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Volume 37: Number 30

Mon, 15 Apr 2019

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Message: 1
From: Professor L. Levine
Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2019 14:01:59 +0000
[Avodah] Gebrockts, matza, and butter

From today's OU Kosher Halacha Yomis

Q. I do not eat gebrochts (matzah dipped in water). Should my stringency include refraining from eating matzah with butter as well?

A. As previously noted, those who avoid gebrochts are concerned that there
may be unbaked flour in the matzah. Nonetheless, the Shulchan Aruch HaRav
(Teshuvos 6) rules that even those who do not eat gebrochts may be lenient
regarding matzah dipped in fruit juice, because Shulchan Aruch (OC 462:1)
rules that fruit juices, a category which includes milk and butter, do not
cause flour to become chometz. On the other hand, Sama D?chayei (13:6)
notes that although fruit juice mixed with flour will not become chometz,
fruit juice mixed with water and flour will become chometz in an
accelerated manner (see OC 462:2). Since matzah is made with water, some of
the water moisture is retained in the matzah even after the baking. As
such, the combination of matzah and fruit juice may accelerate the chometz
to occur (if there is unbaked flour in the matzah). Therefore, Sama
D?chayei argues that one who is stringent regarding gebrochts should not
let the matzah come into contact with fruit juice. T
 he Steipler Gaon concurred with this ruling (Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. 2, p. 50).

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Message: 2
From: Micha Berger
Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2019 14:32:59 -0400
[Avodah] VBM - Natural Mortality

Two comments on the article below:

I am not sure I agree with RAB's depiction of the Aish Qodesh's
position. To me it looks like the Piasecner is saying more that there is
a concept of natural morality, but that it is insufficient for a Jew to
use it as a motivator. After all, for a non-Jew he believes that natural
morality does appropriately provide a calling.

AISI, Hillel's "de'alakh sani" as a summary of the entire Torah al regel
achas is a strong support for RAYK's position. After all, isn't Hillel's
rule in fact a description of natural morality?


PHILOSOPHY > Topics in Hashkafa
Rav Assaf Bednarsh
Adapted by Leora Bednarsh
Yeshivat Har Etzion

                      Shiur #25: Natural Morality (part 1)

Is there morality without the Torah? Throughout the history of philosophy,
philosophers have debated whether there exists a natural morality that is
binding even in the absence of any legislated ethical rules. Similarly,
Jewish philosophers have debated whether there would be objective moral
right and wrong if God had not revealed His will and commanded us various
moral obligations, from the seven Noahide laws through the six hundred
and thirteen mitzvot of the Torah.[1]

The Eish Kodesh: No Natural Morality
""" """" """"""" "" """"""" """"""""

The Piaseczner Rebbe, in his collection of sermons Eish Kodesh,[2]
asserts that a gentile who acts ethically does so because he believes
in the existence of an independent moral truth. According to this
conception, the commandments of God reflect that pre-existing, independent
truth. However, we Jews believe that God is the only valid source of
moral truth. According to the Piaseczner, it is forbidden to steal only
because the true God commanded us not to steal, and it is forbidden
to murder only because the true God forbade murder. Those commandments
created a moral truth because they issued from the true God.

He proves this contention from the fact that Halacha does permit moral
wrongs in certain circumstances, which would not be possible if they
were objectively forbidden. For example, theft is permissible when
authorized by the court (hefker beit din hefker). More radically, God
Himself explicitly permitted murder in the commandment to Avraham to
sacrifice his son Yitzchak, which constituted a binding obligation,
although it was eventually rescinded due to external considerations.

According to this approach, there is no objective moral right or
wrong in the world. What we call natural moral intuition is merely the
influence of secular ways of thought or the clever workings of the evil
inclination. The only valid source of truth is Divine revelation.

This negation of any valid truth that emerges from human reasoning
or intuition strikes us as very devout, and in fact corresponds to a
general repudiation of the conclusions of unaided human reasoning, which
is pervasive in certain religious communities. But is this perspective
consistent with the source texts of our tradition?

