Letters April 2007
Aurora: Can you please explain to me what is the right approach about “misfortune” or accidents? Do we have always to search for the motive? Is God’s Punishment and Reward system always in action? Could it be unjust to believe there is always a personal responsibility for our misfortunes? Do parent’s wrong notions invite afflictions to their child? We are sinners; we can always find a valid cause for any misfortune. Is it not very probable we will err in our conclusions? Who has the authority to make such assessments, to determine if our misfortunes are Divinely meted out, or our own doings?
Thanks for your time,
Mesora: In his Guide for the Perplexed; Book III, chap. XI, XII, Maimonides teaches that most misfortunes are self-inflicted. You should read both chapters. For example, associating with immoral people will undoubtedly bring us harm; living on mountain sides endanger us to mudslides; and eating poorly causes sickness. God does not decree these misfortunes, not in the sense that He targeted any individual, although He did create all the laws that operate. So we are wise to study His constantly, operating laws, and forecast proper measures, and avoid harm. It is solely our fault if we are foolish.
Parenthetically, this is an important lesson for those who still carry on with idolatrous practices within the Jewish community: I refer to the belief in “segulas” or magical cures not found in the Torah. It is unfortunate that many Jewish leaders do not reprimand this behavior and educate their communities on the foolishness of such behaviors and beliefs. God created “laws” which means He wishes that we study the nature of the world, since He upholds these laws always. He desires that we understand what can harm us, and then avoid it, since it “always” will behave this way. God thereby teaches us that we must live by the natural laws we observe. This must lead a rational person to discount any claims which nature does not display. So those who bake keys in challas, or feel that separating the dough will somehow bring fertility or any other imagined good, violates God’s lessons of natural law. In these idolatrous practices, man is assuming an outcome, which has no causal relationship to the “cause”. Such individuals contradict themselves by eating; maybe they will live without food! Or maybe they will find money for their rent without working. If we follow cause and effect and reason in other areas, we must not deviate in more important areas, like our adherence to God’s Torah, which speaks against these segulas.
God will not punish a child for the other’s sins. “Fathers are not killed for their sons, and sons are not killed for their fathers: a man in his own sin will be killed”. But if the child is less than 13 years, he has not earned “merit” since free will is not yet operating. In this case, the Rabbis teach God may punish the parent by killing the child. God has rights over all life, until the person has a claim one using free will. So past 13, the individual has sins and merits and God cannot ignore his merit.
How shall we approach misfortunes? The Talmud states that when problems occur, we should examine our ways, and if we are not erring, perhaps our neglect from Torah study is what causes us to deserve affliction. Now, affliction can be understood in two reasonable ways: 1) ignoring Torah, we make poor decisions and misuse the world, like overeating. So we pay the price…naturally; 2) God punishes us. Although without an outright miracle, one has no right or evidence to suggest that a given misfortune is from God, we may nonetheless examine ourselves, perhaps it is from God, and perhaps we can learn a great lesson and repent. As Rashi states there, afflictions will cause us to return to increased Torah study. Perhaps, by seeking understanding for the affliction, we will be forced to review what the Torah might say on this…which is itself an act of study! A clever response by Rashi.
But if we are not erring in any manner, and we are following God, and we are not neglecting our duty to study God, His Torah, and nature…and yet, we find ourselves suffering misfortunes, then we are wise to examine a path out of the problem, which is usually easy to detect. We most probably fell into poor circumstances due to some form of ignorance. If for example, we examine all employees before accepting a job, we could avoid that one employee who is aggressive towards us, and ruins our day. Or, we can talk to management to correct the employee, or request a transfer. If we are ill, we can eat better, and exercise. If we are not earning enough, we can slowly take classes earning a higher degree; and we can talk to community members, family and friends about other work possibilities. And if we found ourselves in an argument with another, perhaps we were wrong to take issue with something inconsequential which aroused his anger.
But we must find confidence in the fact that God takes care of all those who follow His path. The Ashray prayer recited 3 time daily states, “The will of those who fear Him, He will perform, and their cries He will hear an save them.” We must pray as an essential component to our plan. But prayer alone is insufficient, if we have the means to escape harm, but don’t act. God demands we use reason. We must also examine our ways to unveil what personality trait caused our heartache, and take measures to permanently abandon such behavior. The very knowledge that we hurt ourselves with this behavior should be sufficient to eliminate such poor actions.
