Letters Nov. 2012

Knowledge or Wisdom?

Reader: I love about 95% of your audio discussion on the Torah and philosophy, but what is very disturbing is that the Rabbi uses the word “knowlegde” of the Holy Torah, when I feel he should say “wisdom” which is Holy. I have this issue because Adam and Eve were defiant and ate of the Tree of Knowlege of Good and Evil within an hour of when God told them not to eat from it. To me, that’s a major mistake for any Rabbi to say knowlege of the Holy Torah, when its truly Holy Wisdom. Please correct all including myself. 

Rabbi: Not knowing the context to which you refer, I cannot determine if I was in error using “knowledge” (da’as) instead of “wisdom” (chochma). 

With regards to the Tree of Knowledge (da’as), Adam and Eve immediately received that knowledge, or an awareness (of morality). In contrast, I understand wisdom to refer not to awareness, but the ability to analyze and discern, as God granted Solomon “wisdom” (Kings I, 5:26). Subsequently, Solomon was shown to have greater analysis and discernment. 

Belief in Revelation

Chaim: Why isn’t there a separate paragraph in the Shemoneh Essrei devoted to asking Hashem to help us strengthen our belief in Revelation? Many, many Jews have gone astray because they lack the important belief that Revelation occurred. We should pray to God, everyday, to ask Him to remove the elements of doubt in our minds, that the  Revelation did happen. Why? Because our conviction and belief that it really did occur is based on a “NEGATIVE”conclusion; down through time, there never was found written books, nor is there other concrete evidence, supporting the idea that the Revelation never took place. Wouldn’t belief, be better reinforced through “Positive” proof? What “POSITIVE facts” exist to bolster the proof that the Revelation took place?

Doesn’t the high rate of assimilation in todays Jewish society justify our Rabbis' adding another important paragraph to the Shimoneh Essrei, namely, to remove the elements of doubt in our minds, that the Revelation ever happened, and strengthen our beliefs that, indeed, it really did occur? 

Thank you,


Rabbi: You mention two ideas: 1) that God should grant man conviction, 2) that acceptance of Revelation is merely a result of no “negative” data opposing Revelation.

Addressing the first idea, we must know that our conviction in any idea can only be the result of our own thinking. God cannot coerce man to gain knowledge or become convinced in what he does not agree with. This is against God’s fundamental of “free will.” That is, He designed man with the capacity to engage his mind of his own choice. If man so wishes, he can waste his time and not study, leaving him without conviction in Revelation.  Just as we do not pray to God to lift the water off the table and make us drink, we do not pray to God for knowledge that He already enabled us to grasp on our own.

And Revelation is not accepted based on the lack of opposition. We possess positive knowledge of Revelation that reached us through the positive act of generations of communication. When we say that fabrication and ignorance are impossible regarding this story, we do not mean there is a “lack” of something. We mean that the positive phenomena of mass witness makes fabrication an impossibility, and the simple elements such as fire, mountain and voice, remove the opposing arguments that Revelation was fabricated, or the reports of ignorant people. 

We rely solely on the positive transmission, which could not have spread as witnessed truth, had Revelation never occurred. Yes, others religions based on belief and blind faith also spread. But their lack of witnesses makes them mere faith. We agree that fairy tales can spread, but mass acceptance does not equate to mass witnesses, something found only in Judaism. 

Roots of Eternal Life

Chaim: After the Torah has been read, the Oleh, (person who has been called up to the Torah) recites, 

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who gave us the Torah of truth and implanted Eternal Life within us. Blessed are You, Hashem, Giver of the Torah.”

If Eternal Life has already been implanted in us, why do we need to perform mitzvahs and learn new Torah Concepts in order to attain Eternal Life? Did God plant these roots, UNCONDTIONALLY? When we make negative choices, choices contrary to Torah commandments, and perform negative actions, are we destroying our “Roots of Eternal Life?” Since we are promised Eternal Life, why should we have to repent? When we sincerely repent, will God forgive us, and redeem us, and resurrect us?

Rabbi: Chapter 10 of Talmud Sanhedrin teaches (90a), “All Israel have a portion in the world to come.” However, this portion is predicated on one living as an “Israelite” — i.e., following Torah. This applies to one born Jewish and one who converts equally.  The Torah lifestyle demands the conviction in certain fundamentals. Rabbi Israel Chait once lectured on the various levels of importance throughout the Torah: “Not all commands and ideals are of equal weight.” If one eats non-Kosher, this sin is no where as grave as idolatry. The latter causes one to forfeit his eternal life. For how can man enjoy a greater level of knowledge of God after he dies, when during life, he denied God and bowed to stone or deified men? Such a person has no basis upon which to increase his love of God after life.

Therefore, our negative choices and failure to repent from evil ways and corrupt notions will cause us to forfeit the Afterlife. We can lose our portion, like the three kings and four commoners whom that Talmudic portion describes, who sinned so grievously.