Saturday, June 27, 2009

Curing Cancer the Torah Way

A very thought provoking essay was posted on Cross-Currents on June 24 authored by Rabbi Dovid Landesman entitled A.Y. Karelitz, M.D.

Here is the part that interested me:


I brought an example once from the Iggerot Chazon Ish and was somewhat astounded to discover that none of my students had ever heard of the author. I digressed and told them the story of Professor Lev and what he had said. I then described the impact that the Chazon Ish had on halachah in our generation, especially in regard to mitzvos ha-tluyot ba-aretz. This led into a general discussion about great rabbis.

One hand in the back of the room shot up.

“Rebbi? Based on what you‘re saying about the Chazon Ish and the way you describe him, isn‘t it possible that if he had dedicated his time to medical research rather than full time Torah study, he might have discovered a cure for cancer?”

“That‘s a possibility although there is no guarantee that it would have happened,” I answered.

“Well, let‘s assume for a moment that he did discover the cure for cancer. Would that not have had a greater impact on the world than his contributions to learning?”


This is certainly a very legitimate question and one that is commonly asked in various forms (as I will illustrate shortly). I applaud Rabbi Landesman for providing a very fitting and poignant response:


“Quantitatively I think you might say that given that more people might have benefited. Qualitatively I‘m not sure, because none of us knows precisely how important Torah learning is to the preservation of natural order. When the Talmud tells us ein ha-olam mitkayem ella al hevel pihem shel tinokot shel beit rabban – the world only exists because of the study of the children – they were telling us that Torah study is the energy that fuels nature. Take it away and natural order collapses. Had the Chazon Ish gone into medical research – had he become A. Y. Karelitz M.D. – who knows how much quality Torah learning would be missing in this world.”


Although I thought that his response was a true answer and appropriate to a more secular mindset, I also thought that it slightly missed the mark.

He is saying that based on how we measure (qualitative vs. quantitative), the achievement in Torah can be considered no less far-reaching. With this response, Rabbi Landesman concedes that the Chazon Ish's great achievements in learning may have come at the expense of great achievements in medicine. Though Torah study supplies the energy that fuels nature, it does not directly alleviate the plight of cancer sufferers.

I am not so sure about that. And I think Rabbi Landesman missed out on an opportunity to deliver an hashkafic message that is simpler, less esoteric and more relevant to the petitioner's question about curing cancer. So I stepped in to fill the void. Here is the comment that I posted on Cross-Currents:



I have likewise dealt with the question of “If the Chazon Ish would have been able to cure cancer…” but in a slightly different guise. The way I am asked the question is: “If all of the Jews would sit and learn Torah 24/7 as advocated by Ravi Shimon Bar Yochai (Brachos 35b), who would be the doctors to heal those who get sick?” My response addresses both forms of the question and follows a more theological track.

For starters, we can always rely on the response presented by RaShb”Y himself in Brachos 35b which is that non-Jews would come voluntarily and fill that role. HKBH is the Chonen L’Adam Daas and He is quite capable of inspiring whoever He wants – Jewish or not – with the requisite wisdom to make the medical discoveries that would help mankind. If HKBH wants a cure for cancer to be found, He has no small pool of “servants” that He can choose Himself to lead to the right place.

Nevertheless, I might expect this response to fall short of satisfying the questioner because he would ask: “But the Chazon Ish was blessed with extraordinary brilliance and understanding, why not assume that he is the ‘chosen servant’?”

So here is where I take the theological track:

HKBH tells us Himself in no less than 3 places in the Torah (okay, once it’s through Moshe) that if we faithfully follow His dictates, we won’t get sick! What this says is that the only reason we have cancer is because we are not “mushlam” (complete) in our avodas Hashem. If we would be, there would be no cancer. This is G-d’s promise in no less than 3 places in the Torah (Shmos 16:26, 23:25 and Devarim 7:16).

What the Torah is telling us is that working toward “shleimus” in Avodas Hashem is the cure for cancer (or – the way to avoid getting it in the first place. ‘An ounce of prevention…’). As such, one who devotes his life to helping Jews fulfill their role as a Mamleches Kohanim and a Goy Kadosh - as the Chazon Ish did - is doing more to cure cancer than anybody in medical school.

