Torah Knowledge For Non-Jews Vol. 1

Site: Academy of Shem
Course: Academy of Shem
Book: Torah Knowledge For Non-Jews Vol. 1
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Date: Tuesday, 11 August 2020, 1:47 PM

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DISCLAIMER

Noahide Nations has an extraordinarily high level of confidence in the content of the Torah teachings provided by our Rabbis and Instructors.  However, any views and opinions expressed in these teachings do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Noahide Nations, the Academy of Shem or the International Torah Fellowship.

Table of contents

1. Introduction to the Noahide Laws

The observance of the Noachide Laws is an obligation upon all non-Jews. These laws, the first six, were first given to Adam in the Garden of Eden.1 Later, after the flood, these laws were again given, this time to Noah with the addition of the seventh law2 were again given, this time to Noah with the addition of the seventh law-the prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal.  They were passed down from Noah to his sons, but as in the generation of the flood the Noachide laws were generally abandoned. Only a very small group continued to obey these laws. The line of Shem kept them alive through a particular strain of his line, which culminated in a man named Avraham.

Avraham was the progenitor of many nations including the Ishmaelites and the Edomites. Avraham is best known as the father of the Jewish people. During Avraham’s day there were very few that continued to observe the Noachide laws. Among those that did, other than Avraham and his sons, were Shem and Ever who lived into the life of Avraham’s grandson Ya’acov.

After the children of Israel were freed from Egypt they made their way to Mt. Sinai. At Mt. Sinai they received the Torah. According to the Rambam3 (among others) not only was the Torah received; but God reiterated His command that the Noachide Laws must be observed by non-Jews. “This applies only when he accepts them and fulfills them because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah and informed us through Moses, our teacher, that even previously, Noah’s descendants were commanded to fulfill them.”4 The Rambam states an essential understanding of the Sages. The reason non-Jews must observe the Noachide Laws is because God commanded them at Sinai, not because Adam or Noah observed or received them previously.5The same thinking is behind why Jews circumcise themselves, not because Avraham was circumcised, but because at Mt. Sinai God commanded circumcision.

Many people will find this astonishing. The simple truth is that the natures of the revelations before Mt. Sinai paled in comparison. It was at Mt. Sinai that God did something unique in human history. He revealed himself not to an individual or to a handful of people, but to an entire nation! According to the Torah6 this is an event that has never occurred before or will ever happen again.The unique nature of the revelation at Mt. Sinai and the weight that this revelation carried forever set the standard of revelatory truth. No age or people have seen its like. This means that Sinai holds a special place in the history of humanity, and the Authority of Sinai is as unique and final as the revelation itself. This is why the Rambam, in line with the great Sages before him, holds the above position on the Noachide laws and the laws of the Jewish people (that they are now obligatory because of Sinai not because they were previously given).

The Jewish people are known for being a nation of scholars. This is because their laws require very careful examination and contemplation. As the Psalmist says, “the law of the LORD is perfect.” The perfect Torah is best realized when it is turned into action. Study for the love of God and his Torah, but turn that study into action. In this way the Torah of God perfects the individual.

The Noachide ought to study the Noachide Laws with the same fervor a Jew studies the Torah Laws. Though a Jewish person may study all of the Torah with equal amounts of fervor, the non-Jew ought to focus his energies on what will aid in understanding the Noachide Laws. The Noachide Laws require a minimum level of behavior from the Noachide. Left on its own minimal observance of the Noachide Laws will get a Noahide a place in the world to come, however it will not perfect him. Perfection for the Noahide requires more, but doing this minimum gets one Eternity; it is still imperfect and a waste of one's life not to pursue more, such as doing acts of loving kindness for others, avoiding mean speech, etc. etc.A life without prayer is hardly perfect, either.However, these are things that Noahides are not required to do. However it is important for Noachides to work on self-perfection, which is of benefit both to him and to mankind.

Punishment in the Noachide Laws
Many are shocked when they first study the Noachide Laws and learn that for any violation of the Noachide Laws the Noachide is punished with death.7 Two other factors make this hard to believe. This is not so for the Jewish people.

This is potentially the most difficult issue to get over. It is also the issue that brings the greatest amount of criticism against the Noachide Laws and those who live by it. Theft, for example, is not viewed as a capital punishment crime in our society. Nor does it seem to be the case in the Jewish world. However, some places punish rape by death, and it is "theft"; just like kidnapping.8

It is important when struggling with any issue in Judaism and specifically in Halachah to consider the God's outlook as a whole and not in piecemeal form. There are several instances in the Torah where it seems like we are viewing an overly harsh command from God. For example, the rebellious son in the Torah is someone who is executed for rebelling against his parents. Many parents are horrified by this idea recognizing their own “rebellious” children. In the mind of many they are struck by the horror of putting to death their children for something as natural as teenage angst.9

Justice
Justice must be the basis of any law. It is the foundation of creation itself. The “laws” of the natural world were created to allow for the things in creation to function. If there are no laws, there is no reality. Without a particular way of how things work knowledge of any kind would be impossible.

Human relationships could not exist if not for law. Law is an explanation of how we ought to behave towards one another. This is true whether the relationship is between man and man or between man and God.

Mercy
Mercy is the element that keeps Justice from devouring the universe. Absolute justice has no room for imperfect human beings. Mercy tempers justice. Only by combining justice and mercy can human beings have courts that are truly just.

Justice, Mercy and the Noachide Laws
The Torah of Israel was never meant to be an oppressive instrument. In fact, its purpose has always been to perfect the individual and create a world where people act in brotherhood with one another. Challenges to this claim are the seeming harshness of the Noachide Laws. The Lack of minimum amounts and the automatic death penalty of each of the Laws encourage a perspective of injustice in some toward the Torah.

As we see in the Torah Laws of the Jewish people God is both just and merciful. The purpose of the courts is to be a force for good. Their primary focus is to be teachers of the Law not executioners.

Even under the Noachide system attaining a capital conviction is nearly impossible. How many times are we even able to provide one eye witness for a crime? The purpose of punishment in the Torah is to instill the fear of Hashem in human beings. However, such punishments are rarely carried out. A Sanhedrin that kills one person in 70 years is called a “bloody” Sanhedrin.

Hashem desires us to live so that we can turn away from sin and draw close to him. A person who is dead can no longer serve Hashem. For those who still feel that the punishment for Noachide offenses are cruel and blood thirsty let them point to specific examples of cruelty and bloodthirstiness within the Observant Jewish communities (as a result of their Torah). They will never find such examples.

Conclusion
The Noachide Laws have been the standard that God has judged humanity by since he first created us. It is by that standard that nations rise and fall, their reward and punishment based on their adherence or rejection of those laws.

In our world when confusion over the complexity of religion prevents us from attaining a relationship with God and our fellow human beings. It is reassuring to know that God’s plan for us is straight forward and that he has set forth his Torah and its laws that guide and establish perfection, peace and unity for all human beings.10

1. Rambam, Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamoteihem 9:1 (Moznaim Publishing Corporation. New York/Jerusalem) 1987.All references to Hilchot Melachim are taken directly from this version unless specified otherwise.

2. ibid.

3. Hilchot Melachim 8:10-11

4. Hilchot Melachim 9:1

5. This would be true even if an independent tradition from the Jewish tradition of the Noahide laws existed. However, no such tradition exists. We only know of the obligation and the Noahide Laws because of Jewish oral traditions.

6. Exodus 34:10, Deuteronomy 4:34

7. Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot 9:12

8. Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot 10:5 and the means of execution is always decapitation “except in cases when he has slept with the wife of a Jew or a betrothen maiden (ibid).”

9. Of course, the circumstances under which a child could be put to death for violation of this law are so limited that so far no one has been put to death for it.

10 “Its ways are pleasant ways and all its paths are Peace (Proverbs 3:17).”

1.1. What is Torah?

When the word Torah is used it is meant in several ways. These different meanings often create some amount of confusion. The confusion disappears the better one understands what is meant by Torah and when and how these different meanings ought to be applied. When we speak of Torah we might mean it one of several ways. The first way refers specifically to the first five books of Moshe Rabbenu (Moses our Teacher)—Bereishit through Devarim (Genesis through Deuteronomy).

Another way is to speak of the oral Torah. At Mt. Sinai God gave the children of Israel two Torahs, a written Torah and an oral Torah. Although the written Torah tells the Jewish people what they should do; it is often unclear how they should do it. Part of the difficulty of how to do something is by not understanding meaning in words. When the Torah says, “…the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt do no labor.”1 The question is immediately asked what does the word labor mean, what is it, how do we define it so as not to break this commandment? “The basic task of the oral law, therefore, was to transmit the meaning of words.”2 Only with the aid of the Talmud, a document that is able to recall through the shifting traditions of time, are the Jewish people able to understand labor in its original meaning, the meaning that existed at Mt. Sinai. Therefore, the Jew is able to know with certainty what activities are forbidden. Those that do not possess this knowledge are forced to make up their own oral law to determine what is considered labor, such as those in the Seventh Day Adventist and Kairite movements, and then keep this law according to their current cultural understanding of labor, and not according to the real meaning of the word.

Although many would claim that the oral Torah is an invention by the Rabbis. Anyone that actually tries to keep the Torah is forced, in some way, to create their own oral law. Even groups like the Karites, Jews who claim only the written Torah is from God, are forced to invent their own oral tradition. It is clear, then, that the Jewish people’s claim of an oral Torah is not unfounded or unreasonable. This oral Torah is just as important to non-Jews as it is to the Jewish people since it is the oral Torah that tells us, specifically, about the Noachide Laws and all the needed details of them.

We could also say we are studying Torah if we are studying any of the other parts of the Tanach, Torah, prophets, and writings; these three sections comprise what many people call the “Old Testament,” which is a theologically charged word that makes the Tanach seem ’old hat’. This is why those aligned with Judaism typically refer to in the non-insulting more accurate way as the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew Scriptures is composed of the Torah (teaching), Nevaim (prophets), and the Ketuvim (writings). Together these words are referred to as the TaNa”Kh, we arrive at TaNa”Kh by putting together from the first letters of each of the words and hence we have TaNa”Kh or Tanak or Tanach. There are several different ways to write it. The Nevaim (prophets) and the Chituviim (writings) can also be referred together to separate it from the Torah. The prophets and writings without the Torah is called the Na”kh. When one studies Tanach they are studying Torah. This is because the Tanach either explains or gives us examples of the Torah in action. Therefore, anything written in the Nach (prophets and writings) cannot contradict or present something new to the Torah.The Tanach aids the student of the Noachide laws. Each of the Noachide laws are found somewhere within, which helps us know how to apply them better. It also demonstrates the consequences of disobedience to these laws, as well as the reward for obeying.3 Even better, often Nach lights the fire under people to inspire them to action.

The final way that Torah is meant is to refer to anything that helps expand our understanding of God’s Torah. Whether we study astronomy or physics, or even philosophy if this study is meant to aid in our understanding and appreciation of Torah it too is called studying Torah.

As we see Torah is meant in four ways. It is meant as written Torah, Oral Torah, Nach, and finally as secular matters studied for the sake of understanding Torah. This clarity on the use of the word Torah will aid the Torah student in future studies. When reading the word Torah it is important to determine which of these definitions is meant.

1. Exodus 20:10

2. Steinsaltz, 11

3. The Book of Jonah shows us how repentance can overturn an evil decree. The city, Nineveh, was a non-Jewish city. Nebuchadnezzar, in the book of Daniel, was turned into a wild animal as punishment for his actions; however, he was able to hold off this decree for a time by giving to charity.

1.2. What is Halachah? (Law)

Unlike the term Torah, halachah is meant only one way. We mean the law or quite literally “the way to go.” Halachah is the law that tells us how we ought to behave under certain circumstances. It tells us what we must and must not do.

Although the Seven Noachide laws are prohibitions,1 i.e. negative commandments, there is an aspect although not required but recommended that if observed will perfect the individual. People abstain from many of the prohibitions of the Seven Noachide laws for reasons other than they are an obligation. Some of those reasons might be, fear of social reaction, custom, government policies or because it makes sense philosophically. This abstention is good because it keeps society in order. But mere abstention does not perfect the individual nor make one a better servant of God.

That is why for someone to perfect themselves the other side of each of the laws must be considered. Someone that does not worship other gods has fully kept the prohibition against idolatry. However, they have not drawn any closer to God. Only if both abstention from idolatry and active worship of God is performed by the Noachide is he able to reap the perfecting benefits of Torah and draw closer to God.

1. The Law to establish courts of justice is actually both positive and negative. “Establish courts of justice” is the positive aspect and “do not pervert justice” is the negative aspect.

1.3. Idolatry


The first Noachide law is the prohibition against idolatry. If we were to list the prohibition that is the most fundamental in the Torah it is the prohibition against idolatry. Just as God’s existence is an essential axiom of the Torah that He is one is just as essential. Although God’s existence is not really treated in the Torah (because it is assumed), that He is One is. His unity is treated in the Torah mainly because it is so often either misunderstood or perverted by human beings.1


When we strive to understand something what is it that we are, essentially trying to understand? When we are reading a work what is it that the author wishes to communicate? The message of the Torah doesn’t seem that it could be any clearer. There is one God. According to the Rambam, Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, “For it is the principal object of the Law and the axis round which it turns, to blot out these opinions from man‘s heart and make the existence of idolatry impossible.”2

This is not just a God of a particular people, Israel, but the God of all mankind. In fact the goal of all should be the destruction of idolatry. Thus the Rambam says, “the actual abolition of idolatry is expressed in the following passage: ’Ye shall destroy their altars, and burn their groves in fire’ (Deut. vii. 5), ’and ye shall destroy their name,’ etc. (xii. 3). These two things are frequently repeated; they form the principal and first object of the whole Law, as our Sages distinctly told us in their traditional explanation of the words ’all that God commanded you by the hand of Moses’ (Num. xv. 23); for they say, ’Hence we learn that those who follow idolatry deny as it were their adhesion [probably too fancy a word for the general reader] to the whole Law, and those who reject idolatry follow as it were the whole Law.’ (B.T. Kidd, 40a) Note it.”3 Essentially the Hebrew Scriptures teach us that God is one, and nothing else is to be worshiped, even as an intermediary between us and the One God.

God’s unity is understood in three parts. First God is alone. Second, God is non-corporeal (not physical). Finally, God has a unique identity. Each of these parts must be examined separately.

God is alone.
The Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto, explained in his “The Way of God” that “It is impossible that there exist more than one being whose existence is intrinsically imperative. Only one being can possibly exist with this necessarily perfect essence, and therefore the only reason all other things have the possibility of existence is that God wills them to exist. All other things therefore depend on Him and do not have intrinsic existence” (Ramchal, 35).4

In his work the Ramchal is summing up these important arguments to give us a manageable framework within which we can understand certain things about God. These things are imperative in a quest for truth—specifically in religion. The Ramchal has expressed very beautifully the core understanding of Judaism. God is uniquely One, His existence is necessary because without it nothing else could exist.5

Some, such as Hindus, assume an eternal and not-created World "birthed" by another; this is not illogical, but starts with entirely different assumptions that are problematic, since it appears "objectively" that the Universe is not eternal but has a start.

God is non-corporeal
In the history of monotheism, which began with Adam and continues to this day, the beginning of error often begins by attributing some type of physical existence to God. Such error is often the result of misunderstandings of passages in the Torah such as God sees or stands, or knows.

At times the teachers of Israel have had to correct these misunderstandings. The Rambam in “The Guide for the Perplexed” covers this issue in great detail. According to the Rambam, “We have stated, in one of the chapters of this treatise, that there is a great difference between bringing to view the existence of a thing and demonstrating its true essence.”6 The fact that God existed and his essence, what He is, are often confused with physical bodies since, “That God exists was therefore shown to ordinary men by means of similes taken from physical bodies; that He is living, by a simile taken from motion, because ordinary men consider only the body as fully, truly, and undoubtedly existing; that which is connected with a body but is itself not a body, although believed to exist, has a lower degree of existence on account of its dependence on the body for existence. That, however, which is neither itself a body, nor a force within a body, is not existent according to man’s first notions, and is above all excluded from the range of imaginations.” and he goes on to say, “…The perception by the senses, especially by hearing and seeing, is best known to us; we have no idea or notion of any other mode of communication between the soul of one person and that of another than by means of speaking, i.e., by the sound produced by lips, tongue, and the other organs of speech. When, therefore, we are to be informed that God has a knowledge of things, and that communication is made by Him to the Prophets who convey it to us, they represent Him to us as seeing and hearing, i.e., as perceiving and knowing those things which can be seen or heard. They represent Him to us as speaking, i.e., that communications from Him reach the Prophets; that is to be understood by the term “prophecy,” as will be fully explained.”7

The Rambam’s meaning is that since human beings are limited in their knowledge of existence because we only have and express knowledge through our senses. Human beings often misunderstand the figures of speech in the Tanach about God. Therefore, when we say that God spoke to a prophet it is often understood by most people that God spoke to that prophet through the same organs of communication that we use to communicate with other humans. This is one of the origins of idolatry—wrongly attributing human activities to God. That is why the term ‘prophecy’ will be explained, later in the Rambam's book “The Guide for the Perplexed, to make it clear what is meant by communication between God and a prophet.8

God has a unique identity.
No other religion can make the claims of uniqueness that the God of Israel can. This unique identity is absolutely necessary when knowing the true God. Although there are religions that have claimed to be, in some way, servants of the same God as the one professed by the Jewish people, they cannot escape that God has established for Himself a unique identity. This identity is intrinsically connected with the Exodus and Sinai experiences. Not only that, but God is the God of the children of Israel. Although He is the God of all humanity, God identifies Himself with Israel since it is to them that He gave His Torah.

It is through this Torah, as said above, that all nations gain blessing and knowledge of God. Anyone that claims that their god is the same as the God of the Sinai revelation but this god was not known to the Children of Israel at Sinai, or that this god has a different chosen people, or that there is nothing holy about the Torah or that the Torah today is not the same as the Torah of yesterday, or claims that it is not necessary to keep the Torah, this person does not serve the same God of the Jewish people, and has misunderstood something essential about God.9

Other “gods”
God addresses Himself to the people of Israel on the issue of the other gods, those that the nations have created for themselves. God makes it clear that His unity is absolute. None of the gods of the nations10 can make any claim that God can. Not only that, God makes a stronger claim, that the other "gods" are not real at all, but just images of people's invention.

The Universal God
It is a mistake to think that God is the God of only one particular people. That was the claim of the pagan societies. Every people and culture possessed their gods. The powers of these gods were seen to rise and fall with that of their people. Typically the failure of a god to protect its people from the ill fortunes of war led to the people abandoning their god and serving that of their conqueror. If there is one God only, then He must be the God of not just one people; but of all people. God constantly reminds us throughout Scripture that the nations have not been forgotten. They are as much a part of His plan as Israel. The Rabbis teach that the world was created for the Jews so that they could receive Torah, but the Jewish people were created so that they could take that Torah to the world.11

1. Hilchot Avodah Zarah V’Hakot HaGoiim 1:1

2. Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim (“Guide for the Perplexed”). (Dover Publications, Inc. New York) 1956. All quotes from Moreh Nevuchim are taken from this edition unless specified otherwise.

3. Moreh Nevuchim. 320

4. Derech Hashem (“The Way of God”)

5. The following verses attest that God is alone. Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 32:39; I Samuel 2:2; II Kings 19:19; Isaiah 43:10-11; 44:6-8; 44:24; 45:5-6; 45:21-22; 46:5; 46:9; 48:11; Malachi 2:10; and Nehemiah 9:6

6. Moreh Nevuchim. 59

7. Moreh Nevuchim. 60

8. The following verses attest that God is not a physical being. Numbers 23:19; Deuteronomy 4:11-12; 5:23 I Kings 8:27

9. Examine the following verses concerning the unique identity of God.

The God of the Exodus and Sinai: Exodus 20:2-3; I Kings 8:60; II Kings 19:19; Isaiah 40:18; Isaiah 44:6-8; 44:24; Hosea 13:4; Joel 2:27; Malachi 2:10; Nehemiah 9:6 The God of Avraham, Isaac, and Jacob: Gen. 17:9; 26:3, 24; 28:13; 32:9; Exodus 3:6; 15-16; 4:5; 33:1 Lev. 26:42; Num. 32:11; Deut. 1:8; 6:10; 9:5, 27; 29:13; 30:20; 34:4; I Kings 18:36; 2 Kings 13:23; I Chr. 1:28; 16:16; 29:18; 2 Chr. 20:7; 30:6; Ps. 47:9; 81:4; 105:6, 9, 42; Is. 29:22, 41:8, 51:2The God that gave the Torah: Deut. 4:5-8; 10:12-13; Ps. 81:4 The Holiness of the Torah: Psalm 19:8-9 (7-8); 119:44, 72, 97, 155, 163, 165 The eternality of the Torah: Deut. 29:28 (29); Psalm 111:7-8; Ezekiel 11:19-20

10. The following verses mark out the differences between God and the gods of the nations. Deuteronomy 6:14; I Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 40:18; 40:25; 40:25; 43:10-11; 44:6-8; 46:5; Malachi 2:10; Psalms 81:8-9; I Chronicles 17:20

11. Review the following verses. I Kings 8:50; II Kings 19:19; Isaiah 45:21-22; Malachi 2:10

1.4. Blessing the Name


One of the Laws not understood in the non-Torah world is the prohibition against “blessing”1 the name. In Sanhedrin 56a the Talmud describes the legal proceedings against a person who “blesses the name.” During the trial the chief witness is asked to tell the court what was said using a euphemism “may Yosi strike Yosi.” Once this is done the court is cleared and only the judges and the witnesses remain. The chief witness is asked to tell the court exactly what the person in question said without the euphemism, using instead the name of God. Once this is done the other witnesses will say “I too heard as him.”


The penalty for “blessing the name of God” is a death penalty. In the case of the Jewish person they are executed by stoning. In the case of the non-Jew he is always executed through decapitation;2which is considered a faster and less painful death than death by stoning.

Very often this Prohibition is confused with the prohibition in Shmot 20:73 against swearing falsely by God’s name. Swearing falsely by God’s name is much different but related to using God’s name to “bless” him.

1. In the Talmudic literature (Sanhedrin 56a) and the Mishnah Torah (Avodah Zarah 2:7, Hilchot Melachim 9:3) and other works; the term “blessing the name” is used euphemistically to mean cursing the name of God.

2. This is because the only place where death penalties are mentioned in relation to non-Jews is in Bereishit 9:6. There we are told: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed…” meaning, we are told that in order for a person to be put to death their blood must be shed. The only death penalty mentioned in the Torah involving shedding blood is decapitation. The Torah describes other death penalties for Jews. Beheading is said to be the least painful death penalty.

3. Exodus 20:7, the prohibition against swearing falsely by God’s name is one of the Ten Commandments.

1.5. Murder

Murder is the most destructive crime one person can commit against another. The effect of this crime is permanent and for the penitent only his or her own death can, in part, remove this stain on the human soul.

From the modern worlds view point it is not always clear what ought to be characterized as murder. Part of the problem is the common mistranslation of thou shalt not "kill", which is more general than "murder." Leading to pacifism, as well as the prohibition of death penalties, which is surely not sound from the Torah viewpoint, this misunderstanding is part of the confusion over what constitutes murder.

Although it is clear that murder is a great evil no matter what perspective you come from, your perspective will determine what is and is not murder. Murder is as relative as style without divine revelation. Anthropologists recognize moral relativity in cannibalistic cultures where eating members of competing tribes is not considered murder, but eating members of one’s own tribe is.

Moral relativism has brought to the surface an issue recognized by the Sages of Israel. Human reason although a powerful tool does not, on its own, reveal absolute moral truths. Only divine revelation can establish absolute moral truth. The exception is with the first two of the ten commandments: That God exists, and His Unity-which the Rambam claims are the only two commandments that human reason, unaided by revelation, are capable of learning on its own.1

Although it may seem as if this is incorrect because it is very naturally understood what murder means, but we must realize that we know what murder is because our culture has been shaped, in many ways, by the Tanach. We begin with generally correct notions. However, because our culture is becoming increasingly secular defining murder outside of the Tanach has become increasingly popular.

The popularity of secular reasoning has lead to an ambiguous definition of murder. The ethical discussion of murder has taken many strange turns. Most notable of the debates on the definition of murder is coming from the Abortion front (we will cover that later in this paper). Essentially “moral truth” is determined through voting.

It must be admitted that absolute moral truths are only truly known through revelation. God alone can tell us what is good and bad. We see that human beings are capable of mixing things up—sometimes intentionally.2 Human reason27 is not up to the task of determining moral truth. We must look to God for guidance. According to Judaism God’s guidance exists in a very practical format-Halachah.

Murder versus killing

There are two primary categories of death caused by humans to other humans. The first is killing and the other is murder. Killing, although not good, is distinct from murder in that it does not have the judgment of evil that murder does. Killing involves issues of self-defense, certain kinds of wars, and executing criminals. Murder is the intention of stealing the life of one human being for reasons not recognized as tolerable by God. Under Murder we find abortion, euthanasia, putting someone in harms way and so forth. There are wars where the killing is considered murder and is not excusable as simply killing as it might be for legitimate wars.

The heinousness of murder compels us to understand it in all of its facets. Controversy in our world over what is and is not murder surrounds us. Allowing the innocent to die because we do not correctly acknowledge acts of murder is reprehensible. It is our duty to understand what murder is.

Killing, although not good, is sometimes necessary. We will examine a variety of categories of types of killing and we will learn where killing is “allowed” and where it is not.

War Time

War is perhaps the best example of killing that may not be murder. However, war is also an excuse, often, for murder. Killing in a war is morally wrong when the object of that war is not just. If it is a grab for power or money or some other unjust reason killing in war is murder. A war may be just but individuals can still commit acts of murder. [while this is OK as far as it goes, it is NOT clear; it raises perhaps as many questions as it answers.]

Self Defense

If a person is attacked he has every right to protect himself. However, just because a person is attacked they do not have complete freedom to kill their attacker. Even if the attacker’s intent was to kill their victim this does not open the door to killing the attacker if you can stop the attacker by destroying one of his limbs then that is how he must be stopped. If there is no alternative then you are allowed to kill to protect your life or the life of someone else.


Abortion

Abortion is the most controversial issue in America today. Supreme Court Nominees are interrogated on this issue. On college campuses across the nation students participate in debates on this subject. Probably the most difficult aspect of the debate is that it is very emotional—on both sides.

Members in the pro-choice camp claim that the issue centers around a woman’s right to choose. They offer several reasons that the woman’s right to choose supercedes the child’s right to live. The question comes down to an ethical one. This is one reason that so much energy has been focused on the question of whether or not a child in the mother’s womb is a human being.

Several suggestions have been made to determine if the child has a right to life or if it is nothing more than a collection of pre-human tissue that can be destroyed-much like the egg yoke of an egg is not yet a chicken.

Without revelation the question of when human life begins is open to debate.3 We can certainly determine when biological life begins-and that’s almost immediately. Whether or not the biological mass of tissue is human or not is probably a question science cannot answer, depending on what is meant by “human.”

Engaging the ethical debate on human life, the fetus, and what murder is is a complex issue. When debating this argument from a human perspective without revelation the answer to the question can go either way ethically. Ethics not based on God is not ethics it is custom and etiquette. Secularized ethics is as unpredictable and changing as popular fads in music and society.

The question that must concern us is what is God’s opinion on this issue? Only by engaging the question from this perspective can we hope to find the true answer to this question.

There are times when abortion is permitted according to Halachah. That time is when it is a matter of life or death. If a woman is about to give birth and it turns out that by having the child the mother will die she is obligated to have an abortion. This brings us to a complex issue. Why is the mother commanded to have an abortion versus allowing the child to be born? How can we decide which life is more valuable? Shmot4 gives a scenario where a pregnant woman finds herself in between two men while they are fighting. In the first scenario she miscarries and the culprit is “fined,” but in the second scenario she is killed. The second scenario is punished like a murder case, while the first scenario is addressed through monetary compensation. Why the difference? A baby before its head exits the birth canal is considered a potential life. To go even further the child is considered to be like the woman’s thigh, i.e., a part of her body!

This is astonishing considering pro-choice proponents have long made the same claim. According to them the baby is like a part of the woman’s body and therefore she may do with it as she sees fit! It is interesting that both Jewish Law and pro-choice begin at the same point (that the baby is like the woman’s body), but they come to two very different conclusions.

One might wonder why the Sages of Israel did not conclude that abortion was okay. Remember, the baby has the status of potential life.

The Sages drew a very different conclusion because the Oral Torah is clear on this issue. If a baby is like a part of the woman’s body (her thigh), then how would most people react to one of their limbs being cut off? In truth, only a life or death situation will cause people to choose to cut off a limb. Although there are some who even risk death rather than part with a limb!

Even more than that, the baby is still a potential life. If someone is going defend the removal of their limb, which they can live without, it would seem even more they would defend the child growing in the mother’s womb.

It is only when the (potential) life of the baby threatens the (actual) life of the mother that an abortion becomes an acceptable solution. However, once the baby’s head exits the birth canal the mother and baby are equally alive. That means that the situation becomes one life versus another. Since neither baby nor mother’s life is more valuable we are not allowed to choose one life over another.

Some would argue that a Noachide is never allowed to perform an abortion whether the mother’s life is in jeopardy or not. To defend this claim they site a certain understanding of “rodef” or pursuer (lit. someone who is trying to kill another person) as support for this position. It seems clear that the Torah’s approach to abortion is not nearly as black and white as it is with Christians. However, we must appreciate on this issue at least Christians (and Muslims) are on the right page.

Abortion under certain circumstances is a heinous crime-it is murder. The abortion issue is a very emotional one, but emotion does not remove our responsibility. What it does do is create a more sympathetic and caring ear to our fellow-or it should.


Euthanasia

Suffering is one of the most difficult things for many of us to ignore. The idea that a person must suffer and that is somehow pleasing to God is hard to swallow. There is no other issue that brings this issue to the front more than euthanasia.

Euthanasia is a procedure where we end a person’s life with the "excuse of mercy.” This is one way that it is presented although it is also used to relieve the suffering (often economic but also emotional) of family whose loved ones languish in bed, comatose, never able to wake.

Euthanasia is another very emotional subject. In America it is an issue almost as hotly debated as abortion. However, it is slightly different from abortion in that there is often choice involved in the decision to end a life. Usually it is the decision of the person suffering to end their life. If the argument “my body my choice” works for abortion then it certainly works for euthanasia.

As to those who are unable to make this decision it lay at the feet of their loved ones who now make a very hard decision. The moral defense for their action “the person is better off,” or like the mother considering abortion who feels it unfair that such a responsibility be thrown on them especially when economically it does not seem that they are capable of carrying the burden, the good of the family member is primary to that of the person who is sick. None of these are reasons according to the Torah.

Allowing a Person to remain in peril

According to Hilchot Melachim5 a person who directly places another person in peril is just as guilty of murder as the intentional murderer. If someone puts another in a state of peril as a result of an action, a person bound or trapped before a dangerous animal for example, it is the individual and not the animal that is guilty for murdering the person.

1. Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed, p. 222

2. “Woe to those who call evil *good,* and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter…” (Isaiah 5:20).

3. For More information see “Philosophy, Reason and Revelation”—coming soon

4. The Oral tradition is very clear that “A gentile who slays a human being, even a fetus in its mothere’s womb, must be executed [in retribution] for its [death]. Hilchot Melachim 9:4.

5. Exodus 21:22

1.6. Illicit Sex

Marriage in the Noachide world is at once straight forward and complex. The complexity mainly comes from the consensus that marriage is only real if two people are called “married” in a written contract. The Noachide model does not require a contract, or any formal documentation or ceremony to signify that two people are married.

This is backward to our way of thinking but not to the Torah’s approach to the issue. Marriage with the first man and woman had nothing to do with contracts, only a mutual decision to be one. The patriarch Isaac and his wife Rachel were married when Isaac took Rachel into his mother’s tent (with her consent).Without consent, it is rape, a form of theft of the person.

Part of what adds to our confusion over the simplicity of Torah marriage is that those who know anything about Judaism know that a contract is required for a Jewish marriage. One might ask why a contract is required for a Jew but not a Gentile. The answer to this question is the same to most other situations where the Jewish people are called on to do something extra, or to do something in a slightly different way. As a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation the Jewish people must always be separate or distinct from the rest of humanity; and as priests they are required to be holy. Their status as a holy nation, a kingdom of priests, means that they must hold themselves up to a higher level of strictness.

Although the Noachide laws are less strict on the definition of marriage, if properly observed the Noachide laws maintain and promote holiness within marriage. All human beings are required to be Holy. We all must strive to separate ourselves from the profane and attach ourselves to the Holy One-God. Marriage, universally accomplishes this.

Who Can Marry?

In our day there is debate on what constitutes marriage. Given the gay rights movement that wishes to have its relationships recognized as marriage, it is important for us to have a clear understanding of what marriage is. There are those that say marriage is only constituted by a piece of paper or by a ceremony. If this is so then anyone should be able to get married. Others argue that because it is only a piece of paper it cannot give voice to what a real relationship is between a man and a woman or two men or two women or between a man and his sheep or a woman and her dog and so forth.

