I realize I have a diverse reading audience – this article is really intended for a Jewish audience … if you’re a believing Christian, you probably won’t be interested.  It describes the experience of the Christian convert to Judaism whose book I am reviewing, as well as questions it has raised for me.  At the same time, I discuss similar experiences of other converts that I know.  

christian-convert-to-judaism

Mountain Family Book Synopsis

The Mountain Family is the story of Tzirel Rus Berger, a fundamentalist Christian from the deep South (of the United States) who converts to Judaism.  Here, the Massey family (the author’s prior name) had already long stopped celebrating holidays which they deem of pagan origin.  When other kids went out trick or treating, they simply didn’t participate.  At the same time, they’re keeping some semblance of kosher eating and keep some semblance of the Jewish Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  Meanwhile, Berger’s own grandparents had moved to Israel and lived as Christians, but kept Jewish holidays.  Meanwhile, their utter faith and trust in G_d is something that, coming from where I do, I look up to even when embodied in non-Jews.

The book is mainly about Berger’s personal story of growing up and coming to Judaism.  For me, what was most fascinating were the descriptions of how she lived – dirt poor in the mountains of Georgia and Alabama.  Sometimes, they were so poor that she and a family of 10 kids slept in the woods under tarps or drove 17 miles to the nearest store with $30 to buy food for the entire family.  Turns out she fits in quite well with the “settler” mentality in Israel, when later in life she moves to a settlement and continues to live on very little.  Many of her children attended Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem, Israel where I also attended.  I know many of the people she refers to in her book, but there, I always had trouble grappling with issues such as “just learn Torah full time and don’t worry about money” and students having money raised to pay for their weddings.  Then what?  Her kids had no such issues and fit right in!  (Now, the yeshiva is one of my best sources of income.)

Common Issues of Christian Converts to Judaism

I strongly disagree with the advertising for this book about the ‘remarkable’ story.  it’s not remarkable because it happens too frequently to retain that adjective.  I’ve had the occasion to know many of them.  They are typically very strong believers with a very above average knowledge of the actual text.  My chavrusa [study partner] at Ohr Somayach was one of them.  He was a former Southern Baptist preacher from Tennessee.  Fun guy.  His father once finally came to terms with his conversation to Judaism, but told him, “Whatever you do, just don’t marry a black girl.”  He really tried to obey his father’s wishes but, as Berger points out, marriage prospects for such a convert can be difficult when you come from such a different background.  I was learning with my friend throughout his dating and it just wasn’t working for him.  He kept getting suggested this one black girl … you can guess the rest.

I’ve also heard many of Berger’s issues echoed by converts in my own community.  I used to attend the shul of the father of Tuvia Singer.  He focuses on anti-missionary work, but as his own lectures state, he didn’t realize how he’d be unwittingly attracting non-Jews.  At this shul you can hear some southern accents here and there, or meet people with not-so-Jewish-sounding last names.  Echoing some of Berger’s comments, they have questions like “Could it be that G_d isn’t powerful enough that I have to go through an intermediary for Him to hear me?”, “Why does Deuteronomy say not to believe a prophet who does a miracle?  Shouldn’t I believe him?”, “Why do we do some things from Judaism but not others?”, “How could people who not even a claim to prophecy add to the written word of G_d?” and “How am I supposed to emulate the ways of a deity that died at 33 when i am 43?  What about 63?”  Then one day, they decide to read the book from the beginning to end instead of the other way around, and according to different accounts, find there’s no source for the ‘trinity’ in the text, or certain things have been mistranslated or even misquoted in the ‘new’ version, and so forth.  Berger describes how no one could answer her questions of interpretation until she started speaking to Rabbis.

Jewish Practices Among Christian Believers

I’ve also encountered some interesting Christian beliefs.  A former babysitter showed us how her church marked Yom Kippur and encouraged fasting.  One, now convert in my community, at first associated himself with an organization for missionaizing Jews.  It seems these organizations can also be stepping stones for Christians to go ‘the other’ direction.  Oops.  They still maintain their Christian beliefs but add more of a Jewish feel to them … something like Fiddler on the Roof meets Christmas without a Christmas tree.  Such beliefs always fascinated me.  In high school, I used to argue with missionaries online to try and understand just how is it a person could believe what, to me, was so obviously not the truth.  I wasn’t sure of G_d’s existence, but surely if there was a G_d, it was an infinite one who wasn’t one who was in three parts or needed to come down in man-form.  (Side note – I noticed this same parallel in In Things Fall Apart, a novel told from the perspective of a native Nigerian who describes how missionaries systematically dismantled their indigenous beliefs with arguments for one G_d.  Then, the leaders who did so were rotated out and new ones came in, incredulous that the hadn’t taught about the trinity, devil, and other independent actors … just like the beliefs they had given up.  By that time, the indigenous social structure who so out of whack, that it was too late for them to return.  There’s a small Jewish group in Uganda who did actually come to Judaism along similar lines.)

One of the more interesting stories is that of one of my best childhood friends.  His Catholic Priest father and nun mother (yup, that’s correct; read more about them here) still consider themselves Catholic.  However, my friend’s own description is that their beliefs are so far from Catholic teaching that it’s hard to say that.  I once borrowed some books and tapes of my friend’s father to understand the perspective.  The tape was an interview arguing that since the mishnah [Jewish oral law] says one should be married, surely the guy the Christians calls the messiah must have been!  In one of the books, it outlined the atrocities of the church throughout history that could only be written by an insider, and argued for going back to the Jewish routes … the book mark was a version of the famous painting of the “Last Supper” except the participants were all wearing yarmulke’s and tallis’s [Jewish prayer shauls]. Meanwhile, my friend who had gone from Catholic to atheist back to Catholic, when I last spoke to him, was working in a bookstore at a Catholic retreat where he reads “anything about G_d” all day.  I asked him if he could get a “promotion” and actually teach some classes there.  He said they’d never let him do that because he didn’t believe in the virgin birth!

Pondering a Question – Who Converts and Who Doesn’t?

Still, I have wondered why some very seriously believing Christians who have such fundamental issues with Christian theology convert to Judaism and other’s don’t.  One acquaintance of mine was amongst his 7 siblings converting to Judaism, but related that his father could not be converted as he believed “the messiah had been here once already”.  Otherwise, his father lived in the Old City of Jerusalem and acted completely like a Torah observant Jew.  There are all kinds I suppose.

A corollary question in mind has also been … what’s the allure?  How can you believe in a version of G_d which posits that G_d is not infinite enough for you that he needs to come down in man form that you pray to?  Some of it is emotional connection to the past – in fact, my friend’s Priest-father (father-Priest?), in writing about almost two thousand years of mistakes by his church, wrote so lovingly about his aunt, a nun who was so pious and kind.  It was not something he could, would, or does emotionally leave behind.

