Spiritual & Corporeal Universe

Very well written article – I applaud the author.

Summarizes key concepts in Kabbalah and addresses how science aligns with Kabbalistic teachings.

http://soullite.blogspot.com/2011/08/oldnew-universe.html

You can download the actual book (very short) from this site. Here Rabbi Arie Kapaln describes the age of the Universe according to Kabbalah.

Immortality, Resurrection and the Age of the Universe: A Kabbalistic View

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13 Responses to Spiritual & Corporeal Universe

  1. i would have aplauded the auther of the article if he had been a child of the age of 4-5, or smile if he had been a child of 7-8, would seriously speak to him if he had 9-11 years old, but as far as I understand, the auther of this article is phisically more than any of mentioned ages. So without beening sentimental, i would say that it is time to pray, though i want to say to cry.

    But it is a good illustration of what the Sages say that each person has his phisical and spiritual age and the difference may be drastical.

    Now the only approuch to comparing spiritual knowledge of the Sages and sientiests findings is to REMEMBER, that both data is given to us by Creator Himself, and if there is any contradiction between them it means that the Creator want it to look so and wants to teach us something or to show us veraity of possibilities to look at the same facts.We may not think about sienties as thinking independantly from the Creator, they may think or ” find out ” only what He wants them to think or find out, and it is all for us to be able to expand our understanding of the complexity of the Creation, that is why we can see that one thiories are changed by another ones but neither of them make any difference in the universe itself or any other changes, we all know that the earth goes round the sun but in our percerption it is on the contrary, why the Creator build us so? for us to understand that not all that I see is the real way of the things and I have to make Hidggabrut and to see the things not from the point of my Malkhut, but from the point of the Binnah, the same with the 7 days of the creation, the Creator whats us to be able to see and understand that Torah fixies only the results of the process of the creation, but the ways of getting these reasults are givven to us to explore, see the explanation of Zamir Cohen on this topic and of course as one of the aspects and not as the truth in its last form. How do we know that the Torah mentioned only the results and not the prosses, because Hebrew word for day is Yiom, it consists od Yod- wisdom in its broad sence-Hokhma, Vav- the wisdom of giving the form to the Idea, and Mem Soffit- the final, completied form of the Creatied levels, which explains why Darvin wrote at the end of his theory, that if there will be not found the forms in between of the existing spieces , he himself admits that his theiory is wrong, and there isn’t any forms in between found in any historical layers, because the final letter is Mem soffit, the form was built and closed, if I am blond, I can’t do anything to change my colour of the hair, my constitution and so one, my form is preditermimed and signed in my genes, but my spiritual form is an open form, because the seventh day of the creation is not called “Yiom Shviyi”, but is Called Shabbat, and this is the field of our free choise and our endless posibilities.

    Any way I’d like to tell again, that we are allowed to think and to find our solutions and understandings of the prosesses, but most of the time should be spend on learning, and not on speculations of our own.One has to learn everything what is said by our Sages, and if after that he will find anything to add we will be very glad to listen to him, but writting” the Sffirot of Iggulim are inhabitted by beings” and to Call kabbalat misticism is as pitiful, as stupid all together.Please, grow up and do it quickly and pray and cry to the Creator, and explain to Him that to think on the level of 3 year old child when you are after your 30’s isn’t so good after all.

  2. The spiritual world is multi-level system where you have all kind of options from Keter of Kdusha till Keter of Tumma, the one we choose becomes our reality.

    it is better to use the time for choosing the right ,according to Torah option, than to get something what we will have to correct for a long of time with or nearly without any results.As was the case with the Tree of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life.
    We do make our corporal universe through our every day choices and deads.

  3. yehudith says:

    ( Nothing personal, it just the way the joke goes)
    An American automobile company and a Japanese auto company decided to have a competitive boat race on the Detroit River. Both teams practiced hard and long to reach their peak performance. On the big day, they were as ready as they could be.

    The Japanese team won by a mile.

    Afterwards, the American team became discouraged by the loss and their morale sagged. Corporate management decided that the reason for the crushing defeat had to be found. A Continuous Measurable Improvement Team of “Executives” was set up to investigate the problem and to recommend appropriate corrective action.

    Their conclusion: The problem was that the Japanese team had 8 people rowing and 1 person steering, whereas the American team had 1 person rowing and 8 people steering. The American Corporate Streering Committee immediately hired a consulting firm to do a study on the management structure.

    After some time and billion of dollars, the consulting firm concluded that “too many people were steering and not enough rowing.” To prevent losing to the Japanese again next year, the management structure was changed to “4 Steering Managers, 3 Area Steering Managers, and 1 Staff Steering Manager” and a new perfromance system for the person rowing the boat to give more incentive to work harder and become a superb perfromer. ” We must give him empowerment and enrichment.” That ought to do it.

    The next year the Japanese team won by two miles.

    The American Corporation laid off the rower for poor performance, sold all of the paddles, cancelled all capital investments for new equipment, halted development of a new canoe, awarded high perfromence awards to the consulting firm, and distributed the money saved as bonuses to the senior executives.

  4. Matot(Numbers 30:2-32:42)
    The Value of Life
    One of the main incidents in this week’s Torah portion is the war between the Jewish people and the Midianites. In the midst of the battle, the Jews encountered their great enemy, Bilaam who was there to collect his wages for causing the Jews to sin at Baal Peor. The Torah tells us “Bilaam the son of Beor they killed with the sword.” (1)

    It would seem that the death of Bilaam was a punishment for his efforts to harm the Jewish people in the desert. The Talmud, however, cites a far earlier crime that he committed as the reason for his untimely death. “Three were in that piece of advice [of how Pharaoh should treat the Jewish people], Bilaam, Job and Yisro: Bilaam advised [to harm them] and was killed; Job was silent and was judged with suffering; Yisro escaped and merited that his descendants should sit in the Temple’s chamber of hewn stone.” (2) Bilaam was punished with death at the hands of the Jewish people because of his evil advice to Pharaoh many years earlier. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz points out that this Talmud poses a great difficulty: It is clear that Bilaam deserved a far greater punishment than Job, because Job didn’t commit an active crime, rather he remained silent. Yet, it would seem that Job’s punishment was far greater than that of Bilaam. Whilst Bilaam suffered a quick death, Job had to endure suffering that no other man has ever experienced. How can this be understood?

    Rav Shmuelevitz answers that life itself is the greatest gift possible and that any pain, no matter how bad, is infinitely greater than death. Consequently, Bilaam’s punishment was far more severe than that of Job for Job still had the gift of life, whilst Bilaam lost it forever.

    Rav Leib Chasman offers an excellent analogy to help understand this concept; imagine a man wins a huge prize on the lottery, and at that every moment, one of his jugs breaks. Would this minor inconvenience bother him at all at this time of great joy? The happiness that he experiences due to the lottery prize nullifies any feelings of pain that come in everyday life. So too, a person should have the same attitude in life – his joy at the mere fact of his existence should be so great that it should render any difficulties as meaningless, even sufferings as great as those that Job endured for they are nothing in comparison with the wonderful gift of life.(3)

    Why is the gift of life so precious? The Mishna in Pirkei Avos can help answer this question: “One moment of repentance and good deeds in Olam Hazeh (this world) is greater than all of Chayei Olam Habah (the Next World), and one moment of peripheral pleasure in Olam Habah is greater than all of Chayei Olam Hazeh.”(4) This Mishna seems to contradict itself – it begins by stating that Olam Hazeh is incomparably greater than Olam Habah and ends by saying the opposite!

    The commentaries explain that the two parts of the Mishna are focusing on different aspects. The second part of the Mishna is comparing the pleasure that one can attain in the two ‘worlds’. In that sense, Olam Habah is infinitely greater than Olam Hazeh – there is no earthly pleasure that can begin to compare with one moment of pleasure in Olam Habah. The pleasure there is that of connecting to God, the Source of all creation – all other pleasures are meaningless and transitory in comparison. However, the first part of the Mishna is focusing on the ability to create more of a connection to God. In that aspect Olam Hazeh is infinitely greater because it is the place of free will in which we have the ability to choose to become closer to God by performing mitzvot. In Olam Habah there is no more opportunity to increase the connection to Him. We can now understand why life is so precious – each moment is a priceless opportunity to attain more closeness to God, the ultimate pleasure that will accompany us for eternity in Olam Habah. The Vilna Gaon expressed the value of Olam Hazeh on his deathbed. He held his Tzitzit and cried, saying, “How precious is Olam Hazeh that for a few prutot [a very small amount of an old currency] it is possible to gain merit for the mitzva of Tsitsit and to see the ‘Divine Presence’, whereas in Olam Habah it is impossible to gain anything.” (5)

    This idea is also demonstrated by the Talmud in Avoda Zara.(6) It tells of Elazar Ben Durdaya, an inveterate sinner. On one occasion, when he was about to commit a terrible sin, he was told that even if he repented his teshuva (repentance) will never be accepted. This ‘sentence’ affected him so deeply that he did repent and he died in a state of perfect teshuva. As his soul left him, a Bas Kol (a voice from Heaven) came out and said that Rabbi Elazar Ben Durdaya is ready to go into Olam Habah. The Talmud then says that when Rebbi Yehuda HaNasi (who is usually known as Rebbi) heard this story he cried out, “there are those that earn Olam Habah in many years and there are those that earn it in one moment.” The commentaries wonder why Rebbi was so upset by this incident. He, a person who had struggled for many years in Divine Service, was surely destined for a far greater portion in Olam Habah than someone who earned Olam Habah for one moment of inspired teshuva!

    Rav Noach Weinberg zt”l answers in the name of his father, that Rebbi was crying because he saw the power of one moment in Olam Hazeh; in one moment a person can earn infinite bliss, therefore he was crying at any failure to utilize each moment in the best possible way. Each moment is an incredible opportunity at creating more Olam Habah.

    The Chofetz Chaim applies this concept to Jewish law.(7) He brings the Sefer Hachinuch who writes that there are six mitzvos that are constantly incumbent upon man(8) and that every second throughout a person’s life a person can fulfill them by merely thinking about them. Consequently, there is no limit to the reward for performing these mitvzot. This can also help explain why Jewish law is so against ending a person’s life prematurely, even if he is unable to live a normal life. Rav Zev Leff points out that even a person in a coma may well be able to perform numerous mitzvot by his thought. He can fulfill the mitzvot that only require thought and moreover, the Rabbis teach us that if a person has a desire to perform a mitzvah but is prevented from doing so, he nevertheless receives reward as if he did indeed fulfill it. Therefore, every second more of life is a great opportunity to create more Olam Habah.(9)

    We have seen how every second of life is infinitely precious. Yet we often think that little can be achieved in a few minutes here or there. However, experience has proven differently. The great Rabbinic leader of the Hungarian Jewish community in the 19th Century, the Chasam Sofer was once asked how he became such a great Torah scholar; he answered that he did so in ‘five minutes’. He meant that by utilizing every available moment he was able to learn so much more. Rav Moshe Feinstein once had a very large smile on his face – he explained that he had just completed the whole of the Talmud. This was not a novel achievement for him, he was known to have finished it dozens of times, but this time was different. It comprised of his learning in the gaps at social events when people normally wait around for the next stage to take place. By consistently learning small amounts he eventually learnt all of the Talmud this way. There are people who are unable to learn for much of the day but they can use small amounts of time to attain surprisingly great achievements in learning.

