THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING -- A FIRST GLANCE
God's Laws on Earth-- Our Path to Heaven
You can also read previous studies on this site.
This study is sponsored by Lance Fogel, formerly of Las Vegas, now, thank God, of Jerusalem, in memory of his father, Irvin Fogel, z"l, of L.A., his family's guiding light.
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A. A SYNOPSIS OF MISHPATIM
Even as there are laws of poetry, so there is poetry in law (Rav A. Y. Kook, quoted by H. Weiner in Commentary, 1954, p. 255)
AND THESE ARE THE LAWS WHICH YOU SHALL SET BEFORE THEM (21:1)-- "AND" connects this week's detailed laws to last week's great Jewish vision, the 10 Sweeping Statements at Sinai (Ramban; clal & prat); their painstaking performance demonstrates true commitment to the covenantal dream of a redeemed world (anyone can mouth noble words-- cf. advertising, the USSR's constitution, and the Crusaders' creed); accepting, learning, and teaching these Divine detailed rules of life brings a further sweeping Revelation of God to Moshe and Israel, adding new dimensions to Sinai's vision (Ramban, 24:7-17-- clal u'prat u'clal); so one's youthful visions are refined and deepened by life's experiences-- don't trust anyone under 40! (...A 40 year old reaches understanding, a 50 year old can give advice...-- Avot 5; so Levites, retired at 50, became consultants-- see Num. 8:25).
God's Kind Presence, briefly revealed at Sinai, will also enter every Jew's heart when he "sacrifices", i.e. "comes close", to Him at the tabernacle. It and its furnishings teach the Jew to imbue every realm of life with Divinity. The tabernacle's construction plans, reflecting the grand gestalt of the universe, are an essential Divine Message to Moshe & Israel at Sinai.
Torah is to sanctify life, not replace it. Rabbis must arrange and teach these detailed laws to the folk-- "set it before them"-- in an orderly, pleasant, and personally meaningful manner, as a grand banquet (not just a tidbit-- cf. Reform), beautifully set before an honored guest (Eruvin 54b, Mechilta-- e.g. Mishneh Torah, Rav Riskin's lectures); so we pray, every day: "and, God, our Lord, make the words of Your Torah sweet in our mouths...". A good waiter, e.g. Avraham, doesn't force a westerner to use chopsticks, nor a Chinese a fork; so Torah must be presented in terms of the student's concepts and values-- a medieval Aristotalian is not a 20th century scientist. One needn't adopt shtetl mentality to be a Torah scholar (Rav J. Soloveichik's living message, per Rav D. Hartman, his student, who later preferred Gershom Scholem's insights). Just as our food must be healthy and nourishing, so must be our spiritual food-- Torah, not profane Israel TV (Rav Dov Begun). Religious spokesmen, e.g. Chief Rabbis, must have higher secular education, coupled with the ability and inclination to relate even to those most alienated-- if chief rabbis talk to non-Orthodox rabbis, while proclaiming that they do not recognize them as such, they just might bring them closer to tradition.
Rav Yehuda Henkin notes that Israel was unified ONLY in accepting the DOING of mitzvos: "ALL THE PEOPLE RESPONDED (singular) WITH ONE VOICE AND SAID: `ALL THAT GOD SAID, WE SHALL DO'" (24:3, cf. 19:8); but each person HEARS God's word, studies His Torah, according to her own personality, at his own pace, with his own ears-- those who seek God and truth retain their individuality (the Jews don't say WE SHALL LISTEN "with one voice"-- 24:7). Ears, oznayim, contain the cochlea, delicate mechanisms affecting our physical balance, our equilibrium; thus the same Hebrew root is used for moznayim, the sides of a scale, where all factors must be balanced for justice (see pleasant light Hebrewspeak by Joseph Lowin, p. 1f-- $30 from TOP). So human "hearing", understanding of Torah and Mitzvos, must weigh and balance all factors in the light of one's own unique mind, soul and personality. Unbalanced idolaters, who overstress one aspect of God's Creation, ignoring its opposites, "have ears, but do not hear!"
"AND these are the laws which you'll present..." also connects presenters of the law-- legislators and judges-- to the altar, just discussed, at the end of Yisro. The chambers of the Sanhedrin must be near the Altar (Rashi); the Divine spirit of each (law and worship) is to permeate the other. So some people experience eating only as biological or sensual, whereas others are overwhelmed that God's feeding them, concerned that they use their sustenance for His ends (Rav Shlomo Carlebach, Z"l, on a TOP video). We execute a murderer who seeks sanctuary at the altar; his life's "sacrifice" brings atonement to the land. Kidnappers, who work, and then sell, their victims, and parent molesters (21:15-7, Deut. 24:7), "social murderers of the human spirit", ipso facto disdain human sanctity; their continued presence contaminates God's sacred folk and land (Hirsch). Holy judges, as the altar, turn Divine Decree to Divine Mercy Upstairs, via their human decrees Downstairs (altar, "mizbaach" = 57 = God's 2 names denoting mercy-- Y..H, 26 + E-L, 31, per Alufei Yehuda; they also equal Heinz's 57 varieties).
The 2 preceding prohibitions-- steps and hewn stones in God's altar-- represent curbs on man's power trips and pleasure orgies *. AND THESE ARE THE LAWS... applies these curbs to every realm of life. "AND" also places these detailed laws of life on equal Divine footing with the preceding 10 AXIOMS and laws of the altar-- God must be as manifest in the office, kitchen, and army, as He is at Sinai and in the sanctuary. General principles, basic morality, alone, do not suffice; one who disdains detailed observance, tho "a Jew at heart", may be prone to failure of his overloaded Jewish heart! So placing too much upon our faith in Gods Torah, rather than exploring it with our God-given reason, may engender breakdown of that faith (Rav M. Tendler).
* Rav Y. Hadari of Yeshivat Hakotel-- it's a shame that their English speaking students are rarely exposed to him, the Yeshiva's most stimulating teacher; he would not tell them to burn books solely because they were written by a Conservative rabbi, tho he tried to defend such advice by his colleague, Rav Avigdor Nebenzthal, as a consciousness-raising measure in our war against heretical and divisive Jewish sects-- recently explored Chassidic sources, which take the prohibition of ascending to the altar on steps as cautioning against big steps forward in one's pursuit of God and spirituality, which require slow careful moderate progress, if they're to be authentic and long-lasting (YF: "... so that your nakedness not be exposed on it", the altar of God). Rav N. Cardozo of Isralight developed the same theme a few days later, based on God's tempering the enthusiastic religious experience of building the tabernacle by the laws prohibiting its construction on Shabbat, the day of review and stocktaking; so both the wise builders and Moshe got quite upset when the enthusiastic folk overrode all bounds and brought much more building material than was required for the mishkan (35:4-6).
53 (mnemonic gematria of NAG and GAN-- one must sometimes nag one's kids to take care of the garden, but the eventual good fruits are worth it!) of the 613 precepts, 23 positive, 30 negative, are in our portion (Ramban). The first involve Jewish bondservants' limited servitude, family rights, and means of redemption. A Jewish woman can't become a slave, nor may she own male slaves from age 9 up (M. T. Avadim 1:2). A maidservant CHILD will hopefully become a wife in her purchaser's household, with full rights of food, clothing, and periodic sexual relations. A murderer is to be strangled, as is one who struck his parents, shedding blood-- but the death penalty requires warning and witnesses. If one maims others, he must pay compensation accordingly (i.e. eye for an eye, per B.K. 84a), but can't "pay" for murder. A murderer of a Canaanite slave is decapitated.
