Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rambam- Attributes that can not apply to G-D- Yisodei Hatorah eleventh halacha

The Rambam feels the need to point out all the things that do not apply to G-D. He tells us,

וכיון שנתברר שאינו גוף וגוייה יתברר שלא יארע לו אחד ממאורעות הגופות. לא חיבור ולא פירוד. לא מקום ולא מדה. לא עליה ולא ירידה. ולא ימין ולא שמאל. ולא פנים ולא אחור. ולא ישיבה ולא עמידה. ואינו מצוי בזמן עד שיהיה לו ראשית ואחרית ומנין שנים. ואינו משתנה שאין לו דבר שיגרום לו שינוי. ואין לו לא מות ולא חיים כחיי הגוף החי. ולא סכלות ולא חכמה כחכמת האיש החכם. לא שינה ולא הקיצה. ולא כעס ולא שחוק ולא שמחה ולא עצבות. ולא שתיקה ולא דבור כדבור בני אדם. וכך אמרו חכמים אין למעלה לא ישיבה ולא עמידה ולא עורף ולא עיפוי:
"Since it is clear that G-D has no [physical] body or form, we can explain that He does not experience anything, not a single experience that pertains to a physical body. [G-D experiences] neither formation, nor composition. [He has] neither a space or a measurement. [He has] no movement up nor down, not left or right, not backwards or forwards and [He] can't sit or stand. [He is] not found in time that He should have a beginning, an end or a count of years. [G-D] never changes, since there is nothing that can cause Him to change. [He] does not die nor live like a physical being lives. [He has] no foolishness nor does He have wisdom like the wisdom of a wise man. [He] does not sleep nor awake. [G-D] does not get angry, [He] does not laugh, [He] does not experience joy, nor does [He] become sad. [G-D] does not get quite nor does [He] speak like a man speaks. This is why the wise ones (Rabbi's) said, 'The One above does not [experience] sitting, standing, division, or unison.'"

This Rambam is fascinating. He goes through every possible thought that one might have about G-D. First off, the Rambam tells you that he is going to prove that it must be that G-D has no aspect of a physical body. Starting with the idea that G-D might be physical, the Rambam brings the first aspect of physicality under question. The Rambam points out that "G-D has no formation nor composition." The first thing a physical being needs is a formation and if he is formed then he also decomposes. G-D does not have a formation, nor does He decompose. Therefore, this aspect of a physical being can not apply to G-D. After this, the next most basic idea of what a physical being consists of is dimensions. The Rambam points out that G-D does not exists in a specific place, nor does He have measurements. The idea of occupying space and having measurements, after being formed, are the most basic parameters for being a physical being.

At this point, it is impossible to say G-D is a physical being because having no formation, no physical measurements and not occupying any space rules that out, but maybe G-D's power is physical. "Wrong!" says the Rambam. The fact that G-D has no movements; up, down, left, right, backwards, forwards, sitting or standing, means that He has no physical power. G-D's power is so much greater than the physical world will allow for a description of His power.

Now, that we have said that G-D has no physical body, nor does He have physical power, maybe He has some type of connection to the physical world. "Wrong again!" says the Rambam. G-D is so far removed from physicality that He is not bound by time which is one of the most unphysical characteristics of the physical world. Then the Rambam says that G-D is so far removed from every aspect of the physical world that nothing can cause Him to change in the slightest way. This is to such a point that there is no living or dead aspect that can relate to G-D's existence. This is Rambam's final statement on G-D's connection to the physical world, that there is nothing that connects G-D to physicality.

However, even though G-D is in no way connected to the physical world, maybe He is connected to man through man's spiritual side. "That's three and you are out!" says the Rambam. G-D's spirituality is not prone to foolishness, wisdom (How we understand wisdom), sleeping, waking, anger, laughter, joy, sadness, nor does He speak (like we understand speech) or is He silent. All of these actions or feelings come from man's spiritual side. Foolishness is when man makes the wrong decisions, like sinning. Wisdom is when a man decides to do the right thing, like a commandment. All of these things have spiritual aspects to them and are from man's spiritual side. However, as we see from the Rambam, G-D does not share any of man's spiritual aspects and therefore, there is nothing in this world that connects to G-D directly. This is why it is impossible to truly understand G-D's essence, because there is nothing that is within mankind's grasp that can describe G-D.

Ramban on the Reason for Mitzvos

The Ramban speaks extensively on the reason for the commandments in Parshas Ki Saitzay (Devarim 22:6). He says that the reason for the commandment of Shiluach Hakan (sending away the mother bird before taking the eggs) was given in order that man not be cruel. Also, the reason for not being able to slaughter an animal on the same day as its child (Vayikra 22:28) is so that a person should not be cruel. What is the Ramban trying to tell us here? According to the Ramban, what, precisely, is the reason for all the commandments. These specific reasons are easy to see, but what is the underlying basis for all the commandments? What one idea will be able to explain all the commandments?

The Maharal explains that the Ramban is saying that the commandments were given for our, man's, benefit. Their purpose is to refine man and to purify him like pure silver. The commandments are not for the benefit of G-D or to be merciful to animals, but rather they are to keep harm, evil beliefs, or bad character traits away from man in order that man's soul be cleansed and brought to completeness. The whole reason for the commandments is so that man should stay away from wicked characteristics like cruelty, but they have nothing to do with having mercy on animals and the like, rather they are guidelines of how to reach good character traits which ultimately lead us to the correct path of life.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rambam- Comprehending G-D- Yisodei Hatorah halacha ten

The true identity of G-D is something that has eluded mankind since the dawn of time. The Rambam here points this fact out in the tenth halacha of the book of Hamada. He says,

מהו זה שביקש משה רבינו להשיג כשאמר הראני נא את כבודך.
"What was Moshe our teacher trying to attain when he said [to G-D], 'Reveal to me Your honor?'" 

The Rambam here points out a very interesting question, what was Moshe trying to accomplish since he knew that it was impossible for a human being to comprehend the existence of G-D? Didn't Moshe realize that this was an impossibility?

The Rambam answers by telling us,

ביקש לידע אמיתת המצאו של הקדוש ב"ה עד שיהיה ידוע בלבו כמו ידיעת אחד מן האנשים שראה פניו ונחקקה צורתו בלבו שנמצא אותו האיש נפרד בדעתו משאר האנשים. כך ביקש משה רבינו להיות מציאות הקב"ה נפרדת בלבו משאר הנמצאים עד שידע אמתת המצאו כאשר היא. :  
"[Moshe] was requesting to know the truth of the existence of G-D to the point that he should know [G-D], in his heart, in the same manner that he knows one of his friends that he has seen their face. [Moshe wanted to] engrave G-D's image in his mind similar to how he could differentiate between two men. This is what Moshe our teacher wanted, to be able to understand in his heart the difference between G-D's existence and all other beings' existences to the point that [Moshe] would know the truth of G-D's existence." 

Moshe understood that it is impossible to understand G-D in the same manner that G-D unerstands himself, however, Moshe thought it was possible to understand G-D in comparison to the creations. He thought that to compare G-D to all other forms would gain him access to the truth of the existence of G-D.