It appears that people have become confused over the entire marriage business. In the non-Jewish world the marriage contract is an invention of society to clarify business and legal matters. A determination of who is married and who is not will lead to taxing status, financial rights in banking matters, and life and death decisions. Such contracts have nothing to do with the spiritually significant relationship between a man and a woman in a Holy relationship blessed by God.

Marriage understood from the Torah perspective is defined primarily as a relationship that is not one of six kinds of relationships (for Noachides). A Noachide Marriage cannot exist if it is between a man and his mother, a man and his father’s wife, a man and a married woman, a man and his maternal sister, a man and another man, a man and an animal.This leaves a relationship of a man with an unmarried woman as the proper definition of who can get married for Noachides.

Marriage

Since Noachides do not have a marriage contract there must be some way of determining who is married and who is not. A marriage is not only a private agreement between two people but also a publicly known (assuming they live around people) exclusive relationship (exclusive between a man and a woman although it is still possible for a man to have several wives).

The Torah says1: “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be united with his wife and they shall become one flesh.” This verse implies that a man will leave the home of his parents and create a new home with his wife. Meaning, they will live together.

Living together in a home is a public statement that the couple is exclusive to one another. Once the public and private (the relationship has been consummated) nature of the relationship has been established the couple is considered married.

Divorce

A Couple is considered divorced when either partner leaves the common domain (or home).2 This method is far easier than having to get a “Get” or article of divorce (as is necessary for the Jewish people who sign a marriage contract). It allows either partner to end the relationship, not just the husband as is true under Jewish marriage.

1. Hilchot Melachim 9:4

2. Bereishit 2:24

1.7. Theft

Theft was the first sin committed in the Torah when Adam ate the fruit. God specified that everything in the Garden was available to Adam except for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Theft is the most common sin that human beings commit against one another. It is also one of the most complex of the Noachide Laws.

For many this law seems rudimentary; easily avoided by even a child. It just isn’t true, what constitutes theft is a very difficult issue. It is an issue that is treated in great detail by the Jewish people

It is possible to steal in many different ways. If someone takes pens from the office or sits at their computer at work playing Tetris instead of working they are stealing. If someone takes something without the express permission of the owner they are stealing. What is even worse is that for Noachides there are no minimum amounts. Although punishment, ultimately, is the prerogative of the court, a Noachide could be liable for death.

It is very important for Noachides to understand the Noachide laws thoroughly to avoid violating any of the prohibitions. In order to do this one must first understand the boundaries of ownership. Only then is it possible to know when something has been stolen. It is not the purpose of this paper to explicitly detail ownership and theft, but it is our aim to give a basic introduction to this issue.

Business

We are constantly confronted every day with the decision to steal or not in our lives. The most common way we face this challenge is with our business dealings. These dealings can take the form of business, work, and private commerce.

When merchants deal with each other or their customers it is important that their dealings be honest. Anyone who gives less than they promised at time of sale or takes more than they paid for is committing theft.

The “ethical” technicalities allowed by most countries are unacceptable by the Torah standard. The Torah requires us to be exacting in our business dealings. Abuse of money exchanges is the surest sign of a corrupt society and is very often complained of by the Biblical prophets.


Employees

A person who works for another is obligated to work hard and make sure that the person who is purchasing their services is getting the work they paid for. An employee is obligated to always be working and to leave personal issues for after work. If there is an expectation that the person is working then that person must work; otherwise they are stealing money from their employer. Using the internet and using printers to print things for personal use is considered theft unless it is part of the employment agreement; which should spell out all rights of the employee to use the employer's property, time, etc., if that is intended. The employee is stealing the paper, toner, time (that they should be working) and electricity it costs to print things from the internet or computer. If it is necessary for the employee to use these objects for personal use an arrangement should be made with their employer, otherwise such activity is forbidden.

Employers

An employer is obligated to pay their employees in a timely fashion. Otherwise they are stealing the wages from their employee. This includes reimbursing the employee for expenses (if that is in agreement with the terms of service).

Property from Work

It may seem trivial but taking the property of an employer or company someone works for is theft; pens, notebooks, staplers, or anything else belonging to the company. The use of these items is assumed to be for the purpose of work. Even the theft of a single staple is unacceptable as there are no minimum amounts for Noachides, however, that does not mean that Jews may take minimal amounts, but that a court will not handle a claim for the return of a single staple, unless it has a certain value, which is unlikely. Theft in any amount is theft. If not punished in the earthly court, because there is no witness or no court willing to handle the case; it will be punished by the heavenly court.

Lost Objects

It is an obligation for every person to return a lost article to his friend if he is able. People loose things all the time, money, wallets, cell phones and so forth. A just society is one that has respect for the property of others. It is also important that for us to return something lost by another we demonstrate our respect for the rights of that individual and thus emphasize and strengthen our own rights to property.

Which items must we return?

Clearly an item that has the person’s name or symbol on it ought to be returned to its owner. It does not matter if the person is rich or poor or if the amount or object lost is small or great. It must be returned.

If money is found then it is also obligatory to get the money to the person who lost it. This is more difficult because there is not any label or sign that tells us who it belongs to. However, people are always mindful of their money and the knowledge of the missing amount is itself a sign of ownership. In the case of lost money, the owner may be identified by their knowledge of how much was lost or other signs.

When does lost property become ownerless?

A lost object is returnable only so long as the owner of the property has not given up on recovering the object. If for example he states that he will never recover the item then the object is considered ownerless.

An object may also become ownerless if it were lost at sea, in a lake or river, since it is unlikely that the object will ever be recovered. The circumstance of the loss of the object automatically classifies it as ownerless.

1.8. Establish Courts of Justice

Society only functions because of the rule of law. There are two types of law, that created by man and that created by God. Law created by human beings can be good and just and relevant-it can also be fickle. The importance of law is such that it reflects the righteousness or wickedness of a society. Sodom and Gomorrah used law as a means to express their wickedness and a way to oppress its citizens and those who visited their cities. Torah observant Israel is marked out as being a wise people by the nations because of their laws. The Noachide Laws in their most basic form are meant to keep the world from becoming decadent.

Halachah and the Jewish People

The Jewish people have a responsibility to teach, explain, and help spread knowledge of the Halachah for B’nei Noah (children of Noah). They were set as a “kingdom of priests,” they are the priesthood of the entire world and as such they have a responsibility to minister to the entire world.

Courts of Justice by the Noachides

Noachides have an obligation to establish courts of Justice. They also have an obligation to implement the Halachah that is determined by the Sanhedrin of the Jewish people. The Sanhedrin has the responsibility of establishing Halachah for the entire world. What does it mean for Noachides to have courts of justice if the Sanhedrin establishes halachah? It means that just like the Jewish people have lower courts so too are the Noachide courts a lower court. Matters of Halachah are taken to the Sanhedrin when it is too hard for us to decide. The Sanhedrin is the Supreme Court of the world. Noachide courts can function independently of each other; but when a difficult issue arises it must be taken to the Sanhedrin and their ruling becomes law.

Noachide Judges

Noachide court systems imply Noachide judges. Such judges must be masters of Noachide Halachah. They must be able to understand, interpret and define Noachide halachah. Only when an issue is too great for them will they take it to the “Supreme Court” of Noachide halachah-the Sanhedrin.

A Noachide Judge must share the same qualities as Jewish Judges. Noachide Judges must be fair neither leaning toward the rich or the poor; they must themselves be upright individuals who live by the Noachide laws, rich in Torah learning, most especially, they must have the fear of heaven upon them.

Courts

A Noachide Court only requires one judge to pass judgement. Even in the case of a capital offense. A Noachide Court can be made up of Noachides, Jews1 or both. However, a woman cannot serve as a judge as is the case of Jewish Judges.2 Noachides are obligated to set up courts within every major town.3 The purpose of these courts is to enforce the other six Noachide Laws.

Witnesses

A Noachide may be found guilty (and if a capital case) be executed on the basis of a single eye witness.4 A Noachide does not have to be warned before hand as is the case with Jews. A Noachide can be convicted based on the testimony of a relative, although not on the testimony of a woman.5

1. Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot

2. Such Jews are appointed by the Sanhedrin because Noachides have not fulfilled their obligation to establish courts of justice. This seems particular to the Land of Israel with Garim Toshavim (resident aliens) see Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot 10:11.

3. Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot 9:14

4. Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot 9:14. A major city is one that contains 120 men in it.

5. ibid.

1.9. Eating the Limb of a Living Animal

The prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal (or Ever Min ChaHai) is not as straight forward as it seems. There is no such thing as minimum amounts for Noachides (this is also important in regard to theft). If someone is cooking a stew and the tiniest amount of E”MC meat finds its way into the stew the entire stew is forbidden to be eaten.1

Ever Min HaChai (E”MC) in contemporary society

Many people believe that our world is too advanced, or civilized, to allow such barbaric behavior as eating the limb of a living animal.However, it may surprise people to know that even in our day and age these activities continue. Rocky Mountain Oysters (castrated testicles of bulls) is an example of E”MC.

Additionally if an animal is slaughtered but not yet dead by halachic standards when it is being cut up, the meat of that animal is considered E”MC.

Although it is possible to say the reason for the prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal is that God does not wish humans to be cruel to animals, it is important to note that we are never told that this is in fact the reasoning behind this law. It is a logical possibility. Although it may be argued that it is hard to say why any of the Noahide commandments is included to the exclusion of lots of other possibilities, other than the prohibition of idol worship.

“Kosher” Slaughter for Noachides

An animal is properly slaughtered if it has stopped moving before it is carved up. An animal is considered alive even if “one severs the two signs that distinguish it as having been slaughtered in a kosher manner, as long as the animal moves convulsively, the limbs and meat which are separated from it are forbidden…”2 However; if the head is completely severed from the animal then it is considered dead.

1. Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot 9:14. A major city is one that contains 120 men in it.

2. There are those that teach that even the utensils become unusable for Noachides. However, laws involving “koshering” utensils are largely Rabbinic. Rabbinic Laws do not apply to Noachides, unless they are Rabbinic Laws from an actual Sanhedrin. Such a Rabbinic Law would need to be aimed at explaining Noachide Halachah.

 

2. Why Should Noahides Study Torah

By Noahide standards, the question “Why study Torah” is a new one.

For a couple of millennia, studying Torah has been forgotten by non-Jews or the study of false religions has taken precedence. Of course, a minority of non-Jews have learned it — or at least read it in bite-sized chunks every Shabbat.

But this is the 21st century, and just because the number of people studying Noahide Torah has been shrinking over the millennia does not mean this trend must continue.  So, what is the answer?

We’ll need to do a bit of defining first. After all, there are three key words in this question which are not as obvious as they might look – Noahide Torah and study.  The words Noahide Torah mean a multiplicity of things, which in itself might be a cause to study it at least a bit. After all, even if you choose to reject Torah it makes sense to know what it is you are rejecting, if only in outline form.

At its simplest, Torah is the text of the first five books of Moses and is known as the Chumash. But Torah for Noahides is something more than that.

Many sincere Noahides, who read the Torah regularly, simply sit and contemplate the text.   Sadly, in terms of the Chumash, many Noahides will pick out those bits that seem most telling for them – a rich story or an important teaching.

But that’s not the best way of understanding. The act of reading is not good enough unless it involves the act of study and then the actual follow through on that which was learned.  Every text of Torah is an invitation to wonder. Torah is never simply obvious. The fundamentalist way is, “If that’s what it says, then that’s what it means.” The Jewish approach has always been, “If that’s what it says, then what does it mean?” Each reading demands an explanation.  And, it should be for Noahides as well.

This is what is meant by study. By all means, use your own intellectual resources. After all, the Torah belongs to everyone. But let us also be honest about our own limitations. Do not think that everything you can think is everything that can be thought. The thoughtful Noahide, the humble scholar, can stand on the shoulders of giants and use their thinking too.

So, study in this sense involves exploration, challenge, questioning, entering into a conversation with the voices of the our past and our global present.

Now to the real why.

To be simply utilitarian about it, the mind training involved in teasing out a text, checking the authenticity of our understanding of the translation, and digging as deeply as possible into the implications and consequences of each line has been shown to be of massive intellectual and educational value to students through the ages.

It is not as a result of genetics that Jews have regularly shown themselves to be successful scholars. It’s nurture, not nature. The tradition of Torah study has built up a tradition of questioning and clarifying which is simply an incomparably rich skill to cultivate. The same holds true for non-Jews.

But studying Torah gives much more than that. The first book is a magnificently complex record of (often disastrous) human relations. A close study of Genesis will tell you everything you need to know about family dynamics and how to get them wrong. It stretches and challenges our understanding of human responsibility and the order of the world. It goes over and over how spouses might behave toward each other and how siblings, parents and children can mess up – and sometimes come right too.  Noahides should pay particular attention to Genesis.

The remaining four books of the Torah are a close study in how to organize a society. It is not for nothing that the founding fathers of America as well as the early British parliamentarians who challenged the concept of the divine right of kings looked to the Torah, to find guidance for how a society should be organized.

The demand for Jews to care for the stranger – the most repeated injunction in the whole Torah — has not yet been fully grasped in all its implications by Jews, let alone the rest of humanity. The laws of inheritance, damages, social responsibility, warfare, property, inclusion, environmental care – you name it, it can be found in the Torah and the commentaries that arise therefrom for both Jews and Gentiles.

The Torah asks us to consider miracles — what they are, if they exist, and how they work. It warns us not to trust miracle-makers, and yet 21st century folk are still easily misled. It describes a world in which virtue is not the sole province of the Jews or even of Jewish leaders. The good are sometimes Jewish and sometimes not. And, certainly, it offers a world where Jews and Noahides are often backsliding and of poor quality. Even Moses fails a final test. Yet, despite all of this it continues to play an optimistic and upbeat tune.

This essay can only scratch the surface of the question, “Why Study Torah” which might compel us to study it. But in the end, it boils down to this: Why would you choose to be an ignorant Noahide? Surely you owe yourself – and the friends you can study it with – a better fate than that.

At the end of the day, when we pray we are speaking to God, when we study Torah it is God speaking to us.  If we do not study the depths of what He wants from us we will never hear Him speak.

What do others have to say?

Why should one study Torah? Because it is only through Torah that one can fulfill the one commandment that is the end goal of the entire Torah-the love of God. Why should one study Torah? Because the study brings man close to the source of all reality-the Creator of the Universe. Why should one study Torah? Because through the study of Torah man attains the highest possible state of human existence-the very purpose for which he was created. It is for this reason he was endowed with the "Tzelem Elokim," his divine element. All else that a person may do in life is only a means for the state of mind derived from the learning of Torah. It is the most satisfying state of human existence attainable; one that gives man his true happiness. According to Judaism man's psyche was specifically designed for this experience. In it all psychic energies are involved in a sublime joy and appreciation of intellectual beautification. As such it is the most gratifying experience possible for man. 
Rabbi Yisrael Chait

Regarding Torah study, in contrast, the lofty sanctity of the Torah itself is truly above all other actions, so that one who is involved in Torah study lishma (for the right reasons) is made great and elevated over all things. The completeness of a man upon grasping the truths of Torah, even when he does not do an action based on it, is greater and higher than the improvement that he receives from the actions that Torah study enables him to fulfill correctly. Therefore, even though one’s actions are improved only after he has learned, when the knowledge is in place and enables him to act correctly, still the blessing on the Torah that is of Torah origin is the one before the study. This lets us know that the heights of the value of the Torah are in the quest for the knowledge, in and of itself. The study itself is what we refer to as "our life and the length of our days." This is what we gain right away as we start to learn. 
HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook

“[T]he nations of the world can only recognize the Torah as the source of all the sparks of truth that their religions contain if they are exposed to the entire Torah in all its glory,” he explained. “They must study Torah in a way that reveals its depth and its profound relevance to their own lives.”
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

The Gemara raises an objection to Rabbi Yoḥanan’s statement from a baraita: Rabbi Meir would say: From where is it derived that even a gentile who engages in Torah study is considered like a High Priest? It is derived from that which is stated: “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My ordinances, which if a man does he shall live by them” (Leviticus 18:5). The phrase: Which if priests, Levites, and Israelites do they shall live by them, is not stated, but rather: “A man,” which indicates mankind in general. You have therefore learned that even a gentile who engages in Torah study is considered like a High Priest.

Talmud - Sanhedrin 59a

“A time is coming—declares my God—when I will send a famine upon the land: not a hunger for bread or a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of Hashem.”  Amos 8:11

Simply put, the Torah maintains that the righteous Gentiles of all nations (those observing the Seven Laws of Noah) have a place in the World to Come.  But if you do not study the depths of these laws there is no way you can observe them.

3. Interpreting the Torah

The uniqueness of the traditional approach to Torah interpretation cannot be emphasized enough.  Jewish biblical interpretation exists in a completely different universe than non-Jewish modes of biblical interpretation.  In fact, they overlap so little that no amount of background in biblical studies can prepare one for the unique approach that has been used by the Jewish people for centuries since the Torah’s giving at Sinai.

In many non-Jewish (by implication, non-Noahide) religions, the Tanakh, the Torah, Prophets and Writings, are all treated with equal authority.  Some even treat the later prophets with greater authority than the Torah itself.

This is not how Torah is viewed by those of Jewish, and by extension, Noahide faith. We view the Torah, Prophets, and Writings as hierarchical – there is an order of greater and lesser authority. 

At the pinnacle of this hierarchy are the five books of the written Torah – the Chumash.  They are the final, permanent, crystallization of God’s will for mankind. The Torah will never be replaced or superseded by any other future covenant or revelation.

In the textual realm, the Torah is the primary text for deriving law and practice for both Jews and Noahides.

The Five Books of Moses (the Chumash) is the most succinct possible written expression of Torah.  However, the written Torah is only a gateway, an entry point into the larger world of Torah.

The Torah has many ambiguities but the Psalms refer to the Torah as perfect:

The Torah of God is perfect, restoring the soul…   Psalms 19:8

There are a great many ambiguities in the Torah, so how then can a perfect text contain so many ambiguities?  The answer is that Torah is not merely the text of the Torah.  There is an orally transmitted, experiential component to the Torah, one which clarifies the ambiguities and, in combination with the written text, is called perfect.   There are a number of sources for the need of the Oral Transmission:  Albo, Sefer HaIkkarim III: 23. For other proofs to the necessity of an orally transmitted component of the Torah, see Kuzari 3:35; Moreh Nevuchim I:71; Rashbatz in Mogen Avos Chelek HaFilosofi II:3; Rashbash Duran in Milchemes Mitzvah, Hakdama I. See also Rashi to Eruvin 21b s.v. VeYoser; Gur Aryeh to Shemos 34:27.

The Oral law exists for a number of reasons:

  • It explains concepts that cannot be fully captured in writing,
  • It defines unusual or rare terminology,
  • Most importantly, it provides a system of interpretation. This system of interpretation is crucial because it gives us three things:

                a. It guides us in the application of the Torah to new situations and new scenarios,
                b. It gives us standards and guidelines by which we can evaluate the legitimacy of interpretations and applications of the Torah, and
                c. It provides a means by which we can reconstruct any details of correct observance should it become blurred or forgotten due to exile and oppression.

Mesorah - Transmission

The most important element in validating interpretations of the written and oral Torah is the concept of Mesorah. Mesorah is, without question, the greatest proof to the authenticity of any concept, practice, or interpretation.

The closest translation Mesora is probably “transmission,” the giving over of information. It refers to an unbroken chain of transmission from the revelation at Sinai until the present time. Authenticity of concepts and practices is strongly based upon Mesorah.

Even archaeological evidence does not carry the authority of the Mesorah. Archaeology is concerned with reconstructing forgotten things based upon a minute amount of evidence. Mesorah is known information transmitted from generation to generation without having been forgotten. When a known break occurs in the Mesorah, the chain of transmission, and it has a practical effect on observance, we do not attempt to resurrect the Mesorah based on archaeological evidence. For example, knowing which cities in Israel were walled in ancient times is important for a number of laws.  The Mesorah, transmitted knowledge, is what we rely on to determine which cities were walled. Archaeological evidence is insufficient proof.

Writing Down the Oral Law

For much of Jewish History, the oral Torah was not written down. It was part  and parcel of the culture of a unified people living in a single location. Its integrity was also maintained by a central authority, the Sanhedrin. However, as the threat of exile loomed large and the Sanhedrin’s authority waned under Roman persecution, the Rabbis realized that the transmission of Torah study and Mesorah was in danger.

They began to write down as much of the material as possible. Their vision for this redaction was two-fold:

  • To create a representative literature of the oral component of Torah in a form that was compact and efficient for study and memorization, and
  • Create a statement of the oral law that, by way of study, would teach and preserve the correct method of Torah study and interpretation.

The final product of this effort was the Mishnah.

3.1. Interpreting the Torah II

The uniqueness of the traditional approach to Torah interpretation cannot be emphasized enough.  Jewish biblical interpretation exists in a completely different universe than non-Jewish modes of biblical interpretation.  In fact, they overlap so little that no amount of background in biblical studies can prepare one for the unique approach that has been used by the Jewish people for centuries since the Torah’s giving at Sinai.

In many non-Jewish (by implication, non-Noahide) religions, the Tanakh, the Torah, Prophets and Writings, are all treated with equal authority.  Some even treat the later prophets with greater authority than the Torah itself.

This is not how Torah is viewed by those of Jewish, and by extension, Noahide faith. We view the Torah, Prophets, and Writings as hierarchical – there is an order of greater and lesser authority. 

At the pinnacle of this hierarchy are the five books of the written Torah – the Chumash.  They are the final, permanent, crystallization of God’s will for mankind. The Torah will never be replaced or superseded by any other future covenant or revelation.

In the textual realm, the Torah is the primary text for deriving law and practice for both Jews and Noahides.

The Five Books of Moses (the Chumash) is the most succinct possible written expression of Torah.  However, the written Torah is only a gateway, an entry point into the larger world of Torah.

The Torah has many ambiguities but the Psalms refer to the Torah as perfect:

The Torah of God is perfect, restoring the soul…   Psalms 19:8

There are a great many ambiguities in the Torah, so how then can a perfect text contain so many ambiguities?  The answer is that Torah is not merely the text of the Torah.  There is an orally transmitted, experiential component to the Torah, one which clarifies the ambiguities and, in combination with the written text, is called perfect.   There are a number of sources for the need of the Oral Transmission:  Albo, Sefer HaIkkarim III: 23. For other proofs to the necessity of an orally transmitted component of the Torah, see Kuzari 3:35; Moreh Nevuchim I:71; Rashbatz in Mogen Avos Chelek HaFilosofi II:3; Rashbash Duran in Milchemes Mitzvah, Hakdama I. See also Rashi to Eruvin 21b s.v. VeYoser; Gur Aryeh to Shemos 34:27.

The Oral law exists for a number of reasons:

  • It explains concepts that cannot be fully captured in writing,
  • It defines unusual or rare terminology,
  • Most importantly, it provides a system of interpretation. This system of interpretation is crucial because it gives us three things:

                a. It guides us in the application of the Torah to new situations and new scenarios,
                b. It gives us standards and guidelines by which we can evaluate the legitimacy of interpretations and applications of the Torah, and
                c. It provides a means by which we can reconstruct any details of correct observance should it become blurred or forgotten due to exile and oppression.

Mesorah - Transmission

The most important element in validating interpretations of the written and oral Torah is the concept of Mesorah. Mesorah is, without question, the greatest proof to the authenticity of any concept, practice, or interpretation.

The closest translation Mesora is probably “transmission,” the giving over of information. It refers to an unbroken chain of transmission from the revelation at Sinai until the present time. Authenticity of concepts and practices is strongly based upon Mesorah.

Even archaeological evidence does not carry the authority of the Mesorah. Archaeology is concerned with reconstructing forgotten things based upon a minute amount of evidence. Mesorah is known information transmitted from generation to generation without having been forgotten. When a known break occurs in the Mesorah, the chain of transmission, and it has a practical effect on observance, we do not attempt to resurrect the Mesorah based on archaeological evidence. For example, knowing which cities in Israel were walled in ancient times is important for a number of laws.  The Mesorah, transmitted knowledge, is what we rely on to determine which cities were walled. Archaeological evidence is insufficient proof.

Writing Down the Oral Law

For much of Jewish History, the oral Torah was not written down. It was part  and parcel of the culture of a unified people living in a single location. Its integrity was also maintained by a central authority, the Sanhedrin. However, as the threat of exile loomed large and the Sanhedrin’s authority waned under Roman persecution, the Rabbis realized that the transmission of Torah study and Mesorah was in danger.

They began to write down as much of the material as possible. Their vision for this redaction was two-fold:

  • To create a representative literature of the oral component of Torah in a form that was compact and efficient for study and memorization, and
  • Create a statement of the oral law that, by way of study, would teach and preserve the correct method of Torah study and interpretation.

The final product of this effort was the Mishnah.

3.2. Interpreting the Torah III

Rabbinic Authority

Experts in the above texts have been given authority to decide issues.  This is found in numerous places in the Torah text itself (i.e. Ex. 18:20, Deuteronomy 16:18 and 17:8–13).  Not only this, but they have also been given the authority to make decrees to safeguard the laws of the Torah.  Their authority is also hierarchical.

Deciding Halakhah (Actual Practice)

The system of deciding religious practice, Halakhah, is part and parcel of Torah.  The system of Halakhah exists to preserve the Mesorah and to fill in gaps when they occur.  The majority of rabbis are not trained in deciding matters of Halakhah.  Those who are capable are known as poskim (decisors, or singular posek) or Dayanim (judges – singular Dayan).  A posek or Dayan must:

  • Be fluent in the hierarchies of Torah authority and rules of derivation and interpretation,
  • Have a complete mastery of the source materials,
  • Possess sufficient scholarship to understand how a decision in one area will affect the “homeostasis” of the entire halakhic system,
  • Thoroughly understand the boundaries of Mesorah and evaluate decisions in its context.

The structure of rabbinic authority in exile is a meritocracy.  he greater and more accomplished a scholar, the greater the authority he holds.  No scholar today, however, can overrule an accepted decision from an authority in an earlier era of Torah scholarship.

Eras of Torah Scholarship and Authority

Since the destruction of the Temple and worldwide dispersion of the Torah community, there has been a constant global effort to unify and preserve Torah observance in exile.  The Torah world has gone through many stages in accomplishing that goal.

The Gaonim - (The Respected or Eminent Ones) 700 to 1000 CE

From about the 7th until the 11th century (when the Jewish community began to spread beyond the Middle East, settling in Spain, Africa, France, and Germany) the exile communities corresponded frequently with the Gaonim, the leaders of the remaining academies of Torah study in the Middle East.  The Gaonim answered questions and compiled guidelines for them on prayer and holiday observances...

The Rishonim - (The Early Scholars) 1000 to 1500 CE

The Jewish community eventually abandoned the Middle East as the centers of scholarship shifted to Spain, Germany, and France.  The scholars in these countries established their own schools and produced producing extensive, foundational commentaries on the Talmud and the Torah.  They were known as the Rishonim.

Koviim - (The Establishers) 1500 to 1680 CE

The Koviim sought to collect and systematize all of the scholarship produced in the diaspora to produce a unified form of Torah observance in the exile. Their work  is the basis of all Jewish practice today.  The most important of the Koviim is Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488 – 1575).  He literally collected, studied, compiled, and systematized every known piece of Torah thought produced since the exile.  His magnum opus was the Shulchan Aruch, the Set Table - a complete statement of Jewish practice in exile.  It is a massive work based upon the thought of thousands of Torah scholars working for over 1000 years.  It is the basis of all Jewish practice today.

The Acharonim - (The Later Scholars) 1680 to 2013?

With the Shulchan Aruch’s acceptance, the rabbinic world now had a launch pad – a universal foundation – from which to work.  There was a sudden boom in all areas of Torah scholarship.  The generations of scholars following the Koviim are known as the Acharonim.

With the death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in 2013, many believe that we are entering a new era in Jewish scholarship.  The nature of this era has yet to be defined.

For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the Home/Study course 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.

4. Noahide Laws on Abortion

A WARNING

Any practical questions of abortion must be asked to a competent posek1. Issues of life and death cannot be determined by most Rabbis, especially those who are experts in the Noahide laws. The question must be asked to an impartial noted authority in Jewish Law [posek]. Any posek capable of ruling on such issues will have expertise in the application of these laws to Noahides far beyond that of any expert or specialist in the Noahide laws.

Abortion is one of the few topics in the Noahide Laws for which there is extensive literature. The downside of so much being written is that even a cursory survey of the literature is far beyond the scope of this course.

Abortion in the Noahide Laws

Abortion falls under the category of murder within the Noahide laws. In Jewish law, abortion is also prohibited. However the details and sources of the prohibitions are different. They are so different that by studying the Jewish laws of abortion it is possible to come to the conclusion that killing a fetus is not murder for Noahides. The Talmud, however, teaches us that this is not so.

Rebbi Yishmael (Sanhedrin 59a)makes an observation on the following verse: (Gen. 9:6.)

One who spills the blood of man; by man shall his blood be spilt.

In Hebrew, this is an odd construction:

           Shofeikh dam ha-adam ba-adam damo yishafeikh

It is ambiguous, able to take a comma in two possible places. The first possibility is:

          Shofeikh dam ha-adam, ba-adam damo yishafeikh

Punctuated like this way, the verse yields the translation we have given above.

However, an alternate punctuation results in an altogether different meaning:

            Shofeikh dam ha-adam ba-adam, damo yishafeikh

One who spills the blood of a person who is within a person, his blood shall be spilt.

Regarding this reading, the Talmud states:

They [the sages] said in the name of Rebbi Yishmael:

           “Noahides are liable for killing a fetus. What is the reason for Rebbi Yishmael? For it states in the verse: ‘One who spills the blood of a person who is within a person, his blood shall be spilt.’ Which is a ‘person who is within a person?’ You would answer that this is a fetus.”

The halacha, Torah law, follows the opinion of Rebbi Yishmael and the sages. Maimonides rules as such, writing:

              A gentile who slays any soul, even a fetus in its mother's womb, is executed as penalty for its death.

At What Point Is Abortion Prohibited?

The contemporary political and religious debates on abortion have hinged upon the definition of embryonic/fetal life. This factor is the most important, yet by no means exclusive, consideration shaping the Torah’s approach to the issue.

The Talmud indicates in many places that the embryo does not have the status of a “fetus” or a living being during the first 40 days following its conception. Rather, the embryo is termed mayim bealma, “only fluid.” This is the halacha and reflects a general principle that Torah law is not concerned with that which is microscopic or barely visible. At this stage in its development, the embryo has no halachic, practical, existence. Therefore, should a Jewish woman miscarry at this stage she is not subject to the impurity described in Leviticus 12:2-5. As well, the spiritual impurities (tumah) associated with corpses are not assigned to a miscarried embryo at this stage. This fact allows for the possibility of abortion during the first 40 days.

However, life is not so simple – after all, it among the Holy One’s greatest creations. The Beer Halachos Gadolos, one of the earliest and most important codes of Torah law, rules that a Jew may transgress Shabbat for the sake of saving an unborn life even during its first 40 days.

The Beer Halachos Gadolos obviously considers the embryo “alive enough” to permit a Jew to transgress Shabbat on its behalf. It appears that there are different definitions of life for different purposes of Torah law.

During the first 40 days after conception an embryo:

  • Is not considered life for the laws of miscarriages,
  • Is not considered life for the laws of impurities caused by the dead,
  • It is considered life enough to warrant violation of Shabbat in order to save it.

We must ask: Where is the threshold of life for the sake of the prohibition of abortion?  This is a topic of extensive discussion.

Some poskim have taken a very simple approach: if we are permitted to violate Shabbat to save the embryo, it must be prohibited at that point to abort the embryo. The Chavas Yair writes that it doesn’t make sense for Jews to be allowed to violate Shabbat to save a life that they could voluntarily terminate.

However, the reasons for permitting Shabbat violation for the life of the embryo may be more nuanced.

Abortion and Noahides is a far deeper discussion than what can be provided here.  For a more comprehensive study on this and other important topics for Noahides we encourage you to enroll in the Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the Home/Self Study of the same course here.

1)  A legal scholar who decides the Halacha (Laws) in cases where previous authorities are inconclusive or no halakhic precedent exists.

 

5. God: The Transcendent and Immanent

God is easy and simple – utterly uncomplicated in any way. However, our ability to comprehend Him is another matter. Anything we can say about God is more about how we perceive Him than about God himself. This is because God, as we shall see, is entirely transcendental. His essence is utterly beyond all comprehension. In fact, God is indescribable and ultimately unknowable. However, God is also immanent and involved with His creation. From this feature of God we can learn a lot about Him, deriving His desires and values.  This is perhaps the most famous example of God’s essence versus our perception of God: Although God is ultimately simple, we perceive Him as both transcendent and immanent. This idea is at the heart of much Torah theology and a good starting point for our discussion.