I think the answer can also be summed up in what’s actually a Jewish story from a chassish Rebbe.  In jewish law, we pray the morning prayers by a certain time.  After the fact, you can do so the entire morning.  Chassidim are often known to pray in the less desirable time.  A Chassid was once mocked by a Litvish [good with time] Jew who asked him why he couldn’t pray on time.  The Chassid said something like, “In truth, I wish I could be like you and just come to synagogue and start praying right away.  The problem is that I stop and think about the awesomeness of creation and all there is to it and the amazingness of our infinite Creator and I just tremble and can’t move past it.  It takes me hours each day to actually summon up the ability to compose myself talk directly to the Creator.  I don’t know how you do it right away, but you are so fortunate.”  It’s a difficult avodah [service] to connect properly all the time.  It’s a way of life and a discipline.  So man, in fact, Paul created a system to make it easy.  They’ve created a “blue pill” but for those who want the “red pill” it’s out there.

The Summary

torah-chazal-science“Torah from Sinai is not only truth, but tells us the whole of truth.  Modern science is, at best, an approximation and a curiosity.  At worst, it’s a changing set of incorrect theories taught as religion.”

The above is my own summary of Rav Moshe Meiselman‘s 600+ page book which discusses how Judaism and science interrelate.  With some skipping here and there, I’ve actually gone through the entire book to arrive at the summary.  Rav Meiselman has some impressive credentials.  He holds a doctorate from MIT, was a close student of Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, and is Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Jerusalem.  I personally hold his only other published English work, Jewish Women in Jewish Law, in very high esteem.

The Writing Style

Rav Meiselman has no problem taking others head on with whom he disagrees – this includes very direct references to the works of Rav Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Jonathan Saks (former chief Rabbi of the British Empire), Shlomo Sternberg (Bar Ilan professor), fundamentalist Christianity, and others.  This work also includes some obvious but never-named references to Nosson Slifkin who has gone on a very public warpath, especially through his blog, against anyone who he perceives is against his own books.  More on that later.

I’m pretty sure that it’s people such as myself who are the intended audience of this book – I come from a scientific-minded background, and very much ‘needed’ theories such as that of Gerald Schroeder (an MIT Physicist) to become Torah observant.  Once, I even picked him up at an airport, had him over for dinner with a few friends, and then drove him to his public talk so that I could directly ask him all my questions.  Now Rav Meiselman, as best I can tell doesn’t mention Schroeder or Andrew Goldfinger (Thinking about Creation – my review over here), or those of this sort who “make it fit”, but he does have a general criticism for anyone who wants to “make it fit”.  The message goes something like this: “That’s curious.”  At other times (it’s a long book), the message is more like this: “Knock it off.”

The book is best described a hybrid of encyclopedic and Solevechian.  it covers all sorts of topics to prove the point, and goes into all the details to do so with lengthy discussions of mostly the Rambam and Rashba.  It appears to me that the author’s intention is that a person might like this section or that, depending on their interest, so there is a lot of overlap or downright repetition of concepts in different sections.  Or, just if you start at point A, it will lead you to bring in point B.  So too, if you start at point C, it might bring you to point B as well, so you see point B covered twice.  This is not unlike learning Torah in general, as one thing will lead you to another, especially when learning in depth in the Solevechain method of learning.  (The Satmar Rebbe’s biography contains an indirect criticism of this approach as one doesn’t get to the point this way.)

The Approach of Rav Meiselman

Rav Meiselman’s logic is fairly straight forward.  He takes as truth our tradition that Torah was handed to us from Sinai.  This is a basic belief of Judaism.  There are a few zeniths of knowledge – when Adam was given a human soul, at Mt. Sinai, at the time of King Shlomo (First Temple Period), and again when the moschiach [messiah] arrives.  At Mt. Sinai it was greater than at the time of King Shlomo because there was direct access to the source.  King Shlomo, on the other hand, was able to logically learn out just about everything from the principles of how to restore lost information.  This included cures for diseases and the exact parameters of mitzvahs in the Torah.  The point is: the information was there, complete, and correct.

As we move further away in time from the informational zenith (but closer to another one), then not only is information lost, but even the knowledge to understand the writings of previous generations may be lost.  There *might* be errors, but we believe that the Creator is actively involved in the world, and as such, is preventing any major deviations.  More likely, we are misunderstanding.

So what happens if science and Torah don’t fit?  He divides this into two categories – 1. “extrapolative” or “historical” science and 2. confirmed tests of present reality.  The first category he does not consider science at all.  We might, say, have a working model to help us categorize such as is called “evolution” but, quoting his rebbe before him, science is overstepping it’s bounds when it posits any such thing as truth.  At best, science reveals approximations and where these approximations don’t comport with Torah from Sinai, it is the science that is wrong.  The Torah need not be “made to fit” and should not be made to fit.  For this, in Rav Meiselman’s eyes is degrading to the truth by putting it in the “one down” position and is downright dangerous.

Example – The Flood

Again, the book is large, but I’ll take a tough one because it appears scattered through the book, in order to make various points.  First, Rav Meiselman uses it to show that there is vast scientific knowledge – the very dimensions of the Tevah [Ark] have amazing buoyant properties, copied in smaller form by shipbuilders in the 1800s.  It fell out of practice because, well, steering doesn’t work so well (not a concern of Noach), but it seems to be a very maximal way of loading down a boat while it remains quite above water.

(In this section, I was also quite fascinated by mathematics discussions – such as the size of a window compared to it’s circular opening, as listed in the Talmud with what looks to be clearly erroneous numbers.  The book shows how if you stop reading it with the assumptions of modern math notation, and read it with a second set of circles around each corner, it works out quite well … and that people who could calculate the position of the moon surely weren’t so ignorant in other areas.  So too with using “3” as the calculation for Pi, as whatever number we use for Pi is always an approximation.  Using a greater approximation does not sure lack of knowledge … unless you have a pre-determined agenda.)

Then the book later comes at the ark from a different angle – that of attacks on it since a) it’s impossible to feed that many animals and b) they won’t all fit, even with the massive size of the ark.  The retort is something like this: “It’s a miracle, silly.”  It doesn’t go by natural mechanisms and the laws of physics may, or probably were, very different before, during, and after the flood.  These are different epochs of history with a world torn apart and put back together.  More than once the book references the concluding sections of Iyov [Job] and a quote from the Talmud that Iyov would be on the same level as Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov if only he didn’t think he had that right to argue with the Creator.

So then what about the sediment layers in Greenland and Antarctica that show constant deposits due to the flow of water with no evidence of a flood?  Well, the answer is above – we have no idea how the world was torn apart and put back together and what aspects were and weren’t changed.  The retort from critiques is that “G_d would then be trying to trick us.”  This book’s retort: “No, you’re tricking yourself with your own logic.”  Rav Meiselman further argues against the Greenland sediment thing by saying that there are similar deposits on Mars with no evidence of water.  So perhaps what we think we’re looking at in Greenland is quite different than scientists are theorizing.

Further, Rav Meiselman has this to say on Jewish (and to a lesser extent, Christian) apologists who want to “make it fit” by saying things like “the flood was only localized.”  The retort – then how do you explain flood stories all around the world?  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_flood_myths for a very extensive list. [Addendum – see comments below where more detail is provided in response to a question.]