Yes, I know we are far from mushlamim and in our day even Kedoshim are stricken with the dreaded disease R”L, but had the Chazon Ish been A.Y. Karelitz M.D., we would be that much further from true Avodas Hashem and the cancers that much worse.

Y. Hirshman - Achas L’Maala V’Sheva L’Matta (1a7b)

Incidentally, as I have written in the main theme of my book and in numerous posts, this concept applies to every malady that affects mankind, not just sickness. War, economic turmoil and poverty, infertility, Shalom bayis - all of it is here because we are not living up to our potential in Avodas Hashem.

So if anybody asks: If every Jewish male 18-26 is studying in Yeshiva, who would protect us and fight our enemies? Here is the answer:

Why is there war? And why do we need soldiers? Because we are not committed enough to Torah learning. If we were (Vayikra 26:3), there would not be any war (Vayikra 26:6) and we wouldn't need any soldiers.

Why is there poverty in the world? Because we are not careful in gezel (Targum YB"U Shmos 20:13).

And why are there droughts and water shortages? Because we bear false witness (Targum YB"U ibid.)

And why is there poor shalom bayis? Because we do not do G-d's will (Mishlei 16:7 and Yalkut Shimoni 954). If we did, we would not need marriage counselors and divorce courts.

And why are there infertile couples? Because we (i.e., collective society - not necessarily the individual couples) are not careful on the light mitzvos that people trample with the heels of their feet (Devarim 7:12). If we were, we would not need fertility clinics (Devarim 7:14).

And who tells us exactly how to perform these "light" mitzvos properly so we know all the Halachic nuances and can avoid "trampling them with the heels of our feet"? And how to do the ratzon Hashem so we can have Shalom Bayis? And how to deal in dinei mammonos so we can forstall poverty and avoid droughts?

The Chazon Ish, that's who. And other Gedolim like him.

So here they are (or were), doing the work of these cancer researchers and fertility experts and marriage counselors and of the entire IDF.

So what do we need them for?

Well, somebody has to win those Nobel prizes.

Friday, June 26, 2009

"Kuf" is for Kiddush Hashem

Klal Yisroel is still limping along lopsided. Here in Eretz Yisrael we are about to hear Parshat Chukas while those of you in Chu"L are going to hear Parshat Korach. Of course, next week, IY"H, everybody will hear Parshat Balak and we will again be one big happy family.

I heard a cute vort a few years back that applies to all three of these Parshiot and it goes like this:

In all three of these Parshiot there is an episode wherein a small faction of Klal Yisrael rebels against HKBH and thus initiates a Chillul Hashem. Consequently comes one of the Bnei Amram who channels G-d's revenge and, with this, brings on a Kiddush Hashem.

The name of each Parsha contains three letters and in all of them there is a "kuf". The kuf represents the Kiddush Hashem in each of these Parshiot. Thus, in Parshat Korach where the episode of Korach and his rebellion - and it's aftermath - are at the beginning of the Parsha, the kuf is the first letter of the name of the Parsha - Korach.

In Parshat Chukas, the episode in question is the demand of Bnei Yisrael for water after the passing of Miriam and HKBH answering their request by providing water from the rock. Although Moshe was reprimanded for not making an adequate Kiddush Hashem, it was nevertheless a Kiddush Hashem albiet of lesser impact. Since this episode occurs in the middle of the Parsha, the kuf in the name of the Parsha - ChuKas - is in the middle of the word.

Finally, in Parshat Balak, the episode of Kiddush Hashem is represented by Pinchas' valiant respo0nse to the transgression of Zimri. Since this occurs at the very end of the Parsha, the kuf is at the end of the word that is the name of the Parsha - BalaK.

Who is it that taught us this interesting tidbit?

Well, I heard it a few years ago from my wife. She attends a weekly woman's prayer group that meets at the Kotel HaMaaravi every Wednesday morning. The vort was relayed to the group by Mrs. Marsha Goldin. She is the mother of Binyamin Goldin, one of the autistic Jews who have been transmitting messages to the Jewish world by way of Facilitated Communication and who I have been referring to in some of my most recent posts.