The Transcendent Aspect of God

The prayer Shema states: “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, The Lord is one!” This declaration of God’s unity is not merely about the mathematics of faith. It is more correctly understood as a qualitative rather than quantitative idea. God is not simply “one.” Instead he is “oneness,” the ultimate unity. The problem with ultimate one-ness is that its nature precludes two-ness. For that matter, it precludes three-ness, four-ness, or anything-else-ness at all! If that is the case, then how do we exist? The answer is an important concept called tzimtzum: constriction. Before God could create anything at all, He had to create a space in which creation could take place. In order to do so, He “constricted” his presence, creating a space in which the essence of one-ness was diluted enough to allow creation to endure. This empty space is known as the Chalal ha-Penui (or Chalal,  for short), the vacated space. Between God’s eternal, unified essence and the Chalal a barrier called the Pargod, the veil, or partition.

The Chalal is the canvas upon which all creation took place. Anything that is not- God exists as a created entity within the Chalal. As God Himself said: “I am God; I make all things.”

This distinct separation between God and His creation yields a number of conclusions about God:

As creator of all things, God must therefore be, in essence, entirely separate from all things. There is nothing in the created world that can represent or approximate Him. As it states in Isaiah: “To whom will you then liken God?” Similarly: “There is none like you among the heavenly powers…” Since God must be distinct from the creation, Judaism and Noahism must reject any concept of pantheism.

Since God created all things, his existence can in no way be predicated upon anything in creation. We cannot therefore define God as love, morality, or any kind ethical force.9 God may have those attributes, but they are not God and vice versa.

Since He created all matter, God must not be made of matter. Similarly, since God created space and time, He cannot exist within space and time.

What emerges from the above is a picture of a God who is entirely transcendent and beyond is creation. The danger of such a conception, however, is the erroneous conclusion that God is absent from His creation. To the contrary - God is intimately involved with His creation.

The Immanent Aspect of God

Tzimtzum does not mean that God totally removed Himself from the Chalal. It only means that he restricted his essence to a degree necessary for creation to endure. Yet, God’s presence still permeates and fills the Chalal.

How do we know this?

In Nechemiah 9:6 we are told:

          You have made the heavens… the earth and all that is on it… you give life to them all.

The last clause is in the present tense: God gives life and is continuously giving life. There are many other references to God as the perpetual creator throughout the Tanakh.

Since creation’s continued existence depends constantly upon God’s will, then His will must extend into the Chalal. However, since God is an absolute unity, then  his will and his essence must be one in the same. Therefore, God’s essence must extend into the Chalal.

In this sense, God is immanent: He is continuously and intimately involved with His creation. He directs and sustains it, He hears and answers the prayers of His people; He gives it life and deals with it in kindness and justice. We see this on every page of the Tanakh.

5.1. God: The Transcendent and Immanent II

The Experience of God vs. the Reality of God

We must be reminded, however, that this is a dual perception of God, and not relevant to God himself. It is a product of the finite mind’s striking against an infinite reality. It is not a perception limited only to humans, however. This dual experience of God is alluded to in the song of the angels in Isaiah 6:3. The angels sing:

Holy, Holy, Holy us the God of hosts, the whole world is filled with his glory.

This verse refers to the immanent experience of God. However, the angels also sing

Blessed is God’s glory from His place.

Here the angels refer to God in the transcendental sense, as occupying a place that is His, only His, and that of none other.

Similarly, we say in the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Before declaring that God is an unknowable and transcendent unity (“the Lord is One”), we first declare that he is “the Lord our God,” both imminent and ruling.

Furthermore, in every blessing we open with the words: Blessed are you, our God, king of the universe. We declare God as both our God, imminent and close, and as a king who is transcendent and lofty.

The moving prayer Ovinu Malkeinu, recited several times during the year, repeats the refrain Ovinu Malkeinu – Our father, our King!, referring to God as both our imminent father and our transcendent king.

God’s Incorporeality

As mentioned above, since God is the creator of all matter and all space, he cannot be made of matter or subject to space. This fact precludes God having any material manifestation. God himself warns us to never think of him corporeally, saying:

Take heed of yourselves for you saw no matter of form on that day that God spoke to you at Horeb…

Nevertheless, the Torah often speaks of God using anthropomorphism – describing Him as if he had physical qualities. For example, in many places we find reference to the hand of God or the eyes of God. In all such situations the Torah is not telling us that God has a body. Rather, the Torah is borrowing from the language of man in order to express something about His relationship to His creation.

Similarly, when the Torah describes God’s voice, it is referring to a prophetic voice within the mind, but not to an actual divine voice in the sense that we understand voice.

You wonder then why man is described as being created in God’s image if God has no actual “image?”

This is not a description of the physical attributes of man – rather it means that man can affect and interact with the world using many of the same attributes perceived in God.  For example, Man and God both share free will and creative ability.

Other Issues

Any descriptor for God must be qualified and considered carefully.  For example, God is often referred to as “He,” in the masculine. However, this is merely an effect of the Hebrew language which has no neuter grammatical gender.

In the same vein, even terms that seem accurate must be kept in perspective. For example, God is often described as “eternal.” As apropos as this may appear, it is still a limited description. Not being bound by time, the human concept of “eternity” doesn’t even fit properly. “Eternal” is only the closest term we can use to describe God-in- time.

Overview

Although God is utterly beyond any description, comprehension, or corollary in the created universe, he is nevertheless intimately involved in it.

We see His impact upon reality at every turn, which informs us as to his will and attributes.

Nevertheless, these attributes are only products of our perception of God’s action and not intrinsic to God Himself. We can only understand God’s essence by knowing what it is not. In this sense, Torah theology is called “negative theology.”

Summary of the Lesson

  • God is beyond any words, description, form, or comprehension.
  • Since God created time, space, and matter, He is not subject to any of them.
  • Although God is entirely transcendent, he is also completely immanent and involved with the world.
  • This dual perception of God is only a perception and is not the reality of God. We are limited in our ability to perceive the infinite.
  • God is incorporeal and without form. Anthropomorphism is used by the Torah, however, to convey by way of allegory God’s attributes in this world.
  • Any positive description of God is only a description of God’s actions and influence, not of God himself. The essence of God can only be truly communicated by contemplating what God is not.

For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the Home/Study course',Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.



6. What is a Ger, Ger Toshav and Ger Tzedek

Many articles and lectures have been recently produced in an attempt to expand the definition of Ger. However, the methods and conclusions of these authors are without merit and beyond the pale of mainstream Torah thought. The fact that their conclusions are contradicted by the preceding 2000 years of Torah scholarship is one of many strong rebuttals to such a position. 

The following article is an excerpt from one of the lessons from the Yeshiva taught course on the Noahide Laws information was researched by a dedicated oversight committee of Poskim and Dayan and written by a Posek, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel.

Ger Toshav-A Non-Jew who resides in the land of Israel

The term ger toshav has created special confusion for modern Noahides and will be discussed at length in a future lesson.

The ger toshav is referred to in many places in the Torah:

Exodus 12:43-45 – This is the decree of the Passover offering… a resident [Toshav] and a hired laborer may not eat of it.

Lev. 25:6 – The land’s yield of the sabbatical year shall be yours to eat, yours… and the residents’ [Toshav] who sojourns [Ger] among you.

Lev. 25:35 – …you shall strengthen him, the convert or the resident [Toshav].

Lev. 25:40 – Like a laborer or a resident [Toshav] he shall be with you, until the jubilee year he shall work with you.

Lev. 25:45 - …also, from among the children of the residents [Toshav] who dwell [Ger] with you…

Lev. 25:47 – If the means of a sojourner [Ger] who resides [Toshav] among you…

Num. 35:15 – For the children of Israel, the convert, and the resident [Toshav] among them…

The term ger, from the Hebrew root gar, meaning “to sojourn,” refers to an alien, a stranger, or an immigrant. Toshav means “reside.” A ger toshav is, therefore, a resident alien: a non-Jew who resides in the land of Israel among the Jewish people. However, the Torah tells us:

They [idolaters] shall not dwell in your land lest they cause you to sin against Me and worship their gods.6

We see that a ger toshav must give up his idolatrous beliefs and practices in order to live in Israel.

How is this accomplished practically? How far must a non-Jew go in disavowing idolatry so that he may reside in Israel? The Talmud7 explains that the prospective ger toshav must come before a Beis Din (Jewish religious court) and accept upon himself to faithfully observe the seven Noahide laws.

However, the Talmud8 tells us that there is no status of ger toshav in our days.

Nevertheless, some rabbis have instructed Noahides to accept the status of ger toshav even today. Others have not sought to confer ger toshav status, but have required potential Noahides to nevertheless accept their commandments before a Beis Din (Jewish Rabbinical court). Both of these are unnecessary as we will see in future lessons.

The halakhah (decisive religious law) is that there is no need or benefit for one to accept the Seven Mitzvos before a Beis Din. Such an acceptance before a Beis Din will have no effect whatsoever on the Ben Noach’s religious status, ability to fulfill the mitzvos, or the merit he receives for fulfilling the mitzvos.

Ger Tzedek – A Righteous Convert

The word Ger has many meanings. The verb root from which it derives implies sojourning. However, in its noun form it means a stranger or outsider. When used alone, Ger almost always means a convert. When Ger is in any way used together with the word Toshav, it means a Ger Toshav, something entirely different than a convert. The Talmud devotes extensive analysis to determining correct interpretations of the Torah’s use of the term Ger. For clarity, the Talmud qualifies its own use of Ger with the term Tzedek, meaning a righteous convert. The term Ger Tzedek, as used in the Talmud and codes of Jewish law, means exclusively a full convert to Judaism.

If a ger tzedek is a full convert to Judaism, then why does the Talmud call them a ger tzedek and not simply a “Jew?” The reason is that a convert is not 100% identical to a born Jew. For example, a female convert may not marry a Kohen (descendant of Aharon). A convert may also not serve in a position of communal authority (such as being a synagogue Rabbi) nor sit on a beis din (Rabbinic tribunal). For the purposes of discussing the laws involved, the Talmud must have some way to distinguish a convert from a born Jew. We should note also, that there is no other term in Hebrew for convert – only ger tzedek.

6 Exodus 23:33.

7 Avodah Zarah 64b.

8 Arakhin 29a

7. Man, Reward and Punishment

The Purpose of Creation

“Why did God create the world?” is perhaps the hardest question ever asked. To answer it, we have to presuppose an understanding of God’s exact will and innermost thoughts before creation. If you studied the prior lesson on God carefully, then you will realize that this is impossible.

To further complicate things, consider that God is an absolute perfection, without lack or needs. He didn’t need to create us. Therefore, his ultimate reasons for doing so are unfathomable.

Any discussion of God’s purpose is only possible from our perspective as the beneficiary of creation.

The Greatest Act of Love

Taking into consideration all that we cannot know, it informs us as to what we do know. If G-d is perfect and had no need to create us, then the act of creation must stand  as  the  ultimate  act of altruism.   The Psalms speak of creation as such, describing it as an act of love:

The world is built of love.

It is also an act of the ultimate goodness:

God saw all that He made and – behold! It was very good!

Since God is perpetually creating all reality, it means that His goodness and love  is constantly sustaining all creation:

God is good to all; His love is upon all his works.

At every instant God’s pure desire for us flows throughout every atom of creation. 

Partaking of True Good

You let me know the path of life; in your presence is the fullness of joy. In your right hand is eternal bliss.

I am The Lord your God who instructs you for your own reward…

This first verse tells us that God is the ultimate goodness9. The second verse tells us both that Man is capable of partaking of that ultimate goodness and that God instructs us as to how we should do so.

However, in order to be aware of divine goodness, we must know its absence. This is another reason for tzimtzum, the restriction of God’s presence in the physical creation.  By reducing the everyday immanent experience of God, true experiences of His goodness can be fully recognized.

Free Will

I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life…

This verse alludes to man’s free will – his ability to choose whether to partake of God’s goodness or to turn away from it.

If man had no free will, then enjoyment of God’s goodness would not be true enjoyment. It would be a compulsory, rote experience devoid of greater meaning. Once he has the ability to desire and choose God’s goodness, only then does the experience becomes valuable.

Therefore, God created man with free will. Besides God, man is the only being who can act upon his free choice. In this sense, man resembles God. This is the fundamental understanding of man having been created “in the image of God.”

Free will, however, requires both an internal and external mechanism in order to function.

Internal Aspects: Yetzer Tov vs. Yetzer Hara

Internally, man is imbued with two opposing forces:

The yetzer tov – the desire for good, altruism, self-betterment, and mitzvos.

The yetzer hara – the desire for evil, selfishness, self-destruction, and transgression.

This dual nature of man explains the apparent contradiction between these two verses:

           And God created man in his image; in the image of G-d he created him.

and

              The desire of man’s heart is evil from his youth.

The first verse refers to man’s divine potential – the yetzer tov, the desire for good. The second refers to man’s base desires – his yetzer hara, the desire for evil.

In the Talmud, Rabbi Nachman bar Rav Chisda sees an allusion to both aspects in the verse:

               And God formed [רצייו] man…

Rabbi Nachman points out that the word רצייו is spelled with and extra yud. He sees the two yuds in the word as an allusion to God’s having formed man with two desires (also, the word yotzer, formed, is a cognate of the word yetzer, desire).

In Torah thought all of man’s actions and choices are the result of a struggle between these two inclinations. One seeks the holy, the other the profane - one desires knowledge, the other wants only physical pleasure.

One might think that the goal of man is to entirely ignore his evil desire. This is not so. The ideal for man is to subdue his bad desire to his good desire, thus making it a tool of divine service.

External Aspects: Man vs. the World

In order for Man to have free will, he must be placed in an environment that allows him to exercise his power of choice. Therefore, God created a world filled with opportunities for both good and evil in which all things speak to his ultimate purpose:

God has made everything for his own purpose, even the wicked…

I form light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. I am God – I do all these things.

In this environment, any and every decision a person makes is the direct result of a nuanced struggle between these opposite inclinations.

How man decides to use or pervert the opportunities God offers is man’s choice alone and one for which he bears 100% of the responsibility:

If a person sins… he bears full responsibility for his action.
Since the potential for evil resides within man and is evenly matched with his capacity for good, the Torah rejects any concept of an all-evil being or devil who temps people into sin. To iterate: people are 100% responsible for their own sins.

Reward & Punishment

We tend to think that we are rewarded for our good deeds and punished for our transgressions. This view is true only of laws created and administered by man. Spiritual reward and punishment operate according to a different mechanic. Just as God created the natural world with its own principles of cause and effect, He did the

same with the spiritual world.21 Within this system reward and punishment are direst results of one’s actions rather than things meted out for one’s actions.

This idea runs throughout Tanakh:

               A wicked man’s sins shall entrap him; he will be bound in the binds of his own transgression.
               God is known by the judgment he carries out when the wicked man is ensnared in the work of his own hands.
              He who digs a pit shall fall into it.

These verses make clear that God’s justice is programmed into the spiritual law of the universe and operates as a direct result of one’s own actions. The same applies to reward.27 However, there is a difference: while punishment is precisely meted out, reward is given liberally.28 Furthermore, the ultimate reward for good lasts for eternity while the punishment for evil is only temporary. Because the nature of reward and punishment differ, good deeds cannot cancel out evil and vice versa. This is learned from a verse in the Torah:

God does not give special consideration or take bribes.

Summary of the Lesson

  1. God’s innermost reasons for wanting to create the world are mysterious and cannot be understood. We can only understand His reasons from our perspective as the beneficiaries of creation.
  2. Creation was the greatest, truest, and purest act of love and altruism. Since God is constantly creating, His love and goodness are constantly being sustaining the world.
  3. It is possible for man to partake of and experience the underlying goodness that sustains creation. He does so by keeping the mitzvos and serving and clinging to God.
  4. In order to know this good, we much know its absence. This is another reason for the idea of tzimtzum.
  5. Man must voluntarily earn this good; otherwise his benefit would not be true benefit. Only by choosing it voluntarily does man truly enjoy it. Therefore God gave man free will.
  6. In this aspect of free will man, in a very small way, resembles his Creator. This is the idea of man having been made in God’s image.
  7. To enable free will, man was given two conflicting internal drives: a desire to do good and a desire to do bad. Man was also placed in an environment which provides him with choices and contexts in which to exercise his will.
  8. Reward and punishments are best conceived as the effects of our choices rather than judgments that are meted out. Reward and punishment are the effects of a “spiritual law” established by God and similar to natural law.
  9. One’s mitzvos cannot cancel out his transgressions. A person is rewarded for all of his mitzvos and punished for all of his sins. However, sincere repentance can convert ones sins into merits.
  10. The primary place for reward and punishment is not in this world. Nevertheless, some reward and punishment is possible in this world depending on the circumstances.
  11. Occasionally the relationship between the mitzvah/reward and the sin/punishment is obvious. Sometimes it is not.



8. The Soul

The Material Body & the Immaterial Soul

God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life. Man then became a living being.

This famous verse describes man as a being created of two natures: the physical (the dust of the ground) and the spiritual (the soul – the breath of life). A subtle nuance of this verse is that man was animated with God’s breath – an exhalation from the innermost being of God. This is in contrast to the rest of creation, which was created by G-d’s speech – with sound waves created by God – which is a lower level of divine intimacy, one that is distanced from God’s essence.

Of course, God does not actually have breath. This is a merely a descriptive metaphor enabling us to discuss the concepts involved. It is an extremely apt one, however, and is elaborated upon greatly by our Sages.

The Glassblower

The parable used by many sages to describe the nature of the soul is that of a glassblower creating a vessel. The glassblower dips one end of his tube into molten glass and places the other end against his lips. The breath originates at the lips, flows down the tube, and comes to rest in the molten glass below, forming it and shaping it into its final form as the glass blower rotates and turns the whole apparatus. Now, where is the soul in this analogy? Is it upon the lips of the glass blower, in the tube, or in the burgeoning glass bulb at the end? The answer is all three.

The Three Expressions of the Soul

The soul is constantly being “blown” into the being by God. As such, the soul exists in a constant dynamic relationship with its creator. This ongoing emanation of the soul means that the soul constantly exists in three expressions. Many writers have described these three expressions as levels, or components of the soul. However, such descriptions are misleading. I prefer to call it three “expressions” of the soul:

Neshamah, meaning “soul,” and derived from the word Neshima, meaning “breath.” In our parable, this is the exit of the breath from the lips of the divine glassblower. This is the essence of the soul and its highest and most intimate connection to God.

Ruach, meaning “spirit,” and derived from the word for wind. This is the moving, blowing of the soul into the world, representing the raging conduit and connection between man’s soul and God.

Nefesh, often translated as “soul,” yet better translated as “life-force,” is from the word Nafash, meaning “to rest.” It alludes to the divine breath coming to rest in the vessel of the body of man.

These three expressions exist simultaneously and in constant interaction with each other. While the Neshama is the closest to God and the place at which the soul’s truest essence resides, it is bound to the Nefesh, the component that enlivens the body and interacts with the rest of creation, via Ruach, the conduit of divine breath.

These soul-elements form a chain binding man’s soul to G-d:

The Nefesh is bound to the Ruach, the Ruach is bound to the Neshama, and the Neshama to the Holy One, Blessed is He.

The Five Expressions of the Soul

The Midrash, however, adds two more levels to the soul:

Chayah, “living essence,” and,

Yechidah, “unique essence.”

Our scholars understand these as two higher, almost completely imperceptible levels of the soul. They are, like God Himself, both immanent and transcendent in relationship to the lower levels of the soul.

If the Neshama is the breath of God, the glassblower, then Chayah is the body of the glassblower, the vehicle which gives motion to and exhales the divine breath. Note, though, that the breath exhaled by the glassblower is not intrinsic to His being.

Therefore,

The lower levels of the soul originate from His “body,” so to speak, yet are not “of” his body; they are a separate, created entity independent of, yet intimately originating from, the creator.

Yechidah, however, is something totally transcendent. It represents the  true, inexpressible aspect of the creator. It is the innermost part of the creator which desires to create and knows its own purposes. In our parable, Yechidah is the soul of the glassblower, the innermost essence of God.

Man can only access the three lower levels of the soul: Neshama, Ruach, and Nefesh. The upper two levels belong to God Himself.

The Expressions of the Soul in This World

Each expression of the soul exerts its own influence over particular areas of human activity.

Nefesh, the lowest level, governs man’s physical interaction with the world. It transfers will into the animation of the body. It also binds the rest of the soul to the physical matter of the body.

Ruach,  the  motion  of  the  divine  spirit,   is  the  source   of  the  power  of  speech. It is responsible for the articulation and organization of inspiration into thought. This power, combined with Ruach’s duty as the conduit between the lower and higher expressions of the soul, also makes it the conduit for divine inspiration. Divine inspiration, in Hebrew, is called Ruach ha-kodesh, or holy Ruach. Ruach is also the realm of the emotions.

Neshama influences the higher realm of human faculties such as thought, intellect, and the spiritual sensibilities.

8.1. The Soul II

The Lower Soul

We tend to think of the soul as a purely spiritual entity, which it is. However, what about animals? Do they have souls?  The answer is “yes.”  However, their souls are not spiritual. Instead, they are the most ethereal of physical entities.

What is more, all living beings possess this nefes ha-behamis – this “animal soul.” This includes man as well. This animal soul is the most basic force needed to maintain life. It is the animating force that governs the “natural laws” of physiology and most basic needs for survival.

This soul is what the Torah refers to when it states:

The soul of the flesh that is in the blood.

This animal soul is essential for guaranteeing the survival of the organism.  Without it, the spiritual soul would never eat, engage in reproduction, or do anything other than pray and pursue connection to God.  This physical soul is what is also known as the yetzer hora, the evil desire.

The Immortality of the Soul

All souls that will ever exist were created at the beginning of time. Since then they have been kept in a celestial repository until God deems them to be born.  Upon death, the soul ascends to a new place, the olam ha-neshamos, where it resides until the coming of the messiah. However, it doesn’t always work out this way.

Gilgul HaNeshomos – Reincarnation

Reincarnation, though subject to some debate in the past, is an accepted part of Torah belief. However, reincarnation is a loaded term with lots of non-Torah connotations. We must, therefore, be cautious not to assume anything about the Torah’s doctrine lest we color our understanding with the convoluted perversions of pop-culture.

In the Torah’s view, reincarnation is neither an automatic nor a common event. It is also neither a punishment nor a reward. Instead, reincarnation is an act of divine compassion. God gives many neshamos, souls, a “second chance” to fulfill mitzvos that they may have missed in a previous life. This is sometimes needed to allow particular souls to accomplish unique tikkunim, repairs to the world, for which those souls are uniquely suited.

However, neshamos, souls, are not always reincarnated in whole or in the same form held in their previous life. Sometimes only some of the components of the soul (Nefesh, Ruach, or Neshamah) are reincarnated, carved away from their fellows. The reincarnated souls, or parts of souls, may also not come back in human form.

Reincarnation is not common, and full reincarnation in human form is exceptionally rare. However, it does happen. Noahides are subject to the doctrine of Gilgul ha- neshamos, reincarnation as are Jews.

Summary of This Lesson

  • Man was created with a physical being and a spiritual soul. The imbuing of the spiritual soul was a more intimate act of creation than the creation of the physical body. The body was created by speech, the soul by breath.
  • The soul is a single entity which emanates into the world, radiating as three distinct expressions. These expressions are a chain which binds the soul in this world to its origin.
  • Each expression influences particular human qualities.
  • There are higher expressions of the soul, but these are rooted in the being of God Himself and essentially unknowable to us.
  • Man, as all living creatures also has a natural, animal soul, which animates the basic, rote physiological processes and desires needed for survival. This soul is the root of the yetzer hora, the evil desire.
  • The soul is immortal. All souls were created at the beginning of creation and set aside by God until their time to be born. When a person dies, their soul is transferred to another repository to await the World to Come.
  • Some souls or portions of souls are reincarnated as an act of divine compassion. They are not always reincarnated in human form, however.

For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the 'Home/Study course', 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.

9. The After Life, Messiah and Redemption

Judaism and Noahism believe in the immortality of the soul. Naturally, this entails belief in an afterlife. Yet, there is a very sharp distinction between the western, Christianized view of the afterlife and the Torah’s view.

Keeping Perspective

Compared to other belief systems, Judaism and Noahism focus very little on the afterlife. The afterlife is a particular pre-occupation of Christianity and Islam and an obsession that establishes the afterlife as the ultimate goal of all worldly activity. However, Torah references to the afterlife are almost non-existent. In fact, discussion of the afterlife is almost taboo and distasteful in many circles.

Many authors note this ongoing de-emphasis of the afterlife in Torah thought, connecting it to the exodus from Egypt. Egypt was a society obsessed with the afterworld to the point of corruption. Their afterlife was more real, immediate, and relevant than anything of this world.

Part of God’s plan in taking the Jews out of Egypt was to cleanse them of this undue focus and set their priorities straight. God wants us to fulfill His will in this world – that is the purpose of creation. Therefore, the Torah is conspicuously devoid of any mention of the afterlife. The little we know about the afterlife and the World-to-Come is from scant references in the prophets, writings, and Oral Torah.

What is more, the rabbinic world has followed this trend, placing all of its emphasis on defining the fulfillment of God’s will in this world. The study of the afterlife has remained a “fuzzy” topic for scholars.

While we know the general principles and order of things, the specific details are unclear. We must recall that no one has ever seen the afterlife. What we know about it we believe to be true with absolute faith. However, we must also have the humility to admit that which we do not know.

Taking this fact into account, scholars have realized that attempting to pin down a precise vision of the afterlife is not only impossible, but ultimately not a good a use of their time.

“Heaven” and “Hell?”

Judaism and Noahism do not believe in heaven and hell. The idea of eternal damnation and suffering without relief just doesn’t work. Consider that we believe God punishes commensurate with deeds. Eternal punishment isn’t commensurate with anyone’s deeds because no one, now, never, or ever, is infinitely evil or has committed an infinite number of evil deeds.

Another problem with hell is that God’s purpose for creating the world was the bestowal of good. Let’s imagine that a theoretically infinitely-evil person exists  and does get sent to hell for all eternity. Now, if God’s purpose is good, yet this person will receive none if it ever again, then why does this evil person continue to exist at all? Is it that God is sadistic and wants to make our evil person suffer forever? It is possible to argue that eternal suffering exists as a deterrent from transgression. However, this is not a compelling argument; there are better ways to discourage sin.

The concept of Heaven is equally perplexing. A place where everyone gets the same reward regardless of their deeds?

Also, where do heaven and hell leave the early realm? In this paradigm of the afterlife, this world is has little purpose; the emphasis is entirely on the future life.

Christianity, well aware of these problems, has wrestled with them for centuries. Rather than coming to compelling consensus, their doctrine has become highly fragmented. This fracturing of belief is the source of many doctrinal disputes and widely differing eschatologies.

Judaism and Noahism, on the other hand don’t suffer from this doctrinal schizophrenia because we have a very different vision of the afterlife.

Gan Eden

The following description of the afterlife and future worlds are summarized from Gesher HaChayim, The Bridge of Life, by Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky, Derech HaShem, The Way of God, by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, and An Essay on Fundamentals, also by Rabbi Luzzatto. This presentation is a general overview of the beliefs, yet is nothing here is an iron-clad fundamental-of-the-faith.

God prepared a number of places for the soul. In this physical world at this time, the place of the soul is the body. However, when the body is no longer available, God prepared another repository: Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden. The Garden has an upper garden and a lower garden.

The Lower Garden and The Upper Garden

While both gardens are entirely spiritual, the lower one is a “shadow,” a spiritual simulacrum of the physical world. In this lower realm the souls maintain an image of their physical form. Similarly, the delights of this lower realm are limited, experienced much as greatest pleasures of the physical world.

The upper garden, however, is a place where souls exist in their abstract, truest essence; they do not maintain the “shadow” of their physical form. Likewise, the delights of  this upper garden are abstract and uniquely spiritual, devoid of corollary in the physical world.

The Gardens are not static. They experiences “seasons” and a spiritual “time” all of its own. Its delights, the fruits of the garden, change regularly with the seasons.

Shoel / Chibbut HaKever

However, the ability to enter these spiritual gardens necessitates the soul’s detachment from the physical realm. The committing of transgressions has the effect of binding and entangling the soul with the physical world. In order for the soul to ascend, it must be carefully dis-entangled from olam ha-zeh, material existence.

Recall from our previous lesson on reward and punishment that punishment is not a “punishment for” as much as a “natural consequence of” sin.

We can now understand what this means. The “punishment” of sin is the disentanglement of the soul from the body. By nature, this is an unpleasant process, like disentangling a cotton ball from a thorn bush. The greater the transgressions, the more entangled the soul the longer and more unpleasant the experience.

This process begins with burial and the process of decomposition. Upon placement of the body in the grave (shoel), the “physical trap” of the soul returns to its source, losing its form and illusory autonomy. For approximately 12 months the soul hovers above the grave “grieving” and “mourning” for the loss of the body. This is the implication of the verses:

Burial and Decomposition

His soul mourns for him,

and,

His flesh grieves for him.

This process, called chibbut ha-kever, the atonement/purification of the grave, is of tremendous anguish to the soul.

Gehinnom

Once the soul has completed this chibbut kever, purification of the grave, it is then judged. At this point, the soul stands before the ultimate truth and must confront all of its deeds. This part of the afterlife is known as Gehinnom.

Since this is a purely spiritual process, it cannot be adequately described in words. Nevertheless, the Talmud, Midrash, and other sources attempt to convey the experience of the soul using graphic, often terrifying parables. For example, the description of Gehenom as a place of fire refers to the shame the soul experience as it stands before the ultimate truth.

The process of Gehenom is by not a permanent one; it lasts, at most, for only 12 months. After this point, the soul may ascend to the gardens.

Olam HaBa

Gan Eden, the Garden, Gehinnom – all of these places are temporary. The permanent place of man’s reward is the World to Come, Olam HaBa. This future era, ushered in by the coming of the Messiah and resurrection of the dead (topics of future lessons), is one of the most mysterious and least-understood of God’s creations.

Although the World to Come is a creation of G-d, no two souls experience it the same way. Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, in his Nefesh HaChayim describes the unique experience of the world to come as follows:

A person’s own deeds constitute his reward in the World to Come. Once the soul has departed the body, it arises to take pleasure and satisfaction in the power and light of the holy worlds that have been created and multiplied by his good deeds. This is what the Sages meant when they said: “All of Israel have a portion to the World to Come,” and not in the World-to-Come. In implies that the World to Come is prepared and awaiting a person from the time of Creation, as if it was something existing on its own and of which man may receive as a reward. In truth, the World to Come is built of the expansion and multiplication of ones deeds into a place for himself… so too with the punishment of Gehenom, the sin itself is his punishment.

The structure and space of the world to come is directly related to the mitzvos of an individual. Within that space, the eternal reward of his mitzvos is received. The amount of reward, however, is directly tied to the merit one accumulated in this world.

There is a lack of clarity and agreement as to whether the World to Come is physical or entirely spiritual. There is also confusion as to the various roles within that world, the nature of mitzvos, and the purpose of worship, holidays, and the third temple.

In truth, though, these details are not entirely for us to know, but to find out eventually.

For those wanting to read more, see the Bridge of Life by Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky and the Way of God by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto.  

Summary of the Lesson

  • Upon death and burial, the process of decay begins. This atonement for the physical flesh via the grave is called shoel, literally, the grave.
  • As the soul decomposes, the soul undergoes a process of disentanglement from the body. This is known as chibbut ha-kever, the atonement/purification of the grave.
  • Following chibbut ha-kever, the soul then undergoes the first of a series of judgments. This is called Gehenom
  • Gehinnom is the laying bare of one’s sins in the light of complete truth. The many metaphors for Gehinnom found in the sources speak primarily to the emotional experience of Gehinnom.
  • The entire process of Shoel, chibbut ha-kever, and Gehinnom, takes 12 months at most.
  • Once the soul has been judged and is freed from its attachments to the physical, it ascends to Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden.
  • The Garden contains upper and lower gardens for different souls of different natures.
  • The Gardens experience seasons, fruits, and all the other varieties to be expected in a physical garden. Of course, these are all allegories for a non- physical place.
  • The soul awaits in the Gardens until the coming of the messiah. At this time the souls are reborn, experiencing resurrection.
  • The resurrection and rebirth is into a new world called Olam Haba – the world to Come.
  • The World to Come is a not well understood; it is also experienced differently by each soul commensurate with the mitzvos of that soul during its first lifetime.

For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the 'Home/Study course', 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.

10. Dreams

A dream (chalom) is a night vision, an apparition, a revelation or a vision that a person occasionally sees in his sleep.

Sometimes, the term "dream" is also used to describe a phenomenon without permanence, something fleeting which rapidly evaporates. "Dream " also refers to a strong desire which is unfulfilled or to something which is farfetched and unlikely.

Scientific Background

A dream (chalom) is a night vision, an apparition, a revelation or a vision that a person occasionally sees in his sleep.

Sometimes, the term "dream" is also used to describe a phenomenon without permanence, something fleeting which rapidly evaporates. "Dream " also refers to a strong desire which is unfulfilled or to something which is farfetched and unlikely.

The study of dreams is an ancient one. People since antiquity have been agitated and fascinated by dreams and have made many attempts to explain the nature of dreams, their purpose and their interpretation.