In the Guide, Maimonides states:
“We, however, believe that all these human affairs are managed with justice; far be it from God to do wrong, to punish any one unless the punishment is necessary and merited. It is distinctly stated in the Law, that all is done in accordance with justice; and the words of our Sages generally express the same idea. They clearly say: “There is no death without sin, no sufferings without transgression.” (Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath, 55a.) Again, “The deserts of man are meted out to him in the same measure which he himself employs.” (Mish. Sotah, i. 7.)”
Maimonides teaches that when God acts, it is with perfect justice. The world too is a creation of God, and therefore, it must work in a perfect fashion. This means that if we live rationally, inline with natural laws, we can avoid almost all obstacles. And if we are righteous, God will address obstacles we cannot avoid. It is therefore wise that we examine our current actions to determine if we are headed towards disaster or lesser problems…and make changes. And we must review our values and actions to make certain we are following God’s Torah. Otherwise, we do not merit His intervention.
Reader: Dear Rabbi, I hope all is well. I’ve been enjoying your articles and hope you continue to teach us with your newsletter. I have been studying as much as possible and I’ve come to a question that I keep getting in my mind while studying and talking with my Teacher and friends. I hope it’s clear and that you can help me out.
In Torah there are, what seems like, two parts to which G-d “wished” for us to address and develop during our lifetime: 1) Our relationship to Him, and 2) Our relationships with each other.
My question(s) is/are the following: Was the Torah of G-d to Moses given with the goal of causing social improvement? Or, is that only the outcome that happens when we follow Torah by first developing a better relationship with Hashem, which would yield a corrected society?
I ask because when looking at other religions, that have tried to base their connection to Abraham/Moses, deviating from a truer connection with G-d; thus yielding a lack of balance on “faith” and responsibility. I’m not questioning the issue that if one follows the mitzvot, the truly seeking individual, can yield a connection or be led to Hashem. Those who do are those who have come to understand the connection to the Divine within the mitzvot (I’m including the sheva mitzvot here).
I could be wrong on this; therefore, I would like to know if I am or not, and why.
When I read of Abraham and Moses (written/oral), it seems they first and foremost developed a relationship with G-d, which begat the later relationships with those around them. Abraham was from deductive reasoning and later G-d’s revelation. While Moses, was made known beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Thanks for your time and Shalom,
Mesora: You are asking if the Torah targets morality as a goal or if it is simply an accidental result of forging a relationship with God. Maimonides addresses this in his final word of his Guide for the Perplexed. He explains that our knowledge of God and His ways (righteousness, justice, charity) must be mimicked by us. The reason is that human action is the barometer of conviction. If what we learn is not applied in our actions, we thereby display a lack of conviction, since all human conviction must lead to action. Perhaps God’s wisdom determined that man be given to the world of action, so he can witness what he does, and does not do. When we see ourselves inactive in connection with charity, we can no longer deny our miserliness. And when we hear ourselves degrading another, we cannot feel so pious, having said such disgusting words. Yes, our objective is love of God, and to constantly engage in understanding His Torah. But if our actions fall short, then how convinced are we of what we learned? What merit is there if we study, but it is all theoretical? It matters none if we say we agree with a theory, if we cannot prove it, or we do not support it with actions. Our only merit is when we each arrive at conviction, as God deemed we do by granting “each” of us the faculty or reason and proof.
So my answer is that morality is not merely a result of a relationship with God, the higher goal, but it is a goal to be worked at for itself. As thinking and emotional beings, we must address both: with thought we understand more about God; through actions, we demonstrate a conviction in those thoughts and values. And part of conviction, is to realize where our emotions fall short, preventing us from acting, and making real changes in our values until they form part of our actions. Only then can we say such a person is convinced of his thoughts. By loving our brother as God loves him, we arrive at the correct relationship man must have with others. The only correct morality is that displayed by God.
I will include Maimonides words below so you may study them.
