Fe y amistad

por Rabino Dr. Jonathan Sacks

En la perashá de esta semana, Moisés alcanza su punto más bajo. No es sorprendente. Después de todo lo que había sucedido: los milagros, el éxodo, la partición del mar, la comida que caía del cielo, el agua que salía de una roca, la revelación en Sinaí y el pacto que allí se forjó, la gente, una vez más, se quejaba de la comida. Y no porque tuvieran hambre; simplemente porque estaban aburridos. “¡Si solo tuviéramos carne para comer! Recordamos el pescado que comimos en Egipto gratis, y los pepinos, melones, puerros, cebollas y ajos.”

En cuanto al milagroso “pan del cielo”, el Maná, aunque los alimentaba, dejó de satisfacerlos: “Ahora nuestro apetito se ha ido; ¡No hay nada que comer sino este maná!”1

Cualquier líder puede desesperarse en un momento así. Lo que llama la atención es la profundidad de la desesperación de Moisés, la franqueza con la que lo expresa y la honestidad deslumbrante de la Torá al contarnos esta historia. Esto es lo que le dice a Di-s:

“¿Por qué has traído este problema a tu siervo? ¿Qué he hecho para disgustarte que pones la carga de todas estas personas sobre mí? ¿He concebido yo a todas estas personas? ¿Les dí a luz? ¿Por qué indicas que los lleve en mis brazos, como una enfermera lleva a un bebé, a la tierra que prometiste a sus antepasados? … Si así es como me van a tratar, por favor continúa y mátame, si he encontrado gracia en tus ojos, no permitas enfrentar mi propia ruina.” 2

Cada líder, quizás cada ser humano, en algún momento de su vida enfrenta el fracaso, la derrota y al abismo de la desesperación. Lo que es fascinante es la respuesta de Di-s. Él no le dice a Moisés: “Anímate; cálmate; eres más grande que esto.” En cambio, Él le da algo práctico para hacer:

“Reúne para mí a setenta de los ancianos de Israel… Tomaré un poco del espíritu que está sobre ti y lo pondré sobre ellos; y llevarán junto contigo la carga de la gente, para que no la soportes tú solo.”

Es como si Di-s le estuviera diciendo a Moisés: “Recuerda lo que tu suegro Itró te dijo. No trates de liderar solo. No trates de vivir solo. Incluso tú, el más grande de los profetas, todavía eres humano, y los humanos son animales sociales. Enrola a otros. Elije asociados. Termina con tu aislamiento. Consigue amigos.”

Lo que es conmovedor de este episodio es que, en el momento de la máxima vulnerabilidad emocional de Moisés, el propio Di-s le habla a Moisés como amigo. Esto es cardinal para el judaísmo en su conjunto. Para nosotros, Di-s no es (meramente) el Creador del universo, el Señor de la historia, el Soberano, el Legislador y el Redentor, el Di-s de los sustantivos en letras mayúsculas. También es íntimo, tierno, amoroso: “Cura a los quebrantados de corazón y les cierra las heridas”. 3 Es como un padre: “Como una madre consuela a su hijo, así te consolaré”. 4 Él es como un pastor; “Aunque ande por el valle de la sombra de la muerte, no temeré el mal, porque Tú estás conmigo”. 5 Él siempre está allí: “Di-s está cerca de todos los que lo invocan, de todos los que lo invocan en verdad.”6

En 2006, en Hope Square, a la salida de la estación de Liverpool Street en Londres, se erigió un memorial en recordación del Kindertransport, la operación que rescató a 10.000 niños judíos de la Alemania nazi poco antes del estallido de la guerra. En la ceremonia, uno de los oradores, una mujer de unos ochenta años que había sido rescatada, habló de manera conmovedora acerca del fervor que sentía hacia el país que la había refugiado a ella y a sus compañeros. En su discurso, ella dijo algo que me dejó una impresión indeleble. Ella dijo: “Descubrí que en Inglaterra un policía podía también ser un amigo”. Eso es lo que hizo a Inglaterra tan diferente de Alemania. Y es lo que los judíos descubrieron hace mucho tiempo acerca del propio Di-s. Él no es sólo un poder supremo. También es un amigo. Eso es lo que Moisés descubrió en la perashá de esta semana.

Los amigos importan. Ellos moldean nuestras vidas. Así lo demostraron los científicos sociales, Nicholas Christakis y James Fowler7 , usando datos del estudio sobre el corazón Framingham. Este proyecto, iniciado en 1948, ha seguido a más de 15,000 residentes de Framingham, Massachusetts, examinando su ritmo cardíaco, peso, niveles sanguíneos y otros indicadores de salud, en promedio cada cuatro años. Su propósito fue identificar los factores de riesgo para enfermedades del corazón. Sin embargo, Christakis y Fowler estaban interesados ​​en otra cosa, a saber, los efectos de la socialización. ¿Hay alguna diferencia en tú salud si tienes amigos y, de ser así, en qué tipo de personas son?

Sus descubrimientos fueron impresionantes. No solo importa tener amigos, también lo es tener los correctos. Si tus amigos son delgados, activos, felices y tienen hábitos saludables, lo más probable es que tú también lo hagas, y lo mismo ocurre a la inversa. Otro estudio, en el año 2000, mostró que si en la universidad tienes un compañero de habitación que trabaja duro en sus estudios, es probable que tú trabajes más duro. Un estudio en Princeton en 2006 demostró que si uno de tus hermanos tiene un hijo, es 15% más probable que tú lo hagas en los próximos dos años.

Los hábitos son contagiosos. Se propagan a través de las redes sociales. Incluso los amigos de tus amigos y sus amigos, pueden influir en tu comportamiento.

Jordan Peterson, en sus 12 Reglas para la vida, esgrime su propia experiencia y la de sus contemporáneos, creciendo en la pequeña y aislada ciudad de Fairview, Alberta. Aquellos que eligieron a los individuos con perspectivas ascendentes como amigos, extendieron su éxito. A los que cayeron en las malas compañías les fue mal, a veces desastrosamente. Podemos elegir a los amigos equivocados, dice, precisamente, porque aumentan nuestra autoestima. Si tenemos una falla y sabemos que la tenemos, podemos encontrar serenidad en el hecho de que las personas con las que nos asociamos tienen la misma falta. Esto calma a nuestra mente perturbada pero al precio de hacernos casi imposible escapar de nuestras deficiencias. De ahí su regla número 3: hacerte amigo con personas que quieran lo mejor para ti.8

Nada de esto sorprendería a los sabios, quienes señalaron, por ejemplo, que las figuras claves de la rebelión de Koraj acampaban una cerca de la otra. De esto llegaron a la conclusión, “¡Ay de los malvados y de su vecino!” En dirección opuesta, las tribus de Iehudá, Isajar y Zevulún estaban establecidas cerca de Moisés y Aarón, y se distinguieron por su experiencia en el estudio de la Torá. Por lo tanto, “Feliz el justo y feliz su vecino”. 9 De ahí, el axioma de Maimónides:

“Es natural ser influenciado por el carácter y la conducta de tus amigos y asociados, y seguir las modas de tus conciudadanos. Por lo tanto, uno debe asegurarse de que sus amigos sean virtuosos y que frecuenten la compañía de los sabios, para que aprendan de la forma en que viven y se mantengan alejados de la mala compañía.”10

O, como lo dicen los sabios más brevemente: “Hazte de un mentor y adquiere un amigo.” 11

Al fin y al cabo, eso es lo que Di-s hizo por Moisés, y terminó con su depresión. Le dijo que reuniera a su alrededor a setenta ancianos que soportarían la carga del liderazgo con él. No había nada que ellos pudieran hacer que Moisés mismo no pudiera: él no necesitaba de su ayuda práctica o espiritual. Pero sí aliviaron su aislamiento. Ellos compartieron su espíritu. Le dieron el regalo de la amistad. Todos lo necesitamos. Somos animales sociales. “No es bueno estar solo.” 12

Es parte de la historia intelectual de Occidente y del hecho de que desde muy temprano, el cristianismo se volvió más helenístico que hebraico, que la gente llegó a pensar que el propósito principal de la religión es transmitir información (sobre el origen del universo, milagros, vida después de la muerte, y así sucesivamente). De ahí el conflicto entre religión y ciencia, revelación y razón, fe y manifestación. Estas son falsas dicotomías.

El judaísmo tiene creencias fundamentales, sin duda, pero se trata fundamentalmente de otra cosa. Para nosotros, la fe es la redención de la soledad. Se trata de relaciones entre nosotros y Di-s, nosotros y nuestra familia, nosotros y nuestros vecinos, nosotros y nuestra gente, nosotros y la humanidad. El judaísmo no se trata de ser un alma solitaria. Se trata de los vínculos, que nos unen entre nosotros y con el Autor de todo. Se trata, en el sentido más elevado, de la amistad.