Two Talmudic Passages that Assume Natural Morality
""" """""""" """""""" """" """""" """"""" """"""""

We find two Talmudic passages in which the Sages relate explicitly to
the theoretical question of what would have been had God not revealed
His will in the Torah. The Talmud states:

    R. Yochanan said: Even if the Torah had not been given, we would
    have learned modesty from the cat [which covers its excrement],
    and that stealing is objectionable from the ant [which does not
    take grain from another ant], and forbidden relations from the dove
    [which is faithful to its partner]. (Eruvin 100b)

One may wonder why we would have learned modesty from the cat and loyalty
from the dove, and not lethal violence from the lion or evil cunning from
the snake. It seems that R. Yochanan did not intend to suggest that we
merely emulate what the animals around us do, but rather that we use our
natural moral intuition to observe the behaviors of the various animal
species and intuitively realize which of those features are worthy of
emulation and which should be condemned. In any case, R. Yochanan clearly
states that even if God had never revealed His will to us, we would be
responsible to learn morality on our own.

Likewise, we find in another Talmudic passage:
    The Sages taught: "You shall do My ordinances [and you shall keep
    My statutes to follow them, I am the Lord your God"] (Leviticus
    18:4) - ["My ordinances" is a reference to] matters that, even
    had they not been written, it would have been logical that they be
    written. They are the prohibitions against idol worship, prohibited
    sexual relations, bloodshed, theft, and blessing God [a euphemism for
    cursing the Name of God]. "And you shall keep my statutes" - [This is
    a reference to] matters that Satan challenges because the reason for
    these mitzvot are not known. They are: The prohibitions against eating
    pork and wearing sha'atnez (garments of wool and linen); performing
    the chalitza ceremony with a yevama (a widow who must participate
    in a levirate marriage); the purification ceremony of the leper;
    and the scapegoat. And lest you say these are meaningless acts [as
    they have no reason], therefore the verse states: "I am the Lord,"
    to indicate: I am the Lord - I decreed these statutes and you have
    no right to doubt them. (Yoma 67b)

The Talmud explicitly states that those commandments of the Torah that
are labeled mishpatim should have been legislated even if they were
not written in the Torah. In other words, we are expected to intuit and
follow certain rules of morality even in the absence of revelation.[3]

Ramban and Rambam Support Natural Morality
"""""" """ """""" """"""" """"""" """"""""

This is also the position of Ramban, as expressed in his commentary to
the story of the deluge.[4] Ramban asks why, according to the midrashic
tradition, the fate of the generation of the flood was sealed because of
the sin of theft, as opposed to their many sexual perversions. He answers
that the prohibition of theft is intuitive and is therefore binding
even in the absence of prophetic revelation. The generation of Noach
was punished for violating the natural moral law, even in the absence of
revelation. Likewise, R. Yosef Albo[5] explains that there exist three
types of law, the first of which, called natural law, is binding in all
times and places, even without an act of human or divine legislation.[6]

Similarly, Rambam writes that the unaided human mind can deduce the
existence of various moral precepts. He writes explicitly that the seven
Noahide laws can be known by our moral intuition even in the absence
of revelation,[7] and he states that a gentile who obeys these seven
Noahide commandments merely because of the inclination of human reason
is considered wise, even though he is not pious, because he follows the
path of wisdom even though he does not heed revelation.[8]

R. Saadia Gaon
"" """""" """"

R. Saadia Gaon is perhaps the most ambitious in his formulation of the
significance of natural morality. He explains that God implanted in human
psychology a moral intuition that is capable of discerning moral truths
that are universally binding.[9] R. Saadia Gaon states clearly that
even before the revelation of the Torah, we were obligated to follow
the dictates of natural morality. He further assumes that the Torah
cannot possibly contradict natural morality, and boldly asserts that
if Moshe had descended from Mount Sinai and commanded us a Torah that
contradicted the dictates of natural morality, we would have been bound
to reject it. He even assumes that even God Himself is bound by natural
morality, and it was therefore a moral imperative for God to promulgate
the commandments found in the Torah, because natural morality dictates
that a wise ruler who is able to encourage moral practice must do so.[10]


The Eish Kodesh claims that from a religious perspective, there is
no true morality other than that revealed by Divine command. We have
demonstrated, based on two Talmudic passages and the statements of the
great medieval Jewish philosophers, that from a Jewish perspective,
the human mind is capable of attaining binding moral knowledge. God
Himself, who implanted a moral intuition in human beings, expects all
people to follow the dictates of natural morality even in the absence of
revelation, and He holds us responsible if we fail to do so. Even a Jew,
then, can agree that there is an objective moral truth independent of
Divine commandments.

R. Lichtenstein: Natural Morality is Superseded by Torah
"" """"""""""""" """"""" """""""" "" """""""""" "" """""

R. Aharon Lichtenstein, in an article about this topic entitled
"Does Judaism Recognize an Ethic Independent of Halakhah,"[11]
likewise concluded that the mainstream Jewish tradition does recognize
the existence of binding morality even in the absence of revealed
commandments. R. Lichtenstein then asks a second question. If we assume
that there is some system of morality that would be binding upon us
had we not received the Torah, but we did in fact receive the Torah,
what relevance does natural morality have for us now that we are bound
by the Divine morality of the Torah?

