Tag Archives: Maimonides

The Audacity of Torah

Who gave us permission to serve the Lord?

Recorded live at TCS, The Conservative Synagogue of Westport Connecticut, an exploration of the fine line between expressions of piety in the service of the Divine and the seduction of self-pride.

Using biblical, Talmudic, liturgical and Maimonidian texts and anecdotes from the Novardok school of Mussar we come to a surprising conclusion. The Torah not so much commands us to worship the Lord as it does give us permission or license. We call this the audacity of Torah.

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Access source sheet in Sefaria here.

1. There is a popular Jewish joke about the former Novardok Yeshiva, founded by Rabbi Yosef Yozel Horowitz known as the Alter of Novardok (1847–1919). Novardok was one of the more extreme exemplars of the mussar movement that developed in Lithuania in the latter part of the 19th century. This yeshiva placed great emphasis on “the negation of the ego and the physical world”. Students wore tattered clothing and engaged in deliberately humiliating activities to achieve that end. The joke goes as follows:

Chaim, a new student, arrived at the Novardok Yeshiva. Being a novice and not knowing exactly what was expected of him, he simply observed what the other students were doing and copied them. When it was time for davening, observing his fellow yeshiva students engaged in fervent prayer and shokeling back and forth with great intensity, he did the same. During the period for Talmud study, he mimicked the others with their sing-song chants and exaggerated hand gestures. Finally, it was time for mussar self-examination, when each student retreated to a private corner, beat his fist remorsefully against his chest and repeated the refrain in Yiddish: “Ish bin a gor nisht! Ish bin a gor nisht!” (“I am a complete nothing!”) Observing the behaviour of these students, Chaim sat down and, pounding his fist against his chest, likewise repeated the same mantra: “Ish bin a gor nisht! Ish bin a gor nisht!” One of the veteran students seated nearby observed Chaim disdainfully, turned to another old-timer and commented, “Look at this one! He’s been here just one day, and he already thinks he’s a gor nisht!” source

(ח) אֶת שֵׁם הָאֵ-ל, הַמֶּלֶךְ הַגָּדול הַגִּבּור וְהַנּורָא קָדושׁ הוּא.

וְכֻלָּם מְקַבְּלִים עֲלֵיהֶם על מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם זֶה מִזֶּה.

וְנותְנִים רְשׁוּת זֶה לָזֶה לְהַקְדִּישׁ לְיוצְרָם בְּנַחַת רוּחַ. בְּשפָה בְרוּרָה וּבִנְעִימָה.

קְדֻשָׁה כֻּלָּם כְּאֶחָד. עונִים וְאומְרִים בְּיִרְאָה:
קָדושׁ קָדושׁ קָדושׁ ה’ צְבָאות. מְלא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבודו:

the name of the Almighty, the king, the great, the mighty, the awesome One; holy is He.

And they take upon themselves the yoke of sovereignty one from the other

and give permission one to another to sanctify their Creator in a spirit of serenity

with clear speech and sweet harmony

They proclaim [His] holiness in unison and reverently proclaim:

“Holy, holy, holy is Adonoy of Hosts the fullness of all the earth is his glory.”

(א) וקרא זה אל זה. נוטלין רשות זה מזה שלא יקדים האחד ויתחיל ויתחייב שריפה אלא אם כן פתחו כולם כאחד וזהו שיסד ביוצר אור קדושה כולם כאחד עונים כו’ ומדרש אגדה מעשה מרכבה הוא וכן תירגם קדוש קדוש קדוש ג’ פעמים כתרגומו:

Rashi on Isaiah 6:3

3.  They would take permission from one another so that one would not precede [the others] and be guilty of [a sin punishable by] burning; rather, they all commenced simultaneously. This is the basis for what is said in the K’dushah d’Yotzeir Or: “all, as one, respond [and proclaim God’s holiness…]”…

האם בני אדם יכולים להידמות למלאכים? מיכאל גרץ פוסטים23/02/2020

ר’ חיים בן שלמה טיירר מצ’רנוביץ’ (נולד ב1816) מסביר את הפסוק והתפילה כך:

“…כי באמת כבר כתבנו במקום אחר שמי שאוהב את ה’ יתברך לא אהבת עצמו בשום אופן, אין חילוק לפניו כלל וכלל בעשיית המצוות אם הוא עשאה או אחרים עושים ויבוא הטוב מכל מקום”.

אסור שתתקיים “תחרות” על עשיית מצוות. יהודי שעושה רק מצווה אחת ביום, עשייה זאת משמחת את הקב”ה. ואין לאדם אחר רשות לבקר אותו שזה רק מצווה אחת. והוא ממשיך:

“וזה הוא עיקר עבודתו לעשות נחת רוח לפניו, ומה לו אם יגיענו נחת רוח ממנו או מחבירו. … האוהב את בוראו אהבת אמת שמשתוקק שיגיע נחת רוח לבורא עולם, לא ישתדל כלל לחטוף המצוה מזולתו שהוא יעשנה”

אין אפוטרופסות על המצוות! אסור שחוג זה או אחר יטען שרק הם יודעים איך לקיים את המצוות, ולכן כל מצווה שיהודי אחר עושה פסול מלכתחילה. גישה כזאת גורמת צער לה’ במקום שמחה.

“ועל כן אומרים בקדושה של יוצר אצל קדושת המלאכים וכולם מקבלים עליהם וגו’ ונותנים באהבה ‘רשות זה לזה’ להקדיש ליוצרם בנחת רוח וגו’, …

ולא יחפוץ אחד להיות גדול מחבירו אף בעיני המקום, ועל כן נותנים באהבה רבה רשות זה לזה להקדיש וכו’ כי כל כוונתם שיגיע הנאה לבורא עולם יהיה ממי שיהיה מאתו או מזולתו…” (ספר באר מים חיים פרשת תצוה – פרק כח)

4. Rabbi Michael Gertz: Can Humans Resemble Angels 2/23/2020

Rabbi Chaim Ben Shlomo Tierer of Czernowitz (born 1816) explains the verse and prayer as follows:

“… Because we have already written elsewhere that whoever loves God will not act selfishly under any circumstance, there is no difference in him at all in doing the commandments whether he did or others do and the good comes from everywhere.

Ganze: There must be no “competition” for the observance. A Jew who does only one mitzvah a day does so pleasing the Almighty. And no one else has permission to criticize him that is only one mitzvah. And he continues:

“And that is the crux of his work please the Lord, and what if this Divine pleasure comes from him or from his friend. … Who loves his Creator A true love that longs for a spirit of Creator will never endeavor to snatch the mitzvah from others.

Ganz; There is no guardianship of the commandments! One or the other circle must not claim that only they know how to keep the commandments, and therefore every commandment that another Jew makes is wrong in the first place. Such an attitude causes God sorrow instead of joy.

And so they say with regard to the Kedusha: and everyone accepts them And lovingly give ‘each other’s permission’ to sanctify their creator in divine pleasure … ‘ And no one wants to be bigger than his friend even in the eyes of the God, and therefore, with great love, give each other permission to dedicate, etc. that all their intentions that come to give pleasure to the Creator of the world whether it comes from them or their fellow.

ברכות ל״ב א

וְאָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר: מֹשֶׁה הֵטִיחַ דְּבָרִים כְּלַפֵּי מַעְלָה. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל מֹשֶׁה אֶל ה׳״ אַל תִּקְרֵי ״אֶל ה׳״, אֶלָּא ״עַל ה׳״. שֶׁכֵּן דְּבֵי רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר בֶּן יַעֲקֹב קוֹרִין לָאַלְפִין עַיְינִין, וְלָעַיְינִין אַלְפִין.