De ahí surge una idea que nos cambia la vida: tendemos a convertirnos en lo que nuestros amigos son. Así que, elige como amigos personas a las que aspiras ser.

Notas al Pie

1. Num. 11: 4-6.

2.Num. 11: 11-15.

3.Salmos 147: 3.

4.Isaías 66:13.

5.Salmos 23: 4.

6.Salmos 145: 18.

7 Nicholas Christakis y James Fowler, Conectados: el sorprendente poder de nuestras redes sociales y cómo dan forma a nuestras vidas, Little, Brown, 2011.

8. Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, Allen Lane, 2018, 67-83.

9.Tanjuma (Buber), Bamidbar 13; Bamidbar Rabah, Koraj, 18: 5.

10.Mishneh Torá, Hiljot Deot, 6: 1.

11.Mishna Avot 1: 6.

12.Genesis 2: 18.

Segun tomado de, https://es.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4415220/jewish/Fe-y-amistad.htm

The Kushite woman: Marrying otherness

by Yael Unterman

When Miriam and Aaron slandered their brother, what were they saying? And what really set Moses apart from his siblings? (Behaalotcha)

From Jacob Jordaens' painting, Moses and His Ethiopian Wife Zipporah. 1650. (Wikipedia)
From Jacob Jordaens’ painting, Moses and His Ethiopian Wife Zipporah. 1650. (Wikipedia)

At the end of Parshat Beha’alotcha, we find a mysterious and puzzling narrative, the first three verses of which do not seem to follow from each other at all:

1. And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Kushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Kushite woman. 2. And they said, Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? has he not spoken also through us? And the Lord heard it. 3. And the man Moses was very humble, more than any other men which were upon the face of the earth.

I am intrigued by verses 1 and 2 and the disconnect between them. What precisely is the complaint here? Is it that Moses has married a Kushite woman, as verse 1 implies (and if so, why is that a problem?); or is it to do with God speaking through people, as in verse 2 ? These appear to be two entirely different issues.

In attempting to explain the problem with marrying the Kushite woman, plus the connection between the two seemingly unrelated complaints, the Midrash, Rashi, and others suggest a non-literal interpretation: the complaint was that Moses had separated from his wife Tzipporah, and his siblings felt that that this was unnecessary and inappropriate, for they too were prophets and yet had not separated themselves thus from their own spouses.

This approach adequately explains the connection between the two verses, but it deviates from the plain meaning of the first verse. It is hard to read into the complaint that “Moses had married a Kushite woman” that he had in fact “separated from his Midianite wife Tzipporah.” What gives, with these hermeneutical acrobatics?

Yet trying to follow the plain meaning raises further questions, such as: Who was this woman? Where did he meet her? Why did he marry her? Both Rashbam and the Daat Zekenim Tosafist compendium cite a work entitled, The Chronicles of Moses Our Teacher, to the effect that somewhere between age 40 and 80, Moses married an Ethiopian queen and ruled over Ethiopia for 40 years! The Daat Zekenim commentary goes on to connect this idea with the second verse by suggesting that Moses ruled Ethiopia for 40 years and became proud.

They protested: “Moses became so proud, because G-d spoke to him face to face, that he married out of the tribe! We (Miriam and Aaron) also had G-d speak to us, and we did not marry out of the tribe.”

(Daat Zekenim then has to deal with the fact that Tzipporah was similarly a non-Jewish woman, so why does the criticism not extend to this marriage? They did not criticize Moses for having married Tzipporah, as he had done so in circumstances when he was a refugee from Egyptian justice at the time.)

All of this is very odd, and we begin to understand why Rashi prefers to depart from the actual words of the text, rather than bark up this particular tree.

Rather than continue to survey how other commentators resolve this tension (and it is conceivable that a less farfetched pshat is at hand), I’d like to turn now to a meaning that is both confronting and redemptive, with profound modern resonances. For the question in my mind is — how does an Ethiopian Jew feel reading this story (if not focusing on the Moses marrying the Ethiopian queen sub-plot, which is admittedly very romantic)? Also: Does the story encourage racism?

The word Kushite, is used in Amos 9:7, where God declares, “Are you not like Kushites to Me?”

One possible meaning given for this phrase is that of standing out. The idea is that just as people originating in Africa would have visually stood out, being dark skinned, to the Israelites who were of Mediterranean-hued skin, so too the Israelites stand out for God in their specialness and distinctiveness. This is a positive meaning associated with the word “Kushites.”  And yet, undoubtedly, the metaphor only works because they “stand out,” meaning that they are “other” in some way. And this “otherness” is key here.

Unlike Miriam and Aaron, who grew up in amongst the Israelites in Egypt, Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s palace as a non-Jew, disconnected from his own people. He then fled to Midian, lived once again among non-Jews, and married into the family of an idol-worshipping priest, Jethro.

In brief, Moses spent his life among those who were other to him. It was a mode familiar to him, for he had had long practice in doing so. Thus, when G-d chose him to receive prophecy on a level never before or since attained, and to give the Torah through him – making him the ultimate Other, a human being given an experience no other human had shared, impossible even to describe, setting him apart — he already had the inner psychological vessel prepared and available to contain such a role.

Miriam and Aaron, in all their greatness, lacked this vessel within them. They had grown up in the house of their parents, among their people. Their protest related to this very issue: they viewed Moses as breaking the rules in some way (separating from Tzipporah, or marrying out of the tribe), and attributed it to hubris following G-d speaking to or through him. They were mistaken however, as verse 3 clarifies for us: Moses was humble, not arrogant.

No, Moses was not arrogant; but he was outside the rules, in that he was quintessentially other.

Hence, speaking symbolically now, we can suggest that when Moses marries the Kushite woman, he is embracing (“marrying”) his own otherness to the full — perhaps accepting fully, finally, that he will never be like anyone else. The more God spoke through him, the less of a regular human he became. And perhaps Miriam and Aaron – to judge them a little more favorably — sensed this and could not bear to fully and finally accept the separation from him that this would entail, as their beloved younger brother whom Miriam saved from a watery death became not quite human. They did not wish him to “marry” his otherness; they wanted to keep him in this world, with them.

So they complained that they too had had God speak through them, and why could he not remain normal, not marry his “Kushite” otherness?

Miriam was then stricken by God with leprosy and had be confined outside the camp for seven days. She got to have a powerful educational experience of otherness for herself, and perhaps as she sat there, learned to embrace her own separation from the collective.

And what about the Ethiopian Jew reading this? And the racism? Well, I can’t speak for the experience of the Ethiopian Jew, but I imagine it might well be unpleasant to read oneself portrayed as a stereotypical representation of the quintessential other! Unless this is accompanied by a celebration and reinterpretation of what we do with otherness.

I would suggest that today, in the welcome move to respect all humans, people erroneously equate the fight against racism with ignoring and being blind to difference. Undoubtedly a divergence from the prevailing norm in terms of skin color, ability, or any other difference should not become the sum total of who someone is. We must train ourselves to see beyond such things to the image of God in us all, and never to discriminate against someone because of such differences.

Nonetheless — and without at all meaning to be naïve about the ills of racism — I ask: Can’t we celebrate and enjoy the diversity that makes life rich? Can’t we be open, relaxed, and genuine about the differences between us, rather than being afraid to make even the most innocent comment pointing out such differences – for fear of aggressive PC responses and crowdthink?

If the Kushites in Amos, standing out from the crowd, are used in such positive terms as a metaphor for how special the Israelites are to God, then each of us can celebrate whatever specialness or otherness we have within us that makes us a bit different from those around — and embrace it in other people too. Let’s not be as Miriam and Aaron, who, due to their own limitations, distanced their brother for becoming other. Let’s do the opposite and bring the other closer to be our brother.

As taken from, https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-kushite-woman-marrying-otherness/

Camp and congregation

by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

The parsha of Beha’alotecha speaks about the silver trumpets – clarions – Moses was commanded to make:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Make two trumpets of silver; make them of hammered work. They shall serve you to summon the congregation [edah] and cause the camps [machanot] to journey.” (Num. 10:1–2)

This apparently simple passage became a springboard for one of the most profound meditations of the late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. It appears in his great essay Kol Dodi Dofek, on the Jewish approach to suffering.[1]

There are, says Rabbi Soloveitchik, two ways in which people become a group – a community, society, or nation. The first is when they face a common enemy. They band together for mutual protection. Like all animals who come together in herds or flocks to defend themselves against predators, we do this for our survival. Such a group is a machaneh – a camp, a defensive formation.

