Letters Nov. 2006 IV
See the Light
Reader: Dear Rabbi Moshe Ben Chaim, while I do not necessarily disagree with your hypothesis on the age of the universe, I do not believe the proof you attributed to Rav Chaim Ozer to be bullet proof. You said “For light to reach us from a star 10,000,000 light years away, the universe MUST have existed that long, in order that the light traveled this distance.” The old phrase “From a false premise anything follows” comes to mind. Who said the light in fact traveled that distance? Perhaps God created the star together with a “10,000,000 light year long light stream” connecting it to Earth, thereby allowing it to be immediately visible; despite the fact that nowhere nearly enough time had elapsed to allow the light to travel that distance on its own.. I do not posit this as to what actually happened, only to only to suggest that this particular proof is not “irrefutable.”
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Fred, you posit that God could have created the light “in travel already reaching Earth” at the moment the star was created. According to you, the wisest of men (Einstein) viewing this object’s light and using reasoning will miscalculate its age. God is really fooling us. Your theory imputes a deception to God. That’s problem number one. But as we know that fabrication is of human origin, and cannot be ascribed to a perfect Creator, whose Torah says “From a falsehood, distance yourself”… we know this suggestion is something we must distance ourselves from.
Furthermore, you contradict yourself. Based not only on senses, but also teamed with your reasoning, you accept that the star only “appears” smaller than it truly is, due to its distance. But you do not equally accept the star’s age, based on the same use of senses and reasoning. We see an object at a distance, and then up close. It appears to have changed size. But we use reasoning together with our senses and conclude that the object has not changed at all. We correctly reason for ourselves that objects “appear” smaller at a distance. So why reject the reasoning that the star’s light accurately reflects its age? In both cases, we must engage our senses, and our reasoning. In both cases, our deductions are correct. Without basis, you reject your senses and reason in connection with age issues, but not other issues.
I agree, “From a false premise anything follows”.
Seeds of Doubt
Reader: Dear Rabbi: In reference to Abraham questioning G-d’s promise to make his seed as numerous as the stars”, did Abraham explore the option to mate Isaac before sacrificing him? Seeing how G-d performed a fertilization miracle with Sarah, surely he could have done the same with Isaac. We have to assume that Abraham was very intelligent, and indeed, did explore this option. Why is there no mention of this in the Parsha? Why haven’t prominent Rabbi’s, down through the ages addressed this possibility? Why didn’t Abraham read into G-d’s command to sacrifice Isaac, his requirement to preserve Isaac’s seed? It wouldn’t have been Satan providing the rationalization, but G-d’s promise. Satan is internal, where G-d is external. Abraham could have arranged to do this in half a day, so instead of arriving in 3 days, it would have taken 3 1/2.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: First of all, once God commanded Abraham to slaughter his son, this is the only action he must now do. He cannot interrupt with any other consideration. And we see that Abraham “Rose early in the morning” to fulfill God’s command.
Creating offspring per se was not the true objective behind God’s plan to multiply Abraham’s seed. Rather, God desired children of a “Forefather”. Meaning, God wished to increase Abraham’s seed in order that his seed would adhere to Abraham’s teachings and direct the world in truth. But how would Isaac’s seed accomplish the proliferation of Abraham and Isaac’s monotheism, with both of them dead? Isaac’s seed would be bereft of any tutor and mentor. With Isaac about to die at Abraham’s hands in sacrifice, the mere creation of Isaac’s offspring satisfies nothing about God’s promise. Certainly, since it was God who made a promise, it is for HIM to keep, not for Abraham to force “His hand.”
Reader: Isaac asked Abraham “where is the lamb for the offering?” I have found two different translations of Abraham’s answer: The Art Scroll Weekday Siddur: “G-d will seek out for Himself the lamb for the offering.” The Complete Metsudah Siddur: “G-d Himself will show the lamb for a burnt offering.” Which of these translations is more accurate?
I am more inclined to select the Art Scroll’s translation because there may be a hidden message for us to “seek out” the hidden lessons of the Torah.
Do you think that Isaac was completely unaware of Abraham’s mission? Or was he playing along with the ruse?
