Letters April III
Reader: Shalom. I wish to understand better about the Jewish soul theory, since this idea can be found in most of Jewish Literature published today, and also in most Jewish web sites. In the article below, Rabbi Xxxxxxxxx from Chabad.org answers this, and his explanations “seems” logical. Titling it “Multiplicity from HaShem’s Unity”, Rabbi Xxxx says if God wants Absolute Unity, He should not have created the world like He did - in multiplicity. As far as I can see, is only you (the Mitnagdim) who don’t agree with this, and I want to know why. Please, if you can, tell me the sources so I will search about the bases of your opinions.
Thank you very much for your time,
Rabbi Xxxxxxxxx’ answer about Jewish soul theory:
“The idea that all souls are the same is one of the biggest mistakes of modern spirituality. We are so used to thinking that definitions create barriers and barriers cause hatred that we are convinced that to be spiritual means to have no borders. From a Kabbalistic perspective, this totally misses the point of existence. Before creation, G-d had unity. G-d was all there was; there were no borders, definitions or distinctions. If unchallenged unity is what G-d wants, He had it already. He would not have created the world.
Creation was an act of making borders. From unity came multiplicity. Ours is a world of divisions: body and soul, male and female; as well as the divisions of nations, families and individuals.
Why did G-d create multiplicity? Doesn’t that go against the oneness of G-d? No, it doesn’t. Because the deepest unity is unity found within diversity. If we are all the same, then unity is no big deal. So G-d gave us all particular souls, each with its unique and diverse characteristics. When each individual as an individual, and each nation from within its own culture and perspective, recognizes the same G-d, that is real unity.
In other words, a unity that is challenged by diversity yet emerges from that very diversity is an invincible unity. That is something G-d “couldn’t” have without a world like ours.
To blur the boundaries between nations, genders and individuals is to avoid facing the challenge, which lies at the very heart of God’s purpose in creation -- to find unity in our differences.
For the unity of humankind we need one G-d; but for G-d’s unity to be complete we need human diversity.
Jews should be Jews, non-Jews should be non-Jews, men should be men and women should be women. And every individual has to be himself. Only then can we learn from each other the wisdom that we ourselves lack.
The majesty of G-d is revealed when each individual and community connects with Him from his/her/their unique vantage point. There is a contribution that only you can make to G-d’s master plan. That’s why you were born as you are -- a Jew, a male, and the other distinctive spiritual characteristics that make you.
Mesora: Rabbi Xxxx makes many errors. He first states, “If we are all the same, then unity is no big deal”, and, “Jews should be Jews, non-Jews should be non-Jews”. The Rabbi fails to note that we all descend from Adam and Eve. We all share the exact same design. God’s original plan was that all mankind follow the exact same system. It was only due to Abraham’s perfection – not a change in human design – that God gave his descendants the Torah system. Only Abraham’s descendants would adhere to those monotheistic values. And due to our identical design, God gave only one Torah, which even the convert will follow: “One Torah and one statute you shall have for yourselves, and the convert who dwells among you.” (Numb. 15:16, Exod. 12:49) In contrast, Rabbi Xxxx offers no Torah source. Therefore, his view is not a Torah view. Nor is his view reasonable. For if non-Jews are to remain as non-Jews, then he accuses Ruth and all other converts of violating God’s will. Yet...God selected her, her grandchildren King David, King Solomon and Moshiach to be leaders. A gentile most certainly gains more by becoming a Jew, although we do not seek to convert others.
His second error is the following statement: “That is something God ‘couldn’t’ have without a world like ours. For God’s unity to be complete, we need human diversity”. Rabbi Xxxx suggests God relies on human diversity to be a true unity. This imputes three heretical notions: 1) that God has needs, and 2) that God’s unity was not complete prior to the creation, and 3) that God experiences any change. The Prophet Malachi states, “I am God, I do not change.” (Mal. 3:6) This makes sense, since God is perfect so nothing affects Him. And any change in something must make it more or less perfect, both equally inadmissible to God. If we take care to study Maimonides Yesodei Hatorah (1:3), we read: “And if we would entertain the idea that nothing else would exist except for God, He alone would exist. And He would not be diminished due to their diminution. For all existences need Him. And He – Blessed be He – does not need them…not even one of them. Therefore His truth is unlike the truth of any of them [other existences].” Maimonides makes it clear that God does not depend on anything: Again Rabbi Xxxx offers no Torah source. Please forward to Rabbi Xxxx my words.