There is another, quite different, form of association. People can come together because they share a vision, an aspiration, a set of ideals. This is the meaning of edah, congregation. Edah is related to the word ed, witness. Edot (as opposed to chukim and mishpatim) are the commands that testify to Jewish belief – as Shabbat testifies to creation, Passover to the Divine involvement in history, and so on. An edah is not a defensive formation but a creative one. People join together to do what none could achieve alone. A true congregation is a society built around a shared project, a vision of the common good, an edah.

Rabbi Soloveitchik says these are not just two types of group, but in the most profound sense, two different ways of existing and relating to the world. A camp is brought into being by what happens to it from the outside. A congregation comes into existence by internal decision. The former is reactive, the latter proactive. The first is a response to what has happened to the group in the past. The second represents what the group seeks to achieve in the future. Whereas camps exist even in the animal kingdom, congregations are uniquely human. They flow from the human ability to think, speak, communicate, envision a society different from any that has existed in the past, and to collaborate to bring it about.

Jews are a people in both of these two quite different ways. Our ancestors became a machaneh in Egypt, forged together by a crucible of slavery and suffering. They were different. They were not Egyptians. They were Hebrews – a word which probably means “on the other side,” “an outsider.” Ever since, Jews have known that we are thrown together by circumstance. We share a history all too often written in tears. Rabbi Soloveitchik calls this the covenant of fate (brit goral).

This is not a purely negative phenomenon. It gives rise to a powerful sense that we are part of a single story – that what we have in common is stronger than the things that separate us:

Our fate does not distinguish between rich and poor…[or] between the pietist and the assimilationist. Even though we speak a plethora of languages, even though we are inhabitants of different lands…we still share the same fate. If the Jew in the hovel is beaten, then the security of the Jew in the palace is endangered. “Do not think that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace” (Est. 4:13).[2]

Our shared community’s fate leads also to a sense of shared suffering. When we pray for the recovery of a sick person, we do so “among all the sick of Israel.” When we comfort a mourner, we do so “among all the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” We weep together. We celebrate together. This in turn leads to shared responsibility: “All Israel are sureties for one another.”[3] And this leads to collective action in the field of welfare, charity, and deeds of loving kindness. As Maimonides puts it:

All Israelites …are like brothers, as it is said, “You are children of the Lord your God” (Deut. 14:1). If brother shows no compassion to brother, who will? …Their eyes are therefore lifted to their brothers.[4]

All these are dimensions of the covenant of fate, born in the experience of slavery in Egypt. But there is an additional element of Jewish identity. Soloveitchik calls this the covenant of destiny (brit ye’ud) – entered into at Mount Sinai. This defines the people of Israel not as the object of persecution but the subject of a unique vocation, to become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6).

Under this covenant, we became defined not by what others do to us but by the task we have undertaken, the role we have chosen to play in history. In Egypt, we did not choose to become slaves, that was a fate thrust upon us by someone else. We did, however, choose to become God’s people at Sinai when r said, “We will do and obey” (Ex. 24:7). Destiny, call, vocation, purpose, task: these create not a machaneh but an edah, not a camp but a congregation.

Our task as a people of destiny is to bear witness to the presence of God – through the way we lead our lives (Torah) and the path we chart as a people across the centuries (history).

G. K. Chesterton once wrote that “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.”[5]Chesterton was notoriously anti-Semitic, and this evidently prevented him from recalling that the reason America was founded on a creed was that its founders, Puritans all, were steeped in what they called the Old Testament. They took as their model the covenant made between God and the Israelites at Sinai, and it was this that linked nationhood and the idea of a specific task or mission. Herman Melville gave this one of its classic expressions in his 1849 novel, White-Jacket:

We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people – the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world…. God has predestined, mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel in our souls. The rest of the nations must soon be in our rear. We are pioneers of the world; the advance-guard, sent on through the wilderness of untried things, to break a new path in the New World that is ours.[6]

It is the concept of covenant that gives Jewish (and American) identity this strange dual character. Nations are usually forged through long historical experience, through what happens to them – rather than what they consciously set themselves to do. They fall into the category of machaneh. Religions, on the other hand, are defined in terms of beliefs and a sense of mission. Each is constituted as an edah. What is unique about Judaism is the way it brings together these separate and quite distinct ideas. There are nations that contain many religions and there are religions that are spread over many nations, but only in the case of Judaism do religion and nation coincide.

This has had remarkable consequences. For almost 2,000 years Jews were scattered throughout the world, yet they saw themselves and were seen by others as a nation – the world’s first global nation. It was a nation held together not by geographical proximity or any other of the normal accompaniments of nationhood. Jews did not speak the same vernacular. Rashi spoke French, Maimonides Arabic. Rashi lived in a Christian culture, Maimonides in a Muslim one. Nor was their fate the same. While the Jews of Spain were enjoying their Golden Age, the Jews of northern Europe were being massacred in the Crusades. In the 15th century, when the Jews of Spain were being persecuted and expelled, those of Poland were enjoying a rare spring of tolerance. What held Jews together during these centuries was shared faith. In the trauma that accompanied European Emancipation and the subsequent rise of racial antisemitism, many Jews lost that faith. Yet the events of the past century – persecution, pogroms, and the Holocaust, followed by the birth of the State of Israel and the constant fight to survive against war and terror – tended to bind Jews together in a covenant of fate in the face of the hostility of the world. So when Jews were divided by fate they were united by faith, and when they were divided by faith they were united again by fate. Such is the irony, or the providential nature, of Jewish history.

Judaism in the past two centuries has fissured and fractured into different edot: Orthodox and Reform, religious and secular, and the many subdivisions that continue to atomise Jewish life into non-communicating sects and subcultures. Yet in times of crisis we are still capable of heeding the call of collective responsibility, knowing as we do that Jewish fate tends to be indivisible. No Jew, to paraphrase John Donne, is an island, entire of him- or herself. We are joined by the gossamer strands of collective memory, and these can sometimes lead us back to a sense of shared destiny.

The duality was given its first expression this week in Beha’alotecha, with the command: “Make two trumpets of silver; make them of hammered work. They shall serve you to summon the congregation [edah], and cause the camps [machanot] to journey.” Sometimes the clarion call speaks to our sense of faith. We are God’s people, His emissaries and ambassadors, charged with making His presence real in the world by healing deeds and holy lives. At other times the trumpet that sounds and summons us is the call of fate: Jewish lives endangered in Israel or the Diaspora by the unremitting hostility of those who call themselves children of Abraham yet claim that they, not we, are his true heirs.

Whichever sound the silver instruments make, they call on that duality that makes Jews and Judaism inseparable. However deep the divisions between us, we remain one family in fate and faith. When the trumpet sounds, it sounds for us.

Shabbat Shalom.

NOTES

[1] Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek: Listen, My Beloved Knocks, trans. David Z. Gordon ( Jersey City, NJ: Ktav, 2006). A translation also appears in Bernhard H. Rosenberg (ed.), Theological and Halachic Reflections on the Holocaust (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1992).

[2] In Rosenberg, Theological and Halachic Reflections on the Holocaust, 84.

[3] Sanhedrin 27bShavuot 39a.

[4] Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Matanot LeEvyonim 10:2.

[5] G. K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1922), 7.

[6] Herman Melville, White-Jacket (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 153. See Jonathan Sacks, “The Universal Story”, in Pesach Haggadah (Jerusalem: Maggid, 2013), 75–84.

As taken from, https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/camp-and-congregation-behaalotecha-5779/

Is the Zohar an Ancient Book?

Ver las imágenes de origen
Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin

Many mystics insist that the Zohar was composed by Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai around the year 130 CE. However, scholars recognize that Moses d’ Leon, a Spaniard living in Granada, wrote it around 1286, that parts of the book were added by others after his death, and that the work is a pious forgery.

Zohar means “luminous” and alludes to the notion that God illuminates the people through mysticism. But while ostensibly dealing with enlightenment, the Zohar is usually very difficult to understand and many of its ideas are not rational.

The Zohar’s basic teaching is the doctrine of the Sefirot, “numbers,” ten divine parts of God that function in ten different ways. The lowest entity is shekhinah, also called malkhut, which mystics see as the anthropomorphic feminine part of God that interacts with humans.

The mystics feel that the ten parts of God are not combined together and that humans have a duty to help God become one by having his ten disjointed parts reassembled, like putting Humpty Dumpty together again. When this is done, they say the messianic age will arrive.

Scholars have assembled a host of proofs showing that the Zohar was not an ancient document. The following are some of the many proofs.

