Letters March 2006 II
Misrepresenting God’s Will
With all due respect to Rabbi Yitz Greenburg, his position on God’s validation of various religions for various peoples is preposterous and leaves contradictions, which cannot be resolved logically. First, perhaps a brief primer on basic history would be instructive. Torah was first given to mankind as a whole, serving as the single, Objective Truth and guide to perfection for God’s only intelligent creation. Gentiles, Buddhists, Muslims were not part of the equation, as they did not exist. There was man and there were the rest of the species. The objective truth of Torah can never change as logic would dictate, and as the Rambam elucidates in his “13 Principles”.
Once man had
demonstrated that he would follow his animalistic drives over any attempts
toward a semblance of any “good”, the world was destroyed, save Noah, his
immediate family and the animal species aboard the ark. Man then received the 7
Noahide Laws, which he again demonstrated he could not follow. Those laws are
still incumbent today and rightly serve as a basis to maintain a level of
compassion and order, without which, chaos would and does in places, ensue.
Taryag mitzvos and the exegeses of the Oral Law were eventually given only to
the nation of
Jews are to serve as a “light unto the nations”. Would such responsibility be truly necessary or incumbent upon us if God had intended a double standard for Jews and for the rest of the nations? Rabbi Greenburg seems to believe that God’s original intention of one objective truth for all of mankind, His creation, was somehow flawed and that God “changed his mind” and inspired various peoples of various nations toward subjective reinterpretations of what is best for man! I would assume that the rabbi is familiar with Rambam’s 9th Principle stating that the Torah will never be amended nor replaced with an alternative as many of us say in our Shacharis prayers.
I do not see any usefulness in his assertions. When did God create parallel universes or beings where the Truth is subjective within the parameters of each one? When did God change his position on idolatry, for example, and allow it for some of the myriad man made religions? Does the rabbi wish that Jews shirk our worldly responsibilities, disengaging from the rest of the world and cruelly deprive gentiles of our positive influence?
What’s next…validation of the diluted relativistic moralities of the Conservative and Reform?
Fulfilling God’s Will
Reader: I think we still have so much to discover about God’s design of the world, but I don’t think thoughts can influence another person’s life. If so much power to thoughts existed, we would not live a real life. I believe that thoughts can influence our “own” life but mainly because thoughts come before actions, and if we have good thoughts we will probably be more predisposed to do good actions.
If for example, my thoughts had an immediate influence in the lives of others, people who are loved will be very lucky and people who are hated would be very unlucky; but we don’t see these things happening in a regular basis. Anyway, I don’t think God wants someone else making things go well for us. God wants everybody to be responsible for his own life.
Giving power to thoughts can lead to idolatry. This is what I believe.
I would like to be free to make my own reasoning but I am afraid to err. You wrote in the JewishTimes two weeks ago, “man cannot initiate a relationship with God, unless God makes this relationship a reality, and does so first.” I want to know if it is OK according Judaism to talk to God freely as I do constantly, as if He were a loving father. Is it right?
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Words or thoughts cannot effect change except in the person, as you correctly stated. You most certainly should talk and pray to God.
I must thank you, since your question has exposed a flaw in my words, which I must respond to here. I feel my statement requires correction. When I wrote I the article “Menora: a Lesson in Subordination” (March 3rd JewishTimes) that God must initiate the relationship between Him and us, I meant in a general sense: that He allows mankind to relate to Him. I cited the cases where Menora was used to teach man that God allowed the rebuilding of the Second Temple, and the resuming of Temple worship during Channukah. I explained that God made His activities (miracle of Chanuka and the Menora vision) the initiation of man’s Temple worship, to teach that without His design of how we are to worship Him, we will err. We require education of what God is, but more specifically here, “how” to approach Him, without tripping into idolatry. God’s miracles of the oil during Channukah taught us that He was essential to our resuming of Temple worship. In what sense is he essential? In the sense that man must not think that e can automatically “relate” to God. God must first instruct us regarding what we can know about Him, and what are the actions that will lead us towards the true Creator, not some fantasy, as seen in all other religions. It is for this reason that our daily prayers commence with the “Baruch She-Amar” prayer, “Blessed is the One who spoke, and the world came to be.” We must first isolate the true concept of God: the Creator of the universe.
