Letters Aug./Sept. 2017

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Testing God

Reader: You mentioned in a couple of articles that based on Malachi, we are allowed to test G-d in giving charity and G-d will repay us manifold and in abundance. I thought Malachi only refers to tithes on fruits - the biblical obligation. Nowadays we deal with financial income and according to some opinions, that is only a rabbinic obligation. So does the "test" mentioned in Malachi also apply nowadays to financial income?

Rabbi: Tosfos explains (Tal. Taanis 9a, “Asare Taasare”) that the verse “You shall certainly tithe all your grain…” (Deut 14:22) could have been written without the word “all.” The addition of that word “all” comes to teach an additional area requiring our tithes, and that is any financial gain, not just crops. This renders the mitzvah a Torah law, not a rabbinic law. 

Shulchan Aruch (Hagah) 247:4 says one can test God in this matter of tzedaka, which is under the heading of “maasare.” 

Reader: Thank you very much for your replly. So according to one opinion this test will work for all financial gain. Are there other opinions that disagree?

Rabbi: I didn't do an extensive search, but wanted to share Tosfos' authoritative view.

Reader: Also, how does this test work? Meaning G-d gives back "more than enough" - what does that mean? Enough to pay daily living expenses plus a little more? Or that G-d gives back with enough for luxuries etc?

Rabbi: As Rabbi Israel Chait explained, one must have in his mind a quantity that is "enough" for himself. If he does not, this cannot apply. My assessment is that God will provide for the person's complete reasonable needs, and then some. God will not enable gluttony or excess, which is against the Torah's philosophy of moderation. God will remove the person from want, and provide extra. But of course, God can provide even more as He sees fit for each person.

“Seeing” God?

Reader: Could you please explain to me Exodus 24:9-10: what does it mean the elders “saw the God of Israel?

Rabbi: Ibn Ezra quotes I Kings 22:19 and Radak explain this is a metaphor. “God sitting on his throne means" God rules the universe.” “Sapphire work under His feet” can refer to His dominance over the heavens and all creation. God isn’t physical, so this is metaphor.

Finding God

Reader: Would a polytheist—who's never had contact with any other monotheists or Jews—be blamed for never arriving at the conclusion of monotheism and Torah truths? Shouldn't Jews be a light upon the nations? Does that not mean that they should teach the nations of the world? I heard that this statement was an implication for the Messianic Era. Is this true?

Rabbi: Rabbi Israel Chait said that at some point in one’s life, he faces the questions about God and fundamental matters. Abraham did so without any teacher, so it is part of man’s makeup to ponder creation and ask the questions that can lead him to the truths also contained in the Torah. Thus, the polytheist will consider monotheism, for he knows how to count, and monotheism must have crossed his mind on his path to polytheism.

“A light unto the nations” is not referring to any period in particular, but Jews must teach others at all times.

A Prophet’s Proof

Reader: How did a person during the times of the prophets such as

Habbakuk and Nahum recognise that they were prophets during their lifetimes

and trust them?

Rabbi: Rabbi Israel Chait explained that the prophet must demonstrate his status by way of miracle.

Akum vs. Noahide

Reader: In your article, “Gentiles and Torah Study,” you stated that akum refers to the same individual but in different roles. That was in regards to laws of kings and their wars, chapter 10 halachah 9. But in the next halachah, it splits up the “ben noah” and the “akum” as if they're different people regarding keeping more commandments and receiving charity. Could you explain that please, as it seems troublesome to your explanation?

Rabbi: My point was to shine light on Maimonides’ differentiation between one’s capacity as “Gentile” vs. “Idolater.”

For example, a plumber who smacks his child without cause does not fail as a plumber, but as a father. He possesses both identities, but at times, he acts within only one role.

The Gentile too can fail as a Noahide (for violating one of his 7 laws) or he can be considered an “idolater," if his act (teaching Torah) infringes on the Jews role as the sole Torah educator. In this case, he does not sin as a Noachide, but as one who obscured the Jew’s role as the sole Torah authority. This violation more relevant to his rejection of he Jew as the sole authority and stems from the idolatrous element in man, not his Noahide element.

Original Sin

Reader: I have been looking at the subject of original sin (which I was raised with). I understand the concept of the verses that show each person must pay for their own sins (like Moses offering but G-d refusing, Deut 24:16- each shall be put to death for their own sins, etc…)  But then I run into passages that state that G-d will visit the iniquities of the father onto the children up to the fourth generation of those that hate me (Deut 5:9-10) and repaying guilt of the fathers onto the children (Jer 32:17-18).  These seem to contradict one another, could you please help me with this.

Rabbi: God in fact punishes only he/she who sins (Deut. 24:16). It is unjust to punish the innocent. God will visit the iniquities of the father onto the children up to the fourth generation “of those that hate me” (Deut 5:9-10)  refers to children who follow in their father's sin. That is the meaning of “those who hate Me.”