  1. A renowned person visited Moses d’ Leon to see the ancient documents that d’ Leon claimed he used to copy the Zohar. Moses d’ Leon kept putting him off and later asserted that the documents had strangely disappeared. After his death, d’ Leon’s wife admitted that the documents never existed.
  2. The ideas in the Zohar are a later development of earlier mystical notions, showing that they were composed after these earlier works, and not in 130, as d’ Leon claimed.
  3. Neither the rabbis nor anyone else knew about the Zohar until d’ Leon introduced it.
  4. Moses d’ Leon had no sense of history; he describes the alleged second century author conversing with people who lived long after his death.
  5. The Zohar author knew of the existence of vowels and accent marks used in the Torah books and gave them mystical interpretations. However, these items were not invented until the ninth century, seven centuries after the alleged composition date of the Zohar.
  6. The terms “master of dikduk [grammar]” and “tenuah gedola” (long vowel) are used in the Zohar even though they were not coined until the tenth and eleventh centuries, respectively.
  7. The author inserted terms from Jewish philosophy that was not developed until the Middle Ages.
  8. The book contains ideas copied from the eleventh-century Kuzari of Yehudah Halevi.
  9. The author introduces Maimonides’ twelfth-century concept about physics.
  10. The volume mentions putting on two pairs of tefillin, a practice that arose in the twelfth century.
  11. The Zohar discusses the Kol Nidre prayer of Yom Kippur, a ceremony that began in the eleventh century.
  12. The language of the Zohar is later than its alleged date of composition.
  13. There are many incorrect quotations from the Bible and the Talmud. The latter did not exist in 130.
  14. Prophecies in the volume inform the reader that the Zohar will be revealed around 1300 C.E., a blatant attempt to justify its late appearance.
  15. There are parallel passages between the Zohar and other books that were indisputably composed by Moses d’ Leon, including mistakes in the original books that d’ Leon copied into his Zohar.
  16. There is no mention in the Talmud or Midrashim that the alleged author of the Zohar, Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai, was interested in mysticism. Thus, d’ Leon took the wrong hero for his work.
  17. The famous mystic Rabbi Jacob Emden (born 1697) recorded 280 contradictions, anachronisms and incorrect statements and concluded that the book is a forgery of the thirteenth-century with some later additions.

In summary, the Zohar is the most prominent book of Jewish mysticism and is considered holy by many people. It contains the majority of the most important notions of modern Jewish mysticism. However, the book is not what it claims to be, its ideas are at best obscure and incomprehensible, its concept of God is curious and polytheistic, and it gives people wrong ideas about Judaism, and it encourages a passivity that stifles people from intellectual and emotional growth.

As taken from, https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/israel-drazin/

About the author: Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.

My Struggle with Persuasion and the Truth Concerning other Religions

by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

In your writings, you quote both rabbis and philosophers. On the one hand, you draw your insights from great rabbis such as the Rambam, the Kotzker Rebbe, Rav Kook, Rav Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Rav Eliezer Berkovits. On the other hand, you seem to equally find inspiration from great philosophers such as Baruch Spinoza, Emmanuel Levinas, Franz Rosenzweig, and Martin Buber. Rabbis tend to focus on loyalty to tradition, while philosophers seem to feel freer to question and seek truth, regardless of tradition. Rav Cardozo, do you see yourself more as a rabbi, or as a philosopher? And part two of this question: Do you think that having the official title of “Rabbi Cardozo” suppresses your true thoughts, or does it rather help to express them?

Nathan Lopes Cardozo:

In my younger days, I never contemplated becoming a rabbi or a philosopher, but a businessman. My father z”l ran a very successful business, “Roco & Cardozo,” selling sewing machines wholesale in Amsterdam. (Mr. Immanuel Roco, my father’s partner, was also of Jewish Portuguese background and also married out.) They jointly owned one of the large “Herenhuizen” mansions, at the Keizersgracht (Emperor’s Canal)—one of the most famous canals in Amsterdam—where they employed about 60 people.

Later, the building caught fire and partially burned down. It was sold for pennies, which was a huge mistake. Today, it would be worth millions and all of our family would have been somewhat rich! Because of this and my father’s heart condition we lost nearly all our money.

But before all that, we were well-to-do—though certainly not very rich—and my brother and I were raised in a small villa outside Amsterdam, in a village called Aerdenhout, with two large gardens. You can see it in the documentary about my life “Lonely but Not Alone” (https://www.cardozoacademy.org/documentary-lonely-but-not-alone/).

The idea was that my brother and I would enter this business and take it over one day. I even went to a “handelsschool” (trade-school), where I learned about the business world, and still remember much of what was taught. But I despised the school, found it utterly boring, and decided that it was not for me.

Interestingly, my family believes that I am not at all business-orientated and therefore completely unsuitable for this; especially after I entered the realm of Jewish learning and became very soft in my dealings with others when it relates to interacting with people and the business world. But they are utterly mistaken. The truth is that I probably would have been a very good businessman. But they never saw me in that capacity.

Let me explain:

Business largely depends on the power of persuasion and on making an object or deal attractive to a potential buyer. That’s the way to make good money. But to do so, you yourself have to believe in the object or deal. If you don’t, you will either be unable to sell it, or you’ll be a charlatan. This is also true about making Judaism and its profundity appealing, to oneself as well as to others (only without the money)! It’s all about persuasion!

During much of my life, I have tried to convince people of what I believe is the beauty of Judaism. In other words, I use my talents to influence people to “fall in love” with Judaism. (A terrible expression: Since when can one fall in love? One can fall in a pit, but not in love!) So in principle, it’s not so different from business.

The difference is that I found convincing people to buy an object to be of little meaning, although it is surely a mitzva to help people live a more prosperous and comfortable life. This is no doubt a great thing to do, as long as it is done honestly. Let us not forget that in the old days many of our greatest sages were also businessmen, because they felt they should not receive any money for learning or teaching Torah (something we should make possible again). But for me, that wasn’t enough. I had to find something more spiritual. So I left the business option.

But in both cases there is an element of selling or promoting something. And to do so successfully, for the most part people must have the talent to express themselves well and articulate their ideas. In other words, the method is the same. The difference is in what you are selling. I chose to sell Judaism, although the word “sell” is not very appropriate when speaking about religion. The other difference is that promoting (authentic) religion requires intellectual profundity. This doesn’t mean that business people don’t possess intellectual (philosophical) profundity, but it’s not a requirement for business per se. Something I did learn in trade-school, as well as from my dear father, is that big business people are also extremely creative thinkers—sometimes more than certain philosophers—and some are clearly geniuses, far beyond the average.

As an aside, this goes hand in hand with something else as well. My family and others believe that I can be easily fooled and lied to, and that I’m a little naive. The truth is very different. I know exactly when people are fooling me and lying to me. I have a special ability for this, which I don’t think is so good to have! The reason why I let people get away with it is because I’m a rabbi (perhaps against my will!), and a rabbi must have compassion and be “ma’avir al midotav” (See Rosh Hashana 17a), go beyond retribution and instead be tolerant, so as to make sure not to cause any strife, which will give the rabbinate and Judaism a bad name. Too many rabbis are already involved in cases of corruption, dishonesty, or just unnecessary discord. I do not wish to add to this.

But it certainly comes with a heavy price, which I paid many times when I became the victim of dishonest people. And I am fully aware that I still do. They think they manage to fool me, but I see straight through them and keep silent. That way, I can at least rest my head on my pillow at night and know that I have not been the cause of a chilul Hashem (desecration of God’s name).

Sure, there are cases where people hurt themselves or others without being aware of it, and then you must step in. But it means that at times you have to be unkind—sometimes even unforgiving—and then you get blamed for having hurt them because they don’t realize why you did what you did. This happens to me repeatedly because of my special circumstances. It is extremely painful, particularly with one’s loved ones. But there is no choice, and one has to carry this with a heavy heart. This is exactly what happened to Joseph and his brothers. (See TTP 621–Parshat Mikeitz: The Pain of Being a Tzaddik) For me this is hell, but better hell than letting people get hurt or hurt others, which is so much worse.

But to come back to business: As I said, I have a talent for “selling” Judaism to many of my “clients,” and I’m sure that I could have sold anything and could have easily become rich. But I decided against it.

To be honest, I find all this frightening. The power of persuasion can easily be used for the most evil ideologies or dishonest practices. Hitler is a typical example of that, in the extreme. He was an excellent speaker who turned into a demagogue. He could sell—to millions of people including academics and philosophers—the idea that the Jews had to be exterminated for the sake of a better future. So many other dictators throughout history were also very gifted speakers, and were thus able to bring great evil upon humankind.