Reader: As you advised me, I asked about the Jewish Soul Theory to Orthodox Rabbis who agree with this, and sent to them your answer to this theme. Some of them, like a Rabbi from Chabad of the city of Salvador, Brazil, did not answer me, and then asked me if the Rabbi who does not agree with this theory (you) is a true Orthodox Rabbi...I answered “Yes, of Course!” I did not know that this issue cause so great rivalry among Jews.
Then Rabbi Xxxxxxxxxxxx, from Chabad.org, sent me an email with his answer to this theme. First he gave me a brief explanation about “God” and “Godliness”, saying that we must differentiate between one another, and then gave me a link from his web site with a text about the ARI, and his discoveries. That text in accordance with his answer, made me think that Judaism (in his view) accepts the Jewish soul theory as a kind of differentiation between Jews and gentiles, like between all humanity and animals as between all biological being and unanimated matter. I mean, not about superiority and inferiority, but simply “different” missions or goals.
Mesora: But this view that human souls are different from each other is not found in Torah. The Rabbi continuously suggests his ideas, or those of others, yet none are found in Torah. While the ideas I suggest are based in Torah verses, or in the words of Maimonides. Furthermore, there is reason in the Torah and Maimonides, and that is what an intelligent person should follow.
Reader: So I understood that God imputed different spiritual forces referred as “Godliness” in the created things to allow them to exist. As if to say, that God is not divided, but that what makes things exist is something spiritual, because the matter cannot come into being by itself, so God established “spark” of Spiritual forces or “Godliness” into all things, and that spiritual forces makes possible all matter.
Mesora: But God says that only in relation to man, does the spiritual exist: “In the image of God He created man.” (Gen. 1:27) Following God’s words, we learn that He created everything as physical substances. Only man possesses s spiritual element. So this theory of “sparks of spirituality” in anything but man is not what God said, nor does it make sense. Does it make sense to you that a pebble possesses some spiritual element? You have explained nothing with this statement. Is it permitted to destroy the pebble? Is this Rabbi suggesting the pebble possesses a soul? Am I liable to death for destroying a piece of wood, or even an animal? The Torah clearly commands us to kill animals for sacrifice, food or leather, and to make use of the Earth’s resources as we wish. Therefore, it is meaningless to suggest any spirituality exists in anything else besides man. Again, the Rabbi is not based on any Torah sources, so these notions are all his own imaginations, with no connection to reality.
Reader: So I understood the Jewish Soul theory is talking about the spiritual force applied to the Jew to allow him to keep the Mitzvos...and the force into gentiles should be different because they must keep others laws or kind of laws.
Mesora: But now you must admit that since converts keep the identical Torah as Jews, that we are all created the same, with the identical soul. Rabbi Xxxx’ opinion is false. No change takes place when a convert becomes Jewish. In fact, the perfection of the convert takes place while he or she is “still a gentile”! That is when he or she realized God’s Torah as truth. To suggest, “the force into gentiles should be different” is a denial of the Torah system – and God – who demands equality between converts and Jews. We are to follow one Torah system. Thus, gentiles and Jews have the identical design.
Reader: I am sending you the Rabbi Xxxxxxxxxxxx’s words below. So please, if you did not know this text before, take time to read it. Once again, thank you to answer me about this very important theme of Jewish knowledge.