The Rambam proceeds to explain why this thought process is wrong. He says,

והשיבו ברוך הוא שאין כח בדעת האדם החי שהוא מחובר מגוף ונפש להשיג אמיתת דבר זה על בוריו. והודיעו ברוך הוא מה שלא ידע אדם לפניו ולא ידע לאחריו. עד שהשיג מאמיתת המצאו דבר שנפרד הקב"ה בדעתו משאר הנמצאים. כמו שיפרד אחד מן האנשים שראה אחוריו והשיג כל גופו ומלבושו בדעתו משאר גופי האנשים. ועל דבר זה רמז הכתוב ואמר וראית את אחורי ופני לא יראו
"G-D responded to him that the human intellect is unable to comprehend G-D's true existence since man's spirituality is connected to his physicality. [Nevertheless], G-D still revealed to Moshe things that had not been known by any man before him or will ever be known after him. This allowed Moshe to attain an understanding of the truth of G-D's existence to the point that he was able to differentiate G-D, in his mind, from other things that exist. This is like a man can differentiate between two men from the back. Similar to how a man can attain an understanding of a person's body and clothes [from the back] that it is different from other men, [so too Moshe understood G-D in this way]. This point is hinted at in the Bible when it says, "I will show you my back, but my face you shall not see (Shemos 33:23)." 

The Rambam is explaining that Moshe was wrong in his initial attempt to understand G-D. However, he was still able to attain the ultimate level of human comprehension. G-D was able to relate all of His attributes to Moshe to the point that Moshe could understand G-D better than any other human being ever.

The idea here is that a physical being can only understand a conglomeration of attributes of G-D, but not the real truth of His existence. This is what is meant by being able to recognize the back of G-D, piecing together all of the attributes of G-D. This creates a shadow of G-D, one can see His outline, but never the true features. Only through what G-D is not can we truly understand what G-D is all about.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Rambam- How We Relate to G-D- Yisodei Hatorah halacha nine

The Rambam, in the first eight halachos in the book of Hamada, discusses that G-D is a completely nonphysical entity that exists. However, how is it possible for one to achieve an understanding of what G-D is if He is not physical. Can the human mind attain such a lofty idea? This is discussed in the ninth halacha of the Rambam's book of Hamada.

The Rambam says,
אם כן מהו זה שכתוב בתורה ותחת רגליו. כתובים באצבע אלהים. יד ה'. עיני ה'. אזני ה'. וכיוצא בדברים האלו. : 
"If it is true [that G-D has no body or form] what does the Torah mean when it says 'Under His feet, with the finger of G-D, hand of G-D, eyes of G-D and ears of G-D' and things similar to this?"

It is important to understand the question of the Rambam. He is stating that one might come to say that the Rambam must be wrong about G-D not being physical since the Torah clearly states that G-D has body parts by referring to the finger of G-D and other physical characteristics. So how could the Rambam be correct in stating that G-D has no physicality while, seemingly, the Torah says He does?

The Rambam answers by telling us,
הכל לפי דעתן של בני אדם הוא שאינן מכירין אלא הגופות ודברה תורה כלשון בני אדם. והכל כנויים הן. שנאמר אם שנותי ברק חרבי, וכי חרב יש לו ובחרב הוא הורג אלא משל והכל משל. 
"[These phrases in the Torah that refer to G-D's physical characteristics] all go according to the knowledge of man that can not recognize concepts except through physical attributes. [This is true since] the Torah speaks in the language of man. All of these inferences are euphemisms [for much more complicated ideas that are beyond human comprehension]. For example [it says in Devarim (32:41)], 'If I sharpen My flashing sword,' does G-D really have a [physical] sword and does He kill with a sword? Rather, it must be that this is a parable and all of these are parables."

The Rambam is able to answer up the question of "If G-D isn't physical then why does the Torah give Him physical attributes" using a very logical argument. The Rambam is telling us that the Torah was written for man and therefore must be understood by man. Hence, since man must understand the Torah it makes sense that the Torah was written only using language that man can comprehend. What use would the Torah be if G-D gave it to man, but used concepts and expressions that were unattainable by man? This is the reason why G-D wrote the Torah and attributed to Himself these seemingly physical characteristics, so that we could better understand what the Torah is talking about.

The Rambam now brings proofs to his logical argument from biblical sources. He says,
ראיה לדבר שנביא אחד אומר שראה הקב"ה לבושיה כתלג חיור. ואחד ראהו חמוץ בגדים מבצרה. משה רבינו עצמו ראהו על הים כגבור עושה מלחמה. ובסיני כשליח צבור עטוף. לומר שאין לו דמות וצורה אלא הכל במראה הנבואה ובמחזה, ואמתת הדבר אין דעתו של אדם מבין ולא יכולה להשיגו ולחקרו. וזה שאמר הכתוב החקר אלוה תמצא אם עד תכלית שדי תמצא
"A proof to this idea is that one prophet, [Daniel (Chaper 7 verse 9)], said that he saw G-D wearing a garment that was white like snow, while another prophet describes G-D as wearing red garments from Batzarah. Also, Moshe our teacher saw [conflicting visions of G-D since] by the Red Sea he saw G-D as a warrior doing battle, but by Mount Sinai he saw G-D as a prayer leader wrapped [in a talis]. These [proofs] are coming to say that there is no image or form [of G-D], but rather every appearance [of G-D] depends on the prophet and [the purpose of] the vision. The truth of the matter is that the knowledge of a man is not able to comprehend or figure out G-D. This goes according to the verse [in Job 11:7], 'Can you achieve an understanding of G-D? Can you fathom the extent of the Almighty?'" 

The Rambam feels that it is absolutely necessary to prove that these euphemisms are not literal from biblical sources. Why is this so important, could we not have just seen the logic in his argument without the biblical sources?

In truth, it makes absolute sense why the Rambam feels the necessity to bring in several pasukim that prove there is no real physical form to G-D. In this section of the Rambam's famous work of the Mishna Torah, the book of Hamada, the Rambam is pointing out the fundamentals of Judaism. All of the ideas contained within this section are foundations and principles of faith. Therefore, it is not appropriate that one just rely on basic knowledge for a principle of faith, but rather there must be something more. This is why the Rambam backs up everything he says with pasukim, in order to reveal the basis of these principles in the Torah itself. The Rambam is pointing out that all of the principles contained in Judaism can be found straight from the text itself. The ideas are logical, but the proof for the foundations of Jewish thought must be from the bible and not solely based on human logic.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rambam- Proof G-D Has No Body- Yisodei Hatorah eighth halacha

How can it be proven that G-D has no physicality? From where can we learn this essential fact about G-D? Apparently, some great sages from France believed that G-D did have a physical body. However, the Rambam disagreed, but how could he prove his point. One of the Rambam's 13 principles is the fact that G-D has no body and no relationship to a body, meaning this is an essential point for the Rambam to prove.

In the eighth halacha the Rambam says,
הרי מפורש בתורה ובנביאים שאין הקב"ה גוף וגוייה שנאמר כי ה' אלהיכם הוא אלהים בשמים ממעל ועל הארץ מתחת, והגוף לא יהיה בשני מקומות. ונאמר כי לא ראיתם כל תמונה. ונאמר ואל מי תדמיוני ואשוה. ואילו היה גוף היה דומה לשאר גופים:
"It is explained in the Torah and in the prophets that G-D has no body or form. It says, 'That the Lord is G-D of the heavens from above and on the land from below,'(Devarim 4:39) and it is impossible for a body to be in two places [at once]. It also says, 'For you did not see any form.'(Devarim 4:15) It also says, 'To who can you liken Me?' (Isaiah 40:25) If [G-D] had a body then it would obviously be similar to other bodies."