The reason is obvious: Once you have convinced yourself of something you want to believe, you’re able to sell anything if you’re a good communicator.

So, while I feel blessed to have this talent, I am also most afraid of it. The truth is that I could have been not only a good businessman, but also a good priest, bishop or atheist. It all depends on what I could have convinced myself of as being the truth or worthwhile for me to pursue.

Although I don’t have any affiliation with Catholicism or other Christian denominations, I have read many of their theologies and fully understand their religious beliefs. I’m sure I could sell them, because even ideas that are repulsive to me—such as the trinity and incarnation doctrines—would make perfect sense to me once I would accept certain basic Christian beliefs. These beliefs can never be proven or disproven. They belong to a different category and are not open to intellectual scrutiny. As with music and art, one cannot prove or disprove such matters. They just “are,” and they depend on deep emotional needs or preferences. The same is true about secular or religious philosophy. So these Christian beliefs are true from within their own system and can therefore be “sold” as the truth. I could even bring some Jewish sources, if I just “bend” them a little. Christians are not dishonest, but truthful in what they believe. As long as one realizes that this is only true when seen from within the Christian perspective.

Still, to me as a Jew it is totally untrue. But I can never claim that it’s a sham. Even nonsense is serious stuff and requires our attention, because it’s the other side of the same coin that we can make sense of, especially because (common) sense is so limited. This is what most religious Jews don’t understand when rejecting Christianity and other religions, as I do. The difference between them and me is that I take Christianity very seriously, even if I disagree.

This is also the case with Reform Judaism. Once you buy into its ideology, it makes perfect sense. Still, I cannot and will not opt for it because my intuition tells me there’s something wrong about it. My neshama, my intellectual background, and reading about Judaism tell me that for me it is not authentic—although there are aspects of Reform Judaism that I believe are true and that Orthodox Judaism can learn a lot from. My reading of Conservative Judaism is a topic on its own, which we’ll need to discus another time.

It is because of my awareness that any religious belief can be sold that I have become so critical of mainstream Orthodox Judaism and skeptical about the way I promulgate my own Judaism, in the way I see it. Who says it’s correct? I am fully aware that the kind of Judaism I believe in and seriously practice makes perfect sense from within its own system. As such, I am honestly promoting it. But I keep asking myself whether its claims of truth are any more valid than the claims of other religions, other Jewish denominations, or secular philosophies. Am I “in it” because it’s something I have grown into and feel at home and comfortable with, or is there something more that makes my Judaism’s claim to truth stand out from all the others?

To be clear: I believe it stands out for many reasons, and one day we need to discuss them carefully. But I am aware that this conviction is at least partially bolstered by the fact that I was born into a secular, partly Jewish family and over the years became an Orthodox although rebellious Jew. Something inside tells me that Judaism has gotten it right. I also believe that my (Orthodox) Judaism is closer to the truth than other forms of Orthodox Judaism, with which I partially or sometimes completely disagree, although I have much in common with them in practice. But it may quite well be because I have a certain kind of Jewish neshome, a type of spiritual DNA that is perhaps different because of my unusual background, my vast knowledge, and my unique reading of this tradition. Still, I believe that for nearly all Jews Judaism is unparalleled because of some kind of language, feeling, and a certain way of thinking that is bound with the Jewish neshama. It’s what Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim would call “root experiences”—historical experiences throughout nearly 4,000 years that made us different from others; the result of various archetypal experiences.

That is true for me and my fellow Jews, but not for the Christian who doesn’t have the same “DNA” and is made up of different spiritual elements that I will never understand, identify with, or live by.

Therefore, I claim that Christianity is not inauthentic. It is authentic for the Christian, but I have no part in it. Perhaps it’s another way to God, which is absolutely authentic but only meant for Christians. For me, claims that the Mashiach has already come, that Jesus is the son of God, and that he is the incarnation of God are completely unacceptable and blasphemous. But that’s because all these claims make no sense from within traditional Judaism. It is clear to me, however, that Christianity reads them in a totally different way, and within that system they make perfect sense. But my neshama and Jewish way of thinking cannot make peace with that. What this means is: If Christianity had not spouted anti-Semitism for hundreds if not thousands of years, it could have worked together with Judaism on many matters that they have in common, such as promulgating monotheism, religiosity, moral responsibility, and the importance of Tanach.

I will end here, and we will continue our discussion next week!

As taken from, https://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/my-struggle-with-persuasion-and-the-truth-concerning-other-religions-question-10-part-1/?utm_source=Subscribers&utm_campaign=171206abfb-Weekly_Thoughts_to_Ponder_campaign_TTP_548_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dd05790c6d-171206abfb-242341409

Aversion to conversion

by Ralph Genende

Why subject would-be converts to a long, arduous vetting process? We should stop shlepping the process out and stop treating them with suspicion

Why the aversion to conversion? I’m referring to the trend to make conversions more difficult and intractable that has gripped the Jewish world for the past 25 years or so. Conversion to Judaism was never meant to be easy and instant but then it was also never meant to be tortuous and protracted.

Let’s be clear – conversion isn’t like choosing a new restaurant or change of clothing. It’s a challenge, a delicate heart-operation, a process that demands thought, commitment, a change of lifestyle, a new perspective. It’s not just about choosing a religion or changing a religion. It’s about joining a people, becoming part of a family, adopting a new history and changing your name. For men it’s often about changing your actual body, your actual image of yourself.

The paradigm for conversion is Ruth who famously says: “For wherever you will go, I will go; where you live I will live; your people are my people; your God is my God; where you die I will die and there I will be buried” (Ruth 1:16). Ruth recognises that to be Jewish is to live with other Jews, to be part of a Jewish neighbourhood connected to a Jewish community. She appreciates that it’s tying your destiny to a nation that has suffered as much as it has triumphed. She knows that it’s about engaging with the compassionate and demanding God of Israel; accepting the laws and customs that are in the Torah and the teachings of its rabbis. She knows that it’s a lifetime of commitment, ‘till death do us part’.

And so any conversion to Orthodox Judaism is about adopting the Jewish way of life, living an observant lifestyle. In one sense that’s the easy part, for the would-be-convert has to also relinquish their former way of living, let go of things they’ve always done, change primary relationships, challenge their own priorities and sometimes even principles. They’ve got to negotiate with their own families of origin, respect their own parents and traditions and simultaneously accept a whole new family and bewildering raft of new practises. They’ve also got to dig deep within and change their very self-perception.

Now this is no simple or quick strategy. It’s a long, considered and subtle process with its own inevitable ups and downs; times of despair, angst, stress and questioning; times of elation, joy, wonder and hope. You can’t put a time frame on the journey of a heart, the odyssey of a soul. It’s a life journey, quirky and individual. But it’s also a very practical and quotidian process. In the majority of situations today, conversion is about a relationship with a Jewish partner and the anticipation of a marriage. This is known and accepted by the overwhelming majority of Batei-Din worldwide. Invariably when approaching a rabbi or the registrar of the Beth-Din, the candidate has been through an exploratory phase, meeting the Jewish family of the partner, talking to a range of people, reading about Judaism and often attending Shabbat and festive meals. Some are ill-informed but many, if not most, aren’t just walking off the street with no idea about the challenges of conversion. Most, if not all, have already decided to undertake this step because they’re committed to their Jewish partner. The majority of potential Jews who walk through my door are pretty well-informed, more often than not, smart, educated, articulate and principled. They know that being Jewish isn’t simple and easy. And that’s not surprising when you consider that like our Jewish kids they are well educated and a huge proportion are professional, confident, intelligent and eloquent.

Which leads me to the thrust of my argument: Just why are we making it so hard for these young people to embark on a course of conversion? Why are we stuck in a time-warp taking the rabbinic protocols of turning them away (three times) so literally? Why can’t we recognise that the times have changed and are a changing while we stand obdurate like the frozen chosen?

As Rav Shlomo Riskin has asserted, we are a religion of compassion and it’s caring and sharing that should dictate our approach to the would-be-convert. Being friendly, warm and tolerant in our attitude is not the same as being a ‘soft touch’ or having no standards or demands. “Love the convert” is surely a mitzvah that can begin the moment you meet that stranger who wants to become a Jew. Hillel knew that when he famously met the chutzpadik non-Jew who asked to know all about Judaism while he stood on one foot (Shammai didn’t get it and aggressively rebuffed him). To put it plainly, if a person who already has a Jewish partner comes to convert why subject them to a long, arduous vetting and waiting process? And once they’re already accepted and have begun to learn, practise and be part of our community, why shlep the process out with tests, inscrutable questions and an open-ended time of termination as is done in too many places? Why treat them with suspicion and sometimes even try trick them to test their sincerity? To be sure, some will be more truthful and others more passionate in their commitment. Conversion is not about the end of a process but the beginning of a journey. We shouldn’t expect converts to be fully frum, but we should expect them to have lived an observant Jewish life for at least a year, to be knowledgeable, to be dedicated, to be part of the Jewish community and hopefully in love with Jewish destiny. We can and should expect them to be deeply connected, willing to stay the distance, raise their kids as Jew.