In spite of thousands of years of effort and study of  the nature and interpretation  of  dreams,  science  has  advanced very little in this  area.  The  modern  era  of  the  study  of dreams begins with the publication of Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900. Freud claimed that all details of a dream (even the  most  ridiculous}  have  significance.  In his view, various feelings and sensations which one experiences in a dream are those pushed out of consciousness because of various social prohibitions. Further, contents of dreams satisfy hidden desires. There are struggles in man's nature between intellect and impulse. During waking hours, logical tendencies predominate. During a dream, instinctive desires and experiences occur which are important to satisfy a person's needs. The approach of Freud is based more on theories and hypotheses than on scientific facts. His views were strongly opposed by many people even during his lifetime and more so nowadays in view of new scientific knowledge about the structure of dreams - knowledge which was not known to Freud .

In the first half of the present century, the numerous studies of dreams were based on psychological and/or psychiatric considerations. Dreams form the basis of names denote similar things with variations in degree. See Mishneh Torah , Yesodei Hatorah 7:2-3. Other scholars state that there is a fundamental difference between a dream and prophecy and these names are not all the same.

psychoanalytical theory. Even nowadays, some  psychiatrists  and psychologists believe that dreams have important significance to the dreamer. Various psychiatric theories are based on the diagnosis and treatment of the  contents of dreams.

In 1953, the various stages of sleep which form the physiological basis of sleep were first identified. In  that year, the stage of sleep of rapid eye movements (REM) was described as the most important stage of dreams. The connection  between a large number of  dreams and  the REM stage  of  sleep  was established in 1957. On the other hand, some people lack this stage of sleep, lack any known dreams during sleep, yet have no functional problems. 12 During the past 50 years, dreams have been intensively studied by physiologists and others specializing in sleep disorders. There are still no clear scientific facts which prove that dreams are psychological, physiological, or a combination of both. Therefore, we still do not have a dear understanding of the nature and function of dreams nor of their genesis.

The importance and function of dreams has not yet been scientifically clarified. According to the theory put forth by Freud, the function of dreams is to release the contents of our subconscious and to transfer these contents to our consciousness. Primarily these contents are sexual in nature. Other psychoanalysts, such as Adler and Jung, theorize that dreams are important to express other contents such as aggressive tendencies or various personal desires. Other  psychiatrists state that the main purpose of dreams is to forget some learned material, thereby producing "cleanliness of the head" and to liberate brain energy to gather other and varied  material. Yet other psychiatrists believe that the purpose of  dreams is  to transfer n1emory, temporarily stored in subcortical areas, to cortical areas in the brain where memory is stored for prolonged periods of time. Finally, some psychiatrists suggest a combination of the two theories, namely the transfer of memory from subcortical to cortical areas, and the simultaneous erasure of memory which was temporarily stored in those subcortical areas, for an intermediate period of time, thereby allowing a fresh collection of memories and experiences to be collected and stored. 

Some psychiatrists believe that the storage of memory in our brain is effectuated through parables. When awake, we immediately try to interpret them. During sleep, the dream is an expression of the amorphous from the memory. This matter resembles vision and learning which enter the brain and are stored as electrical impulses. Only when our bra.in is awake does it translate the impulses into pictures and sounds.

Dreams in the Bible and the Talmud

The phenomenon of dreaming seems to be a wuversal human experience. A number of dreams  are  portrayed in  the  Bible: the dream  of Abimelech, the  dreams  of  Jacob, of  Laban the Aramean, the dreams of Joseph, and of the butler and the baker,0 the dreams of Pharaoh, of the two Midianites about Gideon, of Solomon, of Nebuchadnezzar, and the dream of Daniel.

The interpretations of all these dreams are described in the Bible except for the first dream of Jacob, about the ladder whose top reached up to heaven.

Dreams and dreaming are often discussed in the Talmud, but their ultimate significance is debatable. "Dreams are hidden and concealed things, and their purpose is concealed from human  beings."  "In  the  matter  of  dream  interpretation  there are nostrums or concealed things. Their purpose has not been revealed to us." Thus, in the Torah and the Talmud we find statements and opinions which indicate that dreams have no significance, are not true, are not fulfilled, and only represent deceptions of one's imagination for a variety of  reasons. On the other hand, we also find statements which indicate that dreams are significant in telling us about the future and in establishing Jewish law or ethical conduct. Some dreams are completely true and correct, while others are at least partially correct. There are also numerous conflicting opinions in Jewish writings about the origins and purposes of dreams, as discussed below.

Confirmed dreams which have significance and  which can be used to determine a halacha or a custom are called "true dreams." By contrast, dreams which are insignificant  or meaningless are called false dreams or vain dreams.

Our rabbis apparently considered that true dreams can be significant and meaningful. Examples include the dreams cited in Scriptures, which have true prophetic meaning, and the dreams cited in the Talmud whose forecasts become established according to the contents of the dreams. The laws about voiding a bad dream, fasting for bad dreams, and excommunication testify  to the  various meanings our rabbis attributed to dreams. Other mentions of dreams as authentic harbingers of some kind of divine message include "If there be a  prophet  among  you...I  will  speak  to  him  in  a  dream;" "And when Saul inquired the Lord...  neither  by dreams..."; "a dream is one sixtieth part of prophecy;" "the Lord said:

Although I hide My face from them, I shall speak to them in a dream;" "unripe prophecy is a dream." "Three types of dreams are fulfilled:  an early morning dream, a dream which a friend has about one, and a dream which is interpreted in the midst of a dream. Some also add, a dream which is repeated ... "Every dream just before morning is fulfilled immediately.'" "Nowadays, there is no prophecy nor voice from l1eaven, but people still have dreams.''

Some rabbinic dicta suggest that a dream should not be understood as totally meaningful and true.  However, it may be partially meaningful, as stated in the Talmud:  "Just as wheat cannot be without straw, so there cannot be a dream without some nonsense.', Kabbalists hold that although part of a dream is fulfilled, the whole of it is not fulfilled.  And while not all of a good dream is fulfilled, neither is all of a bad dream fulfilled. Some dreams are totally true and some contain both truth and falseness .

These elusive, sometimes contradictory, opinions regarding the validity of a dream sequence and its possible relevance reflect the wide range of rabbinic positions regarding the importance one ought to ascribe to a dream.

Clearly, there is a difference between the dreams of true prophets, which are meaningful and represent an expression of prophecy, and the usual dreams of ordinary people.  The latter dreams are the ones whose content, function, and significance are discussed in the Talmud and by the rabbis, to probe to what extent they may be meaningful.

Rabbinic decisors employ a variety of approaches to reconcile the apparent contradictions in talmudic teachings about dream interpretation and to explain the origins of dreams and their significance. Some rabbis write that there is an essential identity between a dream and prophecy - the difference between them is only quantitative.

A dream originates in the imaginative faculty of the soul. What a person perceives in a dream are concepts which he already had and whose impressions remain engraved in his imagination together with all his powers of imagination. When any idea becomes nullified, only those impressions remain. According to this view, there are various levels of prophetic experience; a prophet's dreams represent certain stages of prophecy. The prophetic dream levels are a dream in which the prophet sees an allegory, a dream in which the prophet hears things, a dream in which the prophet is addressed by an angel, a dream in which it appears to the prophet as if G-d spoke to him. Consequently, some rabbis describe true dreams as a "minor prophecy.”

By contrast, other rabbis believe that there is a substantive difference between a dream and prophecy and that the similarity between them is only external. For a dream is derived from the individual human imaginative faculty according to his own expressed characteristics and the constitution of his body, whereas prophecy comes from divine revelation from above.

Whether the difference between prophecy and a dream is qualitative or quantitative, apparently most rabbinic decisors and commentators believe that the majority of dreams originate from an imaginative faculty which is not healthy, or from a physical reason such as the digestion of food which produces gases in the brain, or from weakness of the body constitution which allows alterations in the body humors, or from provincial expressions and thoughts during the course of the day. A dream is the revelation of disorganized thoughts that are suppressed during waking hours and released during sleep. Such dreams are vain, have no meaning, and have no effect one way or the other. One should pay no attention to them.  Even if something in the dream is true, it is a very small part of the dream. Prophecy, however, is completely true, without any falseness at all.

10.1. Dreams II

The rabbis also maintain that although the imaginative faculty is in part  correct, much  worthless  material is contained therein, and consequently most dreams are useless things. Even "true dreams," which derive from prophecy and intellect, also contain useless things. Some rabbis write that a dream can only contain a true or prophetic matter if it pertains to the future; if it relates to the past, however, it is considered meaningless. Similarly, some rabbis write that whether a person dreams about himself or another person dreams about him, the contents of dreams have no effect one way or another. This is a general rule for all dreams.

There is, however, a very small minority of dreams which are true and correct and which have no relationship to physical causes but occur due to strength of the soul. If the imaginative faculty in a person is very strong and healthy, dreams can be a teaching from heaven, "a small prophecy,""one sixtieth part" of prophecy. Despite the ephemeral nature of the dream experience, Jewish thinking is not quite ready to discount these experiences altogether. Thus, halacha (law) and hashkafa (philosophy) do address the issue.

Certain general principles apply to the validity of dreams from a halachic viewpoint. Most dreams are considered of questionable validity and therefore, in monetary matters, the doubt is resolved leniently - money is not taken from one person and given to another merely on the basis of a dream, but only upon clear and convincing evidence. However, in matters of what is permitted or forbidden, the doubt as to the dream's importance is resolved stringently, and one must be concerned about the contents of the dream. Some rabbis, however, rule that even in such matters one need not be concerned with a dream because dreams have no effect one way or another.

In general, Jewish law follows the rule of the majority and considers most dreams as meaningless. However, in matters of danger to life, the law does not follow the rule of the majority. There is concern even for a minority circumstance. Therefore, a dream whose  contents deal with danger to Life is of concern. In matters which are not contrary to Jewish law, one should be concerned about the contents of a dream. For example, if one dreams that raging troubles will occur to the general populace, one should pay attention thereto, fast, and do penitence. However, if the dream indicates that one should nullify biblical or even rabbinic commandments, one is not allowed to heed the dream.

In halachic literature, there is a difference of opinion among rabbinic decisors whether or not a scholar is allowed to inquire in a dream about a halachic decision, and whether, if he saw the answer to a halachic question in a dream, he should pay attention to it. In biblical times dreams were frequently consulted, and some rabbis note that talmudic sages at times inquired of dreams. A number of early rabbinic decisors affirm that in dreams they saw answers to and interpretations of halachic questions. Rabbi Yaakov from Marvish, one of the Tosafists, inquired in dreams about legal questions and disseminated the questions and divine answers in his book.

By contrast, some rabbis write that a person should refrain from asking in a dream which woman to marry and in which business undertaking he might succeed. Although some later rabbinic decisors accept as authoritative the content of dreams which revealed Jewish Jaw to them, most rabbis reject his view. Dreams should have no effect one way or anotl1er, for the Torah is "not in the heavens," and a  dream is "fleeting and without substance."

However, books and treatises have been written attempting to interpret various dreams, according to the view that dreams do have significance and one should pay attention to their contents.

Specific Laws

Since by their very nature it is very difficult to determine whether a person's dreams are nonsense or should be taken seriously, Jewish law and literature reflect a cautious approach, based on the possibility that the dream might indeed carry a portent.

"Neutralizing" a Bad Dream

On going to bed one recites the prayer "Who causes the bands of sleep to fall upon my eyes" (hamapil), part of which includes "and let not evil dreams and evil thoughts disturb me."

The way to "neutralize" a bad dream ,is  as  follows: if  one has a dream which makes one sad, even if it  contains nothing bad but only makes him sad, he should have a "good  turn" given to it in the  presence of  three  people.  Let him go to three of his friends and say to them, "I have seen a good dream". And they should say to  him,  "Good  it  is  and good may it be. May the Holy One, blessed be He, turn it to good. Seven times may it be decreed from heaven that it should be good and may it be good." They should then say  three verses in which G-d promises to tum bad to good, three  verses with the word redemption and three verses with the word place. Some sources interpret the "seven times may it be decreed"... to be part of the text of the incantation.  In this view, the entire incantation is recited three times. Other rabbis state that this sentence is not part of the text of the incantation. Rather, the incantation should be recited seven times and one should respond "Amen" after it seven times.

During the "neutralization" one should remember the dream in one's mind. One rabbi states that the dreamer should describe his dream to the three people, who should then "interpret" it for good. The time to perform the neutralization ritual, according to some rabbis, is at the end of the day after one leaves the synagogue; other rabbis suggest that morning is the proper ti me.

In general, the rabbis advise people not to pay attention to dreams because most are meaningless. However, if he is sad and anxious about a dream, he should perform the neutralization ritual.

The Talmud advises that if  a  person  had  a  dream  but does not remember what he saw, (whether he cannot remember whether it was good or bad or whether he entirely forgot the dream), let him stand before the  Kohanim when they raise their hands to offer the priestly benediction and offer a prayer that the dream have a good outcome.

In Israel, where the Kolumim bless the people daily, one does not recite this praier every day but only if he bad a dream the night before. In countries where the priests offer the priestly benediction only on Jewish Holidays, it is customary for the entire congregation to recite this prayer during the priestly benediction - even the people who did not dream.

Fasting on Account of a Bad Dream

Halachic literature indicates that a person who experiences a bad dream should fast the next day, because fasting is as potent against a dream as fire against tow.

It is permissible to fast on account of a bad dream, even on the Sabbath, but he must afterward observe the next day of fasting in penance for having failed to make the Sabbath a delight. If one is weak and unable to fast on two consecutive days, he should fast on another day. Some rabbis, however, rule that one should not fast on the Sabbath on account of a bad dream unless he saw that dream three  times .  Others rule that nowadays one should not fast on the Sabbath at all on account of a bad dream because we are not experts on dream interpretation to know which dream is good  and  which  is bad.

It is commonly stated in ancient books that for three types of dreams one should fast on the Sabbath: If one sees a Scroll of the law (Sefer Torah) burning, or if one sees Yom Kippur at the time of the late afternoon service, or if one sees the  walls of one's house or one's teeth falling out. Other types of dreams are sometimes included in this list. Some rabbis rule that one should not fast on the Sabbath for any of the aforementioned occurrences but should fast two week days, one on account of  the bad dream and the other to compensate for the Sabbath. In any event, one should not fast on the Sabbath unless fasting gives him pleasure; for example, he is very sad, fasting may give him peace of mind.

While some rabbis minimize the need to fast for a bad dream, others seem to feel that it is important to do so - both for the individual personally or even for the benefit of the community.

Vows in a Dream

What a person in his dream swore to do something, or vowed not to perform a certain act?

Some rabbis rule that the oath does not require cancellation (hatarah, literally: regret) whereas others rule that it does. Some rabbis even maintain that a vow made in a dream is more stringent than one made while awake and therefore requires ten persons to cancel it.  Some rabbis rule that a husband cannot nullify his wife's vow made in her dream, but that she needs ten people to cancel it. Other rabbis however, rule that the law in regard to a woman's vow is the same whether it occurs in a dream or while awake.

Some rabbis write that one need be concerned only with obligatory vows made in a dream but not with vows which are only made as a sign of piety and asceticism.  Interestingly, some rabbis rule that if a person swears or vows in a dream to fulfill a commandment, he is obligated to do so, such as if he vows in a dream to write a Scroll of the Law.

Monetary Matters in a Dream

The Gemara talks about a person who was distressed over some money which his father had left him but whose location was not disclosed. In a dream the specific amount and its location were disclosed to him - and also the fact that it was money for the redemption of second tithe. On that occasion, the rabbis ruled that dreams do not matter one way or the other and the money was not considered tithe money and could be used by him for any purpose. The same rule applies if a person was told in his dream that the money belongs to so-and-so; even if it was given for safekeeping to his father, he can keep it. So, too, if he was told in the dream that so much is earmarked for charity, he can keep it. The rabbis explain that one cannot rely on a dream to remove money from the person who is in possession of it. It matters not whether or not he is distressed; in every instance, these dreams are of no significance.

Some rabbis write that the principle that dreams are of no effect applies only in regard to commandments. But if one dreams about a deceased person and his indignity, one should pay attention to the dream. The aforementioned applies, however, only within thirty days of the death of a relative. Later than that, one pays no attention to the dream.

If a physician is prepared to prescribe a medication for a patient but is warned in a dream not to do so because the patient might die - if he is in doubt about that medication, he should not prescribe it. If he is sure it will not harm the patient, he should pay no attention to the dream. If he is in doubt but another physician is not in doubt, the second one should pay no attention to his friend's dream.

The various rabbinic teachings cited herein hardly offer a concrete or coherent approach toward the question of the relative importance one should ascribe to a dream. Dreams are evanescent, and the laws pertaining to them seem similarly obscure. If a person is troubled by a dream experience, it would appear to be prudent to consult a Torah scholar wise in the depths of this deep issue, in order to receive direction and guidance on the proper reaction.

For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the 'Home/Study course', 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.



11. Prophesy & Inspiration

The Tanach is replete with examples of divine inspiration, whether mere assistance or outright prophecy. What is prophecy? Does it exist today? How does God speak to us? In this lesson we are going to provide an overview of divine assistance, inspiration, and prophecy.

Siyata D’Shmaya - Divine Assistance

The lowest level of inspiration is what we can best call “divine assistance.” Though not uncommon, it is so that those who have it are usually unaware of it. This level of inspiration is given to all of those who teach Torah in public with the proper motivations and fear of God. This level of inspirations is alluded to in many places. For example in Psalms 25:14:

The counsel of HaShem is with them that fear Him; and His covenant, to make them know it.

This was the minimal level of inspiration possessed by all leaders in the Tanach and Talmud. Any Torah leader whose works have been accepted by all or a substantial portion of Israel is assumed to have possessed this level of inspiration. This level can be attained by any person in any time or place.

Ruach HaKodesh – Divine Inspiration

Ruach HaKodesh is the next highest level of inspiration. At this level a person is aware that God is guiding his actions. However, it is still not prophecy.

Prophecy, as we shall see, is a communication between God and man. Ruach HaKodesh is not communication. Rather, it is inspiration and guidance. Through it a person develops unique intuition as to future events and even the thoughts and actions of others. There are ten qualities a person must perfect before he is even minimally worthy of this inspiration:

  • Torah – he must be unceasingly involved in the study and teaching of Torah.
  • Zehirus, caution - He must be extremely careful to never violate a negative commandment.
  • Zerizus, zeal – he must zealously perform every positive commandment.
  • Nekius, cleanliness – he must be clean of sin in thought and desire.
  • Perishus, abstention – he must sanctify himself even in that which is permitted and abstain from it if it may possibly lead to untoward desires or actions.
  • Tahara, purity – he must have repented and cleanse himself of all sin, having righted all his past wrongs.
  • Chasidus, piety – complete dedication to God beyond the letter of the law, but in the spirit of the law as well.
  • Anavah, humility – complete nullification of ego and self.
  • Yiras Chet – Dread and fear of sin.
  • Kedusha, holiness – separation from worldly needs and desires.

Once these qualities have been mastered, then the initiate may engage in meditations, certain rituals, or methods of intense Torah study in order to merit Ruach ha-kodesh.

Within this level there are many gradations that may be attained in greater or lesser measure.

The Ketuvim, Writings, were written in a state of Ruach haKodesh, divine inspiration, while the Prophets were written in a state of Nevuah, prophecy. That is why the Prophets are on a higher level than the writings.

Nevuah - Prophecy

At first, prophecy was attainable by all human beings. Moses, however, prayed that it be granted to Israel alone – a request to which God agreed:

And he [Moses] said unto Him: 'If Your presence go not with me, carry us not up. For wherein now shall it be known that I have found grace in Your sight - I and Thy people? Is it not in that you go with us, so that we are distinguished, I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth?'  And HaShem said unto Moses: 'I will do this thing that you have spoken, for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.'

This restriction went into effect upon completion of the tabernacle. From that moment on, prophecy was not granted to non-Jews unless it was for the sake of Israel. Even in these instances, however, the prophetic vision was the bare minimum needed to convey the message. It would come secretly, at night, and in  a vague form. This is the statement of the prophet:

Now a word was brought to me secretly.

Conditions For Prophesy

Even with the restriction of prophecy to Israel alone, a number of conditions must exist for prophecy to take place:

Land of Israel and Her People

Prophecy is only possible in the land of Israel when the majority of the Jewish people are living there:

HaShem, your G-d, will raise up a prophet for your, from your midst, from your brethren, like me. To him shall you listen.

The bold section indicates that prophecy is only possible in Israel when it is inhabited by the Jewish people. This is because prophecy requires a particular degree of Kedushah, holiness, which is only possible in Israel and in the midst of the people of Israel.

Once a prophet has mastered prophecy in Israel, he can then attain prophecy even outside of Israel. However, this prophecy will be harder to achieve and only granted in specific circumstances.

Full prophecy is only possible when the Ark of the Covenant rests in the temple. At that time, the influence of the Ark, the root of prophecy in this world, extended to the boundaries of the land of Israel.

There are a number of qualities a person must possess as a prerequisite to prophecy:

Must be of pure Israelite lineage and a direct descendant of Abraham. Moses alluded to this when he said:

God, your Lord, will elevate a prophet from you… from your brethren, just like me - meaning of Israelite ancestry like Moses himself.

  • This is a general rule, however. Exceptions have been made for those of special merit, such as Obadiah.

  • A potential prophet must possess a number of personal qualities as pre- requisites:

                    Must be mentally healthy and stable.
                    Must have a mature intellect which has maximized its potential.
                    Must be an expert in all areas of the Torah.
                    Must have what he needs and be materially completely satisfied with no desires materially for more or less.

  • The generation must be capable of meriting prophecy. Prophecy is only granted for the sake of God’s people. Even if an individual is worthy and capable of receiving prophecy, it will not be bestowed if the Generation is not worthy or capable of recognizing true prophecy.

Once these minimum benchmarks are met, the candidate may begin to prepare for prophecy. This involves techniques of meditation and focus to attain the state required for prophecy.

Master & Guide

Every potential prophet must have a master to guide him and constantly give him “reality checks.” Without a master to teach him and keep him on the right track, the result of his efforts will be psychosis and hallucinations.

The Experience of Prophecy

Prophecy, being a skill and a craft, is something the prophet works to perfect over a long period of time. His first early prophecies will be flawed, unfocused and possibly unrecognizable as prophecy.

As his prophecy is perfected, it may be experienced as either a waking vision or a nocturnal dream:

And He said: 'Hear now My words: if there be a prophet among you, I HaShem will make Myself known unto him in a vision, I will speak with him in a dream.

The type of prophetic experience indicates greater and lesser degrees of prophetic ability. In ascending order of ability:

  • A Waking vision is always higher than a dream vision.
  • Hearing words is higher than seeing visions.
  • Seeing the speaker of the words is higher than only hearing them.
  • Seeing an angelic speaker is higher than seeing a human speaker.

The prophetic experience cannot be had if the prophet is depressed or angry. He must be in a pleasant, content, happy mood in order to enter the prophetic state. For this reason, we often see music connected to the prophetic experience.

According to many, the voice one hears in a prophecy is the Prophet’s own. The face he may see is his own as well.

Most of a prophet’s visions are private and meant only for the prophet himself.  However, a prophet is sometimes sent with a message for others. In such a case, the prophet is forced to reveal it even against his will:

Public Prophesy

And if I say: 'I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name', then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I weary myself to hold it in, but cannot.

Not all public prophecies were recorded and canonized. Only those prophecies that apply to all of Israel at all times were recorded as part of Tanakh.

The Prophesy of Moses

None of the aforementioned applies to Moses. Moses’s prophecy was of an entirely different type than all other prophets. Moses spoke to God as one  speaks to his fellow, face to face. His prophecy was not in the form of symbols, visions, or dreams, but as a waking, absolutely normal experience. Moreover, Moses was able to engage in direct conversation with God at any time.

Prophecy was very common during the first temple era. Many times there were over 1,000,000 people who had prophecy.

Prophesy's End

The period of Prophecy lasted from about 1313 BCE until about 40 years after the building of the second temple (about 313 BCE). Prophecy had begun to wane when the majority of the Jewish people refused to return to Israel with Ezra. Additionally, the Ark was displaced after the destruction of the first temple, which weakened the potential of prophecy. Sadly, there is no prophecy in our times.

Summary

  • There are three types of heavenly inspiration that exist. Each has its own numerous gradations and subdivision.
  • The lowest level is Divine Assistance, and is granted to all those who teach Torah in public for the right reasons. All may attain this.
  • The second level is Divine Inspiration. It is rarer than the first type. There are a number of personal qualities that the initiate must possess. This is a form of divine guidance granting the holder unique insight and intuition.
  • The highest level is Nevuah – prophecy. This is an experience of communication  with God via a vision or dream. Prophecy does not exist anymore in our days.

For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the 'Home/Study course', 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.

12. Moshiach

The pre-Messianic era, Messianic era, and identity of the Messiah himself are complicated and often misunderstood topics that involve a number of people and a process of unfolding events. While the grand details are known with certainty, specific elements must remain speculation until the actual time comes. In this lesson we will review the facts and questions regarding the coming of the Messiah.

The Pre-Messianic Era

Numerous scriptural prophecies, Midrashim, and other sources tell us that, as the time of the Messiah draws near, the world will experience changes and upheavals. Many of these will be positive, while others will be devastating.

Truth will ne’ederes [fail]… Isaiah 59:15

Changes in Religion and Belief

The Talmud explains that the word ne’ederes is also related to the word for “flocks.” The implication of the verse is that truth will fail because the Torah world will be divided into various groups, or flocks, each of which will claim the truth for its own. True Torah and faith will become indistinguishable from that which is false.

Rise of Atheism

Atheism will engulf the world and religious studies will become despised in the era preceding the Messiah. The Jewish world will not be spared from this calamity – many Jews will abandon the Torah and their faith as well. However, the wise will recognize that this torrent of disbelief is a test and that they must remain firm in their faith. This is the interpretation of the verse:

Many shall purify themselves – make themselves white and be refined; but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand; but they that are wise shall understand.
Daniel 12:15

There are many who are far from Torah and truth, however, who will see what is happening and realize its import. They will return to God, yet they will suffer ridicule for abandoning the norms of secular culture. This is the meaning of the verse:

He who departs from evil will be considered a fool. Isaiah 59:15.

Social & National Upheaval & Decline

This decline in religious unity will be, partially, the result of a general global decline in values, morals, and important social institutions. Because change will advance so rapidly, parents and children will experience the world on radically different terms. As a result, there will be no respect of the elderly or for one’s parents. Governments will become godless and economies will fail.

Increase in Secular Knowledge

This will all be accompanied by a sudden increase in world population. This will be a time of tremendous strain. The Midrash states:

One-third of the world’s suffering will come in the generation before the Messiah. According to some recent authorities, there will be an explosion of secular and scientific knowledge before the coming of the Messiah.

This is understood from a passage in the Zohar:

In the 600th year of the 6th millennium, the supernal gates of wisdom and the lower wellsprings of wisdom will open. This will prepare the world to enter the 7th millennium just as man prepares for Sabbath before sunset.

This prophecy establishes the Hebrew year 5600 (1839/1840) as the start of a new era in Human knowledge. Though we cannot tie this Zohar to any specific even in that year, it does correspond to the onset of the scientific revolution and modern technological era.

Ingathering of Exiles

He will gather the dispersed of Israel - Psalms 147:2

God will then bring back your remnants and have mercy on you. God your Lord will once again gather you from among all the nations where He scattered you.  Deuteronomy 30:3

Either after or concurrent with the pre-messianic upheavals there will be a return of the Jewish people to their ancestral land. The unfolding of this process, whether gradual or sudden, miraculous or natural, is uncertain.  However it occurs, it will only be completed by the Messiah himself:

Restoration of Prophecy

On that day, God will stretch forth his hand a second time to recover His people… He will send up a banner for the nations, assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth.  Isaiah 11:11-12

Besides the prophetic indications of a national return, it is also a necessary component of the redemptive process. It appears that the coming of the Messiah is concomitant with a return of prophecy.

However, this can only happen when a number of other conditions are fulfilled, one of which is that the majority of the Jewish population must reside in the land of Israel. Therefore, there must be a resettlement prior to the advent of the Messiah.

O mountains of Israel, let your branches sprout forth and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are at hand to come.  Ezekiel 36:8

Cultivation of the Land

I will open rivers on the high hills and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness cedar, the acacia, myrtle, and the oil-tree. I will set in the desert cypress, the plane-tree, and the larch together so that they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of HaShem has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it.  Isaiah 41: 18 - 2013

These passages are only a sampling of those prophesying a renewed cultivation of the land of Israel prior to the redemption.

The War of Gog and Magog

One of the final steps in the messianic advent is the War of Gog and Magog. The Book of Ezekiel, chapters 38 and 39, prophecies a war in the era immediately preceding the Messiah. This war, according to the Zohar, will take place in the vicinity of Jerusalem. It will be the final showdown for the Land of Israel, a battle royale for the soul of the land. Upon its conclusion, the Jews will live free of harassment in their land. According to Rabbi Akiva, the war will last one year.

Though the names of Gog and Magog appear early in Tanakh, the exact identities of these nations in modern terms is uncertain. According to the Talmud, the second Psalm is a reference to this eventual conflict.

The Two Messiahs

It is little known that there actually are two Messiahs: Moshiach ben David (Messiah, son of David) and Moshiach ben Yosef (Messiah, son of Joseph – sometimes called Moshiach ben Ephraim). This is alluded to in numerous places:

And you, son of man, take one stick, and write upon it: For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions; then take another stick, and write upon it: For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and of all the house of Israel his companions; and join them one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand.  Ezekiel 37:16-17

Ephraim’s envy will depart and Judah’s enemies will be cut off. Ephraim will not envy Judah and Judah will not envy nor harass Ephraim.  Isaiah 11:13

Moshiach Ben Yosef

Of particular importance is the latter verse teaching that each of the Messiahs will have their own missions uniquely suited to their strengths. They will not envy one another nor interfere with their respective jobs. Each Messiah will have his own era, as well, with the Era of Moshiach ben Yosef coming first.

All messianic tasks up to and including the War of Gog and Magog will be the duties of Moshiach ben Yosef. It is he who will wage the war and conquer:

The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble. They will set them ablaze and consume them; there will be no survivor of the house of Esau, for God has spoken.  Obadiah 1:18

It appears that this Messiah will die in battle, though, and be mourned by Israel:

They shall look to Me because they have pushed him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for a first born son.  Zechariah 12:10

According to some scholars, however, the decree of death for Moshiach ben Yosef was rescinded.

Eliyahu HaNavi

Following the War of Gog and Magog, the prophet Elijah will herald the impending messianic age:

Behold! I will send Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of God! He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and of the children to their fathers… Malachi 3:23

As we see in the verse, he will turn people back to truth and rectify much of the world’s pre-messianic decline. Immediately following his arrival, the final Messiah, ben David, will be revealed.

Summary of This Lesson

  • There are a number of stages to the coming of the Messiah.
  • The first is a period of social, spiritual, and political decline.
  • According to contemporary understandings of the Zohar, there will be an explosion of secular wisdom concurrent with these travails.
  • There will be tremendous difficulty discerning truth from falsehood in these times. The wise will see and recognize the greater significance of these events.
  • Concurrent with or following this era will be a return of the Jews to their ancestral land. This return is an intrinsic part of the eventual return of prophecy.
  • The land will be cultivated and bloom again.
  • As the population increases and the former glory is Israel approaches its return, there will be a Great War: the War of Gog and Magog.
  • This war will be waged on behalf of God by Moshiach ben Yosef, one of the two Messiahs.
  • Either immediately before or after this war (after, according to most) Elijah the prophet will appear to announce and make final preparations for the final Messiah, Moshiach ben David.

For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the 'Home/Study course', 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.

12.1. Moshiach II

In our previous article we examined the events of the pre-messianic era and the coming of Moshiach ben Yosef (Messiah son of Joseph). Moshiach ben Yosef, however, is only one of two messiahs. The second, final messiah is Moshiach ben David, the Davidic messiah. When most people speak of the messiah, they are referring to this final messianic figure. In this lesson we will examine the criteria for identifying the messiah, his duties, and the messianic age.

Criteria for the Davidic Messiah

The Torah belief is that the final Messiah, Moshiach ben Dovid, will be identified by six criteria:

  1. He will be a direct descendant of King David,
  2. He will be anointed as king of Israel,
  3. He will complete the return of the Jewish people to Israel,
  4. He will rebuild the temple in Jerusalem,
  5. He will bring peace to the world, ending all war,
  6. He will bring knowledge of God to the world.

These six criteria are not metaphorical – they are literal, observable, verifiable facts. They are the minimum that one must accomplish before he is accepted as the Messiah.

Writes the Rambam:

If there arises a ruler from the family of David, immersed in the Torah and its mitzvos as was his ancestor David, who observes both the Oral and Written Torahs, who leads Israel back to the Torah, strengthening its observance and waging God’s battles, then we may presume that he is the Messiah. If he then succeeds in rebuilding the temple upon its original site and gathering in the exiles of Israel, his identity as Messiah will then be confirmed.

