Friday, June 26, 2009

Korach-Who was (were) the Instigator(s) of the Rebellion, Korach or Dasan and Aviram?

On ParshaBlog, Rabbi Josh Waxman brings up a Ralbag that seems to point out that the real instigators of the rebellion were Dasan and Aviram and not Korach. Korach was just a pawn of the Dasan and Aviram rebellion. Rabbi Josh and Garnel take issue with this and disagree with the Ralbag. That is justifiable, however, I remember learning a very interesting Midrash Tanchuma that would seem to back up the Ralbag's idea.

In Parshas Shemos (3:11-15) Moshe sees an Egyptian task master beating a Jew. He then stops the Egyptian from hurting this Jew by killing the Egyptian. The next day Moshe sees two Jews fighting and he tries to stop this fight as well. However, when he tries to stop them one of the Jews yells at him, "Will you kill me like you killed the Egyptian?" This frightens Moshe because he now thinks that the matter of the Egyptian is known and he is forced to flee the country. Hence, these Jews created a relationship with Moshe of animosity.

Who were these two Jews that were fighting that caused Moshe to flee for his life? The Midrash Tanchuma (Shemos:10) tells us that it was Dasan and Aviram.

In Parshas Beshalach we find the Jews in a dire situation. They are standing in front of the Yam Suf with the Egyptians chasing after them. This elicits the response from some Jews that they should have stayed in Egypt. These Jews revealed their lack of faith in Moshe and G-D.

Again, the Midrash Tanchuma (Shemos:10) reveals who these wicked Jews were. They were Dasan and Aviram.

In Parshas Beshalach G-D creates an amazing miracle, he causes the maan to fall out of heaven. However, Moshe gives the people some guidelines about this miracle of the maan. He tells the Jews that they should not leave the maan overnight and that no maan will fall on Shabbos. However, in verse 16:20 it says that some of the people did not listen to Moshe and left their maan overnight. Also, in verse 16:27 it says that some people from the nation went out on Shabbos to collect the maan, but did not find any. Whoever these Jews were they clearly did not listen to, or respect Moshe.

The Midrash Tanchuma (10) again tells us the identity of these rebellious Jews. They were, surprise, Dasan and Aviram.

In Parshas Shelach (Bamidbar 14:4) after the report of the spies that basically said they could not conquer the land all of the Jewish People wept. However, there were some people that insisted that they appoint their own leader and return to Egypt. This showed that these jews were in outright rebellion against Moshe.

The Midrash Tanchuma tells us that the culprits of this open rebellion were Dasan and Aviram. However, they failed in this regard because no one followed them.

The final point that the Midrash makes is that Dasan and Aviram were involved in the rebellion of Korach. What is the Midrash telling us with this final point? It seems to me that the real instigators were Dasan and Aviram and that they used Korach as their figure head that they could manipulate and control. The most compelling evidence that the Midrash believes this comes from the Midrash Tanchuma on Korach (3 or 10). It says there that Korach was instigated by his wife to rebel. If this is the case then the rebellion did not come inherent from Korach himself. However, by Dasan and Aviram, they wanted to rebel by themselves and they just needed a great person to back up their cause. This is most probably why Korach's name comes first, because he was the greatest of all the rebellious ones.

In light of this the Ralbag's idea that Korach was not the main instigator is backed up with Midrashim. As Rabbi Josh points out on ParshaBlog, in Pinchas there is mention of the Rebellion (Bamidbar 26:9-11). The verses point out that Dasan and Aviram were the ones who contended with Moshe and Aharon from the congregation of Korach. The pasuk then points out that Dasan and Aviram were swallowed by the Earth along with Korach. The Ralbag says that since Dasan and Aviram were mentioned first by being swallowed before Korach it is showing that they were more responsible for the rebellion than Korach. However, Rabbi Josh Waxman says that this idea seems flawed since the only reason they were mentioned first was because the pasukim are talking about the lineage of Reuven and Dasan and Aviram are in the tribe of Reuven. However, I would disagree with this idea because in verse 11 it mentions that Korach's children did not die. If these verses were truly only mentioning Dasan and Aviram because it was talking about the lineage of Reuven then why would the pasuk say that the sons of Korach did not die? This should have been mentioned in parshas Korach where it mentions that the entire congregation and their children died. I think that this would show that this section is sidetracked and not dealing with just the lineage of Reuven, but rather it is dealing with the outcome of the rebellion.

In truth, that is just how I feel. Rabbi Josh might be right, but based on the Midrash Tanchuma I would not write off the understanding of the Ralbag so easily. In fact, the Ralbag might have only come to this conclusion based on the Midrash Tanchuma's conclusion.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rambam- Knowing that G-D Exists- Yisodei Hatorah perek 4 halacha 7

The Rambam discusses how everything in the world is made of a combination of things. He says,

לעולם אין אתה רואה גולם בלא צורה או צורה בלא גולם. אלא לב האדם הוא שמחלק גוף הנמצא בדעתו ויודע שהוא מחובר מגולם וצורה. ויודע שיש שם גופים שגולמם מחובר מארבעת היסודות. וגופים שגולמם פשוט ואינו מחובר רק מגולם אחד. והצורות שאין להם גולם אינן נראין לעין אלא בעין הלב הן ידועין. כמו שידענו אדון הכל בלא ראיית עין: 

"A person will never see physical matter without a shape, or a shape without physical matter. A person will always know, in his or her heart, that everything that is visible is composed of physical material and posses a form. There are those bodies that are made of the four elements and there are bodies that are composed of only one of the four elements. Forms that do not posses physical material can not be seen with the eye, only through the eye of the heart can a person know that this type of being exists, like how we know that G-D exists without seeing with the eye."

Here the Rambam deals with a very fundamental idea, how can we know that G-D exists. First, he deals with all physical beings. All physical beings are visible. This visibility has some requirements. A visible object must be made of physical material and it has to have a form. This comes to exclude the material prima that Plato and the Ralbag talk about. They say that before creation there was this prime matter that existed without form or shape. It was physical material, but it had no shape. Therefore, we can understand from this Rambam, that this material was not visible to the eye, just like a being with a form but no physical material is invisible to the eye.

