Thursday, December 30, 2010

G-D's Control of the Universe

In this week's Parsha, Vaera, the opening two verses show us that G-D introduced Himself to Moshe as Hashem (Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey) and not the name that was used for our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, of kEl-Shaddai. Why is this significant? The verses say (Shemos 6:2-3):

ב  וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, אֲנִי יְהוָה. 2 And God spoke unto Moses, and said unto him: 'I am Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey;
ג  וָאֵרָא, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם אֶל-יִצְחָק וְאֶל-יַעֲקֹב--בְּאֵל שַׁדָּי; וּשְׁמִי יְהוָה, לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם. 3 and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name YHWH I made Me not known to them.

The first verse seems superfluous because Moshe already met G-D by the burning bush in last week's Parsha. There must be a deeper meaning here that G-D is coming to teach us about the character trait of Yud-hey-vav-hey that is different than the character trait of kEL- Shaddai. For the answer to this question we should turn to Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Emek Davar.

Rav Moshe Feinstein tells us the difference between G-D's guidance of the world through the character trait of kEL-Shaddai and Yud-hey-vav-hey. He says that the guidance of the world through the name of kEL-Shaddai is more natural, let me explain. The world, when it is guided through the character trait of kEL-Shaddai, operates in a manner where wicked people are able to succeed. However, G-D limits their power in order that they can not destroy the world, but G-D allows them to have autonomy. Basically, nature runs its course, for the most part, and then G-D steps in before a complete destruction can take place. G-D's intervention is unexplainable, but, for the most part, nature takes its course while G-D guides the world with the character traits outlined by the name of kEL-Shaddai. However, when G-D guides the world with the name of Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey then open miracles occur in a similar fashion to how the world was created, open miracles.

The Emek Davar also brings in this idea, but in a different fashion. He says that when G-D introduced Himself as Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey he was telling Moshe that it is G-D that is guiding the world. Moshe thought that the Egyptian enslavement of the Jews was nature, therefore, G-D told Moshe that it was not a natural process that the Jews were enslaved, G-D made it happen. According to the Netziv (The Emek Davar) G-D was teaching Moshe that his view of reality was skewed. G-D directly guides nature as well as supernatural events and there is nothing that occurs without His say so.

I think these views represented by the Netziv and Rav Moshe Feinstein represent the views of the Rambam and the Ramban. The Rambam was under the idea that G-D created the world with nature and nature is how the world works. Sometimes G-D intervenes, but the world, for the most part, runs through nature. However, the Ramban says that nature, in and of itself, is guided directly through G-D. This is the age old argument of Hashgacha Klalis (generalized attention) vs Hashgacha Pratis (specified attention). This view of the Rambam can be seen in many places like his commentary on the Mishna (specifically in Mishna Avos) and in the Moreh Nevuchim (The Guide for the Perplexed). The Ramban's views are apparent throughout many of his works, the commentary on the Torah and in the Toras Hashem Temimah. 

Rav Moshe's idea, which represents the Rambam's idea, teaches us something very important. Although the Universe is guided through nature, G-D intervenes when He feels it is necessary. Just like G-D created the world through miraculous means, so too he took the Jews out of Egypt through unnatural miracles. This revealed that G-D's power is supreme even though He usually lets the world run through nature. However, the Netziv, representing the Ramban, views the world and G-D's guidance of the world in an entirely different manner. The Ramban sees everything as a miracle, not just natural acts.

Whichever view a person finds more logical they should follow that view. Who is right? Is it the Rambam, who believes G-D created nature in order to guide the world and He only intervenes when absolutely necessary? Or perhaps the Ramban is correct and G-D guides every single aspect of the world personally?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How Rambam Understands Creation

I have decided to explain the Rambam based on two very good translations. The Rambam discusses many philosophical ideas in his Magnus Opus, The Guide for The Perplexed. A very important section that is dedicated to the creation of the world is found in Section 2 Chapter 30. This is where he discusses and spells out how he thinks creation should be understood. I will quote the Hebrew translation of Professor Michael Shwartz, who translated the Rambam's original Arabic into modern Hebrew and, for those of us who find English easier, I will bring down the Friedlander translation.

The Shwartz translation can be found here and the Friedlander translation can be found here Let us now begin, Rambam Moreh Nevuchim (The Guide for the Perplexed) 2:30:

דע שיש הבדל בין הראשון והראשית1, כי הראשית2 נמצאת במה שהיא ראשית2 לו או עִמו, אף אם אינה קודמת לו בזמן, כמו שאומרים שהלב הוא ראשיתו2 של בעל-החיים3. והיסוד4 הוא ראשיתו של מה שהוא יסוד לו. יש האומרים גם על עניין זה שהוא ראשון. אבל יש שראשון נאמר על הקודם בזמן בלבד, מבלי שהקודם-בזמן הזה יהיה סיבה למאוחר לו, כמו שאומרים: "הראשון שגר בבית זה פלוני, ואחריו אלמוני", ואין אומרים שפלוני הוא ראשיתו2 של אלמוני. הביטוי המורה בלשוננו על הראשון הוא תחילה: תחִלת דִבֶּר-ה' בהושע (הושע א', 2); ומה שמורה על הראשית הוא ראשית, כי היא גזורה מן ראש שהוא ראשית2 בעל-החיים על-פי מיקומו. העולם לא נברא בראשית2 זמנית כפי שהבהרנו5, כי הזמן מכלל הברואים. לכן אמר: בראשית (בראשית א', 1). הבי"ת היא במשמעות "בתוך". התרגום האמיתי של הפסוק הזה הוא: "בְּהתחלה ברא האל
את המעלה ואת הַמַטָּה6 ". זה הפירוש המתאים לחידוש7

THERE is a difference between first and beginning (or principle). The latter exists in the thing of which it is the beginning, or co-exists with it; it need not precede it; e.g., the heart is the beginning of the living being; the element is the beginning of that of which it is the basis. The term "first" is likewise applied to things of this kind; but is also employed in cases where precedence in time alone is to be expressed, and the thing which precedes is not the beginning (or the cause) of the thing that follows. E.g., we say A. was the first inhabitant of this house, after him came B; this does not imply that A is the cause of B inhabiting the house. In Hebrew, teḥillah is used in the sense of "first"; e.g., when God first (teḥillat) spake to Hosea (Hos. i. 1), and the "beginning" is expressed by reshith, derived from rosh, "head," the principal part of the living being as regards position. The Universe has not been created out of an element that preceded it in time, since time itself formed part of the Creation. For this reason Scripture employs the term "bereshit" (in a principle), in which the beth is a preposition denoting "in." The true explanation of the first verse of Genesis is as follows: "In [creating] a principle, God created the beings above and the things below." This explanation is in accordance with the theory of the Creation.

I believe this concept is clear. The Rambam is saying that when the verse says Reishit (beginning) it does not refer to time at all, but first in importance.

מה שאתה מוצא מפורש בדבריהם של כמה חכמים שקבעו שהיה זמן נמצא לפני בריאת העולם - זה מוקשה מאוד. כי זאת היא דעתו של אריסטו, שאותה הבהרתי לך8. הוא חושב שאין להעלות על הדעת9 תחילה10 לזמן. וזה מגונה. ומה שגרם למחזיקים בדעה זאת - מה שמצאו יום אחד (שם, שם, 5) ויום שני (שם, שם, 8). המחזיק בדעה זאת פירש את הדבר כפשוטו וטען: אם אין גלגל סובב ואין שמש, על-פי איזה דבר נמדד יום ראשון? לכן אמרו כלשון הזה: יום ראשון, אמר רבי יהודה ב"ר סימון: מכאן שהיה סדר זמנים קודם-לכן. אמר ר' אבהו מכאן שהיה הקב"ה בורא עולמות ומחריבן11. זה יותר מגונה מן הראשון.

We find that some of our Sages are reported to have held the opinion that time existed before the Creation. But this report is very doubtful, because the theory that time cannot be imagined with a beginning, has been taught by Aristotle, as I showed you, and is objectionable. Those who have made this assertion have been led to it by a saying of one of our Sages in reference to the terms "one day," "a second day." Taking these terms literally, the author of that saying asked, What determined "the first day," since there was no rotating sphere, and no sun? and continues as follows: Scripture uses the term "one day"; R. Jehudah, son of R. Simon, said: "Hence we learn that the divisions of time have existed previously." R. Abahu said, "Hence we learn that God built worlds and again destroyed them." This latter exposition is still worse than the former.

The Rambam here brings up a very interesting point. He shows that there are great sages who erred and thought time existed before creation. Why would they think that? Because they understand the verse in its simple meaning (פירש את הדבר כפשוטו) and understand one day or day two literally. The Rambam is also clearly telling us that when the verse says day one or day two, that is not literal. The simple understanding (פירש את הדבר כפשוטו) leads people to err and is incorrect. To think that a day, a regular day, existed during creation is inane and only leads to misunderstanding.

ואתה תתבונן מה היה קשה לשניהם, והוא מציאות זמן לפני מציאות השמש הזאת. בקרוב12 יוסבר לך פתרון למה שהיה קשה לשני אלה, אלא אם כן שני אלה רוצים להגיד שאי-אפשר בלי סדר זמנים מעולם. זאת היא האמונה בקדמות, וכל בן-תורה13 ייזהר מזאת. בעינַי אין אמירה זאת אלא משולה לאמירתו של ר' אליעזר: שמים מהיכן נבראו14. ובסיכומו של דבר, אל תביט במקומות אלה אל דברי האומרים. כבר הודעתיך15 שיסוד התורה כולה שהאל הביא לידי מציאות את העולם לא מִדָּבָר, לא בראשית2 זמנית, אלא הזמן נברא, מכיוון שהוא תולדה של תנועת הגלגל, והגלגל נברא16.

Consider the difficulty which these two Rabbis found in the statement that time existed before the creation of the sun. We shall undoubtedly soon remove this difficulty, unless these two Rabbis intended to infer from the Scriptural text that the divisions of time must have existed before the Creation, and thus adopted the theory of the Eternity of the Universe. But every religious man rejects this. The above saying is, in my opinion, certainly of the same character as that of R. Eliezer, "Whence were the heavens created," etc., (chap. xxvi.). In short, in these questions, do not take notice of the utterances of any person. I told you that the foundation of our faith is the belief that God created the Universe from nothing; that time did not exist previously, but was created: for it depends on the motion of the sphere, and the sphere has been created.

The Rambam proceeds to tell us that time was created. Therefore, to say that time existed before creation is impossible, since every religious person denies the eternality of the universe. As a religious person, the Rambam believed that the Universe was created by G-D. Therefore, time was also created by G-D, because time is dependent upon the Universe. How? Because time is measured through the rotations of the sphere. This also means that during the six days of creation, days (24 hour days) did not exist. Why? Because creation was not set and G-D did not finish everything in their final form until the sixth day. That is why the Rambam tells us that we should not understand the word "day," during the six days of creation, literally.