דבֵי רַבִּי יַנַּאי אָמְרִי, מֵהָכָא: ״וְדִי זָהָב״. מַאי ״וְדִי זָהָב״? אָמְרִי דְּבֵי רַבִּי יַנַּאי: כָּךְ אָמַר מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא: רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, בִּשְׁבִיל כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב שֶׁהִשְׁפַּעְתָּ לָהֶם לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, עַד שֶׁאָמְרוּ ״דַּי״ — הוּא גָּרַם שֶׁעָשׂוּ אֶת הָעֵגֶל. אָמְרִי דְּבֵי רַבִּי יַנַּאי: אֵין אֲרִי נוֹהֵם מִתּוֹךְ קוּפָּה שֶׁל תֶּבֶן אֶלָּא מִתּוֹךְ קוּפָּה שֶׁל בָּשָׂר. אָמַר רַבִּי אוֹשַׁעְיָא: מָשָׁל לְאָדָם שֶׁהָיְתָה לוֹ פָּרָה כְּחוּשָׁה וּבַעֲלַת אֵבָרִים, הֶאֱכִילָהּ כַּרְשִׁינִין וְהָיְתָה מְבַעֶטֶת בּוֹ. אָמַר לָהּ: מִי גָּרַם לִיךְ שֶׁתְּהֵא מְבַעֶטֶת בִּי — אֶלָּא כַּרְשִׁינִין שֶׁהֶאֱכַלְתִּיךְ. אָמַר רַבִּי חִיָּיא בַּר אַבָּא אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: מָשָׁל לְאָדָם אֶחָד שֶׁהָיָה לוֹ בֵּן. הִרְחִיצוֹ וְסָכוֹ, וְהֶאֱכִילוֹ וְהִשְׁקָהוּ, וְתָלָה לוֹ כִּיס עַל צַוָּארוֹ, וְהוֹשִׁיבוֹ עַל פֶּתַח שֶׁל זוֹנוֹת. מַה יַּעֲשֶׂה אוֹתוֹ הַבֵּן שֶׁלֹּא יֶחֱטָא?! אָמַר רַב אַחָא בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב הוּנָא אָמַר רַב שֵׁשֶׁת: הַיְינוּ דְּאָמְרִי אִינָשֵׁי: מְלֵי כְּרֵסֵיהּ זְנֵי בִּישֵׁי. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כְּמַרְעִיתָם וַיִּשְׂבָּעוּ שָׂבְעוּ וַיָּרׇם לִבָּם עַל כֵּן שְׁכֵחוּנִי״. רַב נַחְמָן אָמַר: מֵהָכָא: ״וְרָם לְבָבֶךָ וְשָׁכַחְתָּ אֶת ה׳״. וְרַבָּנַן אָמְרִי, מֵהָכָא: ״וְאָכַל וְשָׂבַע וְדָשֵׁן וּפָנָה״. וְאִי בָּעֵית אֵימָא מֵהָכָא: ״וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשׁוּרוּן וַיִּבְעָט״. אָמַר רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָנִי אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹנָתָן: מִנַּיִן שֶׁחָזַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא וְהוֹדָה לוֹ לְמֹשֶׁה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְכֶסֶף הִרְבֵּיתִי לָהֶם וְזָהָב עָשׂוּ לַבָּעַל״. ״וַיְדַבֵּר ה׳ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֶךְ רֵד״. מַאי ״לֶךְ רֵד״? אָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר: אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמֹשֶׁה: מֹשֶׁה, רֵד מִגְּדוּלָּתְךָ! כְּלוּם נָתַתִּי לְךָ גְּדוּלָּה אֶלָּא בִּשְׁבִיל יִשְׂרָאֵל. וְעַכְשָׁיו יִשְׂרָאֵל חָטְאוּ — אַתָּה לָמָּה לִי? מִיָּד תָּשַׁשׁ כּוֹחוֹ שֶׁל מֹשֶׁה, וְלֹא הָיָה לוֹ כֹּחַ לְדַבֵּר. וְכֵיוָן שֶׁאָמַר ״הֶרֶף מִמֶּנִּי וְאַשְׁמִידֵם״, אָמַר מֹשֶׁה: דָּבָר זֶה תָּלוּי בִּי! מִיָּד עָמַד וְנִתְחַזֵּק בִּתְפִלָּה, וּבִקֵּשׁ רַחֲמִים. מָשָׁל לְמֶלֶךְ שֶׁכָּעַס עַל בְּנוֹ, וְהָיָה מַכֵּהוּ מַכָּה גְּדוֹלָה. וְהָיָה אוֹהֲבוֹ יוֹשֵׁב לְפָנָיו, וּמִתְיָרֵא לוֹמַר לוֹ דָּבָר. אָמַר הַמֶּלֶךְ: אִלְמָלֵא אוֹהֲבִי זֶה שֶׁיּוֹשֵׁב לְפָנַי — הֲרַגְתִּיךָ. אָמַר: דָּבָר זֶה תָּלוּי בִּי. מִיָּד עָמַד וְהִצִּילוֹ. ״וְעַתָּה הַנִּיחָה לִּי וְיִחַר אַפִּי בָהֶם וַאֲכַלֵּם וְאֶעֱשֶׂה אוֹתְךָ לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל וְגוֹ׳״.

אָמַר רַבִּי אֲבָהוּ: אִלְמָלֵא מִקְרָא כָּתוּב, אִי אֶפְשָׁר לְאוֹמְרוֹ.

And Rabbi Elazar said: Moses also spoke impertinently toward God on High, as it is stated in the verse following the sin of those who murmured against God in the desert: “And Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire subsided” (Numbers 11:2), and this verse is interpreted homiletically: Do not read to [el] the Lord, but rather onto [al] the Lord, which indicates that he spoke impertinently….

The Sages of the school of Rabbi Yannai, however, say proof that Moses spoke impertinently toward God on High is derived from here, Moses’ rebuke at the beginning of Deuteronomy: “And Di Zahav” (Deuteronomy 1:1). …The Sages of the school of Rabbi Yannai said that Moses said the following before the Holy One, Blessed be He, to atone for Israel after the sin of the Golden Calf: Master of the Universe, because of the gold and silver that you lavished upon Israel during the exodus from Egypt until they said enough [dai]; it was this wealth that caused Israel to make the Golden Calf.

Rabbi Oshaya said: This is comparable to a person who had a lean, but large-limbed cow. At one point, he fed it lupines, a choice food, and soon thereafter the cow was kicking him. He said to the cow: Who caused you to begin kicking me if not the lupines I fed you? Here, too, the sin was caused by an abundance of good. The Gemara offers another analogy: Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: This is comparable to a person who had a son; he bathed him and anointed him with oil, fed him and gave him drink, and hung a purse of money around his neck. Then, he brought his son to the entrance of a brothel. What could the son do to avoid sinning? ….

Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said that Rabbi Yonatan said: From where in the Torah is it derived that the Holy One, Blessed be He, ultimately conceded to Moses that the reason for the sin of the Golden Calf was indeed the riches lavished upon Israel? As it is stated: “And I gave them an abundance of silver and gold, which they used for the Ba’al” (Hosea 2:10). …

In an additional aspect of the sin of the Golden Calf, God told Moses: “Now leave Me be, that My wrath will be enraged against them and I will consume them; and I will make of you a great nation” (Exodus 32:10). Explaining this verse,

Rabbi Abbahu said: Were the verse not written in this manner, it would be impossible to utter it, in deference to God.

5.

הנה כבר התבאר לך כי כל אשר התבאר לך במופת שלילת דבר אחד ממנו – תהיה יותר שלם וכל אשר תחיב לו דבר מוסף – תהיה מדמה ותרחק מידיעת אמיתתו. …

וכאשר הרגיש כל אדם שאי אפשר להגיע אל השגת מה שבכוחנו שנשיג כי אם בשלילה והשלילה לא תודיע דבר מאמיתת הענין אשר נשלל ממנו הדבר אשר נשללהו – בארו בני אדם כולם העוברים והבאים שהאלוה ית’ לא ישיגוהו השכלים ולא ישיג מה הוא אלא הוא ושהשגתו היא הלאות מתכלית השגתו. וכל הפילוסופים אומרים נצחנו בנעימותו ונעלם ממנו לחוזק הראותו כמו שיעלם השמש מן העינים החלושים להשיגו. וכבר האריכו בזה במה שאין תועלת לשנותו הנה. והמפולג שנאמר בזה הענין – אמרו ב’תלים’ “לך דומיה תהילה” – פרושו השתיקה אצלך היא השבח. וזה המרצת דברים עצומה מאוד בזה הענין – שאנחנו כל דבר שנאמר אותו שנכון בו הגדלה ושבח – נמצא בו מעמס אחד בחוקו ית’ ונשקיף בו קצת חסרון; אם כן השתיקה יותר ראויה וההסתפקות בהשגת השכלים כמו שצוו השלמים ואמרו “אמרו בלבבכם על משכבכם ודומו סלה”:

וכבר ידעת אמרתם המפורסמת (אשר מי יתן והיה כל המאמרים כמותה!) ואני אזכרה לך בלשונה (ואף על פי שהיא ידועה) להעירך על עניניה.

