Letters II - Oct. 2008
Abraham's Perfection (Man of Torah: II)
Reader: Thank you, Rabbi.
Without question, any "idea" concerning God that contradicts human reason is false. So to the extent that a "religionist" is one who accepts such ideas, I would reject the religionist's approach as well.
What I am not clear about is the extent to which you might say that "faith" or"belief" is a critical part of Abraham's life. i.e. Is Abraham entirely dependent upon his own ability to understand based upon sheer observation, intellect, and reason - or can we say that he is able to break through the barriers imposed by his own limited ability to understand in order to achieve greater knowledge of God through faith?
For the sake of clarity, if I may, I would offer the following definition of faith as attributed to Saul of Tarsus:
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Mesora: Saul's definition is fine. But this must be based on an initial "sheer observation, intellect, and reason" as you put it. It follows thus: if on has faith in Jesus, who never provided proof of the abilities many claimed he possessed, this is foolish faith. But as Abraham first used reason to arrive at his concept of the true God, Abraham had basis to have subsequent faith in God's promises. Abraham's faith is based on proofs. Faith in Jesus is baseless.
The difference is that Abraham 'started' his acceptance of God with proof, while religionists start with faith.
Reader: Thanks again, Rabbi, and thanks in advance for your forbearance.
So if I am understanding you correctly, Abraham started his acceptance of God with proofs based on his ability to reason. These proofs - again, based on his ability to reason - further served as the basis for his faith in God's promises.
This raises some questions: What sort of proof did Abraham have that made leaving his country, his kindred and his father's house for an unnamed land reasonable?
Based upon your concept that understanding necessarily precedes faith, is God's trustworthiness in practice not then based exclusively upon the limits of human reasoning? i.e. What makes Abraham righteous; is it simply his keen ability to reason?
Mesora: You asked:
1) "What sort of proof did Abraham have that made leaving his country...etc".
This was God's contact with him via prophecy. No greater proof exists.
2) "is God's trustworthiness in practice not then based exclusively upon the limits of human reasoning?"
No. Once Abraham understood God as Creator, he accepted all without needing to know the hows and whys.
3) "What makes Abraham righteous; is it simply his keen ability to reason?"
Human righteousness is defined as "man following God's morality". Abraham followed God perfectly, so we define this as perfect morality and righteousness. In contrast, those who are ignorant of God's ways, and follow their own, subjective morality, cannot be moral. Morality can only be defined as what the Creator of morality defines as such.
Reader: You wrote "Saul's definition is fine. But this must be based on an initial "sheer observation, intellect, and reason" as you put it.
Once Abraham understood God as Creator, he accepted all without needing to know the hows and whys."
OK... Then it appears that you would say provided we start with the idea that initially it is God who reveals Himself to man, and man is then capable of knowing God with certainty through observation and application of the gift of reason thereby making it reasonable for man to trust God, there is indeed a place in man's quest to know God for faith to preceed understanding. True?
Incidentally, I would agree entirely with this.
Thanks once again, Rabbi.
Mesora: Correct. But I would clarify that God need not reveal Himself – as in Revelation at Sinai – for men like Abraham to discover the truth of God. Abraham used his keen intellect to "know" God's existence even without Revelation. But the masses do require Torah...communication of God's Revelation. That was precisely the purpose of Sinai: to stand for all time as the undeniable proof of God's existence, His will for mankind, and to reject all impostor religions.
Reader: Shalom. I read Rashi's commentary about Noah. From one side he said Noah was considered by the Rabbis a righteous man. Others say if he lived in Avraham's time, he would not be so righteous. I have few questions about it.
First, if God Himself said Noah is "righteous", why question it?
Secondly, why question only the righteousness of Noah? Why is Abraham too not questioned? If it's because of Noah's one son Cham, we have his two others Shem, and Ever, who were Masters of the Patriarchs! And Avraham's lineage also produced some bad types, like Ishmael and Essav. Could Cham diminish Noah's righteousness?
If you agree he was completely righteous, then how do we understand the position 'against' his righteousness?
Thank you very much.
Mesora: You must notice: the Rabbis debate Noah's righteousness due to the extra word "bidorosav", meaning, "in his generation". They don't debate over the word "righteous". The verse would have said about a totally righteous man, "he was righteous", omitting any extra word "bidorosav". But as this word is included, there is Torah license for speculation as to this unique word, not applied to any other person. Thus, no question arises concerning Abraham's righteousness, since this word "bidorosav" is not found in connection with him, or any other Torah personality.
Regarding attribution of blame to any man for his son's wrongdoings, the Torah many times teaches "Each man dies for his OWN sins". God does not fault a father for his son's sins, nor a son for his father's sins. Each man is punished for his own wrongdoings. This is most fair, since each man and woman possesses his and her own freewill. Each person is the sole cause of their merits and sins.
Reader: Even then, the Rabbis use the word "Bidorotav" to argue on Noah's righteousness. That was my point: Why question it? If "bidorotav" suggests a lack of righteousness, then there should be complete agreement among Rabbis about Noah's lack of righteousness. Why the is there a view that contends that Noah was completely righteous?
Mesora: You are correct, I must answer differently.
This word "bidorosav" allows for speculation. Some speculate that it indicates a lack or righteousness, while some speculate that it is a praise. Therefore I must retract my first answer, and now answer as follows: the word "bidorosav" is neutral, and may indicate something negative, or positive, as Rashi teaches. Since it is not clear, the Rabbis argue on its intent.