Do you think you’re Jewish? Why do you think so: because your parents were Jewish? Is it that simple to be Jewish, or do we require correct ideas about Torah and God as well?
Being “Jewish” means that one lives by a core set of Torah truths – the Fundamentals of Judaism – apprehending these truths with one’s mind, and not deviating at all. I say a “core set” is required, since deviation in non-central matters does not cancel one’s status as a Jew. Of the latter, we would not say one who forgot to bless before eating a fruit, has denied a Fundamental truth concerning God and His will. But if someone assumes God is physical, or has parts, or that He is not just or He doesn’t give prophecy to man, then one errs in the most central of areas, and such a thought reveals one as having no idea what God is, and can cancel one’s share in the World to Come.
Let us review Maimonides’ words (Laws of Idolatry, chap II)
“Any Jewish heretic (apikores) is no longer Jewish in any measure, and is never received in his repentance, forever. And the heretics are those who go astray after their heart’s thoughts in their foolish words that they state, until they violate the Torah’s Fundamentals, despicably in spite, with an outstretched hand, and they claim that they are not sinning. It is forbidden to speak with them and to respond upon them with any response at all.” (2:5)
Maimonides makes it clear that one who violates the Torah Fundamentals assuming he is in line with Judaism is “no longer Jewish in any measure”. It therefore behooves us all to make certain we understand the Fundamentals of Judaism. Maimonides also outlined our very Fundamentals, and added this at the closing of those 13 Principles:
“Therefore know them [these 13 Principles] and succeed in understanding them and review them many times and know them very well. Therefore if after one or ten times you think you have understood them, God knows that you are just involved in falsehood. Therefore do not read them quickly because I have not written them as it suddenly entered into my mind. But rather, after a deep and careful study of the whole area and after I have seen many clear and true ideas and I have seen what is proper to believe of them [as the fundamentals] and I have brought proofs and logical demonstrations for each and every one of them.”
Maimonides states, “Therefore if after one or ten times you think you have understood them, God knows that you are just involved in falsehood.” So we must not take this task lightly, since our Rabbis did not, and since these matters are of the greatest stature, and not easily comprehended. We must know our Fundamentals and not deny them, if we are to truly be considered Jewish.
We must all realize that our Judaism, our attachment to truth, to God, and our portion in the next world, are in the balance: if we know and understand our Fundamentals fully, then we are Jewish, and not heretics. It matters none if we are born to Jewish parents while deviating from Torah Fundamentals, for Korach, Dathan and Aviram, Doeg and many other Jews were great sinners. And although born Jewish, this did not spare them great punishment. We have a treasured opportunity, while we are yet alive and can fulfill Torah Commandments, to seize and fulfill this command of Torah study par excellence: the Fundamentals top the list of Torah ideas which we must comprehend. They address our notion of God, and His relationship with mankind. If we live based on proven truths, then we earn a great Earthly existence permeated with the deep, unparalleled pleasure of learning; as well as eternal life. But if our ideas are false, regardless of how many other Jews duplicate those ideas, we tragically have but a simple Earthly existence met with friction and frustration since we deny reason, and we enjoy nothing further after we die. It is the greatest tragedy to forfeit our share in the World to Come, when with relatively brief time in study, we might retain this gift. The best thing any human can do for himself, is retain “himself”...I mean, retain one’s soul. The worst thing we can do, is forfeit it.
Last week we reprinted the 13 Fundamentals, and we are doing so again this week, based on their essential study recommended by Maimonides, their compiler. But we must also understand them, and a good test of our adherence, is to learn if in everyday life, these Fundamentals are violated. In this manner, we may advise those in violation of their error, as well as teach others who are yet unaware.