    We have seen how precious the gift of life is and the great value of every moment of life. Life is full of challenges and there are times when a person can feel despondent – but if he remembers that life itself is cause for joy then he can overcome any negative feelings: When the Alter of Novardok first started to build yeshivas, he was unsuccessful. He built yeshivas and they collapsed, he organized groups and they disintegrated. In addition, he and his approach were attacked by opponents. At that time he came to Kelm and his Rebbi, The Alter of Kelm noticed he looked sad and understood why. That Motsei Shabbos when a group had gathered to hear his talk, he stood at the podium and remained silent for a very, very long time. Then he banged his hand on the shtender and thundered, “It is enough for a living being that he is alive.” Over and over he repeated his words until finally he told the group to pray the evening prayers. “That session” said the Alter of Novardok “dispelled my gloom and cleared my thoughts.” (10) The Alter of Kelm taught the Alter of Novardok a priceless lesson – as long as one is alive, there is nothing to complain about.

  5. The above article is written by Rav Yehonasan Gefen.

  6. yehudith says:

    REVELATION by Rav Noson Weisz

    Everyone who is called by My Name and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have fashioned, even perfected. (Isaiah 43:7)

    Isaiah reveals to us that everything in the universe only exists by virtue of the fact that it can be used as a vehicle for sanctifying God’s Name. When man, through the power of his free will, uses an item — be it land, food, plant, mineral, etc. — to increase his general awareness of God, this justifies and validates the item’s creation. In this way God’s presence in the world is revealed.

    All things that exist derive energy from the holy spark of potential revelation that they contain.In the language of Kabbalists, this potential for revelation in all created things is referred to as the “holy spark.” Thus all things that exist derive energy for their existence from the holy spark of potential revelation that they contain. When man employs the power of his intelligence to direct his actions to uncover the concealed Divinity in created objects, this holy spark is actualized.

    In the case of evil, the holy spark is regarded as trapped. When a free will decision is made to resist the evil in a temptation situation, the holy spark is regarded as released and freed. Having released the holy spark, the evil no longer contains the energy for continued existence. The evil object becomes an empty husk and sanctifies God’s Name by passing out of existence.

    In the imagery of Kabbalah, the holy spark released by the evil is collected in the soul of the person who released it by his free will decision.

    Nachmanides explains that the meaning of the word tov, “good,” in the Book of Genesis is really “everlasting.” In its proper container, a holy spark never dies and therefore maintains its host in existence through all eternity.

    These holy sparks are really points of revelation of the Divine light that constantly emanates from God Himself. Connection to this light is life itself.

    HOLY SPARKS

    Each Jew is assigned a particular number of holy sparks to collect from the existing environment that surrounds him. The assignment is determined by the nature of his spiritual power, or his neshama. The number of holy sparks that are assigned exactly correspond to the number of sparks his neshama was designed to contain. By succeeding in the task of collecting his assigned sparks, a person brings his neshama to permanent enduring life. When his neshama is alive so is the rest of him, because by definition the container of the holy spark cannot die.

    The earthly talents, powers and means that are placed at each person’s disposal are assigned to him in terms of the requirements of his particular task of collection. The successful accomplishment of his assigned task therefore, endows his gifts with eternal permanence, as all these gifts were needed to capture the holy sparks.

    Some people never collect the holy sparks that were placed in the universe specifically for them.Some people fail to accomplish this task and never collect the holy sparks that were placed in the universe specifically for them. This is usually because they have chosen to surrender to the evil inclination.

    Such a failure condemns the uncollected holy sparks to eternal confinement within the evil. Rather than face eternal bondage the holy sparks prefer to extinguish and die. When this happens the neshama that was assigned to release the spark lacks the rationale for continued existence and it too dies.

  7. Matot(Numbers 30:2-32:42)
    Word Power by Rav Noson Weisz
    Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel saying: ‘This is the thing that God has commanded: If a man takes a vow to God or swears an oath to establish a prohibition upon himself, he shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do.’ (Numbers 30:2-3)

    According to Jewish law, this passage means that if someone says, for example, “Apples should be forbidden to me in the same manner that other objects are forbidden.” Then, apples are now just as forbidden to him as pork; the person who transgresses against such a vow is committing a sin of the same gravity as someone who eats pork, and is liable to the same type of punishment.

    Such a vow has such great strength that it even overpowers the obligation to perform the commandments; thus if phrased correctly, a vow against sitting in tents will make it a forbidden act to sit in a tent even on Succot, and a person who made such a vow is released from the commandment to sit in the Succah.

    Thus words do not simply create a moral obligation to make them true. We are not talking about the obligation to keep one’s promises. Words have the power to alter reality itself. The object of a vow becomes a forbidden substance just like pork. What is more, this affects not only the person who issued these words but other people as well.

    A Jew has the power to transform ordinary objects into forbidden objects for other Jews by simply making a vow.Thus according to Jewish law, I have the power to transform my apples into forbidden objects for other Jews by simply making a vow that they shouldn’t eat them.

    From where do words derive such great power? The common perception about the power of words that prevails in the world is exemplified by such statements as: “words are cheap,” “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me”; not many subscribe to the notion “that the pen is mightier than the sword.”

    TEN SPEECHES

    Let’s begin at the beginning. God created the world with words. The world was created with ten speeches (Avos, 5,1).

    According to Jewish thought, these speeches are not to be regarded as past events; it is these speeches that still provide the basic backbone of existence. The words of God issued at creation are still out there; existence continues only because the words were never withdrawn.

    Our conception of reality is a backward one. Because we exist on the other side of these words which hang suspended between us and God, we perceive our reality as being grounded in the corporeal. Thus, to us, bodies are the most substantial reality, words are more abstract, and God is entirely abstract. If we were looking at the situation from the other side and allowed our imagination to place us in God’s chair, as it were, things would appear exactly the opposite way around. Existence is grounded in the Divinity itself, words are more abstract, and corporeal existence is the ultimate degree of abstraction.

    Now let us move on to ourselves, the inner world of man.

    And the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

    Onkolos translates this as: “and man became a speaking being.” Thus the breath of God in man’s nostrils, his “soul of life,” makes its outward impact in man’s ability to use words and to speak.

    Just like the words of God, His creation speeches, are the interface between God and the corporeal universe, so also in the case of man, the words that man speaks are the interface between his soul and his corporeal reality.

    Rashi tell us:

    Man spans in his own being both the highest levels of being and the lowest; that is how creation is in balance. The first day was shared between the two levels as God created the heavens and the earth. The second day was devoted to the higher levels of being, as God fashioned the heavens. The third day was given over to arranging the dry land environment for the lower levels. The fourth day again went to the heavens as the sun, the moon and the stars were arranged. The fifth day was again given over to the earth and its wildlife. The sixth had to be equally divided to maintain the balance — this was done through the creation of man whose soul is in the heavens while his body is on the earth.

    The interface between the two parts of man is in man’s power of speech and is expressed in his words. The content of his words are ideas which originate in the soul, but these ideas are wrapped in words that emerge from the body.

    The locus of man’s spirituality lies in his words, just as the focus of the spiritual power of the universe lies in the ten creation speeches.

    THE LOCUS OF ESSENTIAL BEING

    The Goan of Vilna explains how this spirit — man’s power of speech — is the locus of man’s essential being. For it is only in this area that man is conscious. Beneath this spirit are man’s physical urges which are all subconscious.

    (We do not consciously move the blood through our veins, or command our lungs to draw breath or our stomachs to digest.) Above this spirit is man’s soul through which he is attached to God, the higher aspect of man’s being of which he is also consciously unaware. In the middle, between these two areas of sub-consciousness, is man’s spirit, where his thoughts that have been put into words and his emotions are located. This area is the only place where he is self-conscious.

    Between the areas of sub-consciousness lies man’s spirit, where his thoughts transformed into words are located.Thus, the battles of life and its conflicts are all located here.

    Man’s soul attempts to pull him upwards so that the spiritual power in his words becomes entirely dedicated to the expression of his soul. In terms of the universe, this would amount to attaching man’s spirit to the upper side of the interface of God’s words, which hang suspended between the heavens and the earth.

    The physical urges attempt to pull man down to their level so that the spiritual power of his words is entirely turned over to the satisfaction of physical desires. In terms of the universe this would amount to separating man’s words from the words of God, and pulling them downwards to become mired in the corporeal universe.

    TWO COVENANTS

    The “Sefer Hayzira,” one of the oldest Midrashic/Kabbalistic works extant in Jewish literature, which some say was authored by Abraham himself, speaks about two covenants — the covenant of the tongue and the covenant of circumcision (1,3).

    Just as the covenant of circumcision dedicates the physical creative power to the service of God, the covenant of the tongue dedicates the spiritual creative power that is innate in man to the service of his soul.

    In the same vein, The Torah speaks of several types of “foreskin,” the section of the anatomy that is cut away during circumcision:

    You shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart and no longer stiffen your neck (Deut. 10:16)

    The Lord your God, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deut. 30:6)

    Jewish thought relates the observance of these two covenants one to the other:

    …hedged about with roses (Song of Songs 7:3) [means that] even when the fence consists only of roses they will not break through. As the Sadduci asked Rabbi Kahane, “You say that a man can stay alone with his wife during the time when he is not permitted to have relations with her. Is it possible to maintain a smoldering fire in a wad of cotton without having it burst into flames?” Rabbi Kahane answered him, “The Torah itself testifies about us — ‘hedged about with roses’ — even when the fence is no more than a row of roses it is sufficient to restrain us.” When the words of the Torah are the words of the human spirit, this fence of roses is still sufficient to restrain the Jew. (Sanhedrin 37a)

    SANCTITY OF VOWS

    At this point we should be ready to grapple with the underlying concept that provides the rationale for the sanctity of vows.

    Rabbenu Yona, in his famous work “The Gates of Repentance,” compares the mouth of the person who guards his tongue to a Holy Chalice in the Temple. The vessels in the Temple had to be sanctified before they could be employed in the offering of the sacrifices. An ordinary cup could not be used. All Temple vessels had to be sanctified and ritually pure and sometimes even anointed to prepare them for use.

    The image is clear. Holy words must be contained in holy vessels.

    The holiest activities of Torah observance, the study of Torah, and the reciting of prayers, involve speaking words. These words are the offerings of man’s spirit through which he connects himself with the interface of God’s holy words that hang suspended above the heavens to give being to the universe. It is the words of Torah and prayer that connect man’s spirit to God.

    Man’s mouth is a sanctified chalice as long as it is uncontaminated by unholy words.But, since holy words can only be offered in holy vessels, we get the commandments against negative forms of speech, especially lashon hara. Man’s mouth is a sanctified chalice as long as it is uncontaminated by unholy words. The sanctified mouth cannot tolerate words uttered from hatred and anger, words of disharmony, words that express gross desires.

    When the mouth is tainted by such words, it loses its sanctity, and is no longer considered a holy vessel. Any words that issue from it acquire a tinge of its negative taint. Even the words of Torah and prayer fail to be effective when they become tainted. They cannot fly upwards to the interface of God’s creation speeches, because the negative taint lent them by the “dirty” vessel they issue from renders them unfit to connect.

    Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, the author of the Zohar, expressed this thought beautifully:

    If I had been present at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given to Israel, I would have asked God to recreate people so that they had two mouths: one for the expression of the holy words of Torah and prayer, and a second mouth for other matters. But then I reconsidered: if so much lashon hora can issue from one mouth, imagine how much would issue from two. (Yerushalmi, Brochot, 2)
    FORCE OF LIGHT, FORCE OF DARKNESS

    Looking at the positive side of the same equation, the rule in Torah matters dictates that the force of light is always greater than the force of darkness. When the words that issue from it are not tainted, than the mouth is a holy vessel.

    The holy vessels in the Temple had the power to sanctify whatever was poured into them. Even non-holy substances were transformed to become holy in all respects when they were contained in a holy vessel. Similarly, when the mouth is a holy vessel, all the words that issue from it are automatically sanctified, and connect with God’s creation words that are the source of being.

    But as they connect with the creation speeches, they transform the substantive universe that these words put into being. Holy words have the power to transform their subjects into holy objects. Hence the sanctity of vows.

    Rabbi Chaim of Voloz’hin employs this analogy to explain the power of the words of Torah and prayer as well. We are accustomed to think that when we pray, we persuade God to alter the universe with His own powers; our prayers themselves have no effect in themselves other than to persuade God. But Rabbi Chaim explains that this is a mistaken impression. Just as God created the universe with words, whatever change takes place in this universe also comes about through words. When our prayers consist of holy words that are able to connect with God’s creation speeches, God takes the words of our prayers themselves and alters the universe into the shape indicated by the prayers.

    The Zohar writes repeatedly that God looked into the Torah when He created the world.Torah words have even greater potency. The Zohar writes repeatedly that God looked into the Torah when He created the world. The creation words that God actually used which still hang suspended and afford us being, are Torah words. When new words of Torah are uttered by untainted human lips, the store of creation words available increases. These new words join with the old ones to create entire new universes. These new universes are considered man’s creations not God’s, for it is man’s Torah words that were used to form them. These new worlds are man’s real habitat otherwise known as the World-to-Come.

    But in that case, vows should only be effective when they are uttered by untainted mouths. Yet Jewish law recognizes no such distinction. Any Jew that utters a vow creates a holy object thereby. How can this be?

    WORDS THAT BIND
    It is significant that this commandment was addressed to the heads of the tribes, although it affects everyone. The connection between people is through words. It is through words that we communicate with each other, and it is ultimately through the power of words that we are bound into communities. The heads of the tribes were very elevated people. They did not use their mouths at all except for holy matters. They were concerned with the community of Israel, holy by its very nature.

    In a healthy community, the words that bind come from the community’s highest levels rather than its lowest common denominator. It is the words of the heads of the tribes that the rest of the people use to speak with. As their words issue from the holiest of vessels, they retain their power no matter how often they are recycled.

    The Book of Numbers represents the final words of the Torah whose origins are from God Himself.This week’s Torah portion is the last in the Book of Numbers. What remains is the book of Deuteronomy which consists of Moses’s teachings that were subsequently incorporated to become part of the Torah through the Divine will. But Numbers represents the final words of the Torah whose origins are from God Himself. The fact that the law of vows is mentioned at this point conveys a powerful message.

    The nation of Israel is leaving the desert, with its manna and its holy cloud, with its Moses and Aaron and Mount Sinai, and stepping down into a more ordinary existence. In the desert maintaining holiness was no great problem. In such a miraculous environment who could help being holy. In the “real” world that we ordinarily inhabit, finding holiness is much more difficult. The message conveyed by God at the end of the Book of Numbers is addressed to this very dilemma. The secret of maintaining a holy human environment is to fill it with the special music of holy words.

    When man’s words are words of love, Torah and prayer, his every utterance transforms the ordinary world around him into a place of holiness.

  8. yehudith says:

    Ekev(Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)
    Fear and Blessing
    by Rav Noson Weisz

    Now, O Israel, what does the Lord, your God, ask of you? Only to fear the Lord, your God, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut. 10:12)

    Rabbi Chanina said: “Everything is in the hands of Heaven other than the fear of Heaven, as it is written, Now, O Israel, what does the Lord, your God, ask of you? Only to fear the Lord, your God. Are we to understand from the way Moses relayed this request of God that developing a fear of God is no great matter? Yes, the truth is that to Moses, the fear of God was no great matter. In metaphoric terms, to Moses, requesting someone to fear God can be compared to asking someone who has a large vessel to donate it — to him it seems like a small matter. But for someone who is asked to donate a small vessel and does not have it — to him the identical request looms enormous. (Talmud, Megilah, 25a)

    But this Talmudic comment does not really resolve the difficulty in understanding the passage. If indeed the fear of Heaven is beyond God’s power to instill, then it follows that all Jews must develop this fear individually, unaided. Surely then, Moses, as the experienced leader of his people, speaking here at the end of his forty-year reign, was perfectly aware that he was indeed making an enormous request of the average person.

    What if, on his own lofty spiritual height, the fear of God seems like a trivial matter. He isn’t speaking to himself — he is addressing the Jewish people for whom it is a very great matter indeed. In fact, the passage from the Talmud implies that it was totally beyond them! So why does Moses belittle the difficulty of developing a fear of God? Moreover, why does the Talmud compare the quest of the fear of God to the request for a donation of a vessel? In what way is the fear of God comparable to a vessel? What is the significance of this metaphor?

    “NEAR TO YOU”

    The comment Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi offers in the Tanya (to answer a similar difficulty) helps to shed light on our problem:

    The Torah states that knowledge and observance of the Torah are not remote matters; they are not up in the heavens or beyond the oceans. Rather, the matter is very near to you — in your mouth and in your heart — to perform it (Deut. 30:14)

    Every Jew has an innate fear and love of God.Explains the Tanya: Every Jew has an innate fear and love of God that is a legacy provided by the patriarchs to all their offspring. As these feelings are an intrinsic part of the Jewish personality, every Jew can access them whenever he desires, by merely expressing them in prayer and Torah study. As the fear and love are innate, their expression is always an expression of the inner Jewish reality.

    Applying this to our passage:

    Moses, who knew this clearly, was able to state truly that for a Jew, developing a fear of God is no great matter. However, the metaphor of the Talmud is also accurate. The inherited fear of God is a real phenomenon but it is subconscious. It takes conscious effort to make the human heart burst into flame with this fear, and whoever has not made the effort, does not possess this fear as a part of his conscious makeup.

    Indeed, it is perfectly possible for a Jew not to have the fear of God as part of his conscious makeup. Nevertheless, developing a fear of God does not involve the creation of a non-existent emotion or belief but is more akin to blowing on a glowing ember to make it burst into flame.

    The same idea can also be applied to explain the comparison of the fear of God to a vessel. The subconscious fear of God that is an inherent part of every Jew does not automatically enable the human heart to be a vessel that serves as a container of Torah. To be able to feel a commitment to the observance of the commandments, a Jew must first make the fear in his heart burst into flame.

    The subconscious sends us powerful messages and is the root of basic human desires and ambitions. But the surface events of our lives — and more specifically, the decisions we make in response to changing circumstances — are all conducted on the conscious level. The conscious heart is the portion of the personality that functions in the venue in which the changing events of our lives occur, and it is only the fear of God in the conscious heart that can induce a response that is meaningful and significant.

    In fact, it turns out that the fear of God in a Jew resembles an innate “talent” more than it does an emotion that is the outcome of belief. Like talent, it is inborn. Like talent, if it is never developed, it just sits there unexploited and unexpressed. Like talent it provides the basic focus of the creative life of its possessor. After the basic necessities of life are taken care of, a human being cultivates his talents and abilities.

    MOSES’ MESSAGE

    Understood on a deeper level, Moses’ message amounts to the following:

    In a created, God-managed universe, the tone of life is set by God’s expectations. If, in fact, God’s sole expectation of man is the development of the fear of God, then the cultivation of this capacity in the human soul necessarily forms the background of meaningful existence. Jews will never be satisfied with a life that is centered around any other idea, just as people born with innate talents will never be truly satisfied by any sort of life that is not centered around its development and cultivation.

    According to rabbinic wisdom, this fear comes in two forms:

    Rabbi Yitzchak bar Elazar taught: “The attribute that is the crown that wisdom wears on its head, is the attribute that humility uses as the sole of its shoes as it is written, the beginning [the word in the verse is reishis, meaning both ‘beginning’ and ‘head’ in Hebrew] of wisdom [i.e. its crown] is fear of God (Psalms 111:10), and it is also written, the result (the Hebrew word is ekev, also meaning ‘heel’ or ‘sole’) of humility is fear of God (Proverbs 22:4)(Yerushalmi, Shabos, 1,3)

    The transposition of the fear of God from the crown of wisdom to the soles on the shoes of humility is the transformation of the subconscious inborn fear of God, to the conscious flame in the human heart.

    For Moses, who is described as “exceedingly humble” (Numbers 12:3), the fear of God is a great vessel but only a small matter, like the soles on one’s shoe. For the person who has yet to set out on the creative journey of transforming his subconscious fear into a burning flame in his heart, it is as yet only a small vessel, and it is the crowning achievement of his wisdom to actualize it.

    The selection of the concepts of wisdom and humility to describe the process of development of the fear of God in the Jewish heart is very deliberate. Man is born into a universe that he appears to dominate by means of his superior intelligence. By employing this intelligence to study that world, he is able to deduce the existence of an intelligence superior to his own and obtain his first glimpse of God. The word “fear” in Hebrew is yirah, which shares a root with the verb “to see.”

    In this world, man has no reason to feel humility.The world into which man is born is a world in which the human being is the master of all that he surveys. In this world, man has no reason to feel humility. Existence centers around him and his needs. When he employs his intelligence properly and reaches a vision of God, he is introduced into a new God-centered universe where humility comes naturally to him.

    The development of the fear of God thus elevates man into a new sphere of existence, where his acquired wisdom bequeaths him the gift of humility. Whereas the vision of God is the very pinnacle of perception in the world into which man is born, in the new world which becomes visible to him through this perception, it represents the very basis of reality. In a God-centered world, the vision and fear of God is the very ground on which he treads.

    Does the Torah offer man a method to help him to accomplish this transformation?

    THE COMMANDMENT OF BLESSING

    One of the commandments in our Parshat Ekev is the commandment to recite Birkat HaMazon, the blessing we recite after meals. This Torah commandment was expanded by the rabbis to include the need to bless God prior to the partaking of any food. The principle of reciting these blessings is expressed in the following passage:

    It is forbidden to partake of any worldly pleasure prior to the offering of a blessing; and whoever indulges himself without first uttering a blessing is comparable to one who profanes a holy object. What is the remedy for one who has committed the violation of indulging himself without having uttered a blessing? He should go to the wise man who will teach him the laws of blessings. But what good will that do as he has already committed the violation? Rava explained: “He should go to the wise man now, so that he will not come to violate this injunction in the first place…”

    Rabbi Levi pointed out an apparent contradiction: “On the one hand it is written, the world and all that it contains belongs to God (Psalms 24) and on the other hand it says, the heavens — the heavens belong to God, but He gave the earth to man (Psalms 115) the contradiction is only apparent not real. The first verse which describes the entire world as God’s property, describes the situation prior to making a blessing, whereas the second verse, where the earth is described as the property of man, refers to the situation following a blessing.”

