Letters March 2007
Reader: Editor, The Jewish Times:
Here’s another take on the “law of attraction” that was discussed in the Jewish Times two weeks ago.
I’ve been to seminars given by people who follow the “law of attraction” mentality. It’s possible that some of them believe that there is some “force” out there that causes things to be attracted to you if you focus on them enough. But I believe there is another, much more reasonable, interpretation of the attraction stories that they cite. Consider the following.
Suppose you become interested in a new car. Let’s say, a Ford Mustang. You stop by the showroom, sit behind the driver’s seat, take home the brochure, pin the glossy picture up on your refrigerator, and dream about having a new sleek Ford Mustang. Lo and behold, what do you start noticing on the highway? Ford Mustangs! They seem to be everywhere you turn. Now is that because you “attracted” them? Hardly. What happened is that you engaged a part of your brain called the Reticular Activating System, a mechanism that brings relevant information to your attention. (Think of an airport, with all of its sights and sounds, and how your ears perk up when the announcement over the loudspeaker is about YOUR flight. Or think of a mother who can recognize the cry of her child over the cries of all the other children.) The Mustangs you started seeing on the highway were, of course, always there. But because they are now of special interest to you and you are really focused on them, you begin to notice them. You didn’t notice them before because there was no reason for them to stand out over any other car on the road. We get bombarded by so many stimuli every second that we learn to tune out most of what we see and hear. I think researchers have studied this and concluded that we tune out over 90% of the stuff that comes past us. But the things we’re interested in? Those we notice.
Now suppose that I’m interested in new business deals. I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about business deals. So, when a snippet of information comes my way about a new deal, my Reticular Activating System picks up on it. I “notice” that unusual ad in the newspaper, or accidentally pay more attention to a conversation that may present an opportunity. Did I attract it to myself? Well, no, not really. But I did in a way, because I became more attuned to something that was already there and started noticing it more and more.
I think this phenomenon is very real and is quite in keeping with Torah. The person whose mind is focused on Torah and the wonderful things that Hashem has provided for us will see the world in that light. The person who is negative and focused only on criticism will find plenty to criticize. So I think the law of attraction exists, except it isn’t about attraction. It’s about what we focus on. And we seem to get more of what we focus on; not because it magically comes to us, but because it was always there in the first place and we finally notice it.
Jews vs. Gentiles: Better vs. Worse Souls?
Aurora: You say gentiles and Jews are equal but just have different roles. Any time I go to other Jewish sites I get so upset because I find a different approach. How come you are the only one that talks in this way? At times you talk about some Judaic issues that are not easy for me to digest, but still, you always emphasize the fact that all humans are equal. I found what follows on the site www.-----.org. Please tell me what do you think about it. I cannot understand how they can be so far away from your view. Can you tell me please if they are right? Here is what they wrote:
“If any nation would have then accepted the Torah, it would have elevated itself from its lower state. […] The gate was permanently closed, never again to be opened. It still remained possible, however, for any individual to convert to Judaism […] These nations still have the human aspect, blemished though it may be, and God desired that they should at least have a counterpart of what was actually appropriate for all mankind. He therefore granted them a Divine Soul (neshama) somewhat like that of the Jew, even though it is on a much lower level.”
Thanks in advance,
Mesora: Aurora, I wrote this letter to the author of your quote:
“Dear XXXX, One of your readers sent me - what I verified - are accurate quotes:
‘These nations still have the human aspect, blemished though it may be, and God desired that they should at least have a counterpart of what was actually appropriate for all mankind. He therefore granted them a Divine Soul (neshama) somewhat like that of the Jew, even though it is on a much lower level.’
‘Blemished’ you write? ‘Somewhat like that of the Jew’?
This is not at all what the quoted Talmud states. It is only those who cleave to idolatry who lose out...not all gentiles. Gentiles have no “lower soul” than a Jew, and you have no grounds to say so.
You make these words “appear” as authentically Torah by placing numerous quotes from Talmud below them...but they are your own conclusions, and are false. The Talmud does not say this. I verified your quote from Sanhedrin 91b.
These sources indicate that if a gentile remains with a lesser life not following Torah, then his eternal life is affected. The same is true regarding a Jew who does not live in accord with Torah. So both gentile and Jew are the same in “design”. The difference is whether the gentile lives according to the Torah philosophy, as Abraham did. In that case, Abraham - a gentile - inherited the next world...to a higher level than any Jew today! And Ruth the convert did as well. Adam, Eve, Noah, Isaac, Rebecca, Rachel, Sarah, Jacob and all their tribes were also not Jews. Yet, since they perfected themselves, God loved them. Your website’s claims are wrong, and are not what the quoted sources say. Your website misleads people to believe your ideas, since you don’t openly write what the Talmudic sources say. So the reader is led to believe your site is accurate. You have made a foolish conclusion, which violates all of the Torah’s words.