In an FC session that took place approximately 9 years ago, the communicator asked Binyamin to say a dvar Torah. Since it was this time of year, this tidbit is what he said. The FC technician who managed the session was Rebitzin Kalmanovitz, the wife of the current Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn. She had never heard this vort previously and none of the Rabbanim that it was relayed to had heard it as well. It does not seem to be in print in any known sefer or Pirush.

I confirmed the entire matter with Binyamin's father in a recent conversation. He said that the text of that session is still in existence and if he can locate it, he will send me a copy.

I had written in an earlier post that I do not know enough about FC to campaign for or against it. But to focus on the Kiddush Hashem in all these Parshiot is certainly worth campaining for.

ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל

Good Shabbos!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Lunatic Club

My previous post drew numerous comments. Becaue of the outwardness of the post, I am more inclined to directly respond to the comments than in some less essential posts.

The following is part of a comment posted to the post. I initially wanted to respond in the comments section but I newly learned that there is a limit of 4096 characters to a post comment and I exceeded it. And so I will post the response here in a new post.

The comment was:

yechezkel:

"That's right. I am in cahoots with Fishman , Rav Amnon Yitzchok, the "Tzaddik nistars", the autistics, Chamish and all the other doomsday preachers and I am not afraid to admit it."

but the tzaddik nistar was shown to be saying falsehood. rosh chodesh sivan came and went, and people are still making aliyah. are you willing to state that the Tzadik Nistar was a lunatic?


See also comments from Ari, Baruch and Baal HaBos.

Now, my response:

Why don't you ask me a better question: Since all the time the "Tzaddik Nistar" was preaching R"Ch Sivan, the autistics were saying , "We don't hold by timetables", ergo, they are not in sync with each other, so how can I be in cahoots with both of them?

But, in Talmudic fashion, the kasha points to the terutz. And this also addresses the first question by Baruch, as well:

There are 2 aspects to theses "doomsday" preachers - (1) Their message and (2) their predictions. I buy into their message, but I have a guarded view on the predictions.

If you follow the autistics they have one major message: Every Jew ,if he knows what's good for him, should do teshuva and come closer to Hashem. People who remain distanced will have less chance of surviving the chavlei mashiach. This message is in line with chazal in Sanhedrin, Sota and Shabbos as well as in divrei neviim. They are just saying that the time is real close. As a secondary agenda, they are pushing 3 issues - to be mechazek in chessed, tznius, and to come to eretz yisrael. The only thing that I really took out of the "Tzaddik nistar" was another voice on the advisability to getting to eretz yisrael.

The arichus in my post with how I saw things in 1997 was trying to point out that I personally felt this way, way before I ever heard of the autistics or the "tzadik nistar". I am merely recruiting them as allies. As far as predictions, I never relied on them and, as the autistics say, make your judgements based on what it says in the neviim and chazal and on what is going on around you.

Also, just as many chashuva people have predicted the arrival of mashiach and it has not yet come but we believe it will - IOW, don't brush off "good" predictions just because somebody's "deadline" has passed, I don't think it's a good idea to so quickly dismiss some negative predictions just because their "deadline" passed. The gemara says that Ikvisa d'Meshicha and milchemes gog and magog will be horrific ordeals and we need to be zocheh to be saved from them, who needs deadlines?

Now, back to the Obama Deception, let me say that I heard about a push for a "Global Economy" or world government before I saw this (which was just last week, BTW) and the FEMA "Concentration" camps. As I said in an earllier response, the parts that impressed me were the statements made on camera by Obama, Kissinger, Imannuel and the cult-like worship of Obama. Again, most of these things I was aware of before I saw the film. The film just jazzes it all up. There is just too much of this "conspiracy theory" that isn't theory to brush it off. The economic downturn is very real, and if it was orchestrated, it's very scary. Anti-semitism is growing eveywhere, and this was not even mentioned on the film.