As a side point it is interesting to note that scientists believe that in outerspace there is something called dark matter. This matter is used to answer up several questions that they have about our universe. However, this dark matter is practically invisible to our eyes. Maybe it is the same type of material as the prime matter?

Anyway, the Rambam is telling us that since anything without physical matter is invisible this means there is only one way for us to "see" G-D. G-D is a completely non-physical being, therefore the only way we can "know" He exists is to believe in our hearts that he does exist. It is impossible to "see" Him in any other way.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Maharal Against Philosophers Continued

In this previous post I translated and discussed the beginning of the Maharal's discussion about what he thought about philosophers. I translated the beginning of his second introduction to Gevuros Hashem. Now I will continue to translate it and discuss his ideas.

"There are those from the believers of Israel that try to explain the wonders and miracles that happen in this world with their minds and their knowledge. The reason they use their own knowledge to explain the miracles is because the miracles do not make sense to them according to their understanding of the natural world. This inability to comprehend miracles through their own knowledge causes them to explain the miracles in a way that I (the Maharal) will mention. Still, these people do deserve credit in some respect, because they do not say that there is a lack in the doer (G-D) of the miracles, because this is not the case at all. Only, according to their minds and knowledge they think that it is not proper that the true actor (G-D), that created an order among the creations in that they are created correctly and truthfully, should change the basis for existence. That these Jewish philosophers say that if He would change the nature of the world then nothing that He created would be stable. This is all to their merit (the Jewish philosophers)."

The Maharal begins his disproof of the Jewish philosophers with respect. This shows just how great the Maharal was and how righteous he was. A man that can start a disproof with such nice words and pleasing language has amazing characteristics. He gives credit to the philosophers for using their knowledge, not to disprove G-D's existence, but rather to incorporate G-D's existence and actions into their lives. This is the proper way to act, if your knowledge and G-D's existence conflict with one another, you change your knowledge in order that you can also believe in G-D's existence.

The Maharal continues:
"However, in another aspect there is no merit to them, excluding the reason that their explanations are not correct according to intelligence and knowledge since their proofs and evidence are not correct and their congregation strays from the truth and correct path. They confuse the text (of the Bible) and give explanations for the occurrence of the miracles, that they come to teach us about the actions of G-D. This is why we call them signs and proofs, because they are signs and proofs for the actions of G-D, the awesome one. This reason is without merit and weakens the signs and proofs (of G-D) because the core reason why G-D brought the miracles to Earth was to reinforce our belief in Him."

The Maharal here is telling us where the philosophers got it wrong. It seems like he is explaining the philosophers as believing in an allegorical explanation of the text of the Bible. This diminishes the greatness of G-D because it takes away from His power. Also, this idea completely removes the idea of why G-D brought the miracles to Earth, to reveal His power on Earth. It is interesting to note that the Maharal seems to only go against philosophers that believe in an allegorical explantion of the miracles.

The Maharal continues:
"Now, returning to our original intent for mentioning the philosophers that we have not properly addressed, that we need to know how to answer a heretic. This is referring to the philosophers that say that everything comes from the intelligent order that emanates from the eternality of the world. This means that nothing deviates from this natural order and everything has its nature that it is accustomed to follow. The problem is that since everything comes from this intelligent order and is obligated to follow this nature because of the eternality of the world and cannot veer from this nature, this idea disallows any change in the world that would violate the intelligent order. This means that even a fly's wing cannot be elongated! The reason for this is that since the world has a certain nature that it follows because of the obligation that is found to exist within the world, if any change would come to the world on account of miracles then there would be a change in the order and nature of the world. According to this philosopher's knowledge we never find a change in nature because of the inherent obligation that exists within the order of the world. Therefore, the signs and proofs that change nature are not possible because everything needs to follow the obligatory order without any additions, negations or changes. On the main idea of his words (the Jewish philosopher), that the world is obligatory and therefore it must be that the world has no beginning making it eternal, will be answered in its place."

Here the Maharal is disclosing the general theory of Aristotle on the creation and existence of the world. I am not sure which Jewish philosopher that the Maharal is referring to. Perhaps he understands this as the Rambam's point of view. However, perhaps it is someone else. Either way, the Maharal is revealing which view he believes is incompatible with miracles.

The Maharal continues:
"Furthermore, according to the philosopher, how can it be that anything can come from anything? Nature dictates that anything can not come from anything, but rather only one thing can come from a specific thing. If this is true, then how could blood come from water? Behold, we can bring a proof from a type of object related to another object that is not in its type that the natural actions of something act according to its nature and its customs that are in the natural world, but its spiritual actions act according to its spirituality. There is a difference between them (the natural actions vs the spiritual actions). Natural actions occur in time and therefore every natural action needs to occur in a certain amount of time. However, an action that is not from nature does not need to occur in time. This difference is because of the fact that nature uses physical power and all physical power needs to occur in a certain amount of time. However, spiritual actions occur without taking up time, because these actions do not use physical power and therefore do not take up time. Therefore, in one moment the water was changed into blood since it was an act of G-D's will and His will changed the physicality and the spirituality in one moment. This is not a natural action that it occurred in time and that it needed to be prepared physically, but rather it was the word of G-D and the heavens did this action, with the breath of His mouth all of his legions acted. This was a spiritual act that did not require any physical preparation. Therefore, there should be no question of "But not all physical material is prepared to accept the form (of any other physical material) and therefore it would need preparation, so how was the water able to turn into blood?" This is not a question to one that understands this idea because physical material only needs preparation to accept another form if we are dealing with nature."

The Maharal is explaining how he views the nature of miracles. The problem exists that nature does not allow for miracles, however, miracles actually occur. How can this be? He explains that a physical medium, like water, does not need to be able to physically turn into blood. Although, through nature this is an impossibility, through spiritual intervention this occurs. Spiritual intervention occurs outside of time and this is how water is able to turn into blood. In this manner, G-D changes the physical properties of water through spiritual means and not physical means.