הַהוּא דִּנְחֵית קַמֵּיהּ דְּרַבִּי חֲנִינָא, אֲמַר ״הָאֵל הַגָּדוֹל הַגִּבּוֹר וְהַנּוֹרָא וְהָאַדִּיר וְהָעִזּוּז וְהַיָּראוּי, הֶחָזָק וְהָאַמִּיץ וְהַוַּדַּאי וְהַנִּכְבָּד״.

הִמְתִּין לוֹ עַד דְּסַיֵּים. כִּי סַיֵּים אֲמַר לֵיהּ: סַיֵּימְתִּינְהוּ לְכוּלְּהוּ שִׁבְחֵי דְמָרָךְ?! לְמָה לִי כּוּלֵּי הַאי? אֲנַן, הָנֵי תְּלָת דְּאָמְרִינַן אִי לָאו דְּאַמְרִינְהוּ מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ בְּאוֹרָיְיתָא, וַאֲתוֹ אַנְשֵׁי כְּנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה וְתַקְּנִינְהוּ בִּתְפִלָּה — לָא הֲוֵינַן יְכוֹלִין לְמֵימַר לְהוּ, וְאַתְּ אָמְרַתְּ כּוּלֵּי הַאי וְאָזְלַתְּ! מָשָׁל לְמֶלֶךְ בָּשָׂר וָדָם שֶׁהָיוּ לוֹ אֶלֶף אֲלָפִים דִּינְרֵי זָהָב, וְהָיוּ מְקַלְּסִין אוֹתוֹ בְּשֶׁל כֶּסֶף. וַהֲלֹא גְּנַאי הוּא לוֹ! ברכות ל״ג ב

– עד הנה הגיע מאמר זה החסיד:

והסתכל תחילה שתקו ומאסו רבוי תארי החיוב. והתבונן איך הראה כי התארים אילו הונחו לשכלינו לבד לא אמרנום לעולם ולא דברנו בדבר מהם; ואמנם כאשר הצריך הכרח הדיבור לבני אדם במה שיתקים להם מעט ציור – כמו שאמרו ‘דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם’ – שיתואר להם האלוק בשלמיותיהם תכליתנו – שנעמוד על המאמרים ההם ולא נקרא שמו בהם אלא בקראנו אותם ב’תורה’ לבד;

וכבר הישירנו שלמה לזה הענין במה שבו די ואמר “כי האלוקים בשמים ואתה על הארץ על כן יהיו דבריך מעטים”

5.   Guide for the Perplexed, Part 1 59

It will now be clear to you, that every time you establish by proof the negation of a thing in reference to God, you become more perfect, while with every additional positive assertion you follow your imagination and recede from the true knowledge of God. …

Since it is a well-known fact that even that knowledge of God which is accessible to man cannot be attained except by negations, and that negations do not convey a true idea of the being to which they refer, all people, both of past and present generations, declared that God cannot be the object of human comprehension, that none but Himself comprehends what He is, and that our knowledge consists in knowing that we are unable truly to comprehend Him. All philosophers say, “He has overpowered us by His grace, and is invisible to us through the intensity of His light,” like the sun which cannot be perceived by eyes which are too weak to bear its rays. Much more has been said on this topic, but it is useless to repeat it here. The idea is best expressed in the book of Psalms, “Silence is praise to Thee” (lxv. 2). It is a very expressive remark on this subject; for whatever we utter with the intention of extolling and of praising Him, contains something that cannot be applied to God, and includes derogatory expressions; it is therefore more becoming to be silent, and to be content with intellectual reflection, as has been recommended by men of the highest culture, in the words “Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Ps. 4:4).

You must surely know the following celebrated passage in the Talmud (Berakhot 33b) –would that all passages in the Talmud were like that!–although it is known to you, I quote it literally, as I wish to point out to you the ideas contained in it: “A certain person, reading prayers in the presence of Rabbi Haninah, said, ‘God, the great, the valiant and the tremendous, the powerful, the strong, and the mighty.’–The rabbi said to him, Have you finished all the praises of your Master? The three epithets, ‘God, the great, the valiant and the tremendous,’ we should not have applied to God, had Moses not mentioned them in the Law, and had not the men of the Great Synagogue come forward subsequently and established their use in the prayer; and you say all this! Let this be illustrated by a parable. There was once an earthly king, possessing millions of gold coin; he was praised for owning millions of silver coin; was this not really dispraise to him?” Thus far the opinion of the pious rabbi.

Consider, first, how repulsive and annoying the accumulation of all these positive attributes was to him; next, how he showed that, if we had only to follow our reason, we should never have composed these prayers, and we should not have uttered any of them. It has, however, become necessary to address men in words that should leave some idea in their minds, and, in accordance with the saying of our Sages, “The Torah speaks in the language of men,” the Creator has been described to us in terms of our own perfections; but we should not on that account have uttered any other than the three above-mentioned attributes, and we should not have used them as names of God except when meeting with them in reading the Law.

Solomon has already given us sufficient instruction on this subject by saying, “For God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few” (Eccles. 5:2).

