Letters: Feb. 2006




Animal Behavior II


In the latest issue of the Jewish Times you asked a question: “Why was the next plague Animal Deaths? Was it to act as a follow-up some how to the Mixture? Write in with your thoughts.” I have two possible answers to this.

First, it seems that the Mixture dealt with wild beasts while the Animal Deaths dealt with domestic animals. Perhaps this was to show Hashem’s mastery over both wild and domestic animals. The Mixture may sever the connection between the Egyptians and wild beasts, but might not affect their view of domestic animals. If this is true it brings up another question though, why did wild and domestic animals need to be addressed specifically in these different ways?

Second, while the mixture may have changed some of the Egyptian emotions toward animals, perhaps they still considered them deities. They may have said, “The animals are still gods, they are just angry at us for some wrong we committed”. They may have thought the animals were acting on their own, without Hashem’s control. That is why the next plague had to be something negative upon the animals themselves. This showed that it was G-d who was in charge. As it says, “behold the hand of Hashem is on your livestock...” 9:3

Joshua Plank




Kabbala vs. Torah II


Reader: Perhaps I missed something in your line of reasoning regarding the status of Kabbala and the Zohar.  In your article, you explained that the Talmud could be traced back to God’s words at Sinai with no break in oral transmission.  You then contrasted this with Kabbala stating “no one today can claim to possess verbal transmissions directly back to Moses and God.”  I hope you can see already where the flaw is in this argument.  Talmud was (past tense) transmitted orally with no break in the transmission until the time it was first compiled in written form.  It is not presently transmitted in this manner.  Similarly, the teachings of the Zohar were transmitted orally from Teacher to student until the time it was complied in its written form.  I see no difference in the manner of transmission of these two forms of teaching.  I do not discount the authority of the Torah above the Zohar, but I do believe that you have failed to make a coherent argument for why the Talmud should supersede the Zohar.  I would welcome a clarification of your idea. 






Mesora: Shira, thank you for your observation. You are correct; clarification is required.

Your write, “Talmud was (past tense) transmitted orally with no break in the transmission until the time it was first compiled in written form.  It is not presently transmitted in this manner.  Similarly, the teachings of the Zohar were transmitted orally from Teacher to student until the time it was complied in its written form.”

You admit of an unbroken chain in both, Talmud and Zohar. However, I am not aware of such a recorded lineage regarding the Zohar. Only regarding Talmud do we find Maimonides’ precise history of the Rabbis, “Who received it from whom”. If you claim this is so regarding Kabbala, I would appreciate you informing me where a similar chain of people is recorded. But I have never heard of any source.

In the beginning of his Mishne Torah, Maimonides lists the unbroken chain of Sages from Moses to Rabbeinu Hakodesh. Thus, we have proof of the Talmud’s (Oral Law) origin at Sinai. Contrast that to the sudden appearance of Kabbala in the 13th century, where no recorded transmission exists regarding Kabbala, tracing itself to Moses. Additionally, authorship of the Zohar has been disputed. This further doubts its validity.

I agree: from Rabbeinu Hakodesh and forward, no one today claims a direct transmission back to Rabbeinu Hakodesh. Nonetheless, no one argues the authenticity of the Talmud. We accept the words of Maimonides as we do regarding all historical accounts. Had an unbroken lineage been proven in connection with the Zohar, we would treat it similarly.




Thinking about Thinking


Reader: We were trying to go through the proof of the soul, and we were unclear on a key point. On Mesora.org you explain “In order to perceive of any idea, one requires an apparatus which is of the same nature as ideas, i.e., the soul, something not physical, something  Metaphysical.” We were wondering about this premise. Why is this necessarily true? Why couldn’t you say the nature of the brain is to perceive non-physical concepts? Why can’t something physical apprehend the non-physical? We have a sense of what you mean, but we were hoping you could make it clearer. Thank you for your help.

Dave and Dani


Mesora: Had the brain alone been required to perceive concepts, we would wonder why animals have not developed speech, discussed morality, or composed books, as does man. You might reply that man’s brain is superior than animals’ brains, but that would lead to a search for where man’s brain differs, qualitatively. I do not know enough to answer if there is much physical difference.

What we can securely rely on are God’s words: “B’tzelem Elokim bara oso”, “In God’s image He created him (man)”. (Gen. 1:27) This is not mentioned in connection with the animals. Thus, man was gifted with an additional component. We term this the “soul”.

In all honesty, I thought about your question, and realized something I cannot answer: for if I maintain that something non-physical is required in man, a soul, necessary for perceiving the non-physical world of ideas, a counter argument exists. For one might retort as follows, “Even accepting the postulation of a non-physical soul, we must then ask, how this non-physical soul relates to a physical man?” It appears we gain nothing by suggesting a soul exists. For we have yet not answered how something physical interacts with that which is not physical. I do not know the answer. I do not think this is within man’s capabilities to know, since the question concerns the soul, of which we have no idea what it is.

Nonetheless, we might distinguish between that which “perceives” ideas, and that perceiving entity somehow “relating” to man. The former – “perception” – is what I addressed, and what you questioned. I previously suggested “perception” cannot be achieved by a rock, wood, flesh, or anything but something akin to concepts: thus, a “non-physical” soul is required to interact with “non-physical” ideas. But when discussing something other than the act of “perceiving”, meaning, the act of “relating”, we are not faced with the same problem. To be clear, there are two issues: 1) what is required to “perceive” ideas, 2) what is required that a physical human body might “relate” with a non-physical soul.

I have only addressed the former, but the latter – I feel – is not in the reach of human understanding.






Reader: We have a cat (female), she is so tender and we are very fond of her. At first I didn’t want to accept her but my children (and the fact that she needed a place to go) convinced me and I decided to take her (she was two months old when we took her). After some months she started to be very nervous and I realized she wanted to mate. I could not let her do it because I live in an apartment and don’t know anybody that would like cats. Almost everybody told me that I had to sterilize my cat. At first it seemed to me a very terrible think to do, but I was told that it would be a worst crime to let her suffer by not letting her mate and that she would not have this urge after sterilization.  The fact is that I had sterilized my cat 3 years ago. She seems to be OK and she is very sweet and curious. However, I sometimes feel very guilty of what I’ve done because I think it was not a correct thing to do. Listening to Noachide Laws I have learned about the prohibition of castrating or modification of the sexual organs of an animal and now I feel worse about what I have done. What can I do to fix my fault?

Thanks in advance,


Mesora: I know of a case personally, where a young man confessed to his Rabbi of participating in two abortions for his girlfriend. The Rabbi said that the remorse was the first step to repentance. We learn that the other step is to resign one’s self to never commit that act again.

With 1) remorse, and 2) an honest and complete resignation to never commit that act again, God wipes clean that person’s sin. Read Ezekiel chapter 18 on this absolute removal of sin when one truly repents. This was a greater sin than yours, so certainly your remorse and moral confession before God (you should actually address God) will wipe clean your sin.

As we are born ignorant, God is well aware that every truth must be arrived at, and that takes time. Thus, God allows a person the right to repent, and God fully forgives those who fully repent. Ignorance is unavoidable, and we must not punish ourselves with remorse, if God forgives. We must adhere to what He determines is true and real, and forgiveness is real before God.