R. Lichtenstein answers that, at least on an operative level, natural
morality has no relevance to the life of a Jew who is obligated by
the commandments of the Torah. The Torah, argues R. Lichtenstein,
constitutes a complete moral system that includes all the principles of
natural morality, in addition to the more advanced moral and spiritual
demands that apply particularly to the Jewish People. Natural morality
has thus been superseded by the Torah, and we may conclude that the
natural moral order has no relevance whatsoever to a Jew, because
following the commandments of the Torah will fulfill all the demands of
natural morality, plus much more.

R. Glasner: Natural Morality Supplements the Torah
"" """""""" """"""" """""""" """"""""""" """ """""

Another twentieth-century Jewish thinker and leader of religious Zionism,
R. Moshe Shmuel Glasner, took a radically different approach to this
issue.[12] He suggests that while the Torah did command us all the moral
precepts necessary for spiritual perfection, which could never have been
discovered by natural means, the Torah omitted some moral obligations that
are known by unaided human reason and were therefore deemed unnecessary
to repeat. Examples of this include the prohibitions of cannibalism,
eating disgusting creatures, and public nudity, and the obligation of
a father to support his young children. R. Glasner explains that these
moral obligations are binding on us even though they were not written
in the Torah. Furthermore, one who violates the principles of natural
morality commits a worse sin than one who violates a commandment of
the Torah, as he betrays not only his commitment to Judaism, but his
very humanity. Therefore, when faced with a choice between violating a
Torah commandment or a principle of natural morality, one must choose
the lesser evil of a Torah violation rather than the greater evil of
transgressing natural morality. For example, one who is stranded on
a desert island and must eat either non-kosher meat or human flesh in
order to survive should eat the non-kosher meat, which constitutes a
more serious halachic infraction, rather than the human flesh. which
constitutes an infraction of natural morality.[13]

R. Kook: Natural Morality is the Foundation of the Torah
"" """"" """"""" """""""" "" """ """""""""" "" """ """""

A third answer to this question is found in the writings of R. Kook. In
contrast to R. Glasner, R. Kook is convinced that the Torah encompasses
the whole of morality and omits nothing. However, experience proves
that those who insist on following only that which they learn from the
Torah, suppressing their natural moral intuition, do not achieve moral
perfection and often act immorally while professing unswerving loyalty
to the Torah.[14] R. Kook explains that natural morality is crucially
important and indispensable for a Jew who strives to serve God. However,
natural morality is not more important than Torah observance, nor is it
a necessary supplement to Torah observance.

According to R. Kook, there is nothing greater than the fear of Heaven and
service of God expressed by following His Torah. However, not everyone
who professes to follow the Torah is in fact interpreting the Torah
properly, and not everyone who claims to act out of fear of Heaven,
or even believes that he does so, is in fact inspired by true fear of
Heaven. It is all too easy for the fear of Heaven to be adulterated
and for the Torah to be misunderstood and corrupted so that it serves
selfish and unethical motives instead of the true service of God. Even
the Torah itself cannot guarantee that it will not be misinterpreted and
its intention perverted. What, then, can guarantee that a student of Torah
achieves a proper understanding of Torah and that one who strives to fear
Heaven can attain an authentic fear of Heaven? According to R. Kook,
this is the role of natural morality. The litmus test for authentic
fear of Heaven is whether it suppresses our natural ethical instinct or
raises that instinct to higher levels of power and sophistication.[15]
One possessed of a healthy moral intuition who leads an ethical life can
then look into the Torah and find the path to spiritual perfection. In Rav
Kook's words, "to such a person will be opened gates of enlightenment,
which are broader, brighter, and holier than any enlightenment than can
be achieved by human reason alone." However, if one does not have the
necessary moral infrastructure, and particularly if one approaches Torah
with the idea that true commitment to Torah necessitates a suppression
of one's moral instincts, then he cannot possibly find enlightenment or
holiness in his Torah study.[16]

