Category: Theology

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Why Parashas Balaq?

A lesson that can be learned from Parashas Balaq…. Why is the story of Balaq trying to hire Bil’am in the Chumash altogether? The Moavim don’t learn a lesson, they remain our enemies. Bil’am certainly didn’t change. And the Jews? We didn’t know anything about it at the time. And if it weren’t in the Torah, we still wouldn’t. My...

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How To Religiously Respond to the Pandemic

So many others wrote about THE correct way to respond to the CoVID-19 pandemic, how could someone like myself — Micha Shmuel — named for not one but TWO nevi’im not join the fray with my opinion? I think that identifying causality of the kind so many suggest, “Hashem brought this because …” is impossible for us. Read Hashem’s words...

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Omniscience and Free Will

There is no conflict between Hashem Knowing now what we will choose tomorrow, and our ability to makes that choice freely when tomorrow comes. Hashem does not Know now what will will do tomorrow. Not because Hashem doesn’t Know, but because He doesn’t now.

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Coping with the Death of an Infant

(This post began life as a comment on an article on Torah Musings, ” When a Baby Dies” by Rabbi Gil Student.) What I held on to through the experience had at least two parts. The first is the impossibility of believing that Chazal were trying to explain tragedy. They studied the book of Iyov, after all, they know the...

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Meshech Chokhmah – VaYeitzei – “… Hashem is present in this place, and I – I did not know!”

There are two ways to approach G-d through His Action. One can admire the G-d of miracles, or the G-d of nature. The medrash describes Avraham as having discovered G-d through contemplating nature. Science only began when the Greeks looked past their gods at the notion of a Creator, which gave them the expectation that the world has a single...

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What isn’t Omnipotence?

Orion asked on Mi Yodeya: Hashem’s infinite power I’ve heard many times that Hashem is infinitely powerful. But how do we know this? Perhaps he’s just very powerful or even all powerful (possessing all power there is, which is possibly finite). Is there a source for the ‘infinite’? I liked how my answer came out, so here it is: The...

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G-d of the Gaps

The pagans worshipped deities to drive out the fear of the unknown. Blaming lightning on Thor does give the person hopes to control lightning by appeasing its god. But logically prior to that, blaming it on Thor takes it out of the realm of the unknown. And so the pagan associates the gods with things they don’t understand and can’t get...

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Is G-d Infinite?

Seems like a silly question: G-d is the Absolute Infinite. No? Actually, it’s not clear Hashem is infinite, as that would be a positive attribute of G-d. Aristotle did not believe in the possibility of an actual infinity, a completed set of infinite size. To him, “parallel lines meet at infinity” and “parallel lines never meet” are the same thing. And...

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No Answers

Why do bad things happen? אמר אביי לא חרבה ירושלים אלא בשביל שחללו בה את השבת… אמר ר’ אבהו לא חרבה ירושלים אלא בשביל שביטלו ק”ש שחרית וערבית… אמר רב המנונא לא חרבה ירושלים אלא בשביל שביטלו בה תינוקות של בית רבן… אמר עולא לא חרבה ירושלים אלא מפני שלא היה להם בושת פנים זה מזה… אמר ר’ יצחק לא...

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Interpretations of Probability

At “Casting Lots” I tried to use the relationship between the field of statistics and Divine Providence as a means of looking at the verse “Hipil pur hu hagoral — he cast a pur, that is a goral” (Esther 3:7). I asked: Which raises the more general question as to whether the Believer’s lexicon even has meaning for the word...

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A Physics Metaphor for Coming to Terms with Theodicy

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Aristotle believed that motion was caused by an intellect imparting impetus to an object, which then moved until the impetus ran out. Newton replaced this model of physics with his three laws, including: Law I: Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as...

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He Should Inspect His Deeds

אמר רבא ואיתימא רב חסדא: אם רואה אדם שיסורין באין עליו, יפשפש במעשיו. שנא’ (איכה ג): נַחְפְּשָׂה דְרָכֵינוּ וְנַחְקֹרָה, וְנָשׁוּבָה עַד ה’. פשפש ולא מצא, יתלה בבטול תורה. שנאמר (תהילים צד): אשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר תְּיַסְּרֶנּוּ יָּ-הּ, וּמִתּוֹרָתְךָ תְלַמְּדֶנּוּ. ואם תלה ולא מצא, בידוע שיסורין של אהבה הם. שנאמר (משלי ג): כִּי אֶת אֲשֶׁר יֶאֱהַב ה’ יוֹכִיחַ[, וּכְאָב אֶת בֵּן יִרְצֶה]....

