam. He says,

הקב"ה מכיר אמתו ויודע אותה כמו שהיא. ואינו יודע בדעה שהיא חוץ ממנו כמו שאנו יודעין. שאין אנו ודעתנו אחד אבל הבורא יתברך הוא ודעתו וחייו אחד מכל צד ומכל פינה ובכל דרך ייחוד. שאלמלי היה חי בחיים ויודע בדעה חוץ ממנו היו שם אלוהות הרבה הוא וחייו ודעתו, ואין הדבר כן אלא אחד מכל צד ומכל פינה ובכל דרך ייחוד. נמצאת אתה אומר הוא היודע והוא הידוע והוא הדעה עצמה הכל אחד. ודבר זה אין כח בפה לאומרו ולא באוזן לשמעו ולא בלב האדם להכירו על בוריו. ולפיכך אומר חֵי פרעה וחֵי נפשך ואין אומר חֵי ה' אלא חַי ה'. שאין הבורא וחייו שנים כמו חיי הגופים החיים או כחיי המלאכים. לפיכך אינו מכיר הברואים ויודעם מחמת הברואים כמו שאנו יודעין אותם אלא מחמת עצמו ידעם. לפיכך מפני שהוא יודע עצמו יודע הכל שהכל נסמך לו בהוייתו:

"G-D recognizes His truth and He knows it in the way it truly exists. He does not know His truth through an outside knowledge like we know, because we and our minds are separate, rather the Creator, He, His knowledge and His life are all one from every angle. If G-D would live a life [like us], or know things through having a knowledge [like us] then there would be many gods being Him, His life and His knowledge. This is not so, rather G-D is singular from every side, angle and in every aspect. 

It is said about G-D that He knows, is known and knows Himself all at once. However, this idea can not be related through the force (words) of the mouth, it can not be heard (related) to the ears, nor is it within a man's heart to recognize [the truth] of his Creator. Therefore, we say 'by the life of Pharoh' and 'by the life of your soul,' but by G-D we do not say 'by the life of G-D,' rather we say 'As G-D lives.' [This is because] the Creator and His life are not separate things like the life of a physical body or the life of an angel. Therefore, [G-D] does not recognize and know the creations because of how they are like we understand them, rather He [recognizes and knows them] because He knows Himself. Therefore, because He knows Himself He knows everything, because everything relies on His existence."

It is interesting to point out that the Ralbag, in his book The Wars of the Lord, argues on the Rambam's understanding here. The Ralbag, Aristotle and the Rambam all disagree on how G-D relates to the world. This all stems from the problem they all face, how does a G-D that is perfect and singular relate to a world that is imperfect and many? Hopefully, I will be able to discuss the Ralbag and Aristotle in a later post, but right now I want to focus on the Rambam.

The Rambam's underlying theme here is that G-D can not understand man (or the rest of the physical world for that matter) in the same manner that man understands man. He points out that if G-D did understand man in the same manner that man understands man, then it would have to be that G-D is not a singular being that is unchanging, but rather pluralistic and changes like man. As stated in the third section of the Rambam's The Guide for The Perplexed (Section 3 Chapter 16), "knowledge of individual beings, that are subject to change, necessitates some change in him who possesses it, because this knowledge itself changes constantly."  Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Rambam to explain how it is that G-D can have knowledge and a relation to man while still maintaining His singularity and unchanging stature.

Ingeniously, as the Rambam always is, he comes up with a solution. He explains that G-D's knowledge and existence is completely different than our knowledge and existence. G-D is a being that has a knowledge, a life and an existence that is all one and unchanging. Once this idea is apparent then we can explain how this singular being can relate to a multitude. G-D's knowledge of Himself, His own existence and His life allows Him to relate and know of all other existences. How? Because His existence causes all other existences. All other existences are contingent upon His existence and His relation to them. Therefore, G-D's knowledge and understanding of all things is not as we perceive it, rather it is channeled through G-D and therefore does not directly relate to the pluralistic existences that change. This is how the Rambam solves His problem of 'How can a singular being relate to the pluralistic world that continuously changes,' He understands Himself, the unchanging being, and through that knowledge understands the pluralistic and changing existences.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rambam- What G-D's Perception of Himself Means- Yisodei Hatorah perek 2 halacha 9

The Rambam discusses what the basic requirements are for the world to exist. Also, he points out what aspects of G-D relate to the world and perpetuate its existence. He says,

כל הנמצאים חוץ מן הבורא מצורה הראשונה עד יתוש קטן שיהיה בטבור הארץ הכל מכח אמתתו נמצאו. ולפי שהוא יודע עצמו ומכיר גדולתו ותפארתו ואמתתו הוא יודע הכל ואין דבר נעלם ממנו:

"All of the beings, except for the creator, from the first tzura (spiritual being/purpose) to the tiny bug that is in the navel of the earth, all exist from the force of G-D's truth. Also, because He knows Himself and recognizes His greatness, His glory and His truth, He knows everything and nothing is hidden from Him."

The Rambam uses very specific language here. He points out that the greatest of all creations is the first tzura (spiritual existence/purpose) that exists closest to G-D. This is the Chayos, the angel that exists on the highest level of holiness. I believe this because as the Rambam previously stated, the Chayos are the creation that best understand G-D. The greater a beings knowledge of G-D, then the greater an existence they are considered to have. A bug, on the other hand, that is at the center of the earth, is considered to be the most physical of all beings. It has the lowest level of understanding of G-D and is, therefore, considered to be the most distant of all beings from G-D. Nevertheless, even though these beings are worlds apart, they both exist from the truth of G-D. It is impossible to understand this truth since it is His essence and, according to the Rambam, it is impossible to know the essence of G-D.

