Judging Truth

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

The Jewish Press “Letters to the Editor” published an exchange over the past month, and with good cause: the issues debated addressed the tenets of Judaism. Rabbi Abraham Stone was criticized by other Rabbis for two positions he reiterated again in the Jewish Press August 18, 2004 issue, “The Meaning of Menachem Av”. I wish to comment on his two positions:
Rabbi Stone writes:
“…there are various Talmudic and other sources which speak of Hashem’s painful feelings for Am Yisrael in exile, such as Shechina B’golusa - the Shechina is in exile.” 
Rabbi Stone deviates gravely from the Rabbis’ words, projecting his own feelings by suggesting, “Hashem has painful feelings.”  Even Genesis 6:6 which contains the words “console” and “pain” in connection with G-d, Unkelos translates as “G-d’s word”, and not G-d Himself, to obviate anthropomorphism.
Unlike Rabbis Stone’s words, the Rabbi quoted did not write “G-d has painful feelings”, rather, “G-d’s shechina (manifest relationship) is with them (the exiled Jews).” Rabbi Stone carelessly misquotes the Rabbis’ precious words that deserve preservation. What the Rabbis’ meant is not that G-d experiences pain, which is blasphemy. What this means is that although we are exiled, G-d does not sever His relationship with us. This is the meaning, as opposed to Rabbi Stone’s misquotation, and impossible suggestion that G-d “experiences pain.”
To do justice to the Talmud, I will quote it accurately:
“Rabbi Shimone Ben Yochai said, ‘come and see how beloved are the Jews before G-d, that wherever they were exiled, the Shechina was with them.” (Megilla 29a)
This is not a statement of pain, but of love. It teaches that even in exile, G-d’s honor is identified with the Jew. His “shechina” (manifest relationship) “exiled with us” cannot be understood literally, as G-d has no ‘place’. Also, G-d does not experience “pain”. G-d is not governed by His creations, i.e., emotions. This quote does not say what Rabbi Stone suggests.
We may also add that along with the love G-d expresses (Deut. 7:8, and 10:15), there is another idea: G-d’s shechina being “exiled with us” means this: His name is always associated with the Jewish nation. This makes sense, as Judaism is the only religion, which He forged, and Israel is His one, chosen nation. Other nations witnessing our exile will understand that it must be “by G-d’s hand” that we are exiled for our sins. (Deut. 28:64, and 32:30) Our exile is in fact a testament to the fulfillment of G-d’s curses - a sanctification of G-d’s name.  “G-d curses finding fulfillment” may be another understanding of His shechina being with us in our exile.
Although this is a case of misquotation, Rabbi Stone also exhibits misunderstanding. None other than Rambam’s son Avraham refutes literal interpretations of Medrash, “metaphors”. (Intro to Ain Yaakove) Maimonides wrote in his “Guide”, (Letter of the Author to his Pupil, R. Joseph Ibn Aknin), “Thus the parables in themselves are of no great value, but through them the words of the holy Law are rendered intelligible. These likewise are the words of our Sages; consider well their statement, that the deeper sense of the words of the holy Law are pearls, and the literal acceptation of a figure is of no value in itself.” King Solomon’s work, Proverbs, is the preeminent example that the Rabbis and our Prophets spoke in riddles. They expected a level of intelligence from the Jewish nation, that proverbs taken literally would prove absolutely incomprehensible, and Israel would never accept their overt form. The Rabbis intended that we unravel their purposefully cryptic, overt text; searching for the hidden, true intent. But not only is Proverbs metaphorical, King Solomon writes, “To understand proverb and poetic expression, the words of the wise and their moot sayings” (Proverbs, 1:6) With this verse, King Solomon teaches that not only is his book Proverbs metaphorical, but the Rabbis too spoke in metaphor. In order to train us to understand the Rabbis’ metaphors, King Solomon wrote Proverbs.

Contradiction and Blasphemy
Rabbi Stone writes:
“…Hashem has no human form or human emotions, and He needs nothing from His created beings. Certainly this is true.” 
Rabbi Stone contradicts himself with his following statement:
“Hashem created the world in a way that, through Torah and mitzvos, we enhance Hashem’s pleasure.”
This is the exact contradiction Rabbi Stone made two weeks ago when he wrote:
“Certainly, we cannot attribute any physical features and human emotions to Hashem…He needs nothing from us.” 
Rabbi Stone then wrote:
“For Hashem created the world in a way that our service is for the need of Hashem.”
Rabbi Stone’s sustained contradiction is inexplicable. In virtually the same breath, and on two occasions, he says one idea, and then suddenly contradicts himself. I don’t mind if someone disregards their words, unless he teaches false ideas about Judaism and G-d, which Rabbi Stone does. Suggesting G-d has needs, that He experiences pain or pleasure, are all blasphemous notions. Rabbi Stone understands the Rabbis literally, and improperly.