The Maharal continues:
"Philosophers, who go after nature, disregard the miracles because of this (that through nature one form can not accept another form). This we (the Maharal) admit, that through nature the miracles are impossible. However, through the spiritual actions all the miracles are possible. This is because the lower world that is governed by nature also has a connection to the world that is governed by spirituality and it is from this connection that miracles occur. This causes miracles to occur through what connects this world and the spiritual world. Therefore, miracles only occur through the Jewish people like we will explain later. All of this is because of the connection that the Jewish people have with the spiritual world and therefore miracles occur for them."

Here the Maharal discusses a major idea in his works, the Jewish people are the connection between the physical world and the spiritual world. As the connection between these two worlds the Jewish people are the conduits which are able to accept the miracles that G-D performs. Miracles can only occur through spirituality and therefore only the people that are connected to the spiritual world can attain this miracles. Therefore, it makes sense, according to the Maharal, that the Jewish people are able to receive miracles.

The Maharal continues:
"Now, this that we said 'How is it possible that we can form something from anything else, because it is impossible through nature,' is possible not through nature (it is possible through spiritual acts). Also, when we said that the world's existence is obligatory, it is from G-D. If its path is not according to the order of nature then this thing is a change from the order only according to His will. We therefore say that everything goes according to G-D's will."

The philosophy of the Maharal seems to be that G-D's will is the obligatory nature of the world. Only His will can guide the nature of the world. This is in contrast to the philosophers that believe that the natural order of the world is the obligatory nature of the world.

The Maharal continues:
"Even according to the knowledge of the one who believes in the eternality of the world and that everything goes according to the obligatory order, even though this idea is definitely wrong, according to his own knowledge he is wrong. This is because anyone who says that the miracles come from G-D is unable to say that they come from the intelligent order (and this is in fact what the Jewish philosophers try to do)."

Here the Maharal points out the inconsistencies within the ideas of Jewish philosophers that believe in the eternality of the world. If you say that miracles come from G-D it is impossible to believe that the natural order is the obligatory order of the world since miracles are in stark contrast to this idea. Miracles require one to believe that G-D's will is the only obligatory order of the world otherwise, miracles would be impossible.

Read the next part here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Does the Rambam Really Believe In Creation Ex- Nihilo

After reading the Ralbag in his Sefer Milchamos Hashem (Wars of the lord) I saw that he understood that the Rambam believed in creation ex nihilo (Wars of the Lord page 328-329 volume 3 of Seymour Feldman's translation). This was fine with me, however, the more I looked into this idea, the more controversy I discovered in this seemingly innocent explanation.

The first sign of trouble that I saw was a note that was attached to this explanation by Seymour Feldman, the translator of The Wars of the Lord. In this note he said that "Ever since the Middle Ages there has been an 'esoteric' reading of The Guide according to which Maimonides' real doctrine is not creation ex nihilo-- the 'exoteric teaching'-- but some form of the eternity theory. This was the interpretation of his medieval commentators Joseph ibn Kaspi and Moses Narboni; indeed, it was the interpretation of his translator Samuel ibn Tibbon. In recent years this reading of The Guide has been advocated by Leo Strauss and Shlomo Pines, the most recent translator of The Guide into english (Note 7 on page 194 of volume 3 in Wars of the Lord)."

This note caused me to go back to The Guide (II:25) and see what the Rambam says himself. I was very shocked because, originally, I had understood the Rambam like the Ralbag, creation ex nihilo is how the world was created. However, once I reread this section of The Guide I was confused.

Here are excerpts from The guide that are relevant:

"For two reasons, however, we have not done so, and have not accepted the Eternity of the Universe. First, the Incorporeality of God has been demonstrated by proof: those passages in the Bible, which in their literal sense contain statements that can be refuted by proof, must and can be interpreted otherwise. But the Eternity of the Universe has not been proved; a mere argument in favour of a certain theory is not sufficient reason for rejecting the literal meaning of a Biblical text, and explaining it figuratively, when the opposite theory can be supported by an equally good argument."

This section seemingly shows that the Rambam rejects the idea of the eternality of the world.

"Secondly..... If we were to accept the Eternity of the Universe as taught by Aristotle, that everything in the Universe is the result of fixed laws, that Nature does not change, and that there is nothing supernatural, we should necessarily be in opposition to the foundation of our religion, we should disbelieve all miracles and signs, and certainly reject all hopes and fears derived from Scripture, unless the miracles are also explained figuratively. The Allegorists amongst the Mohammedans have done this, and have thereby arrived at absurd conclusions."

This part of the Rambam explains why Aristotle's idea must be wrong. The fact that Aristotle's idea contradicts miracles shows that he can not fit into a simple reading of the text. Therefore, only theories that allow for miracles can be read into the literal text.

However, this next part of the Rambam seemingly destroys the reasons for choosing creation ex nihilo as opposed to Plato's version of the eternality of the universe.

"If, however, we accepted the Eternity of the Universe in accordance with the second of the theories which we have expounded above (II:23), and assumed, with Plato, that the heavens are likewise transient, we should not be in opposition to the fundamental principles of our religion: this theory would not imply the rejection of miracles, but, on the contrary, would admit them as possible. The Scriptural text might have been explained accordingly, and many expressions might have been found in the Bible and in other writings that would confirm and support this theory. But there is no necessity for this expedient, so long as the theory has not been proved. As there is no proof sufficient to convince us, this theory need not be taken into consideration, nor the other one: we take the text of the Bible literally, and say that it teaches us a truth which we cannot prove: and the miracles are evidence for the correctness of our view." (Guide for the Perplexed section 2 chapter 25)

The Rambam says that THE MIRACLES ARE EVIDENCE FOR THE CORRECTNESS OF OUR VIEW! This seems a little strange since according to the Rambam's own admittance, the view of Plato allows for miracles as well. According to the Rambam, there is no reason to take creation ex nihilo (creation of something from nothing) over the idea of creation ex aliquo (creation of something from something). What I think is going on here is that the Rambam thinks a creation that allows for miracles is what happened, in whichever way that can occur. If it is the Platonic idea or creation ex nihilo, either one is possible. I base this idea on the next part of The Guide.