Once a candidate meets criteria 1, 2, 5 and 6, we may presume he is the messiah. Once he completes stages 3 and 4, he is confirmed as the messiah. Our sages  teach us to nevertheless remain skeptical of messianic claims:

Said Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai: If you are holding a sapling in your hand and someone tells you, 'Come quickly, the messiah is here!', first finish planting the tree and then go to greet the messiah.

When Will the Messiah Arrive?

The messiah can come at any time and will arrive (reveal himself) on any day except a Shabbat or a Holiday.

However, we should never try to calculate or predict the time of the arrival of the messiah. The sages curse those who attempt to predict the dates and times of his arrival because doing so ultimately damages the faith of others:

Rabbi Shmuel ben Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan, “The bones of those who calculate the end should rot! For they would say that since the predetermined time has arrived and yet he has not come, he will never come. Rather wait for him, as it is written, ‘Even though he might delay, wait for him.“

Furthermore, studying, fixating, or obsessing on the messiah as a goal of one’s religious thought and practice is discouraged:

A person should not involve himself with the Aggadot [Talmudic sections regarding Mashiach] nor with the words of the Midrash that speak about this topic. Do not make them the prime focus, because they do not bring a person to love or fear of God. Also do not calculate the end [time of Mashiach’s arrival] ... Rather wait for him and believe in the general principle, as we have explained.

The goal of our study and service of God should be to fulfill His will in this world at every moment. Focusing on the future redemption only diminishes one’s Avodah (divine service) in the here-and-now.

A Descendant of David

A shoot will come forth from the family of Jesse and a branch will grow from his roots. Isaiah 11:1

Jewish Ancestry

This is one of many verses indicating that the messiah will arise from the family of David. As mentioned, this is not a metaphor – he will actually be able to trace his lineage definitively to King David. There are many, many Jewish families today who can trace their ancestry to King David. Many of them are descendants of the Maharal, Rabbi Yehudah Loewy (1512 to 1609). Rabbi Loewy was a descendant of King David via his Geonic ancestry.

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh; there shall step forth a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite through the corners of Moab, and break down all the sons of Seth. Numbers 24:17

When you come into the land which the Lord your God gave you, and shall possess it, and dwell within it, and say: 'I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around about me,’ then you will set over you as king a wise man whom the Lord your G-d shall choose. You shall set one from among your brethren as king over you. You may not place a stranger over you who is not your brother.  Deuteronomy 17:14-15

These two versus inform us that the messiah must be Jewish. Since the messiah will also be anointed as a King of Israel, he must be Jewish. Jewish is defined as born of a Jewish mother.

The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor the ruler's staff from between his feet as long as men come to Shiloh; and unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be. Genesis 49:10.

From the Tribe of Judah

The messiah must come from the tribe of Judah. Tribal affiliation is only passed through the father’s lineage.

A King of Israel

The term Moshiach, messiah, literally means “anointed with oil.” Throughout the Tanakh there are many individuals who are called Moshiach on account of being anointed. Anointing with oil at the hands of a prophet was one of the many requirements for Jewish kingship. For example, the prophet Samuel anointed  both Kings Saul and David with oil.

Since the messiah will be crowned king, he must be anointed by a prophet. This is one of the reasons for the prophet Malachi’s prophesy that Elijah would return prior to the messiah.

Return of the Jewish People to Israel

He will arise a banner for the nations and assemble the castaways of Israel; and He will gather in the dispersed ones of Judah from the four corners of the earth.  Isaiah 11:12

It shall be on that day that Hashem will thresh, from the surging [Euphrates] River to the Brook of Egypt, and you [Israel] will be gathered up one by one, O Children of Israel. It shall be on that day that a great shofar will be blown, and those who are lost in the land of Assyria and those cast away in the land of Egypt will come [together], and they will prostrate themselves to Hashem on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.  Isaiah 27:12-13

I will return the captivity of Judah and captivity of Israel, and will rebuild them as at first.  Jeremiah 33:7

The return of the Jewish people to the land is not only part of the restoration of the glory of Israel, but is necessary for the return of prophecy. As we saw in the previous lesson, the Messiah will be the greatest prophet ever, second only to Moses. As it is written:

He will be filled with the spirit of God; he will not judge by what his eyes see or decide by what his ears hear.  Isaiah 11:13.

Among the many requirements for prophecy is that the majority of the Jewish people live in the land of Israel.

Restoration of Tribal Identities

Using his power of prophecy, the messiah will clarify the tribal identities of the Jewish people. In particular, he will determine the legitimacy of the Kohanim and Leviim. He will then divide the land according to the ancestral heritage of each.

Rebuilding of the Temple

I will seal a covenant of peace with them; it will be an eternal covenant with them; and I will emplace them and increase them, and I will place My Sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be among them; I will be a God to them and they will be a people to Me. Then the nations will know that I am Hashem who sanctifies Israel, when My Sanctuary will be among them forever.  Ezekiel 37:26-28

It will be in the end of days that the Mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the most prominent of the mountains, and it will be exalted up above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.  Micah 4:1

It will happen in the end of days; The Mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, 'Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.  Isaiah 2: 2, 3

The Messiah will accomplish the rebuilding of the Third temple according to the details prophesied by Ezekiel. According to many, this is the act which definitively proves the identity of the messiah.

Many details of the rebuilding, such as the precise location of the altar, must be determined using prophecy. For this reason, we know that the messiah must have prophecy. This also means that rebuilding the temple prior to the advent of the messiah is impossible.

Reestablishment of the Sanhedrin

The Messiah will also reestablish the Sanhedrin, which is a precursor to the re- establishment of the Temple:

I will restore your judges as at first, your counselors as in the beginning. Afterwards you will be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with justice…  Isaiah 1:26-27.

At some point between the coming of Elijah and the reestablishment of the Sanhedrin, formal Semicha (rabbinic ordination) will be restored. This is necessary for one to serve on the Sanhedrin. The chain of ordination from Moses was broken by Roman oppression in 358 CE. The possibility of renewing this ordination and reconstituting the Sanhedrin prior to the Messiah has been raised in the past, in particularly by Rabbi Yaakov Beirav in Tsfas in the 16th century.

12.2. Moshiach II continued

However, the attempt failed upon the ruling of the Radbaz, Rabbi Dovid ben Zimra, that the establishment of Semicha was not possible in our times.

The Temple Service

The messiah will also restore the sacrificial system to whatever degree it will apply in the Messianic era. He will also reestablish the Sabbatical and Jubilee year observances.

Establishing Peace and the End of All Wars

I will seal a covenant of peace with them; it will be an eternal covenant with them; and I will emplace them and increase them, and I will place My Sanctuary among them forever.  Ezekiel 37:26

He will judge between many peoples, and will settle the arguments of mighty nations from far away. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives; nation will not lift sword against nations, nor will they learn war anymore. Micah 4:3

He will judge among the nations, and will settle the arguments of many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation and they will no longer study warfare.  Isaiah 2:4

The Messiah will be a great political leader who will make peace among the nations. All war will come to an end and the nations will work for the mutual benefit of the world.

He Will Bring Awareness of God

They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be as filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed.  Isaiah 11:9

The glory of Hashem will be revealed, and all flesh together will see that the mouth of Hashem has spoken.  Isaiah 40:5

For then I will change the nations [to speak] a pure language, so that they all will proclaim the Name of Hashem, to worship Him with a united resolve.  Zephaniah 3:9

They will no longer teach - each man his fellow, each man his brother-saying, "Know Hashem! For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest - the word of Hashem - when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin.  Jeremiah  31:33

The most important mission of the Messiah will be to bring awareness of God to the world. Under his leadership all mankind will effortlessly achieve the highest levels of divine inspiration.

Free Will

Man will still have free will at this time and the potential to do evil will still exist. However, the awareness of God will be so intense and immediately apparent that there will be no incentive to do evil. Instead man will endeavor only to understand God and his Torah.

Conversion

As the messiah approaches, many non-Jews will rush to convert to Judaism. Once the Messiah ben David is revealed, however, converts will not be accepted anymore.

The Messiah’s End

The Messiah will be a human being like any other. He will have human parents and, like all men, will die a human death. However, his reign will last for a very, very long time because lifespans in Olam HaBa (the messianic world) will be greatly extended.

Summary

  • There are six criteria that one must fulfill in order to be the messiah:
  1. He will be a direct descendant of King David,
  2. He will be anointed as king of Israel,
  3. He will complete the return of the Jewish people to Israel,
  4. He will rebuild the temple in Jerusalem,
  5. He will bring peace to the world, ending all war,
  6. He will bring knowledge of God to the world.
  •  The Messiah will be human, born of human parents, and will die a human death.
  •  Calculating the time at which he will arrive is forbidden and those who do so are cursed.
  • While the messiah is a tenet of Torah faith, it should not be overly emphasized. Our duty is to fulfill Gods will in the here and now.

For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the 'Home/Study course', 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.

13. Supernatural

HaShem’s creation is amazing and diverse, including far more than our physical senses allow us to perceive. The parts of creation lying beyond the senses are usually, and often erroneously, called “supernatural.” However, these “supernatural” elements are actually far more natural than they may seem. They are part of the world and, in a sense, almost commonplace. Once we accept the paranormal as normal, the question of natural vs. unnatural becomes one of what constitutes natural vs. unnatural relationships to these entities. Most of the material cited here is summarized from the Sefer HaBris, Derech HaShem, and the writings of the Ari Zt”l. Know that this is a big topic – we will only give the scantest overview here.

Supernatural vs. Natural

It is a common mistake to assume that the sages made no distinction between natural and supernatural causation. For example, while many ancient peoples attributed disease to demons and spirits, the sages had a far more advanced understanding. There Talmud provides us with many examples:

Kesubos 110b – The Talmud acknowledges that moving and other stressful life-changes might cause digestive problems.

Taanis 21b – Rabbi Yehudah decreed a fast due to an epidemic among pigs. The Talmud asked: “Does Rabbi Yehudah hold that an epidemic of one species will spread to another?” The answer is surprising: “No, but the biology of pigs and humans is similar enough that they are likely to suffer from the same diseases.”

Bava Metzia 107b – Chills and colds are the result of wind; one did not bundle up sufficiently against the cold.

And many, many, more…

The Talmudic understanding is that there are unseen, yet natural causes for disease and other phenomena while, concurrently, there are also metaphysical and spiritual causes. It is very important to realize that, unlike many ancient peoples, the Sages did not simply attribute supernatural agency to events for which they lacked scientific or natural explanations.

Ghosts

The soul’s existence is entirely independent of the physical. However, the soul’s ability to affect and benefit from this world is dependent on its remaining bound to the body. When the body ceases its biological function, the soul’s existence continues, unhindered, upon its own plane. At that point, it has four options: it can either ascend to the gardens (as discussed previously), become reincarnated, seek refuge in another body (possession), or continue disembodied. The disembodied existence of an unclothed soul is only possible for a brief period of time. During this period the disembodied soul is not visible, yet can be sensed by the higher faculties of another soul. Animals in particular are sensitive to such things and often sense them with greater ease than people.

Apparitions

Apparitions are the auditory and/or visible manifestation of a soul that is no longer carried by a body. The most famous example of an apparition is from I Samuel 28, in which King Saul used a necromancer to summon the soul of the prophet Samuel. A close reading of this event reveals that, while the necromancer was able to see the prophet, only Saul was able to converse with it. Similarly, Saul was able to communicate with Samuel, but could not see him. Ralbag5 explains  that only the necromancer was able to see Samuel because her imagination was focused on the visual appearance of Samuel. Saul, however, needed information from Samuel and, therefore, focused his mind on the conversation alone. This implies that the apparitions of the voice and appearance of the prophet did not exist physically. Instead, they were only projected into the minds of those attuned to perceiving them.

This is true of all apparitions, be they of spirits or angels. Daniel 10 buttresses this understanding:

I lifted up my eyes and looked and beheld a man clothed in linen… And I Daniel alone saw the vision, for the men that were with me saw it not; nevertheless, a great trembling took hold of them, and they fled…

Daniel alone perceived a form for the entity, while the others only sensed its presence. In truth, the entity had no form for it was an entirely spiritual presence.

Maimonides, in his Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, writes:

One can never see matter without form or form without matter… The forms that are devoid of matter cannot be perceived with the physical eye, but only with the mind’s eye.

In every recorded instance of an apparition it required the presence of an observer.

It should be noted, that the conjuring of an apparition from the souls of the dead is a sever prohibition.

Angels

God cannot breach the veil between his essence and Chalal – the void in which all creation came to be. Were God’s essence to intrude into this arena, all creation would immediately cease to be. The reason is that in the presence of God’s absolute oneness, no other existence is possible. Therefore, to act directly upon this world, God needs an agent, a tool. These are the Melakhim, angels. They are mechanistic beings which exist to execute specific aspects of God’s will upon the created world. The name of an angel alludes to its purpose:

  • Raphael – From the words rofe, healer of, Eyl, God. This angel is the Healer of God, the one who brings healing to those who need it.
  • Gavriel – From gibor, the mighty one, ayl, of God. This angel, the Mighty One of God, carries out acts of power and destruction.
  • Uriel – From Ohr, light of, Eyl, God. The Light of God is the angel who illuminated, interprets, and explains.
  • Someil – This angel, whose name we never say, is the Poison of God. His duty is to prosecute the wicked and execute God’s punishment. He is sometimes called the Soton – the adversary.

Angels have no will independent of God’s will. As purely spiritual beings, they have no physical appearance or shape. Instead, they exist as abstract forms. What then, are we to make of the many descriptions of angels found in the Tanakh?

Writes Maimonides:

…For the angels have no physical bodies, only abstract forms. What then is meant when the prophets report having seen a being of fire or with wings? These descriptions are part of the prophetic vision and should be understood allegorically.

We see that the vision and appearance of the angel, as experienced in the mind of the prophet, is part of the prophetic experience and part of the prophetic message.

Dybbuk & Gilgul

When a disembodied soul can no longer endure the limbo of being out-of-body, it may seek refuge in a living body currently inhabited by a soul. This is called a Dybbuk, a clinging spirit. There are many types of Dybbuk im, the most common  of which is a Dybbuk ibur. This spirit clings to another body silently and has no influence or effect on the host. It merely rides along until the host achieves a certain condition spiritually that is of benefit to the dybbuk. Keep in mind, however, that the soul has a number of parts. Either the entire soul may become a dybbuk, or only certain parts of the soul.

Similarly, a soul may be either entirely or partially reincarnated, in which case it is a Gilgul. The main difference between a Gilgul and a dybbuk is that a Gilgul has returned to the higher realms and been sent back, while a dybbuk has never ascended. Additionally, a Gilgul is usually one soul in one body, while a dybbuk is multiple souls or parts of souls in one body.

Exorcism

In incredibly rare cases, a dybbuk might assert influence upon its host. In these  rare instances, the dybbuk has been given permission from on high in order that it may be exorcised. It must be understood that a dybbuk is neither evil nor demonic. Rather, the process of possession and exorcism is a rare opportunity for the atonement of both the dybbuk and the person within whom it resides. The process of exorcism is one of assisting the soul in making tikkunim, repairs, and helping it to repent in whatever way possible absent a body. Once this process is completed, the soul is then capable of ascending.

However, this process is only possible with the assistance of another soul, an exalted soul that can invoke the will of Shamayim. This would be the soul of a tsaddik or scholar who is capable of assisting the dybbuk. Without the proximity of such an individual, an exorcism is not possible. Since an exorcism is not possible, there is no point to the possession. Therefore, it won’t happen.

There are very specific criteria for determining legitimate cases of possession. These are incredibly exact requirements and preclude any known physiological, psychiatric, or medical cause for the condition.

Since there are no people capable of exorcising a soul nowadays, legitimate cases of possession do not occur. The last verified case was in Lithuania in the 1930’s and involved the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Poupko (Kagan).

Shedim

Any time that you come across the word “demon” in translations of the Talmud or Midrash, it is almost always a translation of the Hebrew term Sheid. Like many translations of Hebrew words, though, it is polluted by Christological connotations.

Shedim are odd creatures, having both qualities of men and angels. Although they must eat and drink, they are only loosely bound by the constraints of time and space. Unlike angels, they can manifest physical form, yet only subject to certain conditions.

Additionally, they are bound by their own concept of Torah law, for which they may be held liable and judged in Bais Din, Rabbinic Courts. They also live subject to their own strict social order and are subjects of their own king.

In the past, man had frequent interactions with the Shedim. Their relationship to man was complicated and involved a lot of confusion and headache. A major problem is that non-Jewish nations constantly took to worshiping the Shedim as deities. The Talmud records that the sages made a number of laws limiting their relationship with man. This legislation culminated with the banishment of Shedim from all inhabited areas. Nevertheless, certain halachos, religious laws, exist that pertain to them. For example:

  • One should not enter a house or other property that has been abandoned for 7 years.
  • When remodeling a house, one should not completely seal up any of the doors or windows.
  • When building an extension onto a home, one has to verify if it involves extending the property over land onto which a drainpipe or gutter opens. If so, then about a foot of dirt on either side, in front of, and beneath the drainpipe opening must be dug and transported to an uninhabited area.

There are a number of other halachos related to Shedim. However, most of them  are not observed anymore due to the rarity of Shedim. A noted Kabbalist once told this author that their interaction with people is so rare that it is as if they do not even exist anymore.

Shedim are not singled out as evil or unusual in anyway. They are as much an ordinary part of creation as cows, the sun, spiders, or cats. Like any other animal or person, however, one should not seek to provoke them. The Talmud tells us that if you don’t care about them, then they won’t care about you.

Summary of This Lesson

  • The sages were not superstitious. They did not assign supernatural causes to phenomena simply because they did not understand its physical causes.
  • A ghost, for lack of a better term, is a disembodied soul. It can be sensed, but has no physical form.
  • Souls and angels have no physical form or existence at all.
  • An apparition is the perception of a disembodied soul by the mind’s eye. To intentionally conjure such an apparition is a severe prohibition.
  • Angels are messengers of God that exist to carry out very specific missions. Their names indicate their mission and purpose.
  • Angels have no will independent of God’s will. In this sense, they are solely a tool or mechanism used by God.
  • All or part of a soul that has become disembodied and attached to another living person is a dybbuk.
  • All or part of soul that has ascended and returned again is a Gilgul.
  • Rarely, a dybbuk may be allowed to assert itself for the purpose of being exorcised. This is for the benefit of the dybbuk and the possessed individual.
  • This only occurs when there is one in proximity who is capable of exorcising the dybbuk. The last confirmed case of a full dybbuk was over 80 years ago. Since that time there has not been anyone capable of exorcising one.

For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the 'Home/Study course', 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.

14. Laws of Shabbat for Non-Jews

The question of Noahide observance of Shabbat comes up a lot. Unfortunately, there is much confusion surrounding the issue. Some have encouraged Noahides to keep a form of Shabbat observance, mistakenly equating Noahides with ger toshav (as well as erroneously understanding the ger toshav’s relationship to Shabbat). This confusion is understandable considering that the question involves advanced mechanics of Torah law and a beguiling array of often contradictory sources.

Sanhedrin 58b – The Prohibition

Said Reish Lakish: A non-Jew who refrains from labor for an entire day is liable for death, as it is written:

“Day and night they shall not cease.”(Genesis 8:22) The master said: Their warning is sufficient to warrant their death.

Said Ravina: This is so even if a non-Jew refrained from work on Monday. [Challenge:] If this is so, then let this prohibition be counted among the Noahide laws!

[Answer:] The Noahide laws are enumerated as prohibitions. They are not listed according to their positive aspects.

Sanhedrin 58b – Commentary

Said Reish Lakish: A non-Jew who refrains from labor for an entire day is liable for death, as it is written:

“Day and night they shall not cease.”(Genesis 8:22)

Explanation: This verse, at first glance, seems to refer to the progress of the seasons. However, Reish Lakish explains the word “they” as referring to man. Therefore, this verse is prohibiting Noah and his  descendants from disengaging in the labor of the world for an entire day. This is a positive commandment that precludes observance of Shabbat. There is ambiguity though, as to whether this is a general prohibition on cessation of work or a specific prohibition on doing so for religious reasons.

The master said: Their warning is sufficient to warrant their death.

Explanation: This is the general rule for the transgression of a Noahide commandment for which a warning is evidenced in the Torah. Certain prohibitions, however, are derived obliquely and are not subject to punishment by death. The Rambam understands the punishment for keeping Shabbat as heavenly and not imposed by human courts.

Said Ravina: This is so even if a non-Jew refrained from work on Monday.

Explanation: The intent of Ravina’s statement is unclear.

Rashi, Ridbaz, Rav Moshe - They understand Ravina as telling us that gentiles are prohibited from establishing a particular 24-hour period to abstain from work for any reason. To take a day off occasionally for rest only, with no religious motivation, would be acceptable, however.

Yad Ramah - This prohibition applies only if the rest is religiously motivated. It does not matter, according to them, whether this motivation is monotheistic or pagan. According to then, to establish a 24-hour period to rest from work for health reasons would be permitted.

[Challenge:] If this is so, then let this prohibition be counted among the Noahide laws!

[Answer:] The Noahide laws are enumerated as prohibitions. They are not listed according to their positive aspects.

Explanation: Rashi and other Talmudic commentaries explain that the Noahide laws, meaning the general categories themselves, are listed according to their negative (thou shalt not) aspects only. Even though the laws may include positive commandments, these are sub-classes of the general prohibitions. As mentioned in a previous lesson, dinim (the requirement to establish courts) appear to be positive. Nevertheless, it is primarily negative in that it establishes courts to enforce the other negative prohibitions.

Yevamos 48b – Shabbat and the Ger Toshav

Sanhedrin 58b is apparently contradicted by a braisa in Yevamos 48b. The Talmud there is discussing the laws of an eved, indentured servant, purchased before Shabbat and the prohibition of his performing work on behalf of his master. The same braisa concludes with a surprising statement:

[Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. Your ox and donkey shall have rest, the son of your maidservant, and the ger, so that they may be refreshed. (Exodus 23:12)]

“…and the ger” – this refers to a ger toshav [resident alien].

Explanation: Talmud tells us that the word ger, used in this verse, refers to a ger toshav. So, is this verse telling us that a ger toshav must observe Shabbat? How can that be? A ger toshav is not Jewish and, as the Talmud stated in Sanhedrin, non-Jews cannot observe Shabbat! Since the verse uses the generic term ger, it might be that the Torah means a ger tzedek, a convert to Judaism.

You might question: How do we know this refers to a ger toshav? Perhaps it refers to a ger tzedek, [a regular convert to Judaism]? This cannot be so, because another verse states:

And the Seventh day is a Sabbath… you shall do no labor… both you and the ger within your gates. (Deuteronomy 5:14)

Explanation: The Talmud understands the verse “ger within your gates” as referring to a ger tzedek – a full convert to Judaism. Since another verse has already taught us that a ger tzedek must observe Shabbos as a Jew, then our passage must be referring to a ger tzedek, the only other type of ger.

What are we to make of this? There are a number of explanations:

Rashi – Rashi understands the Talmud simply: A ger toshav must keep Shabbat. Apparently, Rashi derives his position this from the Talmud in Eruvin 69b. There it states that one who desecrates Shabbat is like one who worships idolatry. Rashi applies this idea to a ger toshav. Since the ger toshav has disavowed idolatry, he must therefore keep Shabbat. Rashi must interpret the Talmud’s prohibition (from Sanhedrin 58a) as only precluding idolaters from observing Shabbat.

Tosafos D. H. Zeh – A ger toshav has no obligation to observe Shabbat and may not do so because of the aforementioned passage from Sanhedrin. The Talmud here is only discussing whether or not a non-Jew may do work for a Jew on Shabbat. This certainly seems the intent of the verse:

Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. Your ox and donkey shall have rest, the son of your maidservant, and the ger, so that they may be refreshed

The first part of this verse discusses animals or servants working on behalf of a Jew (they clearly have no intrinsic obligation to observe Shabbat). Correspondingly, the first part of the braisa discusses a Jew’s servant working on his behalf. The second part of the braisa is explaining that a ger toshav is likewise prohibited from working on behalf of a Jew.

The basis of Rashi and Tosafos’s disagreement appears to be that the other entities mentioned in the verse (ox, donkey, servant, etc.) are subject to the will of a master, while the ger toshav is not. A ger toshav is completely autonomous. Tosafos seems to interpret the verse’s inclusion of ger toshav to mean: “You may think that a ger toshav, being a non-Jew who is not in your household, may labor on your behalf, but the verse is teaching that this is not so.”

Tosafos’s explanation is certainly consistent with the Talmud’s discussion. Rashi’s opinion, though, is very difficult to understand. First of all, Eruvin 69b is only describing Jewish desecration of Shabbat, not that of a ger toshav. To apply it to a ger toshav, we have to have some other pre-existing reason to equate Jewish desecration of Shabbat to that of a ger toshav. Moreover, the comparison is made for the unique purposes of explaining when a Sabbath desecrating Jew may be trusted or combined with other Jews for certain matters of halakha. In other words, it is only asking when a Jew is treated as an idolater in certain areas of Torah law. This entire issue is compounded by the lack of clarity as to how Rashi defines ger toshav.

Because of the difficulties in explaining Rashi, the Maimonides, Shulchan Aruch, and all other codifiers9 decide the halakha like Tosafos. Therefore, even a ger toshav is included in the prohibition of gentile observance of Shabbat.

Talmud Krisus 9a

There is similar discussion in the Talmud to Tractate Krisus 9a:

Our Rabbis taught [in a braisa]: A ger toshav may do work for himself on Shabbat to the same degree as a Jew on the intermediate days of the festivals.

Rabbi Akiva said: As a Jew on the festivals.

Rabbi Yossi said: A ger toshav may labor on Shabbat for himself just a Jew may on a weekday.

The Talmud tells us that the halakha is like Rabbi Yossi.

Thus far, we see have seen that there is nothing preventing a ger toshav from performing labor on Shabbat. Since a ger toshav is a de facto Noahide, we may  infer that that there is nothing prohibiting a Noahide from doing labor on Shabbat.

At the same time, there is a positive commandment requiring the inhabitants of the world to constantly engage in the world. This requirement precludes observance of Shabbat.

Midrash Rabbah

The Midrash explains the idea behind this prohibition:

Rabbi Yossi, son of Chanina, said: A gentile who observes the Shabbat before being circumcised is liable to the death penalty. Why? Because he was not so commanded.  But, what is your reason for saying that a gentile who observes the Sabbath is liable to the death penalty? Said Rabbi Chiya, the son of Abba, in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: If a king and queen are sitting in conversation and someone comes and barges between them, isn’t he liable to death? So too is the Shabbat between Israel and the Holy One, blessed is He, as it is written:

“[You shall speak unto the Children of Israel, saying: you must keep my Shabbat, for it is a sign] between me and the Children of Israel” (Exodus 31:13).

Therefore, a non-Jew who comes and places himself between them before being circumcised is liable to the death penalty.

Prior to the giving of the Torah, the rest of Shabbat was the privilege of God alone and man was not allowed to partake it. The commandment of observing Shabbat, the divine day of rest, was given to the Jews alone as part of their unique covenant with God.

In the next lessons we will look at further possible relationships between  Noahides and Shabbat.

Summary of Lesson

The Torah prohibits Noahides from observing Shabbat, requiring them to be involved constantly in the making of the world.

This prohibition only applies to religiously motivated resting.

A Ger Toshav has no obligation to observe Shabbat. They are likewise enjoined against observing Shabbat.

The Talmud in Krisus reiterates the Halakhah with regard to a ger toshav.

The Midrash Rabbah explains that the reason for the prohibition is because Shabbat is a matter between God and Israel alone.

For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the 'Home/Study course', 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.



15. Shabbat II - The Patriarchs & Shabbat

In the last lesson (Laws of Shabbat for Noahides) we saw there is a positive mitzvah upon all non-Jews to remain constantly engaged with the world (Sanhedrin 58b). This mitzvah, by default, prohibits non-Jews from observing any 24 hour rest period for religious reasons (Maimonides). This law applies equally to all non-Jews, including ger toshav and Noahides (Tosafos to Yevamos 48b and Kerisus 9a).

We saw from the Midrash that the Jews were commanded to partake in the divine rest of Shabbat. Their observance of Shabbat was established as a sign of their unique covenant with God. Anyone else is an interloper and even deserving of death!

Yet, we are also taught that the patriarchs kept all of the mitzvos. This would, of course, include observing Shabbat. Considering that the patriarchs were Noahides, how do we reconcile their behavior with halakhah?

Talmud Yoma 28b

The source teaching us that the patriarchs kept the Torah is Yoma 28b:

Rav Said: Our forefather Avraham kept the entire Torah, as it is written:

“Because Abraham obeyed My voice [and observed my safeguards, My commandments, My statutes, and my laws.]”

Rav Shimi bar Chiya said to Rav: Why not say that verse speaks only of the seven Noahide laws?

[Response]: It also referrers to circumcision, [therefore the verse must speak of more than just 7 laws.]

[Rav Simi bar Chiya responded]: Then say it refers only to the seven Noahide laws and to circumcision!

Rav said to him: If that were the case, then why does the verse state “My commandments… My laws?” This implies that Avraham kept the entire Torah.

Rav Ashi said: Our forefather Avraham fulfilled even eruvei tavshilin [a rabbinic mitzvah] for it is stated “My Laws” [lit. “My Torahs”], implying both the written and oral Torahs.

Many later commentaries hold like Rav Shimi bar Chiya, that the patriarchs only observed the Noahide laws plus the other mitzvos specifically commanded to them. According to this understanding of the Talmud, the Patriarchs did not observe Shabbat.

There are a significant number of commentaries, however, who agree with Rav or Rav Ashi. According to them, the patriarchs observed the entire written Torah, oral Torah, and possible even later rabbinic decrees.

Their view requires a lot of explanation. The most obvious question is: how did the patriarchs know the Torah before it was given? There are many good answers to this question, the most famous being that they knew it through Ruach ha-kodesh, a form of divine inspiration just below prophecy. This question, though, is nowhere nearly as difficult as the one posed by Leviticus 18:18:

Do not marry a woman and her sister…

Yet, Yaakov (Jacob) married two sisters (Rachel and Leah) despite this explicit Torah prohibition. How was this possible according to those who say that he observed the entire Torah! There are many examples of patriarchal behavior appearing to contradict the Torah.

According to the literalist interpretation of Rav and Rav Ashi, the Torah observance of the patriarchs must be somehow qualified to explain these contradictions. Many of the greatest Torah scholars in history have tackled this question and arrived at a number of solutions. For example:

Ramban to Genesis 26:5 – The patriarchs only observed the Torah in the boundaries of Israel. This may be tied into their knowledge of the Torah via Ruach haKodesh.

The Maharal of Prague writes that the Patriarchs only kept the positive commandments, not the negative commandments.

The Rama writes that there are indeed problems explaining how Yitzchak and Yaakov kept the Torah. His solution is to simply disagree with the early commentaries, writing that only Avraham kept the Torah. Indeed, the Talmud only states that Avraham kept the Torah before it was given. Almost all other commentaries disagree, holding that Yitzhak and Yaakov kept the mitzvos as well.

Ohr HaChaim to Genesis 49:3 – Though they kept the Torah, it had not yet been revealed and was not, therefore, truly binding. Their observance of the Torah could be modified by prophecy. When they deviated from the Torah, it was due to prophetic instruction.

Daas Zekeinim to Genesis 37:35 and Nefesh HaChaim 21 – since the Torah had not been given, the patriarchs had no actual obligation to observe it. The patriarchs were empowered to make judgment calls for the sake of building a people and community.

This sampling reveals a trend: Most explanations of how the Patriarchs kept the Torah render their observance of Shabbat irrelevant to modern Noahides (see above, Maharal, Ohr HaChaim, Daas Zekeinim, and Nefesh HaChaim). A further problem is that many commentaries explain that the Patriarchs were not 100% Noahides.

Once they accepted the covenant of circumcision, the patriarchs were considered Jewish to a degree permitting them to partake in Shabbat. This also precludes their observance from having any relevance to contemporary Noahides.

Therefore, to learn anything useful from the patriarchs, we must seriously narrow our question. The exact question should be:

How do we explain Shabbat observance of the Patriarchs according to those who hold that the Patriarchs were 100% Noahides and those who hold that they kept the Torah exactly as we understand “keeping the Torah?”

Although many have written about how the Patriarchs kept the Torah, the cross- section of those commentaries discussing our specific question is very small.

The Labor of Noahides

Let’s look again at the verse prohibiting Noahide Shabbat observance:

Day and night they shall not cease…

Before Sinai, however, the definition of labor was entirely colloquial. Therefore, the prohibition of observing Shabbat for gentiles was only on refraining from the colloquial definition of labor, not on the Jewish definition of labor. When the patriarchs rested, they observed the Torah (Jewish) definition of labor, which was not prohibited for them as Noahides. However, they did not refrain from colloquially defined forms of labor.

According to this understanding, gentiles are only enjoined against setting aside a day to refrain from their jobs, yard work, home repairs, etc. because of religious reasons. However, observing the Jewish definitions of labor for Shabbat is not a problem; it is not the type of labor from which they are prohibited from resting.