ממה שחייב אתה לדעת, שהחכמים אמרו מפורשות במספר מקומות שהמלה את בדברו את השמים ואת הארץ (שם, שם, 1) היא במשמעות "עִם"17. הם מתכוונים בזאת שהוא ברא עם השמים את כל מה שבשמים, ועם הארץ את כל מה שבארץ18. וכבר ידעת את הבהרתם שהשמים והארץ נבראו יחד, מכיוון שאמר: קֹרא אני אליהם יעמדו יחדו (ישעיה מ"ח, 13)19. מכאן שהכול נברא יחד20, והדברים נבדלו21 כולם בזה אחר זה, עד שהמשילו זאת לאיכר אשר פיזר זרעים שונים באדמה בדקה אחת, חלקם נבט לאחר יום, חלקם לאחר יומיים וחלקם לאחר שלושה, בעוד הזריעה כולה היתה בשעה אחת. לפי דעה זאת, הנכונה בלי ספק, נפתר הספק שחייב את ר' יהודה ב"ר סימון לומר מה שאמר, שהיה קשה לו על-פי מה נמדדו יום ראשון ויום שני ושלישי. דברים מפורשים אמרו החכמים ז"ל בבראשית רבה על האור הנזכר בתורה שהוא נברא ביום ראשון. הם אמרו בלשון הזה: הן הן מאורות שנבראו ביום ראשון ולא תלאן עד יום רביעי22. הרי שעניין זה נאמר מפורשות.

You must know that the particle et in the phrase et ha-shamayim ve-et ha-areẓ ("the heavens and the earth") signifies "together with"; our Sages have explained the word in the same sense in many instances. Accordingly they assume that God created with the heavens everything that the heavens contain, and with the earth everything the earth includes. They further say that the simultaneous Creation of the heavens and the earth is implied in the words, "I call unto them, they stand up together" (Yishaya 48:13.). Consequently, all things were created together, but were separated from each other successively. Our Sages illustrated this by the following simile: We sow various seeds at the same time; some spring forth after one day, some after two, and some after three days, although all have been sown at the same time. According to this interpretation, which is undoubtedly correct, the difficulty is removed, which led R. Jehudah, son of R. Simon, to utter the above saying, and consisted in the doubt as to the thing by which the first day, the second, and the third were determined. In Bereshit Rabba, our Sages, speaking of the light created on the first day according to the Scriptural account, say as follows: these lights [of the luminaries mentioned in the Creation of the fourth day] are the same that were created on the first day, but were only fixed in their places on the fourth day. The meaning [of the first verse] has thus been clearly stated.

The Rambam tries to clarify how everything in the Universe was actually created. He says that everything in the Universe was actually created at the same time. The Earth was not created before the heavens or vice versa, rather everything was created at once. However, the final product was not put in its final place until the end of creation. Therefore, we see that each day was not a literal day, but a description of importance and a foundation for the subsequent creations.

ממה שחייב אתה לדעת, שארץ שם משותף, הנאמר בכלל ובפרט23. בכלל - על כל מה שמתחת לגלגל הירח, כלומר ארבעת היסודות. והוא נאמר בפרט על האחד האחרון מהם והוא האדמה. הראיה לכך היא דברו והארץ היתה תֹהו ובֹהו וחֹשך על פני תהום, ורוח אלהים [מרחפת על פני המים] (בראשית א', 2)24 הוא קרא אפוא את כולם ארץ. אחרי-כן אמר: ויקרא אלהים ליבשה ארץ (שם, שם, 10). גם זה סוד גדול מן הסודות, שכּל-אימת שאתה מוצא אותו אומר ויקרא אלהים לכך ככה, אין זה אלא להבדילו מן העניין האחר ששם זה משותף ביניהם25. לכן פירשתי לך26 את הפסוק הזה: "בְּהתחלה ברא האל את המעלה ואת הַמַּטָּה6". ארץ הנאמרת תחילה תהיה אפוא המטה, כלומר ארבעת היסודות, וזאת שנאמר עליה ויקרא אלהים ליבשה ארץ (שם) היא הארץ לבדה. זה ברור אפוא.

We must further consider that the term ereẓ is a homonym, and is used in a general and a particular sense. It has a more general signification when used of everything within the sphere of the moon, i.e., of all the four elements; and is used in particular of one of them, of the lowest, viz., earth. This is evident from the passage: "And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the surface of the deep. And the wind of God moved upon the face of the waters." The term "earth" [mentioned here, and in the first verse] includes all the four elements, whilst further on it is said, "And God called the dry land Earth" (Gen. i. 10). It is also important to notice that the words, "And God called a certain thing a certain name," are invariably intended to distinguish one thing from others which are called by the same common noun. I explain, therefore, the first verse in Genesis thus: In creating the principle, God created the things above and those below. Ereẓ in this verse denotes" the things below," or "the four elements," and in the verse, "And God called the dry land Earth" (ereẓ), it signifies the element earth. This subject is now made clear.

I think the Rambam is fairly clear here. Some words refer to more than one thing. Earth is equivocal and can mean the substance Earth or the lower realm in general.

ממה שחייב אתה לדעת, שארבעת היסודות הוזכרו בתחילה אחרי השמים, שאמרנו ששם ארץ הראשון מורה עליהם, מכיוון שהוזכרו ארץ (שם, שם, 1-2) ומים (שם, שם, 2) ורוח (שם, שם, 2) וחושך (שם, שם, 2); וחושך היא האש היסודית27. אל תחשוב אחרת! הוא אמר: ודבריו שמעת מתוך האש (דברים ד', 36); ואמר: כשמעכם את הקול מתוך החֹשך (שם, ה', 20); ואמר: כל חֹשך טמון לצפוּניו, תְּאָכְלֵהוּ אש לא-נֻפַּח (איוב כ', 26). האש היסודית27 נקראה בשם זה מכיוון שאינה מאירה, אלא שקופה28. לו היתה האש היסודית מאירה היינו רואים בלילה את החלל כולו בלהבת אש.

The four elements indicated, according to our explanation, in the term ereẓ "earth," in the first verse, are mentioned first after the heavens: for they are named ereẓ (earth), ruaḥ (air), mayim (water), and hoshek (fire). By ḥoshek the element fire is meant, nothing else; comp. "And thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire" (Deut. iv. 36); and, "When ye heard the voice out of the midst of the ḥoshek" (darkness) (ibid. v. 2); again, "All ḥoshek (darkness) shall be hid in his secret places: a fire not blown shall consume him" (Job XX. 26). The element fire is called ḥoshek because it is not luminous, it is only transparent; for if it were luminous we should see at night the whole atmosphere in flames.

Here the Rambam is just explaining what makes up the four elements of earth.

(היסודות) הוזכרו לפי מקומותיהם הטבעיים29: הארץ, מעליה המים, האוויר דבק במים, והאש מעל לאוויר. כי מכיוון שייחד את האוויר על-פני המים (בראשית א', 2) יהיה החושך אשר על פני תהום (שם) מעל הרוח30 בלי ספק, ומה שחייב שיקרא לה רוח אלהים (שם) הוא שהניח אותה נעה, כוונתי מרחפת (שם), ותנועת הרוח מיוחסת תמיד לאל: ורוח נסע מאת ה' (במדבר י"א, 31); נשפת ברוחך (שמות ט"ו, 10); ויהפֹך ה' רוח-ים (שם, י', 19); וכמותו הרבה. ומכיוון שהחושך שנאמר בראשונה (בבראשית א', 2), שהוא שם היסוד, אינו החושך שנאמר באחרונה (שם, שם, 4), שהוא האפלה, החל להבהיר ולהבדיל ואמר: ולחֹשך קרא לילה (שם, שם, 5) לפי מה שהבהרנו31. זה ברור אפוא.

The order of the four elements, according to the natural position is here described: namely, first earth, above it water, air close to water, and fire above air; for by placing air over water, ḥoshek (fire), which is "upon the face of the deep," is undoubtedly above air. It was here necessary to use the term ruaḥ elohim, because air is described here as in motion (meraḥefet), and the motion of the air is, as a rule, ascribed to God; comp. "And there went forth a wind from the Lord" (Num. xi. 31); "Thou didst blow with thy wind" (Exod. xv. 10); "And the Lord turned a mighty strong west wind" (ibid. x. 19), and the like. As the first ḥoshek, which denotes the element fire, is different from the ḥoshek mentioned further on in the sense of "darkness," the latter is explained and distinguished from the former, according to our explanation, in the words, "And darkness he called Night." This is now clear.

Here the Rambam is explaining where each of the four elements are found and a little description.

ממה שחייב אתה לדעת, שדברו וַיַּבדל בין המים [אשר מתחת לרקיע ובין המים אשר מעל לרקיע] (שם, שם, 7) אינו הבדלה במקום, שזה נעשׂה למעלה וזה למטה כשטבע שניהם אחד. אלא פירושו שהבדיל ביניהם בהבדל הטבעי, כלומר בצורה, ועשׂה חלק מזאת אשר קראו "מים" תחילה לדבר אחר בצורה טבעית שהלביש לו, ועשׂה חלק אחר בצורה אחרת ואלה הם המים32. לכן גם אמר וּלְמִקְוֵה המים קרא ימים (שם, שם, 10). הרי שאמר לך מפורשות שהמים הראשונים, עליהם נאמר על פני המים (שם, שם, 2) אין הם אלה אשר בימים, אלא שחלקם הובדל25 בצורה כלשהי מעל לאוויר, וחלקם הם המים האלה. דברו וַיַּבדל בין המים אשר מתחת לרקיע [ובין המים אשר מעל לרקיע] (שם, שם, 7) הוא אפוא כמו דברו וַיַּבדל אלהים בין האור ובין החֹשך (שם, שם, 4) שהוא כהבדלה בצורה כלשהי33.

The phrase, "And he divided between the waters," etc., does not describe a division in space, as if the one part were merely above the other, whilst the nature of both remained the same, but a distinction as regards their nature or form. One portion of that which was first called water was made one thing by certain properties it received, and another portion received a different form, and this latter portion is that which is commonly called water and of this it is said, "And the gathering of the waters he called Seas." Scripture even indicates that the first mayim ("water") in the phrase, "On the face of the waters," does not refer to the waters which form the seas and that part of the element "water," having received a particular form, and being above the air, is distinguished from the other part which has received the form of ordinary water. For the words, "And he divided between the waters which are beneath the firmament and the waters which are above the firmament are similar in meaning to the phrase, "And God divided between the light and the darkness," and refer to a distinction by a separate form.

Here the Rambam explains that the word water does not mean literal water, rather it is a description of the substance that the Torah refers to in a manner with which we can understand.

הרקיע עצמו נוצר מן המים כמו שאמרו: הוגלדה טיפה האמצעית34. וכן דברו: ויקרא אלהים לרקיע שמים (בראשית א', 8) (בא), כאשר הבהרתי לך, כדי שיתברר שיתוף השם ושאין שמים האמורים ראשונה באומרו את השמים ואת הארץ (שם, שם, 1) הם אלה אשר נקראו שמים (שם, שם, 8)35. הוא הדגיש עניין זה באומרו על פני רקיע השמים (שם, שם, 20) להבהיר שהרקיע אינו השמים36. בגלל שיתוף השם הזה יש שגם השמים האמיתיים ייקראו רקיע, כמו שקרא לרקיע האמיתי שמים, שנאמר וַיִּתן אֹתם אלהים ברקיע השמים (שם, שם, 17). וכן התברר באמירה זאת מה שכבר הוכח בהוכחה מופתית, שהכוכבים כולם והשמש והירח תקועים בגלגל, כי אין ריקנות בעולם, ולא על פני שטח הגלגל כפי שמדמה ההמון, שנאמר ברקיע השמים (שם, שם, 17) ולא נאמר על רקיע השמים37. התברר אפוא שחומר-מה היה משותף והוא קרא לו מים. לאחר-מכן התפצל38 בשלוש צורות - משהו ממנו נעשׂה ימים, משהו ממנו נעשׂה רקיע ומשהו נעשׂה מעל הרקיע הזה. וזה כולו חוץ לארץ39. [הכתוב] נקט אפוא בעניין זה דרך אחרת אל40 סודות מופלאים.

