Letters July 2015

Moshe Ben-Chaim

Why God Omitted Rabbinic Laws from Torah

Reader: Why didn’t God include in His Torah, the laws that the Rabbis instituted?

Rabbi: Very good question. God possesses foreknowledge; He could have done as you suggested. Why didn’t He?

Deuteronomy 17:11 teaches, “According to the Torah which they [the Rabbis] teach you, and in accordance with the judgements which they tell you, you should perform. Do not veer from the matter which they tell you, to the right or the left.”  From here, the Rabbis are commissioned to institute new laws in order that God’s 613 commands are protected. The Rabbis may not institute any law for any other purpose. Thus, they cannot create a 614th law such as feasting on Sundays. But they can prohibit, for example, riding a horse on the Sabbath in order that one of the 613 (uprooting of vegetation) is protected. If permitted to ride a horse, one might violate uprooting by breaking-off a branch to whip that horse to gallop faster. So the Rabbinic prohibition of riding a horse on the Sabbath is within Rabbinic jurisdiction, which God ordained. 

But God knew this. Why did He not include in Torah the prohibition of riding a horse on sabbath?

One answer is that Had God done so, we would assume there is an inherent problem in riding a horse; God’s inclusion of such a law would raise this prohibition to the level of a “core Torah prohibition.” But this is not the case. God desires man to distinguish primary concepts and values, from protective devices. The Torah’s messages must be clear: Sabbath is a core principle, riding a horse is not. 

More essentially, the focus of Torah is study. The laws are not the ends. The practice of the law may be viewed as a barometer of one’s conviction in the Torah’s truths. Ibn Ezra comments on Exod. 31:18, saying:

“Brainless people think that the performance [of mitzvah] is the essence. But this is not true; rather [the essence of mitzvah] is the ‘heart’ [human intent]. [So be aware] that the actions, thoughts and speech [commanded by mitzvah] are merely to make one fluent [in following the laws]. And accordingly, it is written, “It is in your mouth and in your heart to perform it”, and so have our early [Sages] said, “God desires one’s heart. And the root of all mitzvahs culminates in loving God with all one’s soul and clinging to Him.”  

Ibn Ezra teaches that the goal of Torah is not mitzvah, but one’s attachment to, and love of God. This makes sense, since simple human movement does not affect our true selves, our souls. What is of the highest importance must relate to our highest element. 

Maimonides teaches[1], “One’s love of God is in direct proportion to his knowledge.” Now, as Torah study is the study of God, and He is infinite in His wisdom, by what means can man tap infinite wisdom using a limited set of Torah’s words? The answer: “thought.” God designed wisdom in a manner that proper thought reveals endless stratum of brilliant new truths. Man must induce, deduce and extrapolate to penetrate such infinite wisdom. He must follow the principles through which Torah is expounded and deciphered. As love of God is the goal (not mitzvah), and, as knowledge leads to that love, God deemed the process of thought and learning as our highest pursuit. 

Learning has a process: we acquire new facts, detect relationships, make inferences, and build on that initial knowledge through thinking. We then arrive at problems and solutions that are astonishing…and never ending. The demand for analysis is expressed in the Torah’s cryptic accounts of human interaction, as well as highly-formulated and beautifully structured laws. The latter is not a static set of obligations, which God could have written in total. And as Ibn Ezra said, the goal is not action, but love of God…through knowledge. 

God desires that man apply thought in all areas. Therefore, He commissioned the Rabbis to engage this thinking process to embellish on His Torah, for the mitzvahs have thought as their objective. Had Torah been a complete list with nothing to explore or add, it would miss the goal that man engage thought and analysis in all aspects of Torah. 

[1] Hilchos Teshuva 10:6

Curses, Satan & Angels

Reader: Is it possible that today, curses affect others? I have experienced a sensation of what I can only describe as a binding on my spirit for years. I do not feel happy at all and my spirit usually feels broken.

Rabbi: No powers exist other than God, His natural laws, and man’s muscular abilities. It is idolatrous to think otherwise. Meaning, it is idolatrous to imagine powers to exist that are unproven, and then gauge our activities based on these imagined powers. The feelings of a binding on your spirit are your own creations; not real forces; similar to depression. With guidance and thought, you can remove these feelings and live happily.

I suggest you seek out counsel from a person who understands psychology, discuss your past and your feelings, and he or she can help you overcome these ill feelings.