Attack on Historical Science

On this topic, the book’s bottom line is that there’s lots of knowledge even in the amount of Torah we have today,  We have no reason to change based on what is nothing more than a new religion that is deciding otherwise based on their theories which are stacked one on top of the other.

Rav Meiselman’s sourcing on the history of science, and what knowledge came from here is impressive even if you disagree with every one of his conclusions.  Through this, the book shows quite well how theory after theory has been overturned from geo-centricity (which relativity has sort of revived) to the eternal universe to Lamarckism (the theory that the environment effects traits inherited in future generations).  When I took medical level biochemistry, I had realized on my own that every prior biology class I took lied to me about current scientific knowledge on that last point.

In very many places, Rav Meiselman makes the point that what was taught as “truth” in the scientific world (which sometimes was put into dogma of other religions formed during such times), has been overturned again and again.   If science agrees today with something in Torah, great.  If not, well – neither did plenty of other scientific theories and today’s are no different and no more believable.  A geo-centered universe needed irrational “epicycles” to explain the motion of planets.  Today’s theories require one to have faith in dark matter which is just as strange, according to the book.  Many scientists who find this troubling are referenced and it’s quite possible that these theories will also be overturned.

Another problem with modern science is that it states that all life is generated from previous life.  This worked out alright when science also taught the universe has been around for an eternal period of time, but today, a beginning is taught with spontaneous generation of life.  Yet, despite the blaring contradiction (do we have spontaneous generation or don’t we?) the theories are still taught as absolute truth.

True, Rav Meiselman states, we have some questions on things like the flood, but we have no reason to re-evaluate or re-adjust in view of another religion (which some call ‘science’) which has far greater contradictions and leaps of faith.

The Controversy

Even a summary of a 600+ book is long.  I think the above will give a reader the gist of the Rav Meiselman’s approach, but it is not without controversy.  This extends to the approach of Jewish outreach organizations, the curriculum of Jewish schools, and a debate which has been going on in the Orthodox Jewish world for quite some time.  That shall be the subject of the next article on the topic.

idfI came across “Shield of David” during the course of family tree research.  Part of my paternal family lived in Gomel, Belarus as the 20th century began.  This is the same city where the recently deceased gadol hador (leader of the generation) Rav Eliyashiv was born and lived and had a population of Jews everywhere between very Torah observant to secular to marxist to communist … and zionist somewhere in there on the latter side. Back in 1903, around the time my great-grandfather left for the United States, there were large pograms against the Jewish people in the city.  For what was probably the first time in quite a while, a group of Jews banded together to form a militia or army to fight back against those coming to do them harm.  This would have worked well except when the Russian army came to quiet things down, they attacked not only those who were part of the pogram, but also the Jews who were defending themselves.  The Jews decided it wouldn’t work to form their own army on foreign soil, so they left for Israel.  What started as individual communities with military training, become the various militant groups that become the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). There’s a lot of very interesting points on how the wars were fought, where the help came from, and the political relations with the United Kingdom (which varied between near-outright support of the Jews and near-outright support of the Arabs), but I’d like to focus on a few points . . .

Jewish – Arab Relations in the Holy Land

According to Allon, a general in the Israeli Defense Forces, the practice amongst Jewish settlements was to hire Arab calvary for defense.  The Turkish Empire was crumbling and settlements, whether Arab or Jewish, each needed defense.  When the militia from Gomel came to Israel, they decided they were going to defend themselves and more – no Arab labor and no Arab defense.  This upset the “status quo” and the Arabs attacked until they realized this group of Jews meant what they said and defended themselves.  Thus began, in many ways, the tensions that still exist between Arabs and Jews – typically, Arabs are fine with a Jewish presence and even respect religious Jews (I have quite a few Arab clients, some of whom have told me they specifically sought out a religious Jewish lawyer), but demand to be in control.  Even more parenthetically, Fawaz Turki quotes his interview with a leader of Hamas that their desire is to take control of Israel, but they would allow the Jews to remain living under their control. It seems, in over 100 years, not much has changed in this picture.  In Meah Shearim, known to be a very religious neighborhood just outside the Old City of Jerusalem, I once had a long conversation about zionism with Toldos Aaron identifying Chassidic Jew.  He said before 1948, the Jews and Arabs used to go to each others weddings . . . the coming of Zionism and secular Jews only made things more difficult for them and caused fighting.  In a hypothetical, I wonder what would have been, had the Jews settled Israel en masse just the same, but had made a priority of better neighborly relations.

Religious – Secular Relations in the Holy Land

Allon’s book, written in 1970, also describes the beginning of religious-secular tensions even among Jews in Israel.  (We have it here in the United States, too, but the secular Jewish community is largely ambivalent and disappearing due to birthrate, inter-marriage, and larger and larger attrition in each subsequent generation.)  Allon describes how in 1948 Israel tanks rolled through Tel Aviv in a procession … right past a synagogue.  He describes this as a replacing of the old with the new, in juxtaposition.  That is, 3,300 years of what it meant to be a Jew is suddenly replaced with Jews meant to make nationalism their religion. Other religious references made include an outpost which kept being destroyed by the British, only to be rebuilt each day … even on the Sabbath.  While it’s nice to know that  the Sabbath was being observed in some form, the implication is that settling the land became paramount.  So too, there is a passing reference that there were “even” some wearing yarmulke’s dispatching on the radio. The attitude, unfortunately, still prevails in much of Israel.  It has led and, unfortunately, continues to lead to action and reaction from both sides, distrustful of the other.  Secular parties often still try to push nationalism on the religious, failing to understand how and the religious see their role in the Jewish people, and the religious may make the secular feel lesser for not properly guarding Torah and mitzvos, the paramount thing for a Torah observant Jew.

Still, it’s a good read …

The book is certainly an entertaining and informative read.  Seeing how an army and a country develops from people who escape persecution to found a new country is not only amazing, but is unheard of in history.  The Torah tells us that the Jews will return to the land, and is on this basis that the Jews did so, either because it was believed or is G_d-guided or both.  The irony is that those who did so were largely the secular who strongly knew and felt their Jewishness and had ingrained within them such Jewish values as living in our home, but the irony is that zionism was largely setup to copy other nations and how they live. Yigal Allon makes the above quite clear.  This mix makes for a tension with the neighbors who wonder what the Jews are doing there if they’re not religious, and of course, with the religious.  Today’s secular Jews don’t even know who they are.  There’s no strong Jewish identity “just because” (nor much else of any tradition which remains “just because” in Western society).  Further, you’re pretty terrible at rebelling if you don’t know what it is you’re rebelling against.  Yigal Allon at least had some idea.

Book Review: Thinking About Creation – Eternal Torah and Modern Physics; by Dr. Andrew Goldfinger

Introduction

Dr. Goldfinger holds a PhD in theoretical physics and as Masters in counseling.  Some people like to collect degrees.  He is also a Torah observant chassidic Jew and writes a monthly column in Mishpacha magazine, a weekly family magazine geared towards Torah observant Jews.  Though as I’m aware many of my readers are of different persusations, still, if you’re anything like me you might find it interesting to read magazines of different groups.  Myself, I enjoy the occasional buy of magazines like “Muslim Girl” or “Christianity Today” just to see what’s going on in the rest of the velt.