Rav Kook describes the relationship between natural morality and Torah
with a beautiful parable, comparing natural morality to a foundation
and the Torah to a beautiful palace. The palace is incomparably greater
than the foundation, and we want nothing more than to live in the grand
and majestic palace. However, the foundation is a prerequisite for the
existence of the palace. A palace built on a sturdy foundation will serve
its function well, but a palace built without a foundation will quickly
come crashing down and destroy its inhabitants.[17] On a practical level,
R. Kook concludes that we must embrace the educational vision of the
Sages, who taught us that derekh eretz kadma la-Torah, ethics precedes
the Torah.[18] In every generation, we must teach natural morality as a
prerequisite for understanding the Torah, and in fact there is no part of
the Torah that can be appreciated properly without natural morality.[19]

We have thus seen four approaches to the relationship between natural
morality and Torah. The Eish Kodesh maintained that there is no such thing
as natural morality; a Torah Jew must realize that morality is found only
in the Torah and not anywhere else. R. Lichtenstein argued that there
is a natural morality that is binding in God's eyes, but the Torah has
superseded that morality and constitutes a complete and sufficient system
of morality. R. Glasner claimed that even after we received the Torah,
we need to heed the commands of our moral intuition, because not all of
morality is found in the Torah, and those moral precepts which are not
found in the Torah are even more binding than those explicated in the
Torah. R. Kook held that the Torah subsumes all of morality, and one who
properly understands Torah morality lacks nothing. However, the Torah was
not meant to supplant natural morality, but rather to raise and advance it
to immeasurably greater heights. One who begins with natural morality can
reach higher levels of holiness and spirituality by following the Torah,
but one who attempts to fulfill the Torah without the prerequisite of
natural morality will instead corrupt the Torah and pervert its intention.


[1] The question of whether morality exists in the absence of Divine
revelation is not equivalent to the question of whether morality
could exist without God, one side of which was memorably formulated
by Dostoevsky: "If God does not exist... then all is permitted." It is
certainly possible to claim that morality cannot exist in the absence of
God but could exist without Divine revelation. In this shiur, we will
not analyze the question of whether there could be morality if God did
not exist. Since we believe that the entire world would not exist if God
did not exist, it is impossible to inquire as to what would be were the
world to exist without God. Instead, we will assume the existence of a
world created by God and analyze whether God would hold us accountable
to behave ethically if He had not commanded us to do so.

[2] R. Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (Poland, 1889-1943), Eish Kodesh,
p. 68. This particular sermon was delivered on Rosh Hashanah 1940 in
the Warsaw Ghetto.

[3] Marvin Fox ("Maimonides and Aquinas on Natural Law," Dine Yisrael
3 [1972], pp. 5-27), who denies the existence of natural morality,
interprets these two Talmudic passages as stating merely that it
would have been practically beneficial to deduce and legislate these
moral principles, not that they would have been ethically binding.
However, this is not the straightforward reading of these passages,
and it certainly contradicts the opinion of Ramban and other medieval
Jewish philosophers quoted below.

[4] Ramban to Bereishit 6:13.

[5] R. Yosef Albo (Spain, c. 1380-1444), Sefer Ha-Ikarim, book 1,
chapter 7.

[6] His other two categories are conventional law, which is binding as
a result of human legislation and aims to improve society in accordance
with the specific needs of the time and place, and Divine law, which
is ordained by Divine revelation and aims to achieve spirituality and

[7] Hilkhot Melakhim 9:1.

[8] Hilkhot Melakhim 8:11. An alternate version of this text of the Rambam
states that such a gentile is neither pious nor wise. However, all the
manuscript evidence supports the reading that we have adopted. See the
critical notes in Mishneh Torah, Sefer Shoftim, ed. Shabse Frankel.
Rambam's position on the nature of moral knowledge is complex. In both
texts from Hilkhot Melakhim, Rambam states that logic inclines towards
these moral precepts, but not that it absolutely demonstrates their
correctness. Likewise, in the introduction to his commentary on Masekhet
Avot, known as Shemonah Perakim, Rambam takes umbrage at R. Saadia
Gaon's characterization of those commandments that overlap with natural
morality as "logical" commandments (mitzvot sikhliyot), because Rambam
holds that moral knowledge does not have the same epistemological status
as metaphysical knowledge and is not subject to strict logical proof. See
Shemonah Perakim, ch. 6; Moreh Nevukhim I:2, III:27. For the purposes of
this shiur, however, we will not differentiate between the position of
Rambam and that of R. Saadia Gaon and other medieval Jewish philosophers.