It is interesting that the Rambam uses the language that since G-D realizes His own greatness, glory and truth He therefore knows everything. What do G-D's attributes have to do with knowing everything?

I believe the Rambam is telling us that the ultimate knowledge is an understanding of G-D. Therefore, since G-D is the only one that knows Himself, He is the one that knows everything. All information in the world is just a pathway to understanding and knowing G-D. Therefore, the more knowledge of anything that one acquires, the more knowledge of G-D one posseses. The Rambam even says in his book The Guide for The Perplexed (section 3 Chapter 18), "For the action of Divine Providence is proportional to the endowment of intellect." He is telling us that the more knowledge we acquire, the closer we come to G-D.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rambam- Angels understanding of G-D- Yisodei Hatorah perek 2 halacha 8

The Rambam discusses what the abilities of the angels are in regard to their intelligence and capabilities of comprehension of G-D.

וכל הצורות האלו חיים ומכירין את הבורא ויודעים אותו דעה גדולה עד למאד. כל צורה וצורה לפי מעלתה לא לפי גודלה. אפילו מעלה הראשונה אינה יכולה להשיג אמתת הבורא כמו שהוא אלא דעתה קצרה להשיג ולידע אבל משגת ויודעת יותר ממה שמשגת ויודעת צורה שלמטה ממנה. וכן כל מעלה ומעלה עד מעלה עשירית גם היא יודעת הבורא דעה שאין כח בני האדם המחוברים מגולם וצורה יכול להשיג ולידע כמותה. והכל אינן יודעין הבורא כמו שהוא יודע עצמו:

"All of these tzuras (angels) are alive and recognize the creator and know Him with a very great knowledge. [This is true] for every tzura (angel) according to its level [of holiness], but not according to its greatness. However, even the highest level [of the angels] is not able to apprehend the absolute truth of the creator, rather they can only attain a limited amount of knowledge [of G-D]. [Each angel] is able to attain and know more than the tzura (angel) that is below it [in holiness]. Also, every level [of angel] is able to know the creator in a way that is unattainable by man since he is made up of a physical body that is connected to a tzura (spiritual form). Nevertheless, none of these beings are able to know the creator like He knows Himself."

The Rambam is describing the different levels that exist in the knowledge of G-D. G-D is an infinite being and therefore anything that is not infinite can not apprehend His true form. However, the closer to infinity a being is, the more of G-D can be understood. This is what the Rambam is saying, since the angels that are greater in holiness are closer to this infinite being they can more readily understand Him. For example, the number Pi is an infinite number. However, what number is closer to Pi, 3.14 or 3.14159265? Obviously, it is the number with more decimal points, the more precise the number then the closer to Pi, but no matter what, it is impossible to fully map the number Pi. Correlate this to the angels and you will see that the higher an angel is the greater capacity for understanding G-D it has.

The Rambam says that an angel can better understand G-D according to its level [of holiness], but not according to its greatness. What does this mean? According to how I am explaining the Rambam I think it fits very nicely. The Rambam is saying that G-D is infinite and the only way to understand a being that is infinite is to be infinite. However, there are no beings other than G-D that are infinite, therefore, only G-D can truly understand Himself. Nevertheless, the closer a being is to G-D the better that being understands G-D. This means that a being's comprehension of G-D is based on the finiteness of their existence. For example, a human can better understand G-D than an ant because an ant's existence is more finite than a human's. Similarly, every level of angel has a different level of finiteness to their existence which, in turn, limits or increases their ability to apprehend G-D.

This is what the Rambam means by level [of holiness] and not greatness. Greatness represents importance and power of an object. In the scheme of understanding G-D these traits are meaningless for an angel since they have no physicality. However, level of holiness represents the level of finiteness of the angels and this also describes the ability of those angels to understand G-D.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Ancient Synagogue In Capharnaum (Capernaum)

Ancient synagogues have been found all over Israel and the Diaspora with their own unique stories, but most of these structures are completely destroyed. However, there are a few ancient synagogues that have withstood the decimation of time or have been reconstructed in order for archeologists to better understand their significance and meaning. One of these unique synagogues is located in the town of Capharnaum (Capernaum). The archeologists have discovered many details and important facts about this structure. For example, there seems to be an older synagogue that existed centuries earlier on the very spot of the current synagogue. Also, like every great archeological find there is a debate over when the standing synagogue was constructed, either in the second, third or fourth century C.E.

The first thing to look at when trying to describe this synagogue, or any other synagogue, is the city it was built in. Archeologists must first research the history of the surrounding city of Capernaum if they are to understand this synagogue. The history behind this city is quit interesting. Around the beginning of the Common Era, the fishing village of Capernaum was entirely Jewish. Later, a Roman garrison was stationed there with a centurion at its head. However, it seems that it was this Roman centurion that ordered the building of the synagogue.

