Letters Aug. 2007

Follow the Leader

Beth: As all in search of Torah knowledge will not be confused as to where to seek it. This brings up another question.

Considering how the Jewish nation has muddied the waters - with all sorts of Torah conflicts and even whole new movements that oppose one another's halakhah and theology - it is not clear even sometimes to baalei teshuva whom to trust for guidance. Are you able to provide some practical guidelines that a Noachide or a Baal/Baalat Teshuvah should keep in mind, when selecting a Rabbi for guidance? Thank you.

Mesora: The correct means to identify one who accurately teaches Torah, is to first determine that he bases his teachings on the Written Torah (Chumash, Prophets and Writings) and the Oral Torah (Mishna and Talmud). This teacher must comply with the accepted Jewish Fundamentals regarding God, His justice, and His relationship with man. He must have a well formulated concept of God; what He is and is not. He must deny all expressions of idolatrous notions. And his reasoning must comply with our minds, and not follow what is merely popular. He must comply with the Shulchan Aruch on matters of law, and with the great Sages and Rabbis such as Maimonides, Rashi, Ramban, Radak, Ibn Ezra, Sforno, and all the Rabbis of the Talmud. The Baal Teshuva or Noachide must become fluent with the Torah regarding all philosophical lessons; the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs, and all matters of human perfection. Otherwise, the student may not identify the teacher's deviation. And the student must arrive at reasoning that comply with the Sages and Rabbis above. The student must further reflect upon himself, lest he or she harbor false notions from his or her previous lifestyle. Such notions must be abandoned, and replaced only with the Torah's sensible laws and ideals.

Should one be so fortunate to locate a teacher with these credentials, then he should "sit at the dust of his feet and thirst for is words".

God Help You

Beth: Is there textual support for the idea that "God helps those who help themselves?" If yes, what is the text? Thanks.

Mesora: Talmud Avodah Zarah 55a, right before the Mishnah: "One who comes to destroy (contaminate) himself, the way is opened before him; if he comes to purify, he is assisted".

Beth: Thank you, Rabbi. Is there anything in written Torah or NaKH (prophets and writings) that supports this idea? If yes, what is the text? Thanks again.

Mesora: In his Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides proves based on many verses that the greater one's intellectual perfection is, God is proportionately more involved in that person's life: (Book III; Chapter XVIII)

"Consider how the action of Divine Providence is described in reference to every incident in the lives of the patriarchs, to their occupations, and even to their passions, and how God promised to direct His attention to them. Thus God said to Abraham," I am thy shield" (Gen. xv. 1): to Isaac, "I will be with thee, and I will bless thee" (ibid. xxvi. 3); to Jacob, "I am with thee, and will keep thee" (ibid. xxviii. 15): to [Moses] the chief of the Prophets, "Certainly I will be with thee, and this shall be a token unto thee" (Exod. iii. 12): to Joshua, "As I was with Moses, so I shall be with thee" (Josh. i. 5). It is clear that in all these cases the action of Providence has been proportional to man's perfection."

Reader: Is there anything in the written texts (written Torah, prophets, writings) teaching htat if one is warned of an impending flood, one should do all in one's power to get out of the danger zone instead of depending upon Divine intervention?

Mesora: The Torah is replete with such examples; Jacob prepared for war and politically when threatened by his approaching brother. He did not rely on miracles. And even under God's directive to anoint a new king, Samuel feared that the present king Saul would kill him. Samuel did not rely on miracles, even while talking to God. God gave us knowledge so as to learn about how nature works. Nature refers to "constant" laws. we are to study the world, use it for benefit, and avoid harmful situations. Relying on God to save us with miracles is arrogant, and violated God's will that we use the intelligence He gave us.

Requiring scriptural sources are unnecessary to realize this obvious concept, and actually mirror this very lesson: we need no verse when we might discover this truth intellectually.

Chicken or the Egg?

Vadim: The Torah says that vegetation was created on day 3 and the sun and the moon on day 4. How is this explained? Obviously it is not in accord with current scientific theories. Thank you for your answer.

Mesora: You are correct. Although others are perplexed and feel that during the creation of a object, that object must function as the object does 'after' creation. They feel without sunlight, plantlife is impossible, and would be confounded by your observation. While this is true for the subsequent behavior of plantlife, it cannot be true for its creation. Another example clarifies this point.

How can the chicken come into existence without first being an egg from a mother? But then you will ask, "From where came the mother?". The answer is that God created the first of each species - plantlife included - NOT by its subsequent regenerative system. The first of each species - by very definition - were not created in the way all subsequent members of that species were "reproduced". The first was not a "reproduction" , but rather, the "first" production, without a reproductive process. Therefore, no sunlight was required to produce the first plants; no mother was required to produce the first chicken. The chicken came first. Reprinted below are Maimonides' words on this topic from his Guide: (Book II; Chapter XVII)

"EVERYTHING produced comes into existence from non-existence; even when the substance of a thing has been in existence, and has only changed its form, the thing itself, which has gone through the process of genesis and development, and has arrived at its final state, has now different properties from those which it possessed at the commencement of the transition from potentiality to reality, or before that time. Take, e.g., the human ovum as contained in the female's blood when still included in its vessels: its nature is different from what it was in the moment of conception, when it is met by the semen of the male and begins to develop: the properties of the semen in that moment are different from the properties of the living being after its birth when fully developed. It is therefore quite impossible to infer from the nature which a thing possesses after having passed through all stages of its development, what the condition of the thing has been in the moment when this process commenced: nor does the condition of a thing in this moment show what its previous condition has been. If you make this mistake, and attempt to prove the nature of a thing in potential existence by its properties when actually existing, you will fall into great confusion: you win reject evident truths and admit false opinions. Let us assume, in our above instance, that a man born without defect had after his birth been nursed by his mother only a few months; the mother then died, and the father alone brought him up in a lonely island, till he grew up, became wise, and acquired knowledge. Suppose this man has never seen a woman or any female being: he asks some person how man has come into existence, and how he has developed, and receives the following answer:" Man begins his existence in the womb of an individual of his own class, namely, in the womb of a female, which has a certain form. While in the womb he is very small; yet he has life, moves, receives nourishment, and gradually grows, till he arrives at a certain stage of development. He then leaves the womb and continues to grow till he is in the condition in which you see him." The orphan will naturally ask :" Did this person, when he lived, moved, and grew in the womb, eat and drink, and breathe with his mouth and his nostrils ? Did he excrete any substance ?" The answer will be," No." Undoubtedly he will then attempt to refute the statements of that person, and to prove their impossibility, by referring to the properties of a fully developed person, in the following manner:" When any one of us is deprived of breath for a short time he dies, and cannot move any longer: how then can we imagine that any one of us has been inclosed in a bag in the midst of a body for several months and remained alive, able to move ? If any one of us would swallow a living bird, the bird would die immediately when it reached the stomach, much more so when it came to the lower part of the belly; if we should not take food or drink with our mouth, in a few days we should undoubtedly be dead: how then can man remain alive for months without taking food ? If any person would take food and would not be able to excrete it, great pains and death would follow in a short time, and yet I am to believe that man has lived for months without that function! Suppose by accident a hole were formed in the belly of a person, it would prove fatal, and yet we are to believe that the navel of the foetus has been open! Why should the foetus not open the eyes, spread forth the bands and stretch out the legs, if, as you think, the limbs are all whole and perfect." This mode of reasoning would lead to the conclusion that man cannot come into existence and develop in the manner described."