Kindly remove your conclusions, and replace them with the literal text of the sources.
I applaud your attempts to teach, but please teach accurately.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim”
I did receive this response: “Dear Moshe, Nice to hear from you. Thanks for your comments. It was an old article. I did edit it. I welcome your input.”
This Rabbi responded properly, and removed from his site what he realized were falsehoods. But one can study his words to reveal their false nature: “He therefore granted them a Divine Soul…”. One wonders: how God could ‘grant a soul’ to living humans, are they not alive, thinking beings already? The lesson here is that even without confirming from the text that someone’s words are false, the impossibilities they preach also teach this. In fact, if we perceive something to be true or false with absolute clarity, we must give that perception priority over mere words.
Aurora: I have read on some sites (written by rabbis) that a gentile who converts to Judaism had already a Jewish soul, (confirming the theory that Jewish souls are different from gentile ones) but the gentile soul had to pass through a kind of teaching or experience. This is what this site states:
“The Talmud, continuing this idea that converts already have a Jewish soul inside of them, uses a very interesting phrase when discussing Jewish laws of potential converts. It is written, ‘a convert who comes to convert...’ The phrase begs the question - why does it say “a CONVERT who comes to convert...”? Rather, it should say, “a GENTILE who comes to convert...”! The reason is because they already have a Jewish spark inside of them.”
Mesora: I have also written the note below to this second Rabbi, but have yet to hear back:
“Dear Rabbi XXXXX, A person wrote me with a concern I share, over something you wrote in “Conversion to Judaism”. You stated, “The Talmud, continuing this idea that converts already have a Jewish soul inside of them...”. However, the Talmud did not say that. It said gentiles were at Sinai; itself a metaphor, and in no measure that a “Jewish soul is inside gentiles”. There is not even support to differentiate between Jewish and gentile souls. So the Talmud cannot “continue” this notion of Jewish souls, since it never states it on Shavuos 39a to begin with. You then conclude with the “Jewish spark” theory...also not supported here.
You claim this is all quoted from Talmud. Please email me that exact Talmudic source.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim”
It matters none whether we hear back, since these claims are not from the Torah, but from this Rabbi’s arrogance. He forgets the Talmudic portion on Sanhedrin 59a “Rabbi Mayer said, any gentile who learns Torah is akin to the high priest”. This teaches that there is no difference between a gentile and Jew: both individuals have the same potential. This Rabbi also forgets what he says three times daily in the Alenu prayer: “And all sons of flesh will call Your name.” All mankind are equated. Jews are no better, and furthermore, we pray that all of mankind realize God’s truth and Torah system, so that they may benefit, as do we.
Proponents of the “Superior Jewish Soul” theory are forced to make ridiculous claims: that converts contain a “spark” of a Jewish soul. What nonsense. This means that God selectively gives a “higher soul” to some gentiles, but not to others. This presents God as unfair, and therefore cannot be true. And as we said earlier, God selected gentiles like Abraham and Ruth due to their own merit, to be leaders and forerunners of others. Now what will these proponents say: that gentiles like Abraham and Ruth were not meritorious of their acts, but it was due to some extraneous “spark”? Why then shall Abraham and Ruth earn reward, while other gentiles lose out? And what about Jews who become wicked? Where is their “Jewish spark”? Why has not their Jewish spark shielded them? And regarding the era before any Jews existed, Abraham could not have a “Jewish soul”.
We realize that the “Jewish soul” theory is foolish, and goes against all God says and does. In truth, one earns his or her reward due to engaging free will and intelligence, and not because God selectively apportioned some lucky few with “higher” souls.
To suggest “differences” in souls, one is obliged to prove that souls have levels, before suggesting who has the “new and improved” model. God’s Torah reveals that He created man only once. Yet these Rabbis suggest that God at some point created a “Jewish soul”. They are not loyal to God’s words, and this is why they err.
In summary, since the notion of Jewish superiority does not emanate from reality, we learn that man fabricates it. This proves our very point: Jews are no different than others, as they too possess arrogance. In fact, the Jew who is disloyal to God’s words, as in this case, is far beneath the righteous gentile who honestly seeks truth.