"Accepting the Creation, we find that miracles are possible, that Revelation is possible, and that every difficulty in this question is removed. We might be asked, Why has God inspired a certain person and not another ? Why has He revealed the Law to one
particular nation, and at one particular time? why has He commanded this, and forbidden that ? why has He shown through
a prophet certain particular miracles ? what is the object of these laws ? and Why has He not made the commandments and the
prohibitions part of our nature, if it was His object that we should live in accordance with them ? We answer to all these questions: He willed it so; or, His wisdom decided so. just as He created the world according to His will, at a certain time, in a certain form, and as we do not understand why His will or His wisdom decided upon that peculiar form, and upon that peculiar time, so we do not know why His will or wisdom determined any of the things mentioned in the preceding questions. But if we assume that the Universe has the present form as the result of fixed laws, there is occasion for the above questions: and these could only be answered in an objectionable way, implying denial and rejection of the Biblical texts, the correctness of which no intelligent person doubts. Owing to the absence of all proof, we reject the theory of the Eternity of the Universe: and it is for this very reason that the noblest minds spent and will spend their days in research. For if the Creation had been demonstrated by proof, even if only according to the Platonic hypothesis, all arguments of the philosophers against us would be of no avail." (Guide for the Perplexed section 2 chapter 25)

The Rambam clearly rejects the Aristotilian view of creation, but he leaves the door wide open for the acceptance of Plato's view. This leads me to believe that, in the end, the Rambam is in doubt whether creation ex nihilo is true, or whether creation ex aliquo is true. Therefore, the Rambam says either one is acceptable.

The Ralbag is dissatisfied with how the Rambam leaves this inquiry since, as I have pointed out, he does not really come to a definitive conclusion. Therefore, the Ralbag takes it upon himself in his sefer The Wars of The Lord to show, through proof, why creation ex nihilo is not logical and why creation ex aliquo is how G-D created the world. (Seen in wars of the Lord on page 328-330)

For those who do not know what Plato holds I will explain. The Ralbag actually holds something very similar to Plato. It is the idea that there was a shapeless matter that existed eternally. However, this matter was just shapeless formless and thoughtless matter whereas G-D is all powerful. G-D took this matter and created the world and the rest of the universe. In this way the world is eternal, there was matter eternally. This still allows for miracles because it shows that G-D controls the nature of the physical world. However, Aristotle's version of the eternality of the world would be that the spheres and shapes of matter and planets always existed and G-D would not be able to alter the nature of the universe. This is why his view does not allow for miracles because it does not allow for G-D to change the nature of the world.

Rambam-What The Interchanging of the Four Elements Creates- Yisodei Hatorah perek 4 halacha 6

After discussing how the four elements change into each other continuously at the points where they interact, the Rambam now discusses what this creates and the underlying cause for this exchange. He says,

ושינוי זה יהיה בסביבת הגלגל ומסביבתו יתחברו ארבעתן ויהיה מהן שאר גולמי בני אדם ונפש חיה צמח ואבן ומתכת. והאל נותן לכל גולם וגולם צורה ראויה לו על ידי מלאך העשירי שהיא הצורה הנקראת אישים: 

"This change (that is discussed in depth in this post) occurs because of the rotation of the sphere. The rotation causes the four elements to come together and from this conglomeration other creations form such as man, animals, plants, stones, and metals. G-D gave to every one of these items a form that is proper for it through the tenth level of angels which are the form that are called the Ishim."

The Rambam here points out some very interesting ideas. First, he seemingly says that the natural rotation of the spheres causes the four elements to combine and create things on Earth. Then he goes further and says that even the form that each creature or object is given is done through an angel. Rambam is telling us that there is no direct presence or act by G-D. It seems like the Rambam holds that all of these things come about through nature and not a divine act.

However, a person might say that the Rambam is clearly saying that an angel was sent to create the final form of a man, animal, etc. This objection can be countered through what the Rambam says in The Guide for the Perplexed (II:6). He says over there,

"We have already stated above that the angels are incorporeal. This agrees with the opinion of Aristotle: there is only this difference in the names employed -- he uses the term 'Intelligences,' and we say instead 'angels.' His theory is that the Intelligences are intermediate beings between the Prime Cause and existing things, and that they effect the motion of the spheres, on which motion the existence of all things depends."

In the Guide the Rambam is clearly pointing out that the Angels cause the rotation of the spheres, however, it is that rotation that causes all life to ensue on Earth. Therefore, when we put our Mishna Torah together with the Guide we find that the Angels that cause the spheres to move and create existence on Earth are the Ishim. However, this creation seems to occur through "natural" means.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Shelach- Do Not Ask for Tests

In this week's parsha of Shelach we find that Moshe is told by G-D to "Shelach Licha Anashim (Shemos 13:2)." This means that you (The Jewish People) should send forth for yourself men. Rashi takes this interesting phrase and explains that it means that G-D did not command Moshe to send the spies, but rather He allowed the Jewish people to send them. The question here is why would the Jewish people be allowed to send the spies? If G-D wanted the Jewish people to inherit the land then He should have told them there is no need to spy out the land. However, if G-D wanted to cause the Jewish people to wander in the desert for another 39 years then He should have done that. Why did He allow the Jewish people to go through all the trouble of sending spies if the only outcome that sending spies would change would be to prevent the Jewish people from entering the land? Think about it, if the spies said the land was good, G-D would say that He already told us the land was good. However, if the spies said the land was bad, then G-D would keep us in the desert for 39 more years. In light of this, what was the point of sending spies?

There is an interesting Gemorah in Sanhedrin 107A. It talks about how King David was reading the Shemonah Esrei and saw that it said G-D of Avraham, G-D of Yitzchak and G-D of Yaakov, however it did not mention the G-D of David. This caused King David to say, "G-D, why does it not also say the G-D of David?" G-D answered him, "Because, I tested them and in their merit of passing those tests the Jewish people will forever mention their names to help me (G-D) accept their prayers." In response to this David said, "So test me too." G-D said, "I will test you, but you will fail." Then the incident with Bat Sheva happened as described in the eleventh chapter of Shmuel 2.