    Rabbi Chanina bar Papa taught: “Whoever takes enjoyment from the world without first making a blessing is considered to be stealing it from God and the congregation of Israel, as it is written: he who steals from his mother and father and declares that there is no crime is the colleague of the destructive person (Proverbs 28). His father is God … and his mother is the congregation of Israel … the colleague of the destroyer refers to Jeroboam ben Nevot…” (Talmud, Brochot, 35a-b)

    To understand the ideas being taught to us here we need to burrow deeper into the meaning of the fear of God.

    RATIONAL BASIS FOR BLESSINGS

    Even if we believe in a created universe, and even if we accept the fact that God still retains His interest and influence over events in His universe, this still does not serve as a rational basis for creating an obligation to make a blessing to God prior to taking enjoyment from the universe. After all, such enjoyment comes from God only indirectly. He created the universe, and the universe produced whatever it is that the human consumer happens to be enjoying. The pleasure that is derived at the moment of consumption does not connect directly with the Creator. He may be the first cause, but He is not the direct supplier. It may be polite to offer thanks, but the omission could certainly not be described as theft.

    The principle involved in making blessings as the passage of the Talmud indicates is that right now, as I am eating the bread, I am accepting it directly from God’s hands. The inputs of life come to me directly from God. Creation is not an event that was completed roughly 15 billion years ago at the time of the Big Bang, but is an eternal ongoing process that I come into contact with every time I take something that I need from God’s world.

    There is something very unusual about Judaism when it comes to blessings and prayers that people have trouble relating to. We recite blessings not as a spontaneous outpouring of our heartfelt gratitude to the Creator but as the fulfillment of a commandment. In effect, God orders us to recite a blessing before we partake of His world. In the imagery of the Talmud, He is only willing to give us the world following a blessing. Thus the blessing is more of an exchange than an act of gratitude. We offer God the blessing and in return He gives us the world. But why does God attach such a strange condition to His gift? What need does He have of our blessing?

    To understand the answer to this we must appreciate the true significance of commandments.

    HOW COMMANDMENTS WORK

    The commandments of the Torah really work. They alter the universe and actualize the realities that they represent. If God commands the recital of a blessing, based on the idea that we are taking the enjoyment upon which we utter the blessing straight from His hands, then it is the blessing that makes it so.

    When we utter the blessing we derive the enjoyment from God. When we do not utter it, we do not. Then the food only comes from God indirectly as reason would suggest at first glance.

    Spiritual and physical realities coexist in the identical space.Spiritual and physical realities coexist in the identical space. To access spiritual reality in real time always requires God’s direct intervention. He guarantees this intervention through the performance of spiritual acts that He commands us to perform. Having commanded them, He has placed Himself under an obligation to make them work when they are faithfully carried out.

    The passage in the Talmud regarding blessings takes us through three distinct stages. In the first stage, taking enjoyment without first uttering a blessing is compared to profaning something holy. This can be avoided, explains the Talmud, by consulting the wise man about the rules of blessings. Consulting the wise man parallels the idea of the fear of God being the crowning achievement of human wisdom.

    In the final stage, the failure to recite the blessing is compared to stealing from one’s parents. The commentators explain that what is being stolen is the ability to provide. God can provide for His children only in a world where every enjoyment comes directly from Him in real time.

    When a Jew utters a blessing he creates the necessary connection between the congregation, (which is his mother) and God, (his father) so that they can join their forces and together provide for his needs.

    The failure to say the blessings is equivalent to the destruction of the connection between the physical and the spiritual, an action whose most infamous perpetrator was Jeroboam ben Nevot, the king who prevented Jews from making the pilgrimage to the Temple and severed their connection to God.

    The third stage mentioned by the Talmud — the transition from God’s world to man’s — is accomplished by the uttering of the blessing. God’s world is always fully stocked and running over with plenty. When this world becomes man’s, it comes to him automatically fully supplied with everything he may possibly require.

    Accessing the innate fear of God in the Jewish heart and igniting it into the intense flame is parallel to leaving man’s world and entering God’s. The vehicle that was designed to transport man on this journey was the vehicle of blessing.

  9. yehudith says:

    Maharal
    by Rav Shaya Karlinsky
    Chapter 1: Mishna 2: Part 4

    Shimon HaTzakik was of the remnants (last members) of the Great Assembly. He used to say: On three things the world stands. On Torah, on Service of G-d, and on deeds of kindness.

    The world that G-d has created cannot stand apart from and independent of Him. The connection to Him, a necessary element for its continued existence, is accomplished in three ways, which provides another perspective on our Mishnah.

    1. To maintain its connection with G-d and ensure its existence, the world must remain a creation which has meaning and substance, rather than degenerate in to one of emptiness and void. This substance comes from Torah, without which the world would return to its chaotic pre-creation state (tohu vavohu, see Rashi on Breishith 1:31).

    2. The world’s existence with service of G-d as its central purpose, is what connects the world to Him, maintaining the connection that needs to exist following the actual act of creation. Without this ongoing service of G-d, there would be a division between G-d and the world He created, not allowing for its continuted existence. The world was created for the recognition and glory of G-d (See Mishlei 16:4), and the implication that it exists for its own self completely undermines that purpose. Devotion and service to G-d, “avodah,” maintains the world’s ongoing connection to its creator and His goals.

    3. Finally, the world needs to be nourished, receiving resources bestowed upon it by the Almighty. This must be done on an ongoing basis for the world to remain in existence, and is the “chesed,” G-d’s kind giving to the world, maintaining an ongoing connection to Him. Man’s imitation of G-d, providing nourishment and support to others through the resources that G-d bestows upon him, “gemiluth chasadim,” is the vehicle through which G-d supports the world and maintains His connection with it. Without providing this nourishment and support, the world could not sustain itself.

    The three foundations of the world are related to the three Avoth, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, each of whom, as a “father” is also a foundation of the world.

    Gemiluth chasadim is the unique trait of Avraham, who is well known for his hospitality towards guests (Breishith 21:33 and Rashi) and other deeds of kindness. The prophet Micha (7:20) tells us “Give truth to Ya’akov and kindness to Avraham.”

    Avodah is the unique trait of Yitzchak, who was prepared to have himself sacrificed on the altar, making him the pillar of service to G-d. (See Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 2:10.)

    Yaakov was the pillar of Torah, as we know from the verse (Breishith 25:27) “V’Yaakov ish tam, yosheiv ohalim” sitting in the tents of Torah study. The “truth” mentioned in the verse from Micha also refers to Torah study. His unique trait was “emeth,” truth.

    In relation to the giving of the Torah, there is a puzzling Gemara in Shabbath, 88a. “Blessed is G-d who has given us a “three part Torah” (Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim) by the hand of the third one (Moshe Rabbeinu, who was the third child to his parents) to a nation of three groups (Kohanim, Levi’im, Yisraelim) on the third day (of preparation – see Shemoth 19:11) in the third month (of the year, Sivan; also the third month after they left Egypt).” Yaakov was also the third of the forefathers, and he is connected with the giving of the Torah.

    The Torah is a perfect balance of all the conflicting forces and elements that exist in the world, and the number three, as the midpoint between extremes, embodies that. Kedhusha, sanctity, and eternity always lie in the center. It is at the extremes (“katzeh” in Hebrew, from the root “keitz” which means “end”) the termination point, that death and destruction lie. In “Gevuroth HaShem,” Chapter 46, the Maharal points out that Pesach and Sukkoth, the times of redemption and holiness, are in the seasons of balance, spring and fall where the climate is balanced and comfortable; the length of the days and nights are balanced (equinox); and (I would point out) the come out in the exact middle of the month, on the 15th, when the moon is full. See the full chapter for an important elaboration on the importance of balance and the center.

    (There is a potential corruption in the extremes, what is termed in the literature “p’soleth,” refuse or the waste product. Behaving with too much “chesed,” too much giving and closeness, can lead to “gilui arayoth,” incestual sexual relations. [See Vayikra 20:17. where sexual relations with ones sister is called “chesed.”] Gilui arayoth was the major corruption of Yishmael, who was the p’soleth of Avraham. Behaving to a person with too much “din,” too strict of a demand that things be exactly the way they are supposed to be, with NO deviation tolerated — which is what real “din” is, and which was Yitzchak’s trait — could ultimately lead to killing the person, as the strictness chokes him to death. Murder is the psoleth of din, and was the major corruption of Eisav [See Breshith 25:27, and many places in Chazal that Eisav and his descendants were people of blood, war, and destruction.] But Yakov, who was the balance between chesed and din – EMETH – had only righteous children, with no psoleth.

    (A couple of points of clarification on this theme need to be added, to avoid some misunderstandings and misapplications.

    A. This may appear to contradict what the Maharal taught us earlier about the relationship between the three pillars of the world and the three cardinal sins. “I thought that the opposite of chesed was murder!?” Here is a good example of the precision and depth of Torah understanding. The OPPOSITE, the undermining of chesed is murder. The CORRUPTION of chesed, excessive chesed leads to gilui arayoth. The opposite of avodah (and din) is to serve false values and gods. But the corruption and overabundance of din leads to murder. The opposite of Torah (and emeth and tifereth, which is perfect human balance) is behaving like an animal, gilui arayoth. [Can there be excessive emeth, corruption of emeth? At first glance not. But there is a subtlety here which we will save for another time.

    B. The order of Avraham (chesed), Yitzchak (din) and Yakov is not coincidental, but the natural way (“darka shel olam”) something is built. (The something here is very special — Klal Yisrael!) To begin a project requires the “chesed” mode, uncalculating giving, pouring in time, money resources, without too many restrictions. If this continues indefinitely, however, the project will go bankrupt, the people will burn up all their resources and burn themeselves out. It must be followed up with “din,” structure, accountablity, precision. If one tries to START with this, nothing would ever get going. But without it, whatever existed can’t be maintained. So after Avraham/chesed must follow Yitzchak/din. But is that continues indefinitely, than whatever was there will eventually be choked off and die. To maintain something, to enable it to grow and thrive, requires “emeth,” the perfect balance between chesed (giving when necessary) and din (being strict and “tight” when necessa ry). This is the balance of Yakov, which produce 12 “shivtei kah” the tribes of G-d.

    C. “Balance” and “center” do not need to imply compromise and concessions in our Judaism. They should also not be interchanged with modern political terms like “Centrist” or “Moderate.” Rather than being a diluted form of pure chesed and pure din, and rather than being NEITHER of them, the middle point — the emeth (“truth”) and tifereth (“glory”) of Yaakov — fully embodies BOTH of them, knowing when chesed is appropriate and when din is appropriate. And knowing how to pursue each one fully, appropriately and accurately.)

  10. yehudith says:

    Re’eh(Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)
    Of Human Sacrifice( part of the article)
    by Rav Noson Weisz

    “When Hashem, your God, will cut down the nations where you come to drive them away from before you, and you drive them away and settle in their land, beware for yourself lest you be attracted after them after they have been destroyed before you, and lest you seek out their gods saying, ‘How did these nations worship their gods and even I will do the same.’ You shall not do so to Hashem your God, for everything that is an abomination of Hashem, that He hates, have they done to their gods; for even their sons and their daughters have they burnt in fire for their gods.” (Devarim 12:29-31)

    The commentators [see Nachmanides, Seforno, Ibn Ezra] interpret the passage as an injunction against serving God employing the modes of worship with which the nations had served their idols. Nachmanides, explaining the background to this apparently odd injunction, says the prohibition against idol worship should be seen as a rejection of the misdirected focus of the worshipper rather than on his acts of service. There must be some validity attached to the form of worship, otherwise it is difficult to understand why God should be bothered by the whole phenomenon of idol worship. If the idol worshipper is not misdirecting valid acts of service that should properly be dedicated to God, there is nothing but self-delusion in his activities – the god he worships is nonsense and his acts of worship are misguided. It is difficult to see why God should be so concerned by the entire phenomenon of idol worship unless the forms of that worship constitute valid acts of Divine service.