אי אפשר לפי טבע האדם שיניח כל מה שהרגיל בו פתאום. וכאשר שלח האלוק ‘משה רבנו’ לתתנו “ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש” בידיעתו ית’ – כמו שבאר ואמר “אתה הראת לדעת וגו'” וידעת היום והשבות אל לבבך וגו'” ולהנתן לעבודתו – כמו שאמר “ולעבדו בכל לבבכם” ואמר “ועבדתם את ה’ אלוקיכם” ואמר “ואותו תעבודו” – והיה המנהג המפורסם בעולם כולו שהיו אז רגילים בו והעבודה הכוללת אשר גדלו עליה – להקריב מיני בעלי חיים בהיכלות ההם אשר היו מעמידים בהם הצלמים ולהשתחוות להם ולקטר לפניהם והעבודים והפרושים היו אז האנשים הנתונים לעבודת ההיכלות ההם העשויים לכוכבים (כמו שבארנו) – לא גזרה חכמתו ית’ ותחבולתו המבוארת בכל בריאותיו שיצונו להניח מיני העבודות ההם כולם ולעזבם ולבטלם כי אז היה זה מה שלא יעלה בלב לקבלו כפי טבע האדם שהוא נוטה תמיד למורגל; והיה דומה אז כאילו יבוא נביא בזמננו זה שיקרא לעבודת האלוק ויאמר האלוק צוה אתכם שלא תתפללו אליו ולא תצומו ולא תבקשו תשועתו בעת צרה אבל תהיה עבודתכם מחשבה מבלתי מעשה: ומפני זה השאיר ית’ מיני העבודות ההם והעתיקם מהיותם לנבראים ולענינים דמיוניים שאין אמיתות להם – לשמו ית’ וצונו לעשותם לו ית’. וצוונו לבנות היכל לו “ועשו לי מקדש” ושיהיה המזבח לשמו “מזבח אדמה תעשה לי” ושיהיה הקרבן לו “אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן לה'” ושישתחוו לו ושיקטירוהו לפניו. והזהיר מעשות דבר מאלו המעשים לזולתו “זובח לאלוקים יחרם וגו'” “כי לא תשתחוה לאל אחר”. והפריש ‘כהנים’ לבית ה’מקדש’ ואמר “וכהנו לי” וחיב שייוחדו להם מתנות על כל פנים שיספיקו להם מפני שהם עסוקים בבית ובקרבנותיו והם מתנות ה’לוים וה’כהנים’. והגיע בזאת הערמה האלוקית שנמחוה זכר ‘עבודה זרה’ והתקימה הפינה הגדולה האמיתית באמונתו והיא מציאות האלוק ואחדותו; ולא יברחו הנפשות וישתוממו בבטל העבודות אשר הורגלו ולא נודעו עבודתו זולתם: ואני יודע שנפשך תברח מזה הענין בהכרח בתחילת מחשבה ויכבד עליך ותשאלני בלבך ותאמר לי איך יבואו מצוות ואזהרות ופעולות עצומות ומבוארות מאד והושם להם זמנים והם כולם בלתי מכוונות לעצמם אבל הם מפני דבר אחר כאילו הם תחבולה שעשה העלוה לנו להגיע אל כונתו הראשונה? ואי זה מונע היה אצלו ית’ לצוות לנו כונתו הראשונה ויתן בנו יכולת לקבלה ולא היה צורך לאלו אשר חשבת שהם על צד הכונה השניה? – שמע תשובתי אשר תסיר מלבך זה החלי ותגלה לך אמיתת מה שעוררתיך עליו. והוא שכבר בא ב’תורה’ כמו זה הענין בשוה – והוא אמרו “ולא נחם אלוקים דרך ארץ פלישתים כי קרוב הוא וגו’ ויסב אלוקים את העם דרך המדבר ים סוף”. וכמו שהסב האלוק אותם מן הדרך הישרה אשר היתה מכוונת תחלה מפני יראת מה שלא היו גופותם יכולים לסבלו לפי הטבע אל דרך אחרת עד שתגיע הכונה הראשונה – כן צוה בזאת המצוה אשר זכרנו מפני יראת מה שאין יכולת לנפש לקבלו לפי הטבע שתגיע הכונה הראשונה והיא – השגתו ית’ והנחת ‘עבודה זרה’. כי כמו שאין בטבע האדם שיגדל על מלאכת עבדות בחומר ובלבנים והדומה להם ואחר כן ירחץ ידיו לשעתו מלכלוכם וילחם עם ‘ילידי הענק’ פתאום כן אין בטבעו שיגדל על מינים רביםמן העבודות ומעשים מורגלים שכבר נטו אליהם הנפשות עד ששבו כמושכל ראשון ויניחם כולם פתאום. וכמו שהיה מחכמת האלוק להסב אותם במדבר עד שילמדו גבורה – כמו שנודע שההליכה במדבר ומעוט הנאות הגוף מרחיצה וסיכה וכיוצא בהם יולידו הגבורה והפכם יוליד רוך לב – ונולדו גם כן אנשים שלא הרגילו בשפלות ובעבדות וכל זה היה במצות אלוקיות על ידי משה רבינו’ “על פי ה’ יחנו ועל פי ה’ יסעו – את משמרת ה’ שמרו על פי ה’ ביד משה” – כן בא זה החלק מן התורה בתחבולה אלוקית עד שישארו עם מין המעשה המורגל כדי שתעלה בידם האמונה אשר היא הכונה הראשונה. ושאלתך “אי זה מונע היה לאלוק מצוותנו כונתו הראשונה ויתן לנו יכולת לקבלה?” תחיב זאת השאלה השנית ויאמר לך ואי זה מונע היה לאלוק שינחם ‘דרך ארץ פלישתים’ ויתן להם יכולת להלחם ולא היה צריך לזה הסיבוב ב”עמוד הענן יומם ועמוד האש לילה”? וכן תחיב שאלה שלישית – על סיבת היעודים הטובים אשר יעד על שמירת המצוות והיעודים הרעים אשר יעד על העברות ויאמר לך אחר שכונת האלוק הראשונה ורצונו היה שנאמין זאת התורה ונעשה ככל הכתוב בה למה לא נתן לנו יכולת לקבלה ולעשותה תמיד ולא היה עושה לנו תחבולה להיטיב לנו אם נעבדהו ולהנקם ממנו אם נמרהו? ולעשות הטובות ההם כולם והנקמות ההם כולם? – כי זאת גם כן תחבולה שעשה האלוק לנו עד שיגיע ממנו אל כונתו הראשונה – ואי זה מונע היה אצלו לתת רצון במעשי העבודה אשר רצה וריחוק העברות אשר מאסם טבע מוטבע בנו?: והתשובה על אלו השאלות השלש וכל מה שהוא ממינם – תשובה אחת כוללת והיא שהאותות כולם אף על פי שהם שינוי טבע איש אחד מאישי הנמצאות אך טבע בני אדם לא ישנהו האלוק כלל על צד המופת. ומפני זה השורש הגדול אמר “מי יתן והיה לבבם זה להם וגו'” ומפני זה באה המצוה והאזהרה והגמול והעונש. וכבר בארנו זאת הפינה במופתיה במקומות רבים מחיבורינו. ולא אמרתי זה מפני שאני מאמין ששינוי טבע כל אחד מבני אדם קשה עליו ית’ אך הוא אפשר ונופל תחת היכולת אלא שהוא לא רצה כלל לעשות זה ולא ירצהו לעולם כפי הפינות התוריות; ואילו היה מרצונו לשנות טבע כל איש מבני אדם למה שירצהו ית’ מן האיש ההוא היה בטל שליחות הנביאים ונתינת התורה כולה:

(ג) ואשוב אל כונתי ואומר כי כאשר היה זה המין מן העבודה – רצוני לומר ה’קרבנות’ – על צד הכונה השניה והצעקה והתפלה וכיוצא בהם ממעשי העבודות יותר קרובות אל הכונה הראשונה והכרחיות בהגיע אליה – שם בין שני המינים הפרש גדול והוא שזה המין מן העבודה – רצוני לומר הקרבת הקרבנות – אף על פי שהוא לשמו ית’ לא חויב עלינו כמו שהיה בתחלה – רצוני לומר שנקריב בכל מקום ובכל זמן ולא שנעשה היכל באשר יזדמן ושיקריב מי שיזדמן “החפץ ימלא ידו” אבל נאסר כל זה עלינו והושם בית אחד “אל המקום אשר יבחר ה'” ואין מקריבים בזולתו “פן תעלה עולותיך בכל מקום אשר תראה” ולא יהיה ‘כהן’ אלא זרע מיוחד – כל זה הענין – למעט זה המין מן העבודות ושלא יהיה ממנו אלא מה שלא גזרה חכמתו להניחו לגמרי. אבל התפילה והתחינה היא מותרת בכל מקום וכל מי שיזדמן. וכן ה’ציצית’ וה’מזוזה’ וה’תפילין’ וזולתם מן העבודות הדומות להם:

(ד) ובעבור זה הענין אשר גיליתי לך נמצא הרבה בספרי הנביאים שמוכיחים בני אדם על רוב השתדלותם והתחזקם להביא הקרבנות ובואר לכם שאינם מכוונים לעצמם כונה צריכה מאד ושהאלוה אינו צריך להם – אמר שמואל “החפץ לה’ בעולות וזבחים כשמוע בקול יי? וגו'”; ואמר ישעיה “למה לי רוב זבחיכם? – יאמר ה’ וגו'”; ואמר ירמיה “כי לא דברתי את אבותיכם ולא צויתים ביום הוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים על דברי עולה וזבח – כי אם את הדבר הזה צויתי אותם לאמר שמעו בקולי והייתי לכם לאלוקים ואתם תהיו לי לעם”. וכבר הוקשה זה המאמר בעיני כל מי שראיתי דברים או שמעתים ואמר איך יאמר ירמיה על האלוק שלא צוונו ב’דברי עולה וזבח’ – ורוב ה’מצוות’ באו בזה? אמנם כונת המאמר הוא מה שבארתי לך וזה שהוא אמר שהכונה הראשונה אמנם היא – שתשיגוני ולא תעבדו זולתי ‘והייתי לכם לאלוקים ואתם תהיו לי לעם’; וזאת המצוה בהקרבה וכיון אל הבית אמנם היתה בעבור שתעלה בידיכם זאת הפינה ובעבורה העתקתי אלו העבודות לשמי עד שימחה שם ‘עבודה זרה’ ותתקים פנת יחודי; ובאתם אתם ובטלתם התכלית ההיא והתחזקתם במה שנעשה בעבודה והוא – שאתם ספקתם במציאותי “כחשו בה’ ויאמרו “לא הוא” ועבדתם ‘עבודה זרה’ “וקטר לבעל הלוך אחרי אלוקים אחרים… ובאתם אתם ובטלתם התכלית ההיא והתחזקתם כמה שנעשה בעבורה והוא – שאתם ספקתם במציאותי “כחשו בה’ ויאמרו “לוא הוא” ועבדתם ‘עבודה זרה’ “וקטר לבעל והלוך אחרי אלוקים אחרים… ובאתם אל הבית וגו'” – ונשארתם מכונים אל ‘היכל ה” ומקריבים הקרבנות אשר לא היו מכוונים אל ‘היכל ה” ומקריבים הקרבנות אשר לא היו מכוונים כמה ראשונה: ולי בפרוש זה ‘הפסוק’ פנים אחרים והוא מביא הענין בעצמו אשר זכרנוהו והוא שכבר התבאר בכתוב ובקבלה יחד שתחילת מצוה שנצטוינו בה לא היו בה ‘דברי עולה וזבח’ כלל ואין צריך שתטריד כלל שכלך ב’פסח מצרים’ כי היא היתה לסיבה מבוארת גלויה – כמו שאני עתיד לבאר; ועוד שהמצוה היתה ב’ארץ מצרים’ והמצוה הרמוז אליה בזה ה’פסוק’ ואמר ‘ביום הוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים’ – כי תחלת ‘צווי’ שבא אחר יציאת מצרים’ הוא מה שנצטוינו בו במרה – והוא אמרו לנו שם “אם שמעו תשמע לקול ה’ אלוקיך וגו’ “שם שם לו חוק ומשפט חוגו'” ובאה הקבלה האמיתית “שבת ודינין במרה אפקוד” – וה’חוק’ הרמוז אליו הוא ה’שבת’ וה’משפט’ הוא ה’דינים’ והוא הסרת העול. וזאת היא הכונה הראשונה כמו שבארנו – רצוני לומר אמונת הדעות האמיתיות והוא חידוש העולם. וכבר ידעת שעיקר מצות שבת אמנם היא – לחזק זאת הפינה ולקימה – כמו שבארנו בזה המאמר. והכונה עוד עם אמיתת הדעות – להסיר העול מבני אדם. הנה כבר התבאר לך שהמצוה הראשונה לא היו בה ‘דברי עולה וזבח’ – אחר שהם על צד הכונה השנית כמו שזכרנו: וזה הענין בעצמו אשר אמרו ירמיה הוא אשר נאמר בתהילים על צד ההוכחה לאומה כולה בסכלה אז הכונה הראשונה ולא היתה מבדלת בינה ובין הכונה השנית. – אמר “שמעה עמי ואדברה ישראל ואעידה בך אלוקים אלוקיך אנוכי לא על זבחיך אוכיחך ועולותיך לנגדי תמיד לא אקח מביתך פר ממכלאותיך – עתודים”. וכל מקום שנכפל זה הענין – זאת היא הכונה בו. והבינהו מאד והסתכל בו:

a. It is, namely, impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other: it is therefore according to the nature of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed. Now God sent Moses to make [the Israelites] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6) by means of the knowledge of God. Comp. “Unto thee it was showed that thou mightest know that the Lord is God (Deut. 4:35); “Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord is God” (ibid. 5:39). The Israelites were commanded to devote themselves to His service; comp. “and to serve him with all your heart” (ibid. 11:13); “and you shall serve the Lord your God” (Exod. 23:25); “and ye shall serve him” (Deut. 13:5).

b. But the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars, as has been explained by us. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used;

c. it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action. For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner; viz., to build unto Him a temple; comp. “And they shall make unto me a sanctuary” (Exod. 25:8); to have the altar erected to His name; comp. “An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me” (ibid. 20:21); to offer the sacrifices to Him; comp. “If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord” (Lev. 1:2), to bow down to Him and to burn incense before Him. He has forbidden to do any of these things to any other being; comp. “He who sacrificeth unto any God, save the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed” (Exod. 22:19); “For thou shalt bow down to no other God” (ibid. 34:14). He selected priests for the service in the temple; comp. “And they shall minister unto me in the priest’s office” (ibid. 28:41). He made it obligatory that certain gifts, called the gifts of the Levites and the priests, should be assigned to them for their maintenance while they are engaged in the service of the temple and its sacrifices. By this Divine plan it was effected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the Existence and Unity of God, was firmly established; this result was thus obtained without deterring or confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of the service to which they were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them.

d. I know that you will at first thought reject this idea and find it strange; you will put the following question to me in your heart: How can we suppose that Divine commandments, prohibitions, and important acts, which are fully explained, and for which certain seasons are fixed, should not have been commanded for their own sake, but only for the sake of some other thing: as if they were only the means which He employed for His primary object? What prevented Him from making His primary object a direct commandment to us, and to give us the capacity of obeying it? Those precepts which in your opinion are only the means and not the object would then have been unnecessary.

e. Hear my answer, which win cure your heart of this disease and will show you the truth of that which I have pointed out to you. There occurs in the Law a passage which contains exactly the same idea; it is the following: “God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt; but God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea,” etc. (Exod. 13:17). Here God led the people about, away from the direct road which He originally intended, because He feared they might meet on that way with hardships too great for their ordinary strength; He took them by another road in order to obtain thereby His original object. In the same manner God refrained from prescribing what the people by their natural disposition would be incapable of obeying, and gave the above-mentioned commandments as a means of securing His chief object, viz., to spread a knowledge of Him [among the people], and to cause them to reject idolatry. It is contrary to man’s nature that he should suddenly abandon all the different kinds of Divine service and the different customs in which he has been brought up, and which have been so general, that they were considered as a matter of course; it would be just as if a person trained to work as a slave with mortar and bricks, or similar things, should interrupt his work, clean his hands, and at once fight with real giants. It was the result of God’s wisdom that the Israelites were led about in the wilderness till they acquired courage.

f. For it is a well-known fact that travelling in the wilderness, and privation of bodily enjoyments, such as bathing, produce courage, whilst the reverse is the source of faint-heartedness: besides, another generation rose during the wanderings that had not been accustomed to degradation and slavery. All the travelling in the wilderness was regulated by Divine commands through Moses; comp. “At the commandment of the Lord they rested, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed; they kept the charge of the Lord and the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses” (Num. 9:23). In the same way the portion of the Law under discussion is the result of divine wisdom, according to which people are allowed to continue the kind of worship to which they have been accustomed, in order that they might acquire the true faith, which is the chief object [of God’s commandments]. You ask, What could have prevented God from commanding us directly, that which is the chief object, and from giving us the capacity of obeying it? This would lead to a second question, What prevented God from leading the Israelites through the way of the land of the Philistines, and endowing them with strength for fighting? The leading about by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night would then not have been necessary. A third question would then be asked in reference to the good promised as reward for the keeping of the commandments, and the evil foretold as a punishment for sins. It is the following question: As it is the chief object and purpose of God that we should believe in the Law, and act according to that which is written therein, why has He not given us the capacity of continually believing in it, and following its guidance, instead of holding out to us reward for obedience, and punishment for disobedience, or of actually giving all the predicted reward and punishment? For [the promises and the threats] are but the means of leading to this chief object. What prevented Him from giving us, as part of our nature, the will to do that which He desires us to do, and to abandon the kind of worship which He rejects? There is one general answer to these three questions, and to all questions of the same character: it is this: Although in every one of the signs [related in Scripture] the natural property of some individual being is changed, the nature of man is never changed by God by way of miracle. It is in accordance with this important principle that God said, “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me,” etc. (Deut. 5:26). It is also for this reason that He distinctly stated the commandments and the prohibitions, the reward and the punishment. This principle as regards miracles has been frequently explained by us in our works: I do not say this because I believe that it is difficult for God to change the nature of every individual person; on the contrary, it is possible, and it is in His power, according to the principles taught in Scripture; but it has never been His will to do it, and it never will be. If it were part of His will to change [at His desire] the nature of any person, the mission of prophets and the giving of the Law would have been altogether superfluous.

g. I now return to my theme. As the sacrificial service is not the primary object [of the commandments about sacrifice], whilst supplications, prayers, and similar kinds of worship are nearer to the primary object, and indispensable for obtaining it, a great difference was made in the Law between these two kinds of service. The one kind, which consists in offering sacrifices, although the sacrifices are offered to the name of God, has not been made obligatory for us to the same extent as it had been before. We were not commanded to sacrifice in every place, and in every time, or to build a temple in every place, or to permit any one who desires to become priest and to sacrifice. On the contrary, all this is prohibited unto us. Only one temple has been appointed, “in the place which the Lord shall choose” (Deut. 12:26); in no other place is it allowed to sacrifice: comp. “Take heed to thyself, that thou offer not thy burnt-offerings in every place that thou seest” (ibid. 5:13); and only the members of a particular family were allowed to officiate as priests. All these restrictions served to limit this kind of worship, and keep it within those bounds within which God did not think it necessary to abolish sacrificial service altogether. But prayer and supplication can be offered everywhere and by every person. The same is the case with the commandment of ẓiẓit (Num. 15:38); mezuzah (Deut. 6:9; 11:20); tefillin (Exod. 13:9, 16); and similar kinds of divine service.