The Torah delineates my responsibility for 4 categories of others' property in my care: bailments (voluntary and paid), loans, and Rent-a-Cow; it then gives rules for damage done by one's animals, pits, and fires (and their modern equivalents). One may not eat a cow killed for homicide. Thieves, caught before they confess, must pay 2-5 times the value of the stolen object; they're sold into servitude only if they can't pay the principal; one should stop a potential murderer, killing him if necessary. A Jewish court must resolve all disputes. One who seduces a 3-12 year old girl must pay her dad 50 pieces of silver, plus psychological damages, unless he marries her. Don't let a witch live (is the seduced girl likely to become one?); execute one who lies with an animal (liberal western "civilization"'s next Bay Area Faulknerian "alternative life style" for consenting adults?), or sacrifices to other gods.
Be extra sensitive to the feelings and property of converts, orphans and widows-- they have proteksia Upstairs. Lending to the poor is a real mitzva-- don't nudge them when they can't pay back; return their essential property, tho its security for your loan, when they need it. Don't get involved in any personal loan at interest (but business loans at interest are A-OK, via "heter iska" partnership arrangements today). Don't curse a judge. Cursing the Divine Name entails the death penalty. U mustn't curse a sovereign ruler. Observe the sequential order of agricultural dues. The flesh of an animal with a fatal defect is forbidden food (trefah).
One litigant may not be heard alone, nor may certain sinners testify (e.g. a robber or gambler-- T.A. stock market investors?). A decision to execute needs a majority of two. A judge may not follow other judges, nor change his argument from innocent to guilty, in a capital case. A majority of the Sanhedrin, or similar broad group of scholars, determines judgment (there's none today, so every scholar's on his own-- Chazan Ish; cf. Aguda's Council of Sages); Rav Azriel Ariel speculates as to the purpose of majority rule, whether to achieve truth or peace; if Torah adherents are a national minority, they're more likely to reach truth, but peace nevertheless may require acquiescence to majority rule). No special favor's to be shown the poor in judgment; integrity of justice is important too-- otherwise, no one will deal with the poor. A holy judge, as David, might PERSONALLY bail out poor unsuccessful litigants. Help even sinners and your enemies with lost or overloaded donkeys (flat tires too!)-- judge them fairly.
No one may be executed on circumstantial evidence. Bribes are prohibited. The Jew must not work The Land in the 7th year, a break in their intimate relationship (cf. nidda; non-Jews may work it, and will even receive a Badatz kashrut certification of their fruit); Jews must refrain from certain creative acts on the 7th day. One may not aid and abet idolatry, nor swear by it. The 3 Temple pilgrimage festivals (Pesach, Shavuos, Sukkos) must be celebrated at their proper seasons; the lunar calendar must be intercalated-- Passover, the Revival Festival, should occur during spring's natural revival and Sukkot, the harvest festival, in fall (vs. living in Argentina, etc.?-- cf. wandering Ramadan, in the non-intercalated Moslem lunar calendar). Chometz (i.e. 5 stipulated grains, when fermented-- see Felix, NATURE, MAN, & THE BIBLE for an interesting definition of the 5, which excludes oats!) must be removed from the house before slaying the Passover offering; its burnt offering portion must be offered that night. First fruits must be brought to the temple. Meat and milk may not be cooked together.
Jews may not offer local idolaters treaties-- they have to leave idolatry or Israel (23:32); but Ohr Hachayim stresses that we MAY make covenants with other nations, IF they have abandoned idolatry. Moslems aren't idolaters; thus we may make covenants with them, and they may live in Israel (O.H., Rav A. Kook); last year's Machon Meir's politically correct, otherwise fine, parsha sheet for Mishpatim incorrectly stated the opposite; so did Kahanists who came to my son's Bnei Akiva troop years ago. True Torah scholar Avi Ravitsky easily refuted their distortions. Torah must not be distorted for even the holiest aims.
Chapter 24:1-11: "And to Moshe He said-- rise to God, you and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and 70 Israeli elders; bow down at a distance. Moshe will approach God alone, and they shall not approach, and the folk shall not (even?) go up with him (Mt. Sinai is not mentioned here). Moshe came and told the people all the words of God and all the laws; the entire folk answered with one voice and said: `All the things which God spoke we shall do!' Moshe WROTE all the words of God, got up early in the morning, and built an altar beneath the mountain, and 12 pillars for the 12 tribes of Israel; he dispatched Israel's youth, who sacrificed cattle, burnt and peace offerings, to God... THEN HE TOOK THE BOOK OF THE COVENANT (a temporary Torah, from Genesis to Sinai, including the mitzvos commanded art Marah, per Rashi-- see 15:25; but Ramban claims that they got only training in organizing a civilized society at Marah, not rituals), AND READ IT IN THE PEOPLE'S HEARING, AND THEY SAID: `WE'LL PERFORM AND LISTEN TO ALL THAT GOD HAS SAID'"
Moshe sprinkled covenantal blood on the altar, where God brings Heaven down to earth, and on the people, who bring earth up to Heaven, via His laws. Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu (Aharon's #1 sons at this point!), and 70 elders then went up (the mountain is still not mentioned) and SAW THE LORD OF ISRAEL amidst HEAVENLY PURE SAPPHIRE. They safely ATE AND DRANK (24:11; but some interpret the verses that they saw God's glory and "ate it up", and "drank it in", not that they actually ate and drank-- see Ber. 17a)!
24:12-18 God AGAIN gently invited Moshe to come up to Him, this time "to the mountain" (further up?), and remain there (24:12); "I'll give you the stone tablets (i.e. the Decalogue), the Torah (i.e. The Pentateuch), and the mitzva (commandment-- i.e. the Mishna), which I've written (i.e. the Prophets and Writings) to teach them" (this is talmud-- "we're hereby taught that all of these were given to Moshe at Sinai"-- Resh Lakish, Ber. 5a; this is difficult, for we're taught elsewhere that each prophet wrote in his own style, only inspired by God, and that the talmud also contains non-authoritative secular matters-- perhaps Resh Lakish is only referring to their essence). Moshe ascended alone to receive the Torah, accompanied part way by Y'hoshua; he left Aharon and Chur in charge, with the elders. God's glory rested on Sinai, which was covered by the cloud for 6 days (Ibn Ezra says that Moshe, not Sinai, was so covered by the cloud-- both opinions are found in Yoma 4b; what makes medieval scholar pick only one? Ibn Ezra adds that Moshe could not go up to the top of the mountain until he received God's specific second command in 24:12); to the Israelites, the appearance of God's glory resembled a devouring flame. On the 7th day, He called to Moshe from the midst of the cloud; Moshe entered the cloud, with God's help (Yoma 4b; it may have split, as the Red Sea did do, and the Mt. of Olives will do) and climbed up the mountain, where he remained for 40 DAYS & 40 NIGHTS (12:18).
Rashi Can Be Confusing: Rashi (see Silberman's edition-- he's the worldly ancestor of the Zilberman clan of the Jewish 1/4), who does not see chronological order in the Torah, claims that God's first invitation to Moshe here (24:1-11) took place BEFORE the proclamation of the Decalogue, on Sivan 4; Moshe gets up early to prepare the people and go up on Sivan 5; but Rashi also claims that God's second invitation to Moshe to climb up Sinai (24:12) is a separate occasion, AFTER the Decalogue. He notes that "The Glory of God rested on Mt. Sinai and the cloud covered IT or HIM 6 days, and on the 7th day He called to Moshe out of the midst of the cloud" (24:16) may refer to either period-- before or after the Theophany; if it's before, then the cloud covers God's presence from Sivan 1-6, before the Decalogue on Sivan 7; if it's after the Decalogue, then the verse may mean that Moshe was covered by the cloud for 6 days of holy preparation, before God appeared and addressed him on the 7th of his 40 days of Divine intimacy, a model for all such intimate counters with Divinity (YF: thus we prepare 6 days to encounter God on Shabbat, and say daily: "This day is Day #x toward Shabbat". Hirsch, while agreeing with Rashi re 24:1-11, seems to take Moshe's second climb up Sinai (24:12) as only a further stage in his original climb, going still higher; this is difficult, for on this occasion he stayed 40 days and nights (24:18), which clearly occurs only after the Decalog (lets forget the useless "ue" from here on!). Some say that the Torah, i.e. the Decalog, was given on the 6th day of Sivan, but Rav Yose says it was given on the seventh.
