Letters Dec. 2011
God Doesn't Follow His Own Laws!
Reader: Hello Rabbi,
My question is stems from a question that a Christian asked. I know how to answer but I'm not sure how to word it so the point is clear. God forbids human sacrifice but does that also mean God forbids it of Himself? The same with murder. Murder is forbidden but God has struck men down.
Rabbi: God's commands for humans are to perfect them, since humans act from flawed emotions and poor notions. Therefore, as a man might kill for wrong reasons, he is commanded not to. But man is commanded to kill for proper reasons, like punishing murderers. Killing is acceptable, under the right considerations.
In contrast, God has no corrupting emotions, and He is omniscient, "All of His ways are perfect (Deut. 32:4)." Therefore, as all of God's acts are perfect, whenever He kills, it is for a proper purpose.
Jewish Souls: Are They Superior?
David: Hi Moshe, You wrote to me that "all Torah sources show that gentiles and Jews are equal in "design".....No one has a "better soul". Can you please point me to some of these sources? Where this is in the Bible, exactly? And elsewhere? Even AISH seems to push that Jews are superior: http://www.aish.com/tp/i/ky/48952261.html
Rabbi: David, here are a few articles I wrote over the years:
The Aish article does not say that Jews possess superior souls. It does not say people are different. It merely discusses the need to respect authority, so we might come to respect God.
The conclusive response is that we see God spoke with Abraham, a gentile. Thus, one need not live after the Torah was given (and be a Jew) and follow Torah, in order to be a superior person. Who can compare to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses? These individuals were of the same lineage as every other person on Earth: Noah's offspring. Yet, these few men perfected themselves, to the point that they received prophecy. No one today is a prophet; not one Jew. Yet, these gentile were prophets. Thereby, we learn that gentiles do not lack anything when compared to Jews or others. All men are created equal. There is no such thing as a "Jewish soul" or a "non-Jewish soul". This is found nowhere in Torah. It is an arrogance some Jews utter to soothe their egos which also breeds anti-Semitism. If one born to Jewish parents sins greatly, he can lose his afterlife and departs from Israel's lot. (Maimonides states this after writing his 13th Principle.) While a person born to Christian parents who selects to follow Torah will join in Israel's portion of Olam Haba. So it does not matter how we are born. What matters is how we have lived. Ruth was born a Moabite, and converted. Kings David and Solomon descended from her…as will the Messiah.
Is Asceticism the Torah's Way?
Lorne: Ethics of the Fathers states: "Such is the way of Torah: Bread with salt you shall eat, water in small measure you shall drink, and upon the ground you shall sleep; live a life of deprivation and toil in Torah. If so you do, "fortunate are you, and good is to you" (Psalms 128:2): fortunate are you in this world, and it is good to you in the World To Come."
The Vilna Gaon led an ascetic life. He interpreted literally the words of the Jewish sages, that the Torah can be acquired only by abandoning all pleasures and by cheerfully accepting suffering; and as he lived up to this principle, he was revered by his countrymen as a saint. Is this the general Torah view on these conditions? I thought otherwise.
Rabbi: Perhaps Maimondes' rejection of asceticism (Hilchos Dayos 3:1) is when it is performed as an ends, like monks. Such deprivation has no purpose, and rightfully called a sin.
But when deprivation is to direct all one's energies (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:6) to obtain the Kesser Torah, the "Crown of Torah", this is praised. In this case, one is not abstaining from regular human enjoyments per se, but it the result of being totally focused on Torah study and performance. Many great minds from Newton to Einstein were known as having spent weeks at a time working on theories, eating and sleeping only when in dire need. After tending to their physical needs to restore their energies, they returned to studying creation. Exactly like the Vilna Gaon.
Reader: I've been studying a well written English guide to Kabbala, "Inner Space" by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. R. Kaplan explains the concepts of the partzufim and sefiros. At one point R. Kaplan describes the Sefiros as filters or garments for Hashem's light. In another section R. Kaplan goes on to explain how the Partzufim (Abba, Ema, Zeer, etc.) have faces and beards (Dikna), they have sexual relations, they get pregnant, and are brother and sister. On p.101 he says "there seems to be a fine line between Judaism and idolatry...why is praying to God through these Names (Sefiros-Partzufim) not only permitted but is an essential part of the Kabbalistic system...". Then R. Kaplan quotes Pardes Rimonim which seems to say that the Kabbalist's prayers are associated with Sefirot, but their kavanah is supposed to be on the Ein Sof.
This raises two questions in my mind. I have studied the Tohar HaYichud essay on your website, which addresses my first question somewhat:
1. How can these "Partzufim" not be considered some type of polytheism (idolatry)? Do we have any Ashkenazi Gadolim who would hold they are polytheism?
2. Is it possible that Kabbalastic ideas have corrupted the ideology of the Hareidim, resulting in some of the contemporary problems we see in the Hareidi world?
Your thoughts on this would be appreciated.
Rabbi: This idea of partzufim and sefirot is heretical, as you stated. I never saw a Rishon or Ashkenazi Gadolim talk of them. And of course, nonsensical ideas will corrupt others. But the mere ideas themselves are heretical, as they attribute physical properties to God.
Reader: I have been reading some Chassidic writings and one of the ideas I found is this: as a Jew progresses to a higher level, he suffers a fall, the sort of which is determined by heaven, and that the new level is closer to the gates of Holiness or closer to Hashem. Do you know if this idea is in Talmud or other authoritative Jewish writings?
Rabbi: "For those who God loves, does He rebuke (Proverbs 3:12)." Meaning, God offers rebuke – opportunities for perfection – to only those who will use such opportunities to grow. Such people are termed "those who God loves". He loves them, since they are striving to love Him. One view of Abraham's trial to sacrifice Isaac was to actualize his potential. This must have been an even greater trial for Isaac.(Ibn Ezra) But if one will not use such an opportunity, God will not offer it, since God does not perform futile acts.
When and where God rebukes man is not easily determined, since we cannot readily distinguish natural occurrences from God's intended opportunities. People today foolishly throw around the word "bashert" and "meant to be" when things go wrong, as if they know what God is doing. This is arrogant, and baseless. In fact, Maimonides teaches that most of the downfalls we suffer, are our own doing. (Guide)
Does God know our Thoughts?
Nate: How do we know that Hashem is all powerful, knowing our thoughts, "bochein levovos"?
Rabbi: Nate, the watchmaker knows all of the workings of the gears, coils, springs and their actions and results, as he created every part of the watch. So too, God knows all aspects of all His creations. He also created man's ability to think, so He knows man's thoughts...every man's thoughts.
And while this is an overwhelming idea to accept, since how could we keep track of billions of humans and their thoughts...we must not assume God is overwhelmed. We know this, since He created every soul. If He can create billions of souls, He knows them and their thoughts. So we learn two principles: 1) The Creator knows His creations, 2) The Creator is not weak or subject to forgetting.