Confluence of Modern Physics and Torah

thinking-about-creationLike myself, Dr. Goldfinger sees quite a confluence between what modern physics and the Torah have to say about creation.  It was actually the study of physics that first seriously had me considering the existence of a Creator and all that entails (I wrote about that over here).  Other physicists tend also to agree, such as this guy, but still others claim otherwise.  To me, this is an example of free will in how the world is created.  (I once took up this topic with atheists over here.)

Indeed, Dr. Goldfinger also discusses many of these subjects.  He uses, for example, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to show that the world is such that there is uncertainly and will always be an appearance of free will to us.  Even if there is not “really” one, since we will always have it from our perspective, that leaves choice.  That is, Heisenberg’s principle tells us that one can never know the precise position and speed of an object, and the smaller it gets, the more our observations effect it making our measurement ability even less accurate.

Other topics such as Occum’s razor are discussed (arriving at the simplest conclusion) and putting everything together, ultimately, we hope in a single unifying force underlying it all.  In Judaism, we call this . . . you know, the Creator.  It’s all really simple, really, it’s just that after creation it burst forth into lots of complexity.  The premise of the book is to examine what we know, or at least, what we have observed, from both sides of the coin and try and put it all together based on modern theories.  It works … surprisingly well.  It’s not perfect, and sometimes it requires taking a certain ancient scholar’s teaching over another (it’s possible for errors in the transmission of Torah learning) and sometimes the science doesn’t quite agree (because our observations often have bias or entire widely held theories may be based off of improper assumptions, unpopular papers may never get published, or the like).

Then, if we talk about the very beginning of creation . . . it all fits together very, very well.  This deserves it’s own heading, so . . .

Creation Itself – Where we are in Physics and Torah

One of Iyov’s complaints [Job] is that one cannot know G_d and to examine, we look backwards to what people have observed before.   The Rambam tells us that through science we can see an aspect of G_d.  Creation itself is put into very few words in the Torah, though our ancient commentaries do tell us more.  Dr. Goldfinger opens with an excellent exposition of discussions of tohu v’vohu, the beginning with void and darkness, and goes through how the commentaries describe the creation and how we read the very words in the opening of the Torah.  Now, there is certainly some hindsight bias here (having the conclusion we want to draw), but Dr. Goldfinger is quick to point out in many places that with any observations, we are just trying to put things together in narratives that work.   It’s not much different than other scientific narratives, e.g. the Big Bang and everything that went with it . . . the further back in time we go, say, to the first 1*10^-27 second, and the more conjecture and the more what we know of the physical laws break down.  Dr. Goldfinger will tell you repeatedly – it’s not bad science . . . it’s just the best we can do.

It doesn’t always work out perfectly and we will still have further “kashas” (questions), but in large part, it works out really well.  Take for example, the Hebrew word “bara” which is an usual term used for a new creation.  For things which are truly new, such as the creation of the universe or of animal life, the word is used.  For those things that could “evolve”, the word is not used.  Further, generically we go back to a single person.  Mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down directly, says it’s a fairly small number of generations, while the Torah tells us it’s 974.  Random selection and gradual change should show us a lot more diversity than that.

Now, take it back to the beginning . . . red shift of stars shows us that the universe is expanding and goes back to a single point.  The temperature, at creation, would be infinite and the size infinitesimal but this very quickly moves in the opposite direction.  How?  Why?  We don’t know and it’s fairly doubtful we’ll ever be able to measure this and we cannot truly understand the infinite, but we can come closer and closer.  In any case, after thousands of years of Hellenist philosophy telling us the universe just is and always was, and that an invisible ether permeated the universe and light came from matter, suddenly in the past 100 years it seems the Torah, written 3300 years ago, had it right all along.  There was a chaotic void, there was a beginning, there was an observer to make it all happen, and so on we go.

How Can There Not be Order in Creation?

One of the conclusions that I think Dr. Goldfinger is trying to bring out is that the universe is ordered and not an accident.  (I take great issue with those who want to see the world in a negative light – that’s just silly.  More about that over here.)  I am just in awe reading the chapter about the physics at the beginning of the universe.  If the theories are correct, there was a world immense heat which has fallen to an average of about 2.73 kelvin (just above absolute zero).  In the beginning, it’s too hot and dense for molecules to form.  Then, once you have atoms, then what . . . and at the end, it’s too spaced apart for anything much at all (if the theory is correct).  Yet the universe is such that it’s not just the chaotic void it once was, or nothingness, or whatever it was.  It’s such that not just atoms form, but complex atoms form . . . and it just “happens” to be that water has the properties it does, and carbon the properties that it does, and it all fits together to “allow” for self-replicating machines that we call life.  What an amazing thing!

I can go on with thousands more such examples of the appreciation of what the world is.  As such, there is no question that there is an omnipotent, infinite force . . . it seems from Occum’s razor and just the seemingly infiniteness of depth in which we can view the world, going smaller, bigger, or through dimensions of time and space that this must be a Creator.  The only time for doubt is when I’m thinking narrowly about and being blinded by physicality.  The Ramchal tells us that our senses are no help in coming to this reality – it is only our intellect which tells us.  Thus, the only question that I find even worthy of debate is whether this omnipotent force who created us, cares about what we do, but that’s for another article (and partially discussed here as well).

Nitpicks About this Book

Just a few things … it’s written for a very unsophisticated audience.  As such, there are times when, say, the page about scientific notation, you might just want to skip.  As such, it’s hard to say it’s written for those with even bachelors degrees in science, or even, who took high school physics.  My other nitpick is with some of the more ‘far out’ things and incompleteness of certain discussions.  For example, using “panspermia”, the idea that life came from another planet to make it fit in a Torah timeline seems pretty far out . . . and unnecessary.  There are better ways to make it work.  There are great discussions of relativity which makes a whole lot of things in Torah and creation work out and fit together quite well, but then, the author glosses over the difference between 6 days and 15 billion years.  It seems he just didn’t know, at the time of writing, how best to fit it together.  (Dr. Gerald Schroeder, another Torah observant physicist, I think, does a much better job of this over here.)

The book does, however, quite well describe many scientific theories and axioms using very simple and easy to understand analogies.  For that, I feel that I learned a lot.  It’s hard to write a book discussing what society today has deemed two very different topics, and generally speaking, he does it quite well.  Where else do you find a glossary that defines “peruta” (tiny coin, used in Talmudic literature) next to “photon” (tiny amount of light)?

Conclusion

This book is a great starting point for exploration of the world . . . seeing how to approach questions on creation, examine the evidence, and put it all together.  It’s a fairly easy read, yet discusses a wide variety of complex topics.  I do recommend it to others, especially to those who think their religious beliefs should match their scientific beliefs.