“Having stated the sublime ideas contained in that Scriptural passage, and quoted the explanation of our Sages, we will now complete what the remainder of that passage teaches us. The prophet does not content himself with explaining that the knowledge of God is the highest kind of perfection: for if this only had been his intention, he would have said, “But in this let him who glorieth glory, that he understandeth and knoweth me”, and would have stopped there; or he would have said, “that he understandeth and knoweth me that I am One", or, "that I have not any likeness”, or, "that there is none like me", or a similar phrase. He says, however, that man can only glory in the knowledge of God and in the knowledge of His ways and attributes, which are His actions, as we have shown (Part 1. liv.) in expounding the passage, "Show me now thy ways" (Exod. xxxviii. 13). We are thus told in this passage that the Divine acts which ought to be known, and ought to serve as a guide for our actions, are, chesed: "loving-kindness", mishpat: "judgment," and zedakah: "righteousness." Another very important lesson is taught by the additional phrase," in the earth." It implies a fundamental principle of the Law: it rejects the theory of those who boldly assert that God's providence does not extend below the sphere of the moon, and that the earth with its contents is abandoned, that "the Lord hath forsaken the earth" (Ez. viii. 12). It teaches, as has been taught by the greatest of all wise men in the words, “The earth is the Lord's" (Exod. ix. 29), that His providence extends to the earth in accordance with its nature, in the same manner as it controls the heavens in accordance with their nature. This is expressed in the words, “That I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth”. The prophet thus, in conclusion, says, “For in these things I delight, saith the Lord”, i.e., My object [in saying this] is that you shall practice loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. In a similar manner we have shown (Part I. liv.) that the object of the enumeration of God's thirteen attributes is the lesson that we should acquire similar attributes and act accordingly. The object of the above passage is therefore to declare, that the perfection, in which man can truly glory, is attained by him when he has acquired-as far as this is possible for man-the knowledge of God, the knowledge of His Providence, and of the manner in which it influences His creatures in their production and continued existence. Having acquired this knowledge he will then be determined always to seek loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, and thus to imitate the ways of God. We have explained this many times in this treatise.”
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Reader: I have a question for you: if Jesus did fulfill the prophecies of the coming messiah, according to your standards, what would that make Jesus? Does it make him just a messiah, or is the messiah to come considered G-d? What will the messiah-to-come be considered: G-d or man?
On your website, I believe you are very disrespectful of the Christian view. Although you might not believe it, you do not have to portray it as a religion for mindless idiots. I am not an idiot, I have done much study and research to learn more about G-d, and I am hungry for more knowledge. Please answer my question and consider doing Christianity a little more justice. The simplicity you put into your explanation of Christianity vs. the in depth explanation of Judaism is not only unfair, but it portrays your site as very uninformed. When the average reader sees that, if they are Jewish and they have half a brain, they themselves would only agree if they have never studied, or if they have a blind faith in Judaism. Don't you see that that same blind faith that you criticize us for is ironically shown in your writer’s ignorance of the Christian faith. A blind faith is one that is unwilling to look outside its own beliefs, and that is exactly what you have done.
Mesora: Messiah is not God; that is heresy. The Bible clearly states, “God is not man that he should lie, nor the so of man, that He repents…” (Num. 23:19) You have not studied the Bible well enough. This point is not disputed by any Torah reader. God cannot be, that which He created. So I feel it is you who is ignorant here.
I will also add that a book written by man cannot possibly have the same depth as a book written by God. This is why we expound Judaism – God’s book – more than we expound Christianity.
I also take issue with you claim that man should “respect a religion”. We must respect “men”, but a false system with no proof of Divine origin, that claims it is Divine, must not only be not respected, but seekers of truth must teach against it, clearly demonstrating its severe lies. Honesty demands that we respect truth, and unveil lies of other religions so as to prevent others from being misled. It would be an evil if I were to respect Christianity, for this would deceive others that there is something to respect in this religion. I would be doing a grave injustice. My role as a Jew demands that I assist all men and women to find the truth, which at times requires arguments against all other religions with baseless claims of Divine origin.