The Rambam's first idea, that a body can not exist in two places, describes what a body is as well as why G-D can not have one. The idea of a body existing in two places at once contradicts the definition of a body. A body is something that can only exist in one place because it is limited to a specific space. Something that is not limited to a specific place is by definition not a physical body. This is G-D, a being that exists in more than one place without the limitations of space.

The second idea in the Rambam is that the Jewish people did not see any form of G-D. This refers to when the Jewish people were at Mount Sinai and they saw the mist and the fire that encompassed the mountain, but they could not see a form of G-D. This reveals that G-D must not have any form since the Jewish people would have seen it since they were at the highest possible spiritual level on earth that could be attained. Therefore, it stands to reason that G-D must have no physical existence since the Jewish people could not see it even at this point.

The final point in the Rambam here is that G-D is not comparable to any being. If He were comparable to any type of being then it would stand to reason that He has some type of limitation and any type of limitation would cause a lack in G-D's abilities. This limitation would be some type of level of physicality in the sense that G-D's powers would have limits. Therefore, the Rambam proves that it is impossible to compare anything to G-D and thus His existence is unique compared to all other things in existence and His powers are infinite.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rambam- The Singularity of G-D- Yisodei Hatorah seventh halacha

The most important detail in understanding G-D is His uniqueness. The fact that there is nothing else like Him in existence, in and of itself, tells us something. The Rambam says (first half of the halacha),
אלוה זה אחד הוא ואינו שנים ולא יתר על שנים. אלא אחד. שאין כיחודו אחד מן האחדים הנמצאים בעולם. לא אחד כמין שהוא כולל אחדים הרבה. ולא אחד כגוף שהוא נחלק למחלקות ולקצוות. אלא יחוד שאין יחוד אחר כמותו בעולם
" This G-D is singular, there is not two of Him or more than two, rather He is a type of singularity that does not exist with any other singular being in the world. He is not a singular being like that of a being that is made up of many singular beings, nor is He a singular being like a body that is divided into many individual parts with limits. Rather His singularity is not like that of any other singularity found in the world."

The Rambam's point here is that he is trying to describe the oneness of G-D. However, it is impossible for the human mind to comprehend the concept of G-D's singularity, therefore the Rambam must describe this intangible idea through what it is not. By doing this the Rambam must define the different types of singularity that exist in the world. The first type of singularity described is one that is made up of many other microcosms of the greater singularity, similar to a species or a country. A species is made up of many entities that share a common goal or existence and a country is made of of individuals that also share a common goal or existence. However, in both of these situations the species or country is not controled by one thought process, but rather by several. Also, the Rambam points out that G-D is not even the type of singularity that consists of many parts but is controlled by one intellect like a body, rather His singularity is even greater than this description.

The Rambam continues the description of G-D by saying (second half of the halacha),
אילו היו אלוהות הרבה היו גופין וגויות. מפני שאין הנמנים השוין במציאותן נפרדין זה מזה אלא במאורעין שיארעו בגופות והגויות. ואילו היה היוצר גוף וגוייה היה לו קץ ותכלית שאי אפשר להיות גוף שאין לו קץ. וכל שיש לגופו קץ ותכלית יש לכחו קץ וסוף. ואלהינו ברוך שמו הואיל וכחו אין לו קץ ואינו פוסק שהרי הגלגל סובב תמיד. אין כחו כח גוף. והואיל ואינו גוף לא יארעו לו מאורעות הגופות כדי שיהא נחלק ונפרד מאחר. לפיכך אי אפשר שיהיה אלא אחד. וידיעת דבר זה מצות עשה שנאמר ה' אלהינו ה' אחד: 
" If there were many G-D's (similar to a species or country) then they would have to have a body and a form, because entities that are equal in existence can only be if they also happen to have bodies and forms [to separate themselves from each other]. And if the creator were to have a body and form then He would also have limits and an end for it is impossible for a body to exist that has no limits. Also, anything that has limits and an end, its power also has limits and an end. However, G-D, bless his name, has powers without limits or an end since the sphere (earth or sun) rotates continuously [through His power], therefore his power must not be a power from a [physical] body. [Since we proved that G-D] does not have a body it must be that no occurrence occurred for [G-D to have] a body that separates Him from another [god]. Therefore, it is impossible that any other gods exist other than Him. To know this concept [of G-D's singularity] is a positive commandment that it says in the pasuk, 'G-D our lord G-D is One.'"

The Rambam here is describing why it must be that G-D is singular. The first half of this halacha points out that G-D is singular and he tries to describe that singularity. However, the second part of this halacha describes why G-D must be singular. He points out that G-D's power is contingent on the fact that He is singular. G-D's power and existence can only be possible as the singular entity that he describes in the first half of the halacha. The commandment of "G-D is our lord, G-D is singular," is only fulfilled when one is able to understand G-D's full power as a single entity. One can not understand G-D's existence through the singular entities that we can comprehend, but rather only through the negation of the singular entities that we recognize.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rambam- What are the Characteristics of the Messiah

What type of person is the Messiah supposed to be? Should he be a head of a Yeshiva that is constantly learning day and night? Maybe he should be a prophet that can tell us what G-D wants from us. Are these accurate descriptions of what the Messiah should be? Based on the Rambam's description of the Messiah in the eleventh and twelfth perek of the laws of kings I would venture to say no. Then what type of person, according to the Rambam, will the Messiah be?

The Rambam says, "One should not think that the King Messiah must work miracles and wonders, bring about new phenomena within the world, resurrect the dead, or perform other similar deeds. This is not true. A proof to this is that Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest Sages of the Mishnah, was one of the supporters of King Ben Koziva, and described him as the King Messiah. He and all the Sages of his generation considered him to be the King Messiah until he was killed because of sin."

The Rambam also states, "If a king will arise from the House of David who is righteous with the Torah and performs the commandments like David his ancestor according to the written and oral Torah; if he will persuade all of Israel to go according to it and to search it out; and if he will fight the wars of G-d; This man is assumed to be the Messiah. If he succeeds in building the Temple on its site and gathers in all of Israel, he is definitely the Messiah."

Based on these two quotations from the Rambam I think we can begin to understand what type of person the Messiah is supposed to be. The Messiah is not thought of as supernatural on any level. From the Rambam one might vernture to say that the Messiah does not even have to be a prophet. This can be drawn from the fact that Rebbi Akiva clearly thought that Ben Kosiba (better known as Bar Kochba) was the Messiah even though he clearly was not a prophet. Also, Bar Kochba was able to win many wars against the Romans. His victories were so great that the Jews had an independant kingdom for over two and a half years and they began the rebuilding of the Temple in its place. The Rambam points out that all of this convinced Rabbi Akiva that Bar Kochba was the real Messiah. These signs, up until his death, were enough to give him an assumption (chazaka) of being the Messiah.

