Torah Thoughts for Today
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Weekly Torah Portion of REEH
Truth or Consequences: The Risks of Spiritual Leadership
By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin, Director www.jpi.org | Weekly Torah Portion of RE’EH.
The Torah portion of Re’eh is in the Book of Deuteronomy.
History, religion and literature have many examples of good and bad leaders but it gets very murky when trying to figure out good or bad spiritual leaders. As in all domains, one man’s bread is another man’s poison. One person’s hero is another person’s villain. And in today’s age of the relativity of truth, where everything is relative, even the worst leaders can somehow be accepted as great by some people. Extreme left wingers who are personally atheists can accept religious leaders they find appealing and likewise fanatical right-wingers can ally themselves with religious despots. So be it and such is life.
But there is something that has been on my mind for a long time and no doubt on yours as well. As people who have lived in a Christian culture we know too well that Jesus is a hero to Christianity but not to Judaism. But the reasons are varied why that is so. No doubt you have your own views on this subject. But allow me to present some of my own, make of them what you will. It hit me again when I reviewed the content of this week’s Torah reading, the parshat hashavua (“weekly Torah portion”) of Re’eh (that aptly openly opens with the notion of every person’s God-given FREEDOM OF CHOICE) as the subject of the “false prophet” comes up, see a full quote below.
Christianity maintains many things about its founder, among which was that he was a prophet. But here is just one big problem that according to Judaism prophecy ended with the destruction of the First Temple 500 to 600 years before Jesus was even born. In Judaism, prophecy and prophets ends with the period surrounding the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah – the Babylonian Exile – Return to Zion. The title and functions of a prophet or Navi ends with the Biblical greats of Malachi, Daniel, Ezra and Nechemia. After them there are no more prophets in the BIBLICAL Tanach sense among the Jewish people. The era of what is called Prophecy (“Nevuah”) ends and a new era of Wisdom “Chochmah” commences with the onset of the era of the Men of the Great Assembly (“anshei knesset hagedolah”) that launches the era of the Oral Law as the main focus, they decide what shall and shall not be part of the Tanach, and once they “seal” it, the Hebrew Bible remains fixed forever. Obviously this is totally incompatible with Christianity and its “new” additions and editions and its claims about its founder that claims to “supersede” what came before it and displace Judaism for a new religion subsequently known to the world as Christianity.
The problem gets more serious because according to what Christianity teaches, its founder suffered a terrible death for maintaining his views about himself and much else. At this juncture it is fascinating to learn that there are strong scholarly Jewish teachings that of the five books of the Chumash its fifth and last book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) is interpreted as one grand prophecy by Moses – regarded as the greatest of all prophets bar none in Judaism – about the “end” of time, meaning the days of the last millennia. The Talmud divides world history, the affairs of people, into three vast eras of 2000 years each, and we are now in the Hebrew year 5773. The times when Christianity began are at the start of the last and still ongoing final “2000 year” period. During that time Christianity and Judaism have never caved in to each other. They have remained in rival positions for 2000 years.
In this week’s parsha it states that a “false prophet” must be put to death (see full quote below) it warns that Jews must be very careful to be wary of “false missionaries” who want to entice people to worship a “new god” and to have other “spiritual experiences” and that such missionaries must be dealt with very harshly. This is a very tough view and obviously while it cannot and should not be put into actual practice because Jews live in Christian societies and do not have the old Sanhedrin to rule on capital cases in modern Israel, but to be forewarned is to be forearmed, and throughout all the generations this was common knowledge where Jews were aware of these teachings.
Thus, according to Judaism as based on the Torah and as explicitly stated in this week’s parsha, Jesus could not have been a “prophet” because the era of prophets ended over 500 years before he was born. Any person claiming to be a “prophet” or a false messiah as has happened so often, faces severe sanctions. Missionaries that seek to take Jews away from the worship of their God are in the same category of false prophets.
The Torah is so prescient and speaks to us directly as a relevant and fresh subject.