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains why it is that King David is told by G-D that he is going to fail. Rav Shmuelevitz says that every time we are tested by our evil inclination G-D helps us overcome our evil desires and hence we are able to succeed in our task. However, we are only able to succeed because G-D helps us overcome our base desires. If we were to request a test then G-D does not help us overcome these base desires, because who are we to request tests? We should never put ourselves into a dangerous situation where we are subjecting ourselves to the evil inclination willfully.

I would like to suggest that this is what happened by the sin of the spies. The Jewish people believed in G-D. They had seen Him on Mount Sinai and they had witnessed all of His miracles in Egypt and at the Red Sea. It was impossible that they did not revere and love G-D with all of their hearts and all of their their souls. However, they made a big mistake. Just like King David asked for a test and failed because of the fact that he asked for a test, so too the Jewish people failed merely because they asked for the test. King David revered G-D and loved Him, however, since David requested the test he was unable to overcome the temptation of sin. So too by the Jewish people, they requested the test of sending spies into Israel. They wanted to show that they were worthy of the land by proving to G-D that they would love it even more if they saw it than if they relied on G-D's words alone. However, this was their undoing, they should have just relied on G-D's words alone even if they thought they would love the land more had they seen it with their own eyes. It was because of their zealousness that they became doomed to wander in the desert for another 39 years.

This idea just shows that, sometimes, being over zealous is dangerous and costly. This is why the Rambam tells us that the middle path is always the best. A person should never try to be overly righteous because sometimes that can get them into trouble. King David and the Jewish people in the desert meant well. As Rashi tells us in the beginning of the parsha, the spies were originally very righteous. However, testing yourself to prove your righteousness backfires and ends up proving that even the righteous are not perfect.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rambam- Interchange Between the Four Elements- Yisodei Hatorah perek 4 halacha 5

The Rambam continues to discuss how the four elements in the world interact with each other. He says,

ארבעה יסודות האלו משתנים זה לזה תמיד בכל יום ובכל שעה מקצתן לא כל גופן. כיצד מקצת הארץ הקרובה מן המים משתנית ומתפוררת ונעשית מים. וכן מקצת המים הסמוכים לרוח משתנין ומתמסמסין והווין רוח. וכן הרוח מקצתו הסמוך לאש משתנה ומתחולל ונעשה אש. וכן האש מקצתה הסמוך לרוח מתחולל משתנה ומתכנס ונעשה רוח. וכן הרוח מקצתו הסמוך למים משתנה ומתכנס ונעשה מים. וכן המים מקצתו הסמוך לארץ משתנה ומתכנס ונעשה ארץ. ושינוי זה מעט מעט ולפי אורך הימים. ואין כל היסוד משתנה עד שיעשה כל המים רוח או כל הרוח אש שאי אפשר שיבטל אחד מן היסודות הארבעה. אלא מקצת ישתנה מאש לרוח ומקצת ישתנה מרוח לאש וכן בין כל אחד וחבירו ימצא השינוי בין ארבעתן וחוזרות חלילה לעולם: 

"The four elements continuously change into each other every day and hour, some do not completely change. How does this work? Some of the element of land that are close to the element of water change and crumble into the element of water. So too, some of the element of water that is close to the element of wind changes and shifts into the element of air. Also, some of the element of air that is close to the element of fire changes into the element of fire. Also, some of the element of fire that is close to the element of air changes into the element of air. Some of the element of air that is close to the element of water changes into water. Finally, some of the element of water that is close to the element of land turns into the element of land. These changes occur gradually and over many days. However, the elements will never change to the extent that every element of water will turn into air or every element of air will turn into fire since this is impossible that one of the four elements will cease to exist. Rather, some of the elements of fire will turn into air and some of air will turn into fire. And so between every element there will always be a continuous changing rotation between all the four elements."

This idea is very congruent with how some elements exist. On the surface of water there is always a certain amount of H2O elements that are in the solid state of water and there are a certain amount of H2O elements that are in the vapor state. This is how chemistry would describe them. It is fascinating that the Rambam might have understood science in this way.

I think an underlying theme to this halacha might have to do with humbleness. The point is that the highest of all the elements is fire. However, even the highest of all the elements changes back into air. THis air ten can eventually turn into water. Finally, the water then turns into land. Thus, after a long period, the element of fire can turn into the element of land, this element goes from the highest level to the lowest level. That can teach us a great lesson, never be too comfortable in your status because even the elements of the world, which are stable, eventually change. Also, it teaches us that even those people in the lowest levels can rise up and overcome whatever is standing in their way.

Meiri- Who Should Get Tzedaka (Charity) and Loving Kindness

The Meiri in Tractate Chulin on page 133A talks about who should receive Tzedaka (Charity). He says,

"Even though loving kindness is a superior trait and the paths of the Torah are great, one is not obligated to give kindness to someone that will not recognize it."

Also, the Meiri goes further and tells us in Tractate Succah that the trait of loving kindness is greater than Tzedaka (Charity) since Tzedaka is only by poor people, but the trait of loving kindness applies to poor people and rich people. Also, tzedaka only applies to money, whereas loving kindness applies to money and other types of help.

It seems like even though a person can be completely loving and kind, if the recipient of this love and kindness does not deserve this treatment they should not receive it. Anyone that looks down on you for any reason does not deserve your tzedaka or loving kindness. If anyone will not appreciate you or your lifestyle, if they look down on you for how you live, then it seems like the Meiri is saying that they don't deserve your loving kindness or your tzedaka.