However, the second quote from the Rambam tells us that it is not enough that the Messiah fights the wars of G-D for the Jews, he must also be a great Torah scholar. This makes sense because the Messiah has to be able to convince all Jews to repent and return to a strict observance of the commandments. This is only possible if the Messiah himself has the ability to clearly explain and convince people why they should follow the Torah, oral and written.

The Messiah is one of the most important figures in all of Jewish thought. The Rambam tells us that the Messiah will usher in a new age that will lead to global prosperity. This type of person must contain all of the positive aspects a Jew is capable of achieving in the natural world. A person must complete all of the requirements that the Rambam points out, if one is missing than this person can not be the Messiah.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rambam- Understanding G-D - Yisodei Hatorah sixth halacha

In the sixth halacha of the book of Hamada the Rambam describes how one should view G-D. He says,
וידיעת דבר זה מצות עשה שנאמר אנכי ה' אלהיך. וכל המעלה על דעתו שיש שם אלוה אחר חוץ מזה. עובר בלא תעשה שנאמר לא יהיה לך אלהים אחרים על פני. וכופר בעיקר שזהו העיקר הגדול שהכל תלוי בו:
" To know this thing (that G-D is the master of the world; He guides the sphere with a limitless, continuous and unending power; and causes the rotation of the sphere without a hand or body) is a positive commandment that the Torah says, 'I am Hashem, your G-D.' Anyone who thinks that there is another G-D except for Hashem transgresses a negative commandment, that the Torah says, 'There shall not be for you other gods before me.' Also, this person denies the fundamental ideas of Judaism that everything in existence depends on G-D."

The Rambam points out that there is a positive and negative commandment involved in the belief of G-D. This is similar to the commandment of observing the sabbath. The Torah tells us that there is a commandment of Guarding and Remembering the sabbath. These two languages infer that there is a positive and negative commandment to the observance of the sabbath. The negative commandment tells us that there are actions that we must not perform in order to make the sabbath day holy and on the other end the positive commandment tells us what must be done in order to make the sabbath day holy. Seemingly, the positive and negative commandments both lead to the same result.

This can also be applied to this commandment that has both a positive and negative commandment. The positive commandment aspect requires one to understand G-D's infinitude on a level that human's can comprehend. We have to believe that G-D is the only obligatory being in existence. All other beings exist because of G-D. However, from the aspect of the negative commandment one must never believe in a limit to G-D's power. If a person knows that G-D is the ultimate being than he can not, in fact, believe in a second ultimate being since this would limit G-D's power. Therefore, the positive commandment and the negative commandment both lead to the same result.

The Rambam is explaining one of the most fundamental of all ideas in Judaism, believing in G-D. The Rambam points out that the belief in G-D is only possible through a positive and negative aspect. To try to comprehend G-D only in a positive way is impossible, His infinitude is too much to comprehend. However, to try to understand G-D by what is impossible to exist alongside Him can reveal to us much about His infinitude. Thus, it is important for us not just to try and understand G-D's ultimate power, but also what power can not exist alongside Him.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Rambam- G-D's Infinite Power- Yisodei Hatorah fifth halacha

In the fifth halacha of Rambam's book Hamada he says,
המצוי הזה הוא אלהי העולם אדון כל הארץ. והוא המנהיג הגלגל בכח שאין לו קץ ותכלית. בכח שאין לו הפסק. שהגלגל סובב תמיד ואי אפשר שיסוב בלא מסבב. והוא ברוך הוא המסבב אותו בלא יד ובלא גוף: 
"This being [that causes all other beings to exist] is the G-D of the world, master of the entire land. Also, He guides the sphere with a force that has no limits and is continuous. [It is] a force that has no end. [These three aspects cause] that the sphere is always rotating and it is impossible that it will rotate with out some cause of rotation and He, blessed is He, is the one that rotates [the sphere] without a hand or body." (Sphere most likely means the earth or sun) 

Why does Rambam describe G-D's power with three different words: no limits, continuous and no end? Also, what is the significance that G-D rotates the world with no hand or body?

The idea that G-D's power has no limits is that G-D has the ability to perform any deed. G-D can cause the laws of physics to change every day if He willed it. This means that He is the one who is all powerful. This works with the idea that there is no other G-D since there can not be two all powerful beings that control all other beings since they could not, in fact, be all powerful since they would be limited by each other. Therefore, a G-D with infinite power is a sole creator and has ultimate control over all.

The second language that is used, continuous, reveals another aspect that is crucial to the understanding of G-D's true nature. No limits describe that reality and, in fact, every creation can be altered by G-D, however, maybe that is only at certain points in time. Continuous power means that G-D's power is constantly in use. The ability to continuously perpetuate the rotation of the sphere is a demonstration of G-D's limitless power and His continuous power since it requires a force to create a reality and always be active.

The last idea of G-D's power having no end is a little different. Having limitless power and continuous power can exist without having no end. For example, the king of Spain had continuous power and limitless power in Spain, but had no power in England. This is why the Rambam explains that G-D rotates the sphere without a hand or a body. This is because if G-D were to have a hand or body, physical aspects, then his power would have an end. Meaning, anything with physical characteristics has a limit to its influence. Two physical objects can not occupy the same space and therefore, by definition, anything physical is unable to be everywhere and influence everything. However, by G-D, the Rambam tells us that His power has influence that is unending. He is saying that G-D's influence is everywhere and He achieves this supreme influence because He is not physical in any way nor are any of His powers physical. This is why the Rambam says G-D rotates the world without a hand or body, in order for us to realize that His influence is everywhere and therefore unending.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rambam-G-D is the Only Supreme Being-Yisodei Hatorah fourth halacha

In the fourth halacha of the first perek of Rambam's sefer Hamada he says,
הוא שהנביא אומר וה' אלהים אמת. הוא לבדו האמת ואין לאחר אמת כאמתתו. והוא שהתורה אומרת אין עוד מלבדו. כלומר אין שם מצוי אמת מלבדו כמותו: 
" The prophet said that Hashem G-D is true. He alone is true and no other has truth like His truth. About Him the Torah says there is no other like Him, meaning there is no other true creator like Him, except Him."

There are a few questions that I have on this Rambam. Firstly, why does the Rambam say "the prophet says" instead of just stating his point like the previous three halachos? Also, why does the Rambam have to point out that there is no other true creator like Him, obviously there are no other creators. Lastly, why does the Rambam specify true creator, why not just say creator?

The reason, I believe, that the Rambam uses the words of Jeremiah (the prophet) here is to point out the Rambam's understanding of G-D's truth as apposed to the truth of an idol. The pasuk that the Rambam quotes here is dealing with Jeremiah rebuking the Jewish people for worshipping idols. In it Jeremiah refers to G-D as the living G-D and Eternal King and this is what makes Him the ultimate truth. This can answer why the Rambam also says that there is no other true creator like Him and why he specifies true creator. The Rambam is saying that Jeremiah points out some very essential ideas in his description of G-D. First off, the fact that G-D is living, He plays an active role in the existence of all things, makes Him the creator in contrast to idols that are dead, they play no role in any of existence. Also, He is the true creator because He is the Eternal king, His existence is infinite and without limitations. G-D's infinitude makes Him true because truth is the idea that He has a permanent existence whereas all other things are fleeting.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rambam- G-D's existence in contrast to our existance- Yisodei Hatorah third halacha

The Rambam says in the third halacha of his sefer hamada,
ואם יעלה על הדעת שאין כל הנמצאים מלבדו מצויים הוא לבדו יהיה מצוי. ולא יבטל הוא לבטולם. שכל הנמצאים צריכין לו והוא ברוך הוא אינו צריך להם ולא לאחד מהם. לפיכך אין אמתתו כאמתת אחד מהם: 
 "If one were to think that nothing else existed other than G-D then He would exist and would not cease to exist like the rest of existence. Everything needs Him, but He does not need any one of them. Therefore, the truth of His [existence] is not like the truth of any other beings [existence]."