    In other words, it is not at all farfetched for intelligent Jews to conclude that the religious practices the nations used to worship their idols were legitimate ways to reach out to God. It doesn’t take an enormous jump to conclude that they should/could use these forms of worship to attach themselves to God. Therefore, argues Nachmanides, God had to enjoin them from using these practices to worship Him. He had to explain that His utter abhorrence of idol worship is based more on the modes of worship themselves than on their misdirection. The service itself is an abomination.

    The illustration cited by God is the practice of human sacrifice, in this case child sacrifice.

    MESHA’S SACRIFICE

    And yet there appears to be a difference of opinion regarding the effectiveness of worshipping God with such abominations:

    “When the king of Moab saw that the war was too difficult for him… He then took his first-born son, who was to reign after him, and sacrificed him as a burnt offering upon the wall, and a great wrath took affect against Israel; so they turned away from Mesha and returned to the land.” (2 Kings 3:26-27)

    The Midrash explains that Mesha, the Moabite king, had the idea of outdoing Abraham. Abraham only placed his son Isaac on the altar but never actually sacrificed him; yet that was a sufficient demonstration of devotion to merit miraculous treatment at God’s hands. How much more would God perform miracles for someone who actually went through with the sacrifice of his heir. (Tanchuma, Tisa, 5) His thinking seems to have been right on – his sacrifice actually worked! “A great wrath took affect against Israel” and they were forced to retreat.

    The Talmud discusses Mesha’s sacrifice. Rav and Shmuel disputed the matter. One maintained that he sacrificed his son to God, while his colleague perceived Mesha’s act as idol worship. The Talmud comments: if we accept the position which maintains that Mesha sacrificed his son to God, we can understand how a “great wrath descended upon Israel,” but according to the opinion that the sacrifice was an act of idol worship, why should such an act provoke God’s anger against Israel? [The answer to the question does not concern us here] (Sanhedrin 39b) It would appear that the Talmud considers it perfectly reasonable for God to accept an act of sacrifice that He Himself describes as abomination. How can we understand this?

    CHILD SACRIFICE

    Perhaps it would be best to start by presenting the position of the idol worshipper. Why would anyone consider sacrificing his child an act of worship that would elicit a favorable response from his divinity? The obvious answer: there is no greater treasure in the world than a beloved child. Sacrificing such a child constitutes the supreme act of worship as it is offering one’s greatest treasure to the divinity. The supreme act of worship represents the highest degree of recognition. In other words, the idea of child sacrifice is an offshoot of the assumption that God enjoys/craves recognition. If I offer God recognition, in return He will shower me with benefits. After all, if there is a god, why wouldn’t he favor someone who recognizes him over someone who does not? Once recognition is a factor, the greater the act of recognition the more divine favor it is bound to inspire.

    It isn’t by accident that God picked this particular form of idol worship to reject. It requires rejection because there is some truth to the concept that underlies it.

    “All that the Holy one, Blessed is He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory, as it is written, ‘All that is called by My name, indeed, it is for My glory that I have created it, formed it, and made it.'” (Isaiah 43:7)

    “And it is written: Hashem shall reign for all eternity.” (Exodus 15:18) (Avot Ch.6,11)

    The commentators explain that all things derive their potential to exist from their ability to reflect God’s existence. The purpose of creation is to inspire recognition of the Creator. There is nothing we can possibly contribute to God other than our recognition. After all, in a created universe, which requires the ceaseless input of Divine energy to keep it going by definition, we accomplish absolutely nothing besides providing God with recognition. Whatever we do in such a universe requires the direct input of Divine energy to get it done. It isn’t we who actually do anything; it is the divine energy that flows through us that powers our activities. All we can do is validate creation by using it to acknowledge God as our Creator.

    Since God gave us free will, this recognition is truly ours to give. It is the only commodity God cannot create for Himself in the context of the free will universe He decided to Create. In short, the purpose of creation is to reflect God’s glory. It takes intelligence to recognize God’s glory. The only being equipped with both intelligence and free will in the entire creation is man. The purpose of the universe is therefore to provide man with information from which he is able to deduce the existence of the Creator and acknowledge Him as his master. This explains the combination of the two verses cited by the Mishna. The first verse declares that the purpose of creation was the glory of God. The second verse relates to its validation. We validate the universe when we acknowledge God as its ruler.

    So why is the person who sacrifices his son and demonstrates his recognition with the greatest possible intensity committing an abomination? Isn’t this the very act that God asked Abraham to perform, an act whose merit lives on until the present day?

    THE PURPOSE OF DIVINE SERVICE

    To answer this question we must reconcile an apparent disagreement within Jewish sources regarding the purpose of Divine service. On the one hand we find the following statement in the Midrash: What difference could it possibly make to God whether you slaughter the animal by cutting its throat [as the Halacha commands] or by chopping through the back of its neck? Indeed! The Mitzvot were only given to purify people, as it is written, “Every word of God refines; He is a shield to those who trust in Him” (Mishlei 30:5) (Bereishit Raba 45,1). In other words, our acts of Divine service are done entirely to purify ourselves so that we may spiritually benefit. They do absolutely nothing for God who is personally indifferent to our acts of devotion.

    On the other hand we find the apparently opposite viewpoint: When Israel engages in non-righteous deeds they weaken the power of the Holy one, Blessed be He, as it were, and when Israel acts as it should they lend strength to the Holy One, Blessed Be He, as it is written, “Give invincible might to God, Whose grandeur rests upon Israel…” (Psalms 68:35) (Zohar, Bo, 32b). According to the Zohar, we infuse God with strength by performing the Mitzvot and weaken Him when we ignore His will and transgress. Can these apparently diametrically opposed points of view be reconciled?

    Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, the student of the Gaon of Vilna, presents the following idea to affect a reconciliation in his work Nefesh Hachaim (Gate 2, early chapters). There are potentially two main ways we can relate to God. One way is to relate to Him as a fellow intelligence. That is to say, although God is our Creator Whose intelligence is incomparably superior to our own, He is also nevertheless a fellow sentient intelligence. The following situation can serve as a useful metaphor to understand this idea. I happen to have gone through school with the President of the United States. Today he is my President, but when I speak to him, I will tend to relate to him as the friend of my youth, rather than as my ultimate superior and commander-in-chief.

    The Midrash is addressing this aspect of relating to God. The point that the Midrash is attempting to make concerns the futility of addressing God as a fellow sentient being. We cannot comprehend Him, we have no vocabulary that could describe Him, and in fact we do not share a common existence with Him at all. In this aspect He is entirely indifferent to anything that we may do or to any act of service of ours.

    The Zohar on the other hand is addressing the idea of relating to God as our Creator. As the Creator of the world, Who wants His enterprise to succeed, what we do matters very much to God. Creation requires His constant input and this input can only be delivered by making use of our recognition. If we willingly recognize God as the source of all being and ask Him for His input, He is able to provide it through the channel of this recognition.

    To the extent that we take the universe as a self-contained whole and fail to recognize it as the expression of God’s input, He is unable to provide the universe with any fresh input. He created the universe in such a way that we control His connection to it. We must reconnect the universe to God as its source through voluntary acts of worship to empower God to provide the inputs the universe requires to succeed in the way that God intended. In this sense He very much needs our service.

    RECONNECTING TO THE SOURCE

    It is in this light that we must interpret the statement that everything was created for His glory. The entire universe can continue to exist because everything it contains can provide the basis for the recognition that God is its Creator. It all connects back. Any portion of the universe that could not be reconnected in this way could not exist, because there would be no way to draw the Divine energy into it required to continue its existence.

    The function of acts of worship is to focus the human intelligence on the task of reconnecting the universe to its source and thereby drawing the energy required to perpetuate existence, a result that God very much desires in his identity of Creator. We help Him out by supplying Him with the ability to provide us with the universe in which we live, a will He expressed when he created the universe in the first place.

    Given that this is the function of acts of worship, imagine an act of worship that is the embodiment of ultimate recognition of God’s existence but is simultaneously the ultimate expression of the separation of the universe from God? Such an act of service would be the greatest abomination. On the one hand it is the greatest possible act of worship because it is the ultimate in recognition, but it defeats its very purpose because instead of reuniting the universe to God it is the ultimate act of separating it from God. Human sacrifice is precisely such an act.

    MURDER

    Murder is the ultimate act of separating the universe from God. Human beings are the only creatures who have the potential to reconnect the universe to its source through their acts of recognition. Every human being is the very expression of the connection. The life force and intelligence of a human being are sacred. It is the avenue through which Divine energy flows into the world. It provides us with the only glimpse of God.

    When a parent sacrifices his child or a community one of its members, he asserts ownership of this Divine resource. You can only offer what is yours. It is absurd to destroy something that belongs entirely to God and then turn around and point to the very act of destruction as a demonstration of your overwhelming recognition and your utter devotion.

    Abraham’s test was really a rejection of human sacrifice. The readiness to offer your child to God is the ultimate act of devotion, but the actual killing of that child as an act of worship an abomination. A child is your most precious treasure but he is not your possession. You can sacrifice animals and plants to God because God awarded everything in the universe to man to make use of as a means of reconnecting the universe to God, but to sacrifice your fellow human beings is a perversion of the very purpose of human life. The spirit of God is manifest in the world only in man’s intelligence. Sacrificing a human being is destroying Divinity itself as an act of worship to the very Divinity whose image you are destroying. There is no greater anathema.

  11. yehudith says:

    Worlds, Angels, and Men
    The Strife of the Spirit
    by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

    The physical world in which we live, the cosmos which we can observe objectively, is one part in a vast system of worlds. The other worlds are for the most part ethereal, that is, nonmaterial. They can be envisaged as different dimensions of being. They do not exist elsewhere, in different sets of spatial coordinates, but rather in another order or plane of being.
    Furthermore, as we shall see, these various worlds interpenetrate and interact with each other. In a certain sense it can be said that each of the worlds is a replication, by means of transformation, change, or even distortion, of that immediately above it. World after world is reflected in that which lies below if, and finally all the worlds–with their complex interrelated influence–are projected in to the world we know and experience.

    The terms higher and lower do not indicate a physical relationship of altitude, which does not obtain in the spiritual realm, but rather relative positions on the scale of causality. A higher world is more primary, elemental, concentrated; a lower world is secondary, more remote from the primal source, and thus a replication. However, such a replication is not simply a coarser version, but is in itself a total system with a life and existence of its own, and with its own specific properties and characteristics.

