Letters Jan. 2009

70 Faces

Reader: Doesn't it say that there are seventy ways of looking at the Torah and all of them are correct?

Mesora: First of all, "70" isn't literal: it means there are "multiple" facets to Torah. On any single verse for example, one may derive many truths. 

From the myriad of arguments found in the Talmud and Torah commentators, we learn that the Rabbis did not understand this saying to mean all explanations are correct. They did not suggest their colleague was correct, since "There are 70 facets to the Torah". This saying means that there is a great amount of knowledge to be derived. But we must discern what we hear and learn to ascertain what makes sense, and what does not.

As God's Torah reveals His infinite knowledge, a single verse will hold numerous ideas. And all ideas intended by that verse must not contradict each other, or any truth. 

I would add that many people today tend to use this saying to defend any view stated by a person or a Rabbi. But the fact is that in the "name of Torah", we have heard many incorrect and even dangerous notions...even from Rabbis. 

There is much to learn. But what we accept as truth must make sense and conform to Torah fundamentals.

Divine Protection

Reader: I had a question regarding hashgacha...

In Parshat Vayeshev, (39:21, 23), the Torah says that "Hashem was with Joseph." However, according to the Rambam, hashgacha (divine providence) occurs via the Divine overflow to a person who has a superior intellect/knowledge of Hashem, where "he is with God and God is with him" (Guide, III, 51).

My question: at this point in the parsha, there is no indication that Joseph had attained the level of knowledge of Hashem that would trigger Divine overflow. In fact, in 40:14, Joseph asks the Cupbearer to "think of me...when he (Pharaoh) benefits you, and you will do me a kindness, if you please, and mention to Pharaoh, then you would get me out of this building." Clearly if he had attained the level of knowledge of his father, grandfather and great grandfather, he would have relied on Hashem to liberate him and not man.

If we use Rambam's understanding of hashgacha pratit, how did Joseph, who relied on man and not God, warrant providence? 

Mesora: We do not know what 'level' of knowledge or providence Joseph attained. But we do know with certainly from the earliest moments of his entrance into Egypt that he did attain God's providence. Just as soon as he was purchased by Potiphar, the Torah says, "And God was with Joseph..." (Gen. 39:2) and later as well as seen in 39:21. And even prior to this, Rashi comments that Joseph was purchased by a caravan delivering pleasant-smelling goods so the Tzaddik Joseph would benefit. This implies providence.

Regardless of one's level of providence, the Torah does not support the idea of relying on God alone. "Ain somchin al hanase", "do not rely on miracles". When being approached by his wicked twin Esav who was about to attack him, Jacob did not rely on prayer alone: he also prepared for war and for a political manuever. And even when Samuel was in direct conversation with God under His directive to anoint David, Samuel did not rely on God to save him from Saul. There is no better example than this which teaches that we are not to rely on miracles.