The firmament itself was formed of water; and in the words of our Sages (Bereshit Rabba; cap. iv.), "The middle drop congealed and formed the heavens." Here likewise Scripture says, in accordance with what I said above, "And God called the firmament Heaven" (Gen. i. 8), in order to explain the homonymity of the term shamayim (heaven), and to show that shamayim in the first verse is not the firmament which is also called shamayim (heaven). The difference is more clearly expressed in the words, "In the open firmament of heaven" (ibid. i. 20); here it is shown that "firmament" (raki‘a) and "heaven" (shamayim), are two different things. In consequence of this homonymity of the term shamayim the term raki‘a (firmament) is also used of the true heaven, just as the real firmament is sometimes called shamayim (heaven); comp. "And God set them in the raki‘a (firmament) of the heaven" (ibid. i. 17). This verse shows clearly that the stars, the sun, and the moon are not, as people believe, on the surface of the spheres, but they are fixed in the spheres, and this has been proved satisfactorily, there being no vacuum in the Universe: for it is said, "in the firmament of the heaven," and not "upon the firmament of the heaven." It is therefore clear that there has been one common element called water, which has been afterwards distinguished by three different forms; one part forms the seas, another the firmament, and a third part is over the firmament, and all this is separate from the earth. The Scriptural text follows here a peculiar method in order to indicate some extraordinary mysteries.

The Rambam continues to show how water can have several different meanings.

מה שמעל לרקיע נקרא מים בשם בלבד, ואין זה ממין המים, זאת אמרו גם החכמים ז"ל באומרם: ארבעה נכנסו לפרדס וגו'. אמר להם ר' עקיבא כשאתם מגיעין לאבני שיש טהור אל תאמרו מים מים שכך כתוב: דֹבר שקרים לא יִכּוֹן לנגד עינַי (תהלים ק"א, 7)41.
התבונן אפוא ולמד לקח, אם אתה מן הלומדים לקח42, כמה הבהיר באמירה זאת וכיצד גילה את הדבר כולו, כאשר תתבונן בו ותבין כל מה שהוכח בהוכחה מופתית במטאורולוגיקה43, ונודע לך כל מה שאמרו האנשים על כל דבר בה.

It has also been declared by our Sages that the portion above the firmament is only water by name, not in reality, for they say (Babyl. Talmud, Ḥagigah 14b) "Four entered the paradise," etc. R. Akiba said to them, "When you come to the stores of pure marble, do not say, Water, water, for it is written, 'He that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight'" (Ps. ci. 7). Consider, if you belong to the class of thinking men, how clearly and distinctly this passage explains the subject for those who reflect on it! Understand that which has been proved by Aristotle in his book On Meteorology, and note whatever men of science have said on meteorological matters.

Here the Rambam actually argues that it is impossible for the water in the upper spheres to actually be water. Not only does the Rambam quote a verse to prove this idea, but he tells us that one must understand how scientists understand the world and EXPLAIN THE VERSES in the Torah According to the SCIENTIST'S understanding of nature.

ממה שראוי לך לדעת ולשׂים אליו לבך הטעם אשר בגללו לא נאמר ביום השני כי טוב44. יודע אתה את דברי החכמים ז"ל על דרך הדרש, שהטוב ביותר שבהם מה שאמרו: לפי שלא שלמה מלאכת המים45. גם הטעם לכך ברור בעינַי מאוד, כי כל-אימת שהזכיר דבר מדברי המציאות המחודשת, הנמצאים ונמשכים תמיד, הקבועים, הוא אמר על זאת כי טוב. אך הרקיע הזה והדבר הזה אשר עליו אשר נקרא מים - עניינו46 נסתר, כפי שאתה רואה. כי אם מבינים אותו כפשוטו בעיון שטחי, הוא דבר בלתי-נמצא כלל, כי אין גוף אחר זולת היסודות בינינו ובין השמים התחתונים ואין מים מעל לאוויר, כל שכן אם ידמה מישהו שהרקיע הזה ומה שעליו הוא מעל לשמים, שאז יהיה הדבר נמנע עוד יותר ורחוק עוד יותר מלהיות מושׂג. אבל אם מבינים אותו לפי משמעותו הצפוּנה ולפי המכוון בו - הוא יותר חבוי, כי הוא חייב להיות מן הסודות המוסתרים, כדי שההמון לא יֵדע אותו. והנה דבר כזה, כיצד יהיה אפשר לומר עליו כי טוב שהרי המשמעות של כי טוב היא שתועלתו גלויה וברורה להבאתה לידי מציאות של המציאות הזאת ולהמשך קיומה. ודבר שעניינו חבוי, ואף פשוטו אינו נמצא, איזו תועלת גלויה יש בו לאנשים שייאמר על אודותיו כי טוב? מוכרח אני להוסיף לך הבהרה, והיא שזה, אף שהוא חלק גדול מאוד מהנמצאים, אינו תכלית המכוונת להמשך קיום המציאות, שייאמר עליו כי טוב, אלא בגלל הכרח התחייב, כדי שהארץ תתגלה47. הבן זאת!

It is necessary to inquire into the reason why the declaration "that it was good" is not found in the account of the second day of the Creation. The various Midrashic sayings of our Sages on this point are well known: the best of them is the explanation that the creation of the water was not completed on that day. According to my opinion the reason is likewise clear, and is as follows: When the creation of any part of the Universe is described that is permanent, regular, and in a settled order, the phrase "that it is good" is used. But the account of the firmament, with that which is above it and is called water, is, as you see, of a very mysterious character. For if taken literally the firmament would appear at first thought to be merely an imaginary thing, as there is no other substance but the elements between us and the lowest of the heavenly spheres, and there is no water above the air; and if the firmament, with that which is over it, be supposed to be above the heavens, it would a fortiori seem to be unreal and incomprehensible. But if the account be understood in a figurative sense and according to its true meaning, it is still more mysterious, since it was considered necessary to make this one of the most hidden secrets, in order to prevent the multitude from knowing it. This being the case, how could it be said [of the creation of the second day] "that it was good"? This phrase would tell us that it is perfectly clear what share the thing to which it refers takes in the permanent existence of the Universe. But what good can people find in a thing whose real nature is hidden, and whose apparent nature is not real? Why, therefore, should it be said in reference to it, "that it was good"? I must, however, give the following additional explanation. Although the result of the second day's creation forms an important element among the existing things, the firmament was not its primary object in the organization of the Universe, and therefore it could not be said "that it was good"; it was only the means for the uncovering of the earth. Note this.

The Rambam explains why "it was good" was not stated by the second day and relates the lack of this phrase to the incompleteness and ambiguity that surrounds the firmament and its purpose.

ממה שחייב אתה לדעת, הוא שהחכמים הבהירו שהעשׂב והעצים שהצמיח האל מן הארץ, הצמיחם לאחר שהמטיר עליה48, ושדברו ואד יעלה מן הארץ [והשקה את כל פני האדמה] (בראשית ב', 6) מתאר דווקא את המצב הראשון שהיה לפני תדשא הארץ דשא (שם, א', 11). לכן תירגם אונקלוס: ועננא הוה סליק מן ארעא49. הוא הבהיר זאת מן הכתוב, שנאמר וכל שֹיח השֹדה טרם יהיה בארץ (שם, ב', 5). הרי שזה ברור50.

Our Sages have already explained that the herbs and trees, which God caused to spring forth from the ground, were caused by God to grow, after He had sent down rain upon them; and the passage beginning, "And there went up a mist from the earth" (ii. 6), refers to that which took place before the creative act, related in the words, "Let the earth bring forth grass," etc. (i. ii.). Therefore Onkelos translates it: "And there had gone up a mist from the earth?' It is also evident from the text itself, where it is distinctly said, "And every plant in the field before it was in the earth," etc. (ii. 5). This question is now explained.

The ambiguity that surrounds the creation of vegetation is answered by the Rambam here. He tells us that the vegetation did not sprout forth until later, even though the seeds had already been created.

יודע אתה, המעיין, שהראשונה בסיבות ההתהוות והכליון, אחרי כוחות הגלגלים, הם האור והחושך, בשל החום והקור שבעקבותיהם51. על-ידי תנועת הגלגל מתערבים היסודות52, ועל-ידי האור והחושך שונה התמזגותם. מן ההתמזגות הראשונה נוצרים שני הקיטורים53 אשר הם הראשונה בין סיבות התופעות המטאורולוגיות כולן, אשר ביניהן המטר. (שני קיטורים אלה) הם גם הסיבות למחצבים, ואחרי-כן הרכב הצמחים, ואחרי הצמחים בעלי-החיים. ההרכב האחרון הוא האדם. החושך הוא טבע מציאות העולם השפל כולו, והאור מופיע עליו54. דייך שבהֶעְדֵּר אור נשאר המצב הקבוע, וכן מדבר הכתוב על אודות מעשֹה בראשית לפי סדר זה ממש מבלי להחסיר דבר מזאת.

It is well known to every philosopher that the principal causes of production and destruction, after the influence of the spheres, are light and darkness, in so far as these are accompanied by heat and cold. For by the motion of the spheres the elements intermix, and by light and darkness their constitution changes. The first change consists in the formation of two kinds of mist; these are the first causes of meteorological phenomena, such as rain: they also caused the formation of minerals, of plants, of animals, and at last of man. It is likewise known that darkness is the natural property of all things on earth; in them light is accidental, coming from an external cause, and therefore everything remains in a state of rest in the absence of light. The Scriptural account of the Creation follows in every respect exactly the same order, without any deviation.

Here the Rambam reveals, yet again, how influenced he was by the science of his time. He discusses how man evolved from the movements of the spheres. The natural process that science believed in was the creation of higher beings from lower beings, but not in the same sense as evolution as we know it. However, it is interesting to note that the Rambam seems to say that man was not a direct creation of G-D, but rather a creation through the movements of the spheres.

ממה שחייב אתה לדעת, הוא אמירתם כל מעשֹה בראשית לקומתן נבראו, לדעתן נבראו, לצביונם נבראו55. זאת אומרת שכּל מה שנברא נברא בשלמות כַּמוּתוֹ, בשלמות צורתו וביפים שבמקרים56 שלו. מפני שדבריו לצביונם (נגזרו) מן צבי היא לכל הארצות (יחזקאל כ', 6). דע זאת גם כן, כי הוא עיקר גדול, נכון וברור.

Note also the saying of our Sages: "When the Universe was created, all things were created with size, intellect, and beauty fully developed, i.e., everything was created perfect in magnitude and form, and endowed with the most suitable properties: the word ẓibyonam (their beauty) used here has the same meaning as ẓebi, 'glory'" (Ezek. xx. 6). Note this likewise, for it includes a principle fully established.

I am unsure of what the Rambam is trying to do here. It seems to contradict what he just said. In the previous paragraph he says that the movement of the spheres intermixes the elements in order that they make minerals, plants, animals and man. However, now he is saying that G-D created everything in its full form. Which one is it?

I would venture to say that the Rambam is telling us that everything that was created from nothing, WAS created in full form. However, minerals, plants, animals and man were not created from nothing, they were things that were created through the movements of the sphere. This idea, that only certain things were created from nothing, is found in the RambaN's Toras Hashem Temimah, when he talks about creation. The Ramban says (Perek 7 Siman 37):

And this is explained in the Torah for it says (Breishis 1:1), "In the beginning, G-D created the heavens and earth." The word "Breishis" (in the beginning) means at first (techila). Like Onkles explains [that it means] before and not along with, but rather [it was created] first. The Pasuk is telling us that first G-D, the one who created all forces, created the heavens and earth. The [verse] is telling us that G-D created [these forces] from absolute nothingness [and the creation is called] Yeish (something). This is a small dot of something and it consisted of the heavens and all that would ever be in the heavens. Also, there was another small dot and it contained all that would ever be on the earth. These "dots" are called the Yeuli of the heavens and the Yeuli of the earth (the arabic names for the matter of creation).