Case and point: this week, we were asked at Mesora to promote an advertisement from an organization, which guarantees “salvation” if a person will pay $400 to reproduce 12 volumes of a deceased Rabbi’s writings. I responded, “Mesora will not run such ads, as your mission violates one of Judaism’s Fundamentals, located in Maimonides’ 13 Principles; not to seek an intermediary between oneself and God. (Principle V)” The organization responded as follows:
“We are a known organization in Israel that prints the books of Rabbi XXXXX, who promised to be a Mailitz Yosher [advocate before God in his death]. For whoever will help in the printing of his books, he will have a merit. It is a known ‘segulah’ [remedy] that for generations what was done for refuah (healing) etc. We are not trying to be an intermediary [between man and God]. Another person, Rabbi XXXXX wrote about this that it is a known remedy and many had a salvation. I mainly wrote to you because one is supposed to clean himself from a suspicion of wrong doing. I will be happy to reply to further questions. I suggest you read the article in the same site.”
Well, I did read the article, and I will address one portion later in this article. But for now, the person who wrote this response contradicts himself: he says that reprinting books will entitle the financier to some intervention by the dead Rabbi; he will merit some “segula” or definite remedy. But then this person contradicts himself, saying the Rabbi is not an advocate. So which one is it: will or will not my financing of the book reproductions cause the dead Rabbi to talk to God for me? This person sits on both sides of the fence, and he does not even realize his contradiction. He also speaks of matters of which he has no knowledge, i.e., matters of the dead. This is problematic, as there exists no basis to suggest that the dead play this role before God. As the Talmud states, “no eye saw it [heaven]”, that is, no one died and came back, in order that we might know what happens after death. Hence, this is entirely fabricated.
Furthermore, the Torah does not endorse such thinking: one who does not perfect himself, does not earn God’s intervention, and no dead Rabbi can mitigate God’s justice.
But the strongest question is this: why can’t this Rabbi be an advocate…for himself? Why does he need others to promote his books?! If he claims he will cause healing and salvation, what prohibits his own proliferation of his works…“himself”? The claim alone indicates the Rabbi is limited; as he requires others (the living) to promote his books. If he is so dependent, then he cannot be a guarantor for others! The very claim this organization makes is internally contradictory. Let us review the Torah on this Fundamental.
After Rachel did not conceive, she asked Jacob, “Give me children, and if not, I am considered dead. And Jacob became very angry with Rachel, and he said, ‘Am I in God’s place, that I have withheld you from having children?” (Gen. 30:2,3) Jacob is emphatic and greatly disturbed, replying that Rachel made a grave error for considering Jacob capable of doing anything to grant her children. Jacob denies this ability belongs to anyone, except God. Yet, this Rabbi and organization “guarantee” that which someone greater – a prophet – stated he could not perform! This claim contradicts the Torah, as God endorsed Jacob’s words by including them in our precious Torah, or book of truth.
Now what does this Rabbi’s theory say about God’s justice? Reward and Punishment is one of the 13 Principles, another idea we must have perfectly clear, as it concerns our view of God’s providence over mankind. God administers a reasonable system of justice. This too is based on Torah verses. But the concept of a dead advocate, who will generate salvation for a financier of his books, is against Reward and Punishment. I will explain.
In the Shema, God says only by observing the Torah Commandments, will we find success, and if we do not perform the commandments, we will receive punishments. Therefore, lucky charms, amulets, and these “segulas” are lies and denounced by God Himself. If one does not follow Torah, God says in His Shema that nothing can help him avoid God’s punishments, nothing…including this deviant promise that book reprinting brings salvation. But if one does perform the Torah, then, as God said in the Shema, He alone will assist the person, and again, these amulets and false practices are obsolete. In God’s system, the only system, man’s merits or faults are the sole causes of his fate. Man’s sins cause God to abandon him, regardless of how many books he finances; while merits cause God’s love and providence, despite the fact that he never reprinted this Rabbi’s books. God’s system is perfectly righteous, while this Rabbi’s system is flawed and denies God’s words.
The claim that anyone who reprints copies receives Divine aid, without repentance, contradicts the Shema. It contradicts reason. And as Jacob instructed his wife Rachel (according to Rashi), one must perfect themselves to gain God’s favor and Divine assistance. Any action unrelated to one’s perfection cannot remove one’s sins. Rashi states that Jacob said this to Rachel, “I have children, but it is you and not I who God prevented from having children.” This sounds harsh and callous, but what Jacob was saying, was this: “Rachel, you are the one who has no child, and therefore, the problem keeping you barren is within you, and not in me. Therefore, reflect on your values, and find your flaw, and correct it.” This is the sense of Jacob’s words. Repentance is the cure, not a donation to reprint books.