“Dear Alberto, It’s very important we distinguish between “God” and “that which is Godly” (Godliness). Let me explain Godliness: All of the creation is sustained by God’s will and wisdom. However, in our world, 99.99% of the time, it is in a very disguised and hidden fashion. Often it comes to the point that one of those beings continually sustained by Godly light will deny the very God that sustains it! How this is possible is beyond the scope of what I am writing here. The Kabbalah describes a process of “tzimtzum” or contraction of light in addition to concealment and encoding of the information that light carries--comparable perhaps to the way an email or an image might be encrypted and encoded when sent over the Internet. What is relevant to our issue is that in some instances that concealment does not occur. The signal may be weak, but the source of light shines through nonetheless. These are the instances within creation we call “kedusha” (holiness); instances that point to their Creator and communicate to us His will and wisdom: Torah, mitzvahs, the tzadikim and any person who is carrying out God’s will on earth. The doctrine of hidden sparks simply states that in fact, every creation must contain some glimmer of holiness--or else it could simply not exist. Our mission on earth is to reveal that spark within each thing. In many cases we do that by using it for a mitzvah. In other cases, that is not possible and the only way to reveal that spark is by withstanding the challenges this article of Creation may pose. Each spark has its particular path to be revealed which corresponds to the path of the soul that comes to earth to live in a human body and find that spark and reveal it.”
Mesora: These words correlate to nothing in Torah or in the observable world. The Rabbis speaks of sparks, yet he has not proved they exist, or what they are. He speaks of “concealment”, “weak signals”, “hidden sparks”, etc. These words tell me nothing about the universe: I have no idea what he speaks of, nor does the Rabbi understand what he says. If someone wishes to teach others truth, he must talk about what is real, and what is in existence…something that can be proved. Maimonides teaches in his Letter to Marseilles, that we are to accept as truth, either: 1) what we observe; 2) what reason demands must be so. Now, all the spark, concealments, et all that Rabbi Xxxxxxx suggest, are neither 1) observed, 2) proved by reason, nor 3) taught by the wise. He alone, or maybe others in his group speak such things.
Rabbi Xxxxxxx says, “the doctrine of hidden sparks simply states that in fact, every creation must contain some glimmer of holiness--or else it could simply not exist”. He first refers to this blind faith as a “doctrine”, which in fact, is no doctrine of Judaism. No authoritative Rabbi or source – such as Talmud, Mishna or Tanach – suggests this belief is Jewish doctrine. You must be careful not to fall prey to alluring phrases and false titles like “doctrines”. This falsely gives the sense that the Rabbi is communicating fundamental of Judaism…when in fact he is without any proof or support. Rabbi Xxxxxxx is no authority to determine what are the Doctrines of Judaism. Maimonides and other Rishonim and Tannaim already addressed that for us with intelligent words that make clear sense. (In fact, the Tannaim demanded that we do not like Rabbi Xxxx, that is, discuss what occurred prior to creation. See Tal. Chagiga 11b)
This theory Rabbi Xxxxxxx utters above in no way explains any observable or proven truth. These are words are meaningless…regardless of the emotional appeal the reader senses, assuming he now understands “deep matters”. The Rabbi says, “…every creation must contain some glimmer of holiness”. However, the Torah says only certain objects possess holiness, while all other do not. Objects and animals dedicated to Temple worship; the Temple, and its vessels, possess Kedusha, holiness. This means all else has no holiness. The Rabbi has no Torah source…and furthermore, the Torah actually refutes his position.
We must note, that such approaches echoed by Rabbi Xxxx and Xxxxxxx are bereft of any reasoning, or sources in Torah. They may feel Kabbalistic works support this view, but we do not accept such works if they contain incomprehensible statements. Written works on Kabbala (literally, “received” Torah transmissions) violate the edict not to commit oral transmissions to writing. Such writings, essentially, render it no longer “Kabbala”…a “verbal” transmission. Further, these works are not God’s words. And there is even a dispute as to the authorship of what people today refer to as Kabbala. So if we find Torah sources that contradict the above statements, we accept God’s Torah words over Kabbala, and we accept reason over incomprehensible, human writing. If in the Kabbala we found s statement that “an innocent person was hurt by God”, we would immediately and without hesitation dismiss it as a Torah violation. If Kabbala said, “2+2=5”, again we dismiss it since reason overrides falsehood. Calling an incomprehensible notion “Kabbala”, in no way makes sense out of that confusion. Calling something “Kabbala, poses no obligation on us to accept it. We have only to accept the Torah, Prophets, Writings, and Shulchan Aruch.
