Letters September 2006
Law vs Beliefs
Aurora: I have noticed there is so much disagreement among different rabbis, it is so strange to me, I some times get very stressed and I decided not to go out of Mesora until I learn more from you. Mesora gives me peace and happiness, when I go outside I get very confused and some times I don’t see the wisdom I expect.
Yesterday I wrote one post on the discussion forum, maybe it was a little bit informal; some times I would like to talk about my experiences and to talk about my feelings, I see that on the discussion forum everyone talks about knowledge and interpretation of writings or Torah. You said we have to use our intelligence. I want to know from you if the conclusions that we arrive at, from our experiences of real life, have always to be confronted with Torah, and how can I do it.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Aurora, when I said “we have to use our intelligence “, I was speaking in terms of philosophy, where law does not govern. As a wise Rabbi taught, in philosophy - not practical law - we have only our minds, and no one can tell us what we believe. Torah can tell us what we are to “do” in practice. But we cannot be told to “believe” something we do not. That is an impossibility, and the Torah does not demand the impossible. And you should not be alarmed that there are any views within Judaism, just as you accept there are many religions. Man errs, and many people necessitate many opinions…of course, only one can be truly accurate on any give topic. So this is why we must use our intelligence, to choose for ourselves. We are responsible for or own lives, and therefore, we must select what complies with our own reasoning. You are not obligated to follow any Rabbi on matters of philosophy, if you deem a view as violating reason. The Rabbis teach that at one point in Jewish history, there were no conflicting opinions. Subsequently, man was not as diligent in his studies, so arguments arose.
So remain confident that there is only one truth in any and all areas, but it is man’s inadequacies that create alternative views.
I would add, that although the Rabbis argue, do not look down upon them, and I am not implying that you do. For we do not know why some Rabbis held incorrect opinions…perhaps due to errors of predecessors, perhaps their own errors. But it is futile to judge them, as we see they earnestly strove for accuracy. We must appreciate their intent and devotion, regardless of our disagreement with their outcome. Ramban argued on Maimonides many times, but yet, held Maimonides in the highest regard.
Finally, the way we test our ideas against Torah, is by continued study: the more we know, the more our minds will be perfected through Torah. To answer your last question, “yes”: our conclusions regarding religious life must comply with Torah concepts: God knows absolute truth, and gave us a Torah to educate ourselves on that religious truth. But in matters of law, not philosophy, our conclusions cannot override the Torah law. So if we arrive at a conclusion that differs from Torah, we must follow Torah.
Adam: I work in a center, and I would like to submit a few questions that a young child had. This young boy’s name is Jake, he is 7 years old, and he lives in New York City.
His questions follow:
1. How do we know God exists? 2.What does God look like? 3. If people a long time ago “knew” that many gods existed, like the god of love and the god of beauty, how do we know there is only one God today?
Other children in the program asked these questions: 4. If God exists, why doesn’t He communicate with us? 5. When I asked God for something, why doesn’t He answer me? 6. Will God hurt me if I do bad things?
Pretty good questions from 7-year-olds!
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Great questions Adam…please tell Jake and the others. I’ll address each in order:
1. “How do we know God exists?”
Jake: We know God exists, since nothing can create itself. Something else must have created all we see. And if asked, “Did God need to be created?” then we are back to the same question: “Who or what created God?” I answer as follows: We cannot go back in time forever, suggesting that there was always something that created the last thing. For example, we cannot say that Z was created by Y, and Y was created by X, and X was created by W…all the way back with no end. For if we say that, we never arrive at an actual “cause” for the universe, and this cannot be, since we see the universe! There must be an original, first Cause…which we call “God”. This is not an easy question, or answer, so think about this.
2. “What does God look like?” Well Jake, I think we only ask this, because most of what we are used to has an appearance; everything has shape, color, size and other physical features. But aren’t there things called “feelings”? We know that happiness and anger are real, we feel them…but we can’t see them: we only see happy and angry “people”. Feelings are not things we can see. So even though we can’t see something, we know it is real, and it exists. This proves that things can exist, even if they cannot be seen. So with eyesight, we know some things exist; with hearing we know other things are real; and with our minds, we know even more things are real…even without seeing them. God is also like happiness. Even though we cannot see Him, because He is not a “physical” thing like a planet, we still know He exists, since we have proof. What’s the proof? The first answer! So God is something we cannot see, and He has no appearance. But we know He is real because we figured it out with our minds. Using your mind, you will be able to figure out so many answers to your questions. That is how the great scientists figured out answers…just by asking their questions, and thinking, while studying more and more about the universe. The answers are out there; we just have to ask the right questions to find them. That’s what my Rabbi taught me. And he is right.
3. “How do we know there is only one God?”
Jake, People long ago did not “know” there were many gods, they only “thought” so. And that thought was one of the worst mistakes people made…and they made this mistake because they did not try to “prove” whether it was really true. Back then; many countries were led to accept things that a few foolish people thought were true. They believed in devils, sea monsters, ghosts, and witches. Why did people think these were true? This is because many people are scared about what they don’t know. They are scared about death, about what will happen tomorrow, and many other things. Then, some tricky people who liked to be in charge said, “I know what will happen tomorrow”, or, “I know how to talk to the dead”. Now, since people wanted to know about tomorrow and about what happened to their dead relatives, they “believed” these people…who really knew nothing. These people who wanted to be in charge may have also asked for money to tell the others.