The Holocaust in Context

The Jewish calendar, a microcosm of Judaism itself, has a complete cycle of everything from joyous times (Purim, Succos) to sad times (Tish B’Av) to everything else.  This article is being written in the “9 days” leading up to Tish B’Av, commemorating the date recorded in the Torah when the spies came back with a negative report about the land of Israel, destruction of the two Temples, the Spanish Inquisition, assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand (setting off WWI) and the first trains destined for Auschwitz.  In my family research, I found testimony recorded at Yad Vashem by two distant cousins indicating that my great-great grandparents, about 70 years old at the time, and just about all of their children were killed in Belzec.  My great-grandmother left Poland, or rather, snuck out in the back of a hay truck, when she was 12 years old to avoid being abused by the Cossacks as she was coming to that age.  Turns out, their hatred of Jews saved this entire line of descendants from even greater haters.  It is debatable whether the holocaust was something different, as a new and greater form of hatred against G_d and everything that the concept of a creator and master over you represents, or was just more of the same.

Hanfstaegnl’s Attempt at Exculpating Himself

hitlerErnest Hanfstaegnl’s biography was a past year’s Tish B’Av reading for me.  His book, Hitler, The Missing Years seems to be attempt to exculpate himself from any wrong doing.  He was very close to Hitler beginning in 1921, helping him ascend to power during years when the German Parliament building was set on fire, Hitler wrote his biography explaining his plans for concentration camps, and the Nazi party took over Germany.  Hanfstaegnl fled to Switzerland in 1937 after an “elaborate joke” would have had him killed by Hitler. Hanfstaegnl actually had dual citizenship and spent many years in the United States, his son being raised in the U.S. and accusing his father of not being there for him and having little understanding of democracy.  The elder Hanfstaegnl actually escaped to England and was held in prison as an enemy, being associated with Germany.  He was moved to Canada and eventually released temporarily to the United States to help aid the war effort.  This was all under the direction of President Roosevelt, and Hanfstaegnl’s guard was his very own son, a member of the United States military.  There is nothing stranger than stories which comes out of World War II.

Hanfstaegnl does talk about Jews often in his book, usually accompanied by, “I did my best to play down the excesses of the Nazi’s in this area and focus on the economic policies” (like “not having over representation of Jews in university, which, by the way, was also a huge concern in the United States with Columbia being famous for finding not so ingenious ways to restrict entry from the over-represented suburban “donut around the city” to which a Jewish professor at the meeting responded, “it’s not a donut, it’s a bagel.”)  In true Hanfstaegnl fashion, he claims constantly that he tried to play down or steer Hitler away from, you know, murdering 12 million people and starting a world war, but was unsuccessful.

Description of Hitler

Berlin,_Hitler,_Göring_und_HanfstaenglThe alleged real point of the book is to speak about Hitler before he rose to power.  It does, to be fair, have a lot of that too.  Hanfstaegnl tells of a man who was wholly uneducated, had a very strange and seemingly impotent sex life, and had no regard for others, but at the same time, was an amazing orator who he saw early on could lead the German people.  Some of the more personal examples include Hitler having no idea what he was looking at in an art museum while pretending that it was something he liked, and finding this piece of art by wandering off without telling the rest of them, leaving them to find him staring at the wrong work.  Hanfstaegnl also tells of Hitler’s constant prodding for him to play piano for long periods of time, while he plotted, and once, while in the lap of Hanfstaegnl’s wife (they eventually divorced, but that’s another story).  According to Hanfstaegnl, he wasn’t worried about anything sexual because Hitler was acting more like a child, telling his wife that he’d like to get married but couldn’t because of his duty towards his country.  Meanwhile, there is also talk of very disgusting and vulgar things that Hitler made his niece do (who committed suicide) and pictures which were hidden to avoid hurting Hitler’s political career.

Towards the end of the book, we see, through Hanfstaegnl’s eyes, how Hitler turned on him for accepting an award at Harvard (clearly, the United States was an enemy in Hitler’s eyes).  Hitler requested his family tree to ensure no Jewish lineage, and so it went.  Goebels and others are also described, all of them being pained as the evil influences on Hitler, as if he needed them.

Where from Here

It’s all part of G_d’s creation.  G_d gives man, and even animals and plants pretty wide range to choose their path.  There are those who do things to further their connection to the infinite, and those who do not.  This year’s Tish B’Av reading for the author is the midrash (early Rabbinic commentary explaining the text) on Lamentations, the story of the destruction of the first Temple and exile, read on Tish B’Av in synagogues.  While there is a wealth of information in the midrash, one point I want to draw out is that when things are going well, we have to find that relationship to the Creator, which can be harder than finding that relationship in a time of trouble.  The power of the nations to do war and destroy is only when Yaakov (the Jews) doesn’t exercise his power to raise the world up to a G_dly state.  May we serve the Creator with joy.

 

medical-judaism

Medical Issues in Jewish Law

Dr. Fred Rosner, former Professor of Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine put together an excellent translated collection of the answer to medical questions.  These answers, or “halachic responsa” are written by Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, the son in law of Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashav, the late gadol hador.

How we Recognize a Gadol (someone great in Torah) / Why We Listen to Rabbis

Rav Zilberstein’s writings show how one can place their trust into someone who knows more than them which the average person does many times in life when they go to a doctor.  Even if we don’t understand everything a doctor (or Rabbi) says to us, we can tell that it’s probably a good idea to listen to what they are telling you when you see a work like this one.  The answers are well thought out, often ingenious, and show a breath and depth of knowledge of both Judaism and modern medicine unmatched by no other.  However, what makes Rav Zilberstein even greater is the humility – on many occasions, when he is unsure of an answer, he consulted with his father-in-law, the great Rav Eliyashav.  Or, when unsure about a medical procedure (e.g. the details of how the morning after pill works), he consults with an expert in the field.

There are plenty of charlatans out there, but Rav Zilberstein’s answers are based, with sources quoted from all over the place in Jewish literature, and he is a seeker of truth – the answers are clearly based on what he believes is the truth.  Further, the questions, as arranged quite superbly by Dr. Rosner, cover the same question from different angles so you can see and taste where the differentiating point lies between when a procedure is okay, and when not.  Personally, as a believer in Torah Judaism, after having read this work, I would not hesitate to follow Rav Zilberstein’s advice on how to handle a personal medical situation.