As for Ari's comment, I (and the autistics) are not trying to insinuate that the Jews in these other countries are not in just as much danger, just the opposite, it is Ari's "sanguine" perspective that somehow the American Jews are any bit safer that the autistics are trying to combat. As you can see, I am a "student" (and first generation descendent) of Holocaust history and the "It won't happen here" card was already dealt and lost. If that's all that Ari has to rely on, he is walking on thin ice.

Anyway, to summarize, my feeling is based mostly on maamarei chazal and neviim, historical precedent, and intuition. I don't need anybody's predictions. I only draw on these other sources for "comraderie". The more voices say the same thing, maybe somebody will listen.

So bottom line, it's too early to say if the "tzadik nistar" is a lunatic and so what if he is? I still agree with his message. I truly feel that every Jew should do teshuva, be mechazek in chessed and tznius and I also think that a Jew who is not already in Eretz Yisrael when things get really difficult, will need to have extraordinary zechusim to get out.

The only question is - are things really going to get that difficult?

I don't know! But I am not waiting around the US to find out.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Life of a Salesman - * A Must Read*

My fate is to live the life of a salesman (I sure just don't want to die the Death of a Salesman.) My father, AMV"Sh, is a salesman. And he is my role model. So my motto in life is "What's good for Daddy is good for me." So, he is a salesman and I am a salesman. There is only one slight difference. He is a successful salesman, and I am not.

My father's wit and charm (and chasdei shamayim) - i.e., his "salesmanship" - got him through the Holocaust. While in Melk, a Nazi guard took a liking to him and would slip him an occasional apple on the sly. My father got badly injured while in Melk. Whereas most people as badly injured were sent on a one way trip to the camp infirmary, a Nazi guard (perhaps the same one) "looked the other way".

After the war he went into the diamond business and (again b'chasdei shamayim) became one of the most successful diamond merchants in Natwich. He could sell coal in Newcastle.

So, following in my father's footsteps (no concentration camps though, B"H) I set out to be a salesman. My first try was - naturally - the diamond business. I did okay in Natwich as the ground support for Papa but when I moved to Eretz Yisrael to fly on my own it was flop city. Diamonds lost their sparkle, but I am a born salesman! So I don't give up. I tried my hand at souvenirs, plastic change purses, portable massage tables, jelly beans, odd lots of cell phones, vibrating chairs and even real estate.

Not a nibble.

But I am not one to throw in the towel so quick. As they say, "Old salesmen never die - they just go out of commission."

I had to find a market that wasn't saturated. Then it struck me. I will sell Torah Judaism! Not stam Shabbos and kashrus and tefiillin like Aish sells. No, I will sell G-d's Secret Recipe for success from Parshat Bechukosai. G-d made it Himself and it's guaranteed for life (this one and the next). It's so inexpensive and very few have already bought it. How can I go wrong?

So I wrote One Above and Seven Below. Who would turn it down?

Now I have about 800 books gathering dust in my machsan and Amazon moved 5 books over the last 6 months. (To order, click HERE).

So now I am getting desparate. What else can I possibly sell?

Well, my previous post kind of gave away the new line I took on. I decided to change tactics and instead of pushing what nobody is selling, I want to push what many others are selling. I am even going into competition with my own brother who works for Nefesh B'Nefesh.

I am selling Aliya!!

Why?

Because we are in danger!

That's right. I am in cahoots with Fishman , Rav Amnon Yitzchok, the "Tzaddik nistars", the autistics, Chamish and all the other doomsday preachers and I am not afraid to admit it.

I buy The Obama Deception theory lock, stock and barrel and I urge everybody to take it very seriously.

Here's why:

Back in 1997, when I first told my father that I planned to make aliya, he asked me: Why? Now, in everything I've written I have blamed my wife for duping me into making aliya but that's just half the story. And it's not what I told my father. I told him (in 1997):


"There is going to be a mahapecha - a cataclysm - in America that will force the Jews to leave. It happened in Egypt and it happened in Spain and it happened in Europe and, when G-d is ready, it is going to happen here as well. And I feel it coming. I don't think America will last another full generation. As such, there is no long-term future for my children here. Why should I live out my life here and when things get worse, my children will have to come as struggling 'greenhorns'? Let me go now and I'll be the greenhorn and my children can acclimate to Israeli society and be 'first class' citizens."
What bothered me? I noticed a few changes. Two things specifically. The first was that My parents' generation was one of upward mobility. Most Jewish families had 3-6 children and day school tuition and health services - though less advanced - were at reasonable levels so they did not consume such a major proportion of average income. Thus it was not hard for earners to pay for basic expenses and have earnings left over for savings and amassing equity. Note, this was the era before "global economics" when Mom and Pop businesses flourished.