The Ramban is telling us an idea that he also got from the Greeks. G-D created two small pieces of matter on the first day, one for heaven and the other for earth. This is what was created from nothingness, the original primordial matter of the heavens and earth. However, everything onward in creation was made from this primordial matter. The Ramban continues:

From this point and onward (after the dots of heaven and earth primordial matter were created) nothing was created [from nothingness], rather there was only something created from something [that already existed].

Using this idea from the Ramban, I think we can understand the Rambam's explanation of the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (11a) that tells us "When the Universe was created, all things were created with size, intellect, and beauty fully developed, i.e., everything was created perfect in magnitude and form, and endowed with the most suitable properties: the word ẓibyonam (their beauty) used here has the same meaning as ẓebi, 'glory.'" I think the Rambam is telling us that everything that was created from absolute nothingness was created in full form. Meaning, matter was created in its full form. It did not need to be reshaped or remade, it was created fully formed without alteration being necessary. This is how we can reconcile the two seemingly contradictory statements of the Rambam here.

The Rambam disagrees about the meaning of Reishis (In the beginning), but I think he would agree that the idea of "Bara" (creation from nothing) only occurred on the first day. This is why he would explain the original creation as being fully formed, but plants, animals and man still came into being through the movement of the spheres.

ממה שחייב אתה להתבונן בו מאוד, שהוא הזכיר את בריאת אדם בששת ימי בראשית ואמר: זכר ונקבה ברא אֹתם (בראשית א', 27). הוא חתם את הבריאה כולה ואמר: וַיְּכֻלו השמים והארץ וכל צבאם (שם, ב', 1). אחרי-כן התחיל התחלה חדשה לבריאת חוה מן אדם והזכיר את עץ החיים ועץ הדעת (שם, שם, 9) ואת סיפור הנחש וכל אותו מעשׂה (שם, ג'), וקבע שכּל זה אירע אחרי שהושׂם אדם בגן עדן57. כל החכמים ז"ל מסכימים שכּל אותו מעשׂה היה ביום השישי58 ושדבר לא השתנה כלל אחרי ששת ימי בראשית. לכן לא יגונה דבר מן הדברים האלה כפי שאמרנו59 שעד עתה לא הָוָה טבע קבוע. עם זאת הזכירו דברים שעוד אשמיעם לך מלוקטים ממקומותיהם. כן אעיר לך על דברים כמו שהם ז"ל העירונו עליהם. דע שדברים אלה שאציין לך מדברי החכמים הם בשׂיא השלמות, ופירושם נהיר למי שציינום לו, משוכללים מאוד. לכן לא אפליג לבארם ולא אשטח אותם (לפניך), כדי שלא אהיה מגלה סוד (משלי י"א, 13). אך הַזְכָּרָתִי אותם בסדר מסוים וברמיזה מועטת דייה להבינם לשכמותך60.

The following point now claims our attention. The account of the six days of creation contains, in reference to the creation of man, the statement: "Male and female He created them" (i. 27), and concludes with the words: "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them" (ii. 1), and yet the portion which follows describes the creation of Eve from Adam, the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge, the history of the serpent and the events connected therewith, and all this as having taken place after Adam had been placed in the Garden of Eden. All our Sages agree that this took place on the sixth day, and that nothing new was created after the close of the six days. None of the things mentioned above is therefore impossible, because the laws of Nature were then not yet permanently fixed. There are, however, some utterances of our Sages on this subject [which apparently imply a different view]. I will gather them from their different sources and place them before you, and I will refer also to certain things by mere hints, just as has been done by the Sages. You must know that their words, which I am about to quote, are most perfect, most accurate, and clear to those for whom they were said. I will therefore not add long explanations, lest I make their statements plain, and I might thus become "a revealer of secrets," but I will give them in a certain order, accompanied with a few remarks, which will suffice for readers like you.

Here the Rambam is being cryptic in telling us how he is going to proceed into explaining the creation of Adam and Eve. However, one thing is very clear. The Rambam tells us straight out that the laws of nature were not set until the sixth day. How could a day be a 24 hour day in a universe where the laws of nature are not set? Anyway, the Rambam is going to explain some of the more cryptic ideas that the Sages have put forth. However, the Rambam is not going to be very clear with his explanations.

מזה דבריהם שאדם וחוה נבראו יחד מחוברים גב אל גב. הוא נחלק ונלקח חציו, והוא חוה, והועמד מולו61.

One of these utterances is this: "Adam and Eve were at first created as one being, having their backs united: they were then separated, and one half was removed and brought before Adam as Eve."

ומה שנאמר אחת מצלעֹתיו (בראשית ב', 21) כוונתו אחד משני צדיו. והביאו ראיה מצלע המשכן (שמות כ"ו, 20 ו27-) אשר תרגומו סטר משכנא62, וכן אמרו: מן סטרוהי63.

The term mi-ẓal‘otav (lit. "of his ribs") signifies "of his sides." The meaning of the word is proved by referring to ẓel‘a, "the side" of the tabernacle (Exod. xxvi. 20), which Onkelos renders setar ("side"), and so also mi-ẓal‘otav is rendered by him "mi-sitrohi" (of his sides).

הבן אפוא כיצד היתה ההבהרה שהם שניים מבחינת-מה בעוד הם אחד, כמו שאמר עצם מעצמי ובשֹר מבשֹרי (בראשית ב', 23). והוא הוסיף חיזוק לכך באומרו ששם אחד לשניהם אשה כי מאיש לֻקחה זאת (שם). הוא הדגיש את התאחדותם ואמר ודבק באשתו והיו לבשֹר אחד (שם, שם, 24). מה רבה בורותו של מי שאינו מבין שכּל זה (נאמר) בהכרח לעניין כלשהו. זה ברור אפוא.

Note also how clearly it has been stated that Adam and Eve were two in some respects, and yet they remained one, according to the words, "Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh" (Gen. ii. 23). The unity of the two is proved by the fact that both have the same name, for she is called ishah (woman), because she was taken out of ish (man), also by the words, "And shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh" (ii. 24). How great is the ignorance of those who do not see that all this necessarily includes some [other] idea [besides the literal meaning of the words]. This is now clear.

The Rambam is screaming at us that there is clearly a deeper meaning to the story of Adam and Eve. There is a deeper lesson to learn and just understanding the simple meaning of the verse makes a person foolish. However, the Rambam does not tell us, outright, what the deeper meaning is. Why is that? Could it be because every person is supposed to learn something unique for themselves about relationships between husband and wife, or perhaps there is a secret that only a few are supposed to know?

ממה שחייב אתה לדעת, מה שהבהירו במדרש, והוא שהם ציינו שהנחש היה בהמת-רכיבה ושהיה בגודל גמל ושרוכבו הוא אשר פיתה את חוה, ושהרוכב היה סמאל64. שם זה הם נותנים לשֹטן. הם אומרים במספר מקומות שהשֹטן רצה להכשיל את אברהם אבינו כדי שלא ייענה להקריב את יצחק. וכן רצה להכשיל את יצחק כדי שלא יציית לאביו. וכן ציינו לגבי מעשה זה, כלומר לגבי העקידה, לאמור: בא סמאל אצל אבינו אברהם, אמר לו: מה, סבא, הובדת לבך [בן שנתן לך למאה שנה את הולך לשחטו?]65.

Another noteworthy Midrashic remark of our Sages is the following: "The serpent had a rider, the rider was as big as a camel, and it was the rider that enticed Eve: this rider was Samaël." Samaël is the name generally applied by our Sages to Satan. Thus they say in several places that Satan desired to entice Abraham to sin, and to abstain from binding Isaac, and he desired also to persuade Isaac not to obey his father. At the same time they also say, in reference to the same subject, viz., the Akedah ("the binding of Isaac"), that Samaël came to Abraham and said to him, "What! hast thou, being an old man, lost thy senses?" etc.

The Rambam is now going to explain the idea of Satan in Jewish literature.

התברר לך אפוא שסמאל הוא השֹטן66. גם שם זה הוא בשביל עניין, כשם ששם הנחש הוא בשביל עניין. הם אמרו על בואו לרמות את חוה: היה סמאל רוכב עליו והקב"ה שֹוחק על גמל ורוכבו67.

This shows that Samaël and Satan are identical. There is a meaning in this name [Samaël]), as there is also in the name naḥash ("serpent"). In describing how the serpent came to entice Eve, our sages say: "Samaël was riding on it, and God was laughing at both the camel and its rider."

This is a very enigmatic statement by the Rambam. Within these words, the Rambam is describing the role and meaning of Satan in Judaism. What does it mean? I have a few ideas, but I am still unsure at the moment.

ממה שחייב אתה לדעת ולשׂים לב אליו, הוא שהנחש לא פנה כלל אל אדם ישירות ולא דיבר אליו. שׂיחו ופנייתו הישירה6869. ואין ספק שזרעה הוא זרע אדם (ירמיה ל"א, 26)70. מופלאה71 מזה התקשרות הנחש עם חוה, כלומר זרעו בזרעה ראש ועקב, והיותה גוברת עליו בראש, בעוד הוא גובר עליה בעקב69. זה אפוא ברור גם כן. היו אל חוה, ובאמצעות חוה ניזוק אדם, והנחש גרם לאובדנו. איבה מושלמת קיימת רק בין הנחש וחוה ובין זרעו וזרעה

It is especially of importance to notice that the serpent did not approach or address Adam, but all his attempts were directed against Eve, and it was through her that the serpent caused injury and death to Adam. The greatest hatred exists between the serpent and Eve, and between his seed and her seed; her seed being undoubtedly also the seed of man. More remarkable still is the way in which the serpent is joined to Eve, or rather his seed to her seed; the head of the one touches the heel of the other. Eve defeats the serpent by crushing its head, whilst the serpent defeats her by wounding her heel. This is likewise clear.

Yet again, the Rambam teaches us a deep idea in a very enigmatic way. What is he trying to tell us about the battle between Eve and the Serpent (who represents Satan)? Also, what does Adam have to do with this battle and how does it effect the human race?

מן האמירות המופלאות גם (אותה אמירה) שהפשט שלה מגונה ביותר, וכאשר תבין את פרקי הספר הזה הבנה אמיתית, תתפעל מחוכמת משל זה והתאמתו למציאות והוא דברם: משבא נחש על חוה הטיל בה זוהמא. ישֹראל שעמדו על הר סיני פסקה זוהמתן. גויים שלא עמדו על הר סיני לא פסקה זוהמתן72. שקול אפוא בדעתך גם את זאת.

The following is also a remarkable passage, most absurd in its literal sense; but as an allegory it contains wonderful wisdom, and fully agrees with real facts, as will be found by those who understand all the chapters of this treatise. (This is found in Tractate Shabbos 145b-146a, Yevumos 103b, Avoda Zara 22b)When the serpent came to Eve he infected her with poison; the Israelites, who stood at Mount Sinai, removed that poison; idolaters, who did not stand at Mount Sinai, have not got rid of it. Note this likewise.

Here the Rambam quotes a Gemara that begins to shed light on the relationship between the Serpent and Eve by relating it to a belief in Monotheism. However, it is still peculiar and difficult to understand how these ideas relate. Could it be that the Serpent in the story represents doubt in the authority of G-D by Eve. Therefore, when G-D revealed His ultimate authority to the Jews they were cured of this doubt, thereby removing the poison? And, could it be that the idolaters, or just regular non-Jews, who were not at Mt. Sinai could not have had this "poison" removed because they did not witness the revelation of G-D?