The Definition of Day

The Panim Yafos also makes a remarkable observation. The verse states:

Day and night they shall not cease…

This verse indicates that the Shabbat that may not be observed by non-Jews is one lasting from daybreak to daybreak. After all, the verse states day and night, not night and day. However, the Jewish Shabbat, the one commanded at Sinai, lasts from nightfall to nightfall. The patriarchs kept the Jewish Shabbat (nightfall to nightfall), which was never prohibited for gentiles.

This opinion would apparently permit Noahides to observe Shabbat in the same way as Jews. However, the Panim Yafos’s definition of “day” as daybreak-to- daybreak is disproven and rejected by numerous later authorities who find it at great variance with other established areas of halakhah.

The Circumstances of Pre-Sinaitic Noahides The Meiri explains that the circumstances of the Patriarchs were fundamentally different from that of later Jews. He holds that the reason gentiles are prohibited from observing Shabbat is because a gentile is not permitted to imitate the Jews

When the Torah prohibits gentiles from observing Shabbat, it is telling them that they may not refrain from labor for an entire day. What type of labor are we talking about, though? The Binyan Tzion makes a brilliant observation. The 39 prohibited labors, the Torah’s conception of labor for the purposes of Shabbat, were not articulated until Sinai. Since the details of these labors were not previously known to the world, they could not be definition of labor used in regard to Noahides and their prohibition of observing Shabbat.

For example, according to the 39 labors defined at Sinai, carrying a needle in the public domain is considered a prohibited labor for a Jew on Shabbat. However, if a Jew carries a sofa up and down the stairs of his home on Shabbat, it is not considered labor and is permitted.

faith. However, before the giving of the Torah, there were no Jews. Therefore, there is no point to prohibiting Shabbat observance.

But, wait a minute, wasn’t the key verse written in Genesis? This is long before the Jews were commanded to keep Shabbat. If there was no point at that time to prohibit non-Jewish Shabbat observance, then why is the verse written in Genesis?

The Meiri understands that it was written here for future generations. The Meiri would, therefore, prohibit any modern Noahide observance of Shabbat.

The Patriarchs & Monotheism

Rabbi Meir Dan Plotzki in his Kuntres Ner Mitzvah offers an interesting and unexpected view. The Talmud states:

Israel is not governed by mazal.

Mazal is a broad term referring to the created agents and mediators (both angelic and physical) of God’s providence in the world. It includes the motion of the stars and constellations and the physical and transcendent forces of the universe. These entities form a vast mechanism channeling God’s providence into the world.

Before Sinai, all nations of the world were subjected to this mitigated divine providence. At Sinai, however, the Jews were taken out from this system and became subject to God’s direct and unmitigated oversight. God signaled this new status by commanding the observance of Shabbat, by asking Israel to share in the divine rest of the seventh day. This is the intent of the verse:

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: You must keep my Shabbat, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. (Exodus 31:13)

Given the Jews a portion in Shabbat was the sign that they were no longer subject to the cycles of time, seasons, and stars – the lesser providence.

The non-Jewish nations are subject to mazal, hence they must observe the cycle of time and days. When a non-Jew observes a religious Shabbat, it is an attempt to  lay claim to the unique providence of Israel, to cast off the mitigating forces of creation. This is why the Midrash describes non-Jewish observance of Shabbat as an interposition between a king and queen – it is the usurping of a private, unique relationship.

However, God commanded Avraham: Exit from your stargazing! Israel is not governed by mazal!

God was telling Avraham that, from that point onward, he would merit God’s direct providence and no longer be subject to the influences of mazal. Therefore, Avraham was permitted to observe Shabbat fully.

The Chemdas Yisrael further explains that Abraham merited this providence by disavowing idolatry.

This explanation fits well with Rashi’s opinion that a ger toshav must keep Shabbat (assuming Rashi defines a ger toshav as one who only does not worship idols).

However, it appears from the Talmud that, assuming a change in providence is the underlying factor, this change only applied to Abraham and his descendants, but to none other.

Furthermore, this interpretation does not work according to Tosafos (which is the halakha), who holds that even a ger toshav may not keep Shabbat.

Rabbi Yosef said: We learn halakha from Avrham! [Surprised objection]

Rabbeinu Tam, the Aruch, Ritva, Maharitz Chayes,19 and many others explain that halakha, practice, cannot be learned based on the conduct of the patriarchs before the Torah was given.20 God’s expectations for the world and the way in which we relate to God fundamentally changed at Sinai.

Therefore, the Chemdas Yisrael’s conclusion is not practical.

From the above opinions, only the Binyan Tzion’s (regarding the nature of labor for Noahides) remains: the patriarchs keep the Jewish Shabbat, yet engaged in the colloquial definition of labor.

This conclusion remains because it is a valid halakhic interpretation all of its own, and is not dependent on the behavior, status, or actions of the patriarchs.

However, observing the Jewish sabbatical restrictions may present a problem of chiddushei dat, which will be examined in the next lesson.

Summary of This Lesson

The Talmud tells us that the patriarchs kept the Torah before it was given at Sinai.

This cannot be taken 100% literally, because there are examples of the Patriarchs not following Torah laws.

To learn from the Patriarchs observance of Shabbat to modern Noahides, we have to look at commentaries that both view the Patriarchs as 100% Noahides and that hold their Torah observance was identical to ours. There are very, very few views satisfying these conditions.

Of those meeting our conditions, most of them do not apply to modem Noahides.

There is a general rule that we cannot learn our practice from the behavior of the Patriarchs.

The Binyan Tzion’s interpretation, however, has relevance to modern Noahides.

For a deeper and more comprehensive study we encourage you to take the 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course' taught by the Talmudic University of Florida or the 'Home/Study course', 'Noahide Laws & Life Cycle Course'.

16. Shabbat III - Practical Conclusions for Non-Jews

Introduction & Review Thus Far

This is a summary of what the sources have taught us so far:

Sanhedrin 58b – Cites Genesis 8:22 which prohibits all mankind from keeping Shabbat. The verse prohibits cessation from work for a 24 hour period. Prior to Sinai, the respite of Shabbat was for God alone.  At Sinai, the Jews were commanded to partake in the experience of Shabbat as a sign of their unique status.

Rashi, Radbaz, Rav Moshe Feinstein commenting on the Rambam – For the sake of this prohibition, it does not make difference as to why one rests for an entire day. Even if one sets aside an entire day only to recuperate from work, he still transgresses. The Radbaz clarifies, though, that this is only if one establishes a regular, fixed day. To take an occasional day off is permitted.

Midrash Rabba – Explains that the prohibition of non-Jewish observance of Shabbat takes on special poignancy after the giving of the Torah. The Jews were commanded at Sinai to partake of the divine rest of Shabbat as a sign of their covenant. Anyone else who tries to do so is interposing between God and Israel.

The Patriarchs – The patriarchs, we are taught, kept the Torah.  However, both the nature of their observance and their identity as Noahides are not clear enough for us to draw any practical conclusions. Additionally, there is a principle that we do not learn halakha, practice, from the actions of the patriarchs.

Binyan Tzion – When the verse in Genesis prohibits the observance of Shabbat (by prohibiting a cessation of labor), it is not using the Torah’s definition of labor. Instead, it is using the colloquial definition of labor. From here, it would appear that a non-Jew may keep Shabbat by observing the Jewish definition of Sabbatical labor, yet may not abstain from the colloquial definition of labor.

This interpretation does not seem to be relied upon by many of the above cited authorities who imply that even the Jewish definition of labor is prohibited for non-Jews. This Binyan Tzion also contradicts the Midrash’s understanding of the Jewish Shabbat as a unique sign between God and Israel.

Maimonides Hilkhos Melakhim 10 : 9

§9 A non-Jew1 who delves into the Torah is obligated to die. They should only be involved in the study of their seven commandments.

Similarly, a non-Jew who rests, even on a weekday, observing that day similarly to a Shabbat, is obligated to die. Needless to say, this is also the case if he creates a festival for himself.

In the Torah, the Hebrew word “Shabbat” may refer to the Shabbat, the seventh day, or any day upon which labor is prohibited by the Torah. This would include festivals. The Radbaz quotes Rashi who writes2 that any  kind of rest for any reason should be prohibited. However, the Radbaz adds “This is if he establishes a day for rest; however, occasional cessation from labor is not prohibited.”

The general rule governing these matters is this: they may not originate a new religion or create/perform mitzvot for themselves based on their own reasoning. Either convert and accept all the mitzvot or uphold their commandments without adding or detracting from them.

Maimonides explains that the reason for the prohibition of Shabbat observance by non-Jews is chiddushei dat, originating a new religion (discussed at length in a prior lesson). Chiddushei dat would preclude Noahides from observing Shabbat even by refraining from the Jewish definition of labor; the 39 melachot.

If a gentile delves into the Torah or Shabbat, or innovates a religious practice, he is beaten, punished, and informed him that he is obligated to die for his actions. However, he is not actually executed.

HaRav HaGaon Moshe Feinstein, ztz”l

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explains that chiddushei dat is a general prohibition against Noahides adopting Jewish practices as religious observances. However, the prohibition of observing Shabbat and the strictures on Torah study are singled out by Maimonides due to their severity.

In Conclusion

According to the Binyan Tzion, Noahides may not establish any 24 period as a time of rest from work. By work, he means whatever is colloquially defined as work.

According to Maimonides, Noahides may also not observe Shabbat by refraining from the Jewish definition of work (the 39 Melachos). This would be chiddushei dat.

Chiddushei dat would also prohibit Noahides from marking Shabbat in anyway by using Jewish rituals such as lighting candles, making Kiddush, making the blessing for bread over two loaves, etc.

The conclusion of the poskim is, therefore, that Noahides may not observe Shabbat in anyway by refraining from work for a 24 hour period or by adopting Jewish rituals. Noahides may not either establish a regular 24 hour period of rest even for non- religious reasons.

This is also the conclusion of Rabbi Moshe Weiner in The Divine Code.

Letter of the Law vs. Spirit of the Law

A Noahide has two options as to how to deal with the question of labor on Shabbat. He may either take the liberal approach, which follows only the strict letter of the law, or he may take a pious, conservative approach acknowledging both the spirit and letter of the law.

The letter of the law is that a Noahide may not commemorate Shabbat by regularly refraining from work for an entire day. It does it matter if one rests from daybreak-to- daybreak or from nightfall-to-nightfall. He should not refrain from the colloquial definition of work. However, a Noahide may refrain from labor using the Jewish definition of “work,” provided that he not observe all of the Jewish prohibitions of labor. He should turn on a light, make a fire, write, or do at least one prohibited act so that his observance of Shabbat is not a complete observance. Otherwise he would transgress the prohibition of observing Shabbat.

We should keep in mind that this observance of Shabbat, however, is meaningless. Observance of Shabbat means resting from the 39 labors defined at Sinai.  The purpose in a Noahide doing one prohibited labor is so that he does not run afoul of the prohibition of observing Shabbat. That means that his one-prohibited-labor invalidates the entire observance. Therefore, despite resting for a whole day, he never actually kept Shabbat anyway!

Furthermore, as we mentioned earlier, God only asked Israel to share in Shabbat. A Noahide who does so is imposing his will upon God. As we saw in earlier lessons, this is a severe issue.

Although this mode of behavior is in step with the letter of the law, it fails to acknowledge the spirit of the law. It is a liberal approach to Torah law and Noahism.

The Spirit and Letter of the Law: The Shabbat of a Pious Noahide

One, who seeks to go beyond the letter of the law as a matter of piety, will refrain from any observance of Shabbat. A pious, God fearing, religious Noahide will not attempt to observe Shabbat in any way by resting. A Noahide who imitates Jewish observance of Shabbat is a less observant Noahide than one who does not observe Shabbat at all!

Read More of Shabbat III

16.1. Shabbat III - Practical Conclusions for Non-Jews Pt. 2

Observance vs. Acknowledgement

Until now, we have only discussed the observance of Shabbat. By observance, however, we mean refraining from labor or imitating other Jewish Shabbat obligations. However, this prohibition does not preclude Noahides having a positive, meaningful connection with Shabbat. In short, Noahides may not observe Shabbat, but they may certainly acknowledge and commemorate Shabbat. In fact, Noahides may even be required to acknowledge Shabbat. The Midrash says:

[The wicked Turnus Rufus] asked Rabbi Akiva: “From where can you prove to me that God wished to honor the Seventh Day?” … Rabbi Akiva responded: “Verify it with [via necromancy,] because a spirit will ascend on any day of the week except for Shabbat – verify it with the spirit of your father!”… Turnus Rufus checked the veracity of Rabbi Akiva’s claim with the spirit of his own father. His father’s spirit ascended on every day of the week except Shabbat. On the following Sunday, Turnus Rufus again raised his father and asked him, “father, is it possible that you became a Jew after you died, that you now observe Shabbat? Why did you ascend every day of the week, but did not ascend on Shabbat?” He [Turnus Rufus’s father] answered him, saying: “Anyone who does not willingly observe the Sabbath among the living is forced to do so among the dead!”

The Maharzu explains that the spirit of Turnus Rufus’s father could not mean that non-Jews must observe Shabbat. Rather, it means that any non-Jew who denies the significance of Shabbat will be “forced to do so among the dead.” What does it mean “forced to do so among the dead?” The Midrash goes on to explain that the wicked are punished with the fires of Gehinnom (purgatory) every day of the week, but are given respite on Shabbat. One who denies the existence and significance of Shabbat, even a Non-Jew, will apparently be held accountable.

Furthermore, Noahide acknowledgement of Shabbat goes back to the beginning of creation. There is a fascinating Midrash about Adam, Kayin, and the composition of Psalm 92:

Adam met Kayin and asked of him: “What happened? What was your judgment?” Kayin replied: “I repented and it was mitigated”

Adam began slapping his own face and cried out: “Such is the power of repentance – and I didn’t know it!” Adam immediately arose and declared: Mizmor shir le-yom ha- Shabbat, a Psalm, a song for the Shabbos…

Psalm 92, recited by Adam for Shabbat, only mentions Shabbat in its opening. It then goes on to praise God’s deeds and creations, curiously contrasting the permanence of His deeds with the temporary follies of the wicked, and then concludes with the praises of the righteous man.

What is the connection between the ideas of teshuvah, repentance, the temporary prospering of the wicked, and the Shabbos?

Speaking with Kayin, Adam realized the power of repentance and marveled at its greatness. Teshuvah is the great creation for which Adam praises God. God is also praised for His incredible kindness: He does not execute judgment immediately. Rather, He waits, allowing transgressors time to either do teshuvah or lose themselves further. Alternatively, Adam also realized that this world is the place of finite recompense. Here a person is rewarded for the minority of his deeds. Therefore, the wicked are often rewarded for their few mitzvos, while the righteous are often punished for their few aveiros, sins.

But what does this all have to do with Shabbos? When God rested on Shabbos, he beheld the goodness of His creation – he saw that it was well suited for its purpose. So too, Adam, in his revelation, suddenly understood the greatness of God’s world and the incredible potential that it offered.

In that revelation, he saw the “big plan” – he understood the nature of reward and punishment, the fate of the wicked, and the ultimate reward of the righteous. He understood his purpose and how the world was designed for it.

Rashi understands this Psalm as, primarily, an acknowledgement of the World to Come, the ultimate Shabbos.

We see that Adam’s relationship to Shabbat was not one of rest. It was a relationship of epiphany, a day of awakening and realization. This is the Noahide relationship  to Shabbat.

It is therefore appropriate to base the Noahide acknowledgement of Shabbat on Psalm 92 and Adam’s epiphany. In this way, Noahides are following in the way of Adam, to whom the Noahide laws were commanded.

Shabbat Prayer and Service in the Home - All Shabbat Prayers are in 'The Order: A Communal and Individual Noahide Siddurand include:

  • Lighting Candles
  • Friday Night Prayers
  • Introductory Nighttime Psalm & Verses
  • Call to Prayer
  • Acceptance of God’s Kingship
  • Lay Us Down to Sleep…
  • The Silent Prayers
  • Declaring the Seventh Day & the Completion of Creation
  • We Bend Our Knees…
  • Seasonal Addition: Psalm 27
  • Song: Master of the World
  • The Evening Meal
  • Blessing of the Children
  • Song: In Praise of One’s Wife
  • Blessing on Bread
  • Concluding the Meal

17. Parsha Noach - by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of the community of Efrat

Noach

Genesis 6:9-11:32

Isaiah 54:1-55:5

“And Noah the man of the earth became profaned [or merely “began” to work], and he planted a vineyard” (Genesis 9:20).

Rashi (1040-1105), the most classical of the commentators, explains that “when Noah entered the ark, he brought with him branches [of the vine] and shoots of fig-trees.”

Apparently, Rashi is perplexed about the origin of the grape-seeds. After all, all animal and plant life had been destroyed in the flood except for whatever had been preserved in the ark. Rashi therefore tells us that Noah brought branches of the vine into the ark.

But why must he add “shoots of fig-trees” which seems superfluous to our question? And if Rashi is quoting what the Talmud sages taught in Midrash Rabbah, why did he not include “olive saplings,” which the midrash also suggests?

Why does Rashi select for inclusion in the ark the grape and the fig when our textual problem could have been resolved with grape branches alone and faithfulness to the Midrash would have demanded including olive saplings?

 

Selfish or Selfless?

Noah’s story opens with what appears to be a complimentary character description: “Noah was a righteous man, wholehearted in his generations; Noah walked with G-d” (Genesis 6:9).

Nevertheless, Rashi tells us: “there are among our sages those who expound these words [“in his generations”] as giving praise [to Noah] … and there are those who expound these words as denigrating [to Noah].”

Why give such a praiseworthy description a negative spin, suggesting that Noah’s righteousness was only in comparison to his contemporaries?

The Maharal of Prague explains: Abraham argued with G-d on behalf of the preservation of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah; but Noah appears to remain silent when informed that the entire world is about to be destroyed by a flood.

He seems satisfied to rescue himself and his immediate family via the ark. He decides to remain an isolationist only interested in self-preservation.

However, a second way of interpreting insists that had he been a contemporary of Abraham’s, Noah would have been even more righteous.

According to this view, Noah took 120 years to construct his ark, spending the extra time in trying to convince the citizens of the world to forsake violence, accept the basic morality expressed by ethical monotheism, and establish governments whose greatest value was pursuit of peace.

The deluge recedes, and Noah leaves the ark. He plants a vineyard. Where did he get the grape-seeds?

Here again there are two views in the Midrash. One opinion has it that he made a pact with Satan, who brought him the seed to plant his vines and ultimately produce wine.

This is Noah the isolationist, who allows evil to remain in power, who is blind to the satanic governments who enslave their citizenry and use terror to control the weaker vessels. In return for wine (or drugs or oil) it may be worth Noah’s while to come to a “business agreement” with Satan.

The second opinion sees Noah as a righteous proselytizer who never gives up on humanity. Even after 120 years of fruitless preaching about morality, Noah still doesn’t give up.

Yes, G-d commands him to enter the ark, literally forces him to do so as the waters of the deluge begin to engulf him (Genesis 7:7, Rashi ad loc).

But Noah feels the need to take with him seeds of the grape and the fig, wine being a symbol of freedom (remember the Passover cups of wine harking back to the biblical expressions of redemption) and both fruits indigenous to the Land of Israel.

Medieval Spanish commentator Nachmanides insists that the Land of Israel was the one place in the world where ethical monotheism was never forgotten, and so he maintains that the flood never engulfed Israel.

Noah brings the seeds of these fruits to remind future generations never to stop fighting against injustice and violence, never to forget the message of the people of Israel which will emanate from the land of Israel, never to give up the battle for a humanity accepting of a G-d of justice and peace.

And why does Rashi insist on the vine and the fig?

Micah prophesies that, at the end of the days, when the world will accept G-d’s morality emanating from Zion and Jerusalem, then “everyone will sit under his vine and fig-tree and will not fear, for the word of G-d will have been spoken [and accepted]” (Micah 4).

18. Introduction to Developing a Torah Personality

DEVELOPING A TORAH PERSONALITY
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Based on addresses by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Adapted by Rav Reuven Ziegler


LECTURE #1


To Cultivate and to Guard: The Universal Duties of Mankind

When seeking to shape our personalities according to Torah values, we must relate to at least three levels of expectation and responsibility. These can be regarded as concentric circles, moving from the broader to the more specific:
1)    the universal demands placed upon one simply as a human being;
2)    the demands of a Jew;
3)    the responsibilities of a ben-Torah, one who makes Torah study a central part of his life and embodies its values.

I wish to deal now with the first level. What are the basic, cardinal, universal values for which every person should strive?

TWO TASKS 

Let us open a Chumash (Pentateuch) to the chapter describing the creation of man and see what task was assigned to him.

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and to  guard it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.” (Bereishit 2:15-17)

In the seventh chapter of Sanhedrin, the Gemara derives the seven universal Noachide Laws from the last two of these verses. However, I would like to address the first of these verses: God placed man (Adam) in the garden “le-ovdah u-leshomrah,” to work or cultivate the garden and to guard it. Here we have two distinct tasks. One, “le-shomrah,” is largely conservative, aimed at preserving nature. It means to guard the world, to watch it—and watching is essentially a static occupation, seeing to it that things do not change, that they remain as they are. This is what Adam was expected to do, and part of our task in the world is indeed to guard that which we have been given: our natural environment, our social setting, our religious heritage.

In a sense, we are expected also to be a shomer (guard) of the Torah itself. What do Anshei Kenesset Ha-gedola, the sages of the Great Assembly, mean when they instruct us to “Make a fence around the Torah” (Avot 1:1)? They mean to guard it, to watch it. Similarly, Chazal speak of “Asu mishmeret le-mishmarti, Set a guard around My guard” (Mo’ed Katan 5a, Yevamot 21a). We often use the term shomer mitzva to describe someone. This doesn’t just mean that he does   what  the Shulchan Arukh says, but also that he guards it; he sees to it that the mitzva as an entity, as a reality, remains pure; he envisions himself as having a sense of responsibility towards it. All this is included in the term “le-shomrah” (to guard it).

At the same time, there is the task of “le-ovdah” (to cultivate it), which is essentially creative: to develop, to work, to innovate. This applied even in the Garden of Eden, which, according to some of the midrashim, was already a perfect environment.

Here we have, then, two foci of our primary obligation: a) to guard, to have a sense of responsibility in relation to that which we have been given; and b) to work and to develop. Although Adam was commanded specifically to till and guard the Garden of Eden, I think that we would not be stretching things too far if we were to understand that this mandate applies far beyond that particular little corner of the Garden where Adam and Eve were placed. What we have here is a definition of how man is to be perceived in general: as a shomer and as an oved.

18.1. Torah Personality Part 1 A

PART 1:

Le-shomrah—To Honor, Protect and Preserve

WHO IS THE MASTER?

As I said, the mandate to guard relates in part to the natural world; the concern for ecology has some basis in this. To some extent, this mandate extends to the society one is in. But to a great extent, it applies in relation to oneself. One must guard the human personality itself and everything appended to it, one’s dalet amot (four cubits) which he assumes to be his own private domain.

Now, this is of great importance and needs to be stressed, because we are dealing here with a fundamentally religious perception that runs counter to the notions prevalent within the widely secular society in which we find ourselves. The essence of modern secular culture is the notion of human sovereignty; individual man is master over himself, and collective man is master over his collective. This creates problems as to where the line is to be drawn between individual and collective man, and that issue is the crux of much of modern socio-political theory—when the state can and cannot interfere. But the common denominator of all these discussions is that they think fundamentally in terms of human sovereignty, the question being whether you speak of humanity or of a particular person.

From a religious point of view, of course, eilu va-eilu divrei avoda zara—both approaches are idolatrous. Here one establishes individual man as an idol, and there one idolizes, in humanistic terms, humanity as a whole. The basis of any religious perception of human existence is the sense that man is not a master: neither a master over the world around him, nor a master over himself.

“THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S”

Of course, this is not to say that the notion of private property does not exist. It certainly exists within religious thought generally, and within Judaism specifically; the notion of private property is a very central concept in Halakha, and large sections of the Talmud are devoted to it. Rather, what this means is that the notion of property is never absolute. It is always relative; ultimately, “La-Hashem ha-aretz u-melo’ah, The Earth is the Lord’s and all that it holds” (Tehillim 24:1). But within the world in which we exist, we can say that relative to Shimon, Reuven has been granted ownership, or that relative to the individual, the community has been granted authority.

In this manner, one can understand the gemara in Berakhot (35a-b) which points out a seeming contradiction between two verses in Tehillim: on the one hand, “The Heavens belong to the Lord, but the Earth He gave over to man” (115:16), and on the other hand, “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that it holds” (24:1). The gemara answers: “This is not really a difficulty. One verse is speaking of the reality before a person has recited a berakha (blessing), and the other verse is speaking of the reality after a person has said a berakha.”

A person who partakes of the world without reciting a berakha has, so to speak, stolen from God; he has committed an offense of me’ila (misusing that which has been consecrated to God). However, when he pronounces a berakha, this does not mean that the item is now absolutely his. It is not like purchasing a loaf of bread from a storeowner, who then disappears from the picture. Heaven forbid! “Mine is the silver and mine is the gold, says the Lord of Hosts” (Chaggai 2:8). Rather, the gemara teaches that, at an operational level, there are two different levels of one’s mastery over the object, in terms of the permissibility for one to use it. Initially, you cannot partake in any way. But once you say the berakha, you have in effect recognized God’s ownership. You recognize His hegemony, you accept the fact that you live subject to Him, you have acknowledged His sovereignty, and now you partake of the world with His permission. Through our reciting a berakha, God grants us permission the way a medieval king might have delegated a fief to a particular person.

Regarding some forms of kodashim (sacred items), the gemara says, “Mi-shulchan gavo’ah ka zakhu, They have acquired it from Heaven’s table” (see Beitza 21a, Bava Metzia 92a). What the gemara says in a narrow halakhic sense is true in a broader sense of our ability to partake of the world. We are guests at God’s table. This means that whatever we have in the world, we have as shomerim (guards)—it has been given to us to guard and we are never truly masters.

Now, of course, there are different kinds of shomerim. There are those who have only responsibilities and no rights, such as a shomer chinam (unpaid guard) and a shomer sakhar (paid guard). On the other hand, a sho’el (borrower) and a sokher (renter) have both chiyyuvim and kinyanim (liabilities and rights). In the sense that we too have both chiyyuvim and kinyanim, we are analogous to a sho’el or sokher. (However, the analogy is not exact, since, unlike a sho’el, we do not have rights against the Owner; we merely have rights to use the property, given the Owner’s continuing consent.) And if this is true regarding property, it is equally true of our own selves.

18.2. Torah Personality Part 1 B

OWNERSHIP OF ONESELF

I mentioned earlier the prevalent secular conception of one’s “ownership” of himself. One hears this argument in various contexts, especially with regard to the question of abortion: it’s a woman’s right, it’s her own body, she can do what she wants, etc. Years back, I was asked to testify before a subcommittee of the Knesset which dealt with abortions. Among other things, I mentioned that, leaving aside the significant question of whether it is the woman’s body only or whether the fetus has some rights as well, there is a more fundamental problem. Even if we were to accept that indeed it is the woman’s own body, we totally reject the conception that she then can do with it as she pleases. This is a completely anti-halakhic perception. It rests on a secular assumption that, as it were, “My Nile is my own; I made it for myself” (Yechezkel 29:3), as if we are the source of our own existence and therefore the masters of our own being. This is assuredly not the case. In absolute terms, a person does not own himself.

In fact, there are prohibitions that apply to how a person relates to himself. Just as one is forbidden to injure or curse others, so is he forbidden to injure himself or to curse himself.Similarly, the mitzva of “Ve-nishmartem me’od le-nafshoteikhem, Take utmost care of yourselves” (Devarim 4:15) specifically prohibits a person from taking unnecessary risks, even though he will not affect anybody else. The very notion that a person should be free to do what he wants with relation to himself is at absolute odds with our conception. We believe that you are never an independent entity, nor do you “own” yourself; you are always a shomer appointed by God. That applies to your “property,” to your own self, and certainly to your relationship to what surrounds you.

HONOR GUARD

Let us now further refine our understanding of the duty of “leshomrah.” It has not only a negative aspect, namely, that a person does not have the right to dispose of objects arbitrarily or even to deal with himself as he wishes. It has also a positive aspect: there is an obligation to be a shomer, and not merely in order to avoid damage. Although this is essentially a passive activity, there nevertheless is an active aspect to it as well. The Rambam says:

The guarding of the Temple is a positive commandment. This applies even though there is no fear of enemies or bandits, for its guarding is in order to honor it. A palace with guards is not comparable to a palace without guards. (Hilkhot Beit Habechira 8:1)

Even though there is no fear of invasion, nevertheless the Mikdash (Temple) must have shomerim. Why? They serve as an honor guard. Le-havdil, the Swiss Guards do not protect the Vatican from enemies, nor do guards stand outside Buckingham Palace out of fear that someone is going to enter. Rather, guards are stationed out of a sense of kavod (honor) for the palterin shel melekh (palace of the king); there is a sense of elevation, of nobility, of something unique that requires guarding.

Now, this sense of palterin shel melekh which requires guarding is presumably part of the mandate Adam initially received. When he was placed in the Garden “le-ovdah u-leshomrah,” against whom was it being guarded? The animals were part of the Garden, and there was nobody else around, no one to invade. Rather, you guard something which you value and appreciate; you hover over it constantly. While, of course, the Mikdash is palterin shel Melekh in a very special sense, the world as a whole is also palterin shel Melekh: “The heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool” (Yeshayahu 66:1). In this sense, we must all cultivate a concern for and a sensitivity to the natural order as a whole, to that Garden of Eden into which we have been placed. This is part of kevod Shamayim, yirat Shamayim and malkhut Shamayim (the honor, fear and sovereignty of Heaven). In fact, our responsibility with respect to the orders of creation—natural, human, social and personal— is now heightened, since, subsequent to Adam’s sin, there are indeed real dangers which threaten them.

There is a term which Chazal (the Sages) always apply in relation to shomerim: achrayut, responsibility. In our capacity as shomerim, we must live with a sense of responsibility, obligation and demands. What is demanded is not simply a kind of passive awareness, but rather the application of consciousness. What does a shomer have to do? He must be alert. His human self must be asserted, that part of him which can watch, which is intelligent, which guards. One guards with intelligence. When he combines his intelligence, sensitivity and awareness of the importance of what he is guarding with a sense of duty and readiness—that is what being a shomer is all about.

18.3. Torah Personality Part 2 A

PART 2: A

Le-ovdah—The Work Ethic

The sense of duty I mentioned above with regard to “le-shomrah” applies likewise to the first component of Adam’s mandate—“ le-ovdah.” It is not enough to guard; one needs also to develop and to create. Let us be mindful that this applied even in what seemingly had been a perfect world! “And God saw all that He had made and found it very good” (Bereishit 1:31). If all is wonderful and perfect, what need is there for “le-ovdah?” There are two possible answers. Although the difference between them is of great significance in many areas, I would prefer not to focus on the clash between them, but rather to see them both as being correct.

MAINTAINING THE WORLD
The first answer is that, indeed, the world was created perfect— but part of that perfection, and one of the components within that order, is human activity. Part of “And He found it very good” is man, not existing simply as a biological being enjoying the world, but rather as a functional being who con- tributes, creates and works. The need for man to work is not part of the curse subsequent to the sin; man was originally placed in the Garden in order to cultivate it. The curse was that man would have to battle with an unwilling earth: “Thorns and thistles shall it sprout for you. . . . By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat” (Bereishit 3:18-19). But the fact that one needs to work at all is part of the primeval, primordial order, irrespective of any element of sin. This had been intended from the beginning. Simply put, this is indeed a perfect order, provided that man does his part. If man does not, then one of the pieces of the picture has fallen out, and the world is no longer perfect.

According to this approach, both “le-ovdah” and “le-shomrah” are designed to maintain the world at its present level, and this entails two components: passively guarding against damage and actively working in order to replenish. We need to work so that the natural processes repeat themselves; if you do not contribute your share, the seasons come and go, but nature does not replenish itself.

PERFECTING THE WORLD
The second approach assumes that “le-ovdah” is a mandate to go beyond the original state of creation. “Le-ovdah” is not meant simply to maintain the original standard; rather, we have been given the right and the duty to try to transcend it. While the former approach asserts that man was asked to maintain the world as God had created it, this answer claims that man was empowered and enjoined to create something better, as it were.

Although this approach is audacious, we find it advanced by Chazal in several places. Perhaps the most celebrated is the midrash (Tanchuma, Parashat Tazria) which speaks of the encounter between the Roman governor Turnus Rufus and Rabbi Akiva. Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva, “If God wanted man to be circumcised, then why did He not create him that way?” Rabbi Akiva responded, “Bring me some wheat.” Then he said, “Bring me a loaf of bread.” He asked, “Which do you prefer to eat, the bread or the wheat?” “Naturally, the bread,” Turnus Rufus replied. Rabbi Akiva retorted, “Do you not see now that the works of flesh and blood are more pleasant than those of God?” There is a certain audacity here, but these are the words of Rabbi Akiva! What you have here is an assertion of human ability and grandeur, and of human responsibility to engage in this kind of improvement.