I think the reason that the Rambam points out that G-D could exist without anything else and continues to contrast the rest of creation to G-D in three ways has to do with the last line of "The truth of His existence is not like the truth of any other being[s existence]." What does the Rambam mean by pointing out that the truth of G-D's existence is different from the truth of all other being's existence? How are we meant to understand this seemingly confusing idea?

I think from the fact that the Rambam says that G-D's truth is not like other being's truth as opposed to saying G-D's truth is greater than other being's truth tells us what he is trying to say. The Rambam is not trying to say that G-D is the ultimate truth, even though that might be true, but rather he is trying to differentiate between the existence of a being that was created and a being that has always existed with no creator (aka a contingent being vs a non-contingent being). He describes the difference in the fact that if nothing else existed then G-D would still exist and G-D does not rely on any other being for His existence. Meaning, G-D's existence is as a being that exists outside of space time and without limitations, whereas all other things exist with limitations and depend on other beings in order for their existence.

The main point of the Rambam is an attempt to describe G-D. The Rambam is not trying to describe another attribute of G-D, but rather G-D's essential characteristics. Later, the Rambam talks about G-D's attributes and the actions that G-D uses in the Torah, but here he is trying to describe the core of what G-D really is all about.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rambam-How do we view G-D- Yisodei Hatorah second halacha

In the Rambam's second halacha of sefer hamada he says,
ואם יעלה על הדעת שהוא אינו מצוי אין דבר אחר יכול להמצאות
"If one were to think that G-D does not exist then nothing else would be able to exist." 

What does he mean by saying that if one were to think that G-D does not exist? Shouldn't he just say that if G-D does not exist then nothing else could exist, why include a physical person's point of view?

The expression that "there are no Atheists in a fox hole" will help me explain what I think the point of this wording in the Rambam teaches us. The brain is a very complicated machine that the human being is created with. It has the ability to come up with so many different thoughts. For instance, Da Vince was able to imagine so many futuristic contraptions like the parachute and the airplane solely through his intellectual prowess. Also, in the world of philosophy people are able to come up with many ideas and one of those ideas is the concept of morals. However, the question must be asked, what are morals? Who can define what is moral and what is immoral? Can a council of elders decide what is moral for all generations? If so, why would future generations continue following morals that seem to obstruct their desires? Why is adultery immoral and marriage moral?

The only being that can define morals is the being that created all of the beings that would be bound by these morals. Otherwise, it would be like the USA telling England how to run their government. England would tell the USA, thanks but no thanks. However, the Government of the USA can tell the states within their government how to run.

Now, maybe we can understand what the Rambam might be saying. A person can not believe in an overall natural order that applies to all beings such as morals unless that person also believes there is a supreme being that created all of the beings in this natural order. Why would physics apply to one object in the same manner as it applies to another object if they were created separately and in different ways?

Going back to my statement of there are no atheists in a fox hole. By this I mean that everyone really, deep down, believes in an ultimate creator. Anyone who says otherwise chooses to ignore the facts that there must be a supreme being that created everything. However, the Rambam is telling us that an active disbelief in a creator of all things would lead this person to disregard morals and to live by his own rules as opposed to the communal and natural rules inherent in all people that are placed inside us by the creator.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Rambam- What is G-D and Creation-Yisodei Hatorah the first Halacha

In the beginning of the Rambam's historical work, The Mishna Torah, he talks about the most fundamental of all things, what is G-D and Creation. The Rambam says,
יסוד היסודות ועמוד החכמות לידע שיש שם מצוי ראשון. והוא ממציא כל נמצא. וכל הנמצאים משמים וארץ ומה שביניהם לא נמצאו אלא מאמתת המצאו:
 "The base of all things and the pillar of all wisdom is to know that there is an original being and He is the cause of all beings. All of the beings that exist in the heavens, on earth and in between can not exist except through the truth of His existance."

Reflecting on the Rambam's opening words can give us a little insight into what the physical world really is and its point according to the Rambam. He assumes that all knowledge must first stem from the idea that G-D exists, without this there is no other thoughts possible and no other theories that can be made. The fact is that although people can explain most things in our universe one thing remains elusive, where did the original atom come from to create everything. Even the big bang theorists admit that there must have originally been molecules that could collide in order for the big bang to occur. So the physical world must be something that is a creation from a supreme being. As the physical world is a creation there must be a purpose and a use for it. Also, the fact that the physical world only exists through the truth of G-D then it must be that the purpose of the physical world relates to G-D and its use must be for the service of G-D.

I would venture to say that the reason the Rambam opens his book in this fashion is because he wants to differentiate himself from the secular philosophers, christian thinkers and ancient teachers. To see these other views see wikipedia's conceptions of G-D. However, he also just wants to point out the basis for all of his opinions in the philisophical world and the idea that it is futile to argue with him unless you also believe in these basic concepts.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Maharal On Learning and Teaching Torah

Learning and teaching Torah has always been the cornerstone of Judaism. Throughout the years many Jewish scholars have contributed their theories of how best to learn or teach the Torah and its many components. One of the most influential and original thinkers on this subject is the Maharal MiPrague. The Maharal has written several sefarim that discuss his ideas on how to achieve success in learning and teaching, but one of the most prominent places that his opinion appears is in the introduction to his book Tiferes Yisroel. In his introduction the Maharal discusses why everyone can achieve success in learning Torah, the difficulties with teaching Torah to others, the proper intentions that one needs while learning and how learning Torah ultimately brings people closer to Hashem. In this influential work, it is obvious that the Maharal was strongly affected by the events that occurred in his generation. He even mentions specific deficiencies apparent in his time period that seriously crippled aspiring learners.

The Maharal lived in a time when society was experiencing a change in culture. The Renaissance was starting around the time of the Maharal and it affected several Jews. Science became more popular and people were questioning Hashem at every corner. The Renaissance was especially active in Prague where the non-Jewish community was more open and therefore more accepting of Jews. This accepting society is the reason more Jews were able to go to University. University education along with an open society caused a large amount of assimilation among the Jewish community. The amount of Torah learning, according to the Maharal, decreased during this period since more people were becoming secularized and assimilated. The affects were so dire that many Jews became great secular thinkers. Baruch Spinoza, who lived right after the Maharal, is a great example of a Jewish genius converting into a secular philosophizer.