[9] Philosophers have proffered a number of theories regarding what
the source of natural morality is. Many philosophers have theorized
that natural morality consists of those obligations that can be derived
from certain first principles that are assumed to be axiomatic, e.g.,
utilitarianism or Kant's categorical imperative. Conversely, R. Saadia
Gaon and other philosophers hold that the source of natural morality
is not any philosophical system, but rather a moral intuition that is
naturally found in the human mind. According to this conception, it is
possible that there is natural morality but not natural law. In other
words, we can inherently know the general principles that govern moral
behavior, but not necessarily all the specific rules that constitute
the application of moral principles to the real world. For the purposes
of this shiur, however, we will not distinguish between the question of
natural morality and that of natural law.

[10] R. Saadia Gaon claims that even those parts of the Torah that deal
with our ritual obligations towards God and could have not have been
known via natural morality nonetheless fall under the obligations of
natural morality. Morality dictates that we repay kindness with thanks
and appreciation, and we are therefore morally bound to praise and serve
God, because He created us. Natural morality, however, does not specify
the particular ways in which we should express our appreciation to God.

[11] R. Aharon Lichtenstein, "Does Judaism Recognize an Ethic Independent
of Halakhah?," reprinted in Leaves of Faith: The World of Jewish Living,
vol. 2, pp. 33-56.

[12] R. Moshe Shmuel Glasner (Hungary, 1856-1924), Dor Revi'i, Petichah
Kelalit, section 2, pp. 57-58.

[13] It is well known that the two founding Roshei Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har
Etzion, R. Aharon Lichtenstein and R. Yehuda Amital, disagreed regarding
this theoretical scenario. R. Amital, quoting R. Glasner, was of the
opinion that one must consume the non-kosher meat rather than the human
flesh, and R. Lichtenstein ruled that one must consume the human flesh
before eating non-kosher meat. This fits R. Lichtenstein's approach as
explained above. If, in fact, the Torah does include all necessary moral
principles, then if the Torah did not include a severe prohibition of
cannibalism, we must conclude that the prohibition of cannibalism is
not particularly severe compared to that of consuming non-kosher meat.

[14] It we were to envision such a person, R. Glasner would explain
his failing as a neglect of those moral principles not found in the
Torah. Based on R. Lichtenstein, we would have to assume that a true
follower of the Torah could never be an unethical person, and therefore
such a character must not have learned Torah properly. The Eish Kodesh
would suggest that there is nothing wrong with such a character at
all. If he authentically follows a valid interpretation of the Torah then,
by definition, he is moral. If our ethical intuition judges otherwise,
then we would we be required to ignore it and follow the Torah morality

[15] R. Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Kohen Kook, Orot Ha-Kodesh, vol. 3, p. 27.

[16] R. Kook, Mussar Avikha, ch. 12, par. 5.

[17] Ibid., par. 2.

[18] Vayikra Rabba 9:3.

[19] R. Kook, Mussar Avikha, ch. 12, par. 3. In a later essay (By
His Light, appendix to ch. 1, pp. 21-23), R. Lichtenstein echoes R.
Kook's position and suggests that although the Torah supersedes natural
morality on an operative level, morality serves as the basis for the
Torah on an axiological level. He also uses the metaphor of a foundation
and a building for the relationship between universal values and Torah.

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Message: 3
From: Zev Sero
Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2019 16:30:43 -0400
Re: [Avodah] Gebrockts, matza, and butter

The tradition of the Lubavitcher rebbes is that there is no problem 
brocking with mei peiros, *provided* one can be sure the mei peiros are 
pure, without a drop of water.  E.g. one carefully dried a cup and then 
squeezed a fruit into it, or dried a bucket and milked a cow into it.

The Rebbe Rashab would have what they called "shmura wine" made 
specially for him, i.e. care was taken that no water be mixed with the 
wine after fermentation, so that he could brock in it.  (Water that gets 
into the grape juice before fermentation becomes wine, so it's not a 

Commercial milk is absolutely certain to contain water, so brocking with 
them would not be allowed.  But commercial butter has all the water 
squeezed out, so I imagine it would be OK.  Home-made butter made from 
commercial milk would not be OK, because it retains water.

Zev Sero            A prosperous and healthy 5779 to all
z...@sero.name       Seek Jerusalem's peace; may all who love you prosper

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Message: 4
From: Yeshivat Har Etzion
Date: Sun, 14 Apr 2019 12:55:45 +0300
[Avodah] VBM-Hashkafa- 26: Natural Morality (2)

PHILOSOPHY > Topics in Hashkafa > Shiur #26: Natural Morality
Rav Assaf Bednarsh
Adapted by Leora Bednarsh
Yeshivat Har Etzion

                        Shiur #26: Natural Morality (2)

What is one to do in the face of a seeming clash between the demands of
natural morality and the prescriptions of the Halakha?