Let’s challenge those who have an aversion to conversion! Let’s recognise the wealth of fresh talent and energy that converts bring to our community. Solomon asserted ‘There’s a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing’. There have been eras in our history when it was dangerous to seek out or encourage potential converts. There have been times when the motives of would-be-Jews were dubious. Occasions to refrain from embracing. But there have also been times when we welcomed converts, and recognised the sacrifice, courage and determination they show by seeking to be Jewish. A time to embrace. Now is the time!

Shabbat Shalom,

As taken from, https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/aversion-to-conversion/

Tratos de la mente

por Eduardo Caccia

Resultado de imagen de Pigmalion

Los mitos son un catalizador de la conducta social, han servido para regular civilizaciones, explicar lo desconocido y controlar las acciones humanas. Algunos, incluso son precursores de descubrimientos en las ciencias cognitivas, como la psicología. Un antiguo relato griego nos habla de Pigmalión, rey de Chipre, que se enamora de una estatua femenina de su autoría, a tal grado que en su enajenación mental, aquella pieza de marfil es humanizada por obra divina para encarnar a Galatea. Antes de esa transformación, fue el artista quien la imaginó de carne y hueso; su proyección mental ha sido tan aguda que finalmente se convirtió en realidad. Hoy, la psicología llama efecto Pigmalión a la influencia que una persona tiene sobre otra para (al proyectarle ciertas capacidades) lograr que la segunda las adquiera.

El efecto Pigmalión sigue teniendo una poderosa influencia en diversos ámbitos. En el proceso de creación de marcas se dice “trata a tu marca, no como lo que es sino como lo que quieres que llegue a ser”. Sustitúyase ahora la palabra “marca” por la palabra “hijo”. Estamos ante una programación mental que encauza la conducta, es también uno de los principios de la psicología para entender mejor el comportamiento humano. Usualmente a grandes expectativas, mejor desempeño. Mucho de la complejidad en la forma en que tomamos decisiones tiene que ver con este y otros principios.

¿Alguna vez le has aplaudido a alguien que se equivocó en el escenario? Es muy probable que sí, y que el aplauso haya sido colectivo. ¿Qué misteriosa instrucción grupal existe detrás de esa empatía? Se llama efecto Pratfall y básicamente consiste en que tu aceptación social se incrementa cuando demuestras y aceptas que eres falible. Por alguna razón, quienes son percibidos como personas que nunca cometen errores, que son perfectas o invencibles, tienden a generar distancia afectiva entre los demás. Fallar es humano. Por supuesto, hay de pifias a pifias, me refiero a las que no tienen realmente una consecuencia crítica en el devenir de los acontecimientos, un tropezón, un repentino olvido, algún dislate fonético.

¿Te has arrepentido de haber comprado cierto modelo o versión de un producto en vez de otro? Seguramente no fue algo que experimentaron tus abuelos, ellos tenían menos opciones para decidir. La llamada “Paradoja de la elección” es un fenómeno que explica porqué tomar una decisión se vuelve más difícil cuantas más alternativas hay para decidir. Explica también porqué tendemos a ser menos felices con nuestra decisión, aunque haya sido correcta.

De otro de los fenómenos que regulan nuestra conducta me ocupé en forma más amplia en un artículo anterior, “¿Le has visto?”, donde expongo el llamado “Efecto del espectador”: mientras más personas haya alrededor de un accidente, será menos probable que tú ayudes, pues creerás que alguien más lo hará. O, qué me dicen de cuando se equivocaron en algo, cuando hay público a su alrededor, pero resulta que el error no fue tan evidente como ustedes pensaron. Esta tendencia a sobrevalorar las equivocaciones propias se conoce como “Efecto del reflector”. En realidad no todos nos están viendo como creemos que lo hacen.

¿Por qué los magos son buenos para hacer trucos? En esencia porque nuestra mente coopera. La magia es un territorio genial para tratar de entender la forma en como percibimos la realidad. La suerte llamada “caída francesa” es un truco que aprendí de mi papá. Consiste en “pasar” una moneda de una mano a otra frente a los ojos del espectador. Tiempo después conocí su nombre y otros elementos de apoyo para hacerlo mejor. Aquí intervienen varios factores, uno es el “Efecto del enfoque”, al concentrarnos tanto en cierto punto, dejamos de ver otros, básicamente una distracción programada. Por otro lado, el “Efecto de edición”: nuestra mente ve lo que quiere ver, es la gran editora de la realidad, como en el caso del sable que aparentemente atraviesa a la bella chica que está dentro de una caja.

Estos principios funcionan, para bien o para mal, desde territorios como la mercadotecnia, la política (¡las elecciones!) y la vida personal. Conocerlos, explorarlos, sentirnos parte de ellos es una forma de comprender nuestra naturaleza, compleja, falible, fascinante.

Segun tomado de, https://diariojudio.com/opinion/tratos-de-la-mente/299451/

How did the Oral Law become part of the Torah?

by Haddasah Levy

Illustrative: Books of the Talmud. (iStock)
Illustrative: Books of the Talmud. (iStock)

A famous midrash in Menachot 29b recounts a fantastical story about an interaction in heaven between Moses and God:

R. Yehuda said in the name of Rav:

When Moses ascended to the heavens, he saw God sitting and tying crowns to the letters [of the Torah].

Moses asked, “What’s the hold up [i.e., why can’t you give the Torah as is]?

God replied, “there’s a man who will be in the future, after many generations, named Akiva b. Yosef, who will find in every jot and tittle mounds of laws.

Moses said, “Master of the Universe, show him to me!”

God said, “Turn around”

Moses went and sat in the eighth row of students in R. Akiva’s class, and had no idea what they were saying. His strength deflated.

The class asked R. Akiba about a certain matter, “From whence to you know this?” He replied, “It is a Law transmitted to Moses at Sinai. Moses’ mind was put at ease.

The purpose of this midrash is to authenticate the Oral Law, but there are many questions relating to it. If the Oral Law was given to Moses at Mount Sinai, how can it be that Moses does not understand what is being said in the study hall of Rabbi Akiva? And if the Oral Law is a continuation of the divine tradition, why is it necessary for Rabbi Akiva to derive them from the crowns of the letters? And how does he do this?

The idea that the Oral Law is integral to the Torah is stated even more strongly in a midrash about Abraham. According to this midrash (Yoma 28b), Abraham kept the entire Torah and that included the rules of the Oral Law, such as eruv tavshilin (pre-sabbath preparation for holiday cooking). Of course, that premise only strengthens our previous questions: if the two Torahs are really one corpus, how can it be that Rabbi Akiva had to learn these laws for himself? Until the time of Rabbi Akiva, did these laws not exist? When did laws like eruv tavshilin come into existence?

According to Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein, author of the Torah Temimah (Exodus 24, note 28), the passage in Menachot teaches us that there are two types of laws. There are traditions that were handed down to Moses — which Rabbi Akiva did not derive from the Torah since they are impossible to derive by human means. And there are laws that can be figured out, for which type of Oral Law, Rabbi Akiva’s interpretative method was put to use.

There are three basic methods to derive oral laws:

  • Sevara — something which is basic common sense. For instance, the fact that murder is forbidden even under the pain of death, is sevara. According to Rabba, no one can claim that his or her own life is more important than someone else’s life.
  • Kal vachomer (lenient and strict) — also a logical principle. For example, since it is forbidden to bake on a holiday for Shabbat, an important day that merits preparation in advance, then it is obviously forbidden to bake on a holiday for an ordinary weekday.
  • Rulings that are based on ethical principles. For instance, the identification of the lulav (palm branch) and hadas (myrtle) — for the taking of the four species that is a mitzvah on Sukkot — was done by eliminating all similar plants which are thorny or poisonous. That process of elimination of other possibilities applies to the famous monetary compensation in the eye for an eye equation. The asessment was understood to apply to money because there is no fair way to accomplish a literal trade of an eye for an eye.

Then there are laws which are called “Laws Transmitted to Moses at Sinai.” These can’t be learned in any other way. They include laws such as the 39 melachot of Shabbat, the tying of the tefillin strap to form the letter shin and the pouring of water on the altar for all of seven days of Sukkot. These are not the laws that Rabbi Akiva derived from the crowns of the Torah; rather, they were handed down from Moses to each subsequent generation.