The prophet Micha also teaches this:
“Does God desire thousands of rams [sacrifices] or tens of thousands of streams of oil? Shall I give my firstborn son to atone for my sins, or the fruit of my belly to stone for the sins of my soul? It is told to you man, what is good, and what God requires from you: do justice and loving kindness and humbly walk before God.” (Micha, 6:7,8)
Micha teaches this idea that thousands of actual commandments – sacrifices – can in no manner atone for one’s sins. One must be righteous and humble and repent. If commandments (sacrifices) cannot atone for one’s sins, certainly changing one’s mezuza or financing book copies is no different, and cannot remove one’s sins.
This last idea is formulated so well by both Sforno and in Talmud Sotah, 21a. When Moses pleads before God to forgive the Jews’ sin of the Golden Calf, he says, “If You did not forgive them, erase me from Your book. And God said to Moses, ‘Whomever sinned to Me, I will blot out’.” (Exod. 32:32) Sforno comments: “Each man must bear punishment for his sins, and he will receive reward for his merits. For a Mitzvah cannot extinguish a sin, how much more will I not add your (Moses’) merits to the account of the Jews!” Sforno teaches that God will not look at man’s own good deeds, as a means of eliminating his sins; certainly God will not consider the good deeds of others. Although man might reproduce a Rabbi’s books, this in no manner may erase the sins of that man…each person is punished for his sins, and rewarded for his mitzvahs. But never has God wiped away a sin because man did some other good. The only method that man’s sins are erased, is repentance. This makes sense, for as long as man has not corrected a specific flaw, no change has occurred in his values entitling him to God’s providence. Sforno, the Talmud, Maimonides and all cases of God’s justice, thereby refute this false theory that reprinting books somehow entitles a person to God’s good graces.
This is a Fundamental of Judaism, and if we veer from the truth of God’s justice, then our idea of God is false, and we risk our status as Jews, and our share in the World to Come. These are the words of Maimonides.
Is it worth losing our lives here and in the next world, simply because we find it difficult to disagree with the masses? Are we that insecure, that we deny Torah fundamentals and reason because a recent movement of Rabbis follows nonsense? A person must ask himself if he is following such practices because so many others do; because Rabbis endorse it; or because it is written in books and therefore assumes an air of “authenticity”. But all these excuses cannot justify beliefs that might render us an apikores, a heretic. We must at the very least, have a deep concern for Maimonides powerful accusation of who are heretics, and no longer Jews with no share in the World to Come. Such a loss disturbs me more deeply than anything I can imagine.
This organization attempts to win over donors, by promoting many stories of Rabbis performing miraculous feats. One such case is this:
“A man once appeared at the Rav’s house late one night. His wife was having a baby, but her life was in extreme danger. The husband desperately pleaded with the Rav for help. The Rav dealt with this life-and-death situation a unique way. He took a Gemara and began studying a section with great concentration. When he came across a difficulty posed by Tosfos, he summoned his formidable capabilities and came up with an ingenious resolution to the question. Then he offered a prayer to Hashem, to rescue the woman from the dangers of the childbirth she was going through, in the merit of the answer which he had labored to come up with.”
This is practice of endangering a woman whose life is at risk, is most foolish, and prohibited. The Shulchan Aruch – the Jewish Law – teaches that one may even violate the Sabbath to save a life. Since life is so precious, we dare not engage in anything other than rushing someone to the hospital, and we must violate even the Sabbath to save another person. This story, that a Rabbi would start studying and rely on a miracle, goes against reason of how we treat physical ailments, and it violates “Ain Somchin al haNase”, “Do not rely on a miracle” which is a Torah principle. Would this Rabbi study a Gemara if his arm were just amputated in combat? Even the prophet Samuel, when in actual discussion with God, concerning God’s command that he locate a new king, said to God, “King Saul will hear [that I seek his replacement] and will kill me”. Samuel teaches that even when on a direct mission from God, and even while talking with God, we do not rely on miracles or feel confident God will step in…for no man knows God’s thoughts suggesting whether we truly deserve His providence at any given time. Samuel was far greater than this Rabbi, and he did not feel protected by God’s miracles, or insulated from any assassination attempt by King Saul. This story is recorded for us to learn from, not that we might deny it, and fabricate notions in the name of Torah. Stories such as this Rabbi’s claims destroy the Torah, as they mislead many Jews to abandon reason, and deny God’s teachings.