Man cannot suddenly relate to God with his imagined methods, as he does with the physical world. For man’s relationships are physical, whereas God is not. How then can man relate to He, of whom he knows nothing about? However, this is in a general sense, since we do find those like Abraham who on his own, and with no instruction, developed a true relationship with the Creator, so much so, that God spoke with him and guided his life. For the masses, we require God’s instruction for the true relationship with Him. But few people have been able to align themselves with truth to such a degree, that they brought themselves under God’s providence.
for anyone to relate to God, one must first obtain the correct notion of God,
to truly be talking to “Him”. What is your idea of God?
Reader: Even if I thought until now that my idea of God came from my original religious teachings, now, that I am trying to write it down, I am realizing that it’s not quite like that.
My idea of God is very personal; I have been talking to God all my life. I usually start my talking to Him by saying: “You know everything of me, you know me, I beg your pardon because I am so far away from perfection, I want you to be proud of me and I feel so unsatisfied but I will try to do better”. I continuously talk to Him during the day by saying, “thank God” whenever something good happens to me. Usually when something bad happens to me I ask pardon for all my sins, “I promise I will be a better person” (I make usually a specific promise) and then I ask God for help.
All the people that taught me how to pray, told me to pray to Jesus or to the Virgin Mary, but I would just pray to God; it came natural to me. I would never pray to Jesus; it seemed to me odd, I’ve always considered him a human being. I have never prayed to saints or nothing else besides God.
I think God is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. I know that what may be right for me may not be right for Him because He knows all the parameters, and I am captive of my emotions. I trust Him, but I beg Him to make me understand why some time some things happen. I don’t give Him explanations about my behavior because I know; He already knows what is in my heart. I just talk to Him because it is important to me to know He is there and that things have a sense, an order. When I talk to Him I become more acute and I am very honest to myself because I know He knows all.
Please can you tell me if God is aware of everything that is happening to each of us? Is He hearing us? Is my idea of God very different from that of Judaism?
I am not afraid of Him because I am convince He wishes me well but yet I know He can not interfere because there is a design and there are God’s laws.
I know He exists but I want to know Him, I want to know what He wants from me and How can I be sure He is pleased with me and my actions, I want to know the details, I want to know if He wants me to do much better. I was taught very general things, and in this complex world, I am very confused.
I feel in this moment that without God there is no sense to life, but I need to get close to God in a rational way. I don’t want to feel alone anymore.
Thanks for your time.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: You are correct that God is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, and that one must not pray to anything except for God. This is because He created everything, which teaches us that He is omnipotent. Praying to anything else, means praying to that which is not omnipotent, since there can be only one Omnipotent Being. You already stated that you admit of God’s omniscience, so I don’t understand your question, whether he knows everything. But yes, He knows all.
We must know that God is not physical in any way, He has no matter, size, parts, or form, as Moses told the Jews regarding God’s Revelation at Sinai, (Deut. 4:12) “And God spoke to you from inside the fire, a voice of words did you hear, and no form did you see, only a voice.” Studying the Torah, we will learn from the Rabbis’ explanation, what we can and cannot know in connection with God. We will also learn what is a proper act, and what is prohibited. We must view the Torah as an indispensable tool for our perfection, which you admirably pursue.
Whether we are Jewish or Gentile, there is only one God given system, and by following it, we will learn what God desires of us. The Talmud equates one with no Torah, to a sick being, and the Torah as the cure.
