Monday, March 24, 2008

It is Not in the Heavens!


A friend of mine is seriously into karate and trains very hard. He almost ha a black belt. Once, he travelled to Japan for a tournament and on this trip, he was able to meet with old Japanese masters at karate. They were older men trained and raised in the ancient arts, devoted to teaching and spreading karate. They were treated with extreme respect as they, having lived their entire lives in the study of karate, were experts at it. These elders had been trained in the secrets of the martial art. As anybody knows, a discipline or art cannot simply exist in an academic level but must have leaders and masters.

Interestingly enough, while almost everyone would treat these karate masters with respect, many deride the rabbis as "a brood of vipers", "Pharisees" and taunt the Jews as following the laws of man as opposed to the laws of G-d. Some like to mock the rabbis and call them hypocrites who prefer to focus on the trivial aspects of the law as opposed to its deeper purpose: intimacy with G-d. Fools. Little do they know.

On Mount Sinai, G-d spoke to the entire Jewish nation and revealed to us His Torah, both the Oral and the Written. One is meaningless without the other, in the sense that one cannot learn karate from a book but only with a teacher. At Sinai, G-d taught to Moses His commandments, who transmitted it to Joshua, who transmitted it to the Elders, then to the Prophets, and then to the Men of the Great Assembly. Moses was taught of the many laws that are not found explicitly in the Torah, yet are alluded to. He was shown how to make tefillin, of what colour it should be, of what material, how to wrap it, etc. Moses was shown the precise way of wrapping tzitzit, the fringes that Jews wear on the corners of their garments. For 40 years, the Jews dwelt in G-d's womb and studied Torah from His mouth.

While many aspects of Judaism are from Sinai like kashrut, the 39 forbidden labours on Shabbat, or tefillin, many prohibitions or obligations are rabbinical in origin. The holidays of Chanukkah and Purim are nowhere in the Five Books of Moses yet they are equally incumbent on every Jew as the biblical holiday of Pesach. The prohibition against carrying on Shabbat is one a rabbinic one as well, to "build a fence around the Torah" and to prevent Shabbat desecration. Laws of man?

A fundamental principle in Judaism is that of lo bashamayim hi. In Moses' final oration and testimony to the Jews before he died (Deut 30:12), he summed his speech up with four magnifience verses: "Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it." From this we derive the principle that the Torah is no longer in heaven, but that G-d gave it to man to interpret and to follow. With this verse, G-d gave us the power and authority to decide halacha, matters of Torah law. Actually, G-d's opinion is no longer relevant as Torah law became the sole domain of the Jewish people. But the phrase "not in heaven" took on an extraordinary life of its own in the rabbinic era. It gave rise to a justly famous story in the Talmud (Baba Metzia 59a), one of the most radical and paradoxical in religious literature. It is the tale of another oven that needed to be declared kosher. This oven was a new invention created by a certain man named Achnai. Achnai brought his new oven to the rabbinical court at the house of study for them to give his contraption their imprimatur and deem it appropriate for Jewish use. With the exception of Rabbi Eliezer, every sage at the house of study declared that the oven was un-kosher. Rabbi Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument to try and convince the other sages that the oven was kosher, but none of his colleagues was convinced. Rabbi Eliezer was getting frustrated, and he shouted at them: “If Achnai's oven is in fact kosher, as I say it is, then let this carob tree prove it!” And the carob tree flew out of the ground and landed a hundred cubits away. Unimpressed, the other sages retorted: “No proof can be brought from a carob tree.” Again Rabbi Eliezer implored them: “If the oven is kosher, then let the stream of water prove it.” And the stream of water flowed backwards. “No proof can be brought from a stream of water,” the rabbis rejoined. More frustrated than ever, Rabbi Eliezer cried out: “If the oven is kosher, as I say it is, let the walls of this house of study prove it!” And the walls began to fall inward. But Rabbi Joshua rebuked the collapsing walls saying: “When scholars are engaged in a disagreement over a point of Jewish law, what right do you have to interfere?” And the walls did not fall in honor of Rabbi Joshua, nor did they resume their upright position in honor of Rabbi Eliezer. Again Rabbi Eliezer said to the sages, “If the law agrees with me regarding the fact that Achnai's oven is kosher, then let it be proved by heaven.” And a heavenly voice cried out: “Why do you rabbis argue with Eliezer? He's always right in his interpretation of the law!" But Rabbi Joshua arose and exclaimed to the sky: “It is not in Heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12). One must follow the majority!” At that moment, the sages say, God laughed, saying “My children have defeated me! My children have overruled me!”