In my generation, Jewish families (Torah community) were becoming bigger and less spaced out and tuition and health care expenses skyrocketed. Thus, young householders - I am talking about working ones - were always playing "catch-up" with no reasonable prospects of getting ahead. By the time I left America (6 children aged 9 and down), even if I were to receive a sudden earnings increase of, say, 20%, every dime would be swallowed up by the tuition shortfall. So why strain to earn more money? I saw that the "American dream" was fading away and it looked to me as if G-d is starting to close the faucet. Conversely, the 1990s became the most prosperous era ever to grace Eretz Yisrael. It ended with the "dot-com" crash in the year 2000 and never rebounded.

This was the classic line of, "If I am going to live here (US) and struggle, I may as well live there (EY) and struggle!"

But the second factor was that my adulthood saw the transition between the tyrannical Carter administration and the benevolent Reagen administration. No president before or since Reagen ever understood the importance of befriending Israel and the risk to American security posed by the Islamists. Of course our friend Ayatollah Khomeini helped him understand it. Regardless, his was a pro-Israel administration (despite the Pollard fiasco) and both Israel and America prospered. One would expect that the ensuing Republican Bush I administration would maintain the status quo. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Bush went the other direction which was a let down in itself, but I could deal with that. He was an oil man so he sang the song of the Saudis and James Baker was no friend of Israel. But then something happened that I couldn't understand. A precursor of the current financial meltdown occurred in the guise of what was known as the Savings and Loan crisis. So in 1989 the United states banking industry was in trouble for making too many "bad loans". That means loans to people or businesses without adequate credit. A bit later, as the banking industry is trying to recover, Israel, who had a perfect credit rating, wanted to borrow $10B from private American banks - at interest - to absorb Soviets. All they needed was loan guarantees from the US government. This would have been a healthy jump-start for the sagging American economy and Bush could do nothing but gain. Yet, surprisingly, Bush withheld approval for the loan guarantees because of Israel's "policies" in the West Bank.

Something wasn't right. I understand that Bush doesn't give a tittle for Israeli interests, but this issue is American and his own interests. Let's understand this, this is way before Oslo. There were significantly less Moslems in the US (18 years ago) than today and the Jewish voting bloc, largely democratic, was much more substantial than the Arab one. The American economy is in recession after the S&L fiasco and Bush's popularity is down. Here comes Israel with a perfect credit rating and wants to give the American lending industry some much needed business in the private sector and all they want from the government are some loan guarantees. In a worst case scenario and Israel defaults, Uncle S becomes the creditor. You can bet, Israel won't want that to happen.

So it's a pretty safe deal. In fact, credit was never the issue. But what happens? Bush, on behalf of the American people tells Israel "No thanks. Take your business elsewhere." And I couldn't understand it. This was right before an election year! The economy stayed flat into the soon-to-come elections and Clinton whips Bush on the motto , "It's the economy, stupid!" And I even voted for Clinton the Democrat! America and Bush just shot themselves in the foot because Israel was maintaining the same status that were in place for 23 years! Does this make sense??

Something is going on behind the scenes. And America is on it's way down.

Then, for the next seven years, Bill Clinton, the liberal with all the Jewish friends and his Jewish-born, Holocaust refugee Secretary of State, Madeline Albright just continued dancing down the same road. I could understand Oslo, but what did America gain from Wye? America is inviting the Moslims in, along with opening the south border to millions of illegals to do American jobs at half price while manufacturing outsources itself to China and Thailand and we are buying Japanese and Korean. Meanwhile, Johnny can't read (Spanish) and Carlos can't read English.

I didn't see a future.