I will not “do Christianity Justice” as you suggest, for this religion has only brought harm and lies to mankind. It is idolatrous, the worst sin. The Bible says not to make any “graven image of any form in heaven, earth, or in the waters”, yet…statues of Jesus, Mary and saints populate every corner of God’s Earth. Crusades murdered countless innocent lives. Christianity teaches against God’s words that man dies for his own sins, by suggesting Jesus died for others. And you actually suggested that God can be Man…yet the Bible denounces this. Christianity denies God’s words at every turn. So why do you seek to defend lies?
I have studied Christianly…it’s four versions of what happened to Jesus…four “contradicting” Gospels. What more proof is required to realize that the New Testament’s stories are lies, with no connection to actual facts? I have read it’s deifications of man; and I am confident others will see this is well. And I have seen an abundance of plagiarism from the Torah. Compare the Torah’s words to Christianity’s plagiarism:
The Torah says in Exodus, 4:19:
“God said to Moses in Midyan, go, return to Egypt, for there have died all the men that sought your life.”
The New Testament says in Matthew 2:20:
“Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”
The Torah says in Exodus 1:16:
“And (the king of Egypt) said, “when the Hebrew women give birth, and look upon the stone, if it is a son, kill him, and if it is a daughter, let it live.”
The New Testament says in Matthew 2:16:
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under...”
In both statements above Christianity attempts to equate Jesus to Moses by distorting the truth and provoking the emotion of pity. Christianity continuously portrays Jesus as the victim to foster identification and more adherents. Just like Pharaoh threatened Moses, the story constructed in the New Testament makes Jesus the victim of King Herod. Coincidentally, the events at the time of Jesus’ birth were conveniently fabricated to mimic a similar threat, which had taken place during the time of Moses’ birth. The reader of the New Testament feels pity and compassion for Jesus in the name of plagiarism. The goal of the New Testament is to equate the statures of Jesus and Moses, which is absolutely impossible. In so many statements contained the New Testament, if read carefully, one will find authentic, Torah accounts plagiarized with slight changes, replacing true Torah personalities with Jesus.
Plagiarism is also seen clearly in the first quote; just as Moses was threatened and then afterwards informed to return as all those seeking his life are dead, the New Testament again attempts to plagiarize a known story of Moses and transpose it onto Jesus. For the very goal of engendering pity as a tool for identification with Jesus, Christianity adopted the symbol of the Cross. The Cross’ unanimous acceptance as a central icon of their religion displays how correct the developers of Christianity were that pity is a sure-fire lure to attract adherents.
A most obvious plagiarism describes the sale of Jesus by one of the 12 disciples for 30 pieces of silver. It is almost identical to the sale of Joseph by one of his 12 brothers for 20 pieces of silver in the Torah. Compare:
“And there passed by Midianite men, traders, and they drew him and lifted him (Joseph) out of the pit and they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for 20 pieces of silver and they brought Joseph to Egypt.”
“14. Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15. and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.”
Christianity uses another statement from the Torah and distorts it in order to evoke empathy and identification with Jesus who is again being portrayed as the “victim.” Yet, the goal of Christianity is to raise Jesus to a leadership role. The downtrodden Jesus becomes a great leader as Joseph, whom his brothers sold would eventually become a great leader. Christianity found many ways to distort the Divine Word of God in order to gain mass acceptance and many followers.
Do not feel you must follow Christianity simply because you were raised in it. Just as you use your mind to make other decisions in your life, use you mind to determine whether Christianity possesses any proof, as does Judaism, or any other rational science. God gave you a mind to use, not to ignore. You must also not confuse our disgust with a religion, with its followers. No animosity must exist for a human, unless of course such a human lives against God. But those raised in false religions require guidance, and this is the obligation of the Jew. We do not proselytize, but rather, make answers available for those seeking them. We do not demand conversion by the sword, rather, assist the genuine convert.
God said, “From a false matter, distance yourself…” How then can we speak as if we respect Christianity, when it violates God’s words? We cannot respect fallacy, for this would be denying God.
 Deut. 24:16
 Berachos 5a
 Psalms 145:19
 Book III, chap. XVII
 Exod. 20:4
 Deut. 24:16
 Exod. 23:7