The first synagogue, that was ordered to be built by the Roman centurion, no longer exists, but as archaeologists have shown in recent digs, its remnants lie buried under the present synagogue. The present synagogue was either built in the second, third or fourth century on top of the ruins of the original synagogue. Richard Horsley suggests that it was early Christians that used the original synagogue and not Jews. His ideas are based on the fact that this synagogue was never mentioned by Galilean rabbis and it is in close proximity to the Byzantine church that Constantine constructed over the reputed "house of Peter." If this synagogue was used by Christians then the foundation beneath it probably did not belong to a functioning Jewish synagogue. Contrary to Horsley, St. Epiphanius informs us that until the fourth century C.E. the population of Capharnaum was entirely Jewish. Although, some passages of the Mishna stress that the Jewish population of Capharnaum during the first three centuries of the Christian era formed two distinct and antagonistic blocks which were Orthodox Jews and Minim (heretics). From the context it is clear that the Minim of Capharnaum were Jews converted to Christianity.

The reason archeologists believe there to have been a building in the first century under the White Synagogue, the name of the currently standing synagogue, is because archeologists have actually cut open the floor and found remains dating back to the first Century. There are several reasons why these remains are thought to be a synagogue. Firstly, the area of the first century stone pavement found under the White Synagogue is too large to be interpreted as belonging to a private house, and is therefore better understood as the remains of a public building. Another reason for this is that it is well known that religious structures were normally rebuilt in the same sacred area through the centuries. In the specific case of Capernaum, the presence of an earlier synagogue would better explain why the fourth (or second or third) century Jewish community of the village chose this very spot to raise the monumental White Synagogue. This holds true even in spite of the fact that the area was extremely close to a Christian shrine.

The synagogue must have stood out among the humble dwellings of the population. It was built almost entirely of white blocks of calcareous stone brought from outside of the city and those white stones lie on a base of basalt stone. The building consists of four parts which were the praying hall, the western patio, a southern balustrade and a small room at the northwest of the building. In the praying hall there was a place for the Torah scrolls and that was on the side that faced toward Jerusalem. In the center of the room there were two bimas where the Torah scrolls were probably read from. The internal walls were covered with painted plaster found during the excavations. The synagogue still has two inscriptions to this day that remember the benefactors that helped in the construction of the building. Also, there is amazing artwork in the synagogue. The architectural ornamentation of the Capernaum building has Corinthian capitals and intricately carved stonework. One relief carving of a cart seems to depict a portable Ark of the Covenant. The most interesting piece of artwork in the synagogue is the swastikas, but most scholars deem them normal decorations for that time.

With all great archeological finds there is always a debate as to what is really found. In the case of Capernaum there are several different theories as to when the synagogue was built. Stanislao Loffred, a Franciscan, has recently found 30,000 Roman coins and pottery shards that date back to the fourth Century beneath the floor of the Synagogue. Yet, Albright previously dated the synagogue to the third Century along with Watzinger who claimed the synagogue to be early third or late second Century. One might answer for these two earlier scholars that the coins found were just left there when repairs were made to the synagogue since there are proponents that give off the impression that the building was erected in the second century or third. One last theory is that the synagogue was rebuilt by Julian the apostate after a major earthquake ravaged the structure. All of these theories have been based on artwork, style and historical events. Furthermore, the use of the different carvings on the walls and the structures of the columns add weight to these earlier archeologist’s claims.

The decorations in this synagogue are numerous. The archeologists found figures of animals, as in a cornice depicting a sea horse and two eagles with a wreath in their beaks. An eagle also appears in the center of the lintel above the main entrance to the prayer hall. On the lintel above the western entrance to the prayer hall appears a lion; statues of lions were apparently also placed on both sides of the roof. These motifs were not very common for a synagogue, but some motifs were found that were very common. For example, a seven-branched menorah with a ram's horn and an incense shovel appears on one capital; on a lintel is a chariot, which is widely regarded as depicting the Ark of the Covenant. Other carvings include palm fronds, clusters of grapes and pomegranates. There are also geometric motifs, including rosettes, stars, pentagons and hexagons. These decorations along with other factors led Watzinger to believe that this synagogue was built between the second and third Centuries since it has many Roman architectural elements from the third century. The researchers conclude this since the synagogue includes Roman architectural elements like the architraves, the friezes, the cornices and the different types of motifs. However, Stanislao Loffred believes the coins and pottery to be the main evidence of the age of the synagogue and dismisses these decorations and says they could have been made in the fourth or fifth century.

Stanislao Loffred, believing that the Roman coins and pottery is the end all be all in dating the synagogue, seems to be mistaken. The architecture of the building and the decorations seem to be much more telling and important when it comes to dating the synagogue. If the carvings on the wall and the columns holding the building up support a second or third century structure, how could one assume that Roman coins from years later were definitely there at the building of the synagogue. Perhaps those coins were dropped there at a later date. Surely, that is more plausible than the decor of the building being out of its place in history.