When Abraham deceived his son, being a pious person, wasn’t it important for him to avoid any finger pointing in the future, as to his deception? Do you think that Abraham could have used a different answer to Isaac’s question, like “we must look hard for the animal”, or Abraham could have taken along a lamb from his stock before leaving on this journey?
I think I just might have answered my first question. If Abraham used any of the two alternatives I suggested, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to evaluate the meaning of “seek out”. (How old do you think Isaac was?)
Thank you, Anonymous
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Upon Abraham’s binding of Isaac on the altar, Isaac knew very well he was the sacrifice. He could have fled, but he did not, thereby teaching the perfection of both Abraham and Isaac. This is Ramban’s view.
Ibn Ezra differs, suggesting that if Isaac knew he was to be slaughtered, he should receive greater merit than his father, who was not risking his life. Ibn Ezra adds that had Isaac known he was to die, he would have fled. He concludes that Isaac must have been old enough to carry the wood, about 13 years of age. And that Abraham had to force Isaac onto the altar and bind him down. The term “naar” in Gen. 22:12 alludes to a youthful Isaac, and not an adult. Ibn Ezra’s estimation of 13 is in line with the Torah’s words.
I enjoyed your question concerning why Abraham appeared not to disclose the truth, as he said, “God will “reveal the sheep.” (This is the translation according to Unkelos) In accord with Ibn Ezra, we now understand that Abraham had to keep up the ruse, if he was to successfully get Isaac near the altar so as to offer him to God.
Not as it Seems
Reader: Hi Rabbi Ben-Chaim, Just wanted to say thank you for corresponding with me on my prior queries. I did want to ask you something that I have encountered from the camps of both Muslims and from Gnostic or certain types of Jewish groups that follow Jesus.
It is my understanding that when they read Jeremiah 8:7-9 within their more modern version of their Old Testament, for example, it says that the scribes who wrote the Torah had lied and falsified the Torah. In other words, we can’t trust the Torah we have today. Here’s a quote from their bible:
“..7 Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the LORD. 8 “ ‘How can you say, “We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,” when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely? 9 The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of wisdom do they have?”
What is the consensus understanding, from the point of Judaism and the actual Hebrew Scriptures on what the context of this text is dealing with? I’ve given my understanding from the King James Version, which reads different than the above quote. I was hoping you would be able to elaborate on what Jeremiah is really talking about here.
Here’s the same from the King James Version:
7Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the LORD.
8How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain.
9The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the LORD; and what wisdom is in them?
The latter seems pretty clear to me, but what is your take on this.
Thank you in advance,
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: The sense of both quotes you cite is basically accurate…but Torah accuracy is not from the written word alone. We received an Oral Law as well: an essential compliment to the Written Torah. Therefore, a simple read will confuse even the wise. Torah must be studied, and not just read. Let us now learn the truth of this section.
The commentator Radak explains that this rebuke of God was directed towards the supposedly “wise men” of Israel. Yes, Radak explains that God rebuked the Torah writings of these scribes: not because they falsified Torah texts, but because they did not follow what they wrote. Instead of following their writings, they worshiped the heavens. A few verses earlier, the prophet describes that the Jews’ enemies will drag the bones of Jewish kings and (false) prophets from their graves to humiliate their memory. They will lay their bones facing the sun and moon – the objects of their corrupt worship – a fitting response to their crimes.
Yes, the description is correct: certain Jewish leaders were corrupt. But the flawed interpretation that all Rabbis and our current Torah cannot be trusted is not what this portions states. Only the sinful Jews are mocked herein. God does not say the Torah was falsified.
We can certainly trust our current Torah as an accurate replica of Moses’ Torah for two reasons: 1) the sin described here was not in falsifying the Written Torah, but rather, their “actions” were contrary to their writings as they were sun and moon worshippers; 2) God has promised that the Torah will never leave Israel. (See Rashi on Isaiah, 59:21)
As a matter of fact, this portion provides the exact opposite of what these heretics claim: God’s accusation is that what these scribes wrote was in fact accurate Torah, but their sin was their deviation from the truth of their written words. God thereby endorses that what they wrote, was accurate. Radak states that since they deviated from the Torah’s words, therefore their writings were of no use, since they did not follow what they wrote.