We must not be impressed by the long list of cases posted on this organization’s website claiming “miracle after miracle”, when these miracles violate reason and Torah principles. Samuel was correct, but the Rabbis this website promotes were at fault. Perhaps as you read this, you wonder how so many Rabbis can be making a mistake. Perhaps their antiquity forces a sense of “truth” on your emotions, as you feel this has been accepted by people from Warsaw and other European towns as far back as the 1800s, which you blindly equate to the accuracy of Warsaw and the ghetto. But be sharp, and distinguish, as you are being duped by a trick of the emotions. Stories authored by “Rabbis from Warsaw” make them no truer. The age of a story or its place of origin lends no credibility…the facts alone must be what you consider to discern truth. Just as today, many Rabbis accept false notions that contradict Torah, why was yesteryear any different? People were fooled by fantastic stories then, just as is true today.
The reason so many Rabbis on their website are recorded as accepting fantastic stories, is quite simple: just as this Rabbi today promoting this website is led astray by these fantastic stories, the same applies for the past few hundred years, where generation after generation, they all sustained the same sentiment: “How can I deny what previous Rabbis accepted?” This absent-minded approach where an individual is afraid to question and argue on his predecessors, is a cycle wherein the Torah’s principle are not considered, but Rabbis’ legends obscure what our minds know to be true, and where Torah Fundamentals have not be studied for hundreds of years. Had these Rabbis studied the Torah properly, they would abandon such practices as they violate God’s words. And since this lineage of people transmitting hearsay with no critical thinking goes unopposed, it reaches today’s generation, fooling even more people who ignore their minds, in favor of fairy tales.
It is also the fault of the masses, that you too do not study the Fundamentals, and therefore, you find such stories inspiring, instead of the truth, that they are heretical. Today’s Rabbis must vocally denounce such Judaism, where legends of Rabbis performing miracles replace God’s Torah accounts like Jacob and Rachel, Samuel, Micha, and all other prophets who God clearly favored as possessing the true philosophy.
If you wish to be a Jew, you must study our Torah Fundamentals many times until they become clear in your mind. If you currently deny them, Maimonides states that this removes you from being Jewish. How do you know if you deny the Fundamentals? You can only determine this, by studying them. We have included the Fundamentals once again in this week’s issue.
Today’s Rabbis must stop proliferating fallacies of Rabbis’ miraculous cures, stories unheard of in our Torah, and in direct violation of God’s words. You must return your congregants and students to the Torah, teaching what is a Fundamental, and denouncing such stories, as God does not include these in His Torah. Otherwise, your silence, or worse, your support, will be a great sin, as to you alone do your flocks and students seek as their sole source for Torah truths. You have a great responsibility, and a great ability to influence people away from fallacy, and return them to truth. So many religious and non-religious Jews are tragically no longer Jewish, according to Maimonides.
The bottom line is that there exists two opposing opinions: those of fairly recent “miracle-working” Rabbis (not prophets) who deny Fundamentals and forfeit your Jewish status, claiming inexplicable and unproven things; that book reprinting, red bendels and checking mezuzas can avert God’s just punishments, even though people don’t repent. And then we have Maimonides who is firmly based in the Torah’s reasonable words; like Jacob the prophet who taught Rachel that God does not bring salvation without her repentance; and the Shema that teaches man receives Reward and Punishment solely based on his merits and sins, regardless of extraneous activities.
So, who do you follow to be considered a Jew: the 150-year-old European movement of men who err with magical amulets and deny Torah, or the 3318-year-old Torah of Moses and Jacob, “prophets” who spoke God’s words and whom God endorsed? Choose one, you can’t follow both.