The extent to which this particular view is accepted depends on whether one adopts, to a greater or lesser degree, a humanistic perspective. Humanists talk a great deal about man placing his imprint upon the world, improving it, building it, and so on. When I say humanists, I am not talking only about secular humanists; I mean religious humanists within our world as well. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik and Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, for example, talk a great deal about the need for man to create.

Historically, this debate has found expression in some very strange contexts. In late seventeenth-century England, there was a vigorous debate about the hills and valleys. Some assumed that in the Newtonian world of mathematical precision, a perfect world presumably would be perfectly shaped. How, then, to explain the indentations of hills and valleys which seem to mar what should be a perfectly round globe? People with a more Romantic perspective said that it’s nicer this way, with some variety; who would want the whole world to be as flat as the New Jersey Turnpike? Others gave a more theological interpretation: really, a perfect world would be a perfect globe without any ups and downs, but God made the mountains and the valleys so that man should have the challenge of flattening everything. To us, this debate seems curious, but the basic notion is clear.

The debate about the role of art similarly reflects these two basic positions about man’s relation to the world. Plato claimed that artists misrepresent reality. He believed that the ultimate reality is the world of ideas, of which our world is just a kind of reflection or image. Now, says Plato, what does the poet or the artist do? He has the image of the image, and is now two steps removed from reality, instead of being one step away. So he banished all of them from his ideal republic. One response was given to this by Plotinus. The best known statement of this response in English is Sir Philip Sidney’s “The Defense of Poesy,” an essay written in the late sixteenth century. Sidney says that Plato’s perception is wrong: the poet does not imitate nature, he goes beyond nature. The natural world, he says, is brass, but the poet’s world is gold.

18.4. Torah Personality Part 2 B

THE IMPORTANCE OF WORK

For our purposes, however, both of these approaches to the value of labor can be regarded as correct. What is important is the sense of human responsibility and the recognition of the importance of building the world and improving society. To us, work is indeed a central value. Chazal have numerous statements to this effect. For example, just as there is an obligation to rest on Shabbat, there is also an obligation that “Six days shall you labor and do all your work” (Shemot 20:9); the two are somewhat interrelated (see Avot De-Rabbi Natan, version B, chap. 21, and Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on Shemot 20:9).

In a famous statement, the Rambam spoke of this in a halakhic context. The gemara (Sanhedrin 25b) says that a dice-player (i.e. a gambler) is disqualified from giving testimony in court. Two reasons are offered for this. One opinion is that he is a sort of thief, because of the halakhic principle that “asmakhta lo kanya.” Whoever gambles does so because he assumes he is going to win, and if he knew that he would lose he wouldn’t gamble.

Thus, he gambles based upon an asmakhta, relying on an implicit condition. Therefore, the loser does not really transfer ownership of the money, and the winner does not legally acquire it. The second opinion disqualifies a gambler because “eino osek be-yishuvo shel olam,” he is not involved in developing the world constructively. The gemara then brings a practical distinction between these two opinions. According to the first reason (asmakhta), even a person who gambles only occasionally is ineligible to give testimony. However, according to the second approach, only a professional gambler is disqualified—someone who has no other profession, but rather spends his entire day at the racetrack, or doing something similarly non-constructive.

The Rambam rules according to the latter opinion, but he takes the occasion to generalize:

One who plays dice with a gentile does not transgress the prohibition of stealing, but he does transgress the prohibition of occupying oneself with worthless things, for it is not suitable for a person to occupy himself all the days of his life with anything other than matters of wisdom and the developing of the world. (Hilkhot Gezeila 6:11)

I won’t deal now with the reason the Rambam thinks that the problem of asmakhta doesn’t apply to this case. What is relevant to us is his definition of the two things a person should be engaged in: divrei chokhma (matters of wisdom) and yishuvo shel olam (the developing of the world).

WHY WORK?

This notion of the significance of work per se, of engaging in yishuvo shel olam, of “le-ovdah,” has several bases. First, in a purely psychological sense, in terms of mental health, one’s self-fulfillment comes through work. For instance, the mishna (Ketubot 5:5, 59b) says that if a woman marries, she is expected to per- form certain tasks in the house, but if she brings servants with her, she does not have to do them. The gemara (ibid.) adds that the more servants she brings, the less she has to do, because they will take care of the needs of the household. However, beyond a certain point, this does not apply; her husband can demand that she do something—anything—because, Rabbi Eliezer says, “Idleness leads to lewdness;” it leads to a loose, lascivious life. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel offers a different reason: “A husband who takes an oath that his wife should do no work, should divorce her and pay her ketuba, since idleness leads to shi’amum.” Shi’amum can be understood either as insanity or as boredom, ennui, a sense of spiritual degradation. Even if she’s as wealthy as Midas, she has to do some kind of work, lest idleness lead to psychological and spiritual problems.

There is also, of course, a social basis to our emphasis on work. The fact is that work needs to be done. A society in which people work is, in terms of its basic structure and values, very different from one in which they do not. The midrash at the beginning of Lekh Lekha asks: When God told Avraham, “Go forth from your native land . . . to the land which I will show you” (Bereishit 12:1), how did Avraham know when he had arrived at the right place? From a mystical point of view, one might assume that he was attracted by the kedusha (sanctity) inherent within the land. But the midrash gives a very non-mystical explanation:

Rabbi Levi said: When Avram walked through Aram Naharayim and Aram Nachor, he saw the people there eating, drinking and acting loosely. Avram said to himself, “I hope that I do not have a portion in this land.” When he arrived at the cliffs of Tyre (what is now called Rosh Ha-nikra, at the northern border of Israel), he saw people busying themselves with weeding during the season for weeding, hoeing during the time for hoeing, etc. He said to himself, “I hope that I will have a portion in this land.” (Bereishit Rabba 39:8)

When Avraham saw people lounging around, eating and drinking and having a good time, he knew that he had not yet arrived. But when he saw people performing agricultural tasks that needed to be done, he sensed that he had come to the promised land. That is what attracted him. This was not a land whose people were devoted to the quest for pleasure but rather to commitment, work and responsibility. These are the things that define a culture.

There is a third basis as well to the emphasis on work, and this is more specifically religious in nature. A person who works is a partner to God in ma’aseh bereishit (creation). In this respect, he is imitating God. Usually we speak of imitating God by being merciful, or by performing acts of chesed (kindness), but the midrash also tells us:

Rabbi Yehuda ben Rabbi Simon said: [The verse states,] “After the Lord your God you shall walk” (Devarim 13:5) . . . [What does this mandate of imitatio Dei entail?] At the beginning of the world’s creation, the Holy One occupied Himself first with planting, as it says, “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden” (Bereishit 2:8); so too, when you enter the Land [of Israel], occupy yourselves first with planting—and thus it says (Vayikra 19:23), “When you enter the land and plant all fruitbearing trees. . .” (Vayikra Rabba 25:3)

Of course, the trees are symbolic of man’s contribution to this world, to nature—something which is planted by human agency, rather than something which appears spontaneously. There are numerous other midrashim in this general vein.

18.5. Torah Personality Part 2 C

THE REDEMPTIVE QUALITY OF WORK

The thrust of all this is that there is significance to work, quite apart from the need to pay your bills. There is, if you will, a certain redemptive quality to work, in psychological, social and religious terms. This notion is not uniquely Jewish. When most people hear about the importance of work, they immediately think of the Puritans and the Puritan work ethic. The Puritans, of course, were very much influenced by Judaism. Certainly, however, there are famous propagators of this general view in circles which are neither Jewish nor Puritan.

In Thomas Carlyle’s early work Sartor Resartus, he describes his own spiritual crisis. He speaks first of what he describes as “The Everlasting No,” the voice of cynicism and skepticism, but even beyond that of ennui, of a sense of the lack of purpose, meaning, direction and substance in life. From there he moves on to describe “The Center of Indifference,” which is still a very lowkey type of existence, and then progresses to “The Everlasting Yea,” that which is assertive and positive in relation to the world and human existence. At the heart of the chapter on “The Everlasting Yea” is the notion of work. For Carlyle, the great prophet of work is the late eighteenth- century, early nineteenth-century German writer Goethe. In a famous line, Carlyle says, “Close thy Byron; open thy Goethe!” Work is central to “The Everlasting Yea” precisely because of its redemptive capacity.

In that context, one can view work as part of the collective human responsibility to establish human hegemony and to impose a certain character on nature as a whole. The ennobling conception of work, the sense of challenge, the work ethic (in contrast to a sybaritic, hedonistic existence) can also be found in a secular context. But for us, this is not simply a question of engaging in a great Romantic quest to place the world under human imprint. This is part of what we are doing for God, part of our relationship to Him: we are His guards and we are His laborers. This presents matters in a totally different perspective.

A DIVINE MANDATE

Our attempt to place the human imprint on nature is part of God’s mandate: “Fill the earth and master it, and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all living things that creep on earth” (Bereishit 1:28). But whereas that mandate in the first chapter is formulated in terms of rights, in the second chapter (“le-ovdah u-leshomrah”) it is formulated in terms of obligation— it is part of our responsibility, part of our task.

This notion of the centrality and importance of work, as opposed to pursuing a life of leisure and hedonism, runs counter to the message that is inundating the Western world. The implicit idea in all the crass advertising you see is that, ideally, you shouldn’t work at all; ideally, you would retire when you’re eighteen. Small wonder that many people have reached the conclusion that the less they work, the better off they are. The notion of leisure has suddenly become a problem in sociological and moral terms. There is a whole literature about the problem of leisure, precisely because work is perceived as a necessary evil, and not as spiritually redemptive.

For us, however, the sense of effort, of striving, above all of working (in Milton’s phrase) “as ever in my great Taskmaster’s eye,” is very central. “Le-ovdah u-leshomrah,” the sense of the importance of work and a work-oriented life, is part of the universal mandate; it is part of what we, as benei-Torah, understand to be central to our being.

GLATT KOSHER HEDONISM

I mention this point particularly to an American audience. In recent years, one observes on the American scene a terribly disturbing phenomenon: the spread of hedonistic values, but with a kind of glatt-kosher packaging. There was a time when the problem of hedonism for religious Jews didn’t often arise, because even if you wanted to have the time of your life, there wasn’t very much that you could do. The country clubs were all barred to Jews, there weren’t many kosher restaurants, there were no kosher nightclubs, etc. In the last decade or two, a whole culture has developed geared towards frum Jews, where the message is enjoy, enjoy, enjoy, and everything has a hekhsher (kosher certification) and a super-hekhsher. The message is that whatever the gentiles have, we have too. They have trips to the Virgin Islands, we have trips to the Virgin Islands. Consequently, there has been a certain debasement of values, in which people have a concern for the minutiae of Halakha (which, of course, one should be concerned about), but with a complete lack of awareness of the extent to which the underlying message is so totally non-halakhic and anti-halakhic.

Don’t misunderstand me—I am not opposed to people enjoying themselves to some extent. I am not arguing for a totally ascetic approach to life; I don’t live that way myself, and what I don’t practice I certainly am not going to preach. In a sense, I don’t practice it because I don’t really think that it is demanded. (There certainly were gedolim [great rabbis] who did advocate it, but others disagreed.) The question is something else entirely. The question is not whether there is room in human life for a person to have a certain measure of pleasure. Rather, the question is what is his basic perspective? How much does he involve himself in this? Does he see himself as basically being born to enjoy or to work?

There is nothing wrong with a person wanting to enjoy, to have a good meal. But if you open up the food critic’s column in a newspaper it is simply muktzeh machmat mi’us (untouchable because of being revolting)! A person who is morally sensitive finds it impossible to read those columns. They begin discussing, for example, the advantages of one airline food over another: here the food was a little bit underdone, there a little bit overdone, the vegetables were a little too fresh, not fresh enough; they begin to go into the finest details. It is astonishing that a person should devote so much time and effort and energy to these questions, and should assume that his readers are going to do so as well, when it is all merely a matter of knowing exactly what the food will be like when you happen to fly. To assign that kind of attention to this kind of nonsense?

To some extent, this feeling has permeated our world: a whole culture of enjoyment has begun to take hold. This is something which is recent, and with which anyone who is a ben-Torah, certainly, should in no way identify or associate. That whole culture advocates that man is born for pleasure, but unfortunately has to work if he wants to enjoy. In contrast, we have to know that “Adam le-amal yulad,” Man is born to do labor” (Iyyov 5:7).

18.6. Torah Personality Part 2 D

MATTERS OF WISDOM

I’ve addressed myself here to one major question, namely, the sense of a person’s existence in the service of God, and the responsibilities and obligations which attend upon that existence: obligations vis-a-vis God, the world and oneself. The importance of work, and of constructive contribution through involvement in the world and society, is very, very clear, and is a cardinal element in our basic worldview. There is, though, another aspect to this question, which at this point I will simply mention. The Rambam said above that a person should engage in only two things divrei chokhma and yishuvo shel olam. What he does not describe there is the breakdown between these two.

Surely, this is a very major question for us, and it is a significant and legitimate question at a universal level as well. To what extent should one engage in work—and by work I mean not simply making money, but rather constructive activity—and to what extent should he pursue wisdom? A gentile, too, has a certain dimension of talmud Torah: “Rabbi Meir says: Even a gentile who occupies himself with the Torah is like a High Priest” (Sanhedrin 59a). The gemara later understands this in terms of more universal wisdom, the Seven Noachide Laws. Even secular advocates of the work ethic have had to deal with the relation between work and other cultural, aesthetic or moral values. How much more so for us, for whom Torah study is so central—“You shall meditate upon it day and night” (Yehoshua 1:8). Thus, while our position is clear regarding work versus hedonism, the question of work versus Torah study is entirely different, and will be treated independently in the next lecture.

18.7. Torah Personality Appendix 1

APPENDIX TO LECTURE ONE:

Does the Torah Supplant or Supplement Universal Values?

At the beginning of this lecture, I proposed that we deal with three levels of duty incumbent upon us: as human beings, as Jews, and as benei-Torah. I then discussed the first of these, namely, our general responsibilities as humans. However, this entire discussion entails the assumption that, subsequent to the Jewish Nation’s keritat berit (formulation of a covenant) with God, we are still bound by the more general norms that preceded it. It is this assumption I would like now to address.

NATURE AND GRACE

A berit (covenant) is something special and unique; by definition, it delineates a particular relationship between God and a specific community. What then happens to more universal elements? Do these fall away because of the exclusivity of the new relationship? Or do we regard the new relationship as being superimposed upon the old, but not at odds with it?

Even according to the latter approach, at times there may be a conflict between a universal value and a specific one. Fundamentally, however, this approach regards the specific covenant as complementing and building on top of the universal covenant, rather than replacing it and rendering it obsolete. According to this approach, we do not believe that what existed until now was merely scaffolding which was needed until the building was complete, but now that the building is finished, everything else is insignificant. Instead, we assume that whatever commitments, demands and obligations devolve upon a person simply as a member of the universal community, will also apply to him within his unique context as well; but in addition, there are also new demands.

This question has been raised extensively within the Christian context, where it is referred to as the issue of “nature and grace.” Does the order of grace—which is the more specific relationship of a given community towards God—do away with the order of nature: natural values, natural morality and natural religion? Or is the order of nature fundamentally sound, significant and normative, but in addition to it comes the order of grace? Broadly speaking, within the Christian context, the more rationalistic and humanistic thinkers have stressed that the universal component remains in force. Those who espoused a more anti-humanistic and anti-rationalistic line generally felt that anything which human reason develops, anything which is universal, anything which is not part of the specific order of revelation, is absolutely meaningless and not binding. In fact, they felt it may even be injurious, because it leads a person to think that these kinds of universal values are significant, whereas in reality the order of nature was good for one phase of human history but has been totally replaced by the order of grace.

THE TEST OF SHABBAT

Translating this into our categories, I recall years back hearing a talk by mori ve-rabbi Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt”l regarding the relationship between berit Avraham and berit Noach (God’s covenants with Avraham and Noach). As he put it, did berit Avraham come “on top” of the foundation of berit Noach, or was it meant to replace it? Rav Hutner wished to learn from Rabbeinu Yona (Berakhot 49a) that the latter was the case, and he took Shabbat as the test case. Jews, of course, are commanded not to work on Shabbat. However, Chazal interpreted the verse, “Summer and winter, day and night shall not cease” (Bereishit 8:22) as teaching us that Benei Noach (descendants of Noach, i.e. general humanity) are always obligated to work; in fact, a gentile who refrains from melakha (labor) on Shabbat is punished! (See Sanhedrin 58b.) Evidently, concluded Rav Hutner, the universal value of “[They] shall not cease” has been countervailed within our more specific Jewish context. Thus, the new berit is meant to replace the old.

I do not adopt this general approach; in fact, I think quite the contrary is true. Whatever is demanded of us as part of Kenesset Yisrael does not negate what is demanded of us simply as human beings on a universal level, but rather comes in addition. (Regarding Shabbat, let me just briefly note that the sanctity of Shabbat does not abrogate the universal value of work, but rather adds an additional element to the picture.)

RENEWING OR COMPLETING THE TORAH

Similarly, I believe mattan Torah (the giving of the Torah) also needs to be understood in a dual fashion. At one level, mattan Torah was a wholly new departure; there was nothing like it before. One can indeed speak of “Nittena Torah ve-nitchadsha halakha”—the Torah was given and the law was renewed. In this vein, the Rambam states that although some mitzvot (such as the seven Noachide laws) were given before mattan Torah, we are obligated by them only because they were reiterated at Sinai.As examples, he cites the prohibitions of eating ever min ha-chai (a limb from a live animal) and gid ha-nasheh (the sciatic nerve), and the commandment of circumcision. Although these appear previously (with regard to Noach, Ya’akov and Avraham respectively), our obligation is based solely on the fact that they were reinforced through mattan Torah.

In another sense, however, one can regard Torah not as a totally new chapter in human history, but rather as the pinnacle of the earlier development. Although in one perspective Torah can be seen as unique and relating only to Kenesset Yisrael, there is another perspective in which one can view Torah as being the highest stage in human development. The Rambam elsewhere seems to speak in these terms, using a very telling phrase. When discussing the evolution of Torah, he says:

Six precepts were given to Adam . . . An additional commandment was given to Noach . . . So it was until the appearance of Avraham, who, in addition to the aforementioned commandments, was charged to practice circumcision. Moreover, Avraham instituted the Morning Prayer. Yitzchak tithed and instituted the Afternoon Prayer. Ya’akov added [the prohibition of eating] the sciatic nerve and he inaugurated the Evening Prayer. In Egypt, Amram (Moshe’s father) was commanded additional mitzvot, until our master Moshe arrived and the Torah was completed through him. (Hilkhot Melakhim 9:1)

The phrase, “nishlema al yado, it was completed through him,” suggests that there were various stages and that Moshe is the pinnacle, not that Moshe’s Torah simply disposes of everything which had preceded it.

18.8. Torah Personality Appendix 2

CAN THE TORAH PERMIT WHAT UNIVERSAL LAW FORBIDS?

The major text dealing with the relationship between Jewish law and universal law is the famous Mekhilta at the beginning of Mishpatim which addresses the issue of one who kills a gentile. In parashat Noach, there appears a general directive to humanity: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” (Bereishit 9:6). However, a verse in Mishpatim (Shemot 21:14) seems to indicate a Jew is put to death only if he murders a fellow Jew. How are we to understand this?

Issi ben Akiva says: Before the giving of the Torah, we were prohibited to murder. After the giving of the Torah, instead of being more stringent, are we now more lenient!? (Mekhilta De-Rabbi Yishma’el, Parasha 4, s.v. Ve-khi Yazid)

Issi ben Akiva finds it inconceivable that something which had previously been forbidden to general humanity would now be permitted to Jews by the Torah. The gemara applies this reasoning with regard to various laws, asking simply, “Is it possible that there is anything at all which is permitted to a Jew, yet nonetheless is prohibited to a non-Jew?”

The principle elucidated by Issi ben Akiva does not necessarily negate the possibility that the new berit abolishes the old one. One may argue that indeed the new berit supplants the old, and the Jew can approach God only through God’s covenantal relationship with Kenesset Yisrael—but in terms of its content, the new berit must be more demanding than the old one.

Even if this is so, it does not matter much for our purposes. When trying to understand what are the normative demands made upon us, there is not a great difference between saying that the old berit is gone and the new one comprehends all of the contents of the old, and saying that there exists a dual level of responsibility. Practically speaking, both positions agree that whatever is demanded of a person on a universal level is a priori demanded of a Jew as well; Torah morality is at least as exacting as general morality. The only difference is whether we formulate the demand as emanating from a general covenant or from the specific berit. Thus, part of what is demanded of a ben-Torah is simply, on an initial level, what is demanded of every person as a human being.

DEREKH ERETZ KADMA LA-TORAH

Broadly speaking, this is what is intended by the celebrated phrase, “Derekh eretz kadma la-Torah” (“Civility preceded the Torah”). Chazal (Vayikra Rabba 9:3) understood this in historical terms: the Torah came twenty-six generations after the precepts of derekh eretz had already been in effect. But there is another meaning to this phrase, which refers to logical or axiological priority. The Maharal (Netivot Ha-Torah, Netiv Derekh Eretz) understands it in this sense. The ben-Torah in you is built on the spiritual person in you; if it is the other way around, then you are walking on your head, so to speak.

Let me emphasize that this has nothing to do with the question of what is more valuable. If we say that something is prior to something else, it does not necessarily mean that it is more important. For example, there are two ways we can understand Chazal’s requirement that someone who wants to be a ben-Torah must be “yirato kodemet le-chokhmato—his fear [of Heaven] must precede his wisdom” (Avot 3:9). It is entirely conceivable that Chazal intend to say that ultimately the yira is really more important than the chokhma (as important as the chokhma may be). However, we can also understand this as referring to logical precedence; and what serves as the basis is not necessarily the most important element. Although foundations must precede a building both temporally and logically, no one would imagine that they are more important than the building.

Chazal themselves may have been divided on this question, as would appear in the following dialogue:

While Rabbi Simon and Rabbi Elazar were sitting, Rabbi Ya’akov bar Acha passed in front of them. The one said to the other, “Let us stand before him, because he is a man who fears sin.” The other said, “Let us stand before him because he is a scholar.” He replied, “I tell you he fears sin and you tell me he is a scholar!?” [In other words, I praise his fear of sin, and you think that being a scholar is greater?] (Shabbat 31b)

The one who believes that chokhma is more important than yira does not negate the fact that yira must precede chokhma. The kind of chokhma which may be more important than yira is only one which is rooted in yira. Chazal say (e.g. Ta’anit 7a) that chokhma which is not rooted in yira, God forbid, is not an elixir of life but rather a potion of death.

So, in speaking of “Derekh eretz kadma la-Torah,” we should not in any way prejudge what is more or less important, simply because one precedes the other. The question of importance is a totally independent issue. But as far as kedima—what provides the matrix, the context, the foundation—one can speak of the logical and not only the temporal priority of derekh eretz over Torah.

18.9. Torah Personality Appendix 3

A MENSCH AND A BEN-TORAH

Thus, our specific Jewish commitment rests on our universal commitment, and one cannot address oneself only to the specific elements while totally ignoring the general and the universal ones. Therefore, in delineating what a ben-Torah should be striving for, the initial level of aspiration is a general one: to be a mensch, to hold basic universal values, to meet normative universal demands.

This point has no bearing upon the question of the temporal sequence via which a person attains his values. I mentioned before that Chazal say there was a period stretching over millennia during which the world had derekh eretz and didn’t have Torah. This does not mean that, moving from the macrocosm to the microcosm, one therefore should practice the same while educating his children, saying, “We’ll devote the first ten or so years to making a mensch out of him, and then when he is bar-mitzva we will see to it that he becomes an observant Jew as well.” Obviously, with- in the world in which we live, this is not an advisable option. If you want your child to be a ben-Torah and a shomer mitzvot, you have to imbue him with values of Torah and yirat Shamayim from a very early age. But this still means that as he grows and matures, he must be given to understand that he needs to address himself to various levels of obligation, one being universal and the other specific to him as a Jew.

19. What Happened After the Flood?

                                                                                                                                     

Noah’s work wasn’t done when the great flood was over, it was only just beginning.

Everyone knows the story of Noah, no matter what culture you come from. Though quite honestly what is known is pretty limited.  The usual information comes from the biblical tradition contained in just a few pages of the book of Genesis.  But there is a hidden dimension to the life of Noah, which comes from the classical, or secular tradition.  It does not occur to us that there may be an unknown story of Noah recorded in the histories of ancient peoples, because he was known by another name.  His story and many similar ones are obscured in the mythological accounts of the Greeks and Romans.

Have you ever had the experience of reading mythology and thinking that it almost seems like history, except it is so mixed up and fantastic as to be totally useless?  Although not very reliable or credible, mythology is in truly history.  As peoples drifted away from the original faith as taught by Noah, they began to put other idolatrous beliefs in its place. It became common for the people to deify great people after their deaths. In so doing, they created the chaotic system of mythology in which outrageous deeds and legendary accomplishments were attributed to these persons turned gods.  Their appearance was often corrupted and they were said to come from the wrong parents – usually some god or other.  The result was a convoluted system of fabulous fabrication that defies belief to those in our time.  The mythologists were not concerned with historical accuracy.  They simply wanted to promote their newly invented world-view to further the acceptance of their corrupted religious ideas.  

Sadly, even Noah himself was deified after his death.  He became known to the Romans, as the god Janus, who presided over everything.  They depicted him as having 2 faces, one which looked forward (into the future) and the other which looked backward (into the past – before the flood).  This imagery evolved into his being the god of doors and gates, each of which had two sides.  His image appeared on bronze and silver coins of the Roman empire for about 300 years.  Ironically, the obverse of some of these coins depicted a great ship. 

The key to the identity of Janus as Noah was given to us by Giovanni Nanni, a.k.a. Annius of Viterbe, in his commentaries published in 1498. After a lifetime of research in the ancient culture of Northern Italy, he announced that Janus, one of the early kings of Italy was none other than Noah himself.  From this revelation, accounts of this king’s accomplishments began to emerge.  It was the key that unlocked an entire arena of ancient history that had been obscured for centuries. It also led to identification of other biblical personalities that were known in mythology.  He discovered the fascinating story about Noah’s establishment of the first kingdoms of the ancient world.  Focusing primarily on the early kingdoms of Europe, Annius pieced together a gripping historical account of this almost unknown period of pre-history. He paints a coherent account of Noah’s work after the flood, namely the establishment of the first colonies of the earliest nations.  

About a century later, Annius’ work was redacted by a Londoner named Richard Lynche.  Noah – Founder of Civilizations is a modern English account of this more recent work which was last published in 1601.  It details the last 350 years of the life of Noah, and the extraordinary work that he accomplished in establishing a new society from the verge of oblivion.  It also traces those early kingdoms from their beginning through the next several centuries until classical times. 

In this text we read how Noah sent out the first colonists 100 years after the flood and how he first divided the three eastern continents among his three sons. Then he appointed grandchildren to be kings of the earliest nations of Europe under their authority.  Those kings were listed in the table of nations in Genesis 10.  Now we can understand why there were all those “begats” in the Genesis. 

It shows how Noah’s work was threatened by his son Ham, who masterminded a scourge of evil giants that oppressed much of the world after Noah’s death.  It follows with the story of Osiris and his son Hercules who finally purged most of those giant tyrants. The text finally proceeds systematically through the centuries to the founding of the city of Troy, in the era of the Greeks.

Undoubtedly this remarkable story is one you have never heard before.  It is also one you will never forget.

To learn more about our forefather Noah you can purchase Wayne Simpson's book Noah: Founder of Civilizations

20. Rambam's 13 Principles of Faith Explained

FIRST FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE
To believe in the existence of the Creator: That means that there exists a Perfect Being from all points of view of reality. He is the Cause and support of all existence, and through Him, all beings are sustained. One may not doubt His Existence, because then everything else would vanish. Nothing could exist. Should we, however, imagine the disappearance of everything besides G-d, His Existence would not vanish, nor would it be affected in the least. Unity and lordship are exclusive attributes of His. His Name is G-d, for His existence is enough for Him, and He has enough by Himself and does not need the existence of anything. Whatever else exists of angels and higher spheres, and what they contain, and what is below them, all depend on Him, for their very existence. This first fundamental principle is taught by the Commandment: "I am the L-rd, your G-d."

SECOND FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE
The Unity of G-d: This means that we believe that He Who is the Cause of everything is One, not like one of a pair, or one of a kind, nor like an individual entity that can be subdivided into many parts. He is also not like an absolute body that is one collective entity, but that can be infinitely subdivided (i.e., air, water), but He, praised be He, is One as a Unity that does not have any unity like it. This second fundamental principle is taught by the verse "Hear, Israel the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One."

THIRD FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE
The negation of any material nature of G-d: This means that we believe that this One, as we have mentioned, neither a material body, nor a force of a material body, and attributes of such material bodies do not apply to Him, i.e., movement. Rest, presence (at a limited place) not essentially and not accidentally. For this reason our sages have stated that neither composition nor separation can apply to G-d. They have said. "Above there is neither sitting nor standing, neither back, nor fatigue." This means no separation and no back, 'meaning composition. The Prophet says To whom will you compare Me, that I should be comparable?, says the Holy One." If He were a material body, He would be comparable to other bodies.

Whatever occurs in the Holy Scriptures that does use similes such as going, standing, speaking, etc. borrowed from human language, as our sages have said: The Torah is expressed in human language." Thus our sages have well covered this topic. This third fundamental principle is expressed by the verse "You have not seen any image," i.e., you have not perceived Him as any image, as He is neither a material body, nor a force inherent in a material body.

FOURTH FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE
Eternity: This means that we believe that this mentioned One is the absolute First, and that every other being is not First as compared to Him, There are many proofs for this in the Holy Scriptures. This fourth fundamental principle is expressed in the verse: ''Master over time is the G-d of Eternity (absolute First)."

FIFTH FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE
That it is it to serve Him only, praised be He, to proclaim His greatness and to mention it in worship of Him, and to obey His commandment. We are not to do so to whatever derives its existence from Him, angels, stars, spheres, elements, and whatever is composed of them. All these are subject to nature. Their activities are regulated and decided only by G-d alone. It is, therefore also wrong to serve them in the sense that they should be intermediaries to intervene for us with G-d. We must address our thoughts to Him done and leave out of consideration everything else. This fifth fundamental principle warns against idolatry, and the greater part of the Torah is concerned with it.

SIXTH FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE
Prophecy: This means that one has to know that there are, among mankind individuals of extremely high virtue and great perfection whose souls are ready to perceive the absolute intelligence. After that the human intellect clings to the higher intellect and an emanation goes over from that to the human intellect. These are the prophets, that is prophecy, and this is the content of this fundamental principle. A full explanation of would be very lengthy, and it is not our intention here to prove every principle and to explain its full extent, as this would mean a symposium of all wisdom. We only mean to mention and enumerate them here. There are many verses in the Torah that testify to the prophecy of the prophets.

SEVENTH FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE
The Prophecy of our Teacher Moses: This means that we believe that he is the "father" of all prophets, both before him and after him. All are below his level. He was the chosen one of all mankind. He has reached more Divine Knowledge than any man who has lived or who will live, He elevated himself in fact front human nature to reach the level of angels, and he established himself on that level. No curtain was left that he did not tear and penetrate, and the material impediments did not hold him back. There was no deficiency left with him, neither great nor small, His imaginative and sensory capacities left him, and his volition withered, so that only the pure intellect remained. To this effect it is said that he spoke with G-d without the mediation of angels. It was my intention here to explain this exalted topic and to open the hidden meaning of the scriptural verses to show the meaning of from "mouth to mouth." and all other verses on this topic. Yet I have seen that these matters require the presentation of a great many proofs. This would in turn necessitate many expositions and preparatory explanations and similes... (I shall reserve all this, therefore, for a special work on this subject) ... I rather go back now to this seventh fundamental principle and state that the prophecy of our teacher Moses was on a plane different from that of the prophecy of all other prophets in four respects:

The first point is that G-d spoke to which ever prophet it might have been only indirectly, buy to Moses directly, as is said, "mouth to mouth I speak to him."

The second point is that to any other prophet prophecy came when he was asleep, as is often expressed ''in the dream of the night," " in a nightly vision," and many equivalent expressions, or else during day, when a deep sleep fell upon a man, so that all his senses were paralyzed and his thoughts were free, as in a dream. This is called "vision" and it is referred to as "in visions from G-d." But Moses war addressed in plain day from between the two cherubim, as G-d Himself testifies (Num. 12:6-8): "If there is a prophet among you, I, G-d, make Myself known to him in a vision, in a dream I talk to him. Not thus My servant Moses. He is trusted anywhere in My house. I speak to him mouth to mouth, in a clear vision, not in similes. He sees the nature of G-d."

