Kabbala, Reincarnation & God’s Justice
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
The following email message was sent to Tamar Yonah who broadcasts a talk show from Israel. It was sent to her in response to a reader, Michoel, who was alarmed at numerous claims of one of Tamar Yonah’s guest, a Kabbalistic Rabbi. Michoel emailed me a link to the broadcast. I listened to it, and felt, based on the numbers of people who listened; these false views must be corrected. Below is a letter to, and response from Tamar Yonah, as well as some additional thoughts. Before continuing, please read the following paragraph. It is essential that you read this article with this sentiment in mind:
What is “objective study”? It is when we are not loyal to
any person or view, but to truth alone. This demands our refutation of
falsehoods, regardless of whom, or how many speak them. Reputations and mass
acceptance are no barometers of truth. Therefore, as you read our articles, be
mindful that we all have no choice but to be honest, for without honesty, we
live a lie. Refutation of fallacy is how those from Moses through Maimonides
correctly steered the Jews away from falsehoods, and what we must continue to
uphold. All opposing views cannot be correct. What determines truth? Reason
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Tamar,
This week, I received a letter from Michoel, a reader who
heard, what he felt, were questionable views of the Torah. He sent to me the
link of your archived radio broadcast. I listened, with great anguish, to your
recent, live discussion with Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok of KosherTorah.com. I
cannot express how much the Torah disagrees with his views. Rabbi Bar Tzadok
claimed reincarnation is an accepted, Torah view. He failed to inform your
public that Rav Saadia Gaon, one of the most brilliant minds, called
reincarnation “absurd” and “stupid”. Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) speaks against it,
as does Sforno. But Rav Saadia Gaon did not leave it at that. Rav Saadia Gaon
continues, using rationality to display those absurdities, which emanate from
this belief in reincarnation. Rav Bar Tzadok went on discussing aliens, fallen
angels, justifying terrorists as “victims”, and describing a “race of
intelligent, terrestrial existences” other than man.
I called your office and spoke with Benjamin, asking you to consider a follow-up session where I may – unlike Rav Bar Tzadok – quote sources from our Torah and accepted Torah authorities: Maimonides, Saadia Gaon Rashi, Sforno and the Talmud. I feel your audience has been gravely misled and deserves to hear actual quotes from our precious Torah...not simply the distortions of one man.
Tamar Yonah: Shalom Rabbi.
Thank you for your letter. I appreciate getting feedback on my
program. I understand there are different approaches to the issue and
acceptance of Kabbala, and the idea of reincarnation and other beliefs in
Jewish mysticism. My listeners are free to agree or disagree, depending
on whether they are Breslov, Chabad, Knitted kippah, Charedi, or even
secular. I leave it up to them and listeners are welcome to call in to my
show as it airs live to agree, disagree, challenge, etc. However, the
show is not a point/counterpoint program. Yet, you do make a good point
to remind listeners that there are different views on accepting the Kabbala and
Jewish Mysticism. I appreciate you reminding me of this. What I have decided to
do is to read out some of your letter and add that the view Rabbi Bar Tzadok
shared is not shared by every Jew. I will do this on my upcoming Tuesday
morning show here in Israel (Monday night where you are, in the Exile).
I thank you for your letter and
wish you much hatzlacha in bringing our brothers and sisters closer to
Hashem and teshuva. I do hope you will be able to come home soon on
aliyah and join us here in Israel, our inheritance. We need you here!
thank you for your letter.
With love of Israel,
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Thank you for your response Tamar. In the case that you will share some of my letter on air, there is one other corruption that Rav Bar Tzadok claimed: that suicide bombers are “victims”, i.e., not truly guilty. He claimed God has “another” method of justice than what is applicable to man.
First of all, this is a contradiction, for all of God’s justice is precisely “with man”! Rav Bar Tzadok is suggesting the impossible: in the Torah, God claims one justice system with man, but He then functions by another set of justice...with man! This would mean that God lies to us. However, we know that God cannot do the impossible. And this is not a limitation on God, but in fact, His very perfection. Just as God literally “cannot” punish he who is with no sin (Ezekiel 18) so too, God cannot say one thing, and then change. “I am God I do not change”. (Malachi, 3:6) Nothing is unknown to God, and therefore, nothing “new” to Him arises that He must reconsider, and change His mind.
Rav Bar Tzadok’s view is against the Torah, as God tells man to kill the enemy many times, such as Amalek, and this clearly teaches that God wishes man to share in God’s evaluation of Amalek’s evil. God does not have one view of Amalek, and we have another. God wants us to share His view, and he is not forgiving Amalek behind our backs after we fulfill the mitzvah to kill that nation. However, according to Rav Bar Tzadok, Hitler too may be a “victim”, as perhaps Hitler too may defend himself, blaming his upbringing. How absurd and painful this must have been to your listeners to hear.
It must be clear: God does not command man in His Torah, calling Torah absolute truths, while He does not embody those very principles! But this is Rav Bar Tzadok’s position. To quote Rav Saadia Gaon, Rav Bar Tzadok’s view is truly absurd.
