Letters June 2012

Removing the influence of Kabbala

Reader: I was reading a monograph on Kabbala from this website and was just wondering how would one remove the influence of kabbala in everyday activities that have crept in over the generations.


Rabbi: Make certain all your beliefs and religious performances have a source in the Torah, Prophets or Writings, or in the Shulchan Aruch. If they are not found in any of these, abandon those beliefs or practices. 

Then think into the fact that kabbalistic notions are baseless, do not comply with reality, and many times contradict reality. Consider that God gave you five senses, as a means of determining what is real, and what is not. If you don't see, hear, or feel something, then it is not here; it is not real. And God wants you to deny what you do not sense. Therefore, as you do not sense kabbalistic notions, God desires that you abandon them.

The Physical is not all that "Exists"

Matthew: I don't know if this is just a problem with the English language, but when I read the word "exist" I think "physical." So to say that God "exists", to me, implies He is physical. It just seems to be a problem with the 13 Principles of Faith, in every English version I've read. I don't know if it's different in Hebrew or Spanish or whatever Maimonides was writing in.

Rabbi: "Exist" does not refer only to what is physical. For example, math exists, regardless of there being a universe. So the "laws" the abstract, non-physical principles — "exist". They are "real." God exists too, He is "real".

Noahide Prayers

Joshua: I'm a Noahide currently deployed in Afghanistan.  Are there some prayers I can recite to help me during this time? I know my family back home is praying for me, but the problem is they are Christian.  How should I encourage them to pray?

Rabbi: Pray to the God of Noah and Abraham to protect you and all others from harm's way, and to restore you home soon. Ask Him to guide our leaders to make decisions that will secure safety and true goodness for everyone.

Asking Christians to pray means asking to them to commit idolatry. First, they would have to abandon Jesus as the one to whom they pray, which doesn't seem likely without taking time to educate them first.

Afterlife & Resurrection

Reader: The ideas of the afterlife in our faith can be very confusing depending on who is speaking and who 's writings are being explained. My understanding is that the soul spends no more than 11 months in a type of purgatory and then enters heaven. At some later point, the soul is reunited with the resurrected body here on earth. This is the general view. If this is so, then the resurrected body stands before God in judgment and the guilty are destroyed. If this is so, then what was purgatory for? Why were partially wicked souls corrected before ascending if they are to be judged in a resurrected body? I also read and heard that only the righteous will be resurrected. But this does not mean that only they will receive an afterlife, since purgatory cleanses the soul and prepares it for what I always thought was eternity. Also, what happens to the resurrected righteous? What is their duration on earth and what is their mission? So then, as you can see, I am not certain on what Jewish philosophy says. Can you explain please?

Rabbi: Yes, there are varying views. Know that God metes out Reward and Punishment to each person after death. Sometimes, a person can receive some reward or punishment, or both, in this world. The righteous people are punished here for what ever sins committed, to pave the eternal life without punishment. The wicked are rewarded here, so as to pave the next life to punishment.

Maimonides teaches that the next, non-physical life is our highest state. It is my understanding that righteous people will be resurrected here, for the purpose of assisting the world in the messianic era, but they will again return to the afterlife. Nachmanides states the eternal afterlife is on Earth. But my understanding is that punishment, if necessary, takes place after death. There is no second punishment.

These opinions are not empirically based, since the Rabbis teach that only God knows about the next world. Not humans, who have not witnessed the afterlife. This explains the difference in opinions.

But one thing we know for certain: God is just. He will reward the righteous and punish the wicked. The next life will be highly pleasurable for those who have dedicated themselves to following the Torah and enjoying its studies. The righteous Rabbis looked forward to the next life, as they understood the soul survives the body, the same soul that intensely enjoyed Torah here, and will continue on an even greater degree after death.

Reader: I would like to make one more point please. Concerning the days of the Messiah, the world will be filled with increased knowledge of Hashem. This will give both Jews and Noachide a major opportunity to correct their beliefs and overall understanding. This would indicate less time in purgatory and less severe judgment. If this is so, then tell me how this is fair to past generations who grew up in war-ravaged and economically challenging worlds. Clearly their behavior and beliefs on average are likely to be of a lesser quality than those living in the messianic age.

Rabbi: All generations possessed free will. No one sins through coercion.

God will deliver a messiah to assist the world in the future. But righteous people do not need him. Similarly, wicked people will exist in the future too.

Rabbi: The following are comments I recently emailed to some close friends as a follow up to an earlier discussion…others might benefit so I have reprinted them here.

"I just remembered a discussion we had one Sunday a few months back. I was describing how mastery of the Torah and the Rabbis' style takes many years. I wrote a new piece this week on mysticism. Its is in the Jewishtimes #429 and addresses this, in part.

Towards the end, I refer to the absence of mysticism in Torah, Prophets and Writings. I also address what might be a question to some. It is regarding the witch "resurrecting" Samuel, and also in the duration (430 yrs) of the Jews' dwelling in Egypt. A straight read of these texts suggests that the Torah treats both as literal accounts. But both cannot be literal, as I explained; witches are false and the Jews resided in Egypt only 210 years, as the Rabbis teach.

It occurred to me these are good examples of what I was trying to convey months ago, that Torah does not always speak in literal terms. We touched on the problem with such cases, where we seem unable to "trust our minds." I feel these two cases show that in fact we can and must trust our minds, but that we have to acclimate our thinking to how God "emphasizes." In these cases (the only cases I know of) God treats as "real," matters that did not occur. But...He does so, precisely because He wishes to convey the "perceived reality" in both cases. There's no better way to teach that Saul "believed" the witch resurrected Samuel, than to say she did! How better to teach that the idolatrous influence (akin to Egypt) affected the Jews for 430, than saying "The dwelling of the Jews was 430 in Egypt!"

So, although the witch did not resurrect Saul, and the Jews lived only 210 years, in Egypt, certain lessons would be forfeited by narrating them literally. The lessons God desires to convey, in their most impacting manner, is done by God treating these phenomena literally. This is but one style of Torah's "emphasis."

I recall having learned Talmud for many years, and after 5 years, seeing a new style of the Rabbis, then 15 years later, another eye-opener. Now, 32 years later, these two cases jump out. This may explain why the Rabbis are referred to as "wise students" (Talmid Chacham) and not wise "teachers." We are always growing, we never leave the stage of being a student."

Why aren't sinful Jews exiled from the Land?

Reader: There are several places in the Torah where the Jewish nation is encouraged to keep the commandments so that they will inherit the land. There are also places where it says what will happen if the Jewish nation doesn't keep the commandments:

"And you will do that which is straight and good in the eyes of Hashem, so that it will be good for you and so that you will come and inherit the good land which Hashem promised your forefathers (Deuteronomy 6:18)."

"Guard yourselves lest your hearts turn aside and Hashem's anger will be against you, the heavens will close up and there will be no rain and the land will not give its produce, and you will be banished quickly from the good land which Hashem gave you (Deuteronomy 11:16-17)."

"And you shall keep all of my statutes and laws and do them, so that the land does not spit you out (Leviticus 20:22)."

There is an obvious question. We know that less than 50% of the worlds Jews consider themselves to be religious, both in Israel and around the world. Israel seems to be flourishing economically. 

If less than 50% of Jews are actually keeping the Torah, how can it be that the Jews in Israel aren't being kicked out of the land. I have received several answers to this question. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts.

Rabbi: If you review the sources (Kings II 20:10), it is the specific sin of idolatry that caused the Jerusalem's destruction, exile, and why we will be ousted from Israel as the Shema Yisrael states. But at present, Jews are monotheists.