Letters Oct. 2006
Beliefs vs. Facts
Reader: Please answer my questions - I am having a real crisis of belief at this point, and I need your guidance to help me return to the path of Judaism.
As much as it seems so reasonable to accept the Tanach as true, it still seems POSSIBLE that there is more to the story than meets the eye. For example, isn’t there a possibility that a small group of Jews faithful to a later prophet, say Jeremiah or Ezra, were willing ON FAITH to believe a “Reconstruction” of their ancient history that he provided? After all, only a select number of people may have had access to books at that time to begin with, and we see how foolish religious Jews slavishly follow their leaders in believing absolute nonsense and superstition and tales of alleged Kabbalistic miracles all the time. Maybe a later prophet provided these stories about an Exodus and Revelation for pious reasons, to encourage people to keep the religion, but mixed in the history to make it seem more convincing for future generations.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: As we had explained before, your suggested historical account of mass fabrication could never take place. People know their history and no individual could meet with any success, convincing the masses otherwise. Even if one were to locate a backwards colony today, as you state, who “follow their leaders in believing absolute nonsense” and suggest to them that what they all know to be their history is in fact otherwise…such a fabricator would not be accepted. But a charismatic leader could successfully force the masses to “believe” something, as is the case with Christianity, which did not contradict adherents’ own historical knowledge.
You correctly suggest that people do blindly accept leaders who suggest nonsense. And this takes place today, where our Jewish leaders condone red bendels and the like. But let’s clarify the distinction. In this latter case of red bendels, such views are accepted by the masses, as they do not contradict any ‘popular’ fact, although they contradict reason. But most people do not live strictly by reason…so they accept alluring promises of red bendels. One will say, “I don’t know how it works, but maybe something out there makes the bendel work”. Or, “Hey, it can’t hurt.” But this same person will not quit his job, assuming the red bendel to miraculously provide for him and his family. He will not wear a bendel to cure his limb severed in a car accident. Why not? The answer is that every person functions with some level of reality…and when one’s life is at stake, he will rely more heavily on proven methods of living. He will not rely on “probability”… like the red bendel.
In application to the first case of mass fabrication, again, no one will deny known fact. People know their history, and will not reject it, for any reason. The mind cannot be bribed.
Rabbi Reuven Mann once offered a fine analogy: if Jesus would tell you that the Twin Towers never collapsed, or if Jesus caused all victims and the Towers, to return to their state pre-9/11…but Jesus would say that God is both one and three simultaneously, your mind could not tolerate such a contradiction, regardless of the wonders produced. In the fist case, you would not deny the 9/11 tragedies, nor could you accept the Trinity. Miracles cannot make the mind accept what is impossible. Therefore, mass fabrication cannot succeed, as it too asks one to deny his mind. But when it comes to asking one to accept a ‘belief’, which does not contradict any clear fact, desperate people will abandon critical thinking, and follow what their emotions desire. However, if this same person would analyze this or any false belief, he or she too would reject red bendels and other nonsense, as clearly and readily as they reject mass fabrication. It is due to the popular trend in Judaism today, to follow what ever any leader suggests, or what is printed, and accept these lies as truths. Leaders themselves are products of foolish teachings from their schooldays, and thus, these idolatrous beliefs proliferate.
In the end, if one seeks the truth, he or she has all the tools to determine truth: God gave each one of us a Tzelem Elohim, “intelligence”. Just as one will not quit his or her job, or deny medical treatment, relying on a red bendel to provide…this should awaken such individuals to question why they accept the other promises of colored strings.
Reader: Isn’t it also possible that an original kernel of truth - say, the Exodus occurring - was later expanded to include the miraculous details like the Red Sea splitting or Mount Sinai? These ‘legends’ might have been introduced by people who already believed in Torah, to make it seem more impressive.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Same answer.
Reader: Also, doesn’t the account of Moses’ death in the Torah make it seem improbable that he wrote it himself?
Moshe Ben-Chaim: Could he
not have written the entire Torah, except for those last verses, or even those
verses he wrote as well, via prophecy? The Rabbis suggest these two
possibilities, which make perfect sense.
Reader: I can’t help but wonder one more thing: Isn’t it possible that only a small group of believers originally accepted the story of Sinai, and that the death and exile of the unbelievers, as well as the propagation of the believers, ended up creating a situation where everyone agreed on the same story? The opposition was naturally eliminated, with only the assenters left.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: But now you rewrite history, as the history we possess says 2.5 million Jews endured, they experienced all these miracles, and lived on. No record of mass deaths.