Until recently, I thought - like everybody else - that all of this social decay was just a result of goyish-minded shortsightedness mixed with complacency and the domination of today's hedonistic pleasures over tomorrow's hangovers. Kind of like America's policy of "Buy now, pay later." But the absurdity of the Obama election and his total reversal on all his promises of "change" for the better plus his dictatorial demeanor have led me to suspect that maybe something more sinister - and more dangerous - may be involved. And when I viewed The Obama Deception, as far out as it is, there was nothing about it that didn't make sense.

I think everybody needs to watch The Obama Deception and compare it to events as they unfold, and pack your bags and get the dickens over here. To understand what it is saying, you must be familiar with certain international and national organizations. So first check out these bodies:


Then watch this:

And then watch The Obama Deception all the way through (the scariest part starts at 1:23:00).

And then click here:



Am I convinced that Bilderberg Group, CFR, Trilateral Commission, Federal Reserve and IMF are all a bunch of sinister money lords plotting to take over the world?

Of course I'm not. But they are no tzaddikim and chazal tell us (Sanhedrin 71b):
כנוס לרשעים רע להן ורע לעולם

"An assembly of wicked people is bad for them and bad for the entire world!"

But believe it or not, that's not the part that got me. The part that got was the sight of the American mobs all starry eyed and mesmerized cheering (Yes, we can!) and saluting Der Feuhrer Obama right after he said something that is not in their long term interest. Whatever he says is gospel. They are doing it just like the Russians did it in 1917 and just like the Germans did it in 1937 and just like the Chinese did it (when?).

Watch out! Here we go again!

So, call me a gullible conspiracy alarmist nutcase or whatever, but I happen to find The Obama Deception to be quite plausible.

Why?

Because it all happened before.

Oh yeah, in another time, at another place, to other people...

But the other time was less than a century ago. And the other place was not so far away - where our grandparents used to live. And the other people were...well, my motto is: "What's good for Daddy is good for me."

So, do I have any buyers?

Augh-gh-gh!!! The life of a salesman!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tova HaAretz Meod Meod

Anyone who has ever made aliya will tell you that you will never get here by talking about making aliya, no matter how much talking you do. There is only one way to make aliya – you must (figuratively) open a calendar and throw a dart at it. When the dart hits a date, you mark it as the day that you are going, and don’t pull out the dart! Our “dart” hit at July of 1997...

The above paragraph did not make it into the final cut of my book but, maybe, it should have. In any case, for those of us already here in Eretz Yisrael, Parshas Shlach is up this week. You folks still straggling behind in Chutz l'Aretz are - well - still straggling behind.

Parshas Shlach represents the challenges in bitachon that are part of living in Eretz Yisrael. Though I can attest that moving an established family to Eretz Yisrael is no small feat, once done, it is no small achievement, either. Not everybody is zocheh. But everybody can be zocheh. It depends on why you want to come. The key is bitachon and emunah. To make a successful Aliya one must be willing to feel like a grasshopper. But then he can become a giant.

In honor of Parshas Shlach I am presenting the complete Aliya story from my One Above and Seven Below autobiography. Some parts made it into the book but most of it did not. Some people will be able to relate to it, and others will say that their personal circumstances are not as favorable as ours were. Still, one thing I must tell everyone: if you have a serious opportunity to come here, it is a message to you. Do not ignore it. Don't get yourself wait-listed for the last flight out.

Still, at the end of the day, everybody winds up where HKBH wants him to. One thing I said over at my daughter's sheva brachos was:

40 days before the yetziras havlad, a bas kol goes out and says בת פלוני לפלוני . Taken at its word, this chazal is saying that sometime about 25 years ago, a bas kol went out and pronounced that the daughter of Yechezkel Hirshman is destined to be the wife of this young man. The interesting thing is that, 25 years ago, Yechezkel Hirshman didn't happen to be married! He was hanging around Lakewood, New Jersey and telling shadchanim that he needs a girl who is willing to follow him to Natwich (pseudonym for my home town) so he could go into the wholesale diamond business. Meanwhile, this fellow was a zygote by some family in Beit-El (not exactly the chareidi capitol of the world)! Yet, here we are 25 years later in Yerushalayim celebrating the sheva brachos of the new couple. How did we get here from there?