Please review the Torah sources I have presented throughout, and please recognize the absence of “any” Torah source from these Rabbis. They suggest notions, expecting you to accept them, simply because they are popular, or written in books. But God gave us reasoning, and our reason unveils these approaches as without Torah sources, and without intelligence. God desires that both Jew and Gentile recognize Torah as a wise and intelligent system, as it truly is. I offer one final Torah source: “And you shall guard them [the commands] and perform them, for they are your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations, who will hear all these statutes and say, “What a wise and understanding this great nation is.” (Deut. 4:6) Since the Rabbis words above offer no impression of intelligence, they cannot reflect God’s Torah at all.
Again, this last quote teaches that God equates other nations to the Jew, in that we can “equally” perceive Torah wisdom…Jews possess no superior soul. This also teaches that Torah must be based in reason, not incomprehensible beliefs. God gave man alone a spiritual element, unlike the Rabbi’s belief that all matter possesses a spiritual “spark”. Our Tzelem Elokim, our soul, can prove what is true, and what is false. God demands we engage this gifted faculty of reason to accept truths, and dispel fallacy. And through our resorting to the Torah’s words and use of reason, we have dispelled the notions you have been told, realizing them as an imposter Judaism.
God’s Torah system is comprised of hundreds of mitzvos, each one targeting some intelligent or moral perfection for men, women, and all mankind. These perfections are realized when we grasp the truths of righteousness, justice, charity, and all true ideas about God. The Torah system is not about talking in riddles where “concealment”, “weak signals”, “sparks”…and all other incomprehensible words parade as Judaism, and replace intelligent truths.
You must take care of your soul. Make certain you refuse to accept any idea unless it is found in the Torah, proved by reason, or observed by you. You have no obligation to accept as truth any idea, regardless of the transmitter. In fact, in His kindness, God did not design the human mind to reasonably accept that, which is not proven. So you will detect when an idea is rational and proven, and when a notion is baseless and does not correlate to what you know is reality.
Reader: In last week’s Torah portions (and this week), much time is spent on the details of leprosy and the leprous curse. We noted awhile back that the Torah also includes a huge amount of detail on the Tabernacle, and there are important implications of that. My question is the same around leprosy. Given all of the things that the Torah could focus on, are there some specific lessons or conclusions that we should draw from the fact that the written Torah goes into such great detail about leprosy in its various forms?
Mesora: Not an exact match to you question, but Rabbi Reuven Mann suggested the following: The “miracle” of leprosy as a response to tzaraas, as opposed to other sins resulting in miraculous punishments indicates something about evil speech: the cause of leprosy/tzaraas. All other instinctual involvements are limited: one can only eat so much or have so much sex...until he must stop due to pain or exhaustion. But speech can go on and on. Therefore, God causes another means of deterring one from over involvement in “this” sin: i.e., the leprosy miracle.
Reader: If I am visiting a home with Christians and having a meal with them, they may say a prayer or grace or blessing before the meal where they may ask that the food be blessed, and then they will end the blessing by saying something like, “ we pray these things in Jesus’ name, amen.” I understand that there may be (but I am not certain) a prohibition for a Noahide in eating food that has been offered to idols. Do you know if this is true, and if so, does eating food under the circumstances in the previous sentence constitute a violation, even though I’m sitting there being silent and not agreeing with their “prayer”? One citation that may be related to this - given in the footnotes to The Path Of The Righteous Gentile - is Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idolatry, Chapter 3, Law 4. I don’t have that volume, but thought you might.
Mesora: Although you are eating food he blessed, or asked the phantom Jesus to bless...the food is not an offering to idols, or to Jesus. If it were, then you’d have an issue. But it is not. That is what Rambam addressed in the law you quoted. You may enjoy his food.
Marc: I have a question in reference to the last JewishTimes article about everyone’s soul being equal. Didn’t the Jewish people die after God stated the first two commandments at Sinai, and He had to breathe life back into the people? Wouldn’t this somehow make the Jewish people or their souls different then the rest of mankind?
I also have this question from your section “Can God do anything?” You say that God can’t punish someone if they haven’t sinned but doesn’t He punish some people’s families for generations?