    The totality of the world in which we live is known as the World of Action. It is the world of our sensual and nonsensual apprehension. It is not, however, homogenous. The lower part is subdivided into an ethereal realm, and what is known as the material World of Action, which is of a physical nature, and is governed by the laws of nature; the upper part, known as the spiritual World of Action, is the realm of spiritual activity.
    Common to both parts of the World of Action is man; situated between them, he partakes of both. Insofar as he exists in the lower part, man is governed by the physical, chemical, and biological laws of nature; from the standpoint of his consciousness, even when it is totally concerned with physical or base matters, he belongs to the spiritual part of the World of Action. The ideas of the World of Action are for the most part bound up with the physical world, indeed, they are functions of it. This obtains both for the most exalted speculations of a philosopher and the cruder thought processes of the ignorant savage or the child.

    Human existence is thus dual in nature, partaking of both matter and spirit. Furthermore, in the World of Action, the spiritual is largely subordinate to the material, to the extent that physical objects and the laws of nature are the basis of reality and determine its nature. The spiritual life almost exclusively derives from and acts upon this substrate.

    However, the World of Action is but one in a general system consisting of four fundamental worlds, each of which is a complete cosmos in itself, with its own essences and nature. In the literature of the Kabalah, these worlds, form higher to lower, are called Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action (in Hebrew, Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Assiyah.) The world above our own is thus the World of Formation. The differences between those worlds can be understood if we examine the manifestations in each of them or three traditional dimensions of existence known as “world,” “year,” and “soul.”

    In modern language these would be termed space, time, and being. For example, in our world, space is a basic system that is necessary for any object to exist; it is the matrix within which, upon which, and from which all living creatures operate. In the higher worlds, this dimension is manifest in what is known as the “mansions” (Heichalot).
    It is not space as we know it, but a framework of existence within which all forms and beings are related. A useful comparison to this concept is that of a self-contained system, known in mathematics as a group or a field, in which each unit member is related in a specific and fixed manner to all the other members and to the totality. Such systems may be inhabited, partially or to capacity, or sparsely to empty.

    Time, too, is manifest in a totally different fashion in the higher worlds. In our experience, time operates and is measured by the movement of objects in space. More abstractly, it is perceived as the process of change, the transition from state to state, from form to form; it is an essential feature of our concept of causality, which establishes the limitations of transitions within certain laws. In the higher worlds, the system of time becomes increasingly abstract, and its connection with the measurement or perception of change is diminished. It becomes no more than the essence of change, or the potentiality of change.

    In the World of Action, the dimension called “soul” is manifest in the totality of living creatures functioning in the time and space. Although they are essentially part of this world, they are distinguished from it by their faculty of consciousness of self and of other. In the higher worlds, too, souls are self-conscious beings acting within the framework of their respective “mansions” and “years.”

    The World of Formation is a world of sentience. The beings that populate it are pure, abstract manifestations of what we, in our world, would call emotions or feelings. These beings, or creatures, operate in a similar fashion to the way we do in the World of Action. They are called “angels.”

    There are millions of angels, and each of them possesses its own unique character. No two are alike. The distinctive personality of a particular angel is a function of two features, which can be termed “content” and “degree.” The content is the specific feeling or emotion, of which the angel is a pure manifestation, and the degree is its position on the scale of fundamental causality. An angel may thus be an inclination, or impulse, toward love, fear, pity, and so on, at this or that degree. However, each of these contents is subdivided into an almost infinite number of related feelings (no two loves are the same), and angels thus fall into large groups. Such a group is called a “camp of angels.”

    Another characteristic feature of angels, one that distinguishes them from humans, is the fact that they are unchanging. Circumstance, time, place, and even mood alter the content and the intensity of most human emotions. However, whereas emotion is ultimately secondary to our existence, it is primary and essential to angels. An angel is by definition the constant, unchanging manifestation of a single emotion or feeling.

    It would be quite misleading, however, to regard angels as abstractions, as hypothetical conceptualizations of emotions that have no real existence. Each angel is a complete being that possesses consciousness of itself and awareness of its surroundings. It is able to act and create within the framework of its existence, the World of Formation. A characteristic feature of angels is implicit in their Hebrew name, which mean “messenger.” In fact, the task of angels is mediation, to maintain two-way communications between our world, the World of Action, and the higher worlds. They serve as emissaries of God in bringing divine plenty down into the world, and of men, in raising up certain consequences of our actions.

    Men and angels belong to separate categories of existence. Even if we ignore the human body and look only at our apparently more angelic aspect, the soul, the differences are great. The human soul is a heterogeneous, complex entity composed of distinct elements, whereas an angel is homogeneous, a single essence, and thus ultimately unidimensional. Furthermore, the human being, by virtue of the multiplicity of facets in his personality, with the implicit capacity for internal contradictions and conflicts, and by virtue of his soul, which contains a spark of the divine, possesses the power of discrimination, in particular between good and evil. As a consequence, man had the potential to reach great heights, and also to fall to abysmal depths. Not so the angels, which are always the same. Whether an angel is ephemeral or eternal, it is static and remains fixed in the coordinates of content and degree in which it was created.

    Some angels have existed since the beginning of time, and are the channels through which divine plenty flows into the world. There is, however, another kind of angel, those that are constantly being created. This process of the creation of new angels takes place as a consequence of actions and phenomena that are performed and occur in all worlds, but especially in our world, the World of Action.

    It is said that with every mitzvah, every good deed that he performs, a man creates an angel. In order to understand this, it is necessary to envisage each such act, or prayer, as being an operation on two levels.
    The first level is behavioral; it is the initiating or bringing about or completing of a transformation–no matter how small–in the physical world. The other level is spiritual and involves the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and mystical meditations that should accompany the performance of the external act. These spiritual actions coalesce and form a discrete spiritual entity, which possesses objective reality, and which, in turn, creates an angel in the World of Formation. Thus, by means of the mitzvot he performs, man extends the realm in which his activity is effective from the lower to the upper worlds. He creates angels, which are, in manner of speaking, his messengers in the higher worlds. Whereas a newly created angel retains its essential bond with its human originator in the World of Action, it acquires reality only in the World of Formation. In this way, the spiritual content of the holy deed, by becoming an angel, rises and initiates changes in the upper worlds, and especially in the World of Formation, the world immediately superior to our own. In fact, the nature of the World Formation is determined by the relationships between the angels and between them and the worlds above them, and they, in turn, influence these higher world too.

    The angels who serve as emissaries of God and the upper worlds down to our world are apprehended by men in a wide and sometimes strange variety of forms. The reasons for this is that as the angels derive from a totally foreign world of being, they are invisible to man in their “true” forms, for the human sense organs, and faculties of comprehension, are incapable of grasping them. Some kind of “translation” is necessary before they can be seen. A useful analogy is that of a television transmission. The electromagnetic carrier waves are of a frequency that is totally invisible to the human nervous system, which in fact is incapable even of detecting their existence. However, when these waves are processed by the television receiver, the information and signals they bear are translated and become visible on the screen. There is, of course, no resemblance between the electromagnetic waves and the picture, as there is none between the true form of the angel and what is perceived.

    The Kabbalah describes such a process as “clothing in garments” or “containing in vessels.” The garments and the vessels are remote perceptible manifestations of the unknowable essence. This is the form in which angels appear to men.

    Such manifestations generally take place in one of two situations: one is the vision of a man who has attained a high level of holiness, such as a prophet; the other is in an isolated incident of enlightenment or revelation from the higher worlds experienced by a more ordinary person. In either case, the person involved experiences the reality of the angel as it is clothed in garments. Even so, frequently the form of this manifestation is of a degree of existence that is not easily processed by the human mind, and especially by that part that involves verbal communication, and the descriptions offered are occasionally strange and fantastic. Given the cultural limitations of our linguistic skills, it is natural that many such images will be, to some degree or another, anthropomorphic. The visionary images one finds in the prophetic works, such as winged animals or eyed chariots, are secondary human translation of undescribable phenomena. When Ezekiel describes the angel that he saw as possessing the face of an ox, it does not mean that the angel had a face at all, let alone a bovine one, but that one aspect of its inner essence, when translated and projected into our physical reality, is expressed in a form that shows a conceptual likeness to the face of an ox.

    All articulated prophetic visions are, in fact, depictions in comprehensible human language of abstract, formless, spiritual realities. There are, notwithstanding, cases in which angels are manifest in “ordinary” form, are clothed in familiar material garments, and appear to be natural phenomena; on such occasions, the viewer will encounter difficulties in deciding whether an apparition or a natural object stands before him, whether the pillar of fire or the man he perceives belongs to this world, with its own system of natural causality, or to another. Furthermore, the angel, that is, the force sent from a higher world, may not only be manifest in the physical world, but may also appear to act according to, and be governed by, the laws of nature, either totally or to a limited degree. In such cases, only prophetic insight can determine whether, and to what extent, higher forces are active.

    The fact that a man can create an angel, which is instantaneously transposed to another world, is not, in itself, a supernatural event; it is a part of a day-to-day way of life that can on occasion seem ordinary and commonplace-the life of mitzvot. When we perform an action that results in the creation of an angel, we are generally aware of no more than that we are acting on, and within, the physical world. Similarly, the appearance of an angel does not necessarily involve a deviation from the normal laws of physical nature. Man is thus in close contact with the upper worlds, and though the actual route, the nature of the link, is hidden, the fact of the relationship is as axiomatic as the duality of his body and soul, of matter and spirit. Man does not pause to wonder every time he moves from the physical to the spiritual part of the World of Action, and takes for granted the occasional penetration of higher worlds into our world. When we use the word “natural” in its widest possible meaning, that is, comprehending everything that we experience and know, the appearance and creation of angels are not “supernatural” phenomena.

    The world immediately above the World of Formation is known as the World of Creation, and also as the World of the Chariot, and the Throne. In an image derived from the vision of Ezekiel, it is the Throne above that stands for “the likeness of the Glory of the Lord.” This Glory, which is the aspect of divinity revealed to prophets, belongs to the highest world, the World of Emanation. The World of Creation is its Throne, and our world is its footstool. The World of Creation is the matrix through which passes all the divine plenty that descends to the lower worlds, and all things that are raised up to God. It is a sort of crossroads of all modes of existence. A central element of the Jewish esoteric, mystical tradition, called the “Study of the Chariot,” deals with this world. It is the highest level to which the mystic can aspire, the limit beyond which even the holiest of visionaries can apprehend only the vaguest impressions. Of course, not even this world can be comprehended in any more than a fragmentary fashion. Deep study of this world places the spiritually developed person at the point of intersection of all worlds, and gives him knowledge of all modes of existence and of change-past, present, and future-and an awareness of God as prime cause and first mover of all forces acting in every direction.

    The World of Creation, like the other worlds, is structured according to the manifestations of the dimensions of space, time, and being. The “mansions” of this world are metaphysical realms of existence in which past, present, and future, cause and effect, are related, and time is a genus of rhythm. This world, too, is populated by beings, called “seraphs.” Whereas angels are manifestations of feeling or emotion, the beings of the World of Creation are the pure essence of intellect. The word “intellect” has many connotations in modern English, but here its significance is closer to the older philosophical meaning. Seraphs are the potentiality of the ability to grasp the inner content of phenomena, in both creative and perceptive aspects. Like the angels, they are unchanging and characterized only by content and degree. Seraphs of different levels reflect the relative planes of consciousness and comprehension. Like angels, they serve as messengers between the worlds.

