Letters July 2013

What Causes Harm?

Reader: I am in agreement with many of your theological positions. However, your belief that human reasoning leads to truth has been found false, over and over again. Just look at all the misery caused by this "intelligence/reasoning" since the creation of humankind until this very day. Indeed human intelligence/reasoning does not necessarily lead to goodness/truth.

Indeed we must learn Torah/Moral Instruction as handed down from Hashem to Moshe in order to transmit it to, Israel/Upright of G-d, to pass it down to all future generations of humankind; this done in order to correct faulty human reasoning in accordance with Hashem's reasoning; as per Hashem, "My ways are above your ways - My thoughts are above your thoughts."

Indeed human reasoning has its limits and belief in the First Cause of all causes is a necessary must according to Maimonides! May you continue your efforts to find the truth of everything through Hashem's teachings!

Rabbi: You are correct: engaging reason, many still live corruptly. I'd like to use you point to treat of a few examples.

If man starts from a false premise, he can then apply reason, but he must by all means arrive at a corrupt goal. The formula is this: Negative + Positive = Negative. Meaning, if in one's plans he accepts a false notion (Negative), until he removes that false idea, his  plans, no matter how well reasoned (+Positive) are all  based on incorrect information. Thus, if I think water is a solid, no matter how well I plan a building, using water as my "bricks" will cause failure (=Negative). Again, if I wrongly assume possession alone to determine true ownership, we readily appreciate how this will negatively impact society, regardless of the intelligence we apply afterwards. Enemies of the Jews start from the corrupt notion that Jews must be killed, then they employ a system of reason to kill us. Had our enemies discovered the knowledge of Torah and what the Jew contributes, they would defend and join us.

In all cases, "reason" is not the villain. The villain is man's corrupt emotions, distorted values, or incorrect notions.  So I disagree: intelligence/reasoning are not the villains.

One who engages reason, and is not misguided by his emotions and false values, will lead a life without misery. This is because he or she decides matters as they are in reality, according to God's design. Man will live in harmony, with all natural laws and all people, when using reason. 

Halacha: Human, Not Divine

Reader: In this past week's Jewishtimes, you write, "Talmud Chullin 124a states that a Rabbi said, "I would not accept a certain opinion even if Joshua son of Nun said it"." Rambam uses this as proof that Prophets cannot go against received Oral Tradition. However, what if the Oral Tradition is in error? Why should we stop using logic when we feel Oral Law is incorrect?

Rabbi: Prophets cannot conflict with the Oral Traditions, as we learn, "It is not in heaven." This means that Torah Law was given to man to determine, and is no longer "in heaven", meaning under Divine determination via Prophets. We are not trying to arrive at God's absolute understanding when we decide Torah Law. Instead, we are following God's structured Torah system, where He demands mankind engages intelligence. Torah is a system created by method, not results. We don't say Torah fails when our results might conflict with God's absolute knowledge. Regardless, we follow them, as man's rulings are precisely what create Halacha, Oral Law. 

Provided a Rabbi adheres to all Halachik principles, his pronouncement of law actually creates binding law. This pronouncement cannot be termed "incorrect", as he adhered to the correct methods. Torah Law is what intelligence says it is, not what the Prophet knows from God. God tells us this in His Torah (Deut. 17:11).

What is Satan?

Reader: In the book of Job, God "talks to Satan."  God also "allows Satan to take all of Job's children and possessions," and even harm his body.  What is "Satan"?  

Rabbi: Maimonides discusses your question (Guide, book iii, chap xxii). He cites the Rabbis who explain that Satan is identical to our instincts. Applied to Job, Satan is a metaphor for Job's instincts. This is the part of man that is separate from the soul, and therefore it cannot "touch Job's soul," as God says to Satan in the book...God tells Satan he may rule over all Job possesses, except for his soul. This means that Job's instincts, his or erroneous ideas, are what distanced him from God and in turn caused his tragedies. In a manner of speaking, "Satan harmed Job." But mans instincts, his Satan, is not part of man's soul, and therefore, man can abandon following Satan. If he does not, he is removed from God's providence, and is open to harm. Maimonides says Job is not called wise, explaining why Job remained vulnerable to false notions that distanced him from God and allowed him to become the victim of harm.

God does not truly "talk" to Satan, since Satan is not a being separate from Job. God's talking with Satan, is the Torah's method of concealing a deeper idea, available only to those ready to accept the idea. If one can discover such a concealed idea, he is ready to grasp it. Many people have difficulty accepting the inner workings of the human psyche. Freud, at the commencement of one of his lectures, excused himself for not being able to dissect a cadaver. For his "patient" was the invisible psyche. Freud's lessons were far more theoretical in nature than a physician's lessons regarding very concrete organs, and subject to greater criticism.

God "allowing Satan to take all of Job's children and possessions," is God's way of teaching us that He created the instincts in a manner that they can affect our physical lives, but not our soul…if we follow our soul, our intellects.

False God's Cannot Answer

Rabbi: This week I discussed a very vital concept with an intelligent woman. We arrived at the conclusion that if one's idea of God is false, his/her prayers are useless. For in this case, one prays to an imagination, not to anything real. And imaginations cannot respond. 

So it is crucial that we each clarify our understanding of God: He is the Creator of the universe, Who is, in no manner, similar to anything He created. We just read this in the Haftorah. This truth rejects the false notion of "a part of God in man." People are quite attracted to this heretical nonsense, for it offers them no accountability. "I mean, how bad can I be if part of God is in me?" people think. These Jews violate the prohibition of adding to God's words, and violate our fundamental that God is not subject to division; a very physical attribute.

Other arrogant Jews say a further stupidity, "My Jewish soul is greater than a gentile soul." These Jews are akin to idols who "have lips but do not speak." They don't recall how God spoke to the "gentile" Abraham, but not one "Jew" today can make such a prophetic claim.

She asked me about the preponderance of Chamsas hung in homes and on jewelry. She rightfully said they are idolatrous, as if a trinket controls God's laws. She was disturbed that the Rabbi she asked first, made excuses for the Jews subscribing to Chamsas, and that the Rabbi should have told each Jew that it is a grave prohibition.