Reader: However if these powers as you state do not exist, does that mean Satan and angels do not exist? Or is it merely the popular ideas of Satan, demons and the like that are not supported? I ask because some people attribute these ill feelings as a effect from such metaphysical creatures invading one's life.

Rabbi: Satan and angels are referred to by Torah, but we must understand to what they refer. Satan refers to our instincts; the only thing that can cause us to sin. And angels are natural laws, or those existences that control natural law or communicate to man in prophecy. Regardless, we each have free will. We are not compelled towards any belief or action by anything but our own abilities. Nothing forces man to act, otherwise God’s system of justice, i.e., reward and punishment can not exist.

Christianity vs. Judaism

Reader: What are your thoughts when comparing Christianity to Judaism?

Rabbi: Briefly, Christianity asks for blind faith, as there is no proof for any of the miracles they say Jesus performed. The only proof for any historical claim, is mass witnesses. Without witnesses, any historical claim is baseless. You can believe it, and millions can believe it, but belief does not equate to validation and proof.

Judaism however has proof. Even Christianity and Islam accept as true, the event of God giving a Torah to the Jewish nation at Mount Sinai. Why do others accept our religious claim? Because it was witnessed by 2.5 million Jews. Such a story could not have gotten off the ground, let alone survived over 3000 years, had the event never occurred. Moses’ words of “Don’t forget what your eyes saw (Deut. 4:10)” said to the entire Jewish population, would not have been accepted in place of what those Jews knew. No one throws out their history, and deludes himself that he stood at a miraculous event with 2.5 million others, if there was never such an event.  But, as we possess this communication, mouth-to-mouth for thousands of years…we know this event of Revelation at Sinai must have occurred.

And be clear: do not equate mass “witnesses” to mass “believers.” Christianity’s wider audience does not validate its claims. It merely indicates its appeal. The only validation of a historical claim is mass witnesses, which is absent in literally every other religion.

Judaism is the only religion that possesses proof of Divine origin. All other religions are based on blind faith, since they have no proof. And as all religions argue on each other, only one religion can be true.

A rational person must not accept all religious claims. Reason must exist in religious belief, just as in science, math, etc.

“Reason” is our gift to distinguish truth from fallacy. 

Finally, notice that Christianity contains conflicting accounts of its Gospel. Whereas true historical events witnessed by masses have have but one version. 

Power of Words?

Reader: I have always felt that bossy people were always the most manipulative. This is fine if you are actually the boss. I probably won’t explain this well, but I get frustrated when people use me...so what I am seeing in a nutshell is psychological warfare. Mostly women employ this tactic and they are extremely cunning in my experience. 

At work, on a job or whatnot, how does God expect someone desiring to seek wisdom to handle people who attack the mind and heart? They wound in the spirit or motivation. They abuse by misinformation and misdirection. Now this, I would appreciate an answer for.

Rabbi: Another person’s words affect us, only in as much as we allow them to. 

Meaning, it’s in your hands to allow your emotions to value the words of the oppressor. Or, you can be confident in your values and actions and feel self-assured. At times, we actually value the oppressor’s lies, explaining why it bothers us to hear their ridicule. Of course, if they are accurate, we must change ourselves. But if we know they are lies, then all we hear is noise, and no truth. We are not agitated. This might take some practice, to become solid in your self-confidence and your control of your feelings. But truth is stronger than lies. And what I suggest is achievable. God created us with many emotions: we can either succumb to them, or we can control them. Maimonides teaches that through practice of going to the opposite extreme, we can change our emotion. If we are cowardly, we must do brave acts for a while until we settle in the middle ground. If we are harsh, we must express extreme sensitivity until we become even-keeled. This applies to all emotions.

If someone oppressed me, and they are incorrect about their accusations, I remain confident and unaffected by mere words. I avoid those who wish to demean me, if possible. If I must face such people, I need not converse with them. If I must converse with them, I would repeat these words to them, “I will converse with you once you address me without hostility, deceit, sarcasm, etc.”

If they do not concede, I would patiently wait and not respond. If this oppressor is a fellow worker or superior, there are those of higher status I can complain to. If this is the business owner, I would try my method. If this does not work, and you find it unbearable, then seek legal advice or another job. If this is a child, then sustained discussion and education is due. If a spouse, you must talk calmly, use my method, or seek marriage counseling. At times, divorce is appropriate.