    The superiority of the World of Creation over the World of Formation is not merely a feature of the relative positions of intellect and emotion on the scale of fundamental causality. It is also a function of another aspect of “highness”: the higher worlds are more transparent to the divine light, which is their vitality and being. As one descends in the system of worlds, there is more and more matter. Another way of stating this is that the beings of the lower worlds have a greater awareness of their independent, progressively separate selves, of their private “I.” This consciousness of self obscures the divine light, and dims the true, unchanging “I” that exists within each individual being. Nevertheless, this opacity is a prerequisite for existence of any kind. Each of the worlds can only come into and remain in being by virtue of the concealment of divine light. They can only exist when God conceals himself. Were the divine plenty to be manifest in its fullness, there would be no room for anything else. A world can exist only by virtue of the withdrawal of its creator. However, as one descends to the lower worlds, the concealment becomes overwhelming and the divine plenty scant. In our world, the World of Action, this trend has reached such proportions that the inhabitants may, and frequently do, reach a situation in which not only can they no longer perceive the divine plenty, but they deny that it exists.

    Whereas the inhabitants of our world must be equipped with prophetic insight, or vision, or faith in order to be able to discern the divine plenty in its various forms, the higher worlds are much more lucid, and there is little impedance to the flow of light. The World of Creation is the highest of the three lower worlds, and so its creatures, the seraphs, possess a very high degree of awareness of the divine light. Nevertheless, it is a separate world, and the seraphs are characterized by individual, separate selves. They are capable of experiencing the divine light, and they accept its sovereignty in everything, but they know that they are separate from it. Consequently, even the seraphs are consumed by a great yearning to approach God.

    The highest of the four worlds, the World of Emanation, is of a totally different nature. It is a mode of existence characterized by absolute clarity, no concealment, and no separate beings. There is no individuation, and no “screens” or filters separate God from that which is not God. In fact, the World of Emanation is not a world in the sense that the other three are: in a certain sense, it is the Godhead itself. The gulf between this world and that which lies below it is immeasurably greater than those that separate the other worlds; it is substantial, and not a matter of degree. It marks the border between the realms of differentiated individual beings-each of which is separated from the others and from the source of all by screens of varying degrees of density-and the Godhead, where there are no screens, and unqualified unity prevails.

    Before the created, differentiated world could exist, God had to withdraw something of His divine essence and wisdom. This voluntary absence or concealment is depicted as the archetypal screen. It is the critical point of Creation, “the darkness on the face of the deep,” on the one side of which is God, and the other, the template, which is the basis for the coming-into-being of the world.

    In addition to the physical and spiritual parts just described, the World of Action contains many other ethereal or spiritual realms, which differ widely from each other in both their content and their spiritual significance. On the one hand, there are the realms of the various manifestations of human wisdom and creativity, such as philosophy, mathematics, poetry, and art, which are all ultimately “neutral” as regards their spiritual orientation. On the other hand, there are realms that possess a distinct spiritual charge, which may be either positive or negative. Furthermore, just as man can relate to various physical and spiritual features of the World of Action and thereby raise himself in the direction of holiness, so can he tie himself to the realms of the unholy, and move and act in them. These are the realms of evil, in the most general sense of the word, and are known by their Hebrew name, Kelippot (singular, Kelippah), which means husks.

    The Kelippot, like the worlds of holiness, have their own “mansions,” and are arranged in an inverted hierarchy, with the evil becoming more intense and distinct as one descends. They are, in their own way, all related to the World of Action. In fact, it can be said that our world, to the extent that it is neutral in its spiritual orientation, belongs to the realm of the Kelippot, more specifically to the one known as Kelippat Noga. This is a level of existence that contains all things that are not intrinsically directed either to the holy or the evil. Although it is neutral, when a man sinks into it entirely and does not, or cannot, disentangle himself from it, he fails to fulfill his specific human destiny and is wanting at the core of his being.

    The relationships between the realms of the Kelippot are to a certain degree similar to those obtaining in the higher worlds. Thus, between each successive level, there are translations and replications of the mode of existence, and the manifestations of each are expressed in the same three dimensions: space, time, and being. The Kelippot are inhabited by ethereal beings, a species of angels known as destructive, or subversive, angels, or alternatively as devils, demons, or evil spirits. Like the holy angels, they all have their own individual personalities, which are defined in terms of their particular unchanging content and their degree. Corresponding to the angels of love-in-holiness and awe-in-holiness are the destructive angels of love-in-wickedness and awe-in-wickedness. Furthermore, some of these destructive angels are ephemeral; that is, they are created by man’s actions, whereas others are eternal, or rather, they came into existence with the world and will continue to exist until evil is finally vanquished. Each evil deed that a man performs brings into being a destructive angel, which, in turn, has its effect in the deeper realms of the Kelippot. Nevertheless, there is a substantial difference between the two systems. There is obviously no equivalent in the Kelippot to the World of Emanation. Evil has no independent, ontological existence, and its direct source of nourishment is the World of Action; indirectly, it is sustained from the higher worlds. By performing an evil deed, a man not only creates a destructive angel that will accompany him and be bound to him as part of his ambience, but he actually diverts the divine plenty into the upper realms of evil, whence it is dragged down to the deepest Kelippot.

    The eternal destructive angels are the messengers that mediate between the various realms of evil, just as the holy angels move up and down in the upper worlds. Destructive angels are manifest in our world by means of “clothing in garments,” and they appear in ethereal or material forms that are sometimes as bizarre and strange as those of the holy angels. These destructive angels are the tempters who try to incite man to evil by bringing the idea of wickedness to our realm, of existence; in return, they receive the diverted divine plenty. They also serve as the instruments by which a sinner is punished. Just as the reward received by the righteous man or the saint is an extension of his good deeds, so the retribution for shortcomings is part and parcel of the sin itself. In this life, punishment is no more than to be held in close contact with the evil one has created, in a variety of manifestations and translations-bodily and mental torment, despair and anguish, and failure.

    One of the most severe forms of punishment is the “mansion” of the Kelippot known as Hell. When a man dies, his soul is separated from his body and relates only to the ethereal beings, which he created and with which he was associated in his lifetime. The soul finds its level. In the case of a great sinner, this will be in the company of the destructive angels he created, who will punish him for bringing them into existence, until the full measure of remorse is exhausted. But even this extreme retribution is not extrinsic, for it is an organic continuation of the actual sins committed.

    Though the destructive angels are manifestations and the messengers of evil, they are also part of the totality of existence. Like the entire system of Kelippot, to which they belong, they are not optimal, but they do fulfill an essential role in maintaining a certain balance in the cosmos, by deterring men from slipping deeper into evil. Were evil to be banished from the world, they would disappear, for ultimately they are parasites on men and cannot exist without his wickedness. But as long as man uses his power of choice to do evil, they feed off, incite, and punish him. In this sense, the existence of destructive angels is conditional, rather like a police force, which is necessary only as long as there is crime.

    The fact remains, however, that far from disappearing, the destructive angels are growing stronger and more powerful, as evil waxes in the world. Their ontological status is no longer clear, and far from being mere instruments of deterrence within the total system of existence, they appear to be independent beings acting in their own terms of reference, subjects of a sovereign realm of evil.

    The significance of man’s role in Creation is thus immense. When the day comes that we free ourselves from the overwhelming temptations to sin, the entire system of evil will fall back into its proper dimensions. Those aspects of it that came into being as a consequence of man’s deeds-the ephemeral destructive angels-will disappear, while the eternal structural elements, which now serve as deterrents, will assume a new, entirely different role. That which now appears to be evil will be reintegrated into holiness.

  12. yehudith says:

    The Contemporary Religious Jew – A Soul Torn Between Two Worlds
    by Rav Adin Steinsaltz

    Man is, undoubtedly, the focal point of religiosity. True, Jewish philosophy does not see man as the sole object of religion, for such a view places religiosity on a human-subjective basis, whereas religiosity is indeed an objective thing, which belongs not only to man but also to the world, like all other real things. Religiosity is the way to elevate the entire world towards God, but man’s role in religiosity is immeasurably greater than his role as a part of the world; for since religiosity treats the entire world as its field of action, the only active factor there is man. And since religiosity is the outlining of a dymanic path, clearly, man is the center of religiosity as a way of fulfilling the special role of the religious man as a implementor. The purpose of religiosity forces man not only towards constant activity, but also towards certain character traits which belong not only to the sphere of his human wholesomeness, but also to his role in the world.

    One of these basic characteristics is the unity of the soul which, besides being an indispensible step towards self-perfection, is a vital foundation in man’s role as the implementor of the Supreme goal. It is the unity of the soul that gives man the ability to devote all of his energies to fulfilling his goal, whereas every form of split and schism in the soul hinder man’s ability to act and to go in his unique path.

    What is the state of things in this regard with the simple religious person of today? A short examination will show that religious people today lack psychological unity; moreover, their inner duplicity results in serious disturbances in their religious life and can be one of the central causes for the decline of religiosity. The primary source of this duplicity is that the ordinary religious Jew is actually living in two worlds: the religious world, on the one hand, and the secular world, on the other. These two worlds are very different from each other and sometimes even contradict each other. To live in both seems impossible, but the reality is that the majority of religious Jews today do indeed live in such a way.

    The first foundation for the development of such a lifestyle is to avoid presenting things in all of their truthfulness. The religious and secular worlds clash in certain points, but the religious people dodge these aspects and thus spare themselves the shock of excitement and the necessity to choose. They try to establish their world in such a way that no formality will be affected, but they do not notice that the ensuing psychological injury is unavoidable. For there is necessarily an inner conflict that is fundamental and consistent. Namely, the religious and secular wolrds differ from one another in their very esence because their foundations are at variance. Life in the religious world is measured according to absolute values; the criterion is Truth, and the goal is the Almighty. In contrast, in the secular world, values are relative, the measuring stick is man himself, and the objective is man. In fact, these worlds are not as different from each other as their foundations are. Love and hatred, sadness and joy, and joviality and grief exist in both, and the differences are not all that great. Nevertheless, it is impossible to make projections from one world onto the other because, in each one, there is a completely different reality which is measured in an entirely different way, and there is no contact between them.

    To make a link between these two worlds as they are is completely impossible because they have nothing in common. Despite their external and practical similarity, they are infinitely apart in essence. In addition to this fundamental difference, there is another contrast which both accompanies and accentuates it. For the religious person, the religious world is a world that has nothing to do with the intellect, a world without reasoning, a world in which there is no room for thought, and which is governed by a vague and mysterious sentiment, whereas the secualr world is a clear and tangible world, a world that can be grasped by thought and by the intellect, which can be relied upon without resorting to unknown supports that are beyond reason and discernment.

    So there are two very distinct and different worlds, yet the “religious” person is living in both simultaneously. This way of life causes duplicity in the beginning, for the religious person is thus two people: a religious one and a secular one. This schizophrenia exists in all religious people and, consequently, their fulfillment of the supreme goal is very faulty. Then this duplicity becomes unbearable, the psyche is completely torn, and one is forced to decide which of the two worlds he wants to live in and discard the other completely.

    The situation is that, on the one hand, the double, schizophrenic life of the religious person is psychologically destructive, while, on the other, it is impossible to avoid. It is impossible not to be in both worlds. Any attempt to live in just one of them does not solve the problem because the other world, in its very existence, oppresses the person, even without living in it.

    There is only one way for humanity to exist, and that is: unity. That is to say, we must combine both worlds into one unified entity, which will include all the external values of the secular world, but will always measure them according to the absolute criteria and the lofty aspirations of the religious world.

