“Power” of A Mitzvah?
An eighth grader from an Orthodox Yeshiva in the New York area recently had to read this story at the Shabbos table for his homework assignment. After the story I will comment on what the Torah’s rational standpoint says
1. Amazing true story that recently occurred in Ashdod.
2. The mother of the family passed away and for the elevation of the mother’s soul, the family took upon themselves that each family member must say blessings of food aloud for others to hear in order to say Amen.
3. One day the daughter came home from school and felt terribly thirsty but no one was home to answer Amen to her blessing. She waited and waited till someone will come home and answer Amen to the blessing of the water. Although she felt extremely thirsty she waited two and a half hours till someone arrived home to relieve her.
4. That same night she had a dream and her deceased mother told her, “Know my daughter, the fact that you overcame your thirst and waited two and a half hours for someone to answer Amen made a tremendous impression in Shamayim. Because of your deed, it was ruled in Shamayim that a good decree will be bestowed. One of your classmates is very ill with the terrible sickness. In the merit of the good deed you performed it was decreed in Shamayim that your classmate would heal completely. The name of the classmate is _________.
5. At 5 am the girl woke in a frenzy and rushed to wake up her father to tell him her dream. The father told her that in the morning he would look further into this matter since no one knew that this classmate was ill.
6. In the morning the father called the classmates father and casually asked him the wellbeing of his family. The classmate’s father answered that everything is ok but wanted to know why he is asking. The widow father revealed to him that he knows that his daughter is ill.
7. The classmate’s father was in shock because they kept this matter top secret. The other father told him the development of how this knowledge came about and told him that his daughter said that her classmate would completely heal.
8. The fathers belong to the same Hasidic sect. They immediately went to their leader in Yerushalayim to tell him the dream. The leader instructed that the ill girl be taken for a check up. On the same day the girl was scheduled for her first chemotherapy treatment.
9. The family was prepared for the miraculous result
10. The results of the exam came out totally clean without a trace of any illness!!
11. The power of stubbornly observing a Mitzvah can miraculously alter nature! [The story ends here]
Herewith my comments
2. “For the elevation of the Mothers Soul”
There is nothing we in this world can do for the elevation of the mother’s or any other deceased person’s soul. The mother had, as all of us have, an opportunity to perfect our soul in this physical world: meaning elevating our soul by following the Torah. The Rambam says in Laws of Teshuva Chapter 9 Law 1, “Once the Torah made known to us the reward of the Mitzvoth and the good we will merit, if we follow the way of Hashem that is written in the Torah. This is the world to come as it says “in order for it to be good for you and you should lengthen your days”, and the revenge that is taken from the wicked that forsook their ways of righteousness that is written in the Torah is Karet; as it is written, “Your soul will be surely cut off to the one that sins in it”, i.e. the Torah. The Rabbis interpret the First verse as the World come from “In order that it should be good for you and you should lengthen your days, meaning the world that is all good and the world that is all long…a reference to the next world. If you do not follow the Torah you will be cut off from this eternal world.”
I do not see anywhere how the soul can be elevated if the person does not follow this prescription in this world, i.e. the Mitzvoth. This theory would also demand the inverse to be true, that if a person is wicked while alive, and then dies, and then someone does an act in favor of this person, he is benefited somehow. This would go against this formula.
Rambam, Laws of Blessings, Chapter 1 Law 11. “Anyone that hears a Blessing from any Blessings from beginning to end and has his mind to fulfill his/her obligation, then he fulfills his obligation even though he doesn’t answer Amen. And anyone that answers Amen after a Blessing its as if he made the Blessing himself, and that is only if the one that is making the Blessing is obligated in that Blessing.” No mention that one must hear a Bracha and say Amen.
We also know that the word Amen means “true, I Affirm” meaning when someone says a Bracha and one hears it, he is to say Amen to say that he agrees, affirms, with this Blessing. This is only when a person hears the whole Bracha. However there is no obligation to hear it.
3. The idea that someone should pain themselves (Wait two and a half hours) in order to have a drink of water for someone to hear her Bracha.