The synagogue in Capernaum is one of the grandest structures left from ancient times. It seems to have been built in the second or third century. The coins found there should not defeat the structure or the carvings in anyway for dating purposes. The synagogue could have been populated by Jews or by Christians. The town, however, seems to have been inhabited by Jews and Christians and they seemed to have co-existed amicably among one another.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rambam- The Ten Types of Angels- Yisdoei Hatorah perek 2 halacha 7

The Rambam describes all the different types of angels that exist. He says,

שינוי שמות המלאכים על שם מעלתם הוא. ולפיכך נקראים חיות הקדש והם למעלה מן הכל ואופנים ואראלים וחשמלים ושרפים ומלאכים ואלהים ובני אלהים וכרובים ואישים. כל אלו עשרה השמות שנקראו בהן המלאכים על שם עשר מעלות שלהן הן, ומעלה שאין למעלה ממנה אלא מעלת האל ברוך הוא היא מעלת הצורה שנקראת חיות. לפיכך נאמר בנבואה שהן תחת כסא הכבוד. ומעלה עשירית היא מעלת הצורה שנקראת אישים והם המלאכים המדברים עם הנביאים ונראים להם במראה הנבואה. לפיכך נקראו אישים שמעלתם קרובה למעלת דעת בני אדם:

"The different names ascribed to the angels correlates to their [spiritual] height. Therefore, the highest of all angels are the Chayos Hakodesh, then Ophanim, Areilim, Chashmailim, Seraphim, Malachim, Elokim, Bnei Elokim, Kerubim, and, lastly, Ishim. All of these ten names for angels are given because of the ten levels [of holiness] they represent. The highest of all the levels, that the only level above it is G-D, is the level that has the tzura (form and purpose) of Chayos. This is why, in prophecy, they are referred to as being just beneath the throne of glory. The lowest of the ten levels is that which is represented by the tzura (form and purpose) of Ishim. These angels speak with the prophets and they are the ones seen in visions of prophecy. This is why these angels are called Ishim, because they are the closest to [being comprehended by] the knowledge of man."

The different names are very telling of how close they are to G-D. The closer the angels are to G-D, the more knowledge they have of Him.

The first level of angels immediately below G-D are the Chayos. Chayos means supporters, this is similar to the purpose of Chava. Just like woman was created in order to be a helper for man, so too G-D created Chayos to be His supporters. This is why the highest level of angels is called Chayos, because the name Chayos represents the ultimate assistant.

The second class of angels are called Ophanim. The word Ophanim refers to a plan. The plan that is referred to by these angels is the plan that is drawn out in order to prepare for a real action.

The third level of angels are the Areilim. This comes from the word Ariel, meaning divine light. This divine light is the realization of G-D's action in the spiritual world, while it has yet to be materialized in the physical world.

The fourth level of angels are the Chashmeilim. They are called this since Chashmal refers to a glittering substance. These angels are similar to a glittering substance since they reflect the divine light from the Areilim. The reflection of the light diminishes the intensity of the light.

The Fifth level of angels are the Seraphim. These angels absorb the light that is reflected from the Chashmeilim. The word saraph can mean to absorb a substance, here the angels are absorbing the remainder of the divine light in order to transfer it to the next level of angels.

The sixth level of angels are the Malachim. The Malachim refer to teachers that are able to take an idea that is completely abstract and explain it. These angels are able to start the conversion process of a completely spiritual idea and begin its transformation into the physical world.

The seventh level of angels are the Elokim. These angels are similar to the physical rulers of the world. In the bible the word Elokim is sometimes used for kings and rulers. Similar to this, the Elokim are the angels that transfer the idea from the spiritual world and physically put the original idea, that started from G-D, into the physical world.

The Eighth level of angels are the Bnei Elokim. The Elokim take the idea from the Malachim and put the idea into the physical world, but the Bnei Elokim are the angels that guide the idea in the physical world. This is in order that the idea work in the way that it was intended to work.

The ninth level of angels are known as the Kerubim. These angels are similar to children. They represent the pure idea and transformation of G-D's will before any human involvement and complication. This is the final level of angels that are disconnected from man.

The tenth and final level of angels are the Ishim. They are called this because of their connection to man. Ishim are the angels that relate the idea of G-D into the physical world in a way man can understand it. Whether it be a message to a prophet, or a physical manifestation of G-D's will, like rain, the Ishim are what cause these events to occur in the physical world.

This is how I would describe the ten different levels of angels and their purposes. The angels all relate to the existences above or below them in holiness. This starts with an idea from G-D, that is related to the Chayos directly from G-D, and it ends with the Ishim relating the idea to man.

This explanation assumes that the Rambam would agree to the Ramban, that the name of an object reflects the objects inner essence. The Ramban states this opinion in Breishis (35:18). He says that the name of a person tells much about his future because his name reflects his essence. If the Rambam would agree to this, which I have not found him to explicitly agree or disagree, then he would most likely agree to this explanation of the ten levels of angels.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rambam- Higher Angels and Lower Angels- Yisodei Hatorah perek 2 halacha 6

The Rambam discussed in the previous halacha that there are different types of angels. These angels exist on different levels of holiness and closeness to G-D. However, what does this mean that one type of angel is holier than another type of angel? The Rambam explains,

זה שאמרנו למטה ממעלתו של חבירו אינה מעלת מקום. כמו אדם שיושב למעלה מחבירו. אלא כמו שאומרין בשני חכמים שאחד גדול מחבירו בחכמה שהוא למעלה ממעלתו של זה. וכמו שאומרין בעילה שהיא למעלה מן העלול: 

"The statement that [some angels] are lower than the highness [of other angels] has nothing to do with placement, like a man who sits higher up than his friend. Rather, the highness we are talking about is that which is similar to two wise men and we say one is greater than the other in wisdom. Also, it is similar to the difference between the creator and the created."