Perhaps the most famous example of such a clash is in the case of
akeidat Yitzchak, in which God's commandment to Avraham contradicted
the prohibition of murder, the most basic of all moral imperatives.
While the primary test in this episode was the personal sacrifice of
Avraham giving up his beloved son, the Sages were also sensitive to the
moral conflict involved in this commandment, noting that an element of
this test was Avraham's willingness to subordinate the moral norm to
the divine command. The midrash tells us that Satan appeared to Avraham
and attempted to dissuade him from fulfilling God's commandment. He first
argued that it was unreasonable of Avraham to give up his beloved son whom
he had waited for until the age of one hundred. When that tactic failed,
he appealed to Avraham's moral conscience, warning him that tomorrow he
would be accused of murder for killing his son:

    "And Yitzchak spoke to Avraham his father, and said: My father"
    (Bereishit 22:7) - Samael went to our father Avraham and said: "Old
    man, old man! Have you lost your mind [lit. have you lost your heart]?
    You are going to slay a son given to you at the age of a hundred!"
    "Even this I do," replied he... [Samael said:]"`Tomorrow He will
    say to you, `You are guilty of murder; you murdered your son!'" He
    replied: "Still I go." (Bereishit Rabba 56:4)

Avraham passed the test through his willingness to engage in both personal
and moral sacrifice for the sake of God.

The Akeida as a Rejection of Natural Morality:
""" """""" "" " """"""""" "" """"""" """""""""
Eish Kodesh and Yeshayahu Leibowitz
"""" """""" """ """"""""" """""""""

As we noted in the previous shiur, according to the Eish Kodesh, the
message of this story is clear. If God could command Avraham to kill
his son, this proves that there is no independent moral prohibition of
murder. If so, there cannot be any natural moral order, as the prohibition
of murder is the most basic of all moral obligations.

Similarly, another twentieth century Jewish philosopher, Yeshayahu
Leibowitz, understands the lesson of the akeida as the conquest of our
natural instincts in order to serve God. He includes in our natural
instincts not only our psychological and physical desires, but our moral
instincts, which are binding only from a secular perspective and have
no significance in the worldview of the Torah. According to Leibowitz,
the passage in the siddur introducing the story of the akeida, in which
we pray to God to help us subdue our inclination in order to serve Him,
includes the subduing not only of our inclination towards evil and
selfishness, but the subduing of our moral inclination as well.[1]

We argued in the previous shiur, however, that the mainstream tradition
of Jewish thought disagrees with the Eish Kodesh and holds that there
exists a natural moral order that is binding even in the absence of
divine revelation. If so, how are we to understand the commandment of
akeidat Yitzchak?

We could perhaps argue for a position very close to that of the Eish
Kodesh: There exists a natural moral order, but God is not bound by
that order, and His commandments do not necessarily conform to natural
morality. When faced with a clash between natural morality and divine
command, we are bidden to follow the example of our forefather Avraham
and transgress the obligations of morality in order to fulfill the divine
will. This position was made famous by the Danish protestant philosopher
Soren Kierkegaard in his book about the akeida.[2] He argues that there
is no possible moral evaluation of Avraham's behavior other than as a
transgression of morality. The greatness of Avraham, according to this
understanding, is that he placed his loyalty to God above his commitment
to morality and suspended the ethical obligation in order to follow the
more authoritative obligation of serving God.

According to the approaches we have mentioned, whether we grant the
existence of natural morality or not, the message of the akeida is
clear. Divine commandments are not meant to be in consonance with any
system of morality; the task of a Jew is to overcome his moral feelings
and submit instead to the divine command.

The Akeida as an Affirmation of Natural Morality:
""" """""" "" "" """"""""""" "" """"""" """""""""
R. Kook and R. Lichtenstein
"" """" """ "" """"""""""""

A strikingly different approach is taken by R. Kook in his commentary to
the story of the akeida. While the Eish Kodesh focused on God's initial
commandment as paradigmatic and viewed God's later command not to harm
Yitzchak as an expression of divine grace that could just as easily
not have occurred, R. Kook focuses instead on God's final command as
definitional. He explains that when God commanded Avraham not to harm
Yitzchak, His intention was to reveal the uncontested ethical truth that
Avraham could never have been permitted to kill his son. R. Kook explains
that neither the natural instinct of a father protecting his beloved son
from harm, nor the natural moral prohibition against murder, lost any
of their binding authority due to the commandment of the akeida. God
prohibited Avraham from harming his son not as a divine fiat, but
specifically because of the moral reprehensibility of such an act.[3]

As we discussed in the previous shiur, R. Kook believes that natural
morality and Halakha form one continuum, in which morality serves as the
basis for spiritual growth, and Halakha expands, deepens, and sharpens
the moral order. R. Kook understands that this is precisely the moral
message of the akeida, which is meant to teach us that God's will is
always in consonance with morality and that He would never command or
desire that we act in an immoral fashion.