(4) Because of this principle which I explained to you, the Prophets in their books are frequently found to rebuke their fellow-men for being over-zealous and exerting themselves too much in bringing sacrifices: the prophets thus distinctly declared that the object of the sacrifices is not very essential, and that God does not require them. Samuel therefore said, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:22)? Isaiah exclaimed, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord” (Isa. 1:11); Jeremiah declared: “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offering or sacrifices. But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my, voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Jer. 7:22, 23). This passage has been found difficult in the opinion of all those whose words I read or heard; they ask, How can Jeremiah say that God did not command us about burnt-offering and sacrifice, seeing so many precepts refer to sacrifice? The sense of the passage agrees with what I explained to you. Jeremiah says [in the name of God] the primary object of the precepts is this, Know me, and serve no other being; “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Lev. 26:12). But the commandment that sacrifices shall be brought and that the temple shall be visited has for its object the success of that principle among you; and for its sake I have transferred these modes of worship to my name; idolatry shall thereby be utterly destroyed, and Jewish faith firmly established. You, however, have ignored this object, and taken hold of that which is only the means of obtaining it; you have doubted my existence, “ye have denied the Lord, and said he is not” (Jer. 5:12); ye served idols; “burnt incense unto Baal, and walked after other gods whom ye know not. And come and stand before me in this house” (ibid. 7:9-10); i.e., you do not go beyond attending the temple of the Lord, and offering sacrifices: but this is not the chief object.–I have another way of explaining this passage with exactly the same result. For it is distinctly stated in Scripture, and handed down by tradition, that the first commandments communicated to us did not include any law at an about burnt-offering and sacrifice. You must not see any difficulty in the Passover which was commanded in Egypt; there was a particular and evident reason for that, as will be explained by me (chap. xlvi.). Besides it was revealed in the land of Egypt; whilst the laws to which Jeremiah alludes in the above passage are those which were revealed after the departure from Egypt. For this reason it is distinctly added, “in the day that I brought them out from the land of Egypt.” The first commandment after the departure from Egypt was given at Marah, in the following words, “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments” (Exod. 15:26).” There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them” (ibid. ver. 25). According to the true traditional explanation, Sabbath and civil laws were revealed at Marah: “statute” alludes to Sabbath, and “ordinance” to civil laws, which are the means of removing injustice. The chief object of the Law, as has been shown by us, is the teaching of truths; to which the truth of the creatio ex nihilo belongs. It is known that the object of the law of Sabbath is to confirm and to establish this principle, as we have shown in this treatise (Part. II. chap. xxxi.). In addition to the teaching of truths the Law aims at the removal of injustice from mankind. We have thus proved that the first laws do not refer to burnt-offering and sacrifice, which are of secondary importance. The same idea which is contained in the above passage from Jeremiah is also expressed in the Psalms, where the people are rebuked that they ignore the chief object, and make no distinction between chief and subsidiary lessons. The Psalmist says: “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt-offerings, they have been continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy folds” (Ps. 50:29).–Wherever this subject is mentioned, this is its meaning. Consider it well, and reflect on it.

——————–

Footnote on “If it Were Not a Written Verse it Could Not be Said /אלמלא מקרא כתוב אי אפשר לאמרו

see

משה הלברטל and Moshe Halbertal Tarbiẕ /תרביץ כרך סח‎, חוברת א‎ (תשרי-כסלו תשנ”ט), pp. 39-59 (21 pages) here

Abstract

The formula ‘If it were not a written verse it could not bee said’ is a sentence that introduces few statements in the Midrash. This rare formula serves as a conscious expression that something daring is about to be said, and that without the shield of a written verse it could not be said. The analysis of the occasions in which the ‘If it were not’ formula occurs is thus a key for our understanding of rabbinic religious sensitivities. The study of midrashim that are introduced with the formula yields the following conclusions: (1) in most cases the idea expressed by the midrash is actually not written in the verse in its straightforward meaning. The formula reveals therefore a circular nature: the interpreter creatively rereads the text, and then he states that if his interpretation weren’t already in the text he would not have dared to offer his reading; (2) in answer to the problem what is considered daring in the Midrash the following pattern is manifested: most of the midrashim that are introduced by such formula represent God in anthropomorphic metaphors in which God’s role is reversed and transformed. Anthropomorphic metaphors are usually drawn from hierarchical human structures, such as king and slaves, father and son, husband and wife, etc. God is always represented as the figure which is superior in the analogous social relationship; He is the husband, the king, the father, and so on. In midrashim that are introduced by the formula ‘If it were not’, God is represented as the inferior partner in the analogy — he is a slave, a student, a wife and a defendant in a trial. In these metaphors or parables Israel or the righteous are represented as the superior figure. Another form in which hierarchical metaphors are reversed is exhibited in the Midrashim that use metaphors from non-hierarchical relationship such as friends and twins. The last part of the essay is devoted to uncover the same pattern in other midrashim that are not introduced by the ‘If it were not’ formula, and to a discussion of the significance of this phenomenon in rabbinic religious thought.

See also: Torah min Hashamayim Ba-aspaklaria shel Hadorot (Theology of Ancient Judaism) Vols. 1-2, vol. 3 by Abraham Joshua Heschel; pages 191- 198 and in English Translation: Heavenly Torah as Refracted through the Generations by Gordon Tucker pp 223 – 235

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It’s just a Dream – Vayetze

This week’s madlik podcast:

What if the Hebrew Bible was just a dream? What happens if not only the narrative elements, but even the development of the law is taken as a dream sequence…. An unending imaginative visitation with ideas, concepts and laws that continue to challenge us? How would that change its meaning and relevance?  Would we study it differently?  Let’s take our ques from the great Maimonides and the Rabbis of the Talmud….

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Notes:

 

Guide for the Perplexed 48 http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp129.htm

Book II CHAPTER XLII

WE have already shown that the appearance or speech of an angel mentioned in Scripture took place in a vision or dream; it makes no difference whether this is expressly stated or not, as we have explained above. This is a point of considerable importance. In some cases the account begins by stating that the prophet saw an angel; in others, the account apparently introduces a human being, who ultimately is shown to be an angel; but it makes no difference, for if the fact that an angel has been heard is only mentioned at the end, you may rest satisfied that the whole account from the beginning describes a prophetic vision. In such visions, a prophet either sees God who speaks to him, as will be explained by us, or he sees an angel who speaks to him, or he hears some one speaking to him without seeing the speaker, or he sees a man who speaks to him, and learns afterwards that the speaker was an angel. In this latter kind of prophecies, the prophet relates that he saw a man who was doing or saying something, and that he learnt afterwards that it was an angel.

This important principle was adopted by one of our Sages, one of the most distinguished among them, R. Ḥiya the Great (Bereshit Rabba, xlviii 48.), in the exposition of the Scriptural passage commencing, “And the Lord appeared unto him in the plain of Mamre” (Gen. xviii.). The general statement that the Lord appeared to Abraham is followed by the description in what manner that appearance of the Lord took place; namely, Abraham saw first three men; he ran and spoke to them. R. Hiya, the author of the explanation, holds that the words of Abraham, “My Lord, if now I have found grace in thy sight, do not, I pray thee, pass from thy servant,” were spoken by him in a prophetic vision to one of the men; for he says that Abraham addressed these words to the chief of these men. Note this well, for it is one of the great mysteries [of the Law]. The same, I hold, is the case when it is said in reference to Jacob, “And a man wrestled with him” (Gen. xxxii. 25); this took place in a prophetic vision, since it is expressly stated in the end (ver. 31) that it was an angel. The circumstances are here exactly the same as those in the vision of Abraham, where the general statement, “And the Lord appeared to him,” etc., is followed by a detailed description. Similarly the account of the vision of Jacob begins, “And the angels of God met him” (Gen. xxxii. 2); then follows a detailed description how it came to pass that they met him; namely, Jacob sent messengers, and after having prepared and done certain things, “he was left alone,” etc., “and a man wrestled with him” (ibid. ver. 24). By this term “man” [one of] the angels of God is meant, mentioned in the phrase, “And angels of God met him”; the wrestling and speaking was entirely a prophetic vision. That which happened to Balaam on the way, and the speaking of the ass, took place in a prophetic vision, since further on, in the same account, an angel of God is introduced as speaking to Balaam. I also think that what Joshua perceived, when “he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold a man stood before him” (Josh. v. 13) was a prophetic vision, since it is stated afterwards (ver. 14) that it was “the prince of the host of the Lord.” But in the passages, “And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal” (Judges ii. 1); “And it came to pass that the angel of the Lord spake these words to all Israel” (ibid. ver. 2); the “angel” is, according to the explanation of our Sages, Phineas. They say, The angel is Phineas, for, when the Divine Glory rested upon him, he was “like an angel.” We have already shown (chap. vi.) that the term “angel” is homonymous, and denotes also “prophet,” as is the case in the following passages:–“And He sent an angel, and He hath brought us up out of Egypt” (Num. xx. 16); “Then spake Haggai, the angel of the Lord, in the Lords message” (Hagg. i. 13); “But they mocked the angels of [paragraph continues] God” (2 Chron. xxxvi. 16). Comp. also the words of Daniel, “And the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation” (Dan. ix. 11). All this passed in a prophetic vision. Do not imagine that an angel is seen or his word heard otherwise than in a prophetic vision or prophetic dream, according to the principle laid down:–“I make myself known unto him in a vision, and speak unto him in a dream” (Num. xii. 6). The instances quoted may serve as an illustration of those passages which I do not mention. From the rule laid down by us that prophecy requires preparation, and from our interpretation of the homonym “angel,” you will infer that Hagar, the Egyptian woman, was not a prophetess; also Manoah and his wife were no prophets: for the speech they heard, or imagined they heard, was like the bat-kol (prophetic echo), which is so frequently mentioned by our Sages, and is something that may be experienced by men not prepared for prophecy. The homonymity of the word “angel” misleads in this matter. This is the principal method by which most of the difficult passages in the Bible can be explained. Consider the words, “And an angel of the Lord found her by the well of water” (Gen. xvi. 7), which are similar to the words referring to Joseph–“And a man found him, and behold, he was erring in the field” (ibid. xxxvii. 15). All the Midrashim assume that by man in this passage an angel is meant.