Ramban totally rejects Rashi's seemingly strained and convoluted interpretation, and insists that the Torah is indeed in chronological order here, all of Ch. 24 occuring after the Decalog and the subsequent laws. He also rejects Rashi's attempt to explain 24:3-- "Moshe came and told the people all the words of the Eternal, and all the ordinances..."-- as referring to pre-Sinai ordinances, e.g. the 7 Laws of Noah and the few laws revealed at Marah (15:25); the ordinances obviously refer to those just given at the beginning of the reading, AFTER the Decalog, all included in The Book of The Covenant; he made the covenant and ascended to God on the day after the giving of the Torah (Decalog; Sivan 7), staying 40 days. Ramban quotes the Mechilta (19:10, where both views of the date of the covenant, Sivan 5 and Sivan 7, are given), but rejects the view of Rebbe Yishmael, accepted by Rashi, w/o naming him (avoiding lashon harah?). Ramban accepts the view of Rav Yosei ben Rebbe Yehuda, who has "spoken according to the accepted opinion" (cf. Peah 4:1). Ramban also notes Yehoshua's status, higher than the other elders; thus he goes further with Moshe and awaits his return, while they return to administer the camp.
Many of the evils in life arise out of the fact that men have invented laws directly contrary to those of Nature (Uriel Acosta, 1590-1647, quoted in Memoirs of Moses Mendelssohn, 93)
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B. "AND THEY SAW THE LORD AND ATE AND DRANK!" (Ex. 24:11)-- FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
A wise man's ? is 1/2 the answer (Ibn Gabirol, Mivchar HaP'ninim, c. 1050, #3-- Lokman)
Contemplate the emphasized passages. What's a theophany? What's its short and long term effect on those who experience it? How does Sinai's theophany differ from Isaiah and Ezekiel's visions? Could Israel contemplate idol worship, child seduction and bloodshed at Sinai? Who's wed there? What's the order and inner relationship of the 53 precepts in Mishpatim? Compare two punishments for poor thieves-- ancient Jewish servitude, vs. modern democracies' monastic jails. If a poor family can't raise their young daughter-- is she better off as a Biblical maidservant, or roaming the streets of secular Tel Aviv and the beaches of Eilat? These mishpatim, "civil laws", contain both interpersonal and Man-God laws-- where does Avraham link them? What's a Biblical witch? Why "she"? Why kill her? (see Tal. San. 67a ff., Sefer Hachinuch, Mishpatim 62). If "EYE FOR AN EYE" really means a monetary fine, why not say so? Is "EYE FOR AN EYE", taken literally, ever a merciful system (cf. Saudi Arabian theft)? Did Jewish Jurists ever practice physical mutilation? Is the Tanach (O.T., Only Testament) the basis for Jewish Law? How does God expect non-Jews to relate to the Tanach and the Jews? Must Jews eradicate idols and idolaters everywhere? Distinguish between a witch doctor and a rich doctor-- don't both manipulate nature for desired effects? Is magic real? Why use blood for a covenant? Why were peace offerings processed by "THE YOUTH" (presumably below 40-- cf. Avot 5 supra)?
What are God's "legs above bricks of sapphire" (24:10)-- are "legs" just a metaphor for movement, or does each human bodily structure correspond to some aspect of cosmic reality?-- see mystical texts, e.g. Sepher Yetzira, Ch. 5 (Stenring translation, P. 31); examine legs from all angles on the incredible CD Rom discs on the body; do not examine them on cheap cinema posters. Are mystical studies good for you? How do they interface with scientific and halachic study? How accurate is our mystical knowledge? Why did great scholar Rav Yosef Kapach's Yemenite grandfather, Rav Yichya, Z"tzl, throw out the Zohar at the turn of the century? Were Jerusalem's sages right in excommunicating Kapach & Co. in 1914? Would the author of the Zohar or Rav Nachman approve of such a reaction?-- Rav Kook just wrote against Kapach. Chief Rav Arisei of Kiryat Ono, a member of The Supreme Rabbinical Council, is among Y.K.'s many followers today-- their synagogues, e.g. Cohen's, off Shmuel Hanavi St. in Jerusalem, use Rambam's liturgy, with no passages from Zohar, e.g. Brich Shmey. Kapachian Avraham, of King George St.'s great Maavad Hak'samim eatery, distributes our sheets to Jerusalem's Yemenite community.
Why didn't the cohanim also accompany Moshe to Sinai?-- see Hirsch, Ex. 19:22. What happened to Chur?-- he helped Moshe (Ex. 17:12), was left in command with Aharon (24:14), but isn't mentioned again. A slave who entered service "with (only) his body", goes out "with (only) his body" (21:3). What does this mean?-- Rav Kanotopsky (Night of Watching) explains it in terms of the individuality and dignity of servants (cf. working in large corporations). How does the sabbatical year relate to the Shabbat Day?-- per Y. Eybshitz (we have several of his books available, in Hebrew, as well as Yaakov Emden's diary, largely written against him), the land's days of rest in the 7th year equal the total number of shabbats and holidays for people and animals during the 7 years! Why might God prohibit eating animals with fatal defects, besides health dangers? How long is one called an orphan? A widow? Do non-Jews have God's revealed word or laws? Do they have any absolute legal systems? (See Ps. 147, Hirsch). Should Israeli museums devote so much money and space to digging up and displaying relics of idolatry? How should we react to Crusader ruins? Compare Crusaders with Nazis. Why didn't the Vatican recognize Israel for 45 years?-- Competition in religious tourist trade? But the Paulist Press is doing a lot to build truly fine Jewish-Catholic relationships today; they publish Jewish spiritual classics, e.g. Rav Kooks teachings and Rav Nachman's stories, and interfaith dialogues.
C. DIGESTING SOME OF THE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
One fool can ask what a thousand sages can't answer (Yaakov Emden, Torat HaKnaut, 1752, Ch. 9)
A THEOPHANY is a perceptible manifestation of God, e.g. in Egypt and at Sinai. No image of God is seen, only thunder, clouds, fire and lightning; but Isaiah and Ezekial's visions, not the actual appearance of God, include the Divine throne and angels. The short term effect is great enthusiasm, a religious "high", Divine ecstasy-- WOW! After the initial thrill wears off, the onlooker reverts to his normal self-- she's NOT been transformed via day-in, day-out soul, thought and behavior development, via focusing on every detail of internal and external reality. "How great are Your works, God" (Ps. 92:6) must be accompanied by "how infinitely detailed and exact is Your greatness, God" (compare great weddings with great marriages). Thus powerful undeveloped Calfian primal drives reassert themselves after the theophany; right after the 10 Proclamations, the Torah warns against idolatry, child seduction, and murder!-- so we confess sins in maariv, right after Yom Kippur. Nevertheless, the Jewish soul experienced a vision of ultimate truth and eternal reality at Sinai, which inspires and guides it's slow painful trek towards perfection. As the marriage between God and Israel totters toward divorce, deep unconscious collective memories of the wedding at Sinai return-- they spark restoration of the relationship; no matter how far the Jew wanders from his heritage, he can suddenly return to God and Torah, especially in Israel-- cf. Uri Zohar (from Dizengoff to Aish Hatorah), Adin Steinsaltz (from Israel's Left to 770), and Rabbanit Chana Sperber (from Wellesley to the Rova).