The moral here is that anyone can give money to whoever they choose. Anyone can help people out, no matter who they are. However, we should all realize who we are really obligated to help out. The people in our communities that will appreciate our charity deserve our help more than people in other communities and people that will take our help without appreciation. Also, people accepting the tzedaka and loving kindness should be appreciative of all the tzedaka and loving kindness that they receive. They should never think that they are entitled to the tzedaka that they receive or the loving kindness, one should always be appreciative because they should realize that one day they might not receive this kindness or tzedaka.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Muslim- Jewish Relations, What is Wrong Here?

I found this website that translates the Sura book 2. Honestly, I am very confused by Islam. Let me just bring a couple of quotes from there that talk about what Islam should think about other religions.

"[2:62] Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve."

Here it seems like the religion of Islam is supposed to respect and accept the other monotheistic religions. It even says that these other monotheistic religions "have nothing to fear."

[2.120] "And the Jews will not be pleased with you, nor the Christians until you follow their religion. Say: Surely Allah's guidance, that is the (true) guidance. And if you follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to you, you shall have no guardian from Allah, nor any helper."

This passage, that i found here, that if you follow Judaism or Christianity you will not be saved. Apparently, unless you follow Islam, you will not be saved. This seems to contradict the previous quote.

At the same site I found this: [5.51]" O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people."

This is troublesome since it seems like the Koran teaches Muslims not to befriend non-Muslims. In fact, it goes so far to say that Muslims that befriend non-Muslims must not be real Muslims. This completely destroys any chance of Muslim-non-Muslim relations.

These sources are a little confusing and leave me befuddled. Why does the Koran seemingly contradict itself? Why does the Koran seem to tolerate Jews and Christians and then completely reject them?

Leaving these issues aside, there seems to be an immense hatred for Jews, even from countries that are supposed to be Israel's allies. I found on this site an article in a widely read Egyptian magazine something very disturbing. It was written in The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), August 17, 2004 authored by Hussam Wahba.

At the beginning of the article it says this:
"... The Jews forgot that their primary constitution, on which they rely, is full of intellectual religious terrorism against all other nations. Aqidati decided to wage a battle against International Zionism in order to expose the extent of terrorism that exists in the Zionist doctrinal mind.

The truth of the matter is that the Jews themselves do not deny [the existence of] Zionist terrorism. Whoever visits the Israeli parliament known as 'The Knesset' will notice at the main entrance a sentence written on the wall saying: 'Compassion towards a non-Jew is forbidden, if you see him fall into a river or face danger, you are prohibited from saving him because all the nations are enemies of the Jews and when a non-Jew falls into a ditch, the Jew should close the ditch on him with a big boulder, until he dies, so that the enemies will lose one person and the Jews will be able to preserve their dream of the Promised Land, the Greater Israel!"

If this is how an article starts, doesn't that show a few problems? How can you START a conversation with a hateful lie? This just shows where this article is going.

There are several other hateful lies that are contained within this article, but there is one major one that I would like to bring. This part focuses on blood libels and other false ideas of how Jews treat Gentiles.

"Dr. Jama al-Husseini Abu Farha, instructor in theology at the University of Suez, points out that what the media shows us every day about Israeli conduct in the occupied territories is no different than what their history shows us about their inhumane practices towards humanity as a whole.
One need only point out that they are 'blood suckers' according to the Talmudic dictates, which urge them to murder and draw the blood of Muslims in particular, and Christians even more so, and to use this blood in religious Israeli rituals."

What is almost comical about this statement is its inherent ignorance. The Talmud was written before Muslims existed, so it is impossible that the Talmud teaches that Jews should draw bloods from Muslims. This is besides the fact that it is a straight out lie. The Talmud, nor the Torah, ever says that we should draw blood from Gentiles.

Another ridiculous claim to "prove" that blood libels actually occurred is this:

"Since admission is the highest form of evidence, we will present to the reader a letter of confession written by the Jewish Rabbi known as 'Neophytos the Convert [to Christianity].'(4)
The letter has to do with the Jews slaughtering non-Jews, draining their blood, and using it for Talmudic religious rituals. Neophytos called his letter 'The Secret of the Blood'; in it he said that 'from a young age, the Jewish Rabbis teach their students how to use non-Jews' blood to treat illnesses and for sorcery..."

Does the Author of this article realize that a Jew that converts to Christianity is not an admission from a Jew. It is an admission from a man that hates Judaism, this is why he converted. At the very least he was trying to gain favor with the Christians of the time. Therefore, it is not an admission of guilt in any way, it is a way for this man to get in good standings with his Christian brothers and prove he is a "good" Christian of that time.

If anyone would actually like to know the truth of how Jews are supposed to treat non-Jews, based on the Talmud and Bible, I wrote a post on it here and here.

Hopefully, we will all be able to get along. I hope that Muslim countries will read this verse and hold by it: "[2:62] Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve."

However, right now it seems like they are following this: " O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people."

Rambam-The Decomposition of materials- Yisodei Hatorah perek 4 halacha 4

The Rambam discusses the decomposition of man as well as other materials. He says,

הואיל וכל הנפסד יפרד ליסודות אלו למה נאמר לאדם ואל עפר תשוב. לפי שרוב בנינו מן העפר. ולא כל הנפסד כשיפסד מיד יחזור לארבעה היסודות. אלא יפסד ויחזור לדבר אחר ודבר אחר לדבר אחר וסוף הדברים יחזור ליסודות ונמצאו כל הדברים חוזרין חלילה: 

"Everything that decomposes decomposes into these four elements. Therefore, why does it say that man will return to the dust? The reason is because the element that makes up the majority of a man is dust (Genesis 3:19). However, not everything that decomposes goes back to the four elements immediately, rather it decomposes and turns into something else and that turns into another thing and eventually it reverts back to the four elements. Everything has this process and it is never ending."

So the Rambam seems to be telling us a simple fact, all things decompose. However, this superficial reading of the Rambam misses the point. If we notice, the Rambam brings in the pasuk that talks about man returning to the Earth as dust. Why does he need to point out this fact if he is just telling us that all things decompose and describes the process?