Medical Topics Discussed in Jewish Law

Some topics discussed in this book include:

– When it is okay and when it is not okay to let a very ill person die, according to Jewish law (e.g. removal of a defibrillator);

– Using limited resources on a critically ill patient versus others – e.g. health insurance limitations, when it is stealing from the government and when is it necessary;

– Deceiving a patient of the prognosis and probable outcome according to Jewish law;

– Violating the Sabbath to rest between medical procedures (e.g. helicopter from an army hospital back to your bed at home so you can return and do more operations better)

– When do we force treatment on someone & parental refusal to treat a sick child;

– Balancing patient needs with spousal and family needs – what if you’re the only doctor in town?;

– Organ donation, transplants, risky procedures which may save a life or cause death to come quicker, (e.g. bone marrow transplant)

– Saving one life versus saving many;

– Fetuses and abortion, (e.g. desecrate the Sabbath to save a fetus? Fetus before 40 days old a ‘bunch of liquids’?);

Specific Cases

I am happy to try and answer any questions in the comments on specific issues, are refer you to where to find answers.  However, I decided not to actually print any specific case answers here because, a) they can be taken out of context or misunderstood, b) printing an entire answer is probably copyright infringement, and c) the answers tend to require reading a whole section to get an understanding of an issue.  I highly recommend buying the book.

depthsSuffering to Greatness

Now Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau (former Chief Rabbi of Israel) epitomizes one of G_d’s answers to Iyov [Job] as to how we’re supposed to take tragedy (see Chapter 40).  Why do wicked prosper? Really, every living creature is given the power to protect itself and there is an entire system which is in balance.  If no one could ever get hurt, we would have no heroes  no creatures stronger than a worm, and our Creator wouldn’t be all that great of a Creator.

Being Saved from Death – Physical and Spiritual

Still, it is difficult to digest when we’re talking about a six year old in work camps and concentrations camps.  Through a series of miracles, this young boy, an anomaly in the camps,survived.  A few such events:

  • sneaking out of a synagogue for a Nazi selection;
  • speaking up when selected for death telling how he could work hard to avoid being killed for being un-useful;
  • being pushed by his mother to the men’s side where he had a greater chance of survival;
  • his older brother escaping a train car to a camp to find him in another train car;
  • a compassionate doctor who didn’t give him the required adult vaccine dose which would have killed him;
  • being able to pass as a Pole in the concentration camp to receive better treatment;
  • etc, etc…

Then there’s the miracle that he remained a Torah observant Jew.  He knew nothing of, for example, not eating bread on Passover, but his older brother had him hold the potatoes traded as they were safer with him.  When finally liberated, he might have stayed in France, as his temporary host would have had.  Even when going to Israel, chances are he would have been sent to a non-religious home, as was the statistical norm.  However, his older brother ensured, per the wishes of his Rabbi father, who scarified himself so other Jews could hide, rather than go into hiding himself where the Nazi’s would turn over every stone to find him, and he continued in the path of being a Rabbinic leader.

Modern Israel – Not What Was Expected

Rabbi Lau is quote different than the Satmar Rebbe.  Rabbi Lau and his family viewed Israel as a place that was safe for Jews, and actively supported the creation of a state.  (Incidentally, Rabbi Lau’s book mentions a trip to the United States where he met with various great Rabbis, including the Satmar Rav.  He goes into detail about these meetings, but says nothing of his meeting with Rav Yoel of Satmar – probably because there was strong disagreement about Rabbi Lau’s support for the state of Israel.)

To the dismay of Rabbi Lau’s uncle, where he went to live, when the modern state of Israel was created, it was not one based on the Torah.  The Lau’s led prayer in the streets on Shabbos, spreading their tallisim over the road in protest of buses driving through their town.  The bus driver acquiesced, and it remains a town where the mass transit system observes the holy Sabbath.

Rabbi Lau recalls another memory – not only was their spiritual discretion, but Israel was supposed to be the only place in the world where a Jew could live safely.  Living through the War of Independence in Israel in 1948, he couldn’t understand how it was that Jews were dying there, too.

Meetings With World Leaders

One of the most amazing sections of the book is the retelling of conversations with famous personalities around the world.  These include politicians such as Fidel Castro (who turns out to be respectful and protective of the Jews, as is now confirmed by many other sources, including his allowance for kosher meat when every other butcher was nationalized, and some education in Judaism to Jews in Cuba to this day).  It also includes religious leaders such as a leading Muslim in Egypt (who refused to return the visit to Jerusalem), the head Buddhist in Japan (who asked for forgiveness from the Jewish people for Japan’s role in WWII, for which Rabbi Lau would not give), and Pope John Paul II (who removed all the idols from his summer home in order that Rabbi Lau could visit).

It’s a compelling story and well written.  Rabbi Lau became the father of 10 children, and numerous grandchildren who perpetuate his family name and leadership role for the Jewish people.

Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

satmar-rebbeThere are two English-language biographies of the Satmar Rebbe.  I tried them both, and the clear winner is the publication from Israel Book Shop by Rabbi Dovid Meisels.

Some Background

The Rebbe was clearly exceedingly intelligent, exceedingly idealist, and exceedingly devoted to serving the Creator in whatever circumstances he was placed.  His religious views are often thought of as extreme, but his interpersonal relationships and understanding of how other’s think was amazing.  This is a man who was held by the Nazi’s, on his way to an extermination camp, but was saved by Rudolf Kastner [according to Wikipedia spelling], of all people.  Kastner, like the Rebbe was a Hungarian Jew, but he had purposely left the world of Torah Judaism in exchange for secular Zionism and met with Adolph Eichmann, handing over lists of Jews while determining who would live and who would die.  Kastner chose a few hundred Jews to be saved, one of them, the Satmar Rebbe because, according to the book, Kasner had a dream where his now deceased Torah observant mother told him to save the Rebbe.  Kastner himself was later tried, not convicted, but instead, assassinated in Israel in 1957 for being a Nazi collaborator.

Anti-Zionism

As is well known, the Rebbe is rabidly anti-Zionist and this is discussed at length in the book, along with many other topics.  it’s buried deep in the book, but it does state clearly that he blamed the Holocaust on Zionism, for arousing the nations of the world against the Jews.  In the ’67 war, he was extremely upset that Israel won and forbid his Chassidim from visiting the Kotel (Western Wall) which was lost to the Jordanians in 1948, and recaptured in 1967.  He did not want his Chassidim to fall into the trap of seeing it, and feeling any thanks towards the Zionists.

My own opinion on Zionism was molded a bit by this book.  I am certainly not for the “new Jew” who put his loyalty towards a state rather than G_d and the Torah), which is thankfully, changing back in the direction of G_d and the Torah again, though cost the assimilation and loss of millions of Jews to non-Jewish ideologies).  However, one thing really struck me in this book – it tells of the Rebbe’s trip to Eretz Yisroel and an invitation from a Zionist Rabbi who wanted to meet with the Rebbe and explain his views.  In the Rebbe’s biography itself, it says that he declined to meet because this Zionist Rabbi might change his mind (!).  That really bothers me!  I understand that the Rebbe did not want to deviate left or right from the practice of previous generations, but if hearing another view could change your mind, then maybe your view isn’t as strong as you think it is.  Upon talking to a neighbor who used to visit the Satmar Rebbe, he said he had heard this story and that the Zionist Rabbi in question was the famous Rabbi Kook, but didn’t believe the story until I told him it was in the Rebbe’s own biography.