Find yourself a Rabbi locally, and if none are close by, move to a town where you can “become soiled in the dust of his feet [servicing him] and drink with thirst his words” as Rabbi Yosi teaches (Ethics 1:4), for through his Torah you will learn God’s will, and a true life. Observe the 7 Noachide Laws at a minimum, but take on what ever more laws you desire, for they will perfect you further. Through Torah study with an orthodox Rabbi, and through reading their writings, you will learn what God desires for mankind.
Feel free to email any further questions, as I am sure many others are thinking, what you are writing. For this reason, I include your words here so together, we learn, and together, we may teach others. Thank you.
Changing God’s Will
Reader: Recently I was discussing Parshas Ki Tisa with a group of friends. Some questions came up concerning the passage where Moshe prays that the people not be destroyed because of the Golden Calf. We are not Jews and have limited knowledge of the Torah and the Hebrew language, so hopefully you can help shed some light on this passage. It raises some questions regarding the nature of God and man’s relationship to Him.
One translation reads, “And God
repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people.” This makes it
sound like God did something wrong (or was about to) and needed to repent. But
idea cannot be correct. Another translation reads, “God reconsidered regarding the evil that He declared He would do to His people.” Why would He need to reconsider? Surely God already had knowledge of all the things that Moshe mentioned. Since Moshe was not presenting God with any information that He was not already aware of, then what need would there be for Him to reconsider? Is it possible for God to change His mind?
As I understand it, when a man
prays, God does not change, but the man changes. If this is so, then what
change occurred in Moshe to result in his prayer being successful? And how was
Moshe able to pray on behalf
of the Jews; wouldn’t they need to pray themselves? I hope I’m not asking too many questions (is that possible?) but generally I would like to know what is going on in this passage and what we can learn from it. Thank you,
– Joshua Plank
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: You are correct: God knows all, and Moses could not make any change in God. God said, “I am God, I do not change” (Malachi, 3:6) Nor is God like man that he should repent, “Not a man is God that He will lie, nor the son of man that He should repent; Shall He say, and do not? And shall He speak and not fulfill”. (Numbers, 23:19) So if God is unchangeable, how does Moses effectuate repentance for the Jews, certainly, when they did nothing?!
The answer comes from another quote: “And now leave Me, and My anger will kindle in them (the Jews) and I will destroy them, and make from you a great nation.” Rashi, a brilliant commentator says this: “Until now, Moses did not know that he might pray on behalf of the Jews, but now that God said ‘Leave Me’, Moses understood that the matter depended on him: that if he prayed, God would not destroy.”
Rashi teaches us that the matter was as follows: the Jews sinned to the point of deserving destruction…provided no other mitigating factor was present. This was the situation at and, from which, God did not “change His mind” with His forgiveness. The situation had a “status”, and this status is what deserved annihilation of the Jews. But if this status changed, then the Jews would no longer require annihilation. What changed? Moses did, as he prayed, and through his prayer, he reached some new level unlike he was prior, where he could now remedy the Jews’ sin. Even though the Jews did not repent, Moses made a change in himself, which removed the need for annihilation of the Jews. Therefore, the Jews were spared, and not due to any change of heart of God, but because of Moses’ increase in his level of perfection and in his knowledge, something that from the start would remedy the situation. That is exactly what God said, “leave Me, and I will destroy the Jews.” Meaning, if you don’t leave Me, but remain and pray, you can effectuate a change that would remove the need for the Jews’ destruction.
Joshua, we learn from your question that we must continuously study all of the Torah, Prophets and Writings. For many issues’ various facets are addressed throughout in numerous locations: questions raised by one text are answered by another. We also learn that with the Written Torah alone, and with no Oral Law or Rabbinic commentary (Rashi) we will flounder with no answers. God gave mankind the Written Torah and the Oral Torah, since both are indispensable for our accurate understanding of truths.
Other religions, even those who hijack the Torah, are at a loss as to God’s will, since they have no Oral Law, and no lineage of Rabbis teaching them this Oral Law. This is yet another argument which conclusively refutes all religions, other than Judaism.