Mesora: The people did not die. Actually, they said, “Moses, you speak to us and we will listen; and let not God speak, perhaps we will die.” (Exod. 20:17) The Jews said “perhaps” we would die if we continue to hear God speak. And regarding punishments for generations, God only punishes for many generation…if those subsequent generations continue in the sins of their fathers: “…I remember the sin of the father on the children for the third and fourth generations, to those who hate Me”. (Exod. 20:5) God says He will remember and punish the children, only if they “hate Me”. But if they do not follow in their father’s sins, but follow God, God will not harm them at all, but will reward them. Judaism is a just and sensible system, since it is a creation of God who is just and follows reason.
Mesora: Yes, the sinner must make amends. But the “offended party” is being addressed here...not the sinner. And he that was offended should forgive all others since forgiveness is an act of perfection. When we forgive, even if not asked, we display humility, and this is one of the traits Maimonides states we should seek to emulate to the extreme. For with humility, we more fully accept God as the authority, and realize our place in the universe. We live in reality when humble, and when we demand apologies, it is indicative of a greater ego, which intervenes between God and us. I would also suggest, that perhaps with our forgiveness, we lighten the punishment of our offender, since punishment is given for two reasons: 1) because we offend someone, and 2) because we don’t repent. So by our forgiving of all others each night, we lessen the punishment of others. Yet, they still should approach us asking forgiveness for “their” perfection, and of course they must abandon their sinful ways.
Omphile: Regarding the blotting out of sins of the past, I seem to remember you mentioning something to the effect that not even mitzvot can wipe clean our past transgressions. Can you please clarify?
Mesora: Yes. As Rabbi Mann taught, Deuteronomy 10:17 states that God does not “take a bribe”. Sforno states:
“The punishment of a sin will not be removed at all due to the reward of a mitzvah that this sinner performed. As the Rabbis taught, ‘A mitzvah does not extinguish a sin’. And all this teaches that one should not be confident that if he sins, that his sin is removed at all…except by complete repentance.”
This makes sense. My mitzvah cannot remove an evil aspect of my personality. The only way I am forgiven for my sins is when I identify the cause of my sin, I recognize the error, and I abandon my poor behavior forever. Simply ignoring my flaws, even by occupying myself with many great mitzvahs, in no way removes my flaws. “Let us search and examine our ways and return to God”. (Lamentations, 3:40)
Omphile: Why is the author concerned about his thoughts of his heart finding favor with Hashem? Hashem doesn’t punish us for our thoughts…does He?
Reader: Thanks for your response in last weeks issue. I’d like to follow up if we can. Regarding the quote from the Rambam, isn’t it based on “after the fact” of developing a correct idea about God? Or, is it something that can be developed without first developing a correct idea about God?
My understanding is that, according to Rambam (Guide for the Perplexed), developing a correct idea about God comes first in order that we better understand why we need to act in the proper manner; which, you mentioned and quoted.
Mesora: This is correct. Without God, all our good intentions and our moral codes are of human origin, without targeting knowledge of God as their objective. They are of no value.
Reader: I ask because many religionists are, as you know, now becoming more receptive of Judaism. If they are to see the complete authority of the Torah/Tanakh, they must first deal with a correct idea about who or what God isn’t. If they don’t first come to this correction, is it still OK for them to live in their ways just because they are able to live according to following these attributes?
Mesora: If one’s idea of God is idolatrous, is entire life, and all “good” acts are of no value. The reason being, that this individual has failed to recognize the true Creator.
Reader: Many Christians, for example, do make it a point to live as righteously as possible, as with justice as they can, and are very charitable. Yet, the ideas about God by which they live by (in some circles) are far from being based on Torah. That is why I asked if Torah/Tanakh was only showing Israel how to live or socially improve; or, if it was for them to understand that they have to live this way because it is the way God wants them to live as well as all human beings.
Mesora: Yes, God desires all mankind to possess His truths.
Reader: I fully agree with your response in that we can’t just have knowledge of God; but we have to live in action of that knowledge. However, it seems as though correct ideas about God come first, as per the example of Abraham. If we are to emulate the way God governs in our lives, how can anyone do that if they don’t first get to “know” God by first developing a correct idea about Him? Otherwise, it seems, we would continue to see the lack of responsibility in the actions of people and the lack of understanding of those attributes and how it is what God “wants” in our lives.