I understand this is difficult. I hope this advice helps. Please be in touch regarding progress.


Reader: We pray daily to Hashem, “Please do not make our life’s efforts be in vain.” We also experience daily negative input from life’s experiences. For example, “Man plans, and G-d laughs!” When we study King Solomon’s Koheles, “All is futile!”  We are constantly made aware, no one has ever come back from the dead! This awareness has instilled into mans’ psyche the finality of death.

How do we overcome all these negative inputs which we observe through our lives? As we get older, the “Promise of the Future” wanes.

How can a  person who has just lost a close friend or relative, and surmises he might be next, and has become spiritually distraught, overcome their “down” state of mind and keep from focusing on nothingness? Mans’ natural instincts, especially “the delusion of personal invulnerability” removes his focus on his own death to focus on something else. So the important idea here is this: What should man train himself to focus on? 

Answer by Rabbi S. R. Hirsch:  “People who have lost their raison d’être of their lives can find it again in the bond of the Community.”

Can you explain the above?

Rabbi S. R. Hirsch’s additional answer (Horeb”, Chapter 43, Edoth. page 214):


 “and if God takes away, recognize in the taking, as in the giving, the same loving Fatherly hand, and with what is left to you, in whatever condition you may be, rise to live fulfilling the will of God, pursuing it and blessing Him, until He calls you away to another existence, and to a new life.”

What counter-thoughts, understanding, Torah Concepts, should we lean on, when we experience these negative, depressing, hopeless thoughts of “nothingness”?  Is there a reality to finality? 

Rabbi: First, we must correct our view of the “negative.” Part of King Solomon’s objective in writing Koheles was to do just that. Many of his words are misunderstood as his own beliefs. In fact, as Ibn Ezra teaches, the king is merely quoting the masses (Koheles 9:4). King Solomon’s reason for allowing for such confusion was because he understood that rebuke is hard to accept. Therefore, he wrote as if he was siding with the masses. One example, “For he who is attached to life has hope; a living dog is better than a dead lion (ibid).” The novice reader of Koheles will assume the king believes this. This in turn allows the reader to feel safe harboring the same belief. His belief can now be elevated from a denial, to an admission. Admitting an error is the first step to correcting it. The the king continues his work where he corrects false views. It is a brilliant method. Calev expressed the identical behavior upon the return of the Spies. The Spies feared the inhabitants and said Israel was not conquerable. To silence to the terrified mob, Calev said, "Is that all Moses did?” referring to taking the Jews to their deaths. Rashi said the people assumed Calev was going to add his own complaints against Moses, so they quieted down to hear them so as to further vilify Moses. Then, as they silenced, the stage was perfectly set…Calev informed them of all the good Moses did, and that God would vanquish the inhabitants! Clever indeed.  

Getting back to your point, we must constantly learn God’s Torah if we are to attain correct views of good and evil. Death is not an evil. That is what the masses think. But King Solomon and all of our prophets and Rabbis teach otherwise. And this is sensible, for death is not the removal of a person, but his soul enters a paradise, if he has come to appreciate God’s Torah while alive and arrive at a love of God. The good God who granted all earthly goodness, certainly maintains His good traits by preparing the afterlife which is wholly good with no pain. I do not minimize the fear of the unknown, but our convictions must stem from God’s promises and His history of offering mankind the greatest benefits. So we must grow in our learning, and start to release our attachment to this earthbound life.

“People who have lost their raison d’être of their lives can find it again in the bond of the Community.”

This means that focus on the greater good, and on others, will help minimize one’s focus on the self. He will find purpose once again and his self-esteem will be uplifted. The view that old age is a measure of lesser worth, is incorrect. The broken Tablets and the whole Tablets were both placed in the Ark. This was to teach that the aged (broken Tablets, broken people) are of no less value before God than the young. King Solomon says the day of death is better than the day of birth. For at birth, we know not if this infant will become good or evil. But at death, one has their righteous deeds. And older people are wiser than younger people. So one must hold strong to Torah values that the older we become, the more valuable we are, and we must reject Hollywood’s favoritism of youth and success. Even the young grow old. But God has a great gift in store for each one of us who follow Him. In fact, if we dedicate our time properly, and maximize our Torah study, we will not find age a negative. But with each new year, we will revel in studying God’s wisdom that much more.