Letters April 2007
The Sole Soul I
Reader: Consider the issue of the recent discourse regarding the superiority of the Jewish soul. There are many p’rushim from respected chachamim that support this concept, yet your position (and that of Rabbi Zucker in the latest issue) is diametrically opposed and is presented as incontrovertible, as if anyone who believes otherwise cannot call themselves an Orthodox Jew. I know that many times you are defending a position you’ve taken. This is where the “attitude” seems to come out more so than at other times. I’m just suggesting that maybe you should read aloud what you are writing; sometimes we write in a different tone than if the same thoughts were conveyed verbally. Just a bit of constructive criticism.
Mesora: Your input is appreciated. But you will find that anyone of the Rabbis will speak this way. Ibn Ezra calls certain people “empty brained” when stressing utterly foolish ideas. The Haggadah states that one must “blunt the teeth” of the wicked son. And Maimonides teaches that a wise man that does not respond and take revenge like a snake (meaning harshly or venomously) is not considered wise.
The lesson: attitude itself conveys the teacher’s passion, and awakens the listener to attend appropriately. It teaches his student how much he cares about a given point. Unfortunately, today’s leaders are weak, and this is why many Jews fall from the fold. The students seek passion and meaning in life, but their rabbis are nonchalant about Torah, so the student seeks passion somewhere else...perhaps Christianity. But had their teachers been as passionate as the original Rabbis and Sages, I guarantee you many non-religious Jews would be religious.
But primarily, when one sees an idea as clearly true, it is a joy. And one naturally and rightfully expresses this new insight with vigor and passion. Opposing baseless ideas must be honesty addressed as such. So yes, all other ideas are seen as false, and are described patently as false, when one sees clearly an idea rooted in truth. This explains why the Rabbis and Sages spoke with such force, and were never lethargic, since Torah truths excite the mind, and speech.
Reader: Fair enough. Now for a question regarding the non-superior nature of the Jewish soul. If some of the great rabbis of today and history claim as such, and I am afraid I don’t have a source at the moment, based on their exegesis, how do we balance your position against theirs? I personally don’t believe in the “Jewish spark” in a convert’s soul, simply for the reason that Avraham Avinu was not a “Jew” at the time he had his realization of the transcendent nature of a single deity. In terms of Jew by birth, we are Jewish by dint of our mother’s Jewishness. But, along these lines, there may be something inherently different (and, quite possibly one could say superior) in a soul that is capable of directing itself and its host body on the path of Torah, as opposed to one that is inherently opposed to or incapable of this. This would explain the differences between Avraham and his contemporaries, Yitzchak and Yishmael, Yaakov and Esav, Jews and non-Jews. Maybe souls such as these naturally gravitate to Jewish families, but sometimes are also drawn to non-Jewish as part of Hashem’s plan for the universe. This would explain the convert, as well as righteous gentiles.
Mesora: You write that there are souls which are “inherently opposed to or incapable” of living the proper life. But here is the flaw with this view: it renders God unjust, having created certain souls incapable of His plan that “All sons of flesh call His name” which you recite daily in Alenu. Therefore, we reject this view with both hands, and I do mean to say that there are no other acceptable views. This view violates reason, and God’s just nature, and the words of the prophets. On all counts, Judaism finds the “superior soul” theory baseless, arrogant, and abhorrent. It also matters none how many “great rabbis” today claim otherwise. We follow Torah and God, not Rabbis who conflict with His view.
The Sole Soul II
Reader: Dear Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim, Thank you for your articles on the Jewish Soul. I am not Jewish though had very close Jewish friends growing up and married a Jewish man. We raised our children with a wonderful Jewish upbringing, usually having study groups out of our home as we lived in the country. Due to your article I now understand why my son was never counted as minyan nor asked to carry the Torah scroll, as I am a non-Jew and never had an orthodox conversion. Is my soul really looked at as coming from a Satanic sphere as I have read in a chassidic quote?
Mesora: Your soul is no different than mine. We all descend from Adam and Eve. God never reinvented the soul. And when He formed the Jews, it was not a change in our spiritual substance, but a mere designation and purpose that He commanded. Since man has never changed since Creation, all human beings share the same design. The difference is that the Jew has been commanded in accurately transmitting God’s Torah, something the book you read has failed to accomplish since it is a fabrication based in human arrogance.