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Explaining Tragedy

It seems to me, the overall question of theodicy and explaining why tragedy enters the lives of anyone but the most evil, can be addressed on two levels. Philosophically, the question is unanswerable. As I wrote a number of years ago (in “The Four Sons Encounter Tragedy“, under the wise son’s response: R’ Joseph Ber Soloveitchikzt”l (“the Rav”) addresses the...

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Backgammon

The following is probably fiction, but is certainly possible. Picture a salt truck in February 2008, running down a Manhattan street, its mechanism scattering salt behind it. One particular piece of salt is sprayed out of the back of the truck, balances on a pebble embedded in the asphalt for a moment… … and falls to the left. There it...

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Wisdom from Eeyore

The month that starts today, אִייָר‎ or אִיָּר, borrows its name (as do all the months) from those of Babylonia, in commemoration of our exile there — and our redemption from it. In Akkadian, the month name is “Ayyaru”, meaning “blossom” — logical enough for this time of year. But that brings to mind a piece of wisdom from an...

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Mi sheBeirakh

When someone is found guilty of a crime, he may be sent to jail. But that person isn’t the only person who gets punished. His wife loses his companionship. His children lose access to their father. They and his parents are shamed. His employer loses out on an employee, and his customers on his services. The person he used to...

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Hashem and Morality

In his essay “Euthyphro”, Plato has Socrates ask a young student named Euthyphro, “Is what is righteous righteous because the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it is righteous?” The Jewish spin would be to ask: Is an act good because HQBH chose to make it a mitzvah, or did Hashem command us to do it...

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The Invisibility of Providence — How?

The fact is that Hashem hides His Presence from us. The question of why is an interesting one. Here I would like to look at part of the question of “How?” (I have no current plans for a part II, but I would be surprised if it never happens.) For example, Rav Dessler asserts the well-known formula like the amount...

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Hashgachah Peratis as a level of abstraction

Say you were a chip designer, and you wanted to know why this particular trace (wire) on some particular microprocessor chip went from 0 volts to 3 volts….The answer could be given at various levels of abstraction. 1- In quantum mechanical terms: We could speak of the doped gallium arsenide that the chip is made out of, valence levels, electrons,...

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Mima’amaqim

Shir haMa’alos: Mima’amaqim qarasikha Hashem A song of ascents: From the depths, I call You, Hashem – Tehillim 120:1 I’ve written a number of essays about tragedy from the perspective of philosophy and theory. But there are times when it simply isn’t the right approach.What do you say to someone who is in the middle of facing profound tragedy? A...

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Divine Timelessness II, Hebrew Tenses

I – Perfect and Imperfect Hebrew verb conjugation is usually taught by making the student memorize tables organized by tense and person. The tenses on those tables are past, present, future and imperative (avar, hoveh, asid and tzivui, respectively). However, it’s unclear if these are the primary tenses in biblical Hebrew. Rather, many translators — from traditional Teimanim to Genesius...

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Hashem and Logic

Can G-d make a square-circle, or a thing which is both red and not-red, or a rock so heavy even He can’t lift it? In other words, must G-d obey the laws of logic?This question is more serious than it seems. In Principia Mathematica, Bertrand Russell derives all of mathematics from the roots of symbolic logic. This means that if...

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Attributes of G-d

When we describe an attribute of G-d, we can’t mean “attribute” in the normal sense. If we said that G-d has properties that are not His essence, we would be saying He is divisible. Therefore, the Rambam takes these “attributes” to be one of two things: 1- descriptions of how G-d relates to man, or 2- descriptions of what He...

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Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

There is a quote from the Christian Testament that it is easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than it is a rich man to get into heaven.It makes an interesting contrast to a Talmudic quote, a promise G-d makes the repentant: If you make for yourself an opening like the eye of a needle, I...