The 10 axioms are general categories for all 613 mitzvos (Saadya Gaon; Rashi on 24:12); this week's reading contains a generous sample-- potential converts sample both difficult and easy mitzvos, before committing themselves to observing the whole Torah (Yev. 46a, 48a); all Israel "converted", "entered the covenant, at Sinai, with circumcision, immersion, and sacrifices-- see Rashi, 24:6; Kritot 9a; our May 1994 study of Shavuot & Conversion, including how to convert in Israel today.
A DIVERSION: CONVERSION-- T & F: Haim Shapiro's long PC article on non-Orthodox conversion to Judaism (JP, 1/31/97, p. 20) fails to mention WHY Orthodox (truly traditional) groups won't recognize conversions performed by Conservative and Reform rabbis; he just portrays these rabbis' chosen image-- innocent victims of ruthless clerical suppression; while an appealing image for U.S. fund raising, as well as an excuse for their minimal impact on the Israeli public, it ignores the true picture.
In "The Condition of Jewish Belief", a symposium published by the American Jewish Committee in 1962, Milton Himmelfarb interviewed rabbinic leaders of all 4 American Jewish denominations as to their basic beliefs; he used their observance of basic Divine precepts, e.g. shatnes, or their lack thereof, as a simple test of their belief in the divinity of the Torah (how many wives of conservative rabbis observe the laws of nidda and mikva?); he concluded that there are only 2, not 4, Jewish theologies; the truly traditional belief, held ONLY by those called "orthodox" (and United Torah Judaism and, at least at that time, Jacob Neusner), is that God dictated an unchangable Torah to Moshe, accompanied by an oral tradition. All others-- Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist-- deny this belief and teach the 19th Century German Documentary Hypothesis, that the Torah is but a collection of old documents, collated long after they were written, e.g. by Ezra.
Truly traditional Jews cannot, with integrity, recognize such heretical rabbis, tho they may admire their positive accomplishments for Torah and Judaism, be friendly with them and work together on communal needs (as does Rav Reuven Bulka). From their viewpoint, such rabbis, who themselves do not believe in the Divine Origin of the Torah, cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, serve as a bet din to "convert" others to Judaism-- "conversion" denotes acceptance of a clearly defined set of religious beliefs and practices, which simply does not even exist in the Reform Movement. One, even a "rabbi", may, God forbid, deny God's existence, eat ham and practice homosexuality, and still be accepted as a "good Jew or rabbi"-- so long as he/she subscribes to their unspoken credo: to be a nice person, to help Israel and other good Jewish causes, and to advocate feminism! True, a non-Orthodox "convert" must first study Judaism; but just studying Judaism, even at JTS or HUC, does not make one a Jew, no more than a course in Chinese Civilization at Harvard makes him a Chinaman.
Hopefully, some JP readers would prefer to explore this issue in objective depth, rather than letting themselves be swayed emotionally by publicity-seeking rabbis, who chain themselves to office benches; Lawrence J. Epstein's "Conversion to Judaism: A Guide to Books in English" (in the 1993-4 Jewish Book Annual) is an excellent point of departure to all viewpoints.
BACK TO DIGESTION, UNLESS YOU HAVE INDIGESTION, FROM OVER-EATING OF OUR REPAST-- IF SO, FAST (a bit): Avraham feared that Philistines would kill him to get his wife, despite their "civilized Western culture", for "THERE'S NO AWE OF GOD IN THIS PLACE" (Gen. 19:11); morality's only rational basis, whether one is naturally a nice guy or not, is Man's Divine Image and a purposeful world, under God's guidance; social contract alone won't restrain man's savage side; nasty people break contracts! So the high court, the site of justice, must be near the Temple, the site of God's Manifest Presence. But the human Divine Image itself sometimes does give rise to humanistic morality, but don't count on it-- anyway, most fine non-religious folks are only a few generations removed from an intensely religious society; they perpetuate its values for a while, tho they reject its conscious belief and rituals (Faith & Judaism, I. Epstein); cf. early secular sacrificial chalutzim (pioneers), often scions of holy families; Yehudi Menuhin was a descendant of chassidic rebbes; his father fled the rigid Yerushalmi society for the USA-- see his autobiography at 60, Unfinished Journey, and How Are We to Live-- Ethics in an Age of Self-Interest, by social philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer, father of the Animal Rights Movement; his secular ethical systems probably interest only those who are already good-natured folks. A wonderful and extraordinarily well illustrated study of the secular growth and spiritual decline of the American Jewish Community is The American Jewish Album-- 1654 To The Present by Allon Schoener.
A witch, as Pharoh's magicians, has real occult powers (vs. Rambam), derived from complete absorption in the physical sensual world. She's an enemy of Israel's ideal-- a model holy nation, which redeems mankind's spirit. A male witch is equally guilty, tho rarer. Shimon Ben Shatach and his vigilante pupils first hugged and whirled around 80 witches of Ashkelon, to break their earth-linked demonic power, then killed them. The witches' kinsmen then framed Shimon's son in a capital offense-- it is not clear whether he was indeed executed to save the good name of God's Law. Shimon stressed that one must cross-examine witnesses most thoroughly, but be careful that your words not cause them to lie (Avot 1:9 or 10).
"EYE FOR AN EYE" may express a moral reaction, not a law; one who's taken another's eye shouldn't feel guiltless, even after paying the amount legally due-- he should feel that he "owes" an eye; he may donate his corneas after death, raise funds for the blind, etc. The written Torah may reflect the experiential dimension, while talmud, the oral tradition, is the sole source of halacha, God's precise laws of human behavior (Rabbis J. Soloveichik and Kuperman). Written and oral law, God and Israel, are like mother and father; when a child breaks something valuable, father comes to give him a good whipping; at the last moment, mother intervenes. Tho not whipped, the kid's scared and unlikely to do it again-- he's unaware of mom and dad's set-up. Daddy Torah warns-- AN EYE FOR AN EYE; if little Israel doesn't listen, Mother Oral Law, tells the childlike offender to just pay money-- Zohar; see end Makkot I.
A third approach is that written law is for both Jews and non-Jews, the oral only for Jews. When non-Jewish societies, without the daily discipline of Jewish Law, become riddled with corruption, only harsh responses will protect society. Cutting off a few hands for theft in Saudia is cruel to thieves; yet it's merciful to society as a whole-- Saudis can leave their doors open, with little fear of theft, and resultant assault and death. Similarly, when Jews were far from moral, the usual halachic criteria for punishment were waived-- authorities could and did kill, disfigure, and amputate limbs of dangerous sinners, to preserve the social fabric and Israel's mission (see Jewish Law and Decision-Making, Schreiber, 375 ff, for examples).
Jewish Law is thus very strict with non-Jews who wish to live in Israel, without adopting Judaism's rigorous Code. Their smallest PURPOSEFUL societal rebellion carries a THEORETICAL death penalty, e.g. a tiny theft (Rambam, M.T. Kings 10:1, vs. Sefer Hachinuch in Yisro, who claims that even CARELESS VIOLATION is so punishable, a difficult view)-- perhaps this is to scare off drifters to Eilat, whose beautiful port must be holy, not "the sensual capital of Israel" (Single Rav Shlomo Grafstein, author of Judaism's Bible, combed Eilat's beaches for Meir Shuster, seeking hidden sparks of Jewish holiness to be enflamed in Jerusalem!). It's unlikely that a Jewish court would ever carry out such a harsh sentence, per Prof. Y. Leibowitz; Rav G. Fleer distinguishes between the treatment of ancient pagans, who themselves would kill for a pittance, and modern monotheists; perhaps junkies, who molest and kill the elderly for a few dollars, should be similarly judged.