With this, we became partners with G-d in creation. When the majority of rabbis in the Sanhedrin, and today in the beit din, decide the halachah, the law becomes the Words of the Living G-d and no Jew is free to oppose them. The Torah states: "If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, even matters of controversy within thy gates; then shalt thou arise, and get thee up unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose. And thou shall come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days; and thou shalt inquire; and they shall declare unto thee the sentence of judgment. And thou shalt do according to the tenor of the sentence, which they shall declare unto thee from that place which the LORD shall choose; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they shall teach thee. According to the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do; thou shalt not turn aside from the sentence which they shall declare unto thee, to the right hand, nor to the left. And the man that doeth presumptuously, in not hearkening unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die; and thou shalt exterminate the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously." (Deut. 17:8-13) The Torah was given to man to interpret, to understand and to live by. The Talmud tells us, when the ministering angels come to G-d to ask when is the Festival of the New Moon, He tells them, "Why do you ask me? Let us go to the earthly court of the sages and ask them what they've decided. (Midrash Rabbah, Devarim 2:14)

The Torah is not in the heavens! It is near and dear to us, given to man to live by. G-d gave us the amazing priviliege of living by His Torah. What an amazing challenge! It is said that G-d is to found within the four cubits of the halacha. Will you meet Him there?

22 comments:

Yehudi01 said...

Well said, achi! Some like to mock the rabbis and call them hypocrites who prefer to focus on the trivial aspects of the law as opposed to its deeper purpose: intimacy with G-d.

It is the performance of Hashem's mitzvot that develops intimacy with Him. The lack of obedience creates distance in a relationship, so the rabbis should be praised for their insight - not ridiculed!

It is possible to lose focus on the reason we perform the mitvah...I know people who love to perform mitzvot for the "atta-boy" they inevitably get from others who notice, (and they make sure others notice!)...I find fault with that attitude.

G-d desires a pure heart and an attitude of gratitude, which stems from a life of loving obedience. Nice post, BK.

The Frank Family said...

If what you have written here is indeed true then why did so many of the Old Testament prophets speak contrary to what the religious leaders of the time were saying and the people suffer because they followed their leaders and not God's prophets?

Bar Kochba said...

I again am not sure to what you are refering. (Jewish minds must work differently. I frequently fidn myself unable to grasp your points. Just a different way of thinking.)

The people did not follow their religious leaders ie. Prophets and Torah scholars, but followed the false prophets of the Baal and other faiths. That was their great sin.

The Frank Family said...

OK then let me bring a specific example to you. What about Israel in the time of the prophet Micah. During Micah's time the people of Israel were being corrupted and led astray not by the surrounding peoples or kings but by their own leaders. The source of the wickedness was the people who should have been watching out for Israel and keeping her holy. These were the rulers and leaders and priests. If they were telling Israel to do something then should they not by your thinking been speaking with the authority that God handed down to the leadership? Shouldn't their words have been the truth of heaven and not self-serving and evil? Yet all the time they were acting corruptly they were proclaiming that the LORD was with them and so they couldn't go wrong.

Micah 3:8-12

8 But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.

9 Hear this, you leaders of the house of Jacob, you rulers of the house of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right;

10 who build Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness.

11 Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the LORD and say, "Is not the LORD among us? No disaster will come upon us."

12 Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.

kahaneloyalist said...

The Notsrim have always believed we would run to follow their cult if they could only destroy the Rabbanim and the Talmud, so of course they will despise those who they believe shield us from worship of Yeshu.

kahaneloyalist said...

BK, I am not sure I see the point in your debating with the Notsrim, its like arguing with children. They have none of the background or even the most basic knowledge necessary for meaningful discussion.

All they can do is quote mistranslations of Sefarim their ancestors stole and they dont understand on even the lowest of levels.

The Frank Family said...

Wow -- great argument KL!!! Nothing beats saying you're stupid so what you say doesn't matter whether it's in the scriptures or not. Was Micah stupid as well?

Bar Kochba said...

I'm beginning to think that you're just being contrary for the sake ofbeing contrary. ;)

Let me make this clear: no man has the authority to rule contrary to G-d's Will. That is the flaw of the Reform movement. It every single "rabbi" declares it okay to eat nonkosher, as they have, or to break shabbat, or to marry goyyim, they couldn't cancel the Torah. The point is that when the rabbi act in the interests of G-d, according to the Torah, their words become the Will of G-d.

Psalm 82 A Psalm of Asaph. {N}
God standeth in the congregation of God; in the midst of the judges He judgeth:
2 'How long will ye judge unjustly, and respect the persons of the wicked? Selah
3 Judge the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute.
4 Rescue the poor and needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.
5 They know not, neither do they understand; they go about in darkness; {N}
all the foundations of the earth are moved.
6 I said: Ye are godlike beings, and all of you sons of the Most High.
7 Nevertheless ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.'
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for Thou shalt possess all nations.