In order to understand the Maharal’s position a little better the Renaissance must be further explained. The dominant intellectual movement of the Renaissance was humanism, a philosophy based on the idea that people are rational beings. Humanism originated in the study of classical culture, and it took its name from one of the era’s earliest and most crucial concerns: the promotion of a new educational curriculum that emphasized a group of subjects known collectively as the studia humanitatis, or the humanities. Humanities disciplines included grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry, and ethics. The humanists also stressed the general responsibilities of citizenship and social leadership. Humanists felt that they had an obligation to participate in the political life of the community.

Underlying the differences between the old philosophies and the humanists’ philosophies was the humanists’ deep conviction that society had outgrown older ways of thought. According to the humanists, the old ways of thought emphasized abstract speculation and relied too heavily on religious teachings. Many of the humanists were townspeople who were not directly associated with religion. These urban residents tended to object to an educational system that was largely monopolized by religion. Humanists were accustomed to the ever-changing, concrete activities of city life and found the rigid and closed systems of abstract thought to be both useless and irrelevant. In total, humanism reflected the new environment of the Renaissance. Its essential contribution to the modern world was not its concern with antiquity, but its flexibility and openness to all the possibilities of life. 
The Maharal wrote most of his books to counteract the secular ideas of the Renaissance and to help Jews focus on the important ideas in Judaism. The new secular ideas of philosophy and of the humanists were very attractive during this time and in order to give a Jewish perspective on these ideas the Maharal came out with a lot of Jewish philosophical books. The book Tiferes Yisroel is one of these philosophical books. In his introduction to Tiferes Yisroel, the Maharal tries to describe, to a crowd of people who need explanations and without the Maharal would probably not be learning at all, how to learn and why learning Torah is important.

The Maharal begins Tiferes Yisroel by talking about the verse in scripture that one recites during the lifting of the Torah after reading it (hagba). The verse is “And this is the Torah that Moshe placed before Bnei Yisreol.” The Maharal uses this as a springboard to discuss his first issue, success in Torah learning. He says that the verse specifically chose the wording of "The Torah was placed before Bnei Yisroel," implying that the Torah is something that anyone who wants can come and take since it is sitting there waiting to be learned. The Maharal is trying to emphasize that the Torah is not only for the extremely wise or bright, but for anyone who is willing to involve themselves with it. He points this out since, in his time, people thought that learning Torah was only for the elite. There was a preconceived notion that only the best and the brightest go to Yeshiva and learn, but everyone else does not have to, or may not be capable of learning. Most people probably thought this because they equated Torah knowledge to regular secular knowledge. By doing this they thought that Yeshiva must be similar to University where only the top students can attend. This thinking led the Maharal to tell us that everyone has the ability to learn Torah and he proves it from this widely known verse.

The next problem the Maharal brings up with learning Torah is someone worrying about making mistakes. A person might not want to learn because he may read a word incorrectly or understand the Halacha in a faulty manner. To this concern the Maharal brings down a Midrash in Song of Songs that says G-D loves someone even if they read the text incorrectly or misunderstand the Halacha. The Midrash explains that G-D will overlook the mistake of even a misread word and that Hashem understands what the person truly meant. This is used to encourage all of the people who can not correctly read Hebrew and to support them in order that they will still try their hardest to read Hebrew and not give up.

This problem also reflects on the Maharal’s personal experience. People in his time period lacked the ability to read Hebrew. In fact, the Maharal’s writings reveal his own lack of Hebrew vocabulary. For example, the Maharal uses the word “Rak” which means only, in an interchangeable manner with the word ela, which means but. This shows the Maharal’s lack in Hebrew capabilities and leads to the conclusion that his generation must not have been any better. Still, the Maharal wanted to give hope to all of those in his community and tell them that they can try and learn even though there will be many mistakes. The Maharal figured that positive reinforcement was the best way to inspire people to learn and keep tradition.

Based on the problems the Maharal thought were rampant among his community, making mistakes with learning and the lack of confidence that people were having with learning itself, the Maharal explains the blessing recited before learning. The blessing recited before learning is “to deal with words of Torah” and not only “to learn Torah.” This discrepancy feeds the Maharal’s idea that one should learn and not be worried about his lack of confidence or his concern for making mistakes. He says that the very fact that the blessing is “to deal with words of Torah” and not to actually “learn Torah” means that all one has to do is try to learn and even if the learning is incorrect then merit is still received. The whole idea is that learning is a commandment in the Torah and in order to fulfill that commandment one must do an action of learning. The action is speaking out the words, but even if one is incorrect he is still fulfilling the commandment. Whereas, if the blessing would be “to learn Torah” that would imply only fully comprehending the ideas of Torah counts as fulfilling the commandment and if one did not actually understand the true law being learned then he would not have fulfilled the commandment. Nevertheless, the Maharal points out that the true bracha is, in fact, “to deal with words of torah” and, therefore, even if one does not comprehend the true law he is still rewarded.

Another problem with learning torah is trying to teach it to others. The Maharal brings up this difficulty since the primary way of learning Torah in his time was through pilpul. Pilpul is when two people learn together and discuss or argue about the different points in the Gemara or Mishna in a heated way. The Maharal was against this type of learning, but since it was the method used, he tried to help people through the discouragements of this process. The first of the two difficulties is that how does one know he is learning the Gemara or Mishna correctly that he will be able to enlighten the person he is trying to teach the law or idea. The Maharal adds that it is especially a problem in his (the Maharal’s) generation since wisdom has been lost and true explanations are much more difficult to come by. The second problem is that even if a person is able to get to the true law or idea how will he convince the person he is learning with into accept his understanding of the law or idea. This second problem is more disparaging than the first since after a person has worked so hard to achieve the truth it is painful for his understanding to be denied by someone else. It is human nature for a person to want his hard work to be meaningful and not be disregarded.

These two different problems are evident from a prayer that chazal provided for everyone to recite before learning. It says, “May it be your will that I should not stumble in a lawful matter, that I should not say something that is pure is impure and then my friend will be happy at my expense and also do not allow my friend to stumble that I should be happy at his expense.” This prayer is used to counteract human nature, that one person is usually happy when another person fails or is lacking something. This is true since a man is usually happy when he sees that he is better than his friend in some area, even a great and righteous person will have some degree of joy. Also, from the fact that a person is supposed to pray that he should not say something is pure when it is really impure instead of saying that he should say what is pure when it is pure shows that one doesn’t necessarily learn the proper law or idea. From this prayer we see the two problems facing someone while learning with a friend.

The Maharal answers up these two problems with a simple retort. He says that if when a person is learning he learns for the right reasons, which is for the sack of getting close to Hashem, then Hashem will give him the true understanding since the Torah comes from Hashem. This is proven from the language of the blessing one makes on the Torah in the morning. In the morning one says a prayer that Hashem gives us the torah, in a present tense, instead of saying that Hashem gave us the Torah. However, this seems to only answer up the question of a person becoming disheartened from the fact that he might not find out the true law or idea, but what about other people accepting his way of learning as truth? What about the problem that other people will not readily accept another persons understanding of the Gemara or Mishna? Rav Hartman answers this in a footnote to the Maharal and tells us that when a person is learning for the right reasons not only does he understand the true meaning, but this will help overcome human nature and people will accept his understanding as truth and not disregard his opinion.