Noachides & Torah
Email: Would I be able to study in Chumash? Really, what could apply to Noachides? And if I were able to study, who would be the commentator to start with? I ask because a number of books are published by Artscroll that deal with a specific ones. Of course Rashi, Ramban...and some others that are from Feldheim. Any advice would be a great help to me.
Mesora: A Rabbi taught that a Noachide might study all areas addressing human perfection. This includes all commentaries as well. I cannot answer who you should start studying, since all commentators offer valuable insight. I would study as many as you could, including Maimonides’ “Guide for the Perplexed”, Rashi and Ramban on Chumash, “Sforno Comentary on the Torah” by Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz, and Ibn Ezra which I understand is now in English.
In addition to Noachide laws, you may study all other laws they wish to practice. What is forbidden regarding Torah study for Noachides is “theoretical study” of commands he/she does not intend to practice. But for all laws you wish to practice, you may, and actually, must study. There are only a few laws that a Noachide may not practice, which include Shabbos, holidays, and tefillin.
It should be understood that the reason for the prohibition of Torah study is not so much for the Noachide, as it is for the Jew. For if the Noachide studied Torah, since he is not obligated to follow it, his study will not be with the earnest of a Jew, and his teachings of Torah to others will corrupt the Torah system. Limiting Torah study to those (Jews) who are obligated in its practice, the Torah will be perpetuated as accurately as possible.
Reader: (i) In some of the articles, you mention that the Rambam said explicitly that believing God has parts is wrong, regarding the Rebbe saying that the soul is a “part of God”. The idea that God cannot have parts is entirely logical and I am totally convinced of its truth; however, it would be useful to know where the Rambam says this. Where exactly is this?
Mesora: It is principle 3 of his 13 Principles, located in his Peirush haMishnayos: chapter 11, Talmud Sanhedrin. He also discusses this in his Mishneh Torah, Yesoday haTorah 1:7.
Reader: (ii) What are the arguments against the authenticity of the Zohar? Clearly it contains ideas that go against the philosophy of the Rambam and Saadia Gaon (reincarnation, parts of God), but it is disheartening that the Gr’a was such a staunch proponent of the Zohar. Why didn’t he see through it? According to R’ Yaakov Emden, it contains misinterpretations of the Torah and Gemara. Why was the Gr’a tricked by de Leon’s fabrication?
Mesora: I feel we can safely state that one like the Gr’a did not accept any foolish notion. Perhaps he quoted only that which made sense, and dismissed the rest. The Zohar is not “Torah from Sinai”; nor is the Tanya, which is what I rejected in part, not the Rebbe. We should always take issue with ideas, not transient humans.
Reader: (iii) Where does the Rambam say that we lost the tradition regarding ideas of kabbala (*not* the kabala of the Zohar; I mean the kabala of the Ramban). What sort of ideas were in the true kabbala?
Mesora: I believe in his intro to book three in the “Guide” you can find Maimonides’ statement. Regarding what ideas are in kabbala…take a look.
Reader: (iv) What do you make of the Ramchal’s discussions of his meetings with Moshe, Eliyahu, Shmuel, etc.? He doesn’t seem to be the person to lie.
Mesora: I follow the Torah. It says not to consult the dead. We also know that prophecy has ended. Furthermore, Judaism is not about hero worship, and an attraction to personalities. I also don’t believe that Moses talked to Abraham, Noah or Adam. He wished to approach God. And I would not readily accept any story that discredits a Torah scholar or Rabbi.
Reader: (v) What was the Rambam’s understanding of angels? Had he lived today, given that science would contradict stars having souls and the idea of spheres, would the Rambam still have the same concept of angels?
Mesora: I cannot speak for Rambam.
Reader: (vi) If sacrifices aren’t true service of God, only a medium, as the Rambam discusses in the Moreh, why are there going to be sacrifices in the future Temple? People today certainly aren’t “softened” into that mode of service. Also, how would the Rambam respond to the fact that Cain and Abel brought sacrifices, even though they certainly weren’t “accustomed” to that type of service?
Mesora: I don’t recall Rambam saying sacrifice is not a “true service”. It must be a true service if God commanded it. And the enduring need for sacrifice is based on the enduring design of man. As it perfected man’s tendencies back then; since we share the same tendencies, we can benefit from sacrifice as well.
Regarding Cain and Abel, Rambam does not argue history. They sacrificed as a means to approach God. But subsequent to Egypt, sacrifice now took on a new objective.