Historically, it would seem that there was a point in history in which only the Written Torah was kept (except for a small number of laws) and the Oral Law was added bit by bit in stages. The talmudic passage in Menachot purposely created a dichotomy — Oral Law is both divinely inspired and created by rabbinic interpretation.

The essence of the Oral Law is that at whichever point in time the rabbis interpret the Torah, the interpretation becomes a part of the corpus of the Torah. So the Mishnah Berurah can be part of the Oral Law without the need to pretend that its author was quoting the traditions of Moses. And there is no need to say Rabbi Akiva was doing that either. If he had traditions for everything, there would be no need to use such difficult methods to derive the laws. Rather, some ancient traditions probably existed but most of the Oral Law is a process created by man within the license granted to us by God — “it is not in heaven.”

As taken from, https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/how-did-the-oral-law-become-part-of-the-torah/

You can’t build a society out of saints alone

by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

You need those who care for family and community and country, even if they are tempted by a life of solitary virtue (Naso)

Parshat Naso contains the law of the Nazirite – the individual who undertook to observe special rules of holiness and abstinence: not to drink wine or other intoxicants (including anything made from grapes), not to have his hair cut, and not to defile himself by contact with the dead (Num. 6:1–21). Such a state was usually undertaken for a limited period; the standard length was thirty days. There were exceptions, most famously Samson and Samuel who, because of the miraculous nature of their birth, were consecrated before their birth as Nazirites for life.[1]

What the Torah does not make clear, though, is firstly why a person might wish to undertake this form of abstinence, and secondly whether it considers this choice to be commendable, or merely permissible. On the one hand the Torah calls the Nazirite “holy to God” (Num. 6:8). On the other, it requires him, at the end of the period of his vow, to bring a sin offering (Num. 6:13–14).

This led to an ongoing disagreement between the Rabbis in Mishnaic, Talmudic, and medieval times. According to R. Elazar, and later to Nahmanides, the Nazirite is praiseworthy. He has voluntarily undertaken a higher level of holiness. The prophet Amos (2:11) said, “I raised up some of your sons for prophets, and your young men for Nazirites,” suggesting that the Nazirite, like the prophet, is a person especially close to God. The reason he had to bring a sin offering was that he was now returning to ordinary life. His sin lay in ceasing to be a Nazirite.

Eliezer HaKappar and Shmuel held the opposite opinion. For them the sin lay in becoming a Nazirite in the first place and thereby denying himself some of the pleasures of the world God created and declared good. R. Eliezer added: “From this we may infer that if one who denies himself the enjoyment of wine is called a sinner, all the more so one who denies himself the enjoyment of other pleasures of life.”[2]

Clearly the argument is not merely textual. It is substantive. It is about asceticism, the life of self-denial. Almost every religion knows the phenomenon of people who, in pursuit of spiritual purity, withdraw from the pleasures and temptations of the world. They live in caves, retreats, hermitages, monasteries. The Qumran sect known to us through the Dead Sea Scrolls may have been such a movement.

In the Middle Ages there were Jews who adopted similar kinds of self-denial – among them the Chasidei Ashkenaz, the Pietists of Northern Europe, as well as many Jews in Islamic lands. In retrospect it is hard not to see in these patterns of behaviour at least some influence from the non-Jewish environment. The Chasidei Ashkenaz who flourished during the time of the Crusades lived among self-mortifying Christians. Their southern counterparts may have been familiar with Sufism, the mystical movement in Islam.

The ambivalence of Jews towards the life of self-denial may therefore lie in the suspicion that it entered Judaism from the outside. There were ascetic movements in the first centuries of the Common Era in both the West (Greece) and the East (Iran) that saw the physical world as a place of corruption and strife. They were, in fact, dualists, holding that the true God was not the creator of the universe. The physical world was the work of a lesser, and evil, deity. Therefore God – the true God – is not to be found in the physical world and its enjoyments but rather in disengagement from them.

The two best-known movements to hold this view were Gnosticism in the West and Manichaeism in the East. So at least some of the negative evaluation of the Nazirite may have been driven by a desire to discourage Jews from imitating non-Jewish practices. Judaism strongly believes that God is to be found in the midst of the physical world that He created that is, in the first chapter of Genesis, seven times pronounced “good.” It believes not in renouncing pleasure but in sanctifying it.

What is much more puzzling is the position of Maimonides, who holds both views, positive and negative, in the same book, his law code the Mishneh Torah. In Hilchot Deot, he adopts the negative position of R. Eliezer HaKappar:

A person may say: “Desire, honour, and the like are bad paths to follow and remove a person from the world; therefore I will completely separate myself from them and go to the other extreme.” As a result, he does not eat meat or drink wine or take a wife or live in a decent house or wear decent clothing…. This too is bad, and it is forbidden to choose this way.[3]

Yet in Hilchot Nezirut he rules in accordance with the positive evaluation of R. Elazar: “Whoever vows to God [to become a Nazirite] by way of holiness, does well and is praiseworthy…. Indeed Scripture considers him the equal of a prophet.”[4] How does any writer come to adopt contradictory positions in a single book, let alone one as resolutely logical as Maimonides?

The answer lies in a remarkable insight of Maimonides into the nature of the moral life as understood by Judaism. What Maimonides saw is that there is not a single model of the virtuous life. He identifies two, calling them respectively the way of the saint (chassid) and the way of the sage (chacham).

The saint is a person of extremes. Maimonides defines chessed as extreme behaviour – good behaviour, to be sure, but conduct in excess of what strict justice requires.[5] So, for example, “If one avoids haughtiness to the utmost extent and becomes exceedingly humble, he is termed a saint [chassid].”[6]

The sage is a different kind of person altogether. He or she follows the “golden mean,” the “middle way,” the way of moderation and balance. He or she avoids the extremes of cowardice on the one hand, recklessness on the other, and thus acquires the virtue of courage. He or she avoids miserliness in one direction, prodigality in the other, and instead chooses the middle way of generosity. The sage knows the twin dangers of too much and too little, excess and deficiency. He or she weighs the conflicting pressures and avoids the extremes.

These are not just two types of person but two ways of understanding the moral life itself. Is the aim of the moral life to achieve personal perfection? Or is it to create gracious relationships and a decent, just, compassionate society? The intuitive answer of most people would be to say: both. What makes Maimonides so acute a thinker is that he realises that you cannot have both – that they are in fact different enterprises.

A saint may give all his money away to the poor. But what about the members of the saint’s own family? They may suffer because of his extreme self-denial. A saint may refuse to fight in battle. But what about the saint’s country and its defence? A saint may forgive all crimes committed against him. But what then about the rule of law, and justice? Saints are supremely virtuous people, considered as individuals. Yet you cannot build a society out of saints alone. Indeed, saints are not really interested in society. They have chosen a different, lonely, self-segregating path. I know no moral philosopher who makes this point as clearly as Maimonides – not Plato or Aristotle, not Descartes or Kant.[7]

It was this deep insight that led Maimonides to his seemingly contradictory evaluations of the Nazirite. The Nazirite has chosen, at least for a period, to adopt a life of extreme self-denial. He is a saint, a chassid. He has adopted the path of personal perfection. That is noble, commendable, and exemplary. That is why Maimonides calls him “praiseworthy” and “the equal of a prophet.”

But it is not the way of the sage – and you need sages if you seek to perfect society. The sage is not an extremist – because he or she realises that there are other people at stake. There are the members of one’s own family as well as the others within one’s community. There are colleagues at work. There is a country to defend and a society to help build. The sage knows he or she cannot leave all these commitments behind to pursue a life of solitary virtue.[8] In a strange way, saintliness is a form of self-indulgence. We are called on by God to live in the world, not escape from it; in society not seclusion; to strive to create a balance among the conflicting pressures on us, not to focus on some while neglecting the others.

Hence, while from a personal perspective the Nazirite is a saint, from a societal perspective he is, at least figuratively, a “sinner” who has to bring an atonement offering.

Maimonides lived the life he preached. We know from his writings that he longed for seclusion. There were years when he worked day and night to write his Commentary to the Mishnah, and later the Mishneh Torah. Yet he also recognised his responsibilities to his family and to the community. In his famous letter to his would-be translator Ibn Tibbon,[9] he gives an account of his typical day and week – in which he had to carry a double burden as a world-renowned physician and an internationally sought halachist and sage. He worked to exhaustion.

Maimonides was a sage who longed to be a saint, but knew he could not be, if he was to honour his responsibilities to his people. That is a profound and moving judgement, and one that still has the power to inspire today.