G-d sits among the judges because their verdict is divine. However, if they are corrupt, G-d will punish them. A corrupt verdict is considered as destroying G-d's world.

KL: I can't stand the slander of the rabbis. Yes, most are fools, but maybe one Jew will read this and be able to refute their accusations.

Yehudi01 said...

I already chimed-in my two-cents worth...see my post above - "It is the performance of Hashem's mitzvot that develops intimacy with Him. The lack of obedience creates distance in a relationship, so the rabbis should be praised for their insight - not ridiculed!"

Does that count?

The Frank Family said...

I'm just trying to wrap my mind around the differences in what you say. First you say this --

"From this we derive the principle that the Torah is no longer in heaven, but that G-d gave it to man to interpret and to follow. With this verse, G-d gave us the power and authority to decide halacha, matters of Torah law. Actually, G-d's opinion is no longer relevant as Torah law became the sole domain of the Jewish people."

and then you say this --

"Let me make this clear: no man has the authority to rule contrary to G-d's Will. That is the flaw of the Reform movement. It every single "rabbi" declares it okay to eat nonkosher, as they have, or to break shabbat, or to marry goyyim, they couldn't cancel the Torah."

Who's opinion is true? Is it the opinion of God (which you said is no longer relevant) or the opinion of the rabbi? If you simply follow the teaching of the rabbi then how do you know if he is a good rabbi or a rabbi that is attempting to "cancel the Torah"? Let me be clear that I do not disparrage rabbis or Jewish rulers in general. I believe that most rabbis are men of God that seek to study the Torah and teach others what they have learned. I just think that it is a dangerous position to say that rabbis can't be wrong because they are the ones to whom God gave the ability to decide Torah matters. To me that is the foulest of idol worship because it is taking the word of man over the Word of God. Just as the people were doing in the time of Micah and God was angry with them for it.

Bar Kochba said...

See this article: The Murky Truth about Truth

www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/216477/jewish/The-Murky-Truth-About-Truth.htm

Eitan said...

I actually see Jason's point in this case.

Shimshi: Do you realize what you're saying when you write: "Actually, G-d's opinion is no longer relevant as Torah law became the sole domain of the Jewish people."

Of course Jason is going to chime in and prove you wrong. You really are making an oxymoron- if you will. Oh, and on a positive note, I will keep the Shabbat this time. I want to go back to what I was doing before my trip.

The Frank Family said...

BK -- that was a very good and enlightening article. I will have to read it a couple of more times to take it all in. Upon first reading I am struck by the idea that our difference in thinking may be grounded in the idea that I see God and His workings with man in the light of absolute truth while the study of Torah seems to view truth as much less concrete.

The Frank Family said...

By the way, Daniel has challenged me to attempt to eat kosher for a month and so I am going to attempt to eat kosher for the month of april. He actually challenged me to eat kosher for 60 days but I have committed to trying it for a month. Please pray for me to be able to do this.

Bar Kochba said...

Jason, Torah is a paradox. It is an Absolute Truth, of course. The point of this whole post was that G-d does not simply dictate to us and expect usd to blindly submit, as is the case in Islam, for example. G-d made us partners with Him in creation and we must build halacha, which literally means 'walking' or 'the path'. No man can contradict the Torah but me must apply its principles to our life.

As for kashrut, I do not see why you should. Under Jewish law, it is forbidden to add extra strictures to yourself. As a non-Jew, you have no obligation to keep kosher. Enjoy what G-d allowed you to eat. But if you want to, good luck.

Bar Kochba said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Frank Family said...

This choice to attempt to eat kosher is not a conviction but rather a choice. Kind of like walking a mile in someone else's shoes.

young_activist said...

When your done walking a mile in BK's shoes why don't you walk a mile in a Palestinians shoes?

The Frank Family said...

YA -- how might I go about doing that? My knowledge of Judaism is much greater than my knowledge of Islam.

young_activist said...

There are plenty of Palestinian Christians. I am not talking about their religous lifestyle I am talking about the misery they endure on a daily basis. Pvert, war, hunger, etc.

Bar Kochba said...

Jason, you could try developping a victim mentality, demand EU and UN handouts, hate all Infidels, especially those Jewish sons of pigs and monkeys, and once in a while throw stones at Israeli soldiers.

YA, is that what you had in mind? Not to mention, whine a lot and do everything possible to hurt yourself.

Eitan said...

plenty of Palestinian Christians?

ROFLMAO and while I'm at it trying to find one Palestinian Christian who wouldn't be afraid to venture into "The Palestinian Territories." Almost all have sought asylum by now.