The third point is that when the prophecy comes to a prophet, even though it be through a vision and by means of a messenger, his strength gives way and his physical power wither. He is overcome by a great fear, as if he were close to dying, as is said about Daniel, when Gabriel talked to him in a vision. He said 'No strength was left in me, my pride was converted in me to destruction, and I retained no strength," and "and I was sleeping deeply on my face, and my face was downward," and ''in a vision my figure was changed over on me." But with Moses it was not so. The Divine Speech came to him, yet neither fearfulness nor trembling befell him in any way, as is said (Ex. 33: 11): "And G-d spoke to Moses as a man speaks to his fellow-man." This means to say that, as man does not experience fearfulness when another man is talking to him, in the same way Moses did not experience fear when addressed by G-d, although it was "face to face," a reference to his strong affinity to the absolute intelligence, as previously mentioned.

The fourth point that all other prophets did not experience the spirit of prophecy at their own desire, but only at the will of G-d. A prophet may remain for days or even for years without prophesying. He may pray to G-d that He make known to him a flatter by prophecy, and he may wait for this prophecy days or years, or it may not come at all. There have been groups of prophets who prepared themselves and purified their thoughts, Elisha has done, as is written (Reg. II. 3:15): "And now call, fetch me a musician...", whereupon prophecy come over him. But it is not a necessity that prophecy come to him when he prepares for it. But our teacher Moses could say any time he wanted (Num. 9:8).''Stay here, and I shall hear what G-d shall order concerning you. Yet it is also said (Lev. 16:2): "Talk to your brother Aaron. He shall not enter the sanctuary at any time." This our sages interpret: Aaron may not enter, but Moses may enter.

EIGHTH FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE
The Divine Origin of the Torah: This means that we believe that this entire Torah, which was given through our teacher Moses, is totally the word of G-d. That means that all of it came to him from G-d in a manner which, by a borrowed human analogy, is called "speech." It is not further known how it has reached him, except that it did reach Moses, and that he acted like a scribe to whom one dictates, He thus wrote down all events of the days, the histories, and the laws. For this reason he is called ''engraver.'' There is no difference between "and the sons of Ham wereKush and Mitsrayim..." "and the name of his wife was Mehetabel..." and "Timna was a secondary wife..." on one hand, and "I am the Lord, your G-d..." "Hear 0 Israel..." on the other, as all is from G-d, all is the perfect Torah of G-d, pure, holy, and absolutely true. A person who would say that Moses himself is the author of these first mentioned verses and accounts is by Our sages and prophets considered a heretic of the most obvious and aggressive kind, because he distinguishes within the Torah between a nucleus and a shell, and he considers those historic facts and accounts without value, a personal addition by our teacher Moses. This is the case of denying the Divine origin of the Torah, which our sages have defined as stating that the whole Torah were Divine, except a certain verse which Moses had added on his own. For this case, it is said "the word of G-d he has despised," and it is worse than complete agnosticism. In reality, every word of Torah contains wisdom of many kinds and marvelous information for those who understand it, and their wisdom cannot be contained, as it is "longer than the earth measures and wider than the sea." All a man can do is to follow in the footsteps of David, the Anointed of the G-d of Jacob, who prayed (Psalms 119:18): "Open my eyes, so that I see the marvels of Your Torah!" The traditional explanation of the Torah is likewise the Word of G-d. As such we observe today the specifications for succah, lulah, shophar, tsitsit, tefillin, and other laws. These are the exact specifications that G-d told Moses, and that he has told us. And he was trustworthy in his mission. The verse that contains this fundamental principle is (Num. 16:28): "And Moses said: By this you will know that G-d has sent me to perform all these feats, but that they are not of my Own initiative."

NINTH FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE
Eternity: This means that this Torah has been made to remain forever, by G-d and not by any one else. One may neither add to it, nor take away from it, not to or from the written Torah, nor to or from the oral Torah, as is said: "You shall nor add to it, nor shall you take away from it." We have already explained what needs to be said on this principle in our introduction to this work.

TENTH FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE
G-d knows the doings of men and does not take his eyes from them. It is not like the idea of those who say, "G-d has forsaken the earth," but it is as the prophet says (Jeremiah 32:19): "Great in counsel and enormous in rule. Your eyes are open on all ways of men to repay to every individual according to his ways and to the fruit of his actions.

ELEVENTH FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE
G-d rewards the one who observes the commandments of the Torah and punishes the one who transgresses its Laws. The great reward is the World-to-Come, and the strong punishment is annihilation. We have already treated this topic sufficiently. The verses that indicate this principle are (Ex. 32:33): "And now, if you forgive their sin (sc. it is well). But if not, erase me from the book that You have written. And G-d said to Moses: The one that sins against Me I erase from My book."

TWELFTH FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE
The days of the Messiah: This means to believe firmly that he will come. One should not figure that he is belated. If he delays, hope for his coming. One may not set a fixed time for him, nor is it right to extract arguments from verses to establish the time of his coining. Our sages say (Sanhedrin 97b): "May the spirit of those wither who calculate the final dates." One must also believe that the Messiah will be greater, more elated, and more honored than all kings that ever lived, according to what all the prophets have prophesied about him, from Moses, our teacher, to Malachi. One who doubts it or belittles his high level denies the Torah, as the Torah testifies about the Messiah expressly in the portion of Bileam and in the portion Atem Nitsavim. From there we conclude that the only king for Israel is from the house of David, a descendant of Solomon. Whoever disputes his dynasty denies G-d and the words of His prophets.

THIRTEENTH FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE
The Resurrection of the Dead. We have already explained it. If someone now believes all these fundamental principles and clarifies his faith in them, he is considered part of the collective unit of Israel, and it is commanded to love him and to have mercy on him, and to observe toward him all the Divine commandments to be observed between men, love and brotherhood. Even if he has done all sins he is capable of, due to desire and to his having been overpowered by his lower nature, he will be punished in accordance with his sins, but he has a part in the World-to-Come. He is among the sinners of Israel. But if someone fails with respect to one of these fundamental principles, then he has left the collective unit and is a heretic. He is termed "min" and "apikorus." He cuts at the roots. It is commendable to hate him and to bring about his destruction. Concerning him, it has been said (Psalms 139:21): "Those who hate You, G-d, I hate."

I have now gone to great length and have deviated from, the topic of my writing. I have done so because I have seen in it a support of faith because I have collected here important statements that are found scattered in great books. Know them, therefore, and succeed in them. Review them many times and think them over in extensive and concentrated contemplation. If your heart moves you and you think that you can assimilate the consents after one reading, or even after ten, then G-d knows that it has influenced you wrong. Do not hurry when studying this, because I have not written what has occurred to my mind. I have seen clear and true opinions, and untrue ones. I have understood what thereof one must believe, and I have brought documented proofs for every individual statement. Only G-d can grant me to fulfil what I set out to do and can guide me on the way. Now I return to the topic of the Perek.

(Mishna) Three kings and four laymen have no share in the World-to-Come. The three kings are: Jerobeam, Ahab, and Menashe. Rabbi Juda said Menashe has a part in the World-to-Come, as is said: (Chron. II, 23:13) "and he prayed to Him, and He listened to him, and He heard his prayer, and He returned him to Jerusalem to his kingdom, and Menashe knew that G-d is G-d." They answered him "He returned him to Jerusalem, but He did not return him to life in the World-to-Come." The four laymen are: Bileam, Doag, Mitophel, and Gehazh.

These are mentioned for their great degree of wisdom. One might be led to think that due to their great wisdom and the merit of the Torah, of which they had a far-reaching knowledge, they should have a share. Therefore we are given to understand that the fundamental principles of faith had been corrupted with these mentioned, and some of them had given place to doubt. For this reason hey were eliminated from the life of the World-to-Come. Bileam is also mentioned, and he is not a Jew. This is because the pious ones of the worldly nations have also a share in the World-to-Come. Thus they made known that Bileam was one of the wicked ones of the worldly nations and has no share in the World-to-Come.

21. The Noahide Laws: Their Meaning and Logic

The 7 Noahide laws were given to mankind many years before the Jewish people received their commandments. These laws are universal, and are intended to allow all mankind to connect to their Creator. They are as follows:

1. Do not eat a limb cut off a live animal

2. Do not curse God’s name

3. Do not worship idols

4. Do not commit adultery

5. Establish courts of law

6. Do not steal

7. Do not murder

At first glance, these seven laws appear very random, but I will attempt to clarify their logic based on the commentary of the Jewish Mystic, The Maharal of Prague (1520-1609); it is my hope that a clearer understanding of their structure will lead to more respect for these laws and more meaning in their observance.

The first distinction to be made is between laws pertaining to interpersonal relationships, and those relating to G-d. It is not enough to have a relationship with G-d and forget about His children- a truly refined person will have respect for all of creation. Conversely, it is not enough to not cause harm to others without having a relationship with G-d- “being a nice person” has no value in a G-dless universe[1].

Laws 2-4, not cursing G-d’s name, believing in powers other than G-d (such as idol worship), and even adultery[2]are all things that do not cause harm to other individuals. Meanwhile, setting up courts, not stealing or murdering establishes the minimum framework for a functioning society.

What about the first and strangest one, not eating the limb off a live animal? The Maharal explains that this comes to teach us self-control. You must control your appetite and wait for the animal to die before eating it. This issue is more prevalent than one might think: meat processing plants may begin to chop up the freshly killed animal before it finishes twitching, the point at which Jewish law defines the animal as fully dead for this purpose.[3]

This law that teaches self-control stands on its own as a sort of “master law”, since this is the trait required to fulfill all the other laws- without learning self-control there is no way you could resist the various temptations that present themselves. For the same reason, the last of the Ten Commandments is “do not covet”, to teach us that a person without the self-mastery to resist coveting what isn’t his can end up transgressing all other sins.

But we can still break things down further. Why three commandments per category? The Maharal explains that these three commandments serve to perfect and restrain the three elements of a person: their physical body, their soul, and the complete human being that results from the combination of body and soul.

In the man-to-G-d realm, adultery applies to a person’s body, as it is an expression of the desires of one’s physical body; meanwhile, believing in alternative powers applies to the soul, since it can be transgressed through thought alone as opposed to most other sins that require action.

Cursing G-d’s name applies to both, because it strikes at the very root of human existence- man was created to worship God and here he does the exact opposite, denying His very existence. Furthermore, it involves speech, which is the meeting point of thought (thinking of what to say) and action (actually moving the mouth); Judaism teaches that speech is the loftiest of human expressions and that which sets humans apart from all other creatures.

Correspondingly, in the man-to-man dimension: stealing corresponds to a person’s body, since it is a result of a physical urge for something that is not yours.

Setting up courts corresponds to the soul, since, the Maharal explains, it is our soul that yearns for justice and truth and serves as a moral compass for our behaviors; disregarding justice then, is a blow to our soul.

Finally, murder is the ultimate expression of disregard for both body and soul, since it involves the removal of a complete human being from the world. Man was created in G-d’s image and put in this world to serve G-d; therefore, striking down a man corresponds to cursing G-d’s name and denying His existence.

As an interesting final note, there is a Jewish tradition that seven key individuals or societies from early history transgressed against each of these seven laws respectively (e.g. the courts in the city of Sodom were routinely guilty of gross injustice, violating law #5). Correspondingly, from Abraham on came seven individuals who corrected this behavior through fastidious observance of each of these laws (e.g. Joseph showed tremendous self-control when tempted by the wife of Potiphar, thus upholding law #4).


[1] Removing God from the equasion sets the stafe for moral relativity, where absolute truth does not exist and where your opiion –or the opinion of society as a whole- is no more valid than mine. At which point anyone can do whatever they want and still call themselves “a nice person” by their own standards.

[2] Adultery causes no tangible damage to anyone else, especially if the one being cheated on doesn’t even know about it.

[3] Eating meat was only permitted from Noah onwards, hence the name Noahid laws; the prohibition against eating limbs fromlive animals didn’t apply until then. Instead, Adam, the first man, was prohibited from eating from the ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’ for the same purpose, to teach him self control.

22. Only One God

Idolatry is the beginning and the end of Torah. There is one G-d. According to the Rambam, Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, "For it is the principal object of the Law and the axis round which it turns, to blot out these opinions from man's heart and make the existence of idolatry impossible" (Rambam, p. 320).

This is not just a G-d of a particular people, Israel, but the G-d of all mankind.
In fact the goal of all should be the destruction of idolatry. Thus the Rambam says, "The actual abolition of idolatry is expressed in the following passage: 'Ye shall destroy their altars, and burn their groves in fire' (Deut. vii. 5), 'and ye shall destroy their name,' etc. (xii. 3). These two things are frequently repeated; they form the principal and first object of the whole Law, as our Sages distinctly told us in their traditional explanation of the words 'all that God commanded you by the hand of Moses' (Num. xv. 23); for they say, 'Hence we learn that those who follow idolatry deny as it were their adhesion to the whole Law, and those who reject idolatry follow as it were the whole Law.' (B.T. Kidd, 40a) Note it" (Rambam, 320).

Essentially the Hebrew Scriptures teach us that G-d is one. From this we must do two things. First, we must abstain from the active participation in idolatry. If we participate in idolatry then we have denied the Law, which makes it clear that G-d is one. Second, by actively participating in the service of the one G-d we will blot out the idea of idolatry. This activity is not restricted to the Jewish people, but is inclusive to the non-Jew that observes the Noachide laws. In this way we have come to the two sides of the prohibition against idolatry. The correct way to observe this law is to not participate in idolatry, and then to actively participate in the oneness of G-d.

G-d's unity is understood in three parts. First, G-d is alone. Second, G-d is non-corporeal. Finally, G-d has a unique identity. Each of these parts must be examined separately.

G-d is alone.
The Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto, explained in his "The Way of God" that "It is impossible that there exist more than one being whose existence is intrinsically imperative. Only one Being can possibley exist with this necessarily perfect essence, and therefore the only reason all other things have the possibility of existence is that God wills them to exist. All other things therefore depend on Him and do not have intrinsic existence" (Ramchal, 35). The Ramchal is speaking from arguments that were popularly used in the middle ages by both Christians and Jews. In his work the Ramchal is summing up these important arguments to give us a manageable framework within which we can understand certain things about G-d. These things are imperative in a quest for truth—specifically in religion. A quick examination of the argument for G-d's existence as: 'a necessary being that is alone' might help us understand certain Scriptural passages. It may also help us to avoid erroneous belief systems that claim a type of monotheism that is actually polytheism in disguise.

Anyone that claims that G-d exists and rules with something else, or shares his essence with something else, whether it is persons or manifestations, is in error. G-d's own proclamation through Scripture is ought to convince us that He is alone. It is through the Tanach that we learn that G-d is alone and that only the pure monotheistic ideal of Judaism embraces the full meaning of God being One. The following verses attest that G-d is alone. Examine each of these verses within their context. Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 32:39; I Samuel 2:2; II Kings 19:19; Isaiah 43:10-11; 44:6-8; 44:24; 45:5-6; 45:21-22; 46:5; 46:9; 48:11; Malachi 2:10; and Nehemiah 9:6

G-d is non-corporeal.
In the history of monotheism, which began with Adam and continues to this day, error often began by attributing some type of physical existence to God. The Torah speaks in a way where it seems that God may have some kind of corporeal existence. We are told such things as G-d's sees, stands, or know. At times the teachers of Israel have had to correct these misunderstandings. The Rambam in "The Guide for the Perplexed" covers this issue in great detail. According to the Rambam: "We have stated, in one of the chapters of this treatise, that there is a great difference between bringing to view the existence of a thing and demonstrating its true essence (Rambam, 59)." The fact that G-d exists and his essence, what He is, are often confused with physical bodies since, "That God exists was therefore shown to ordinary men by means of similes taken from physical bodies; that He is living, by a simile taken from motion, because ordinary men consider only the body as fully, truly, and undoubtedly existing; that which is connected with a body but is itself not a body, although believed to exist, has a lower degree of existence on account of its dependence on the body for existence. That, however, which is neither itself a body, nor a force within a body, is not existent according to man's first notions, and is above all excluded from the range of imaginations." and he goes on to say, "...The perception by the senses, especially by hearing and seeing, is best known to us; we have no idea or notion of any other mode of communication between the soul of one person and that of another than by means of speaking, i.e., by the sound produced by lips, tongue, and the other organs of speech. When, therefore, we are to be informed that God has a knowledge of things, and that communication is made by Him to the Prophets who convey it to us, they represent Him to us as seeing and hearing, i.e., as perceiving and knowing those things which can be seen or heard. They represent Him to us as speaking, i.e., that communications from Him reach the Prophets; that is to be understood by the term "prophecy," as will be fully explained" (Rambam, 60). The Rambam's meaning is that human beings are limited by their knowledge of what it means to exist because they their senses is the only way they know how to "know" something as existing. Human beings often misunderstand these similes that are attributed to G-d. Therefore, when we say that G-d spoke to a prophet it is often understood by most people that G-d spoke to that prophet through the same organs of communication that we use to communicate with other humans. This is one of the origins of idolatry—wrongly attributing human activities as being identical to G-d's activities. That is why the term 'prophecy' will be explained, later in his book, to make clear what is meant by communication between G-d and a prophet.

The following verses attest that G-d is not a physical being. Numbers 23:19; Deuteronomy 4:11-12; 5:23 I Kings 8:27

G-d has a unique identity.
No other religion can make the claims of uniqueness that the G-d of Israel can. This unique identity is absolutely necessary when knowing the true G-d. Although there are religions that have claimed to be, in some way, servants of the same G-d as the one professed by the Jewish people, they cannot escape that G-d has established for Himself a unique identity. This identity is intrinsically connected with the Exodus and Sinai experiences. Not only that but G-d is the G-d of the children of Israel. Although He is the G-d of all humanity, G-d identifies Himself with Israel since it is to them that He gave His Torah. It is through this Torah, as said above, that all nations gain blessing and knowledge of G-d. Anyone that claims that their G-d is the same G-d but this god was not known to the Children of Israel at Sinai, or that this god has a different chosen people, or that there is nothing holy about the Torah or that the Torah today is not the same as the Torah of yesterday, or claims that it is not necessary to keep the Torah, this person does not serve the same G-d of the Jewish people, and have misunderstood something essential about G-d.

Examine the following verses concerning the unique identity of G-d.

The G-d of the Exodus and Sinai: Exodus 20:2-3; I Kings 8:60; II Kings 19:19; Isaiah 40:18; Isaiah 44:6-8; 44:24; Hosea 13:4; Joel 2:27; Malachi 2:10; Nehemiah 9:6

The G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: Gen. 17:9; 26:3, 24; 28:13; 32:9; Exodus 3:6; 15-16; 4:5; 33:1 Lev. 26:42; Num. 32:11; Deut. 1:8; 6:10; 9:5, 27; 29:13; 30:20; 34:4; I Kings 18:36; 2 Kings 13:23; I Chr. 1:28; 16:16; 29:18; 2 Chr. 20:7; 30:6; Ps. 47:9; 81:4; 105:6, 9, 42; Is. 29:22, 41:8, 51:2

The G-d that gave the Torah: Deut. 4:5-8; 10:12-13; Ps. 81:4

The Holiness of the Torah: Psalm 19:8-9 (7-8); 119:44, 72, 97, 155, 163, 165

The eternal aspect of the Torah: Deut. 29:28 (29); Psalm 111:7-8; Ezekiel 11:19-20

Other gods.
G-d addresses Himself to the people on the issue of the other gods, those that the nations have created for themselves. G-d makes it clear that His unity is absolute. None of the gods of the nations can make any claim that G-d can. This continues to undermine the polytheistic belief system.

The following verses mark out the differences between G-d and the gods of the nations. Deuteronomy 6:14; I Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 40:18; 40:25; 40:25; 43:10-11; 44:6-8; 46:5; Malachi 2:10; Psalms 81:8-9; I Chronicles 17:20


The universal G-d.
It is a mistake to think that G-d is the G-d of only one particular people. That was the claim of the pagan societies. Every people and culture possessed their gods. The power of these gods were seen to rise and fall with that of their people. Typically the failure of a god to protect its people from the ill fortunes of war led to the people abandoning their god and serving that of their conqueror. If there is one G-d only, then He must be the G-d of not just one people; but of all people. G-d constantly reminds us throughout Scripture that the nations have not been forgotten. They are as much a part of His plan as Israel. The Rabbis teach that the universe was created for the Jews so that they could receive Torah, but the Jewish people were created so that they could minister to the world.

Review the following verses. I Kings 8:50; II Kings 19:19; Isaiah 45:21-22; Malachi 2:10

23. Know Your CREATOR, Know Yourself and Know the Difference

The IDOLATRY Commandment in Eden
by Rabbi Zvi Aviner

1: Is IDOLATRY still relevant?

We start learning about the First Noahide Commandment, IDOLATRY. As we said last class, it was given to ADAM and Eve in Eden, among the ‘Six Primordial Commandments’: IDOLATRY, ADULTERY, BLOODSHED, THEFT, JUSTICE, BLASPHEMY. At the end of these classes you’ll know them by heart,

 

Is IDOLATRY still relevant?
Before we plunge into the study of IDOLATRY, we should ask: Is it still relevant to our lives?

The following story depicts the issue. Several years ago when I published my first book about IDOLATRY, I sent the manuscript to the publisher for reviewing. Who will be interested in this? Who would buy your book?”

And I am happy to admit that in one aspect she was right. We don’t’ worship idols of wood and stone anymore, nor do we bow to the Sun and the Moon and all the Celestial bodies. The prophet of Israel has eradicated this sort of foolishness from the human mind. Even nations in the Far East who apparently still worship their idols, are only carrying their parental tradition. They do not believe anymore in their idols’ power.


Moreover, the young editor was right in the public’s declining interest in IDOLATRY. The ancients used to converse much about their idols. They used to exchange notes at bonfire and by the dinner tables. Strangers used to tell each other about their different deities. “Tell me about your god: What do you do for it? How do you worship it? And I’ll tell you about mine.” The Pantheon was large and a person could adopt or choose idols as pleased. This sort of passion for IDOLATRY is passé. So the young editor was right: Who would buy my book?


Modern Idols
Yet we do have our own modern idols. What is an idol, after all, if not something or someone that we adore and worship, instead of our true CREATOR?
Do we not surrender our lives to drug and alcohol?
Do not enthrone on us certain political parties or their leaders or their philosophies?
Do we not pursue wealth and power?
Do we not adore Science and Technology, believing they can solve all our problems?
Do we not pursue Art, forgetting morality?
Do we not worship our ‘self’ instead of our CREATOR?
Hence in that aspect, the cute young editor was wrong. IDOLATRY TO ITS KIND is very much with us. They study of IDOLATRY is very much relevant to our modern life.

2: IDOLATRY in the Garden of Eden

What Constitutes IDOLATRY?
As we’ve said, Adam received it in Eden. Then Adam ‘carried’ the obligation to Earth. In Eden IDOLATRY meant one thing, and on Earth it has taken on a different connotation.


What did IDOLATRY mean to Adam in Eden?
Surely Adam and Eve would not carve out statues of wood and stone in Eden and worship them. Surely they would not bow in Eden to the Sun and the Moon and worship them. They lived too close to the CREATOR to make such a gross mental error.
But they could violate IDOALTRY in one way only: by disobeying G-d’s Command.
Let’s recall that when the CREATOR formed the Adam in Eden from dust, it says:

“And He (G-d) commanded on the Adam, saying: from all the Tree of the Garden you can eat, but from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil you should not eat, since on the day that you eat it you’ll die!”

Here the words “Commanded on the Adam” are superfluous. The Rabbis saw that as a hint for giving Adam the Six Commandments. Foremost among them was IDOLATRY, which simply says: Listen to your CREATOR’S Commands. Then G-d ‘filled’ the IDOLATRY Commandment with content by saying: “From this Tree you should not eat.”

Listen to me!
Let’s note that this was not an ADVICE, but rather a COMMAND.
Who may issue a Command? Someone with authority. Hence in Eden the CREATOR ‘commanded’ on Adam not only as his MAKER, but also as his FATHER in HEAVENS and his KING, or “The KING OF THE UNIVERSE.”

Note that when we attribute KINGSHIP to G-d we don’t mean to say that He wears a golden crown or ride a beautiful horse. We rather say that He is not an aloof CREATOR but also its King who is interested in his KINGDOM and runs it day and night. He is Our KING who conducts our lives.


Hence the notion of IDOLATRY is intertwined by the notions that He is
Our CREATOR,
Our FATHER
Our KING
who gives us Commandments.
The most primordial specific Command of the FATHER-KING to Adam (and us) was “Thou shall not eat from the fruits of this Tree of Knowledge.”
Indeed, on Rosh Hashanah, when we celebrate Adam’s creation, we refer to G-d as “Our FATHER, OR KING” (avinu makleinu.) On no other day of the year we would use that title in our prayers.
Hence we follow in our study ideas embedded in mainstream Judaism. We do not use esoteric teachings in our classes.

 

The only commandment relevant to Eden
Note that in Eden, before the advent of Eve, Adam could have not violated any of the Commandments besides IDOLATRY in its most basic form.
He could not violate ADULTERY without Eve around.
He could not violate BLOODHSED with no other humans around.
He could not violate THEFT without private ownership of many other individuals.
He could not violate INJUSTICE without society.
He could not commit BLASPHEMY while living so close to G-d.
But he could, and did, violate IDOATRY by disobeying the CREATOR-FAHTER-KING Commandment and eat from the forbidden fruit.
Once Eve was born, she could and did commit also ADULTERY by cohabiting with the cunning, sexual attractive Serpent.


IDOALTRY underlies all the Commandments. Whenever we transgress any of G-d’s commandment we violate IDOALTRY as well.

3: IDOLATRY through the Book of Genesis

So far we learned about the basic notions of IDOLATRY from the story of Eden. In Eden, IDOALTRY meant: Listen to your FATHER and KING. But IDOALTRY is more than that. Yet nowhere in the Book of Genesis IDOALTRY is spelled out in details. It is there, of course, operating behind the scene, but nowhere described in the text. Adam knew it, Enosh knew it, Noah knew it, Abraham knew it, and so did Isaac and Jacob and all the righteous people. They all knew it and fought against it. Abraham even sacrificed his life in order to eradicate it. But what are the details of IDOLATRY?

Only in the Book of Exodus it appears again in the text, when G-d gives Israel the Ten Commandments. 

24. Rambam's 8 Levels of Tzedakah (Charity)

Maimonides defines eight levels in giving charity (tzedakah), each one higher than the proceeding one.

On an ascending level, they are as follows:

   8. When donations are given grudgingly.

 

  7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully.

 

  6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.

 

   5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.

 

  4. Donations when the recipient is aware of the donor's identity, but the donor still doesn't know the specific identity of the recipient.

 

   3. Donations when the donor is aware to whom the charity is being given, but the recipient is unaware of the source.

 

    2. Giving assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown to each other. Communal funds, administered by responsible people are also in this category.

 

   1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.

25. A Fine Tuned Universe

by Dr. Gerald Schroeder

According to growing numbers of scientists, the laws and constants of nature are so “finely-tuned,” and so many “coincidences” have occurred to allow for the possibility of life, the universe must have come into existence through intentional planning and intelligence.

In fact, this “fine-tuning” is so pronounced, and the “coincidences” are so numerous, many scientists have come to espouse The Anthropic Principle, which contends that the universe was brought into existence intentionally for the sake of producing mankind. Even those who do not accept The Anthropic Principle admit to the “fine-tuning” and conclude that the universe is “too contrived” to be a chance event.

In a BBC science documentary, “The Anthropic Principle,” some of the greatest scientific minds of our day describe the recent findings which compel this conclusion.

Dr. Dennis Scania, the distinguished head of Cambridge University Observatories:

"If you change a little bit the laws of nature, or you change a little bit the constants of nature — like the charge on the electron — then the way the universe develops is so changed, it is very likely that intelligent life would not have been able to develop."

Dr. David D. Deutsch, Institute of Mathematics, Oxford University:

"If we nudge one of these constants just a few percent in one direction, stars burn out within a million years of their formation, and there is no time for evolution. If we nudge it a few percent in the other direction, then no elements heavier than helium form. No carbon, no life. Not even any chemistry. No complexity at all."

Dr. Paul Davies, noted author and professor of theoretical physics at Adelaide University:

"The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge, and would be total chaos if any of the natural ‘constants’ were off even slightly." "You see,” Davies adds, “even if you dismiss man as a chance happening, the fact remains that the universe seems unreasonably suited to the existence of life — almost contrived — you might say a ‘put-up job’."

According to the latest scientific thinking, the matter of the universe originated in a huge explosion of energy called “The Big Bang.” At first, the universe was only hydrogen and helium, which congealed into stars. Subsequently, all the other elements were manufactured inside the stars. The four most abundant elements in the universe are: hydrogen, helium, oxygen and carbon.

When Sir Fred Hoyle was researching how carbon came to be, in the “blast-furnaces” of the stars, his calculations indicated that it is very difficult to explain how the stars generated the necessary quantity of carbon upon which life on earth depends. Hoyle found that there were numerous “fortunate” one-time occurrences which seemed to indicate that purposeful “adjustments” had been made in the laws of physics and chemistry in order to produce the necessary carbon.

Hoyle sums up his findings as follows:

"A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintendent has monkeyed with the physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. I do not believe that any physicist who examined the evidence could fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce within stars." Adds Dr. David D. Deutch: "If anyone claims not to be surprised by the special features that the universe has, he is hiding his head in the sand. These special features ARE surprising and unlikely.'

Universal Acceptance of Fine Tuning

Besides the BBC video, the scientific establishment’s most prestigious journals, and its most famous physicists and cosmologists, have all gone on record as recognizing the objective truth of the fine-tuning. The August ’97 issue of “Science” (the most prestigious peer-reviewed scientific journal in the United States) featured an article entitled “Science and God: A Warming Trend?” Here is an excerpt:

"The fact that the universe exhibits many features that foster organic life — such as precisely those physical constants that result in planets and long-lived stars — also has led some scientists to speculate that some divine influence may be present."

In his best-selling book, “A Brief History of Time”, Stephen Hawking (perhaps the world’s most famous cosmologist) refers to the phenomenon as “remarkable.”

"The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers (i.e. the constants of physics) seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life”. “For example,” Hawking writes, “if the electric charge of the electron had been only slightly different, stars would have been unable to burn hydrogen and helium, or else they would not have exploded. It seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers (for the constants) that would allow for development of any form of intelligent life. Most sets of values would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at that beauty."

Hawking then goes on to say that he can appreciate taking this as possible evidence of “a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the laws of science (by God)” (ibid. p. 125).

Dr. Gerald Schroeder, author of “Genesis and the Big Bang” and “The Science of Life” was formerly with the M.I.T. physics department. He adds the following examples:

"Professor Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in high energy physics (a field of science that deals with the very early universe), writing in the journal “Scientific American”, reflects on: "how surprising it is that the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the universe should allow for the existence of beings who could observe it. Life as we know it would be impossible if any one of several physical quantities had slightly different values."

Although Weinberg is a self-described agnostic, he cannot but be astounded by the extent of the fine-tuning. He goes on to describe how a beryllium isotope having the minuscule half life of 0.0000000000000001 seconds must find and absorb a helium nucleus in that split of time before decaying. This occurs only because of a totally unexpected, exquisitely precise, energy match between the two nuclei. If this did not occur there would be none of the heavier elements. No carbon, no nitrogen, no life. Our universe would be composed of hydrogen and helium. But this is not the end of Professor Weinberg’s wonder at our well-tuned universe. He continues:

"One constant does seem to require an incredible fine-tuning — The existence of life of any kind seems to require a cancellation between different contributions to the vacuum energy, accurate to about 120 decimal places."

This means that if the energies of the Big Bang were, in arbitrary units, not:

100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000,

but instead:

100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001,

there would be no life of any sort in the entire universe because as Weinberg states:

"The universe either would go through a complete cycle of expansion and contraction before life could arise, or would expand so rapidly that no galaxies or stars could form."

Michael Turner, the widely quoted astrophysicist at the University of Chicago and Fermilab, describes the fine-tuning of the universe with a simile:

"The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bulls eye one millimeter in diameter on the other side."

Roger Penrose, the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, discovers that the likelihood of the universe having usable energy (low entropy) at the creation is even more astounding, namely, an accuracy of one part out of ten to the power of ten to the power of 123. "This is an extraordinary figure. One could not possibly even write the number down in full, in our ordinary denary (power of ten) notation: it would be one followed by ten to the power of 123 successive zeros!" (That is a million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion zeros.)

Penrose continues,

"Even if we were to write a zero on each separate proton and on each separate neutron in the entire universe — and we could throw in all the other particles as well for good measure — we should fall far short of writing down the figure needed. The precision needed to set the universe on its course is to be in no way inferior to all that extraordinary precision that we have already become accustomed to in the superb dynamical equations (Newton’s, Maxwell’s, Einstein’s) which govern the behavior of things from moment to moment."

Cosmologists debate whether the space-time continuum is finite or infinite, bounded or unbounded. In all scenarios, the fine-tuning remains the same.

It is appropriate to complete this section on “fine tuning” with the eloquent words of Professor John Wheeler:

"To my mind, there must be at the bottom of it all, not an utterly simple equation, but an utterly simple IDEA. And to me that idea, when we finally discover it, will be so compelling, and so inevitable, so beautiful, we will all say to each other, “How could it have ever been otherwise?”