ממה שחייב אתה לדעת, שהם אמרו: עץ החיים מהלך חמש מאות שנה וכל מימי בראשית מתפלגין מתחתיו73. והבהירו באשר לזאת, כי הכוונה במידה זאת היא לעובי גרמו, לא להימשכות ענפיו, הם אמרו לא סוף דבר נופו, אלא קורתו מהלך חמש מאת שנה74. ובאור קורתו עובי גזעו הניצב. השלמה זאת שלהם (באה) להשלים את ביאור העניין והבהרתו. זה ברור אפוא.

Again they said: "The tree of life extends over an area of five hundred years' journey, and it is from beneath it that all the waters of the creation sprang forth": and they added the explanation that this measure referred to the thickness of its body, and not to the extent of its branches, for they continue thus: "Not the extent of the branches thereof, but the stem thereof [korato, lit., 'its beam,' signifying here 'its stem') has a thickness of five hundred years' journey." This is now sufficiently clear.

Perhaps the most basic understanding of this is that the Rambam is telling us that a good foundation is more important than numerous successful outings. What is the significance of 500 and what is the specific meaning?

ממה שחייב אתה לדעת גם כן, דברם עץ הדעת לא גילה הקב"ה אותו אילן לאדם ולא עתיד לגלותו75. וזה נכון, שכן טבע המציאות הצריך זאת.

Again: "God has never shown the tree of knowledge [of good and evil] to man, nor will He ever show it." This is correct, for it must be so according to the nature of the Universe.

I assume the idea here is that if man knew good and evil like he knew black and white, the world would not be able to exist. Man would not be able to exist. Why?

ממה שחייב אתה לדעת, דברם וַיִּקח ה' אלהים את האדם (בראשית ב', 15) - עילה אותו. וַיַּנִּחהו בגן עדן (שם) - הניח לו76. לא פירשו כתוב זה כהרמתו ממקום והורדתו במקום, אלא לרומם את דרגת מציאותו בין הנמצאים המתהווים והכלים האלה ולקובעו במצב מסוים.

Another noteworthy saying is this: "And the Lord God took the man, i.e., raised him, and placed him in the Garden of Eden," i.e., He gave him rest. The words "He took him," "He gave him, "have no reference to position in space, but they indicate his position in rank among transient beings, and the prominent character of his existence.

Here the Rambam is telling us more about how many things in the beginning of Breishis are not to be taken literal, but rather they are coming to teach us the importance of different things or, in this case, people.

ממה שחייב אתה לדעת גם כן ולשׂים לב אליו, הוא החוכמה הטמונה בכך ששני בני אדם נקראו קין והבל, ושקין הוא שהרג את הבל בשֹדה (בראשית ד', 8), וששניהם כלו, אף שלגובר ניתנה שהות, וכי לא נכונה המציאות אלא לשת: כי שת לי אלהים זרע אחר [תחת הבל כי הרגו קין] (שם, שם, 25), זה נכון אפוא77.

Remarkable and noteworthy is the great wisdom contained in the names of the sons of Adam: Cain and Abel, and in the fact that it was Cain who slew Abel in the field, that both of them perished, although the murderer had some respite, and that the existence of mankind is due to Seth alone. Comp. "For God has appointed me another seed" (iv. 25). This has proved true.

ממה שחייב אתה לדעת ולשׂים לב אליו, שאמר ויקרא האדם שמות [לכל הבהמה ולעוף השמים ולכל חית השֹדה] (שם, שם, 20). הודיענו שהלשונות הסכמיות ולא טבעיות, כפי שחשבו78.

It is also necessary to understand and consider the words, "And Adam gave names" (ii. 20); here it is indicated that languages are conventional, and that they are not natural, as has been assumed by some.

There were, apparently, three ways of viewing language in the days of the Rambam. 1) They were natural occurrences. 2) G-D created them. 3) They occurred from the creation of man agreeing on different words for different things. According to the Torah, the Rambam tells us, it seems like the third opinion is correct, man agreed upon what to call different things.

ממה שחייב אתה להתבונן בו, הם ארבעת הביטויים אשר באו באשר לייחס השמים אל האל והם ברא79 ועשֹה80 וקנה ואֵל. הוא אמר: ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ (שם, א', 1). ואמר: ביום עשֹות ה' אלהים ארץ ושמים (שם, ב', 4). ואמר: קֹנה שמים וארץ (בראשית י"ד, 19, 22). ואמר: אֵל עולם (שם, כ"א, 33). ואמר: אלהי השמים ואלהי הארץ (שם, כ"ד, 3). ואילו דבריו [כי אראה שמיך מעשה אצבעותיך, ירח וכוכבים] אשר כוננתה (תהלים ח', 4), [וימיני] טִפְּחָה שמים (ישעיה מ"ח, 13), ונוטה שמים (ישעיה נ"א, 13; תהלים ק"ד, 2) כולם כלולים בעשֹה. הביטוי יצירה אינו מופיע, כי נראה לי שהיצירה נאמרת על מתן תבנית ומִתאר או מקרה מן המקרים האחרים, שהרי התבנית והמִתאר הם גם כן מקרה, לכן יוצר אור (ישעיה מ"ה, 7), כי הוא מקרה ויוצר הרים (עמוס ד', 13) מעצב אותם81, וכן וַיִּיצר ה' אלהים82. על המציאות המיוחדת לכלל העולם שהוא השמים והארץ נאמר ברא, כי היא לשיטתנו הבאה לידי מציאות מהֶעְדֵּר. כן אמר: עשֹה לצורות שניתנו למיניהם (של השמים והארץ), כלומר טבעיהם, ואמר עליהם קנה כי הוא יתעלה משתלט עליהם השתלטות של אדון על עבדיו. לכן הוא נקרא אדון כל הארץ (יהושע ג', 11, 13) והאדון (שמות כ"ג, 17; שם, ל"ד, 23). ומכיוון שאין נעשׂה אדון אלא בכך שיש לו קניין, וזה נוטה כלפי האמונה בקדמות חומר כלשהו83, משמשים כאן הביטויים ברא ועשֹה. ואילו אלהי השמים (בראשית כ"ד, 384) וכן אל עולם85, הרי הם מבחינת שלמותו יתעלה ושלמותם שהוא אלהים, כלומר, שליט והם נשלטים, לא במובן של השתלטות, שזאת המשמעות של קונה, אלא במובן בחינת חלקו יתעלה במציאות וחלקם הם86, כי הוא האלוה ולא הם, כוונתי לשמים.

We must also consider the four different terms employed in expressing the relations of the heavens to God, bore (Creator), ‘oseh (Maker), koneh (Possessor), and el (God). Comp. "God created the heaven and the earth" (i. 1); "In the day that God made the earth and the heavens" (ii. 4); "Possessor of heaven and earth" (xiv. 19); "God of the Universe" (xxi, 31); "The God of heaven and the God of the earth" (xxiv. 3). As to the verbs, konen, "he established," tafaḥ, "he spanned, "and natah, "he stretched out," occurring in the following passages, "Which thou hast established" (Ps. viii. 4), "My right hand hath spanned the heavens" (Isa. xviii. 13), "Who stretchest out the heavens" (Ps. civ. 2), they are included in the term ‘asah ("he made"); the verb yaẓar, "he formed," does not occur in reference to the heavens. According to my opinion the verb yaẓar denotes to make a form, a shape, or any other accident (for form and shape are likewise accidents). It is therefore said, yoẓer or, "Who formeth the light" (Isa. xiv. 7), light being an accident; yoẓer harim, "That formeth the mountains" (Amos iv, 13), i.e., that gave them their shape. In the same sense the verb is used in the passage, "And the Lord God formed (va-yiẓer) all the beasts," etc. (Gen. ii, 7). But in reference to the Universe, viz., the heavens and the earth, which comprises the totality of the Creation, Scripture employs the verb bara, which we explain as denoting he produced something from nothing; also ‘asah ("he made") on account of the general forms or natural properties of the things which were given to them; kanah, "he possessed," because God rules over them like a master over his servants. For this reason He is also called, "The Lord of the whole earth" (Jos. iii. 11-13); ha-adon, "the Lord" (Exod. xx., iii. 17). But although none can be a master unless there exists something that is in his possession, this attribute cannot be considered to imply the belief in the eternal existence of a materia prima, since the verbs bara, "he created," and ‘asah, "he made," are also employed in reference to the heavens. The Creator is called the God of the heavens and the God of the Universe, on account of the relations between Him and the heavens; He governs, and they are governed; the word elohim does not signify "master" in the sense of "owner"; it expresses the relation between His position in the totality of existing beings, and the position of the heavens or the Universe; He is God, not they, i.e., not the heavens.

Here the Rambam explains the different descriptions, or names, of G-D.

שיעורים אלה, יחד עם מה שקדם ומה שיבוא בעניין זה, מספיקים בהתאם למטרת הספר ובהתאם למעיין בו.

This, together with those explanations which we have given, and which we intend to give, in reference to this subject, may suffice, considering the object of this treatise and the capacity of the reader.

I hope someone was able to enjoy, or find useful, my explanations and added commentary. The Friedlander translation is not always the best, but it gets the job done. I did not base myself solely on the Friedlander, that is why I also brought down Professor Shwartz's fantastic translation. I am also adding his footnotes since they are of the utmost importance when trying to understand the Rambam.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Update On the Anti-Israel Seatle Bus Shinanigans

The officials in King County, Seattle decided to pull the ads that were going to be run on 12 of their buses. Most people see this as a victory for Israel. See this announcement sent out by the CUFI (Christians United for Israel) alert (found here

At 2:00 EST today, we issued an action alert asking all of our members to e-mail officials in King County, Washington, with an urgent request to block the following inciteful ad from appearing on Seattle buses:

Your response was overwhelming. In the week leading up to our action alert, King county officials had received 2,000 e-mails to asking them to reject this ad. Within five hours -- by 7:00 pm EST -- our action alert had generated three times as many e-mails -- almost 6,000 -- to these same government officials.

We are thrilled to report that your voices have been heard and that your efforts have paid off. At 7:00 p.m. EST today, King County Executive Dow Constatine announced a new policy governing advertising on buses that, among other things, will block the proposed anti-Israel ad from appearing on city buses. Now that the anti-Israel ad will not run, we no longer see the need to respond with our own ad telling the truth about Israel.

This is a great victory. We are thankful to our friends in the pro-Israel community who called our attention to this issue and began the campaign against these dangerous ads. And we are thankful to all of you who responded with enough speed and determination to accomplish the mission so quickly. Your efforts were especially meaningful on a day when so many of us are so very busy with travel and shopping before the approaching Christmas holiday.

I am very glad that this Christian group is so pro-Israel. However, I do not see this as a real victory. The King County commissioner did not denounce these ads as lies, or did he call them despicable, rather when he was faced with immense pressure he caved. He did not think it was the right thing to do (to deny the ads), but the easy thing to do.

As I pointed out in this past post the lies that this organization (Seattle Middle East Awareness Campaign (SMEC)) puts forth are despicable. America allows for free speech, free speech for the KKK to march in Skokie (where a lot of Holocaust survivors live/d), it allows for racists to say what they want and it allows for fools to claim anything under the sun. However, how could a public company find nothing wrong with calling an ally of the USA a country that commits war crimes? Especially a country that gives so much aid to countries in need. Just check out here, here and here. That is absurd! This is especially true because, as I pointed out, every reason the SMEC gives for their claims against Israel are lies, no facts whatsoever.