CHAPTER XLI

I NEED not explain what a dream is, but I will explain the meaning of the term mareh, “vision,” which occurs in the passage: “In a vision (be-mareh) do I make myself known unto him” (Num. xii. 6). The term signifies that which is also called mareh ha-nebuah, “prophetic vision,” yad ha-shem, “the hand of God,” and maḥazeh, “a vision.” It is something terrible and fearful which the prophet feels while awake, as is distinctly stated by

Daniel: “And I saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me, for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength” (Dan, x. 8). He afterwards continues, “Thus was I in deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground” (ibid. ver. 9). But it was in a prophetic vision that the angel spoke to him and “set him upon his knees.” Under such circumstances the senses cease to act, and the [Active Intellect] influences the rational faculties, and through them the imaginative faculties, which become perfect and active. Sometimes the prophecy begins with a prophetic vision, the prophet greatly trembles, and is much affected in consequence of the perfect action of the imaginative faculty: and after that the prophecy follows. This was the case with Abraham. The commencement of the prophecy is, “The word of the Lord came to Abraham in a vision” (Gen. xv. 1); after this, “a deep sleep fell upon Abraham”; and at last, “he said unto Abraham,” etc. When prophets speak of the fact that they received a prophecy, they say that they received it from an angel, or from God; but even in the latter case it was likewise received through an angel. Our Sages, therefore, explain the words, “And the Lord said unto her” that He spake through an angel. You must know that whenever Scripture relates that the Lord or an angel spoke to a person, this took place in a dream or in a prophetic vision.

Following Chapter: CHAPTER XLIII

WE have already shown in our work that the prophets sometimes prophesy in allegories; they use a term allegorically, and in the same prophecy the meaning of the allegory is given. In our dreams, we sometimes believe that we are awake, and relate a dream to another person, who explains the meaning, and all this goes on while we dream. Our Sages call this “a dream interpreted in a dream.” Babylonian Talmud, Berakot 55b …

Book I Chapter II

….every Hebrew knows that the term Elohim is a homonym, and denotes God, angels, judges, and the rulers of countries,…

Babylonian Talmud 55b

אמר רב חסדא

Rab Hisda said :

כל חלום ולא טוות

[There is no reality in] any dream without a fast.

ואמר רב חסדא

Rab Hisda also said :

חלמא דלא מפשר כאגרתא דלא מקריא

An uninterpreted dream is like an unread letter.

ואמר רב חסדא

Rab Hisda also said :

לא חלמא טבא מקיים כוליה ולא חלמא בישא מקיים כוליה

Neither a good nor a bad dream is fulfilled in every detail.

ואמר רב חסדא

Rab Hisda also said :

חלמא בישא עדיף מחלמא טבא

A bad dream is preferable to a good dream.

וא”ר חסדא

Rab Hisda also said :

חלמא בישא עציבותיה מסתייה חלמא טבא חדויה מסתייה

When a dream is bad, the pain it causes is sufficient [to prevent its fulfilment], and when the dream is good, the joy it brings is sufficient.

אמר רב יוסף

Rab Joseph said :

חלמא טבא אפילו לדידי בדיחותיה מפכחא ליה

As for a good dream, even in my own case, its cheerfulness frustrates it [so that it is not realised].

ואמר רב חסדא

Rab Hisda also said :

חלמא בישא קשה מנגדא שנאמר (קהלת ג, יד) והאלהים עשה שייראו מלפניו ואמר רבה בר בר חנה א”ר יוחנן

A bad dream is worse than scourging ; as it is said, “God hath so made it that men should fear before Him” (Eccles. 3:14), and Rabbah b. Bar Hannah said in the name of R. Johanan :

זה חלום רע

This refers to a bad dream.

(ירמיהו כג, כח) הנביא אשר אתו חלום יספר חלום ואשר דברי אתו ידבר דברי אמת מה לתבן את הבר נאם ה’ וכי מה ענין בר ותבן אצל חלום

“The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream ; and he that hath My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What hath the straw to do with the wheat ? saith the Lord” (Jer. 23:28). What connection has “straw and wheat” with a dream ?

אלא אמר ר’ יוחנן משום ר’ שמעון בן יוחי

But said R. Johanan in the name of R. Simeon b. Johai :

כשם שאי אפשר לבר בלא תבן כך אי אפשר לחלום בלא דברים בטלים

Just as one cannot have wheat without straw, similarly it is impossible for a dream to be without something that is vain.

אמר ר’ ברכיה

Berekiah said :

חלום אף על פי שמקצתו מתקיים כולו אינו מתקיים מנא לן מיוסף דכתיב (בראשית לז, ט) והנה השמש והירח וגו’

A dream, though it be fulfilled in part, is never completely realised. Whence is this learnt? From Joseph; for it is written, “And behold the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me” (Gen. 37:9);

One of them commenced and said :

 האי מאן דחזא חלמא ולא ידע מאי חזא ליקום קמי כהני בעידנא דפרסי ידייהו ולימא הכי

He who has seen a dream and knows not what he has seen, let him stand before the Kohanim at the time that they spread their hands [to pronounce the priestly benediction] and utter the following :

רבש”ע אני שלך וחלומותי שלך חלום חלמתי ואיני יודע מה הוא בין שחלמתי אני לעצמי ובין שחלמו לי חבירי ובין שחלמתי על אחרים אם טובים הם חזקם ואמצם כחלומותיו של יוסף ואם צריכים רפואה רפאם כמי מרה על ידי משה רבינו וכמרים מצרעתה וכחזקיהו מחליו וכמי יריחו על ידי אלישע וכשם שהפכת קללת בלעם הרשע לברכה כן הפוך כל חלומותי עלי לטובה ומסיים בהדי כהני דעני צבורא אמן

Lord of the universe ! I am Thine and my dreams are Thine ; a dream have I dreamed and I know not what it is. Whether I dreamed concerning myself, or my fellows dreamed concerning me, or I dreamed concerning others, if they be good dreams, strengthen and fortify them [and may they be fulfilled] like the dreams of Joseph ; but if they require to be remedied, heal them as the waters of Marah [were healed] by the hands of Moses our teacher, as Miriam [was healed] from her leprosy, as Hezekiah from his illness, and like the waters of Jericho [sweetened] by the hands of Elisha. And as Thou didst turn the curse of the wicked Balaam into a blessing, so do Thou turn all my dreams for me into good.” He should conclude [his prayer] simultaneously with the Kohanim, so that the Congregation responds “Amen.”

Musical selection: Neshama Carlebach singing her father’s Beshaim Hashem

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/haneshama-shel-shlomo/id475868578

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be still

 

parshat Shemini

What’s the original sin? Eating fruit of the forbidden tree… Well not exactly. The first sin was that Eve fell for the oldest trick in the book.. adding, embellishing, improving on God’s laws.

You know the joke:

Said God to Moses: “Don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk!” Moses replied, “You mean you don’t want us to make cheeseburgers? “Said God, mildly shocked and bewildered, “I just said — not a kid in the milk of its mother!” Moses frowned, twirled his beard, and responded, “You mean, don’t even use the same plates for cheese & meat?” God’s face reddened. “Just don’t boil a kid in the milk of its mother”! Said Moses, “My God! You mean we have to wait six whole hours after eating meat before we can have some milk?” God threw the Divine Arms wide into the Cosmos: “Have it your own way, Moses!” And so we do. (quoted in Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Down to Earth Judaism)

Well that was Eve’s sin… no joke. God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the fruit but when the snake tempted her she said to the snake:

But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said: Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.’ (Genesis 3:3)

According to the tradition, Eve unconsciously added a chumra (a stringency): “neither shall ye touch it” and when the snake pushed her against the tree and nothing happened she succumbed. Or as Rashi comments: “She added to the command [of God], therefore she ended up by reducing it, that is what is meant (Proverbs 30:6) “Add thou not unto His words.””