The Rambam is emphasizing his main point when he says that angels are not higher than other angels based on place. Angels are not physcial, therefore, physcial space has no connection to them. However, the differences between the angels is one that has to do with their tzura (form). This is similar to the wisdom of a man, since wisdom is part of the tzura of man. A man who is wiser than his friend is considered to be greater, but that greatness has nothing to do with the physical world. Wisdom is an attribute that is connected to the tzura of a man and is not part of his physical attributes. Therefore, when describing the discrepancies between the angels, the only features that can be contrasted are the tzura of the angels.

Another aspect that the Rambam points out among the angels is that there are those angels that play the role of the creator and those that play the role of the created. This is because, as we said before, that G-D causes higher angels to create the lower angels.

This brings us to the connection between closeness to G-D and having greater wisdom. The reason that the higher angel is considered to have greater wisdom has to do with what this wisdom entails. The wisdom that makes one angel closer to G-D than the angel below him is the wisdom of understanding G-D. An angel with a greater wisdom of G-D is closer to G-D and, therefore, the angel with more wisdom is holier and able to attain a higher level since He understands G-D to a greater degree than the lower angels. This also gives the angel the ability to create lower angels, because G-D uses higher angels to create the lower angels.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rambam- Differences Between Angels- Yisodei HaTorah perek 2 halacha 5

The angels are very mysterious beings that man does not fully comprehend. The Rambam attempts to explain the differences between the different angels. He says,

ובמה יפרדו הצורות זו מזו והרי אינן גופין. לפי שאינן שוין במציאותן אלא כל אחד מהן למטה ממעלתו של חבירו. והוא מצוי מכחו זה למעלה מזה והכל נמצאים מכחו של הקב"ה וטובו. וזהו שרמז שלמה בחכמתו ואמר כי גבוה מעל גבוה שומר: 

"In what manner are the tzuras (forms) of angels different since they don't have physical bodies? [They are different] by the fact that they do not have equal existences, rather every angel owes its existence to an angel with a higher power and therefore the angel of the lower realm exists because of the power of the angel from the higher realm. [However,] all of the angels exist from the power of G-D and His goodness. This idea was hinted to by King Solomon through his wisdom when he said,' There is one who is higher than high who watches.'"

The Rambam is telling us a very unique idea about angels, what angels are and how they relate to each other. Later, the Rambam will talk about angels more in depth, but for right now he explains the basics. There are several different types of angels that are different from one another. However, man can not readily relate to the differences between angels since angels have no physical bodies and man relates differences among beings through physical features. Therefore, the Rambam has to describe a new idea in order to explain the differences between angels.

There are several levels of angels, as the Rambam will describe later in Yisodei Hatorah. Angels are created by G-D to exist on different levels of holiness. The most basic discrepancies between angels is their tzura (form). This form is the purpose and power that is given to an angel. The differences that are readily recognizable among the angels are the different levels they are on and this is described by what other types of angels exist from their power. Meaning, G-D created the top level of angels and then all subsequent angels were created through these angels that are closest to G-D. It is like a chain of events, G-D wants an angel to exist on the top level of holiness, therefore, He creates the angel. However, if G-D wants an angel to exist on the second level of holiness, He causes an angel on the first level of holiness to create the angel on the second level of holiness and so on.

This sequence of events is what is described by King Solomon in Koheles quoted here in the Rambam. He says that "There is one that is higher than high that watches." What does it mean that the one who is higher than high watches? It means that the one who is the holiest of all beings, G-D, causes His angels to create other angels. He guides the process and is the initial cause for the process to begin. However, He does not directly create the angels on the lower levels.

This is how we are able to understand the discrepancies among the angels. Some angels are on higher levels than others based on there closeness to G-D. For example, an angel on the second level of this sequence is considered closer to G-D than an angel on the fourth level. This is how we are able to differentiate between the different types of angels since they have no physical bodies.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rambam-How Prophets View Angels- Yisodei Torah second perek halacha 4

The Rambam stated in the previous halacha that the angels have no physical form, but they do have a tzurah (explained here). This presents us with a problem because it seems like, from places in the Bible, angels do have physical form. The Rambam says,

ומהו זה שהנביאים אומרים שראו המלאך אש ובעל כנפים. הכל במראה הנבואה ודרך חידה. לומר שאינו גוף ואינו כבד כגופות הכבדים. כמו שנאמר כי ה' אלהיך אש אוכלה הוא ואינו אש אלא משל. וכמו שנאמר עושה מלאכיו רוחות:  

"What does it mean when the prophets say they saw an angel of fire or an angel that had wings? Everything is really just part of the [prophet's] vision which is a riddle. These two ideas, [that angels are made of fire, or have wings], tell us that angels have no physical bodies and no weight that comes along with a physical body. This is similar to the verse (Devarim 4:24) that says, 'G-D, your Lord, is a consuming fire.' G-D is clearly not a fire, rather it is a parable. Also, another example is when it says (Psalms 104:4), 'He makes the winds His messengers.' [This is obviously not true either since wind can't deliver messages]."

Before discussing this Rambam, it is important to point out that in The Guide for the Perplexed (Section 2 Chapter 42), the Rambam tells us how, he believes, prophecy occurs. He says, "We have already shown that the appearance or speech of an angel mentioned in Scripture took place in a vision or dream, [but not in reality]; it makes no difference whether this is expressly stated or not, as we have explained above." The Rambam is telling us all prophecies that have occurred, according to him, are dreams or visions that come to a prophet. This is all in an unconscious state of the prophet and not in reality.