As mentioned in item 2, nowhere does the Torah or Rabbis say anything about an obligation to say Amen to a Bracha unless being used to fulfill ones obligation of saying a Bracha, or affirming its meaning. Deuteronomy Chapter 28,Verse 47, “Because you didn’t serve Hashem your God with Joy and good spirit from abundance of good”. Hashem is saying you will receive all the curses if you do not follow the Torah with joy, of course you also did not follow the Torah. Waiting to drink water for two hours to make a Bracha for someone to say Amen doesn’t seem to be a happy state. In addition the Torah is a system of Truth, a system that makes sense to any intellectual being. Some Mitzvoth maybe a little more difficult to do than others, but it’s not about having pain. It may be difficult to daven with a Minyan everyday; it maybe a little easier to send away the mother bird from the nest. But other than Yom Kippur, there is no command to pain oneself to do a Mitzvah.
4. “Her deceased mother told her what was decreed in Heaven”
Do we have a case in the Torah where a dead person spoke? (Radak says Samuel was not literally raised, it was a vision) And I do not mean a parable, which perhaps the Talmud cites in Brachos. Did any of our forefathers that were on a prophetic level ever hear from a dead person? Any of our great Rabbis afterwards? There is another possibility. As we know from Dr. Sigmund Freud a famous psychologist, all dreams are manifestations of unconscious thoughts and desires. The Gemara also says “anyone who goes 7 days without a bad dream, is a wicked person”. This means he is satisfying his lusts in reality, so he needs no dream to address his suppressed urges. Dreams allow controlled desires some relief. We can never determine whether God decreed an event on an individual basis. Only if something good or bad happens to the Jewish Nation, then its divine providence. So we cannot say for certain this dream story was God’s doing. Maybe He did, maybe He didn’t. But no one can ever be sure.
5. “The girl woke up the father in a frenzy”
She was scared so she ran to her father. This makes sense: bad dream, wake up the parents. It happened to my wife and myself with our kids many times. .
6. “The father called the
There are many kids in the class. How did the father know which classmate’s father to call? Such a claim suggests this can only be prophecy. But this cannot be since the Rabbis teach that prophecy has ended.
7. “The matter was kept top secret and the father told the other father that the daughter will completely heal”
If it was top secret how did anyone find out about this? How did the father know for sure that there would be a complete recovery? Prophecy has ended, so this is false.
8. “Both fathers belong to the same Hasidic sect and went to their leader to tell the dream”
I do not know what Hasidism and Yerushalayim have to do with this. Maybe this will make the story more believable.
9. “The family was prepared for the miraculous result”
Again, how were they so sure? From a dream? That is interpreted by a Rabbi? We see many cases in the Torah where our forefathers prayed to Hashem for Children. They never knew if Hashem would answer their prayers.
10. No illness! Nice ending.
11. “The power of stubbornly observing a Mitzvah can miraculously alter nature”
In a more general sense this story tries to convey the power of a Mitzvah; that somehow miracles will happen when we perform them, even though our Rabbis teach us “Do not rely on Miracles”. Moshe Rabbeinu does not say to observe the Torah “for the sake of miracles”. And Rambam openly teaches we are to perform Mitzvoth, for their OWN sake. Not for miracles. (Commentary on Mishna Sanhedrin, Chap. 10) This story endorses opinions that are contrary to our greatest minds.
The question is why do teachers teach our children ideas that do not make any sense? Where do these stories come from? It’s not from Judaism. If this story were told over in a context of another religion, we would reject it outright. The reason such fables exist is because these teachers were also taught in the same manner and are just repeating over these errors.
They do not think before they teach. When it comes to religion…everything goes. You can say and believe whatever you want, and I cannot tell you that you are wrong.
Well this is wrong. Intellect must not take a back seat in religious issues.
We have to correct a fellow human being. The Torah commands, “You shall surely rebuke your fellow”. This teacher may believe he is communicating a nice story from Torah and everyone will feel good, but it is totally false, and dangerous. The children sense this when they are reading the story. They will think Judaism doesn’t make sense.
During this time of the year, this teacher and all of us should rededicate ourselves to asking questions and to study the Torah, seeking reason and truth. If we cannot do it on our own, we must find a proper teacher that has the knowledge to teach true, reasonable Torah, and the ideas of the great Rabbis that interpreted it.
I welcome all comments, questions and suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org