Reader: Can you also include an approach to how to deal with things that seem totally irrational in Torah and Gemara, like the snake talking to Adam and Eve, the incorrect belief that they were the first “humans” when there were in fact people walking around for tens of thousands of years prior to that, the idea that the sun stood still for Joshua which is scientifically absurd beyond any of the other miracles in Tanach, and the legends about Rabbis interacting with demons and performing magic when they were supposedly sages?
Is there a general way to
deal with these things? Are we sacrificing our common sense and intellect for a
supposedly intellectual system? Why, if Judaism is so rational, are these things
included - they require us to stretch the limits of credulity too much.
Thank You, Jonathan
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: God controls nature, as He created it. Therefore, what is so problematic if He desires to suspend natural law, and create talking animals, or halt the heavenly bodies? Regarding accounts in the Gemara, demons, apparent magic, etc., …the Sages crafted each story. These were men wise, wise beyond what we attribute. King Solomon too spoke in riddles, as he states in the title of his great work “Proverbs”. He opens with the reasoning for his Proverbs, “to understand the riddles of the Rabbis”. So if these Talmudic accounts are metaphors and riddles, each story must be studied, to uncover the riddle. The Rabbis purposely hid in riddle format, true ideas which the masses might reject or misunderstand. Only those who have achieved a level of Talmudic acumen will be able to decipher these riddles. Others will – or should – reject the literal understanding as you have, realizing their impossible nature. But as far as amazing stories in the Torah, Prophets and Writings, we do not suggest the literal story to be a metaphor, unless it is impossible to understand literally. But regarding Talmudic stories, like those concerning demons, magic, etc, …we have a tradition that the Rabbis spoke in riddles. Therefore, we do not seek to validate such amazing stories, but rather, to decipher them.
Reader: Very much enjoyed your above article that appeared in the IsraPost. I am completing a research project literally proving that only a Supreme Power could have issued the Torah to Moses. My proof is based on the fact that that everything in the story of Creation is supported by the fact that it is in sync with science.
The ramifications are mind-boggling and I have two requests of you if I may:
1) In your article you wrote that the Torah ‘commands in so many places’ that our determination of God’s existence must be arrived at by proof. Might you advise me of those Torah references?
2) May I speak to you about my project and perhaps you may wish to review it?
Dr. Solomon Huriash
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Yes, I will be glad to review your project. Now for the references…
(Taken from Maimonides’ Mishneh
Torah, section on Idolatry, Chap.1:3)
“Once the mighty ancient (Avraham) was weaned, he began to ponder in his mind, and he was still a child, and he began to consider day and night, and he was amazed that there could be this sphere operating regularly without a guide, one who causes it to rotate, as it is impossible that it should rotate itself. And he (Avraham) had no teacher nor informant, rather, he was entrenched in Ur Casdim amongst the foolish idolaters, and his father and mother and all the people worshiped the stars, and he (Avraham) worshiped with them, but his heart stirred and he understood until he reached the truth and understood the line of truth from his own proper understanding. And he knew there was One God Who guided the sphere and created everything and that there was no other god to be found besides Him. And he knew the entire world was mistaken and the matter which caused them to make this error was that they served the stars and (physical) formations until they lost the truth from their minds. And at 40 years of age, Avraham recognized his Creator. Once he recognized and knew, he began responding on the inhabitants of Ur Casdim and calling them to court saying this is not the way of truth which you follow, and he broke the idols, and he began to inform the people that it is not fitting to worship (anyone) except for the God of the world, and it is fitting that one sacrifice and pour libations to Him so other generations will recognize Him. And it is fitting to destroy and break all the (idolatrous) formations so the whole people won’t be led astray, like these who think there is no God, only these (idols). Once (Avraham) succeeded over them with proofs the king sought to kill him, and there was done for him a miracle and he went to Charan. And he began to stand and call in a great voice and made known to the whole world there is One God to the whole world and unto Him one should worship.”
Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses)
(Deut. 4:9): “Guard yourselves and guard your souls exceedingly, lest you forget the things your eyes saw...”,
(Deut. 4:34)”all the signs and wonders which God has performed for you in Egypt as your eyes have seen”.
(Deut. 4:35) “You have been demonstrated to know that God is Elokim, there is no other besides Him”.
(Deut. 4:36) “From the heavens He made heard His voice to prove you, and on land He showed you His great fire and His words you heard from amidst the fire”.
(Deut. 4:39). “You have been shown to know that God is God”
Was Moses lying to the people? Would the Jews have proliferated Moses’ words had they not been convinced themselves? One need not be told what he has seen with his own eyes. The Jews knew they witnessed proof of God’s existence. They therefore passed it on to their children as it was undeniable proof. If one today says we have no proof of God, that person denies not only Moses, but also God, as God instructed Moses to teach these words as part of the Torah.