This idea, that the prophetic visions a prophet experiences are all in the mind, can explain a lot about what the Rambam is saying here in Yisodei Hatorah. When the Bible refers to angels being fire or having wings this is not their true state of being, but rather how the prophet envisions them. This is what is meant in the Rambam when he says that the prophets vision is a riddle. The vision that the prophet receives while he is unconscious has imagery that helps the prophet better understand what G-D is trying to tell him. Therefore, when the angel has a fire like form, or wings, this is coming to aid the prophet in the interpretation of his dream. Also, this sits well with the rest of the Rambam that says any physicality that is given to an angel is completely allegorical and not literal in any way. True, an angel has a Tzura, a purpose, that it comes to teach men, but this has to do with the message that is being sent through the angel. An angel can appear in a fire like form in order to teach a lesson to the prophet and not to mean that angels are physically made out of fire.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Rambam- What Does Megilas Esther Teach Us?

The Rambam tells us at the end of his halachos pertaining to Purim, "All of the books of the prophets and writings, when the Messiah comes, will become null and void except for Megilas Esther. Megilas Esther is just as important as the five books of Moshe and the Oral Torah since none of them will ever be null and void." The question here is, why does the Rambam say that the Megila is just as important as the five books of Moshe and the Oral Torah? What is the Rambam telling us about Megilas Esther?

To explain this ponderous statement in the Rambam we can bring the Gemorah in Nedarim (21B) that says, "If the Jews never sinned then there would only be the five books of Moshe and the book of Joshua because it tells us how to divide up the land of Israel." It seems like the rest of the books of the prophets and the writings come to teach us about repentance and that this message will no longer be necessary in the times of the Messiah. Still, this only tells us what the message of Megilas Esther is not, but what is the message?

The Maharal in his book on Purim (Or Chadash) tells us a unique idea behind the story of Purim. He says that the pasuk in the Megila of "The Jews undertook upon themselves" (kimu vikiblu) comes to teach us that the Jews reaccepted the Torah that they had originally received on Mt. Sinai. Therefore, the significance of Purim connects to the significance of the accepting of the Torah. It is as if the Jews began accepting the Torah and its commandments on Mt. Sinai and completed their acceptance during the story of Purim. This is why Megilas Esther will never be nullified just like the Torah, but the other books, the prophets and writings, will be. However, why would the Jews have to re-receive the Torah, what was wrong with how they accepted it at Mt. Sinai?

The Maharal answers this question up very nicely. He says that during the original acceptance of the Torah G-D forced the Jews to accept the Torah out of fear. This is because, the Maharal says, according to the Midrashing, that G-D was holding the mountain above them saying that if the Jews did not accept the Torah then He would drop the mountain on them. Therefore, the Jews did not make a complete acceptance of the Torah at Mt. Sinai since they only had an acceptance of fear. However, the only way to have a true acceptance of Torah is to receive it through fear and love. This is where Purim comes in, during Purim the Jews reaccepted the Torah through love of G-D.

This is why Rambam says that Megilas Esther will never be nullified, because it is part of the original acceptance of the Torah. Rambam believes the Oral Torah, along with the two parts of the written Torah, is the full acceptance of the Torah. These are the three aspects of the Torah that will always be eternal and this is why the written Torah, Oral Torah and Megilas Esther will forever be an important part of Judaism even after the Messiah comes, but the rest of the prophets and writings will be void. The other prophets and writings come to teach us about repentance and avoidance of sin, but when the Messiah comes these messages will no longer be applicable. However, the Torah and its ideas will forever be important to the Jewish people.         

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Rambam- The Three Types of Creations- Yisodei Hatorah perek 2 halacha 3

After the Rambam described how a person comes to love G-D, by understanding His creations, the Rambam continues this idea by defining all the different creations. Before discussing the different types of creations, a description of the word tzelem (shape) is in order. The Rambam describes what tzelem means in The Guide for The Perplexed (Section I Part I). He says,

"The term tzelem, on the other hand, signifies the tzura (form) of a being, that which constitutes the substance of that being, whereby the thing is what it is; the reality of a thing in so far as it is that particular being. In man, the substance is that constituent which gives him human perception: and on account of this intellectual perception the term tzelem is employed in the sentence 'In the tzelem of God he created him' (Gen. i. 27). It is therefore rightly said, 'Thou despisest their tzelem' (PS. lxiii. 20): the contempt can only concern the soul, the specific tzura (form) of man, not the properties and shape of his body. I am also of opinion that the reason why this term is used for idols may be found in the circumstance that they are worshiped on account of some idea represented by them, not on account of their figure and shape."

This excerpt explains what the Rambam believes the word tzelem describes. The word tzura that the Rambam uses over here to describe the three different types of creations should be understood in a similar fashion (since it is referred to as meaning the same thing in this excerpt of the Rambam). With this in mind, it is now appropriate to discuss the three different classes of creations. The Rambam says,

כל מה שברא הקב"ה בעולמו נחלק לשלשה חלקים. מהן ברואים שהן מחוברים מגולם וצורה והם הווים ונפסדים תמיד כמו גופות האדם והבהמה והצמחים והמתכות.

"Everything that G-D created in His world can be classified into one of three groups. The [first group] consists of creations that are physical, have a form, a tzura, come into existence and deteriorate. A few examples of this kind of creation are man, animal, plants and metals."