Well, here's how:

Aliya Story Aliya Story binhersh Excerpts from my autobiography all about our Aliya to Eretz Israel

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Evolution - Fact or Mishu-Gosse?

For all you folks in Chutz L'Aretz who have not yet heard Parshas Naso, here is an excerpt from the Mirdrash on pasuk 7:1 (BaMidbar Rabba 12:8):

לכך אמר שלמה צאינה וראינה בנות ציון במלך שלמה ... ד"א במלך שלמה במלך שברא בריותיו שלימים ברא חמה וירח על מליאתן וכל מעשה בראשית בקומתם נבראו שנא' (שם ב) הארץ וכל צבאם בר קפרא אמר אדם וחוה כבני כ ' שנה נבראו

When King Shlomo said "Go out and see, you daughters of Zion, in the King 'Shlomo'..." he was referring to HKBH and called him "the King Shlomo" meaning the King that created all His creations complete (שלימים). He created the sun and the moon in their full state and all of the makings of creation were created in their full height (i.e., fully developed) as is written וכל צבאם (this is understood by Chazal to mean בכל צביונם - i.e., in their full majesty - see Chullin 60a). Bar Kapra said: Adam and Chava were created as 20 year old beings.
This is a Midrashic reference to what is known as the Gosse Theory - the assertion that G-d created an "old" world. A world that looks like it's been here for a real long time. Such a theory would, in one fell swoop, nullify all the "evidence" that the world created itself over billions of years by suggesting that all the "evidence" was planted by G-d. Accordingly, there would be no conflict between religious dogma and paleontological findings.

Now the Gosse theory is amazingly simple, unsophisticated, and un"scientific". And, besides, why would G-d do such a thing? Also, it alleviates much needed conflict, controversy, and skepticism. For these reasons, many "intellectuals" reject it. But not because it can't be true.

Personally, I am not an intellectual. Most of my commenters and other intellectuals have said that about me and they must be right. Most of them went to college and I didn't. But I did read The Man Who Never Was (in Yeshiva) and I figure that G-d must be at least as intelligent as British Military Intelligence (don't snicker now). The book also explains why G-d would "plant" misleading "evidence". For the same reason they did it - to mislead us. G-d doesn't want us to be able to prove that He exists. So He created an intermediary that we call "Nature" (teva). He allows "Nature" to rule the world and formed the world to look like it was created by his intermediary, "Nature".

Why did He do that? So we wouldn't be able to know for sure that it's Him. For our own benefit. (I wrote about this in my previous post.) So says the Navi Hoshea (Hoshea 14:10).

Because this all makes sense to me, I am quite willing to accept the Gosse theory. Simple minds like simple answers. Of course, there are other simple answers to age-of-universe issues. The predominant one is that even though we use the term "5769 years לבריאת העולם " in our Kesubos and wedding invitations, we don't necessarily mean 5769 years from the beginning of בריאת העולם, we mean 5769 years from the end of בריאת העולם meaning when Adam HaRishon was created on the 6th day of Creation. There were 5 days of creation that came before the debut of Adam HaRishon. 5 long days - or 5 short days, depending who you ask.

We measure time based on the rotation of the earth and it's movements vis a vis the sun and the moon. But there was no sun and moon until the 4th day. So, the first few days of creation could have taken a real long time to an outside observer. Also, it is feasible that G-d employed simulated evolutionary processes in forming the world which could have been accelerated into 5 real days. As Einstein said, it's all relative.

Thus, geological formations and fossil records don't really tell us much. They don't tell us how old the world is, only how old the world appears to be. As such, I wrote in a footnote on page 143 of my book:

There is quite a bit of debate among Torah scholars as to how much ‘real time’ the world was in existence before the debut of man. I am not taking sides in this debate. Whether the actual time was 5 days or millions or billions of years, our contention is that it was all a concerted preparation for the advent of man. Man is the culmination of Creation and, therefore, the entire span of Creation was one prolonged Creation of man.

Thus, I have a hard time understanding why so many people, including Jewish ones, are digging so deep into the earth in order to "prove" evolution. It will not help them decide whether or not to accept Rambam's 13 principles.