Idealism

My sense, from reading this biography, is that he was very much an idealist.  His parents ensured that he grew up knowing only Yiddish and no languages of the non-Jews (while Yiddish is actually heavily related to German, still, it was and remains a language of the Jews).  When he used a lot of water to ritually wash his hands, when as a child water had to be carried from the well, he was only encouraged to keep doing so.  From a young age, he followed in the traditions of his fathers and nothing moved him.  This is to the point where when captured by the Nazis, he carried a type of razor acceptable in Jewish law, so that if they forced him to shave his beard, he could do it in accordance with jewish law.  He never had to shave it.  Another example: in the United States, Satmar schools received lunch aid for poor children.  This was passed from the U.S. government to a jewish agency.  The Jewish agency once sent him a list of questions about his views on Zionism.  He wasn’t having any of this, knowing it was just a prelude to try and get him to bend on his views to keep receiving the funds.  He petitioned the U.S. government to get the funds directly, cutting out the Jewish agency before they even had the chance.

His idealism, however, seems to have taken on new heights when he reached the United States.  He did plenty to bolster the proper practice of mitzvos, such as making many mikvehs and make many suspect ones better, all without attaching his name or the name of Satmar to it (which he called “Sakmar”, never wanting to pronounce the name, as it comes from a town named for “Saint Mary”) knowing that people would stay away because of how they viewed him.  However, it seems to have gone beyond that.  For example, the biography tells that only some married women in his community shaved their heads.  This is a stringency in (,or depending on who you talk to, a problem according to) Jewish law.  In his community in the United States, it soon became the norm for all married women to shaves their heads.  He basically said that if you don’t like his way, then leave his community.  And so it was.

Sharp Wit and Understanding for Others

His sharp wit shows through again and again and again, not only in this biography, but also in many other stories about the Rebbe.  One of my favorites is an attack by a more leftist Jew brought to the Rebbe.  The man quoted the Talmud that says if you lose an object in the street, you should send a boy and a girl to look and find it.  Clearly, the man said, this shows that the Rebbe’s separation of girls from boys is not from our tradition, and is way beyond what we should be doing.  The Rebbe responded that the man had it wrong – in the times of the Talmud, it was obvious that a boy and girl would do their best not to look at each other, so if you send the two out together, they will look towards the ground and be more likely to find your lost object!  (You don’t have to agree, but his answer was great.)

Another example: when speaking to a more Yeshivish crowd (as opposed to Chassidish), a student asked him how he could pray the afternoon prayers so late into the night.  In fact, he consistently did this, praying the afternoon prayers in what is the night.  This is, for obvious reasons, considered incorrect by non-Chassidim.  He responded by saying something akin to, “While you turn the light into dark, I turn the darkness into light.”  In non-Chassidic practice, in fact, it’s quite common to pray the nighttime prayers earlier, so that they can be prayed along with the afternoon prayers.  He turned it around and said, actually, it’s better that I turn something that has darkness, the night into something that is light by extending the day into it.  To respond right away means he had all this thought out already.

Then, there is how he acted towards others.  The most striking example of this is a Rabbi from a Zionist yeshiva in Israel who came requesting money for an operation from the Rebbe.  The Rebbe was known to distribute great amounts of Tzedekah (charity), and always promised the donors that they’d be paid back, and was always right.  He never brought up issues of another’s practice of Judaism or lack thereof.  He made it a point, which he said he learned from his teachers, to only talk to the person about their physical needs.  So this Zionist Rabbi, who suffice to say, he vehemently disagreed with on issues of both Judaism and politics, received the money he was looking for from the Rebbe.  On the way out, the Rebbe said, “This money is for you, and not for your yeshiva!”

Building a Satmar City

In Europe, each Jewish community usually had a head Rabbi chosen to lead the people.  In the United States, there were some attempts to do this, but they invariably failed.  Until today, one can go to most any Torah observant Jewish community and find a variety of synagogues with a variety of Rabbis.  There are, to my knowledge, few exceptions to this, such as Elizabeth, New Jersey, Union, New Jersey, and most notably – Monroe, New York.

The Rebbe was not fond of what he saw in Brooklyn, where if you didn’t want to be part of a particular kehillah (congregation) you could do as you felt, and go anywhere, with no real Torah leadership.  Today, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, home of the Rebbe, is very much dominated by Satmar, in any case, but the Rebbe wanted to found a new, idealistic city for his chassidim.  He literally spent decades trying to accomplish this, often with a lot of difficulty even from those close to him.  When the Verrazono Bridge was built, he said, “If you had listened to me and all bought land in Staten Island when I told you to, you’d all be rich right now.”

Another place considered was the Sea Gate section of Brooklyn, a gated community to this day, but upon advice, he decided against it because there was no room to expand out of Sea Gate, being next to unmovable projects and the ocean on three sides.  Still, to this day, there is a large Satmar presence there.  Then the Rebbe tried Dover, New Jersey, but secular Jews used politics to make it too difficult for the Satmar to commence with the large land purchase.  Finally, having learned from prior mistakes, Satmar used straw men to purchase land in Monroe, New York, building “TV rooms” for Chassidim who don’t watch TV so they could justify building apartments with extra bedrooms for the large number of children without arousing suspicion.  The inspector of the mikvos went on vacation after approving them, so they could be build without interference, and so it went.  Initially, house prices in the area dropped as neighbors moved out, fearing the influx of people very different than them, but those who held on would be handsomely rewarded as prices there have no skyrockted and Satmar are filling neighboring areas.

 Legacy

When the Rebbe came to the United States, he had trouble even getting a minyan of 10 men together to pray.  At the time of this writing, there are an estimated 150,000+ Satmar Chassidim in the world.  This is a man who lost everything in the war, escaped by way of one miracle after the next, and made a profound impact on the Jewish landscape.  The end of the book even includes a quote from Rav Soloveitchik, considered “the Rav” by many in Modern Orthodox Judaism in the United States, that even he is more observant of mitzvos thanks to the Satmar Rebbe.

The book is fascinating and opens up a world of understanding into one of the most right wing sections of Torah Judaism.  Even if the reader doesn’t agree with everything in the book, as most probably will not, the lessons learned from the idealism and steadfastness of the Rebbe in the face of any adversity are to be admired and respected.

 

This post is a continuation of Considering the Existence of a Creator: Part I – Gerbils.

Who Collapsed the Wave Function?

513EyN1A6GL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_As noted in the prior post, in my most secular days, I would never say there wasn’t a creator, simply because I believed, and still believe, you can’t prove the lack of something.  If anything, you can only prove that there is a creator.  Then, like any nerdy kid into physics (I still regret not being a physics major), I read “Schrodinger’s Kittens and the Search for Reality” by John Gribbin.  It’s a book about understanding the seeming paradox’s in quantum physics.  Now, I’m going to try and summarize my point here, with the caveat that while I aced engineering level physics in college, whenever I talk to an electrical engineers about this, they tell me I have it all wrong.  (Maybe it’s just that I’m talking to the wrong electrical engineers.)

Anyway, the point from the book that I took out of it was that matter is really a bunch of wave forms.  It takes an observer to collapse the wave form into a reality.  No observer means there is no reality – just a bunch of probability waves.  An example is the paradox of a photon of light – it acts as a wave, but as soon as we observe it, it acts like a particle.  How can it propagate through two slits, but then if we observe it, it only hits as if it went through one slit?  John Gribbin doesn’t say “G_d” is observing us, but then, if you have a big bang and no one there to observe it . . . how, according to what we can observe of quantum physics, can the universe every collapse into anything?  Where is the first observer?  This, at 17 years old was the first time I seriously considered the possibility that there was a G_d.