The first creation discussed by the Rambam is the lowliest of all the beings in existence. This consists of beings that are made up of the four elements, fire, wind, water and earth. They are the most physical of all beings and most readily understandable by human beings. The most exclusive of characteristics for these beings is that they have a life cycle where they change, the circle of life. Also, in the case of metal, there is a creation and deterioration of the metal like molding and then rusting.

The Rambam continues,

ומהן ברואים שהן מחוברים מגולם וצורה אבל אינן משתנין מגוף לגוף ומצורה לצורה כמו הראשונים אלא צורתן קבועה לעולם בגולמם ואינן משתנין כמו אלו. והם הגלגלים והכוכבים שבהן. ואין גולמם כשאר גולמים ולא צורתם כשאר צורות. 

"The [second class] of creations are physical with a form and tzura, but they do not have forms and tzuras that change. These creations have permanent tzuras in their forms forever, these are the stars and heavenly bodies. Their forms are not like other forms and their tzuras are not like other tzuras."

The Rambam here is describing the uniqueness of the heavenly bodies. Space and all that is in it is different than that which exists on Earth. These heavenly bodies have a special purpose and essence that can be understood, but they do not have the same type of life cycles as beings on Earth. They are forever rotating in the heavens in the same form with the same purpose, whereas a human or animal will grow and eventually die, causing their form to change.

The final creation that the Rambam discusses is the Angels. He says,

ומהן ברואים צורה בלא גולם כלל והם המלאכים. שהמלאכים אינם גוף וגויה אלא צורות נפרדות זו מזו: 

"The [third class of] creations have a tzura, but no form and they are the Angels. The Angels have no physical body, rather they have a tzura that differentiates them from each other."

This creation is the most spiritualistic of all the creations. The first class of creations are very physical and base creations that, among them, only man contains a spiritualistic aspect. The rest of these base creations are readily available for man to understand. The second class consists of very complicated creations that have physicality, but are so removed from the world that they require an immense amount of knowledge to understand. The third class of creations are not physical in any manner, but can relate to man through their tzura and in this way they can be understood. Thus, through a comprehension of these three types of creations a man can attain a greater appreciation of G-D and thereby come to love G-D. The more a person comprehends, the more he comes to love and fear G-D.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rambam- To Know G-D is to Love and Fear Him- Yisodei Hatorah perek 2 halacha 2

How does one come to love G-D. When I was younger I used to ask my Rebbeim, "How does one gain love and awe of G-D?" This question seemed so elusive. The Rabbis usually just brushed me off by saying learning, but that was worthless to me at the time. Years later I began to learn the Maharal and Rambam, two of the greatest Jewish thinkers, in my humble opinion. The Rambam in the second halacha of the second perek of Yisodei Hatorah reveals an in depth approach to gaining love and awe of G-D. He Says,

והיאך היא הדרך לאהבתו ויראתו  בשעה שיתבונן האדם במעשיו וברואיו הנפלאים הגדולים ויראה מהן חכמתו שאין לה ערך ולא קץ מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאוה תאוה גדולה לידע השם הגדול כמו שאמר דוד צמאה נפשי לאלהים לאל חי.

"What is the way to achieve love and awe of G-D? [The way to achieve love is] that once a person actually understands G-D through His actions and His creations that are great wonders and a person sees from [these actions and wonders] that G-D's wisdom has no set arrangement or limits, immediately, this person will love, praise, glorify, and have an irresistible yearning to know G-D. And this is like that which King David said, 'My soul thirsts for G-D, for the living Lord.'"

These statements from the Rambam have such a beautiful meaning. The word the Rambam here uses to describe this understanding of G-D is Yisbonain. This word means that a person has some type of actual understanding of G-D and is not just making an attempt to understand Him. A person can attempt to understand physics, but if he doesn't understand it at all then there is no aspect of understanding. The Rambam is telling us that once a person truly understands G-D through understanding G-D's creations, then he will be able to love Him. However, this understanding is not a complete understanding. This is why the Rambam says that this understanding will lead a person to have an unquenchable desire to know G-D. Knowing G-D is the highest connection that a human being can possibly have of G-D and the only way to know G-D is to first love Him and create the desire to want to know Him. Without this love there will not even be an opportunity to know G-D.

The Rambam continues,  

וכשמחשב בדברים האלו עצמן מיד הוא נרתע לאחוריו ויפחד ויודע שהוא בריה קטנה שפלה אפלה עומדת בדעת קלה מעוטה לפני תמים דעות. כמו שאמר דוד כי אראה שמיך מעשה אצבעותיך מה אנוש כי תזכרנו.  

"And when one [starts] to think about these things, [G-D's most wonderous creations], then he starts to recoil in fear and dread. A person then realizes that he is an insignificant and lowly creation that stands with a lowly knowledge before G-D who has supreme knowledge. This is like that which King David said, 'I see your heavens..what is man that you should pay attention to him?'"

The Rambam is telling us that once a person reaches the level to start to know G-D instead of just begin a pursuit to think about G-D, then he will be filled with awe of G-D. A person must realize that he is barely understanding the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of existence. He sees the heavens and thinks about G-D and immediately he realizes how little he understands. This type of realization would impose upon anyone humbleness and an awe for the creator and His knowledge. It seems like after one achieves love of G-D, this can immediately lead to the emotion referred to in the Rambam as the awe of G-D.

