Jewishtimes – Letters Oct. 2012


Last week the Jewishtimes included a segment of a facebook conversation that gave an incorrect impression. I stated that Torah must be taken literally. However, this did not include the caveat, "when impossible to understand literally, Torah must have another meaning." For example, "cities built to the heavens" is impossible literally; it is an exaggeration. "Circumcise the foreskin of your heart" means to control and minimize instinctual gratification. "God's hand" cannot be literal. And so on. 

My intent was to inform the reader that one must not view as metaphor anything he wishes, for this reader I addressed viewed the Flood as metaphor, when there is nothing impossible about such a catastrophe. A wise Rabbi said "We understand the Torah literally, except when it is impossible to do so. Otherwise, what prevents us from saying God is a metaphor?"

 To view the Flood as metaphor, means God does not actually punish. As you can see, there are many negative ,ramifications to misguided Torah interpretations.

Superstition is Idolatrous

Superstition is the violation of Nichush, a form of idolatry. A wise Rabbi defined idolatry as "suggesting a causal relationship between 2 phenomena without evidence." Thus, if I suggest a red bendel protects me from harm, that is Nichush, superstition. Or if opening any book to a random page, and I suggest that page has information pertinent to me, and I act on it...that is Nichush. In such cases, there is no relationship, but I suggest there is.

This would apply to the belief in miracles, still perpetrated today by kabbalists, Jews and "Rabbis." There is no causal relationship witnessed between a kabbalist and one's healing or success. Therefore, to suggest the kabbalist "caused" the healing/success, or did so via miracles, is Nichush. 

It is crucial to recognize that man cannot perform miracles, and that no man ever was always God. For He alone created natural law. If any man takes credit, boasting he can guarantee his prayer is heard, or that he can perform a wonder, he does not follow Torah, and is a liar. He is also a false prophet, for how can he say a miracle will occur, if God did not tell him?!  Thus, by claiming miracles, he claims God communicated with him, a lie about prophecy. Torah states false prophets urging idolatry are worthy of death (Deut. 13:6). But even without urging idolatry, one who falsely claims God spoke to him commit a grave sin.

Rabbis as Marriage Counselors?

Question: What qualifications does a rabbi have to "meet with couples" and "advise couples" without a Masters, PhD, or therapy license. Did they think sticking their noses in their gemara for a decade got them this credential?

Rabbi: While credentials indicate a level of knowledge, they are not indispensable. Each Rabbi/person must be judged independently. If they have good insight, degrees are irrelevant. I'm sure there's plenty of degreed Dr.s who are equally inept. Rambam says if one has emotional issues, to seek out psychologists (paraphrased). But I would add that psychology courses don't necessarily teach the analytical training obtained by studying Gemara for years under a great Rabbi. This is necessary for identifying facts, proper categorization, and analyzing how those facts relate and generate causes. This applies to all problem solving.

True Torah Ideas are Astonishing

God created the universe. Even average people are enamored by its vastness, complexity and precision that harmoniously sustain life and embody math and physics to subatomic levels that are astonishing.

God also created Torah. If you hear a Torah idea that does not offer you this same level of astonishment, the idea is probably false.

Don't ever be satisfied with mediocre, since God isn't. 

Give credit when due, like to our Rishonim and Talmudic Rabbis. Patiently analyze their words and expect nothing less than rationally pleasing marvels. This is how I study, and I am always amazed how some people can simplify and misread with an infantile take, while patient study yields new exciting insights that ring true, and make you want to share them with others like a treasure: "Hey, did you see THIS?!"

Proof Overrules All Else 

Eddie: I wish to ask you a question. What do you do if rational thought or logic contradicts your own beliefs, or if there is a contradiction between what the Rabbis teach and what logic or empirical knowledge, or even the Torah, teach.

Rabbi: If rational thought or logic contradicts your own beliefs, this means your beliefs are not rational or logical...and thus, wrong. One must abandon that belief.

If there is a contradiction between what the Rabbis teach, and what logic or empirical knowledge teaches, again we must abandon the Rabbis in place of what the absolute arbiter (truth) dictates. Ibn Ezra(1) agrees saying if we cannot interpret a mitzvah, we must abandon it. Rambam also agrees(2), saying that we only accept as truth that which is either 1) sensed, 2) rationally proven, or 3) received as part of God's Torah. Rambam agrees, stating that had Aristotle proved the eternity of the universe, we would be forced to reinterpret Torah verses indicating creation.

Proof overrules all else. 

(1)"...The second category (of commandments) are commands which are hidden, and there is not explained why they were commanded. And God forbid, God forbid that there should be any one of these commands which goes against human intelligence. Rather, we are obligated to perform all that God commands, be it revealed to us the underlying "Sode" (principle), be it hidden from us. And if we find any of them which contradict human intelligence, it isn't proper that we should understand it as implied. But we should consult the books of the wise men of blessed memory, to determine if such a command is a metaphor. And if we find nothing written (by them) we (must) search out and seek with all our ability, perhaps we can fix it (determine the command). If we can't, then we abandon that mitzvah as it is, and admit we are ignorant of it  (Exod. 20.1)."

(2) Letter to the Community of Marseille

Palm Reading & Ramban

Reader: Ramban believed that "hokhmat hayad" (palm-reading) was a legitimate science.

Rabbi: Palm reading...a truth? That's ridiculous. No intelligent person would suggest such nonsense. And if you see someone attaching Ramban's name to it, don't believe it, like Dana just quoted: "Print does not equal truth." 

Accidental skin creases are unrelated to future events. 

Freewill exists; we're not bound to fulfill palm-line prophecies.

If people would think - as is God's plan by giving EACH person an intellect - they would see through the haze of name dropping. They would not be able to say things like "Ramban accepted palm reading", since their minds would utterly reject that foolishness.

Maimonides is correct to categorize palm reading and sorcery as idolatrous. He understood that idolatry was fabricated to provide man imaginary protection against other imaginations, or to guarantee a secure future. People are fearful; they want to know that tomorrow will be good. But instead of following the paths our patriarchs lead - the path God instructed us in by recording it - people deny using their intellects to plan their life. They are insecure. Palm reading and sorcery offer people an imagined protection, thereby qualifying as "idolatrous" according to Maimonides.

Misha: Please clarify what the Ramban believed regarding magic, demons, science, physicians, medicine, superstition, etc. This is what I mean by apologizing for the Ashkenazi Rishonim's anti-Maimonidean ways, by trying to twist their words to mean something else. 

Rabbi: I never studied Ramban on these points. But let's talk fundamentals here...

God granted each person intelligence. And I won't debate whether the Letter to Marseilles is authentic or not, since the content is 100% reasonable. That is, we accept as truth only one of three matters: 1) what we sense (see, hear, etc); 2) what reason demands (2+2=4); 3) what is transmitted via Torah, Neveim and Kasuvim, as these are divinely inspired and 100% truths.

So should be believe that rational persons, intellectual giants, like Ramban or Rashi actually accepted that palm lines foretell future events, or that there are little monsters called demons? Or, do we know that they, like KIng Solomon spoke cryptically and gave us generous clues? No intelligent person would accept as true, that which is unproven. 

I feel this must be the understanding we have for our sages, based on all they wrote. And when we found Rashi saying "demons entered the ark", or Ramban saying something similar, we need to understand, or dismiss saying "I don't know what he meant". But we must not suggest they were superstitious and accepted anything without 1) evidence, 2) reason, or 3) Mesora.