There will never be a real victor for this war against the slanderers of Israel. However, we all need to stay strong and support organizations like StandWithUs, the Jewish Federation and, even, the ADL. These organizations and those like them prove their worth time and time again by combating anti-Semites, liars and and bigots. If you are Jewish or believe in truth then your support should go towards these organizations that stand up for Jews and Israel on a daily basis.

There are battles that we can win, but the war is ongoing. No one knows when it will end. That is why it is so important to support these organizations that actually fight for Israel and truth. This time we were able to win the battle on a technicality, hopefully, next time we can win because others actually believe in what we fight for, truth and justice. Israel is attacked on a daily basis by the very Palestinians that Israel gives aid to and they have the audacity to say Israel is committing war crimes? Oh the irony.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What Was Amram (Moshe's Father) Thinking?

In this week's Parsha, Shemos, we learn that Pharoh made a terrible decree against the Jews as it says (Shemos 1:16):

טז  וַיֹּאמֶר, בְּיַלֶּדְכֶן אֶת-הָעִבְרִיּוֹת, וּרְאִיתֶן, עַל-הָאָבְנָיִם:  אִם-בֵּן הוּא וַהֲמִתֶּן אֹתוֹ, וְאִם-בַּת הִוא וָחָיָה. 
 16 and he said: 'When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, ye shall look upon the birthstool: if it be a son, then ye shall kill him; but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.' 

When Pharoh saw that was not working he then made this decree on everyone, even the Egyptians (Ibid 1:22):

כב  וַיְצַו פַּרְעֹה, לְכָל-עַמּוֹ לֵאמֹר:  כָּל-הַבֵּן הַיִּלּוֹד, הַיְאֹרָה תַּשְׁלִיכֻהוּ, וְכָל-הַבַּת, תְּחַיּוּן.
22 And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying: 'Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.'

However, what is curious is the beginning of the next chapter (Shemos 2:1):

א  וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ, מִבֵּית לֵוִי; וַיִּקַּח, אֶת-בַּת-לֵוִי. 

1 And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.  

Why does there need to be a verse that tells us that a Levite went out and took a daughter of Levi to be his wife? Why not just start the next chapter with the second verse which says:

ב  וַתַּהַר הָאִשָּׁה, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן; וַתֵּרֶא אֹתוֹ כִּי-טוֹב הוּא, וַתִּצְפְּנֵהוּ שְׁלֹשָׁה יְרָחִים. 
2 And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. 

Starting the chapter with this second verse would make a lot more sense since it actually gives us details about how Moshe was kept alive. What is the significance that Moshe's parents got married even after Pharoh's decree that ALL boys, even Egyptians boys, were to be killed?

The Gemara in Sotah (12b) tells us why this first verse is significant:

And there went a man of the house of Levi (Ex. II, 1). Where did he go? R. Judah b. Zebina said that he went in the counsel of his daughter. A Tanna taught: Amram was the greatest man of his generation; when he saw that the wicked Pharaoh had decreed 'Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river', he said: In vain do we labour. He arose and divorced his wife (Since all the male children to be born would be killed, and the primary object of marriage was the procreation of sons.). All [the Israelites] thereupon arose and divorced their wives. His daughter said to him, 'Father, thy decree is more severe than Pharaoh's; because Pharaoh decreed only against the males whereas thou hast decreed against the males and females. Pharaoh only decreed concerning this world whereas thou hast decreed concerning this world and the World to Come (The drowned babes would live again in the Hereafter; but unborn children are denied that bliss). In the case of the wicked Pharaoh there is a doubt whether his decree will be fulfilled or not, whereas in thy case, though, thou art righteous, it is certain that thy decree will be fulfilled, as it is said: Thou shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee (Job XXII, 28)!  He arose and took his wife back; and they all arose and took their wives back.(Translation and comments found

However, this explanation seems odd. Why did Amram decide that there was no reason to be married anymore? What was he thinking? If he was the leader of the generation and a righteous person how could he just give up like that? Why did it take his daughter to point out his mistake? This Gemara makes Amram seem very foolish.

The Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer) gives a terrific explanation. However, he apparently had a different Girsa (version) of the Gemora in Tractate Sotah. His version reads only one word differently, but it is essential for his explanation. Instead of saying that once Amram divorced his wife then EVERYONE divorced their wives, his version reads that once Amram divorced his wife then ALL THE RIGHTEOUS people divorced their wives. Personally, I think the Chasam Sofer's version is more correct because, as we learn later, many Jews living at this time were not very good Jews and that is why only a fifth of Jews actually left Egypt. Therefore, it stands to reason that only the RIGHTEOUS Jews followed Amram's example and not ALL the Jews.

In order to explain what Amram was thinking the Chasam Sofer brings down a puzzling Gemara in Tractate Babba Basra (60b). It says:

It has been taught: R. Ishmael ben Elisha said: Since the day of the destruction of the Temple we should by rights bind ourselves not to eat meat nor drink wine, only we do not lay a hardship on the community unless the majority can endure it. And from the day that a Government (Rome) has come into power which issues cruel decrees against us and forbids to us the observance of the Torah and the precepts (referring to Hadrian's harsh decrees after the Bar Kochba revolt) and does not allow us to enter into the ‘week of the son’ (circumcision), we ought by rights to bind ourselves not to marry and beget children, and the seed of Abraham our father would come to an end of itself. However, let Israel go their way: it is better that they should err in ignorance than presumptuously. 

Rebbe Yishmael (Ishmael) is basically saying that we should make the same decree that Amram made. In a situation where the Jews are living where they will not be allowed to perform the Torah and Mitzvos, nor can they circumcise their sons, then the Rabbis should make a decree that no one should get married and have children. However, because the majority of the Jews will not be able to follow this decree, it is not made.

The Chasam Sofer tries to explain this idea because it sounds strange. He says:

G-D made a covenant with Avraham, our father, that his children would survive forever, therefore, if someone would even hint at wiping them out, G-D would be forced to save us and nullify their (Rome's) decrees. This saying [of Rabbi Yishmael, that the Rabbis should have made a decree that no one could get married,] would wipe out the children of Avraham, our father, and since this is impossible (for G-D to let the children of Avraham to be wiped out) G-D would have been forced to nullify the decrees (of Rome). However, no such decree (that no one can get married) was made because the majority of the congregation (of Jews) would not have been able to handle such a decree and they would have had children through forbidden acts. Therefore, the children of Avraham would not have been wiped out (because there would be people procreating through forbidden acts) and the decree (that no one should get married) would not help (to force G-D to nullify the decrees of Rome).  

Now, with this idea in mind, we can answer up what Amram was thinking. The Chasam Sofer continues:

This is what Amram's intention was as well. He thought that if he and all of Israel divorced their wives then there would be no children and G-D would be forced to save them and nullify Pharoh's evil decree (that all males should be killed). However, when he divorced his wife only the RIGHTEOUS (This is why that one word is important) Jews divorced their wives, but other Jews kept their wives [and kept procreating.] Therefore, the evil [that Amram was bringing on the congregation] was double because he caused the RIGHTEOUS people's children to be wiped out, but Avraham's children were still being perpetuated [through the none righteous Jews and,] therefore, it would not force G-D to nullify the decrees [of Pharoh.] This is why Miriam told him that his decree was worse than Pharoh's. 

I think this explanation of the Chasam Sofer is excellent. Without it we are left with an Amram that makes no sense. He acts selfishly and msiguided and it takes his daughter to turn him around. However, with the Chasam Sofer's explanation Amram has great intentions with a righteous plan. Miriam merely points out that his plan is not working.

There are two other aspects that the Chasam Sofer shows us here as well. The first is interesting and the second is obvious. The first is that the Rabbis CAN NOT make decrees that they know the congregation will not be able to follow. This is why it is so important to find Rabbis that are not just great Torah scholars, but they also must understand the Jewish people. If they are distant and removed, no matter how great a Torah scholar they are, they can not lead the congregation.

The second point is something that people have always told me one is not allowed to do, but here the Chasam Sofer does it with ease. The Gemara gives the explanation (in Sotah 12b) for Miriam's statement of why Amram's decree is harsher than Pharoh's, because it ceases the procreation of girls and boys. However, The Chasam Sofer says the reason it is harsher is because it caused the righteous not to procreate, but allowed the unrighteous to procreate. If a person sees a possible explanation of the Torah that teaches a valuable lesson, that lesson should be taught even if it is not the explanation in the Gemara (This is done by almost every Rishon and Achron as well as many modern commentators). The Chasam Sofer is teaching us that people should not be unjustly punished. A righteous person does not deserve to be punished while a wicked person is rewarded. If the Rabbis want to make a decree, they need to make sure that decree does not punish the righteous and reward the wicked.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Anti-Semites and Their Lies Against Israel

It never ceases to amaze me how foolish or belligerent some anti-Semites are. Maybe there are slivers of truth contained in some of their drivel, but it is so twisted and surrounded by lies that one can not even recognize it as truth. I was recently appalled to learn of a new organization in America, it is both anti-Israel as well as full of lies.

Would it shock anyone to know that this severely anti-Israel/anti-Semitic group IS tax deductible when you donate to their cause? True story. Check them out here. 

This despicable organization has started a new ad campaign that claims Israeli War crimes are being funded by the US. They are putting up these signs ON BUSES. No joke, check it out. They don't tell you that the Israelis are under continuous fire, Qassam rocket attacks, from the Gaza strip which happens to be controlled by THE TERROR ORGANIZATION known as Chamas (Hamas). No, Israel trying to stop these rocket attacks on their civilian population is CLEARLY WAR CRIMES (sarcasm).

Let's just go through a few lies found on this website. If we look at the home page, the VERY FIRST statement they make is A LIE. They say:

Under Israeli military occupation, millions of Palestinians live in conditions which closely resemble the apartheid system that existed in South Africa:
• No right of free speech, assembly or movement
• Arrest and imprisonment without charge or trial
• Torture
• Homes searches without warrant
• Assassination, extra-judicial murder
• No right to vote for the Israeli government (even though it controls their lives)
Israel controls all Palestinian borders, all imports and exports, and all movement between towns and cities. 
THE GAZA STRIP, still surrounded, besieged and controlled by Israel, has been sealed off and effectively turned into the world’s largest open-air prison.

First off, THERE IS NO ISRAEL MILITARY PRESENCE IN THE GAZA STRIP! They pulled out every single military personnel in 2005. Remember the whole Gush Katif incident? Those 7500 Jews that were physically removed from the Gaza strip so the Palestinians could take it over? So, this website claims that there is a military occupation of the Gaza strip. This is a blatant LIE. Just read about it.

Let us now deal with the second idea brought out here, the terrible conditions of the Palestinians caused by the Israelis. Well, if we look at FACTS, then these claims are destroyed, just check them out. For those too lazy to click on the link, I will just write it out here:

Between January 2009-June 2010, approximately 2 billion pounds of aid, 137 million liters of fuel, and 50,000 tons of cooking gas were delivered by Israel to the Gaza Strip. (Check out the sources linked to on Wikipedia)

Israel treats Gaza soooo badly, they continuously give them aid (again, sarcasm). Also, these ridiculous claims that Israel controls ALL Palestinian borders. Are they serious? Do these people lack the most basic skills, the ability to read a map. Do they not know that one of the borders of Gaza are with EGYPT!?!?!? Are they complete morons? Egypt supports Israel's efforts to blockade the Gaza strip. Why? Because it is run by a TERRORIST ORGANIZATION!!! Therefore, even Egypt (A country that has been against Israel in at least 4 wars in the past) supports Israel's efforts to block any terrorists from leaving the Gaza strip.