(Commencing remarks from his work “Emunas
“Blessed be God, the God of Israel, Who is alone deserving of being regarded as the Evident Truth, Who verifies with certainty unto rational beings, the existence of their souls, by means of which they access accurately what they perceive with their senses and apprehend correctly the objects of their knowledge. Uncertainties are thereby removed from them and proofs become clear. May He be lauded then above the highest commendation and praise”.
(His commentary on the last three words of
Haftoras Bamidbar - Hosea 2:22)
“You should know God, that He revealed His signs and wonders and the dwelling of His shechina among you, until you would know God with clear knowledge as something perceived by the senses, (in order that) you should no longer require belief. Because belief is something which has no clear knowledge, (it is) simply acceptance, but they have to them knowledge to know God, which is greater than belief”.
(Deut. 4:9) “For if the words of the Torah had come to us only through the mouth of Moses, even though his prophecy was verified with signs and wonders, yet ‘if there were to arise in the midst of us a prophet or a dreamer of dreams’ and he were to command us to do the opposite of what the Torah commanded us, ‘and he [were to] give us a sign or wonder’ then a doubt would enter the people’s hearts. But since the Torah reaches us from the mouth of the Almighty to our ears, and our eyes behold that there is no intermediary, we will reject anyone who differs and who casts doubt [upon the words of the Torah] and will declare him to be false.”
Ramban is certain of the event at Sinai, but only due to the fact that the story of Sinai must be provable. Otherwise, a false prophet will have an equal argument that we follow him, as he has signs too. But since we have proof, “....reaches us from the mouth of the Almighty to our ears” we do not follow him.
R. Bachaya ben Josef ibn Paquda
(Author of “Duties of the Heart”, or “Chovas Halevavos”)
Excerpts from his introduction: “Whoever has the intellectual capacity to verify what he receives from tradition, and yet is prevented from doing so by his own laziness, or because he takes lightly G-d’s commandments and Torah, he will be punished for this and held accountable for negligence.”
“If, however, you possess intelligence and insight, and through these faculties you are capable of verifying the fundamentals of the religion and the foundations of the commandments which you have received from the sages in the name of the prophets, then it is your duty to use these faculties until you understand the subject, so that you are certain of it - both by tradition and by force of reason. If you disregard and neglect this duty, you fall short in the fulfillment of what you owe your Creator.”
Devarim 17:8-10 states: “If a case should prove too difficult for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, between (leprous) mark and mark, or other matters of dispute in your courts, ....you must act in accordance with what they tell you.”
Regarding this passage, Rabbi Bachya states: “the verse does not say,.....simply accept them on the authority of Torah sages,...and rely exclusively on their tradition. Rather, (Scripture) says that you should reflect on your own mind, and use your intellect in these matters. First learn them from tradition - which covers all the commandments in the Torah, their principles and details - and then examine them with your own mind, understanding, and judgment, until the truth become clear to you, and falsehood rejected, as it is written: “Understand today and reflect on it in your heart, Hashem is the G-d in the heavens above, and on the Earth below, there is no other”. (Ibid, 4:39)
Additionally in his entire Gate of Unity, R. Bachaya uses numerous proofs demonstrating the existence of a Creator and His Unity. The rabbi does not engage in mere belief. One proof I will list here:
“Chap. 1: What is the definition of the wholehearted acknowledgement of God’s Unity? The accord of heart and tongue in acknowledging the unity of the Creator, after arriving at verification - through argument - of His existence and absolute oneness, by way of analysis.”
Rav Hai Gaon
(Academy head at Pumbedisa in Babylon)
Recorded in Ramban’s “Letter to the French Rabbis”, 18 stanzas from the end: “However, those who devote themselves to the Torah and the fear of heaven are free from such [detrimental effects] for they undoubtedly lead the masses to a good future, and they have no dilemma about [their belief in] the Holy One, blessed be He”.
His first principle of the 13 Principles: “To know the existence of the Creator”.
His first statements in the Mishneh Torah: “The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a First Cause. And He is the cause for all existences. And all that is found from the heavens and earth and what is between them do not exist except for the reality of His existence.”
“It is not proper for a man to accept as trustworthy anything other than one of these three things: 1) clear proof deriving from man’s reasoning; 2) what is perceived through one of the five senses; 3) what is received from the prophets or from the righteous. Every reasonable man ought to distinguish in his mind and thought all the things that he accepts as trustworthy, and say: “This I accept as trustworthy because of tradition, and this because of sense-perception, and this on grounds of reason.” Anyone who accepts as trustworthy anything that is not of these three species, of him it is said: “The simple believes everything” (Prov. 14:15). –Maimonides, “Letter to the Community of Marseille”
“The great sickness and the “grievous evil” (Eccles. 5:12, 15) consist in this: that all the things that man finds written in books, he presumes to think of as true—and all the more so if the books are old.” –Maimonides, “Letter to the Community of Marseille”
“For all His ways are judgment.” (Deut. 32:4).