This is something that still goes on today. On television, there is a man called John Edwards, he has a show called “Crossing Over”. He lies to other people who miss their dead relatives, saying that he can talk to them…but he can’t. But these people who listen to John Edwards don’t ask for proof, but they just accept that what John Edwards says is true. They accept his words, because they have a strong wish to do so, not because he is right. But a smart person will only accept what is proven. Smart people don’t think that because they want to believe something, that “believing” makes it true. I may want to “believe” I am the nicest person in the world, but since I have no proof, I cannot say that I am right. So do not accept anything as truth, until it is proven.
The way you know something is proven, is if it makes as much sense as 2+2=4. That you know is true, and nobody can change your mind about that…right? So do the same with everything else you hear or learn: don’t accept that something is true, unless it makes clear sense to your mind, like 2+2=4.
But we must also not follow the ways of the people in the past, who were scared or worried about what will happen tomorrow, or who wanted to talk to the dead. The dead cannot talk, so that is useless. And we should also not worry about what will happen tomorrow, because we each have the ability to make our lives great. So instead of worrying, we should really think about what we want to do in life, make sure it will bring us happiness, and then we should make a plan, and follow it. This way, we are in control of our lives, and we don’t need anyone else to tell us what will happen, since they don’t know anyway!
And think about this: if John Edwards knows the future, why doesn’t he ever win the lottery?! Great questions Jake! Thank you. Now for the questions from the other students…
4. “Why doesn’t God communicate with us?”
Well, who says He doesn’t? All we know is that He isn’t communicating with “you or me”. But we know from the Torah that God communicated with many people…as long as they lived an intelligent and kind life. He may be communicating with somebody right now, but since he is a modest person, he does not talk about it.
5. “Why doesn’t God answer me?”
God doesn’t always answer people when they ask for things, because many times what people want, is not good for them. But God may have answered you even though He didn’t talk to you. For example, some second-grader may have asked God to make his sick mother healthy, and even though she is still sick, God may have already sent a cure that takes a long time to heal her. Or, you may have asked God for something He does not do, like to “show Himself to you”. This is something God won’t do, because He cannot be seen. Additionally, that question has already been answered! What do I mean? I mean that God created the Earth with so much science and math and beauty…all so we can learn that “Something” created the world. So we may want God to do something in one way, but He already did it in another way! We have to keep studying the world to learn more about how God works. You should know that the smartest people in the world, like Albert Einstein, did not need God to “show Himself”, because Einstein “saw” God in the amazing laws of nature. This means he knew proofs that God exists, just by studying nature. This is exactly what God wants: that we discover Him through the method of study. This is exactly why God created you and me with intelligence, and no other creature has it; not animals, plants, rocks or anything. God’s plan is that by us using our minds, we will come to learn more and more answers to our questions.
6. “Will God hurt me if I do bad things?”
God will not hurt us if we do bad things. God made the world in a way that if we do bad things like stealing or murder, that we will see the bad that we did, as others will cry. We should stop doing what is bad because it hurts others, and it hurts ourselves. God is very wise, and built the world with a system that teaches us lessons, without Him doing anything more. When God made the world, He knew that many people would make mistakes, so He made the world with “lessons” built inside it, because He loves us and doesn’t want us to keep doing what is bad. Another example is a person who spends all his money on buying cars, and not feeding his children or helping the poor. He will soon see all his cars become old and rusty, or he will become tired of the same old cars, and he will not want to buy cars anymore. He will think what he really should do with his money. He will also hear his children crying for food. So God does not have to do anything to teach us. He already made metal so it rusts, and He made people become tired of the same things. He did this so we stop spending our money and our time on things that don’t matter, and start doing things that really matter, and make the world a better place.
One more example is food. Even though food is important, many people don’t know when to stop eating. So instead of people eating until they hurt themselves really bad, God made in every person a feeling of “fullness”. God teaches us not to eat so much, by making us stop eating by making this feeling of fullness in our stomachs. Everywhere we look, we see that God planned the world, our bodies and our feelings with “messages”! So God doesn’t have to answer each our individual requests, since He already made the world answer them for us…all we have to do is learn how to find the answers! But God did answer many wise people, like Moses, Elijah and others, since they were the smartest people, and asked questions that maybe could not be found in the world. If we get as smart as they were, God will answer us too.
Jake, I hope you, Adam, and the other students will send me more questions soon. Goodbye for now.
Aurora: I want to tell you my experience about superstition: I am an analyst programmer. About 2 years ago I was, for the last time in my life, superstitious! I have never been that much of a superstitious person, but some times I would take “precautions” as the popular saying, “I don’t believe in witches, but I don’t doubt they can fly”.
Returning to the story…it was Friday evening, I had to insert information about a new procedure in a data repository. I had to choose a new group number to associate to this process (since the current group number had arrived to its maximum number of the procedure that could belong to that group). There was one problem, the next number was 13, I had a hesitation, and I said to myself, “Help! 13? No!” and I decided to use number 14 for “prudence”. Well guess what!? Monday Morning at my arrival I found out all the processes had stopped; this due to the fact that the number of the groups had to be consecutive otherwise the scheduler would go crazy (I didn’t know at the moment about this limitation). I had to work very hard to put everything going and it was not the worst, the worst was that I had to say the real reason to my boss!
I learned for sure never to be superstitious anymore, even a little bit!. As one friend of mine said to me once, “Being superstitious brings very bad luck” ...I confirm!
-My modest intelligence arrived through sufferance to what Torah teaches in His wisdom.