Maimonides vs Tanya
Rabbi Stone also suggests the notion that G-d has parts. In last weeks article, Maimonides’ 13 Principles were properly cited:
“G-d is not like one man that may be divided into many individual parts’, ‘the wise men denied G-d being composite or subject to division’, ‘To what shall your equate Me that I should be similar, says G-d?’ (Isaiah, 40:25) (ibid; Principle III)”
Isaiah teaches quite clearly that there is nothing that compares to G-d, including parts, division, or any physical attribute. Again this week, Rabbi Stone disagrees, and reiterates this false view of G-d:
“I also noted that all Jewish souls are ‘a part of Hashem from Above’, which is stated in Tanya.”
Rabbi Stone made it quite clear; he has selected Tanya over Maimonides. Tanya subscribes to the notion that G-d has “parts”, while Maimonides clearly denies this.
This brings us to a fundamental in rational thought: when there are two contradictory views, either both are false, or one is false…however both cannot be true. And when there are only two possibilities, one must be true: G-d does, or does not have parts.
As it is impossible that Maimonides and Tanya are both correct on this point, how do we determine which position is true? Neither lays claim to prophecy, as the Talmud teaches that prophecy ended, and both works are outside the pale of Written Torah – “Torah Sheb’Ksav”. Additionally, we do not deify man, falsely suggesting that Maimonides or the Rebbe are infallible. For we read, “For man is not righteous in the land who does good and does not sin.” (Ecclesiastes, 7:20) Even the greatest man Moses made errors. Therefore, we are forced to compare each position with the Torah’s words. In this fashion, whichever one complies with either, the Torah, Prophets or Writings, is truly a Torah idea. And whichever one deviates, is not a Torah idea.
As mentioned in the quote above, G-d said through Isaiah, “To what shall your equate Me that I should be similar, says G-d?” G-d said through Moses,  “Hear Israel G-d is your G-d, G-d is One.” G-d says through these two great prophets that He is unlike anything, and that He is One.
Let us follow step-by-step reasoning: Our world is physical. G-d is not. We know this, as G-d created the physical. Therefore, G-d is outside the physical realm. What are some features of the physical world? Physical attributes include “composition”, the fact that things have parts. And G-d said that He is not similar to anything, according to Isaiah’s words. We conclude: G-d has no “parts”, there is no part of Himself in man. (G-d also clearly states that He is One, and not two or more.)
On the other side, Rabbi Stone quotes Tanya:
“…all Jewish souls are ‘a part of Hashem from Above,’ which is stated in Tanya (ch. 2).”
Now, if what Rabbi Stone quotes is from Job, this presents no problem for Maimonides’ theory. Some misunderstand a few words in the book of Job to ascribe “parts” to G-d: “and what portion of G-d from above”, or in Hebrew, “Umeh chalek Elokim mimaal?”. Such individuals sustain a blasphemous belief, thinking this to mean, “there is a part of G-d in each of us.” However, these people do an injustice to Job, to Ramban’s explanation, and to the Jews who they mislead from Judaism’s most fundamental tenet.
The source of their error is found in Job, 31:1,2:
“A treaty have I made with my eye; for what shall I gaze at a virgin? And what portion shall I have with G-d above, and an inheritance of G-d on high?”
Job declares he is upright, never gazing lustfully. Job explains that in doing so, one forfeits his “portion with G-d”. This is reasonable, and in accordance with G-d’s system of Reward and Punishment. But people misinterpret the word “portion”, not as the end of the verse clarifies as “inheritance”, but wrongly, ascribing “parts” to G-d. This verse in Job simply means that Job admits he will forfeit his “portion” (inheritance) with G-d. Through sin, Job says he will lose this world and the next. Job is not describing G-d, that He has parts. Job is describing his inheritance.
Torah, Prophets, and reasoning vindicate Maimonides. Conversely, Rabbi Stone’s quote from Tanya is either a poor interpretation, a misprint, or an error by the author. Rabbi Stone’s position is irrational, and denies the fundamentals of Judaism.
Regardless of their source, quotes are meaningless if unsupported by Torah, while also violating reason. Certainly, we do not subscribe to notions, which are blasphemous, such as G-d being similar to anything physical.