The Rambam now points out what his focus will be in this section, 

ולפי הדברים האלו אני מבאר כללים גדולים ממעשה רבון העולמים כדי שיהיו פתח למבין לאהוב את השם. כמו שאמרו חכמים בענין אהבה שמתוך כך אתה מכיר את מי שאמר והיה העולם
"According to these things, I will explain the general ideas contained within the actions of G-D that will open up [the door] for a person to understand and love G-D. This is like the wise ones said regarding love, that through this [love] a person will be able to recognize the one who said 'And it was the world'(G-D)"

The Rambam can only act as a guide and a guide can only lead a person so far in regards to knowing G-D. This is why the Rambam says that he will open the door to understand and love G-D. He is telling us that he can only give us the essential tools with which to search out G-D, but to truly know G-D, that is up to each and every single one of us. Everyone has their own capabilities in regard to knowing G-D. Moshe Rebbeinu was able to reach the highest level of knowledge of G-D, but most people can not reach that level. We all must contemplate G-D's existence in our own unique way, the way that brings us the closest that we can possibly reach in regards to knowing G-D and thereby we can connect to Him.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rambam- Relationship With G-D- 2nd perek of Yesodei Hatorah halacha 1

The Rambam opens up the second perek of Yisodei Hatorah by discussing another fundamental commandment. He says,

האל הנכבד והנורא הזה מצוה לאהבו וליראה אותו שנאמר ואהבת את ה' אלהיך. ונאמר את ה' אלהיך תירא:
"G-D, the honorable and awesome, has a commandment to love Him and fear Him as it says, 'And you shall love G-D, your lord.' Also, it says, 'G-D, your lord, you shall fear.'" 

This introductory halacha holds the foundation to this entire perek. The Rambam is going to discuss what real love of G-D is all about. Also, it is important to understand what true awe of G-D is and not just a superficial type of fear.

Interestingly, the Rambam refers to G-D as the honored one and the awesome one. I think he does this to point out that a being that is honorable and awesome inherently requires one's fear and love. A king that is just and acts properly incites within his subjects the urge to give him love and awe. For example, just the mention of Dovid Hamelech's name stirs within people awe and love for the progenitor of the king Moshiach.

G-D is just and, as the Rambam dicussed in the first perek, He is pure truth. A being that is pure truth does not even have to command one to love Him and be in awe of Him, but rather it is a feeling that one who connects to this being will inherently feel. However, G-D gave us this commandment in order to draw us near to Him. This is why I think the Rambam opens up this perek, the perek that discusses love and awe of G-D, in this fashion.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rambam- How to explain contradictions about G-D Having Physicality- Yisodei Hatorah halacha twelve

The Rambam concludes his final halacha of the first perek of the laws in the Fundamentals of Torah by explaining some contradictions in the Torah. He says,

והואיל והדבר כן הוא. כל הדברים הללו וכיוצא בהן שנאמרו בתורה ובדברי נביאים הכל משל ומליצה הן. כמו שנאמר יושב בשמים ישחק. כעסוני בהבליהם. כאשר שש ה' וכיוצא בהן. על הכל אמרו חכמים דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם. וכן הוא אומר האותי הם מכעיסים. הרי הוא אומר אני ה' לא שניתי. ואילו היה פעמים כועס ופעמים שמח היה משתנה. וכל הדברים האלו אינן מצויין אלא לגופים האפלים השפלים שוכני בתי חומר אשר בעפר יסודם אבל הוא ברוך הוא יתברך ויתרומם על כל זה: 
"Since it is so, [that G-D has no physical attributes whatsoever], it must be that all of these things that are stated in the Torah, Prophets and Writings are parables and figures of speech. For instance, when it says 'Sitting in heaven He laughs (Psalms 2:4),' 'They angered Me with their vanities (Devarim 32:21) ,' and 'Just like G-D rejoiced (Devarim 28:63)' and similar verses. On all of these verses the wise ones say that the words of the Torah are similar to the way men talk. Also, in the Prophets it says, 'Is it Me they are trying to get angry? (Jeremiah 7:19)' and it says, 'I, G-D, do not change. (Malachi 3:6)' [However,] if it was that sometimes G-D would get angry and sometimes He would be happy, is that not a change? All of these [emotions and attributes] are only found by physical bodies that are dark and base. [Like the pasuk says,] 'Those who dwell in physical houses and that have their foundations in dust. (Job 4:19)' However, the Blessed One is the most high over all things."

The Rambam is answering up the final questions that exist about G-D's physicality. The Torah, Prophets and Writings contain within them verses that appear to be saying that G-D has conflicting physical emotions. However, the Rambam is able to answer up all of these questions.

The different verses that refer to G-D being happy or angry support the idea that G-D has conflicting emotions. It is impossible for someone to be angry and happy at the same time. Therefore, these passages seem to contradict the idea that G-D does not have physical emotions. Also, there is a verse that is quoted from Malachi that says straight out that G-D does not change in any way. This leaves the Rambam with a big problem, how to reconcile the verses that say G-D has physical emotions and the impossibility for this to be.

Rambam answers by saying that the wise ones, Rabbis before him, explain that the Torah is only explaining attributes of G-D in a way that man can understand. G-D exists in a way that a human can not understand in any way shape or form. Therefore, the Torah can only relate the existence of G-D and his relationship to us in the language of men. The Torah could not be written in the language of angels or of G-D, because then it would be indecipherable, rather it must have been written in the language of man. However, this does not effect the true essence of G-D and how He is in no way connected to physicality, be it emotions or physical mass.