This raises the question, of course, of how R. Kook understands
God's initial commandment to Avraham to slaughter his son. If God's
commandments are always in consonance with natural morality, how could
He have commanded Avraham to commit murder, even if He later revoked
that commandment?

Perhaps we can explain this based on the midrash that describes a
conversation between God and Avraham in the wake of the akeida:

    R. Acha said: Avraham began to wonder: "These words are only words of
    wonder. Yesterday, you told me: `Because in Yitzchak will your seed be
    called' (Bereishit 21:12). And [then] you went back and said, `Please
    take your son.' And now You say to me, `Do not send your hand to the
    youth.' It is a wonder!" The Holy One, blessed be He, said: "Avraham,
    `I will not profane My covenant and the utterances of My lips, I will
    not change' (Tehillim 89:35). When I said, `Please take your son,'
    I did not say, `slaughter him,' but rather, `and bring him up.' For
    the sake of love did I say [it] to you: I said to you, `Bring him up,'
    and you have fulfilled My words. And now, bring him down." This is
    [the meaning of] what is written, "it did not come up on My heart"
    (Yirmeyahu 19:5) - that is Yitzchak. (Bereishit Rabba 56:8)

According to this midrash, God's commandment never contradicted the
dictates of natural morality, but only seemed to do so. In accordance with
all the information available to Avraham when he set out to the akeida,
there was a clash between the divine command and natural morality,
but in truth there was never a clash.

Perhaps this can serve as a paradigm for all clashes between Halakha
and natural morality. A Jew who is faced with such a clash is certainly
being tested. According to R. Kook, however, one does not pass the test
by discarding morality and committing oneself to worshiping a God who
does not care about the moral order. Rather, God desires that in face
of an apparent contradiction between morality and the divine will,
we remain steadfast in our faith that He is ultimately just, and that
there is some information of which we are not aware which can resolve
the contradiction. We pass the test by continuing to believe in the
morality of Halakha, although we do not yet have an explanation for how
that morality is expressed in this particular instance.

R. Lichtenstein, in his discussion of the akeida, explains the matter
similarly. On the one hand, we must always give precedence to the
divine command over our moral conclusions. On the other hand, however,
we must remain steadfast in our belief that loyalty to the dictates of
natural morality is an expression of, rather than a contradiction to,
yirat Shamayim (fear of Heaven). The integration of moral goodness and
obedience to Halakha, according to R. Lichtenstein, is a principle that
can never be compromised, even if that requires that we admit, as did
Avraham on his way to the akeida, that there are apparent contradictions
whose resolutions we have not yet succeeded in finding.

R. Lichtenstein draws a number of practical conclusions from this
understanding. First, R. Lichtenstein concludes that it is not only
legitimate, but necessary, that when faced with such a clash between
morality and Halakha, we feel the weight of the contradiction and
are troubled by our lack of understanding. R. Lichtenstein assumes
that during the three-day journey to the akeida, Avraham wrestled and
grappled, attempting, albeit unsuccessfully, to find an answer to the
burning question of "Can the Judge of the whole world do injustice?"
This grappling, explains R. Lichtenstein, is not a religious flaw, but
rather a religious accomplishment, so long as it is undertaken in the
context of ultimate submission to the wisdom of the divine command.

Second, R. Lichtenstein suggests that our moral intuition has a role
in an interpretive capacity. When the halakhic directive is unclear,
we must seek out an interpretation that accords with natural morality.
Just as we would interpret one passage in the Shulchan Arukh in such
a way that it would not contradict another halakhically authoritative
passage, we must likewise interpret the halakhic texts in a way that
they do not contradict the authoritative divine will expressed via
natural morality. Nonetheless, ultimately, a Jew must be prepared to act
like Avraham and submit to the divine will even when he cannot find any
resolution to the conflict, neither by re-examining his moral conclusions
nor by re-examining his interpretation of the divine command.[4]