It must be that the Rambam is coming to teach us a valuable idea that we can learn from this natural process. The fact that everything decomposes shows us that there is a process to life. Man grows from being an infant into a man and then slowly starts to regress and eventually that ends with death. After death the body goes through several more decompositions that, in the end, leave man as just bones. This process divulges a great deal about man in general. Man is not the ultimate being, but rather there is a higher power that causes man and everything else to return to the base elements from which this world is made.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Maharal-Different Ways To Have Faith In G-D-Second Introduction to Gevuros Hashem

In the second introduction to the Maharal's book Strength of the Lord he discusses philosophers. He does not have anything nice to say about anyone who follows this path of Judaism. The proper path, in his eyes, is a simple belief in G-D and His miracles that emanate from the teachings of Moshe and the sages. He says,

"The wonders, signs and miracles that G-D performs in His world and through which He makes known His strength in the world, their ways and intricacies should be made known in order to clarify the acts of G-D. There are those among the Jewish people that are believers that do not disseminate with their minds and wisdom to know hidden things that they don't require. This is because they go in the simple path of the Torah of G-D. They believe in all of the words of the Torah and the prophets, namely the signs and miracles that are stated in the Torah and the prophets. They do not try to make deeper understandings of the text. These people know that G-D does mighty and wonderful things in His world either to destroy or create. It is similar to material in the hands of a shaper that when he wants he can elongate the material or shorten the material because G-D created the world from nothing and He can return it to nothing. This is what the believers think.

However, men of examining hearts from the philosophers that disseminate through logic and their knowledge about G-D that want to use their wisdom to figure out hidden ideas and revealed ideas. There are many of them and each one has their own ideas that do not agree with the other philosophers. They disagree so much that every man and his soul is filled with so many ideas that contradict one another.

Indeed, all of their ideas are like the wind and have no substance. In truth, what can a physical man really know? Even though G-D has given man wisdom and knowledge, man's knowledge and wisdom is still connected to physicality. In fact, man's knowledge is engrossed and encompassed by physicality. Therefore, how can man truly understand spiritual ideas?

Furthermore, just like man is not connected to spirituality, based on the fact that he is connected to physicality, so too man is not able to understand spiritual intricacies and actions if it were not for the fact that G-D told Moshe His ways. Also, the only way we, today, know anything about G-D is because Moshe told the prophets, the prophets told the sages and the sages made known to us G-D's ways through the Midrashim and their other hidden words.

Therefore, when these philosophers engage in dissemination through their own knowledge and thoughts they end up with strange and foreign ideas. It would not be proper to mention their names or their words if it weren't for the Mishna in Pirkei Avos that says, 'Be diligent in learning and know what to answer a heretic.'"

The Maharal sounds like he is extremely anti any type of philosopher. However, further on in his discourse he seems to calm down and even assign credit to some of the philosophers ideas. Nevertheless, he disagrees wholeheartedly with the philosophers as will be shown in upcoming posts.

The Maharal's words show us something very important that I referred to in a previous post about the different ways to believe in Orthodox Judaism. However, who says that the Maharal's approach is better than that of the philosophers' like the Ralbag and Rambam? In upcoming posts the Maharal will bring his case against the philosophers and why he believes their ideas to be flawed.

However, everyone should realize that the Maharal's approach to Judaism is just as valid as the Rambam or Ralbag's version of Judaism. It disheartens me to see people on both sides of the fence refer to each other as fools or, worse, heretics. Once everyone realizes that there is no Sanhedrin and therefore no uniformed way to practice orthodox Judaism, I think we will all be better off. In all truth, since we believe in G-D anything is really possible, no?

Read the continuation here.

Vilna Goan (Gra) On Mishlei- How to Believe In G-D

The Gra says something very interesting on the pasuk in Mishlei (3:5) that says, "Trust in Hashem with all your heart and do not rely upon your own understanding." This pasuk seems to be telling us that a Jew should just believe in G-D without any reservations. Does this mean that we should not use our brains to figure out our own path to trust in G-D? Does there really need to be uniformity and zombie like devotion?

The Gra says that the idea behind the beginning of the pasuk is that we, as jews, need to create a complete devotion to G-D and not just a partial devotion. This is clear in my mind because if you don't have a complete devotion to G-D then how can you truly believe? Wouldn't it be hard to believe in a G-D that you only partially trust?

The latter part of the pasuk, the part that says do not trust your own understanding is the problematic part. The Gra says that a person should not say that they believe in G-D through their own knowledge and wisdom. One can not believe in G-D through their own knowledge, but rather they must believe through their heart.

Fortunately, one of the students of the Gra wrote a commentary on this and explains his teacher. The student says that it is obvious that one must use his own mind to come to a belief and trust in G-D. What the Gra is saying is that one must not only rely on his knowledge, there is a heart, or emotional, aspect that must be involved.

A person can not just be a cold and logically driven servant of G-D, otherwise he will miss out on the beauty of believing and trusting in G-D. It is similar to a parent's relationship to their child. If the child has a cold and unemotional relationship with their parent then there can never be a close relationship. This is true by the Jewish people and G-D as well. Jewish people need to put their emotions as well as logic into their religion otherwise they will not be able to fully connect to G-D and trust Him with full hearts.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ralbag Explains the Rationlistic View of Rambam and How It Effects Modernity

I am so excited because I have finally received the three volume set of The Wars of The Lord, that is the Ralbag's Magnum Opus. In it he talks about everything, it is similar to The Guide for the Perplexed only it is longer. Right now I am on the chapter where the Ralbag discusses the creation of the world. I found a very straight forward statement from the Ralbag that proves that the Rambam valued science over tradition just as much as the Ralbag himself. He says,

"In general, we must accept whatever view is philosophically provable, as Maimonides himself says, even the doctrine of Aristotle if it were proved; and we must interpret whatever the Torah seems to contradict this view in a way that agrees with the truth."

Seymor Feldman, the translator and commentor for this version of The Wars of The Lord, comments in the notes that this is seen in the Rambam in The Guide for the Perplexed in section two chapter 25. This is, obviously, in addition to the Ralbag's own words that the Rambam writes this.