So there you have it – maybe there was evidence of a creator.  But does this creator care what we do?

Selling 10x As Much As Your Brother

In my summer between high school and college I landed a temporary job at an alarm system company.  There were two brothers, I’ll call them “Moe” and “Larry”, who started together and were partners in the business of selling and installing home, boat, car, office, and whatever other kids of alarm systems they could sell.  What was supposed to be more of a clerical position turned into reorganizing and computerizing their sales and customer data.  (Many of my temp jobs turned out this way, actually.  I hated the boring stuff and say I could do it better with a little Microsoft Access programming or some nice spreadsheets.  Okay, so I’m a bit unique.)

postiiveimagingWhile on the job, I saw all of their sales data and the amount of work each put in.  Moe, the older brother, was in the office bright and early every day and worked from hard the whole day.  Larry, the younger brother, tended to show up whenever and had a lot of extracurricular’s, like golf.  Yet, when I created the nice bar graphs of their sales data, it was clear that Larry’s sales data was consistently about ten times higher than Moe’s.  What gives?

Near the end of the summer, Larry, who, honestly, I didn’t know that well because he wasn’t in the office all that much, gave me a book, “Positive Imaging” by Norman Vincent Peele.  Larry told me that this was the secret to his success in business and he wanted to share it with me while I went off to college.  I was hesitant to read it because Mr. Peele, or I should say, Minister Peele, had quotes throughout from the Christian Bible, but Larry told me just to skip those, and since Larry was Jewish, I knew he wasn’t trying to missionize me.  Since Larry was so successful in business, I thought it was worth a shot.

The basic premise of the “Positive Imaging” is that if you continue to place an image in your mind, and don’t let it go, it will happen.  You can work towards your goal in life and get there.  Sometimes there are roadblocks, but you keep your goal in mind and you’ll align yourself that way . . . and . . . he adds that G_d will direct it that way.  The caveat, however, is that you could be directing yourself in a bad direction and come to do bad things this way, so you need to “test your idea through G_d” to make sure it’s right.

I tried it.  First, I tried it with small things, like falling asleep quicker.  Then I tried it towards having a girlfriend and meeting physical desires.  Then, I tried it with larger things, like doing well that semester.  Then, I tried it towards guiding me towards the profession I wanted.  (Then one day I realized I didn’t want it, but that’s a different story.)  Today, I still do it – I wanted to be on my own in the practice of patent law, and I got there. I can thank losing a job at the right time to that.  Beyond my control, but exactly what I needed.

At first, I looked at this as any skeptic would – okay, this is just a game of focus.  This can be explained through natural means.  You can say that this was coincidence, or that was coincidence . . . but when you find you have power through, what really is a form of prayer – that is, requesting it from the only with that power, you can be directed that way.  Then, we you start thinking along the lines of, “hey, I got what I wanted, but this is lacking in meaning” you start to add the “testing it through G_d” thing that Peele was talking about, and making sure you’re doing the right thing.  When you look back at your “moral” versus “amoral” actions, and “passing it through G_d” before you do something, you find meaning and purpose in your actions. That puts you dangerously close to crossing that scary line between, “maybe there’s a creator” and “there’s a creator who is involved in the world!”

Where It All Broke Down For Me

The problem was, after I got everything I wanted in college (not necessarily passing it “through G_d”), I was miserable.  I had straight A’s, including in Organic Chemistry, a job making more money than I needed in college, a girlfriend, and I was miserable.  True story.

This is where “kodesh” comes in.  That’s for another article, but the short version is that “kodesh”, usually translated as “holy”, really means, “to separate.”  As in, “to separate good from bad, the pure from impure” to quote Vayikra [The Book of Leviticus].  This is where meaning comes in – by categorizing and choosing, but the only way we know if we’re choosing correctly is to be guided by the “instruction manual” given to us by the Creator.  With the exception of perhaps certain innate truths (such as not to murder or steal), anything less than a connection to a source is really just a matter of a choice, based largely on what the world around you is telling you is correct.  This changes based on the whims of the populace (so it seems) and therefore, what you consider the right political cause of the day is more likely than not going to be seen as meaningless and backwards in 100 years anyway.

This leads me to . . .

Jewish View On Our Relationship with the Creator

When you look at the world differently, you see it differently.  The Jewish view of this, is basically that – the creator made us to have a relationship with us, but in a relationship, it takes two.  We do say that G_d helps man in the way he wants to go.  We see that in desert, the spies were told they could spy on the land of Israel because that’s what they wanted to do, and like a father will say to a child, “okay, I don’t think you should do this, but if you want to go try and learn the consequences yourself, you can go.”  So too, when Bilaam insists on cursing the Jews in the desert, it’s pretty obvious to the reader that he shouldn’t go – after all, his donkey refuses to go and an angel appears before him to tell him not to go.  However, in the midst of things, Bilaam doesn’t see that – he sees what he wants to do and so he is let continue on his path, albeit with instructions.  (This is all in Bamidbar [Numbers].)

The problem with the spies and with Bilaam is that they did not pass their actions through G_d – the internal moral compass that we have, unless we broke it already.  Certain things are innate within all human beings – we call them the 7 Noachide laws.  These are laws given to Noach [Noah] for all man kind, as written in Bereshis [Genesis]-

  1. Prohibition of Idolotry
  2. Prohibition of Murder
  3. Prohibition of Theft
  4. Prohibition of Sexual Immorality
  5. Prohibition of Blasphemy
  6. Prohibition of eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive
  7. Establishment of courts of law

Further than that, the extent that you reach out and say, “G_d, I recognize that you are the creator and I wish to do your will” is the extent that G_d will reach out and make the will of G_d into your will:

“Do His will as if it were your own, so that He will do His will as it were yours. Nullify your own will before His so that he will nullify the will of others before you.” (Pirkei Avos 2:4)

Thus, to find meaning, purpose, and ultimately, something that lasts beyond the destruction of the physical world, or for that matter, for generations and generations, is to connect to ultimate truth.  One must realize that, yes, we are mortal man and the the physical world is heading towards eventual destruction no matter what we do.  Therefore, we can live in depression, or we can connect to something higher and find that there is a world beyond the physical and there is actually a creator who creates us and cares what we do.  We’ve given the chance to explore and figure that out because, while G_d could create robots that just praise G_d all day long (we call these “melachim” or “angels” who, have in fact been created and are spiritual beings unsubjegated by the decay of the physical world), that this isn’t a very deep relationship.  A deep relationship is one of choice –

“A person is led in the direction he wants to go.” – Talmud.

Everything in the world depends solely upon will. – Zohar, Terumah 162

Through this world, we can choose.  We can choose destruction or we can choose to have a relationship with the creator.  If we choose the later, we will see that back at is.  If we choose the former, we will see a pretty bleak world.

 

The outline is below, but it’s easier to read if you pop it out into full screen view – click this: Iyov outline.