According to the midrash, the answer to his question was revealed to
Avraham shortly after the akeida concluded. Not every Jew merits such
revelation, however, and sometimes we may have to live with the conflict
for years or decades. R. Lichtenstein admits that from an educational
perspective, such an approach is much more difficult to sustain than the
competing approach of the Eish Kodesh, who understands yirat Shamayim as
a rejection of natural morality. It is always simpler to remain committed
to one set of values and reject all others, rather than believing in
the integration of values that do not always integrate effortlessly. It
may be more challenging for our students to remain committed to Halakha
if we challenge them to live with conflict rather than dismiss it. The
easy path, though, is not necessarily the correct path. R. Lichtenstein
concludes that if we want to imbue our students with loyalty to Halakha
in the face of these challenging conflicts, we must teach them to love
piety more rather than morality less. The solution is to deepen yirat
Shamayim rather than to jettison morality.


We have seen two general approaches to understanding the story of
the akeida, and more generally to understand clashes between Halakha
and morality. The approach of the Eish Kodesh and Yeshayahu Leibowitz
attributes philosophical significance only to God's initial commandment
to sacrifice Yitzchak, learning from the akeida that we are bidden
to deny the significance of natural morally and heed only the divine
command. Even if one were to admit the binding obligation of natural
morality, one could conclude from the akeida that although morality is
authoritative in the absence of revelation, divine commandments are
independent of and more authoritative than natural morality. We must
sometimes transgress morality in order to fulfill the divine command.

The second approach, exemplified by R. Kook, understands God's initial
commandment as merely a test and attributes philosophical significance
to God's second commandment forbidding Avraham from harming Yitzchak.
According to this approach, we learn from the akeida that natural
morality and Halakha are integrated and that ultimately there can be no
contradiction between the natural and the prophetic revelations of divine
will. Any apparent conflict between Halakha and morality is merely a test,
as in the akeida.

R. Lichtenstein explained that we pass the test by heeding the divine
command, but while our loyalty to Halakha takes precedence over our
understanding of reality, we are not meant to reject either our commitment
to morality or our belief in the integration of morality and Halakha. We
are meant to struggle, to wonder, to ask questions, to seek alternative
explanations, and ultimately to have faith that someday we will find a
resolution that vindicates our belief that loving piety more does not
entail loving morality less.


[1] Yeshayahu Liebowitz, "Religious Praxis: The Meaning of Halakhah,"
reprinted in Judaism, Human Values, and the Jewish State (Harvard
University Press, 1992). Some students of Liebowitz, however, understand
that he acknowledges the binding obligation of natural morality but
disassociates it from Halakha. In this case, his view would be similar
to that of Kierkegaard, as opposed to the Eish Kodesh.

[2] Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, chapter 3.

[3] Rav Kook, Siddur Olat Re'iyah, pp. 92-93.

[4] R. Aharon Lichtenstein, By His Light: Character and Values in the
Service of God, chapter 6, part 4, pp. 122-124.

Go to top.

Message: 5
From: Akiva Miller
Date: Sun, 14 Apr 2019 13:27:04 -0400
Re: [Avodah] Exactly when did we leave Mitzrayim?

I asked:
> Where is the border of Mitzrayim? On exactly which day (hour?
> minute?) did we "leave Mitzrayim"? On 16 Nisan, were we already
> out of Mitzrayim, or were we still in the process of leaving?

At least according to Ramban, the answer is very clearly: Yes, by the 16th
we were already out. On Shemos 12:51, "B'etzem hayom hazeh", he writes that
on Layl Shimurim, Paro gave us permission to leave, and that made us Bnei
Chorin. But it was the next day that we went out "mikol g'vul mitzrayim" -
from the entire border of Egypt.

Until I saw this Ramban, I had wondered if the shore of the Yam Suf was
still within the border of Mitzrayim, which would have made it very simple
to understand why the day we crossed the Yam is part of Pesach.

But at least according to this Ramban, the Yam Suf is almost a week past
the border of Mitzrayim. If there are any other de'os who either agree or
disagree with Ramban on this, please let me know. Until then, I will need
to understand (and explain at the Seder) why R' Yosi Haglili (and the
calculations of the makos at the yam) and Dayenu aren't off-topic. After
all, Yetzias Mitzrayim was over and done with, almost a week before Krias
Yam Suf.

For now, I plan to say that Maggid is *not* only about Yetzias Mitzrayim.
Just as proper understanding of a story includes its prologue (Arami Oved
Avi, for example), so too must it include the epilogue. Pesach is not just
a Zecher Liytzias Mitzrayim - it is about Zman Cherusenu, and we were not
totally free until we reached the other side of the Yam Suf.

Akiva Miller
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