Mesora: This is also correct. However, both pursuits – studying God and upholding His morality – are to be observed if we are to perfect ourselves. Without knowledge of God, we failed at life’s objective, since the primary Cause of all that exists has not been apprehended. And without adhering to God’s morality, we demonstrate a rift between our knowledge of God’s ways, and our conviction – in action.
Aurora: What does it mean to respect a person? We are not supposed to bow down or stand up before anyone but God, so how can we show respect without falling in idolatry? We can we show respect, while not feeling respect inside of us? It could be hypocrisy.
I think we feel respect for a person when we trust that person and we want to learn from that person, we want that person to do little physical exertion on our behalf, and when we want to protect that person.
When I feel respect for a person, I am some times afraid of that feeling. I don’t want this person to become more important to me than God and I don’t want to give to that person any power over me.
Is it important to show clearly the respect we have for others? Is the way we relate to a person we respect so important?
Mesora: Interesting question. As I read it, I first thought of the concept of honoring God’s creations, or I Hebrew, “Kavod haBryos”. This refers to treating others with dignity. We must insure the well being of others in many manners, and one is how we relate to their self-images, and personalities. Allowing another person to express their personality, even if it means we compromise ours, is an essential ingredient for a society to function well. For if we all demanded to be treated as we liked, then no one would accommodate others, and society would crumble. This principle is called “Maaveer al Middosav”, or, going against our own traits in connection with how we relate to others. We also respect others in proportion to their connection with God. We therefore stand for our teachers, leaders, and our parents. Charity, kindness, not stealing, and an array of other commands address human respect.
Respect is an activity which is much more important for us, than it is for others. For when we respect a person, we are in fact recognizing God’s will that he exists, or that he should be treated with kindness. In fact, all Torah commands have as their goal the true idea of God…in some fashion or another. So ‘our’ respect perfects our minds, whereas the respect we offer ‘others’, merely affects his emotions: man’s lower faculties. But this is tempered, as I mentioned, by the level of perfection of that person: for we must not be kind to murderers. Just the opposite, we are to give them the death sentence. But other religions will medically treat the ill Arafats of the world, and feel their “physician code” is of greater weight than God’s law. Their morality is blind to the bigger picture; of the innocents he will kill once healed.
Respect in no way leads to idolatry. No should you feel hypocritical. Rather, you should recognize the idea that God desires societies, so many humans are necessary, and that they should be happy. Your respect insures God’s will. And as long as you recognize God’s true role, I don’t think you will ever let any man obscure this perception, nor will you allow him or her to control your thoughts or actions.
The Torah teaches that Hashem punishes the wicked, and rewards the righteous. It does not say that challah baking or any other activity will help address our needs, as those practicing “segula” suggest.
When the Imahos were barren, they did not resort to segulas, but introspected and prayed. On Devarim 10:17 “Hashem does not take bribes”, Sforno says the following: “The punishment of a sin will not be removed at all due to the reward of a mitzvah that this sinner performed. As the Rabbis taught, ‘A mitzvah does not extinguish a sin’. And all this teaches that one should not be confident that if he sins, that his sin is removed at all…except by complete repentance.”
This makes sense. My mitzvah cannot remove an evil aspect of my personality. The only way I am forgiven for my sins is when I identify the cause of my sin, I recognize the error, and I abandon my poor behavior forever. Simply ignoring my flaws, even by occupying myself with many great mitzvahs, in no way removes my flaws. “Let us search and examine our ways and return to God”. (Megillas Eicha, 3:40)
In stark contrast, nothing in Torah supports segula, and these great Torah sources reject the idea of a segula. If we deserve a punishment, and we don’t address our shortcomings, baking challas with brachos cannot help.
Please help to remove false practices from Jewish culture, and instead, adhere meticulously to Hashem’s Torah...the Torah He said, “not to add to or subtract from”. Devarim, 4:2
Feel free to show this message to your Rav and others. It is time to use our minds.