But what is worse, is that Rav Bar Tzadok’s view portrays God as inconsistent, and insincere. What type of God is that? The answer: his imaginary god, for the true God is not this way in reality. God is truly consistent and sincere. According to Rav Bar Tzadok, how can a Jew follow God, when he feels that God presents one value system for man, but Himself, acts with opposite values? This would mean that God does not value what He demands of man: a contradiction. This is impossible. Anyone who suggests this is unrealistic, and may even border on heresy. Of course we know quite little about God and how He works. But we do know what He writes in His Torah, and we know it is true. Therefore, any idea that contradicts the Torah’s words must be false. Certainly, when it also contradicts reason and what little we do in fact know about God.
This view – that God works differently than He wants us to work – would cause droves to abandon Torah, and justifiably so. Due to such destructive views, it is vital to Judaism that those who can, must vocalize opposition with clear proofs as to what are Torah’s true values and ideals. Judaism must be presented in its true form: a system that makes sense to the human mind. A system whose every path is pleasant, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” (Proverbs, 3:17)
Additionally, the Torah is firmly
based in this fundamental principle: “What God is, so shall you be” (lit. “Ma
Hu, af atah”). This principle and value system is the basis for our middos, our
character traits. We learn from here that just as God is a “rachum”, a
“merciful” One, so too we are to reflect His perfection, by mimicking His
mercy. We become more in line with reality, when we mimic reality, i.e.,
mimicking God. This applies to all traits we see God exemplifying in His Torah.
Therefore, the Torah is unequivocally stating that God “is a certain way” as
far as man’s mind may comprehend. There is no room for claims that God is the
opposite, that He views suicide bombers as “victims”, and not villains, as Rav
Bar Tzadok claims. I am certain Rav Bar Tzadok does not feel a tzaddik is
really going to be treated as a rasha, one who is evil. So if he feels God is
consistent with the tzaddik, why does he feel different in connection with a
rasha? Rav Bar Tzadok is the one who is inconsistent.
In contrast to the approach of Rav Bar Tzadok, reason must always be our guide. Deut. 4:39,40 reads as follows:
“And you shall know today, and
you shall place it on your heart, that God is governor in heaven above, and on
the Earth below, there is no other. And you shall guard His statutes and
commands which I command to you today, that he will do good for you and your
children after you, and that you shall have a length of days on the land that
Hashem your God gives to you, all the days.”
Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) first
tells the Jews they must “know” these matters, and then he instructs them to
“place them on their hearts”, which means to prove them. The first principle,
before all else, is to adhere to a life where rational proof guides every
thought and action. The author of “Duties of the Hearts”, Rabbi Bachya, echoes
Moshe’s mandate, that we all follow what is rational, and not simply what the
Rabbis tell us, for Rabbis also err. The Talmud too teaches that we are not to
simply follow a reputation, even one as great as Moshe’s successor Joshua:
“Even if Joshua the son of Nun said it, I would not accept it.” (Talmud Chullin
124a) The Talmud teaches us this lesson quite clearly. But the primary reason
why we are not to follow without proof is that we violate the entire objective
of our intellects: God gave us minds so that we engage them. Not using our
intellects, our tzelem Elokim, we deny God’s will, and we never see reality,
our quintessential obligation demanded by God.
So much of what Rav Bar Tzadok claimed is not even a tenable Torah position. The only time we say varying positions may have merit, is if they all fall under the category of what is “possible”. But if a Rabbi states things which are not based on reason, and worse, are impossible, his claims lose all validity, and “aylu v’aylu divray Elokim chaim” is inapplicable.
The bottom line is that two opposing views cannot both be correct. Therefore Tamar, your sentiment that “there are different views on accepting the Kabbala and Jewish Mysticism” must be clarified as follows: “all but one of opposing views are truly false.” This means to say that although many Jews side with various opinions, such differences do not validate each and every respective view: all must be false except one. This point was not made clear on your show. They way you presented matters implied that all views are equally acceptable, even contradictory ideas, and even impossible ideas. I am sure you do not mean to measure acceptable Judaism as “anything that is followed”. This cannot be, as I mentioned, all opposing views cannot be correct, by definition. For this reason, I mentioned to you that Rav Saadia Gaon did not simply utter a view, but he refuted reincarnation with rational arguments. And we too use reason herein to arrive at truth, for God’s gift of our Tzelem Elokim – our intellects – demands that we use this gift, and use it well, until we arrive at what our minds dismiss as fallacy, or accept as truth. We have no other choice, and we are ecstatic with this mission.
What’s more are Moshe Rabbeinu’s very words. At the end of his life, Moshe warns the people to adhere to the Torah (Deut . 30:15,19):
“Behold, I place before you today; life and goodness, and death and evil.” “…and choose life, so that you and your seed live.”