Pilpul can be seen as a very difficult way of learning for the reasons just discussed, but the Maharal was against the pilpul approach of learning for several other reasons as well. In a paper written by Yael Wieselberg she goes into the different reasons that the Maharal was against the Pilpul way of learning. First of all, the Maharal thought that pilpul was a flawed system of learning, which results in a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding the written and oral Torah, which brought in its wake a ‘siluk hama’asim ve’yirat Shamayim min ha’dor ha’ze,’ a removal of good deeds and reverence from this generation. The Maharal felt that when one engages in intellectualism rather than in unity, the result is likely to be a void of mitzvos and an absence of reverence. Like the Maharal said earlier, it is in human nature to be pleased with the lack found in others and pilpul is a type of method that enhances that bad character trait instead of suppressing it.

Pilpul has a very interesting background that, at its core, seems to run counter to the Maharal’s view of Judaism. Pilpul was started by rationalist principles and the pilpulistic method originated in the Yeshivot of Germany and Italy and later found its way into Eastern Europe. By the sixteenth century in Prague, Pilpul had become the dominant mode of learning. Although Pilpul was immediately integrated into the mainstream of Polish Jewish learning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, coinciding with a considerable growth in Jewish learning, the Maharal emerged in staunch opposition to its instructive principles.

The truth is that the Maharal recognized the value of “pilpul for the right reasons” insofar as it illuminates genuine aspects of existence, but he remained deeply suspicious of “pilpul for the wrong reasons,” the kind of philosophical abstraction that disconnects one from reality. In Maharal’s view, pilpul had developed into a form of learning based upon the abstract and the imaginary, upon sharpening one’s arguments to impossible extremes just in order to outwit the fellow learner. This was exactly what the Maharal feared would become of learning and did not want this to happen.

Still, there are those who argue with the Maharal and believe pilpul is a great way of learning. Those who endorsed it believed that having a focused perspective would aid intellectual development, encouraging the student to think more clearly and move on towards autonomous learning. However, at the same time because students were so concerned to extend the parameters of their argument, they would often enter the realm of casuistry, arguing that different positions could be reconciled on the basis of obscure interpretations. While those in favor of pilpul were unconcerned by those flights of the imagination that left the realm of truth, Maharal was deeply concerned that the Torah enterprise remain restricted to truth, to its applications in reality. This shows us why, in Tiferes Yisroel, the Maharal says that chasing after the truth is the most important part about learning.

The Maharal talks about  understanding the "truth" as being why learning is important. However, iIf one learns for learnings sake and does not connect it to Hashem then his learning is removed from truth. An example of this is a Talmud Chacham (wise person) that learns and loves his learning, but fails to connect it to Hashem. The Maharal tells us that this type of person will not pass on his righteousness to his children since his learning is selfish and therefore falsified. The only way to insure that ones children will be righteous is to have truthful learning and connect it and enhance it with love for Hashem. Without this love for Hashem all else is pointless and untrue.

When learning lacks spiritual direction, Maharal insists, it will not succeed in bringing us to the world to come. Learning that is separated from fear of heaven, from a relation with Hashem, is rejected as meaningless. Only when study is intimately linked with the experience of Yirat Shamayim (awe of heaven) will it succeed in opening up the channels of relationship. On the mishnah “Eizehu Chacham, Halommed Mikol Adam”, (who is wise, someone who learns from every man) Maharal explains this point in depth. The definitions chosen by the Mishna, he explains, are extremely precise, and thus the Chacham (wise person) cannot be defined by the quantity of knowledge he possesses. The judge here of what is a wise person is rather how vigorously one strives to connect himself to Hashem. One can not determine intellectualism to be the definition of a wise person, but rather a love and understanding of Hashem.

The Maharal tried to make many changes in his community that can be seen through his writings. He attempts to relate more productive ways of learning as apposed to the accepted pilpul method. The Maharal also tries to encourage people to use the pilpul method, but with many amendments to the general understanding of how it is handled. He also invokes a person’s confidence and self worth instead of allowing it to be demeaned.

In essence, the traits of a true teacher, according to the Maharal, are a person who strives for truth and looks for the best in their students. The Maharal believed that everyone is capable of performing on a spiritual level. Whether they are the brightest people or the slowest people, the Maharal tried to give advice to all. He did not discriminate nor did he discourage anyone, rather he believed that everyone could teach and learn. This is why he wrote Tiferes Yisroel, in order that people should realize learning and teaching Torah is for everyone and that no one should give up hope. Also, he wrote the book in order to counteract the anti-religious teachings of the popular Renaissance ideas that were floating around during his time.

Parshas Breishis- Let Us Make Man In Our Image

In this week's Torah portion we have a very interesting occurrence. Yes, the creation of the world is amazing, but I am referring to G-D saying (Bereishis 1:26), "let us create man in Our image." And then the verse says(ibid 27), "G-D made man in His image, man and woman He created them." Now, I am not an English teacher, but something is very wrong with those two sentences being after each other. Someone might say that Hebrew is different and maybe I am reading it incorrectly. I got this translation from artscroll so it must be right! But in the Hebrew version it doesn't make sense either. It switches between the plural and the singular, so what is going on?

G-D says, Let us create man in Our image, in Our likeness. This seems odd since we also have "Shema Ysiroel Hashem elokainu, Hashem Echad." (Hear oh Israel, Hashem Our G-d, Hashem is One, one G-D and not many gods) Since I am not a philosopher I will not try to squeeze out a different meaning of Echad or try to explain this contradiction away, rather I want to focus on an essential idea in Judaism that explains why G-D confuses us by seemingly referring to Himself in the plural.

Most people have heard of the idea that G-D created the world with the attribute of strict judgement, but decided to combine creation with the attribute of mercy as well. This is what many Midrashim and commentators say is true, for if it was not true, the world would be destroyed. With this in mind and the very next verse referring to creating Adam as male and female, we can draw a logical conclusion as to why G-D refers to Himself in the plural of "Our image, Our likeness."

In the 27th verse it says that "Elokim (the attribute of strict justice) created man, in His image Elokim created him, male and female He created them." Interesting that the verse is formed in this way, that man is created in the image of Elokim, but when the verse refers to male and female it just says that they were created, without specifying Elokim's image. So, based on this and the idea that G-D created the world with the yud kay vav kay attribute of mercy (Hashem) and the Elokim attribute of strict justice, this leads me to believe that when G-D says that He wanted to create man in "Our image and Our likeness" that refers to creating man with both the attribute of strict justice and the attribute of mercy. That when G-D created man, He created man through the attribute of strict justice and the female through the attribute of mercy "Our likeness and Our image." I believe this since by man it says Elokim, but by woman it mentions nothing (which would refer to yud kay vav kay).

This brings me to an idea that I want to discuss. When referring to Kibud av viaim, honoring ones mother and father, the Torah says that one should honor ones father and mother. However, when the Torah refers to fearing ones parents it says one should fear their mother and father. Why would the Torah switch the order? The Torah is pointing out that most people do not fear their mothers because they exemplify the attribute of mercy therefore the Torah emphasizes that one must fear her as well as give her kavod. The Torah is also pointing out that the father is someone who exemplifies the attribute of justice and that is why the Torah emphasizes that one must give him kavod as well as fear.