Rabbi Judah HaLevi (The Kuzari)
Paragraph 67: “Heaven forbid that there should be anything in the Bible to contradict that which is manifest or proved!”
The entire sefer the Kuzari unfolds as and endless series of proofs presented by Judah HaLevi. He uses proofs to demonstrate to the King that God exists and how He functions with man.
Dr. Solomon Huriash, I address the following not to specifically to you, but to all.
Unfortunately there exists a poor outlook, which is damaging the souls of many Jews. I refer to the Christian ethic of “blind faith”. Or as Jews have adopted and refer to as “emuna pshuta”.
Yes, Judaism believes in emuna - faith - but that is limited to the fact that God keeps His word. But emuna is not what is requested of us to determine God’s very existence. His Existence must be arrived at by proof. This is what the Torah commands in so many places, and precisely why we are creatures endowed with an intellect.
Too many unlearned educators are destroying the potential of fine, Jewish souls through their ignorant teachings. Perhaps their approach secures them to have an “out”, as one might feel if he searches and finds a proof for God’s existence, then he must keep all His commands with no justification for his occasional defiance. Perhaps that heavenly yoke, that type of vice grip on his actions is intolerable.
There are many emotions which contribute to the proliferation of this blind faith acceptance, but Judaism contains no support. The community leaders who promulgate this disease do so based on other uninformed leaders, not Torah texts. Based on the sources quoted here, and their reasoning, one realizes that “blind faith” is contrary to Judaism and God’s goal in designing man with an intellect. Are we to say that in the most essential area of man’s life - knowledge of God - man is to abandon his highest element of intelligence and simply believe? In business and other matters, man uses his mind as far as he can to secure his great wealth. But in knowledge of the Almighty, he wrongly assumes he fulfills his purpose with faith. How far from the truth and from the accepted opinions of all our great teachers this is.
It is much easier to shelter one’s ignorance behind a claim that belief is superior to knowledge. This obviates the need to exert oneself and break his teeth on a Tosafos. But knowledge comes only to those who yearn for it and toil in study, “in accordance with the pain is the reward”, “in accordance with the knowledge is the love of God”. It is inexcusable that educators have not read the words of Moshe Rabbeinu, Rav Hai Gaon, Ramban, Maimonides, Ibn Ezra, Chovas Halevavos, Kuzari, the Vilna Gaon, Saadia Gaon, and even King Solomon’s own words. “Wisdom laughs at the fall of the simpletons, scorners and fools”(Proverbs 1:26).
Some claim that proof is of no need, and that proof is only needed for the physical world, but not the “unlimited” world of knowledge and God. In other worldly matters, these same individuals engage reason, but not in their religion. Their actions contradict them. “Do they not see there is fallacy in their right hand?”
Man cannot escape the function of reason, nor a world which functions by reason. Even the metaphysical world was created by the infinitely wise God. It too abides by systems of knowledge, as opposed to the wrongly professed assumptions where everyone conjures up his own view of how God manages the world. They have no concern for rational explanation. The self-aggrandizement achieved by discussing “lofty” subjects, and the emotional attraction to so-called “mystical” topics has deterred many unsuspecting Jews from the Talmudic study essential for clear thinking.
This type of “emuna pshuta” is contrary to mans’ design, it is the opposite of God’s goal for man, and is against how the universe functions. It destroys the critical thinking of man responsible for all the great achievements of these great men listed here. This faulty approach also deters the uninitiated from experiencing the true beauty of learning, with all of its consistent philosophy, halachik formulae, and perfectly structured verses.
Preaching fantastic, emotionally stimulating notions, many of today’s leaders present Judaism as a mystical, unintelligible collection of miraculous Rabbi stories. Their inconsistency with the methodology seen in the writings of these noted rabbis should awaken any intelligent person to the reality that they are not teaching Torah, as these Rabbis have taught.
None of these or any other of the Baalei Hamesora, the masters of Torah tradition, says that we are to simply have faith. This is Christianity. We must not be swayed by the large numbers of Jews who hold onto faith, for numbers is no argument for truth. We are taught to be convinced by reason, as these Rabbis stressed.
If one feels he or she must follow their peers and not these Rabbis, then you must work on your independence of thought, and you must study these areas of knowledge of God slowly and carefully, confirming to yourself with 100% conviction in each idea as you progress. Knowledge is unshakeable, belief sways.
Strive to comprehend what your mind tells you as truth. This is why God has created us with an intellect, to engage its use in the most essential of areas, knowledge of God.