Now, we must ask: what was Moshe telling the Jews? He says there are two options, and one is mutually exclusive to the other. That is, if one dies, he does not receive life, and if he receives life, then he does not receive death. Think for a moment: if one receives death, and therefore, it is not life, does this not refute reincarnation? It most certainly does. Moshe tells the people that by choosing one, you cannot obtain the other. Therefore, choosing death means the absence of life: no reincarnation. Sforno, in explaining the words “life” and “death” in this verse says one identical word for each: “La-ed,” or “eternally,” thereby teaching that the “death” Moshe describes here, is eternal…no reincarnation.
Moshe said that each person lives once, and dies once, and therefore said: choose a path in life that will be true life, a good life. For if you do not, then you choose death…eternal death. Moshe Rabbeinu did not tell the Jews they will return. He clearly told them reincarnation is false.
Furthermore, with the belief in reincarnation, what is so tragic about the deaths of Korach, his followers, Bilam, the generation of the Flood, and so many others? If this is not a truly ‘permanent’ death, and reincarnation exists, why then did God write such stories as “warnings”, that if we adhere to their evil, we too will end so rudely? If all these people get to “come back”, where is their death? Where is the evil in their actions? And if I kill someone as others did, why should I be punished? My victim returns again to life…I did not truly “kill” him! You see, the idea of reincarnation leads to many false views, since it is false itself, as is proven by the Torah’s words. The Torah also has a penalty called “Karase” which means the death of the soul. But how can this be, if there is reincarnation? With these proofs, we refute reincarnation.
I say this path of Rav Bar Tzadok is based on unclear thinking, and his misconstrue of what he has read. I hear it all to often. But calling something “Kabbala” does not mean we now abandon our minds. Calling some idea “Kabbala” does not make a fallacy true. This is a great pitfall of the masses, which are uninitiated with the precision and clear reasoning of Torah. People feel Kabbalistic works must be true, “it’s some great secret”, “I now am privy to know deep matters”, “I will tell others”, “They will be impressed”. Why are people jumping to Kabbala when they have not yet mastered Chumash, Mishna or the Talmud? With absolutely no proof or reasoning for their words, they speak. But defenseless words are better never spoken.
Torah ideas are truly based on clear logic and are pleasant to our minds. It is so unfortunate that many people present Torah in this type of “mystical” light, which is incomprehensible, violates reason, assumes blind acceptance, and portrays God and His Torah as inconsistent, unproven and contradictory. This explains why so many Jews run away from observant lifestyles. They fail to see the beauty in Torah, because Judaism’s teachers are not teaching the Torah’s beauty. And this is because Judaism’s teachers do not know its beauty. Like the blind leading the blind, Judaism’s teachers are running to the occult and mysticism, areas that are half untrue, and half misconstrued. Jews run to teach, before they are accomplished students. They run to mysticism and Kabbala because everyone else “oohs” and “ahhs” it. These leaders are really followers, as they teach only what the people want to hear. They seek large followings, instead of just one student who wishes truth. They don’t start Jews on a rational course of study, commencing with basic reading, translating, and understanding, then, on to Chumash, Mishna and Talmud. No. They jump right into baseless mysticism, not Judaism at all, and violate the words of the Rabbis: (I now quote from my good friend Rabbi Daniel Myers’ article on “Studying Kabbala Today”)
“Into that which is beyond you, do not seek; into that which is more powerful than you, do not inquire; about that which is concealed from you, do not desire to know; about that which is hidden from you, do not ask. Contemplate that which is permitted to you, and engage not yourself in hidden things.” (Bereishith Rabbah, 8:2)
The Rambam, after discussing
deep ideas regarding Maaseh Bereishith and Maaseh Merkava, writes:
“The topics that we have discussed are known as Pardais (lit. “garden”, or higher matters). Even though the Tanaaim were great, brilliant people, they did not all have the abilities to fully understand Pardais. I maintain that one should not visit the Pardais until he is first satiated with “bread and meat”, which refers to knowledge of the Mitzvot. Even though the greatest knowledge is that of Pardais, the former knowledge must come first because; 1) it is “M'yashaiv Daato Shel Adam Techila,” teaches one to think clearly; and 2) it is the good that God has given to all of us to observe in this world and reap the benefits in Olam Habah, the afterlife. Everyone can partake of this revealed Torah, the young and the old, men and women, geniuses as well as average individuals.”
“Most people who involve themselves in Kabbala prematurely suffer great Divine Retribution.” (Vilna Gaon, the “Gra”)
“One must not learn Kabbala because our minds simply are not deep enough to understand it.” (Beer HayTave)
Does not Rav Bar Tzadok value the greatest minds, like Maimonides and these other leaders? If so, he is wise to cease from Kabbalistic study and teachings. Anyone teaching or studying Kabbala is wise to cease. Again, “One must not learn Kabbala because our minds simply are not deep enough to understand it.”
Reincarnation and the belief that God views suicide bombers not as villains but as “victims,” violates many Torah fundamentals. Such positions corrupt man’s view of God’s true system of justice. It mitigates the severity of death and punishment, and all Torah prohibitions. Reincarnation violates reason, and the words of God and Moshe Rabbeinu.