In the end of the day the verses here allude to the fact that G-D made women through the attribute of mercy and men through the attribute of justice and this is why man can only be in the image of G-D when male and female are combined in marriage making them into a single entity. Through marriage man and woman can become one and really exist in the image of G-D.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Connecting Purim to Pesach

There is a very famous story that happened many years ago. It involves the Jews and the foreign land they lived in. The story contains a wicked oppressor and a great Jewish leader. It begins with the antagonist making a decree against the Jews and the protagonist coming and rescuing the Jewish people and freeing them from oppression. Also, the oppressor was smitten in ten ways and in the end he was killed.
Many might think that I am referring to Passover, but in truth I am talking about Purim. After the destruction of the first temple the Jews were sent into exile in Babylon (which later became part of the Persian Empire). Almost seventy years later they were oppressed by Haman, a very wicked man, who made a decree that every Jew should be killed. Mordechai, the leader and savior of the Jews, was able to save the Jews from destruction. In the end Haman was smitten in ten ways by having his ten sons hanged on the gallows along with himself.

These similarities bring about a very interesting correlation between Passover and Purim and reveals to us the similarities between Mordechai and Moshe as well as the similarities between Haman and Pharoh. The renewal of the dedication to the Torah by the Jews during Purim was so great that it is referred to as kimu vikiblu (establishing and keeping) and is compared to the receiving of the Torah (Esther 9:27). So the question here remains that if it is supposed to be just like Passover and the only difference is that one was for the First coming into Israel and one was for the second coming, since Jews returned to Israel after Purim, what happened? Why was the second coming so much weaker than the first coming and why did Mordechai, the savior of Purim, not lead it? By Passover the entire congregation of Israel came to the land without hesitation, but by Purim there was much hesitation and only 43,000 people came at first. Also, if Mordechai is compared to Moshe why was he not the one to lead the Jewish people in, why was Ezra hasofer the one to lead the Jews into Eretz Yisroel?

Here we can delve into the differences between Passover and Purim. The biggest difference is that very few people went back with Ezra to Israel after Purim as apposed to when everyone left Egypt with Moshe. This seems to be caused through the fact that in Egypt Hashem let the Jewish people see his great miracles openly whereas the Jews of Persia only realized how Hashem guided the events secretly. In Egypt, Hashem had these cataclysmic wonders destroy the Egyptians, but in Persia Hashem made everything occur naturally and through the Jewish people defending themselves. They fought against non-Jews that attacked them and killed 75,000 of them as it is stated in Megilas Esther (Chapter 9), but that was a hidden miracle.

Based on this we can point out the difference in thinking by the redemption in Egypt and in Persia. In Egypt, the Jews were so overcome by all of the plagues and wonders that they automatically accepted Hashem and there was no way to deny Him or ignore what He said. However, by Persia the Jews realized the wonders and miracles Hashem did, but He performed them in such a way that people could be less wowed by them. People thanked Hashem, but returning to Israel was still not important enough to forgo the comfort of the Persian Jews current living situation. Especially when we see what happened to the Jews in the books of Ezra and Nechemia. There were constant raids on the Jews trying to rebuild Jerusalem and many people died. There was no security and one would be putting blind faith in Hashem. This blind faith was attainable for everyone in Egypt, but the slightest bit of doubt would turn anyone away in Persia since Hashem only performed hidden miracles and there was no guarantee of redemption, in most people’s minds. This lack of faith is what caused the Second temple to be much weaker in spiritual holiness than the first temple.

The next difference is the leaders of the two holidays, Moshe and Mordechai. Both were undoubtedly great men and had much fear of heaven, but there was a difference. This can be seen in the listing of names of prominent people in Ezra and Nechemiah by the different houses that came to Israel. Among these names of prominent people, Mordechai is mentioned. There is, however, one discrepancy in these two different books. In Ezra, Mordechai is mentioned 5,th whereas in Nechemiah, he is mentioned 6th. So the question here is why exactly was he mentioned later in the book that takes place at a later time period? What caused him to be given less honor and be mentioned later?

My Rebbe, Rav Parnes, wanted to say the following. If we look at Mordechai in the book of Esther we see that at the end of the story he became the viceroy of Persia. Now, a Jewish scholar is given his position based on his knowledge and expertise in Halacha. The head of the court should be the most knowledgeable and, usually, the person given the most respect is the one who knows the most and is the wisest. So, what my Rebbe wanted to say was that maybe it could be that Mordechai got too involved in politics and never really went back to learning like he did before the Purim story. Yes, public affairs are important, but once they are finished with and everything is set straight the scholar needs to go back to his usual studies, otherwise he will become less of an expert and not be as knowledgeable. This could have been what happened to Mordechai. He might have gotten too caught up with being the viceroy and did not return to his learning and thereby he became less of an expert. It is because of this he may have been demoted in status compared to others. However, this is the opposite of Moshe who was able to juggle the role of being a leader and learn as much as he needed to in order to remain the ultimate authority. Nevertheless, both were great men and magnificent leaders.

These two differences could be the cause for why Mordechai was not the one to lead the Jews into Israel and why the people of Egypt all came to Israel instead of just a fraction. This is not a good excuse though, just an area for future generations to work on. We, for example, need to look at Purim and at Passover and be able to say that just like Pesach was from G-D so too was Purim.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What are the main idea's behind Judaism

The main idea's that are supposed to be followed by Jews are based on two relationships; a person's relationship with G-D and a person's relationship with his/her fellow human beings. The Torah or Bible is something that describes how a person should interact with G-D and how a person should interact with a fellow person. However, if the written Torah were the only guide these interactions would remain unknown and therefore it is essential to understand that the Torah has another aspect to it that was not written and this is what Orthodox Jews call the Oral Law. Within the Oral Law are explanations, usually based on scripture, but expounded upon by the scholars as to what the Torah or Bible means. For example, the Torah refers to keeping the Sabbath holy and not doing work on the Sabbath. How does one know what work is not to be done? Does it mean I can watch TV all day, but I should not go to my job? Does it mean that I can not do chores around the house? Or rather was this statement made in congruence with the Oral Law and that when G-D told Moshe (Moses) no work should be done, G-D had in mind exactly what work should not be done and that is the work specified by the Oral Law?

Now, since the Torah or Bible was given along with the Oral law we can now delve into what the basics of the Oral law teaches us through the medium of the five books of Moses. If one were to look at all the different opinions of why the commandments were given then, I think, it is clear what the point of the commandments are according to all opinions. The commandments that G-D gave to the Jewish people all have one goal in mind, to connect the Jewish people to G-D. Whether that is through man being kind to animals, other men, or just performing acts that seemingly have no reason the commandments bring us closer to G-D.

There are two ways to bring ourselves closer to G-D, by realizing how great G-D is through understanding Him or to realize how great G-D is through his creations. The latter is usually the best way for most people to connect to Hashem since trying to comprehend the greatness of G-D is very difficult and most people do not have hours just to ponder about Him. However, it is easy to recognize the greatness of G-D's creations, especially a fellow human being. By giving respect to all of G-D's creations and recognizing their purpose in this world we are, in fact, giving recognition to the greatness of G-D. I believe these ideas are the building blocks for one who wishes to delve further into the Jewish Philosophy.