John Hulley (In How To Survive Comets-- a TOP video, and in Comets, Jews and Christians, a fascinating $20 book) discusses the greatest threat to human survival, cosmic accidents-- close approaches or collision of comets, asteroids, etc. with earth are likely sources of multiple extinctions of pre-historic life, between geologic ages. Science must combat this threat; science flourished primarily in Biblically oriented, e.g. Jewish and Protestant, cultures-- both were persecuted for their commitment to studying God's Word. The Biblical mindset, stressing the innate sanctity and worth of every human being, is thus conducive to developing an ethical orderly society, a prerequisite for flourishing scientific development and inventions. Also, belief in a meaningful Divine world, rather than secular cosmic chaos, encouraged early scientists, e.g. Newton and Galileo, to seek laws of science and universal holistic structures. Per Hulley, many Protestants are likely descendants of the great majority of Jews, who assimilated thru the ages. Yair Davidy asserts Jewish origin of British civilization (see Lost Israelite Identity, $20 from TOP). The State of Israel, once its Jews get their act, Torah and science, together, is thus likely to bring both physical and spiritual salvation to the world (cf. Isaiah 2); their interface is the essence of both the Biblical message and God's Names.
Jews must eradicate idolatry and its practitioners (see Deut. 12:2, 7:5, M. T., Idolatry, 7:1); we must actively pursue them in the holy land, which is to be a model for the world; in any other lands acquired by conquest, we must destroy them, but needn't pursue them (see Deut. 12:3). Per Rambam, we're to bring all non-Jews in Israel to the universal Noachide religion (Kings 8:10); we should kill war captives who refuse to renounce idolatry (this law will surely make them do so! Why not just expel them? See our Chanuka study for other examples of Rambam's own lack of human warmth and its possible causes and effects). Witchcraft violates God's NATURAL LAWS, by mixing things which shouldn't be mixed, UNLESS THE RESULT'S CONSISTENTLY POSITIVE, as in healing (mystic Dr. Ramban urges men of faith to avoid the medical world too-- cf. Christian Science). Science may be distinguished from witchcraft, as it follows natural law; some kabbalists and chassidic rebbes use amulets and mysticism to affect reality; tho often condemned, they and other such healers may be justified-- if they mean well and it works! (see Yaakov Emden's polemics vs. alleged Sabbatarian Rav Y. Eybshitz; cf. USSR & Nazi science, e.g. parapsychology, and psychiatry, used to harm people).
Blood covenants may symbolize man's lifelong commitment, and his sacrifice of his animal impulses, to develop his Divine Image potential. Peace offerings, requiring hard labor, were brought by the youth. Per Ramban, these are the firstborn (so Onkelos), or virgins who had "not tasted of sin" (Eruvin 21b; see Maharsha)-- Ramban, as Rambam, generally disdains the body and its pleasures (vs. Rashi, who sees holiness in bodily pleasure-- see our Naso study; cf. farbrangen). Yet Ramban praises Nadav, Avihu & Co., who ate and drank upon seeing God's Glory, a precedent for our feast upon completing the Torah (24:11)-- Torah study isn't just to master truth, even Divine, a source of power and pride, but to "see" and draw near to God (Rav M. Weinberg; cf. Bilaam). Indeed, the first electronic computer could do a year's work of 100 engineers in 2 hours; a modern computer could easily and speedily outdo Rav Shach (or even the Vilna Gaon) in talmudic acumen (lumdus) and factual knowledge-- but it could never capture the spirit of Shlomo Carlebach, Yehoshua Engelman, Avraham Fried, Rav M. Sheinberger or the Bostoner and Habad Rebbes.
Kabbalistic study of ultimate reality, traditionally discouraged, is OK today, when folks deal with such realms anyway-- better that they learn them from authentic sources (Rav A. Y. Kook; cf. Gentiles studying Torah). True religious experience produces kinder more productive people, with better relationships; escape from life's tasks is not a valid goal-- "The main thing is the deed, not the exposition" (Avot 1:17, Zohar 3:218a, 230a, 275b). Science shows infinite levels of meaning and law in sense perceivable reality; our secret lore shows similar intricate patterns in the Bible, proving its Divinity-- occasional doses of kabbala may enhance faith, tho not directly affecting one's behavior. Indeed, Zohar, a major kabbalistic work, doesn't refer to our reality-- it's only a metaphoric guide to higher transcendental realms (Rav Brandwine, citing Rav Yehuda Ashlag).
Per Yaakov Emden, Zohar's a valid ancient holy tradition, but with many additions and corruptions (Gershom Scholem agrees, but differs as to which). Leon of Modena, Yemenite Torah giant Rav Yichya Kapach (Milchamot Hashem), and others rejected Moshe DeLeon's 1278 work, The Zohar, but most rabbis accept it uncritically, many adoringly (e.g. Vilna Gaon). Its age and validity are two separate issues-- Rav A. Kook said that he couldn't prove that Shimon Bar Yochai wrote the Zohar, but whoever did was on the same level!! Rav Kapach saw poor suffering primitive Yemenites wasting their days in mystical speculation, instead of mastering God's laws of nature-- science-- to better their lot; he discarded and condemned the Zohar, introduced to Yemen by Sephardic newcomers, after the Expulsion from Spain; thus he restored Yemenite Jewry's Maimonidean liturgy and outlook, around 1905, a return to Yisroel Saba; as Rav Hirsch in Germany, he set up modern schools of Torah and Derech Ertez in primitive Yemen. Scores of haredi Jerusalem rabbis, shocked to their constipated core, excommunicated his group, the Dor Deiah. Rav Yichya, Ztz"l, reprinted their bans and answered back (Amal V'rut Ruach, $5 from TOP). His namesake, who recited one of the 7 blessings at Carlebachian Yitzchak Miller's wedding, is rabbi of the Dor Deiah shul on Bar Ilan St.
Chur disappears from History-- he may have been murdered when he opposed the Golden Calf; Aharon then went along with it, trying to stall Israel until Moshe's return.
Mishpatim defines relationships between Man and God, Man and Man, Man and the Land, and Man and Property. Laws limiting servitude come first-- one can't truly serve God and his inner soul if directed by another, whose goals and dreams he executes (cf. interactions of husband and wife, rabbi and disciple, boss and worker-- perhaps only a husband who's his wife's "rabbi", her link to God, deserves unswerving devotion; otherwise, she must oppose him for his own good, as Avigayil did to churlish Naval-- but she must still remain loyal and devoted, "m'kudeshet", to him, not even hinting of her attraction to alluring David-- see Judaica IS25). A model Israel may feature highly trained individual independent consultants, businessmen and craftsmen, who work half a day at high rates (3 hours, per Rambam, M.T. T.T. 1:12-- cf. 3:9, see Kid. 30a), live modestly, and spend the rest of their time learning and teaching Torah and doing good deeds-- free. One MAY NOT sell himself into servitude, unless absolutely destitute; his purchaser must treat him with respect.
The Torah now stresses intent, when judging acts of man, endowed with free will-- the death penalty applies only to premeditated murder. Next come cases of bodily injury by another person or his possessions. Laws of damage to another's possessions follow. Finally we're taught positive duties towards another's property, temporarily in my care. Then come laws of arrogant passionate perversion of relationships-- seduction, bestiality, witchcraft, and idolatrous sacrifice (see The Butcher's Theater, J. Kellerman, for a gripping analysis of modern psychopathology, the police profession, and the Jerusalem Mosaic); they're contrasted with selfless sensitive relationships, with those alone and unfortunate, and grateful reverence toward those who guide society. Ibn Ezra explains the order-- e.g. Shabat, giving rest and freedom to servants and poor workers, is followed by the 7th year laws, which allow the poor to enter fields and eat to their heart's content.