Shabbat Shalom

NOTES

[1] Judges 13:1–7I Sam. 1:11. The Talmud distinguishes these kinds of cases from the standard vow for a fixed period. The most famous Nazirite of modern times was Rabbi David Cohen (1887–1972), a disciple of Rav Kook and father of the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi She’ar-Yashuv Cohen (1927–2016).

[2] Taanit 11aNedarim 10a.

[3] Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deot 3:1.

[4] Ibid., Hilchot Nezirut 10:14.

[5] Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, III:52.

[6] Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deot 1:5.

[7] However, see J. O. Urmson’s famous article, “Saints and Heroes,” in Essays in Moral Philosophy, ed. A. Melden (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1958). See also P. F. Strawson, “Social Morality and Individual Ideal,” Philosophy 36, no. 136 (Jan. 1961): 1–17.

[8] There were Sages who believed that in an ideal world, tasks such as earning a living or having children could be “done by others” (see Berachot 35a for the view of R. Shimon b. Yochai; Yevamot 63b for that of Ben Azzai). These are elitist attitudes that have surfaced in Judaism from time to time but which are criticised by the Talmud.

[9] See Rabbi Yitzhak Sheilat, Letters of Maimonides [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Miskal, 1987–88), 2:530–554.

As taken from, https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/sages-and-saints-naso-5779/

It is not in heaven: Who’s afraid of biblical criticism?

Just because there may be a human dimension to the multi-layered text of the Torah doesn’t make it any less impressively divine — to the contrary!

by Yael Shahar

Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua, Yehoshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly

What do we mean when we say that the Torah was given to us by God? Likely enough, most modern Jews mean something very different by it than Jews living in Rashi’s time. And Rashi may well have given it a different meaning than did Rabbi Akiva.

We live in an age where the claims of biblical criticism have to be considered, even by observant Jews — an age in which historical claims are likely to be called into question and weighed against the biblical text. I know of at least one young man who left his Haredi community and threw his Judaism out the window when the naïve faith in which he was educated clashed headlong with modern claims about the origin of the Torah. “I felt that my parents and my teachers had lied to me,” he later told me. “They taught me only one version of the truth, and when it turned out not to be true, I felt betrayed.”

The lost talmudic art of uncertainty

But is this rift inevitable? Have we lost the ability to live with complexity? If so, this would be a greater departure from our Jewish textual tradition than any mere “heresy” could be.

Think about it: the Babylonian Talmud, from which Jewish life and practice have drawn their structure for over a thousand years, is itself structured to highlight the limits of human knowledge. In considering alternative approaches to the truth, the Talmud methodically seeks to avoid privileging one over the other. The Bavli challenges authority because it argues that we have no access to ultimate authority.

This is a statement about the world and our relation to it. It is meant to reflect the unknowability of the world, coupled with the paradoxical power of the human intellect. It demonstrates the belief that, in modern terms, we are stuck on one side of Godel’s proof. And yet, the issues that it wrestles with are mostly on the other side. The Bavli is God-wrestling par excellence.

Note that the Talmud isn’t claiming that no truth exists; rather, it admits to a divine truth which has been brought down to earth; it is not in heaven. But having been brought down to earth, this truth loses its absolute character. The original divine light will need to be filtered through the lens of each new generation.

What has this to do with the contrasting claims about the origin of the Torah? Plenty! For one thing, if we truly internalize the ability to tolerate “indeterminacy of belief,” to keep a concept in a state of unresolved tension as taught by the talmudic sages, we need not “collapse the waveform” of statements like “God gave the Torah on Mount Sinai.” Instead, we can turn the statement over and over again, perhaps shake it a time or two and see what falls out.

And what falls out is indeed profound. The statement that “the Torah was given on Sinai” is part of the meta-structure of Judaism, a framing statement. As such, it is in the realm of agaddah — a statement whose truth is vastly deeper than the mere literal sense, a hint of something much deeper than any mere fact can convey.

The emphasis on “factuality” is a very modern trend, and is foreign to the traditional way of interpreting biblical texts. Aggadic truth lies in the dream state of Am Yisrael. Do we believe our dreams depict factual events? And yet, dreams are still integral to learning. The same is true of midrash aggadah, an artform that uses allusive imagery to call forth truths that are far more significant than mere factual truths.

“Torah was given on Sinai” doesn’t tell us as much about the Torah as it does about Sinai — about what our sages meant when they used the phrase “from Sinai.” The levels of meaning implied by the phrase are far more profound than mere specificity of time or place. Rather, it whispers to us that the historical process is itself part of a divine play — one in which we have been privileged to be granted front-row seats, and even bit parts!

“But what if the Bible Critics are right?” I hear you say. “What then?”

To which I answer, in the time-honored Jewish manner, with another question: Does seeing an ultrasound of a growing fetus make you value the baby less after her birth? Does it not increase the wonder to see the incredible process of becoming human take place before your eyes?

The same may be said of the Torah. The Bible Critics may have merely given us a glimpse (and only a glimpse) of how this miraculous document came to be.  Like an ultrasound, the picture is blurry, but it still gives us an idea that something is happening over which we have no control. The fact that humans designed the ultrasound device, and even conceived the baby, doesn’t make them the baby’s creators.

We can try to peer back into history to see the stages of the Torah’s development without in any way detracting from its divine origin. The idea that the incredibly meaningful work that we have today may have been the end result of centuries of development only heightens the wonder. Certainly it doesn’t lessen it. If anything, it makes it seem even more miraculous, that out of all the possible things that might have gone in, just the right bits did make it into the mix, in just the right proportions to create the multi-layered text that we have today.

Think of tossing a huge number of index cards into the air, each bearing one letter, and finding that they had fallen to the floor to spell out a Shakespeare Sonnet. No, the analogy isn’t perfect, since human talent also goes into the mix. But human talent existing at all, never mind being exactly in the right place at the right time to have a hand in bringing it all together — that to me looks a lot like God’s signature.

Does a man-made Torah undermine faith?

Biblical criticism may well be correct in most of its claims regarding the historical editing of the text. But so what!? The relevance of the text has nothing to do with how it came to be written, but what we’ve built on it and how it has molded us as a people.

We can get tied up in wrestling with the straw-man of historicity, as if understanding how the text was created is going to overturn our entire worldview. Does the knowledge that solid matter is mostly empty space alter how we hold a fork? Most of our daily lives are built on deeper foundations than mere intellectual knowledge. Our Judaism is a matter that goes far deeper than the cerebellum, and is unlikely to be overturned by bible criticism — even if the critics are proved right!

In fact, the input of the bible critics is already being assimilated into the observant Jewish world — and enriching our scholarship along the way. The notion that revelation may never have been completed, and that we are still receiving the Torah, is gradually percolating up from national unconscious to consciousness.

It’s important to note that while we can question just about everything about our mesorah, what we never question is its sanctity. And that sanctity doesn’t depend on it’s being born in a particular way or its being forever unchanging. Do we love a person less because he or she changes over time? Do we love our children less because we had some part in making them who they are? If we can accept hashgachah pratit in the life of an individual, why not in the life of a people?

What about halakhic consequences?

So biblical criticism need not undermine Jewish belief. But we like to say that Judaism is not about creeds, but about deeds. If the Torah did come about through a historical process, what are the consequences for halakhah?

None whatsoever! The Written Torah, however it came to be, is only the tip of the halalkhic iceberg. The vast majority of halakhah was created by our sages over the course of centuries, and it is this extended Oral Torah by which we live our lives today. We are Talmud Jews, rather than “Torah Jews.” The message that “it is not in heaven” permeates all of our oral law.

The vast majority of halakhot are rooted in the Talmud, including almost every single facet of Shabbat observance, something acknowledged by the sages at the time, who called it “a mountain” of halakhah “suspended by a hair” of tenuous connection to a handful of p’sukim.

But while we derive so much of our current practice from the Talmud, we seem to have missed the meta-text that is really its most crucial teaching. The very fact of recording all possible opinions on a given issue teaches the same lesson: that Truth belongs to God, and we meanwhile do the best we can in a world of uncertainty.  Somewhere along the line, we’ve lost the humility that says: “We don’t have all the answers.” We obsess over tzniut in dress, but completely miss out on tzniut in thought.

To say that Matan Torah has to have been as we envision it, otherwise we won’t follow halakhah, is akin to an attempt to limit God’s abilities, to fit the whole unimaginable wonder of God’s will into our own imagination. It seems to me that God’s answer to Moshe is the perfect rebuttal to all such attempts: “I will be what I will be,” not what you imagine Me to be.

As taken from, https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/it-is-not-in-heaven-whos-afraid-of-biblical-criticism/