Here is the full relevant passage, contemporary translation from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, taken from Deuteronomy, Chapter 13: 2-12:
“[This is what you must do] when a prophet or a person who has visions in a dream arises among you. He may present you with a sign or miracle, and on the basis of that sign or miracle, say to you, 'Let us try out a different god. Let us serve it and have a new spiritual experience.' Do not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. God your Lord is testing you to see if you are truly able to love God your Lord with all your heart and all your soul. Follow God your Lord, remain in awe of Him, keep His commandments, obey Him and serve Him, and you will then be able to have a true spiritual experience through Him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for having spoken rebelliously against God your Lord, who brought you out of Egypt and liberated you from the place of slavery. He was trying to make you leave the path that God your Lord commanded you to walk, and you must destroy such evil from your midst. [This is what you must do] if your blood brother, your son, your daughter, your bosom wife, or your closest friend secretly tries to act as a missionary among you, and says, 'Let us go worship a new god. Let us have a spiritual experience previously unknown by you or your fathers.' [He may be enticing you with] the gods of the nations around you, far or near, or those that are found at one end of the world or another. Do not agree with him, and do not listen to him. Do not let your eyes pity him, do not show him any mercy, and do not try to cover up for him, since you must be the one to put him to death. Your hand must be the first against him to kill him, followed by the hands of the other people. Pelt him to death with stones, since he has tried to make you abandon God your Lord, who brought you out of the slave house that was Egypt. When all Israel hears about it, they will be afraid, and they will never again do such an evil thing among you.”
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Weekly Torah Portion of EKEV
Stating it Twice: Why the Torah Repeats Some Main Events!
By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin, Director www.jpi.org | Weekly Torah Portion of EKEV.
The Torah portion of Ekev is in the Book of Deuteronomy. Like all the Torah portions starting two weeks ago, and continuing for the next six weeks, all are in the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy).
In this portion there is mention of the second set of Ten Commandments, or the “Second Tablets” that Moses says he was ordered to make by God after he had broken the first set when he saw the Israelites worshiping the Golden Calf (in Deuteronomy chapter 10). But, like many things mentioned in the Book of Deuteronomy, this is already stated in the Book of Exodus (chapter 34) following the description of the actual events that took place at that time.
There are some questions about the repetition of it all. In fact the Book of Deuteronomy itself is referred to as a “Second Torah” (“Mishneh Torah” in Hebrew) – one grand repetition of the Torah itself.
So what we have is a repetition of the Torah, a repetition of the Second Tablets, a repetition of the Ten Commandments, and numerous other repetitions and seeming duplicates of the commandments and much more all presented very obviously and deliberately, but the question is WHY?
So I will propose a solution and you decide if it makes sense and if you like it feel free to publicize it.
Every set of ideas and system of thought must start with given definitions and axioms. What are the “axioms” and “definitions” of the Torah and where are they to be found? The obvious place is always at the start. And at the literal very “beginning” of the Torah there is the account of Adam and Eve and how they were created by God and placed in the perfect world of the Garden of Eden. But as we know the Torah relates that because Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and gave of its fruit to her husband Adam, all against the commandment of God, they were punished in various ways and expelled from the Garden of Eden.
But the Torah’s account at the very “beginning” does NOT end there! God gives them a SECOND chance. In fact the Torah itself has TWO accounts of what happened. In Genesis chapter 1, there is an account of a perfect Creation from Day One to Day Six culminating with the creation of Adam in the image of God and then on to Day Seven, the Shabbat a day of perfect rest. Then Genesis chapter 2 describes events that went wrong for Adam and Eve…and that God gave them a second chance, meaning He did not wipe them out entirely but allowed them to do teshuva (“repentance”).
This mechanism of a “second chance” is encapsulated and symbolized, and functions in the names that God chooses for himself. In Genesis 1 the name for God that is used is “Elohim” (denoting Lordship and Judge) while in Genesis 2 the name for God that the Torah uses is “YHVH” the unpronounceable Tetragrammaton that is said as “Adonai” (“Master”). The first name of God denotes strict JUDGMENT (“din”) while the second name denotes MERCIFULNESS (“chesed”). Thus the second name of God is all about “second chances” because that is the essence of mercy, forgiveness and re-acceptance.
Thus throughout the Torah, especially in those aspects that are the closest representations of its nature and of God’s essence, such as the Second Tablets, and the Ten Commandments and of the Torah itself, there are repetitive and even cyclical second events and repetitions that reflect the way that God has set up this world and allows it to continue functioning as imperfect as it may seem, it is based on perfection.