As God finished the 10 Words, He warned the Jews against gold and silver idols (20:20; even cherubs in the synagogue!-- Rashi). Per Ibn Ezra, our entire portion sets up the conditions for an exclusive Jewish covenant with God, from which all others, idols or rulers, must be excluded-- Tzahal too must accept the higher authority of Torah, e.g. not to draft boys below 20, giving them a chance to marry and have a child before they risk their lives for their people; non-Jewish military ceremonies, firing guns and standing rigid, while taps are blown, are inappropriate here; exclusive Jewish burial, also in military cemeteries, starts with Sara-- your soul and its soulmates survive death. So Ch. 23 ends with the warning against covenants with idolaters or their idols. Restrictions on slavery are followed by laws of responsibility for another's person and property-- all ultimately belongs only to God; man is but His well-paid trustee.
All these laws are to be SET BEFORE the judges (they too must UNDERSTAND, not just know, the law), who must be respected and have strong executive power; PRAY FOR THE WELFARE OF THE KINGDOM, FOR WITHOUT IT EACH MAN WOULD EAT (even) HIS NEIGHBOR ALIVE! (Avot 3:2; cf. Lebanon, anti-Rabin protestors). The Jew celebrates festivals and gives of his produce to God, constantly reminding himself of his trust in God, and of his debt of gratitude and responsibility for His Holy Land.
D. THE HAFTARA is Jeremia 34:8-22 and 33:25-6
We prefer death to slavery (Eleazer ben Yair, quoted in Josephus' Wars, 7.8.6.)
The Haftara portrays an impressive renewal of God's covenant by the Jews, under King Tzedkiyahu. They promise to keep our first laws, commanded when we left Egypt-- not to enslave each other; former slaves often emulate former masters. Despite the impressive ceremony, the Jews quickly reverted and re-enslaved their liberated former slaves. The prophet predicts that this profanation of God's Name will bring their imminent destruction, via sword, pestilence, and famine. The religious and political leadership were all equally guilty. Babylon will capture their king and princes; birds and animals will devour their carcasses. Jerusalem will be burnt and Judea desolate. Yet God says that His covenant with Israel and David will endure as long as the universe-- Israel will return to the State of Israel, from which they'll teach and redeem mankind-- and find the Pope a bride?
Rav Yitzchak Nissenbaum (in B'Ahava U'b'emuna) contrasts Moshe's Torah of Life, which recognizes how far man is from Eden, and works on him to slowly extricate himself from his low state, with The Torah of Vision, the Torah of the Prophets, which gives us the inspiring vision of a peaceful Messianic world, where there will be no slaves or oppression; meanwhile, the Torah accepts the reality of slavery, but gives laws to gradually ameliorate its conditions and phase it out.
E. ON JEWISH LAW
Ignore a letter of the Torah, rather than profane the Name (Simeon ben Yehozadak, Yevamot 79a)
Rav Mendell Lewittes Z"l (Principles and Development of Jewish Law, $20 from TOP) portrays the interaction of halacha and life, and of the Written and Oral Law. He explores relationships between law, intent, and action in Rabbinic Jurisprudence, from its inception to modern times. He discusses challenges to tradition-- e.g. Hasidism, Haskala and Reform, Modern Technology and Medicine, Feminism, Zionism, and The State (and state) of Israel. He believed that Halacha has been sensitive and, to a limited extent, yielding to changing circumstances. This is within its parameters. Those who ignore built-in flexibility and alternatives WITHIN halacha are NOT truly traditional, tho they be ultra "Orthodox", an unclear non-Jewish term (see C: "DIVERSION", above) Contemporary halachic authorities should be sensitive to past development of halacha, know how to interpret it in the light of contemporary thinking and living; they shouldn't close their minds to secular knowledge or philosophic inquiry in their halachic decisions (246-7; great scholars, not laymen, can even suspend or change laws, to serve God's ultimate legal goals-- see our Shoftim study, D., and our Yisro study, E.).
Lewittes advocates cooperating with secular and non-Orthodox Jews, in matters of mutual concern, despite strong disagreements. He'd listen to their reactions to halacha, possible eliciting new takanot, positive responses to legitimate demands. Such "with it" orthodoxy would minimize the demand for non-traditional approaches, which deny the Divinity and unity of the Torah. So North American Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis (M & F) sing, dance, and pray together at the Wall (inside, where haredim can't see!); their common efforts for Israel Bonds unite them at our point of unity-- OUR Wall, seeing thru its CRACKS (and crackpots) of division (Rav D. Stavsky of Columbus, Ohio, once home to Rav Gafni, nee Winogers, citing S.S. 2:9).
Lewittes rejects Chatam Sofer's approach-- that anything new is forbidden by Torah; it led to mass abandonment of Judaism (new grain is indeed forbidden in Lev. 23:9f; but it's permitted, once sanctified by the omer offering; so God blesses us with discarding the old and obsolete for the new in Lev. 26:10). Many spiritual leaders of the religious "right" emphasize form over substance, even insisting on a particular obsolete form of hat and cloak as a token of one's religiosity (9)!!! Israeli practice should be a worldwide halachic model-- IF enacted by a sensitive responsive Chief Rabbinical Council. The tension that exists in Jewish Law between timeliness and timelessness, between the abiding and the changing, is well-known. We must renew the old while sanctifying the new (Rav A. Kook). Some phrase the dialectic in pragmatic terms: "Religion, if it's to succeed in remaining a central influence in the lives of its adherents, must lay stress upon its roots in the past, its traditions, its heritage, its permanence and stability. At the same time, it must guard against the loss of relevance, for if it loses its relevance, it will lose its influence".
Tzvi Arie Yehuda (THE TWO MECHILTOT ON THE HEBREW SLAVE-- Y.U. Phd. 1974) uses laws of the Hebrew Slave to illustrate Rav Dovid Hoffman's theory-- that our Mechilta of R. Yishmael (MRY) reflects his unique approach to Torah and Halacha; R. Akiva's is found in the Mechilta of R. Shimon b. Yochai (MRS), his pupil (hitherto unknown to Ashkenazim, e.g. Rashi and the Vilna Gaon, who, as a result, tried to harmonize irreconcilable texts). He lists 35 details in the law of the Hebrew Slave and shows internally consistent similarities and differences in their treatment in the two midrashim.
3 passages deal with Hebrew Slaves-- Lev. 25:39-55, re he who sells himself; Deut. 15:12-18, re one who is sold by the court, and this week's text, Ex. 21:2-11, which does not specify to which it applies. Per MRS, it refers to both; per MRY (Rashi), this week's laws-- e.g. giving the Hebrew slave a Canaanite woman, the 6 year limit on his slavery, and piercing of his ear if he wishes to remain a slave-- only apply to one sold by the court (cf. Kid. 14b, Urbach on Slavery). MRS recommends buying Blue & White, a Hebrew Slave rather than a Canaanite (cf. Arab and Russian workers). Tho the Torah calls him "slave" (lit. "worker"?), it only uses common parlance (per MRY), not to be emulated by the master (cf. Avot 1: "Sages, be careful with your words"...). MRY OK's sexual relations between a Jew and heathen handwoman, per Torah; a quasi-matrimonial relation is established; no divorce is required to end it. R. Akiva forbids such a relationship, other than for a Jewish slave; thus MRS doesn't even raise the issue of divorce. Yehuda's work is a model of well-reasoned broad scholarship; he's a pupil of the Chazan Ish, but also uses modern methods and resources. It's a shame that he didn't stay here, but went to Cleveland.
JEWISH LAW AND DECISION MAKING (A STUDY THROUGH TIME) by Aaron M. Schreiber (Temple Univ. 1979) also combines the best of both worlds-- truly traditional Torah scholarship and beliefs, with modern broad access to sources and orderly systematic historic presentation of Jewish Law. His advisors range from Prof. McDougal of Yale Law to Rav Sender of the Chicago Yeshiva. This work embodies a course in comparative Judaic law at Temple U., reviewing worldwide application and adaptation of Jewish Law for over 3000 years, unparalleled by any other system. He describes all ancient legal systems, comparing them with Biblical Law in contextual perspective. He then deals with the Talmudic period, relating to its political and economic background. The last section, an extensive study of Jewish Law in the Middle Ages, includes effects of the Crusades. The structures involved in Jewish decision making, lay and clerical, are discussed at length.
F. FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT
Woe to the house, whose windows open in the dark (Exodus Raba 14:2)
Rabbi M. Miller (SABBATH SHIURIM) expounds Ex. 20:18-- THE PEOPLE STOOD FAR OFF, AND MOSHE DREW NEAR TO THE THICK DARKNESS, WHERE THE LORD WAS. Moshe had to penetrate 3 types or degrees of darkness (Rashi). Rebbe Nachman of Breslav compares them to the difficulties, temptations, and lack of clarity which often accompany a person seeking return to God. If he surmounts them, they'll be the very means by which he'll reach "the heart of Heaven" (L. M. 115). So the Jews who committed themselves to Torah and Mitzvos, even before making the effort to understand them, earned great merit (Rav Simcha Zissel, Chochma U'Mussar, I:148). Naomi discouraged Ruth 3 times from coming with her (Ruth Raba 2:17); so we discourage every potential convert (but no more)-- if he surmounts these 3 obstacles, as Moshe, he merits conversion.
G. TRUE OR FALSE?
Blessed be He, Who knows the truth (Bertinoro, letter to his father, 1488, Treasury of Jewish Letters, Kobler, 309)
"FROM A FALSE MATTER (or WORD), STAY FAR AWAY" (Ex. 23:7): Human speech is sacred-- "lying lips are an abomination to God" (Prov. 12:22). God makes Man from dust (of the altar; see Ex. 20:21, Yer. Nazir 7:2); He breathes the spirit of life into him-- it becomes a LIVING SOUL (Gen. 2:7), i.e. A SPEAKING SPIRIT (Targum Yonaton, Onkelos). "God the Lord is truth" (Jer. 10:10); "Your Torah is truth" (Ps. 119:142); GOD'S SEAL IS TRUTH (R. Chanina, Shab. 55a). Perhaps God's seal, His sealed verdict in history, shows who spoke or predicted the truth-- cf. Yosef's dreams, and the dispute among Europe's pre-WWII Torah leaders re emigration to Israel. R. Shimon B. Gamliel, Rebbe's dad, says: "THE WORLD CONTINUES TO EXIST VIA THREE THINGS: JUSTICE, TRUTH AND PEACE" (Avot 1:18). "Speak every man the truth with his neighbor" (Zech. 8:16). "All His works are truth, all his ways justice" (Daniel 4:34). Truth and peace sometimes conflict, but society needs both to function (see Yev. 65b, B.M. 23b-24a). Justice balances them; it also decides between competing claims of truth. But on Shabbat, devoted to experiencing eventual eternal peace, we try to avoid unpleasant truths, temporal problems, "igniting fire" in our dwellings.
The prophet cries out to Israel, about to be exiled: AND TRUTH IS LACKING (Is. 59:15). R. Yermiya b. Abba said: "4 classes will not receive the presence of the Shechina: scoffers, flatters, liars and slanderers-- liars, as written: `HE THAT LIES SHALL NOT BE ESTABLISHED BEFORE MY EYES'" (Ps. 101:7; Sota 42a). Rav Eleazer compares liars to idolaters (San. 92a). Even harmless lies are forbidden (Menorat Hamaor II 2:2). The prophets didn't praise God in terms contradicting their own experience, for they knew that He's the God of truth (Yoma 69b).
Yet Rambam seemingly ignores Ex. 23:7 and Lev. 19:11 ("do not lie, one man to another")-- there's no prohibition against lying in his list of mitzvos (tho the talmud so understands these verses-- see Shev. 30). Tho no "act" is involved, he does prohibit even thoughts questioning fundamental principles of Torah (big lies?; #47); he may apply these verses only to lies causing harm to others, or to the judiciary. Perhaps since falsehood is frequent, truth rare (Shabbat 104a), the Torah may not want to punish Jews for each lie; also, as we all have misconceptions, we're bound to lie. Instead we're urged to pursue truth, probably a major component of Rambam's Positive Mitzva #8, Walking in God's Ways (tho he doesn't mention truth there). Indeed the pursuit of truth may be the best way to avoid falsehood-- a little truth overcomes much falsehood, as a little light dispels much darkness (Chovot Halvavot, 1040, 5.5).
"Stay far away" from falsity implies much more than just "Don't lie"-- one mustn't even appear to lie, must distance himself from anything false-- Should U wear a black hat, if U don't share black mentality?-- I spoke at Rav Mordecai Sheinberger's kiddush on "Yaakov and Truth", wearing such a chapeau; but I explained that I bought it as it was on sale for only 50 Sh., whereas nicer colors, such as God usually uses, were 100!-- I now sometimes wear a black Texan hat (also 50 Sh.)! Judges are warned to be meticulously truthful (Shev. 30b ff.; see Hirsch). But Midrash Rabba doesn't expound seemingly seminal v. 23:7. Sefer Hachinuch (226) says that Lev. 19:11 refers to a false vow.
Bet Hillel ruled that we sing at every wedding: "Such a beautiful and graceful bride". But Bet Shamai cites 23:7-- don't call an ugly bride beautiful-- your words must also be literally true, tho explainable as referring to her beautiful soul (Kalla Rabati 55a). For Bet Hillel, her good feelings and peace override literal truth-- ultimate truth and beauty lies beyond our immediate physical impression. Bet Hillel might link "From a false matter..." to the next command: "AND THE INNOCENT AND RIGHTEOUS SLAY THOU NOT"-- don't give false evidence to convict, to "slay", someone; praising the bride, we do the opposite-- preserve life, e.g. love between spouses, which leads to new lives. TRUTH SERVES PEACE-- a higher truth! Anyway, by definition, nothing which God makes is really ugly.
REFLECTIONS UPON TRUTH IN BIBLE AND ITS ORAL TRADITION: R. Shmuel b. Nachman said: "... the Holy One, blessed be He, created everything in His world, except for the traits of falseness, which He didn't create, and meaninglessness, which He didn't make-- His creatures created them out of their own hearts" (Pesikta Raba 24). The word `emes', truth, can easily stand upright, for it has two legs on each of its 3 letters; the 3 letters of `sheker', falsehood (cf. shukran, Arabic "thanks"), have only one leg to stand on; the letters of emes are far apart, at the beginning, middle, and end of the alphabet, a sign that truth is hard to achieve and must be all-encompassing (vs. insular Orthodoxy and secularism); also, falsehood is frequent, truth found at rare intervals! The 3 letters of sheker are next to each other in the alphabet, offering a quick path of little resistance (Yalkut Shimoni Gen. 2; Shab. 104a). The Kotzker, a "pillar of truth", declared: "Everything in the world can be imitated except truth. For imitated truth's no longer truth"-- cf. 20th century imitations of 18th century misnagdic and hassidic searches for truth.
IT IS THE PENALTY OF A LIAR THAT HE'LL NOT BE HEEDED, EVEN WHEN HE TELLS THE TRUTH-- San 89b. TEACH YOUR MOUTH TO SAY "I DON'T KNOW", LEST YOU FAKE IT AND GET CAUGHT! R. ZERA SAID: "NEVER TELL AN INFANT THAT YOU'LL GIVE HIM SOMETHING, AND NOT GIVE IT-- HE'LL LEARN FALSITY FROM IT" (Suka 46b). Rava doubted the existence of unadulterated truth in this world, until he heard of Kushta, where no one lied or died (prematurely). He married one of their women and had 2 sons-- they died after he told a neighbor that his wife was out, when she was washing her hair. The townspeople asked him to leave (San. 97a). Per Rav Yehuda (ibid), in the time of the Meshiach, the face of the generation shall be like the face of a dog; truth will be entirely lacking, and the righteous mocked; this "dog face" may be literal, not just a gas mask-- just as man began to resemble a monkey, when he left direct contact with God for impersonal "Nature" (Genesis Raba), so his Divine Image may further descend to a (bull?) dog-like appearance, with the disappearance of truth.