How fascinating it is to see how the Rambam truly held. That scientific facts cause us to understand the Torah differently. What can this teach us about the Rambam's view of the Torah? The most blatantly obvious idea is that the Torah is not a document that its simple understanding remains constant. Clearly, the Rambam holds, that the Torah must continuously be reviewed and reinterpreted in light of new ideas and new evidence.

This brings me to more recent topics. One topic deals with how the modern Jew should view science and how he or she should view morality in war. For some reason there are people that say it is blasphemy to rely on science and its conclusions. This clearly goes against both the Rambam and the Ralbag, but it also misses the point of the Torah. The Torah is supposed to be a guidebook that teaches us how to live and engage our surroundings, ignoring the outside world is at best ridiculous and at worst damaging. Can we really say that the Torah is ignorant of how Jews are supposed to interact with a modern society?

Also, modern morality is different than ancient morality in certain aspects. In the modern world a country needed to crush its enemies otherwise it would be destroyed by the other surrounding nations. If the Babylonians did not utterly destroy all their opponents then they would have rebellions on their hands. So too, when Jews went to war they had to use these tactics. Anyone that denies that is just foolish. If the Jews did not act this way the surrounding nations would view them as weak and continuously attack since they would know Jews do not punish their enemies. However, nowadays this is not how (most) of the world treats their enemies. In fact, a country that does act this way is more likely to be attacked by other nations. Should the modern Jew ignore this fact? No, they should adjust themselves accordingly and thereby use the morals instructed within the Torah towards modern day life. This is why we call the Torah a living document, because it is always relevant and teaches us how to act.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ramban-Torah Teaches Morals- Toras Hashem Temima perek 1 second half of siman 5

The Ramban comes to teach us a very important use for the Torah, Morals. Without the Torah and its morals man can not know what the proper path is and how to find it. He says,

"Even if a man will become aware through his own knowledge, without learning anything [from the Torah], and come up with an original though-like it is impossible that the Spheres move themselves, rather something else must be moving them- [he still will not know how to act]. This man [that does not learn the Torah or its offshoots] will not know what is a good deed and what is a bad deed, he won't have knowledge or be able to figure things out through logic, and he will not know which deeds are better than others. Also, years and days will be equal in his eyes. [In the end], everything is equal to this man just like he is similar to an animal."

This idea is very important to Judaism. Moral rules that are objective can only stem from a higher power. This is why any moral rule must always have its basis in G-D. Without a basis in a higher power there is no such thing as objective morality. Also, without a belief in G-D there is no reason that a man should act any differently than an animal. These two ideas are interconnected since the only real difference between man and animal is self control. Morality preaches that a man should carry himself in a dignified manner, containing ones desires and instinctive reactions if need be.

For a further understanding of morals and what an objective type of moral system requires check out this philosophy site. I think the biggest issue this site deals with is that of Objectivism vs. Relativism. Objectivism is where morality comes from a higher being, however, Relativism is where morals come from man. This makes sense why it is called relativism, since anything that comes from man is all subjective to the man that makes it. For example, the United States thought that it should win World War II, but Germany thought it should win World War II. Therefore, Germans thought it was moral to torture American soldiers for crucial information and Americans thought it was moral to torture German soldiers for crucial information. Which one was objectively right? Well, if there is no G-D or higher being then there is no objective truth. However, when there is a G-D the objective morality can be seen, the Germans were immoral lunatics that were committing crimes against humanity.

This is what the Ramban is teaching us. There can only be relativism when a person ignores G-D. This type of moral system, or lack there of, will lead to atrocities against humanity. At the very least it will lead to a corrupt type of thinking that obfuscates the world.

Rambam- All Things Decompose, A Valuable Lesson- Yisodei Hatorah perek 4 halacha 3

The Rambam goes on to discuss the decomposition of objects. The focus here is that they will return to the four basic elements. He says,

וכל המחובר מארבעה יסודות אלו הוא נפרד בסוף. יש שהוא נפרד לאחר ימים אחדים. ויש שהוא נפרד לאחר שנים רבות. וכל שנתחבר מהם אי אפשר שלא יפרד להן. אפילו הזהב והאודם אי אפשר שלא יפסד ויחזור ליסודותיו. וישוב מקצתו לאש. ומקצתו למים. ומקצתו לרוח. ומקצתו לארץ:

"Everything that is composed of these four integral elements, they will eventually decompose back into them. There are those [objects] that it will take a short time to decompose and there are those [objects] that it will take many years for them to decompose. However, everything will eventually decompose back into the basic elements. Even gold and rubies will decompose and return to their basic elements. Some objects will return to either fire, water, wind or earth."

This idea, on the surface seems like it is just dealing with scientific facts. However, if we look deeper, a very integral part of Judaism can be unveiled. The Rambam introduces us to the idea of decomposition by simply stating that everything decomposes that is made of the four basic elements. Everything, according to the Rambam, on Earth is made of the four basic elements. Therefore, the Rambam is telling us that everything on Earth will decompose. This idea, might only be teaching us a scientific idea and nothing really important to spirituality.

The next part of the Rambam says that some objects decompose fast and others decompose slowly. This already has two types of lessons. The first lesson is strictly scientific, that there are different speeds of decomposition. However, it also begins to tell us a significant ideas. Some things remain on the Earth a long time, but others are very temporary. Nevertheless, both end up in the same place, broken up into their base elements and no longer extant.

The next part of the Rambam is completely a mussar (lesson) type of idea. The Rambam tells us that even gold and rubies decompose. The only reason to single these two objects out is to show the vanity and pointlessness that is involved with these objects. Man always chases after gold and rubies, but for what reason? Rambam is telling us that even these seemingly important objects are, in the end, worthless.

I think this Rambam is coming to teach us that mankind can not be so obsessed with corporeal things. It is nice to live a long and wonderful life, however, we have to realize that everything on earth is fleeting. This is why Rambam explains to us that everything will end up decomposing and no longer be extant. The only thing that will remain is that which is not made from the four elements and that is the soul, or as Rambam calls it, the active intellect. This is what man should focus on and really care about.