Moral of the story: If Eve had not been such a “frummer” we could still be in Paradise..

Typically, the overly zealous put up multiple “fences around the Torah” in order to assure that they not be tempted to sin. But there are incidents when in our excitement and adulation of the holy, we gets carried away and add to a mitzvah.. a positive commandment.

Maimonides writes in the Guide for the Perplexed:

You also know their famous dictum would that all dicta were like it. …. They have said: (Babylonian Talmud Berakhoth, 33b) Someone who came into the presence of Rabbi Haninah said [in leading the Silent Prayer – Shemona Esrei prayer]: God the Great, the Valiant, the Terrible, the Mighty, the Strong, the Tremendous, the Powerful. Thereupon [Rabbi Haninah] said to him: Have you finished all the praises of your Master? Even as regards the first three epithets [used by all Jews at the beginning of the Silent Prayer]


we could not have uttered them if Moses our Master had not pronounced them in the Law’ and if the men of the Great Synagogue had not [subsequently] come and established [their use] in prayer. And you come and say all this. What does this resemble? It is as if a mortal king who had millions of gold pieces were praised for possessing silver. Would this not be an offense to him? Here ends the dictum of this perfect one.

… Consider also that he has stated clearly that if we were left only to our intellects we should never have mentioned these attributes or stated a thing appertaining to them. Yet the necessity to address men in such terms as would make them achieve some representation – in accordance with the dictum of the sages: The Torah speaks in the language of the sons of man (Babylonian Talmud Yevamoth, 71a Baba Metziah 31b), obliged resort to predicating of God their own perfections when speaking to them. It must then be our purpose to draw a line at using these expressions and not to apply them to Him except only in reading the Torah. However, as the men of the Great Synagogue, who were prophets, appeared in their turn and inserted the mention of these attributes in the prayer, it is our purpose to pronounce only those attributes when saying our prayers. …

Thus what we do is not like what is done by the truly ignorant who spoke at great length and spent great efforts on prayers that they composed and on sermons that they compiled and through which they, in their opinion, came nearer to God. …. This kind of license is frequently taken by poets and preachers or such as think that what they speak is poetry, so that the utterances of some of them constitute an absolute denial of faith, while other utterances contain such rubbish and such perverse imaginings as to make men laugh when they hear them, on account of the nature of these utterances, and to make them weep when they consider that these utterances are applied to God, may He be magnified and glorified. ….

I have then already made it known to you that everything in these attributes that you regard as a perfection is a deficiency with regard to Him, … Solomon, peace be on him, has rightly directed us with regard to this subject, in words that should be sufficient for us, when he said: For God is in heaven and thou upon the earth; therefore let thy words be few (Ecclesiasticus 5:1)

Silence: The most apt phrase concerning! this subject is the dictum occurring in the Psalms, Silence is praise to Thee (Psalms. 65:2) which interpreted signifies: silence with regard to You is praise. …. Accordingly, silence and limiting oneself to the apprehensions of the intellects are more appropriate – just as the perfect ones have enjoined when they said: Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. (Psalms. 4:5)

(Guide for the Perplexed I 59)

Maimonides is clearly an early proponent of short Synagogue services … with an emphasis on silent meditation and concise sermons. Consistent with Maimonides’ belief that many laws (such as the Tabernacle) were commanded by God to accommodate our limited intellect (see previous post honor thy sources), so too are the theological references in our prayers and holy texts a necessary evil. Had they not been written we could not have written them. To Maimonides, all of religion and ritual is an unfortunate but necessary embellishment.

This critique of theology and ritual is actually a huge paradigm shift. It creates an entirely new way to look at God’s commandments. A commandment or Mitzvah is not so much an obligation imposed upon us by a divine decree as it is a permit by the divine to say or do something in the name of God. Just as… when we make a blessing before eating an apple.. we are actually getting permission to enjoy the fruits of God’s creation, so too, when we make a blessing on a mitzvah.. we are getting permission to indulge in a ritual.

By way of example, imagine if there was no command for tefillin and you saw an individual roll up a few scrolls, put them in little leather boxes and wrap them with straps around his or her arm and head… in the name of God Almighty. Such a person could be labeled a blasphemer, Idol Worshiper or just plain crazy. It is only because this very strange ritual is commanded in the Torah that we have the right to do such an act. With regard to prayer… had we not been commanded we would be forbidden to open our mouths… in other words… You literally can’t make this stuff up… you can only do it if you were commanded.

This bias explains the fate of Aaron’s sons:

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron: ‘This is it that the LORD spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh unto Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron was still. (Leviticus 10: 1-2)

The key phrase is “which He had not commanded them”. To create one’s own rituals is not simply superfluous, it is blasphemy.

But it goes one step further. Embellishing ritual is also the ultimate hubris. According to the R. Samuel David Luzzatto the sin of Nadab and Abihu was pride.

According to Luzzatto, the “strange fire” (aish zara) was simply fire that Nadab and Abihu brought with them from outside (zara as-in “outsider”)… they wanted to prove, in front of the whole community, that their offering was accepted.. and just in case God did not choose to send down the fire… they brought their own.

Understand… at its core, observing a Divine command is the ultimate hubris.

There is a profound lesson here. When a human being presents him/herself as complying with a divine commandment or living in accordance with a religious practice.. if there was no divine commandment then it is heresy… but even if it was commanded.. there is an overwhelming temptation to indulge in pride. Ironically, religion, which values humility, is itself, probably the oldest and most powerful source of hubris, especially if combined with outward success…. If your sacrifice is accepted.

I studied at a Mussar Yeshiva called Beer Yaakov, and if a student who had previously shaved, grew a beard and/or payos the Mosgiach (spiritual guide.. as opposed to the Rosh HaYeshiva), R. Shlomo Wolbe z’l would call him over and ask why he had all of a sudden become a tzadik. The phrase used in the Yeshiva was al tihye tzadik harbe… “don’t be such a tzadik”.

Although Rav Wolbe did not follow this school, there was a large but nowadays, largely unknown radical school of mussar known as Nevardok whose followers are called Nevardokers. This school, novelized by the great Yiddish writer, Chaim Grade in his book The Yeshiva, had a unique outlook on humility, stressing the wearing of tattered clothing and total negation of ego and the physical world.

It is widely reported that students of Novardok participated in deliberately humiliating behavior, such as going to a bakery and asking for a box of nails, or wearing a tie made out of hay (?). (see wikipedia: Novardok Yeshiva).

“What made Novardok unique in the yeshiva world was the emphasis on ‘working on values’ – not merely studying Torah but correcting imperfections of the soul. Pride was considered to be the worst imperfection, and our goal was a state of ‘indifference’ – remaining completely unmoved in the face of both praise and criticism.” (See Novarodok: A Movement That Lived in Struggle and Its Unique Approach to the Problem of Man, by Meir Levin (Sara Netanyahu’s father) and review in Haaretz)

Although I could not find a source… I recollect being told that some extreme Nevardokers would try to further embarrass and humble themselves by appearing to break a commandment… such as appearing to desecrate the Shabbat by stepping onto a street trolley (only to surreptitiously exit from the other side before the trolley moved). If this is true (reader: I’d be grateful for a source)… then the Nevardokers truly understood and attempted to neutralize the inherent hubris contained in living a Holy (let alone holier-then-thou) life.

We are reminded of all the great Hasidic stories that celebrate the simple, unlearned and many times, unobservant Jew for the purity of a simple moment of faith or action. We are reminded of stories of great Tzadikim such as Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement… who temporarily went under-cover to explore the world as a simple Jew. The Nevardokers went one step further…and followed in the footsteps of their founder, Yisrael Salanter (the other Yisrael), by living, on a day to day basis… an observant life… unobserved.

Nadab and Avihu and possibly Adam and Eve sinned and perished doing what most of us involved in religion, spirituality and anything ending in “ism” are guilty of…. Embellishing the ideal and succumbing to thoughts of enlightened superiority. The Nevardokers suggested an examined life with a goal of achieving true humility. Maimonides, and Aaron tragically got it right:

be still

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