Rav, like his uncle Chiya, didn't get along with his quarrelsome wife, who always did the opposite of his will (talmudic rabbis too had heartaches, as well as stomach aches; is the Talmud violating lashon hara in telling us this, or is understanding human nature, via real examples, a valid pursuit?). When Rav's son Chiya grew up, he reversed dad's instructions, to get his mother to comply. Rav happily thought that his pious shrew had finally improved and mellowed with age! But, when he discovered that Chiya had lied, he told him to cease and desist, citing: "THEY TAUGHT THEIR MOUTHS TO SPEAK FALSENESS"-- Yev. 63b.
JEREMIA describes Israeli corruption (9:1-8): "Oh, were I in the wilderness, in a lodging place of wayfaring men, that I might leave my people, and go from them! For all are adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men, and they bend their tongue, their bow of falsehood, and they are grown mighty in the land, but not for truth. For they proceed from evil to evil, and Me they know not", says God. "Take you heed every one of his neighbor, and trust not in any brother. For every brother acted subtly, and every neighbor goes about with slanders. They deceive every one his neighbor, and truth they speak not; they taught their mouths to speak falseness, they weary themselves to commit iniquity. Your habitation is in the midst of deceit; thru deceit they refuse to know Me", says God. Therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: "Behold, I'll smelt them, and try them; for how else should I do, because of the daughter of my people? Their tongue is a sharpened arrow, it speaks deceit; one speaks peaceably to his neighbor with his mouth, but in his heart he lays in wait for him. Shall I not punish them for these things?", said the Lord; "Shall not My soul be avenged on such as nation as this?"-- Cf. Israel today, especially at election time.
"AND DELILA SAW THAT HE SPOKE TO HER WITH HIS WHOLE HEART"-- How did she know? R. Chanin said in the name of Rav-- words of truth are recognizable (Sota 9b). Anything not clear is supported by many citations! (Jer. Ber. 2:3); cf. the talmudic rule: WHY DO I NEED A VERSE-- IT'S COMMON SENSE? See "Not in Heaven", E. Berkowitz; so "When The Moshiach Comes" has approbations of many Mignagdic "G'dolim", tho its first page contains a horrible halachic lie, citing the Rambam in Sefer Hamitzvot-- that one should hate and persecute innocent non-believers-- Feldheim and Targum refused to correct it. The author was unaware that Rambam changed his mind in Mishna Torah. While there may sometimes be valid hatred of sinners in one's heart (Pes. 113b), in practice one must befriend enemies and sinners (Ex. 23:5). Rav Shlomo Aviner concludes (as Bruria) that such hatred is not of the sinner, but of the evil within him. One must always love the man himself. ANYTHING WHICH WILL ULTIMATELY BE REVEALED-- PEOPLE DON'T LIE ABOUT IT (R.H. 22b). Before praying each morning, we recite a passage from Tana D've Eliyahu 21: "A man should always have God awareness, even when alone, admit to truth (when confronted with it, tho he once thought differently) and speak truth in his heart"-- he should not always PROCLAIM the truth, which may conflict with peace; so God doesn't tell Avraham of Sara's mention of his old age and lack of virility (Bar Kappora, Perek Hashalom 59b). So Mrs. Manoach's husband wasn't informed of her barren state by the angel of God.
"HE WHO SPEAKS TRUTH IN HIS HEART" (Ps. 76:2-- the opposite of one with a DOUBLE HEART in 12:3) refers to such as Rav Safra, who didn't respond to an offer for his merchandise, while reading Shma. He later refused a higher price, as he had been willing to take the lower-- he apparently interprets our verse: "who speaks out the truth, as to what is in his heart". He whose mouth speaks one way, his heart another-- God hates him (Pes. 113b). Moshe admitted the truth when he was wrong (Lev. 10:20); SO THE HOLY ONE BLESSED BE HE ACKNOWLEDGES TRUTH AND SAYS: "CORRECTLY DO TZAFCHAD'S DAUGHTERS SPEAK" (Num. 27:7-- AD'RN 37). IT'S NOT PROPER TO SWEAR, EVEN IN TRUTH (Tan. Vayikra). In Ex. 34:6, He proclaimed: "God, God, merciful and kind Lord, patient and of much kindness and truth". Rebbe said: All falsehoods are prohibited, except to make peace (a "true" state-- all men are brothers; otherwise, they're living a big lie-- Perek Hashalom, 59b; so Aharon would tell each of two enemies that the other was full of regret-- the ideal state of truth, tho it wasn't necessarily so in fact, on the surface; AD'RN 12:3).
SHEVUOT 31ff: How do we know that a disciple sitting before his master, who sees that the poor man's right and the wealthy man wrong, shouldn't remain silent?-- "From a false matter keep far" (cf. yeshiva students today, who see that Shabbat and reburial protests are counterproductive). And how do we know that a disciple, who sees his master err in the law, shouldn't say: "I'll wait until he finishes, and then upset his decision, and build up [another decision] according to my own judgment, so it will be called by my name"? Because it's said : "From a false matter keep far". And how do we know that a disciple, to whom his master says: "You know that if I were given 100 manehs, I wouldn't tell a lie; now, So-and-so owes me a maneh, and I have only one witness against him", should not join his testimony?-- "From a false matter keep far off"-- Is this, then, deduced from: "From a false matter keep far off"?-- Surely Divine Law said: "Don't give false testimony against your neighbor"! Our case is where he said to him, "I have one witness; you come and stand there-- you needn't say anything, so you won't mouth any lie"-- even so it's prohibited-- "From a false matter keep far off" (people will THINK that the rabbi has TWO witnesses; thus the debtor will confess); we see that ends don't justify means, and that a student must also judge his teacher, not automatically follow him (vs. The Jewish Observer?).
How do we know that he who claims 100 zuzim from his neighbor shouldn't say: "I'll claim 200, then he'll admit 100, and be liable for an oath..."-- "From a false matter keep far off". ... that if one has a claim of 100 zuzim against his neighbor, and sues for 200, the debtor shouldn't say: "I'll deny it totally in court, but admit it outside, that I not be liable for an oath..."?-- "From a false matter keep far off". ...that if 3 persons claim 100 zuzim against one person, one shouldn't be the litigant, and the other two the witnesses, to extract and divide it?-- "From a false matter, keep far off".
... if two come to court, one in rags, the other in fine raiment, worth 100 manehs, they should say to him: "Either dress like him, or dress him like you"?-- "From a false matter keep far" (their varied appearance may discourage the poor man from presenting his cause, or create an atmosphere where it's hard to judge them as equals). When they'd come before Raba, son of R. Huna, he'd tell them: "Remove your fine shoes, and come down for your case".
... that a judge shouldn't hear words of one litigant before the other arrives?-- "From a false matter keep far off". ... that a litigant shouldn't explain his case to the judge, before the other arrives?-- "From a false matter keep far". R. Kahana learnt [these deductions] from: "You shall not utter [a false report]" (Ex. 23:1), i.e. "You shall not cause to be uttered" (by the court).
"Don't accept (possibly) false testimony" (Ex. 23:1) and "You shall not lie against one another" (Lev. 19:11) were said in a single act of speech. In all such cases, that spoken was such that the mouth can't speak or the ear hear-- and so does the Psalmist himself state: "Once did God speak, two things did I hear" (Ps. 62:11).
God Himself cannot alter the laws of a priori truth (Crescas, Or Ado-nai, c. 1400, 1556)
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