Yes, Israel does not allow free passage between the Gaza strip, which is not part of Israel in any way shape or form, and Israel. It is under the COMPLETE CONTROL of the Palestinian authority, Hamas in the case of the Gaza strip. Israel only conducts raids into the Gaza strip when there are rockets fired from Gaza INTO ISRAEL and they don't even do that every time a rocket is fired.

The shear stupidity of these people is astounding. It begs the question, do they make these claims because they are ignorant, anti-Semitic or extremely intelligent propagandists? Honestly, this looks like a trick that a desperate lawyer would use. The lawyer knows he has no case so he tries to say things to the jury that is completely false. The judge can only stop him after the lawyer has already said it. The judge tells the jury to ignore the lawyers statements, but the jury already heard what the lawyer said. The damage is done, even though it is a lie, it still effects their judgment.

Anyone who would like to learn about the Israeli-Arab conflict that has existed since the beginning of the creation of Israel should check out this website It contains a lot of interesting facts and explains everything in, as far as I can tell, an unbiased fashion.

To counteract these ridiculous "Non-for-Profit" organizations that lie I think all people who value truth and justice should put ads up throughout the world and encourage the truth. Their 4 week PROPAGANDA to hurt Israel cost 1800 dollars. I hope someone could raise just as much, if not more money to counter such despicable hatred. Put the same type of ads on those same exact buses in 4 weeks time. Israel is not without its problems, but to claim that Israel is an apartheid state similar to South Africa before it changed is a RIDICULOUS claim that borders on insanity. It is almost as bad as calling ANY president of the United States Hitler and actually meaning it. Sure, we an disagree on rationale grounds, but to make such outrageous claims that are lies, that is irresponsible. It creates enmity for no reason.

(If anyone is interested in setting up such an organization that actually finds lies and attacks them everywhere they turn up, let me know)
(Next post will be Torah related, I promise)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why Can't Jews Have Settlements In the West Bank?

I was just thinking about the idea that the Palestinians refuse to negotiate peace with Israel because Jews are building houses in the West Bank. This argument that the Palestinians put forward does not make any sense to me. Jews building houses in the West bank does not exclude the possibility that the West Bank could be a Palestinian country, or does it?

If we look at the previous "pull outs" of Israel, something becomes very clear. When the Jews pulled out of the Sinai desert they destroyed EVERY SINGLE settlement that had been built. Why? Could Jews not live in Egypt? Just because the army was pulling out of the Sinai why did the civilians have to leave and destroy their houses? Why could they not live under Egyptian rule?

When the Israeli army pulled out of Gaza why did the 7500 civilians have to leave? Why could they not stay and continue with their businesses there? Could they not live under the rules of the Palestinian authority that was taking over?

I think it is obvious why the Jews, the civilians, had to abandon their homes, because they would have been killed had they stayed. The Israeli government would not allow civilians to stay because those civilians would have lost their lives. True, the civilians could have stayed in the Sinai under Egyptian rule, but they would have been slaughtered. The people from Gush Katif could have stayed in Gaza, but just like their green house equipment, they would have been demolished.

So, why is it that the Palestinians consider the Jews building settlements inhibitory to peace? It is purely because they will not let Jews live on their land. Otherwise, there should be no problem. The civilians can stay, but they would then be under the authority of the Palestinians, if there were a Palestinian State in the West Bank. However, this clearly would never work. The Israeli government would never allow a Jew to stay in territory that was being handed over. The Israeli government will not allow Jews to put themselves into situations where they WILL be killed.

If you notice, there are not very many Jews living in any of the Muslim countries surrounding Israel. Why is that? There are over a million Arabs living in Israel that are citizens. The largest population of Jews is found in Iran and they are under constant fear of punishment, as seen by the men accused of spying in the past years.

It seems to me that the claim of the Palestinian authority that negotiations can not continue because Jews, not army personnel, are living there is telling of their attitude of hate. They are assuring us that they will not allow Jews to live in their future country, if it is ever made. If a Jew tries to live in their country, they will be killed.

Why do we want to give them a country again? So they can be another anti-Jewish state in a sea of anti-Jewish states?

Settlements are not a problem if they are willing to live with Jews. Settlements are only a problem if they are NOT willing to live with Jews.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Taking Care of One's Parents

In this week's Parsha, we have the description of Yaakov's death bed. Yaakov requests to be buried in Israel and not Egypt. He also reveals the important character traits of all of his children. However, I want to focus on something that is mentioned in the beginning of this week's Parsha. It says (Genesis 47:28):

כח וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה; וַיְהִי יְמֵי-יַעֲקֹב, שְׁנֵי חַיָּיו--שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים, וְאַרְבָּעִים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה.
28 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were a hundred forty and seven years.

We also learned a few Week's ago in Parshas Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1) that Yosef was Seventeen when he was sold by the brothers:

ב אֵלֶּה תֹּלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב, יוֹסֵף בֶּן-שְׁבַע-עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת-אֶחָיו בַּצֹּאן, וְהוּא נַעַר אֶת-בְּנֵי בִלְהָה וְאֶת-בְּנֵי זִלְפָּה, נְשֵׁי אָבִיו; וַיָּבֵא יוֹסֵף אֶת-דִּבָּתָם רָעָה, אֶל-אֲבִיהֶם.
2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren, being still a lad even with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought evil report of them unto their father.

Why is it significant that Yosef was 17 years old when the brothers sold him and why is it important that Yaakov dwelled in Egypt for 17 years? The Torah does not tell us the other brothers' ages, nor does it tell us how long they dwelled in Egypt, why specify Yosef and Yaakov?

The Chizkuni tells us (Found here upper right) that this verse, that Yaakov lived in Egypt for 17 years, is to tell us the greatness of Yosef because he supported his father and all of his household for 17 years, just like his father had supported him when he raised Yosef for 17 years.

This idea is very important for people to understand. The Torah is telling us that a parent raises their child while they are young. The parents love them, care for them and feed them. All in all, they make sure their needs are met. This is the parents' responsibility and obligation. However, when the parent grows old and needs to be taken care of, it is the child's obligation to care for the parent. This is what these verses are trying to teach us, that it is not only the parent's responsibility to care for the child, but the child is equally responsible for the care of his or her elderly parent.

A parent cares for his or her child in order that the child is given the opportunity to live their life. A child needs to be cared for and looked after in order that, when they can care for themselves, they are filled with morality and positive character traits. However, a child cares for a parent in order that their parent can live out their days in peace and tranquility. Yaakov instilled within Yosef the ability to withstand and overcome all the tests that were thrown at him. If Yaakov did not raise Yosef in the correct manner in those first 17 years of his life then Yosef would not have succeeded and reached the level of grandeur that he achieved. On the other hand, Yosef allowed Yaakov, in his old age, to live in peace and tranquility. Yaakov passed away with peace of mind because he knew that Yosef could and would take care of his every need. That is why Yaakov specifically called Yosef and asked him, not anyone else, to make sure he was buried in Israel with his forefathers.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Meiri On Taamei Hamitzvos (Reasons for the Commandments) and Rationalist Judaism

There are some very important points that the Meiri brings down in his Sefer Hamidos (Book of Characteristics). The best way to discuss this is to translate the first paragraph on page 61 of his book where the Meiri discusses the reasons for Mitzvos (Commandments). I will interject when I feel it is appropriate. The Meiri says:

Fulfilling the Mitzvos (Commandments) with the intent that they are being performed to serve the creator is sufficient for the masses and the nation.

The Meiri is subtly telling us something very important. The lowest level of performing Mitzvos (commandments) is to fulfill them WHILE having in mind to serve THE CREATOR. I think this language was not callously chosen. I believe that the Meiri is telling us that the most basic reason for the Mitzvos that a person needs to understand in order for their performance to have any value is appreciation. G-D created us and, therefore, when He asks us to do something we do it because He asked. This is important because anyone who realizes that the Mitzvos, at the very least, exist to show appreciation will be more aware of what others do for him or her. This is the most basic character trait a person needs, the trait of appreciation, to be a good person.

The Meiri continues:
However, it is proper for individuals to try and understand all that is possible, according to their capabilities, [of what are the reason for the Mitzvos]. As it says in Psalms (119:66), "Teach me good reason and knowledge; for I have believed in Your Mitzvos (commandments)." What [Psalms] means is that even though I believe in Your Mitzvos and I fulfill all of the Torah, I request to know the reason and wisdom [behind] them. This is not in order to doubt the witnesses that have testified that these Mitzvos are true, because I already believe in them. Also, my belief (emunah) does not rely on the study of these things to the extent that if I found a good connection I would believe or if I found something I considered a lie I would deny them, because this is Kefira (Heresy) and a removal of the religion completely.   

I think the Meiri sums up rationalist Judaism very well here. Judaism is based on laws that were given by G-D. One can not follow Judaism if he or she does not believe this idea no matter what. Without this simple tenant of faith there is no Judaism to follow. Once a person accepts the idea that G-D gave the laws then one must follow these laws whether or not they understand them. However,  the Meiri is telling us that a person SHOULD strive to understand the laws, but not make their beliefs contingent on their understanding of the laws.

This is what, I believe, Rationalist Judaism is all about, understanding the laws, understanding why we do things. In the end of the day everyone, from the Rambam to the Maharal, agrees that Jews follow the laws, simply, because G-D said we should follow them. However, the disagreement comes when we discuss the understanding of the laws. Some say we should not strive to understand the Mitzvos because they are not capable of being understood properly, rather they are just decrees made by G-D that we must follow. The other side is that we should strive to understand the Mitzvos on the deepest level that we can so that we can learn what G-D wants from us. The difference between these two opinions is, in my mind, clear. In a situation where the law goes against what G-D actually wants from us then we would go against the law and follow G-D's will. The best example is Pikuach Nefesh (When a life is in Danger). The law says straight out that we can not violate Shabbos. However, the Rabbis learn out that a person is supposed to desecrate Shabbos in order to save a life. This would, seemingly, be a situation where we use the idea of Reasons for the Mitzvos to contradict a straight out law.

I know, this is said in the Gemara, but the idea still stands. Would the Tannaim or Amoraim that hold there are no reasons for the Mitzvos also say that Pikuach Nefesh does push off the sanctity of the Shabbos? This is something worth exploring, but I don't know enough yet to adequately conclude anything with authority. However, the Torah Temmimah quotes the source for this idea, that Pikuach Nefesh pushes off the sanctity of Shabbos, and it is an Amorah in Tractate Yoma (85b):

וחי ב הם. תנ יא, מנין לפקוח נ פש שדחה את השב ת , אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל, דכתיב
ושמרתם את חקתי ואת משפטי אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי ב ה ם , ולא שימות בהם
And live by them- We learned in a Braisa, from where do we know that Pikuach Nefesh (A life in danger) pushes off [the sanctity of] Shabbos? Says Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel (an Amora), it is written (Vayikra 18:5) And you shall guard my ordinances and laws that you shall do them and LIVE BY THEM and not die by them.

If there is no alternate understanding, why does only one Amora say it?