  13. yehudith says:

    Shoftim(Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)
    Shedding the Blinders of Faith
    by Rav Noson Weisz

    According to the teaching that they will teach you and according to the judgment they will say to you, shall you do, you shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you, right or left. (Deut. 17:11)

    Rashi in the name of the Sifri:

    Even if they tell you that what you think is the right is really the left or visa versa, and it goes without saying that you must listen if they inform you that this is right and this is left [and you do not know otherwise].

    Nachmanides elaborates:

    Even when you are convinced that they are in error, and the matter is as clear to you as the difference between your right hand and your left, do as they tell you. And do not say to yourself, “How can I eat this food when it is clearly fat [a forbidden substance], or how can I execute this clearly innocent person?” Rather say to yourself, “My Master who commanded me to observe His commandments, instructed me to observe them as the rabbis dictate.”

    Thus, according to this doctrine, we are commanded to follow what the rabbis tell us with blind faith, even if we know that what they are telling us is clearly wrong.

    But how can the Torah command us to do such a thing?

    LEAP OF FAITH

    The uniqueness of the Jewish religion as a religion is that it does not require its adherents to make what is called a “leap of faith.” Thus Christians have to believe in Jesus as the son of God and Moslems have to believe in Mohammed as the prophet of God. The entire foundation of their religions is the belief in the vision of a single individual. Their commitment to observance is therefore necessarily based on a leap of faith.

    Let us contrast this with Judaism.

    The children of Israel did not believe in Moses on the strength of the miracles he performed, for whoever believes through the power of miracles cannot help but retain some skepticism in his heart. It is always possible that the miracles were really some sort of magic trick or witchcraft [or, in our time, some sort of mental conditioning]. But all the miracles Moses performed were dictated by necessity and were not performed to verify the phenomenon of prophecy.

    What is the basis of our acceptance of the authenticity of Moses’ prophecy?

    So what then is the basis of our acceptance of the authenticity of Moses’ prophecy?

    It rests on the encounter at Sinai when the entire nation of Israel (not just Moses) had an encounter with God.

    How do we know that the encounter at Sinai demonstrates his prophecy beyond the shadow of a doubt? It is written:

    Behold! I come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the people will hear as I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever. (Exodus 19:9)

    From this we understand that before this event they did not believe in Moses with an everlasting faith and only had a faith which was open to second thoughts. (Maimonides, the Basics of the Torah, Ch.8,1)

    It is clear that God Himself was not satisfied to rest the Jewish belief in prophecy on the insecure foundation of faith in a single individual, or in the miracles that he performed. As He created human beings, He was aware that this is not a solid underpinning on which to base an everlasting faith. Therefore, He engineered an event where the truth of prophecy in general and the authority of Moses’ prophecy in particular would be publicly established. He did so by raising the entire Jewish people to a level that allowed them to verify the truth of both these phenomena first hand.

    In fact, whereas most religious stories tend to crop up in all cultures with only minor variations, the story of the encounter at Sinai is unique to the Jewish religion. No religious document apart from the Torah recounts a tale of a mass meeting between God and man. Such an extravagant claim can only be put forth when it is the presentation of a verifiable truth. The false claim of such an incident is too vulnerable to outright rejection as a lie.

    Yet, Jews are hardly noted for their gullibility. If anything, Judaism is the religion of skeptics. The fact that the Torah dares to present the claim that such a public encounter indeed took place is the best measure of its veracity.

    TORAH STUDY

    What is more, this tendency to seek factual verification for religious dogma is perfectly in line with the culture of Judaism. The Western world only adopted the goal of establishing universal literacy two hundred years ago, and it is only since then that public education has been generally available. But universal literacy has been the bedrock of Judaism for over three thousand years. The learning of Torah outweighs all the other commandments combined in importance (Peah 1,1).

    After all, the major purpose of religion is the development of a relationship between humanity and its Creator. The Torah teaches us that the human being was created in God’s own image. How is it conceivable that an ignorant, uncultured human being could possibly be considered an image of God? How could God develop any relationship with such a creature? Without the attainment of literacy and a sound education, how is it possible to attain wisdom or culture?

    All Jews have always been expected to know the Biblical and Talmudic sources of their beliefs.

    Accordingly, all Jews have always been expected to know the Biblical (and later Talmudic) sources of their beliefs. They are required to think and to question as their religious duty.

    Before one can develop an actual relationship with God, one has to make oneself fit for God to relate to. The much-vaunted intellectual skills of the Jewish people grew out of this tradition and are more a consequence of nurture than nature.

    In fact, the Torah itself views the breakdown of faith among the Jewish people to which we bear witness in modern times as mainly attributable to the ignorance of these sources that is our most sacred duty to study. This idea is expressed repeatedly in rabbinic literature, but perhaps its clearest statement is in the following passage: (Yerushalmi Chagiga 1,7)

    Who is the wise man who will understand this? Who is he to whom the mouth of God speaks that he may explain this? For what reason did the land perish and become parched like the desert without a passerby? But God has said: “Because of their forsaking my Torah that I put before them.” (Jeremiah 9:11-12)

    Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught on the basis of this verse: “If you observe cities in the land of Israel that have been uprooted from their place, you should know it is because they failed to hire scribes and teachers of Torah.”

    Rabbi Yudan the Nasi [following Rabbi Shimon’s prescription] sent Rabbi Chiya, Rabbi Asi and Rabbi Ami around the land of Israel to arrange for the hiring of scribes and teachers. They came to a certain town and could not find a single scribe or teacher. They instructed the townsmen to introduce them to the guardians of the city. They brought the local police chief, and they said to them, “You think these people [the police force] are the guardians of your city? These are the destroyers of your city!” “Who then are the guardians of our city?” They told them, “Your scribes and teachers are your guardians, as it is written, if God will not build the house, in vain do its builders labor on it, if God will not guard the city, in vain is the watchman vigilant… (Psalms 127:1)

    We find that God overlooks the sins of idolatry, licentiousness and murder, but He does not overlook the sin of belittling the importance of Torah study. Why? Because of our verse which declares that the reason for the desolation of the land is the abandonment of Torah study.

    Rabbi Chiya bar Bo explained: “If they would have left Me but kept learning My Torah, I would have overlooked their sins because the light of My Torah would have brought them close to Me again.”

    As we have repeatedly emphasized in these essays, the Torah was not given to us to teach us what to believe. The Torah is a reality book. As such, whoever is familiar with its byways cannot escape the perception that he is walking around in the real world. The lack of necessity to make a leap of faith and to be able to accept Judaism does not end in the encounter at Sinai. The Torah was designed to replace the faith of the one who studies it with a solid intellectual awareness and understanding of a spiritual reality.

    REALITY

    For not all of reality is exposed to the naked eye. To be aware of the world of atoms you have to study physics. To know that all living organisms are arranged in cells surrounding nuclei which contain DNA and RNA you have to study biology. The person who never studied these subjects can only accept this information as a matter of faith. For the person who immerses himself in physics and biology it is obvious reality.

    The world of spirituality differs from science only in a single respect. Whereas the existence of atoms and the arrangement of living organisms into cells is verified even for the uninitiated by the existence of hydrogen bombs and blood tests, the world of spirituality cannot be observed in physical phenomena.

    Without Torah study, Judaism is a matter of pure belief only.

    Thus, although strictly speaking, anyone who has not studied physics or biology is nothing more than a believer in the existence of atoms or cells, belief is sufficient for him as it is verifiable by his everyday experience of the outside world. But all Jewish believers must study the Torah for their belief to survive, for without Torah study, Judaism is a matter of pure belief only, which cannot be verified by everyday experience of the outside world. The only way to transform Judaism into observable truth is immersion in Torah study.

    There is a remarkable demonstration of this theme in the works of Maimonides. In his book on the commandments, the “Sefer HaMitzvot,” Maimonides counts the commandment to have faith in God as the very first of the 613 commandments, and demonstrates from Talmudic sources that the obligation to accept the existence of God as a matter of faith is derivable from the first of the Ten Commandments:

    I am the Lord your God, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt from the house of slavery. (Exodus 20:2)

    He begins his greatest work the “Yad HaChazaka” with a discussion of this same commandment but there he phrases it differently. The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all wisdom is to know that there is a prior Existence that brought all subsequent existence into being, and that all things that exist — whether in the heavens or on the earth, or any other region in between — derive their existence from the truth of His essence. (The Fundamentals of the Torah, ch.1,1-6)

    The commandment to believe quoted in the “Sefer HaMitvot” becomes transformed into the commandment to know in the “Yad HaChazaka.”

    Belief in God is only the beginning. The Jew can only fulfill his obligation under this commandment if he manages to transform his faith into knowledge. The method of transformation at his disposal is the study of Torah.

    But even the development of such knowledge is not the end of the story.

    On the contrary, it is only the Jew who attains the level of transforming his pure faith into knowledge who is ready to face the test of faith. Such a Jew lives within a double reality, the reality of the physical world of his senses into which he is born, and the reality that is revealed to him through his knowledge of Torah.

    The pursuit of success in these two realities often involves following mutually exclusive strategies. The test of faith is to choose the reality one wants to live in.

    We are finally ready to return to the original question. God created two realities, the physical one that we are all aware of and the spiritual one that is revealed to us through the Torah.

    THE SANHEDRIN

    Each of these realities was created for man. God Himself is not in need of either of them. Just as the physical reality with which we are all familiar is within man’s power to shape according to the dictates of his intellect, so is the spiritual reality that is revealed by the Torah. When the Sanhedrin, the human body most expert in understanding the reality contained in the Torah, arrives at a determination of its shape, this reality will conform and adopt the shape determined by the human intellect. This is also man’s world.

    Nachmanides thus explains that the injunction to follow the rulings of the Sanhedrin even when it is clear to you that they are mistaken has no relation to blind faith. Mistaken or not, what the Sanhedrin decides determines the shape that the reality in the Torah adopts.

    Unfortunately, this inspiring thesis has the enormous downside pointed out by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people specifically as a place to implement the reality discovered through Torah knowledge. The commandment discussed in this essay (as others of Parshat Shoftim) apply when Jews inhabit the land of Israel. In fact all the commandments, even those totally unrelated to agriculture or the establishment of public institutions have a special relationship with the land of Israel.

    You shall place these words of mine upon your heart and upon your soul; you shall bind them for a sign upon your arm and let them be an ornament between your eyes (Deut. 11:18)

    Rashi quoting the Sifri:

    Even after you go into exile remain identifiable by your observance of the commandments: lay phylacteries, put mezuzot on your door posts; so that the commandments won’t be strange to you when you return from exile. As it is written make road markers for yourself, set up landmarks for yourself (Jeremiah 31:20)

    Explains Nachmanides:

    In exile the commandments are only obligations of the heart, but in Israel they are necessities of life.

    The Jewish people are back in their land once again. Once again observing the commandments is a necessity of life. Once again God is willing to overlook all violations as long as there are scribes and teachers in the cities of Israel. God does not demand or value blind faith. He is perfectly aware of the circumstances which brought about the situation that the majority of the Jewish people are lacking in blind faith through no fault of their own. As long as Jews are willing to expose themselves to the light of the reality He presented in His Torah, He is willing to wait patiently. He knows that the Torah will bring the Jewish people back.

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