Where is the source in the Mishna/Gemara for this argument of whether there is a reason for the Mitzvos or not? It is found in Babba Metzia (115a) among other places:

MISHNAH. A MAN MAY NOT TAKE A PLEDGE FROM A WIDOW, WHETHER SHE BE RICH OR POOR, FOR IT IS WRITTEN, THOU SHALT NOT TAKE A WIDOW'S RAIMENT TO PLEDGE. GEMARA. Our Rabbis taught: Whether a widow be rich or poor, no pledge may be taken from her: this is R. Judah's opinion. R. Simeon said: A wealthy widow is subject to distraint,but not a poor one, for you are bound to return [the pledge] to her, and you bring her into disreputeamong her neighbours. Now, shall we say that R. Judah does not interpret the reason of the Writ,whilst R. Simeon does?17 But we know their opinions to be the reverse. For we learnt: Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, [that his heart turn not away]; R. Judah said: He may multiply [wives], providing that they do not turn his heart away. R. Simeon said: He may not take to wife even a single one who is likely to turn his heart away; what then is taught by the verse, Neither shall he multiply wives to himself? Even such as Abigail! — In truth, R. Judah does not Interpret the reason of Scripture; but here it is different, because Scripture itself states the reason: Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, and his heart shall not turn away. Thus, why ‘shall he not multiply wives to himself’? So ‘that his heart turn not away.’ And R. Simeon [argues thus]: Let us consider. As a general rule, we interpret the Scriptural reason: then Scripture should have written, ‘Neither shall he multiply [etc.].’ whilst ‘and his heart shall not turn away’ is superfluous, for I would know myself
that the reason why he must not multiply is that his heart may not turn away. Why then is ‘shall not turn away’ [explicitly] stated? To teach that he must not marry even a single one who may turn his heart.

We see from here, as well as many other places, that Rebbe Shimon learns out that there are reasons for the Mitzvos whereas Rebbe Yehuda does not. However, according to the Rambam in the Moreh Nevuchim (The Guide for The Perplexed) in Part 3 Chapter 48 we Poskin (rule) like Rebbe Shimon. As he says:

When in the Talmud (Ber. p. 33b) those are blamed who use in their prayer the phrase, "Thy mercy extendeth to young birds," it is the expression of the one of the two opinions mentioned by us, namely, that the precepts of the Law have no other reason but the Divine will. We follow the other opinion [that the Laws have reasons].

This is, most likely, why we decide the Pekuach Nefesh is Docheh Shabbos (Life Endangerment pushes off the sanctity of Shabbos), because we follow the opinion that the laws have reasons. One of the basic reasons for the Mitzvos is in order that we, as Jews, observe them. If the Mitzvos lead to our death then we can not observe them, therefore, we desecrate the Sabbath in order to live another day and observe the Mitzvos.

Getting back to the topic of Rationalist Judaism, if we truly hold of the idea that the Mitzvos have reasons, then doesn't it follow that everything in Judaism, stemming from the fact that Judaism is solely based on the written and oral Torah, should have a reason? This is what Rationalist Judaism is based on, finding reasons and questioning ideas that are, seemingly based on faulty logic. For example, science has shown that it is highly likely that the world is older than 5771 years old. Is Judaism forced into the position that the world must only be 5771 or is that just some idea that cropped up in the past that some antiquated people cling to as if it were a religious dogma? If reason and understanding is desired in our religion, as the Meiri points out, why are there people who call any form of reason and understanding Kefirah (heresy)?

It bothers me that some people make a topic, like the age of the universe, into such a big deal when, in truth, it matters very little to the Jewish religion. If the universe is 13-15 billion years old does that mean G-D didn't create it? That G-D did not speak to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai? That none of the prophets spoke to G-D? All this does is make the people who refuse to discuss these issues look foolish. Worse, it makes the pseudo-scientific explanations look idiotic. I dislike when people try to make their pseudoscience look like real science. Why am I so against it? Because I once fell for pseudoscience until someone actually took the time to explain to me why those pseudo-scientists were spewing nonsense. If one takes a logical approach then they can never go wrong.

The Meiri and the Rambam (my two favorite Rishonim) teach us a very valuable lesson with this whole reason for Mitzvos. True, one must follow the Torah whether they understand the reasons or not. However, we should always search for the true meaning. Why? Because, it is only through the true meaning that we will come to be better people and correct our character traits. It is only through understanding the deeper meaning of the Mitzvos that we can truly understand what it is that G-D wants from us. That does not come from closing our eyes and just doing what we are told, but rather it comes from opening our minds and ears and figuring out the deeper meanings of this complicated and intricate religion.

Think of it like this. A person who just performs the Mitzvos without understanding their deeper meanings is more likely to lie and cheat than someone who actually researches and understands the deeper meanings behind the Mitzvos. The former does not understand that lying and cheating in a way that is not explicitly forbidden in the Torah is still abhorrent to G-D. He figures there is a "loophole" for him to comfortably do these despicable atrocities in. However, the latter realizes that lying and cheating, whether explicitly stated is abhorrent to G-D and he or she will not allow themselves to take that evil path.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Translating My Brother-in-law's Chapter on "The Law of Beautifying [the Mitzva] of Ner Chanukah" Part 3

Before you read this start at the beginning of the whole discussion found here.

Section 4: The Explanation of the argument (between Rambam and Rama) by the "GRIZ" (Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik).

There is a third way to explain the argument between the Rambam and the Rama. See the SHUT (Questions and answers) of the Beis Haleivi (Second part siman 47) where he explains the argument between authorities by Bris Milah (circumcision) regarding [parts of skin that were missed by the Moel (circumciser), but are not considered to negate the Mitzva (commandment) if they are missed]. According to the Rambam, whether it is a weekday or Shabbos, once the Mohel removed his hand (finished performing the act of cutting) he is not allowed to go back and cut off these extra pieces of skin which is a hidur( beautification) of the Mitzva (commandment) [to have cut these extra pieces off]. The Beis Halevi explains that the root of the argument is how to view the relationship of the performance of the Mitzva (commandment) and the beautification of the Mitzva. According to the rambam it is impossible to separate the two actions [of the actual Mitzva and the beautification]. Therefore, once the Mohel removes his hand from performing the Mitzva there is no way to connect the cutting of the extra skin that is not preventative of fulfilling the Mitzva to the main part of the Mitzva because the Mitzva was already completed. However, the Tur and the Rama would say as long as the Mitzva is still around (as is the case by Bris Milah) it is possible to perform a beautification of that Mitzva even though it is not in the same action of, and therefore has no connection to, the main part of the Mitzva. Therefore, (according to the Tur and Rama) one would perform the beautification of the Mitzva (aka cutting off the extra skin), during the week [but not on Shabbos] even if the Mohel already performed the main Mitzva but left some extra skin.

According to this explanation given by the Bais Halevi, the GRIZ (The laws of Chanukah) tries to explain the argument [between the Rambam and the Rama] by Ner Chanukah (Chanukah lighting).  He says that the Rambam and the Rama are just holding according to their own opinions [spelled out by Bris Milah). The Rambam holds that it is impossible to separate between the performance of the main part of the Mitzva and the performance of the beautification of the Mitzva. So, when it comes to the man of the house lighting the main part of the Mitzva is fulfilled with his lighting. Therefore, he is the one that must be lighting for everyone in order to fulfill the beautification of increasing the number of candles. According to this opinion (Rambam) we see that the main part of the Mitzva and the beautification are performed in one action. This is not the case by the Rama who holds that it is possible to separate between the performance of the Mitzva and the beautification of the Mitva. Therefore, [since the Rama allows for two separate actions] it is possible for every person in the house to light for themselves [to fulfill the beautification of the Mitzva]. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Keeping Ourselves Away From Bad Influences

In this week's Parsha, Vayigash, Yosef brings his family to the Land of Goshen. The odd occurence here is that he, seemingly, plots with his family to keep them in Goshen. As we will see, Yosef tells his brothers to tell Pharoh they are Shepards. If that is the truth and they are shepards, why does Yosef need to tell them to relate that information to Pharoh when he asks for it? The whole conversation reads like this (Breishis 46:31-34):
לא  וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל-אֶחָיו וְאֶל-בֵּית אָבִיו, אֶעֱלֶה וְאַגִּידָה לְפַרְעֹה; וְאֹמְרָה אֵלָיו, אַחַי וּבֵית-אָבִי אֲשֶׁר בְּאֶרֶץ-כְּנַעַן בָּאוּ אֵלָי. 31 And Joseph said unto his brethren, and unto his father's house: 'I will go up, and tell Pharaoh, and will say unto him: My brethren, and my father's house, who were in the land of Canaan, are come unto me;
לב  וְהָאֲנָשִׁים רֹעֵי צֹאן, כִּי-אַנְשֵׁי מִקְנֶה הָיוּ; וְצֹאנָם וּבְקָרָם וְכָל-אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם, הֵבִיאוּ. 32 and the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of cattle; and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have.
לג  וְהָיָה, כִּי-יִקְרָא לָכֶם פַּרְעֹה; וְאָמַר, מַה-מַּעֲשֵׂיכֶם. 33 And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say: What is your occupation?
לד  וַאֲמַרְתֶּם, אַנְשֵׁי מִקְנֶה הָיוּ עֲבָדֶיךָ מִנְּעוּרֵינוּ וְעַד-עַתָּה--גַּם-אֲנַחְנוּ, גַּם-אֲבֹתֵינוּ:  בַּעֲבוּר, תֵּשְׁבוּ בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן, כִּי-תוֹעֲבַת מִצְרַיִם, כָּל-רֹעֵה צֹאן. 34 that ye shall say: Thy servants have been keepers of cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and our fathers; that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.'

The verses here seem to indicate that Yosef is telling the brothers that he is going to lie about something. If the entire family was really keepers of cattle then why does Yosef need to tell them to tell Pharoh this? It seems like Yosef is doing this specifically so they can live in Goshen which is away from the Egyptians. Obviously, this is far away from the Egyptians because they consider people who keep cattle to be disgusting (probably because the Egyptians worshiped cattle).

The Ralbag even tells us that there are three reasons why Yosef wanted his family living in Goshen. First, because it is a land that is good for grazing and it is very nice. Second, it is the choicest of all the land of Egypt. Finally, Yosef did not want his family to be spread out in the land of Egypt. The Ralbag goes on to say that if the Jewish people were spread out in the land of Egypt they would be ridiculed for their way of life. However, if they stayed together in Goshen, where they would be the majority, then they would not be bothered.

With this idea in mind, I think it is quite clear what Yosef was doing. There were, most probably, people in Yaakov's family that were not shepards. That is why Yosef wanted them all to claim they were shepards, so Pharoh would not protest and, therefore, he would allow all of Yaakov's family to live in Goshen. This would allow all the Jewish people to live in one place and avoid the bad influences of the Egyptians. The Jewish people would avoid assimilation because they would be far removed from the rest of Egypt.

Obviously, the Jews were not the only people in Goshen, because it was already a small city (as the Ralbag points out). However, it was important for Yosef to minimize the influence of the Egyptians on the Jewish people. I think this is an important lesson for us to learn nowadays as well. It is important to live in a Jewish community where outside influences only have minimal impact. If a Jew goes off to a place with a very minimal Jewish community then they will be influenced much more by inappropriate ideologies than if they were surrounded by Torah Jews.

This is not to say that a Jew should cut themselves off either. However, if we look at the case of Yosef we can learn when it is appropriate to protect yourself from outside influences. The Egyptian culture was full of idol worship and licentiousness. The Jews needed to keep their distance in order to protect themselves from these inappropriate ideas. The Jews did still do business with the Egyptians and other things, but their cultures were separate. This is why the Midrash tells us that the Jews did not change their dress, language or names, among other things, because their cultures were separate.

Jews need to be able to retain their culture and their religion. The best way to do this is to do what Yosef did. Make sure that the Jewish community is strong and tightly knit. That does not mean that we can't converse with other cultures, perform business with them, or even be friends. What it does mean is that we need to make it that those who are closest to us are from our culture and religion. I think that is the message we can learn from Yosef, we need to create tightly knit Jewish communities if we are going to protect our religion and our culture. Also, the only way to truly fight detrimental influences is to keep them at arms length. That does not mean ignoring them completely, like some Jewish communities do, (for that is detrimental as well) but we must realize the differences in our values and our ways of life.