To date, I have not been too interested in discussing evolution as I wrote in the footnote on page 143. I feel there is no need for it. This topic is beaten to death in the blogosphere, particularly in the neighborhoods frequented by the Jewish skeptics. Bottom line is, if you want evolution, read Slifkin. He'll make you feel good. If you don't want it, read Rabbi Avigdor Miller - and Chovos HaLevavos.

But I decided to discuss it now, partly because it is an extention of my previous post about belief in G-d, and partly because, one day last week, (between the wedding and Sheva Brachos and Shavuos, I actually did show up at the office for 2 days) I passed by 2 co-workers - both American, one newly religious and one religiously "agnostic" - who were having a discussion. As I past them by, one asked me: Why is it that chareidim deny evolution?

I liked the way he termed it: deny evolution - not reject evolution. As I wrote in my book (page 128):

Every intelligent person knows that the whole world came about through evolution. That’s what the great scientists say; that is what they teach in all the great universities; that is what has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. Only undereducated, unenlightened, primitive, backward people could question the truth of evolution.

Now, knowing this person (the "agnostic" one) and the subject matter and hearing how he asked his question, I knew in advance how this discussion will unfold. As I tried to give him the chareidi perspective, which required a few minutes of devoted listening to structured detail, he broke in to my diatribe at regular intervals (every 3 words) with a deflecting argument. As expected, we didn't get anywhere. All told, it meant that he clearly did not ask the question because he was interested in hearing a satisfactory answer. He asked it in order to reassure himself that there is no satisfactory answer. (It's hard to stay agnostic if you find answers to your questions.)

Skeptics don't like simple answers. It interferes with their skepticism.

Perhaps my blog audience is a bit more attentive and I can get in a full sentence and I can discuss the answer I started to give. So here is what I tried to tell him.

We chareidim, and Creationists in general, have no need for "evolution". We can get by just fine without it. Consequently, we can afford to be more discerning, skeptical and critical about the material that is presented as "evidence". Evolutionists must substantiate some form of evolutionary theory, so they are forced to accept loose fitting evidence as absolute, interpret inconlusive findings to match preconceived theories, and to artificially elevate theories into proven facts in order to substantiate other theories.

Here is how I wrote it on page 129 of One Above and Seven Below:

We chareidim think that evolution is absurd. Recorded history – which amazingly goes back no further than five to six thousand years – has yet to document any instance of any extant creature becoming more complex than it ever was. No one has yet caught a jellyfish even thinking about growing a backbone. But evolutionists have a lot at stake. So much so that they are compelled to advocate the absurd.

This is merely my way of pointing out that with all the literature and media that promotes evolution, there is not one bit of empirical proof that any organism can or ever has undergone a "developmental" anatomical change. Yet, it's not for lack of trying to come up with it.

I said so to my 2 questioners and one immediately challenged me with an account of one certain moth that used to always have a particular body color as that was it's genetic coding. When a population of these moths were moved to a different habitat where the trees were a lighter color, new generations of the moth were emerging with the genetic propensity to match the lighter color. The moths did not change color after they wrere born so it is not a physiological change like a chameleon but rather a genetic mutation to adapt to the environment.

I asked if there were any anatomical changes or is it just pigmentation. He said , "Only pigmentation. But it's not a big leap to assume genetic adaptation for anatomical changes as well."

What comes out is that this fellow concedes that there is no observed instance of a creature changing it's genetic code for anatomy to meet new conditions. Only pigmentation. This means that this moth which was a moth 5000 years ago is still the same moth but can reprogram it's genetic code for pigmentation. There is no reason to assume that it did not have this innate ability 5000 years ago. So the organism hasn't changed at all. It merely employed a congenital color adaptation mechanism that was always part of it, though it may have been dormant for some time.

I told him that this limited and confined level of genetic adaptation is not "denied" by anybody, especially since it is observable science and if you would like to call this limited mutation "evolution" then I will gladly concede this meager shadow of "evolution".

What we chareidim "deny" is what nobody has yet to produce - a species with one particular anatomical composition that gives birth to a second generation that sports something different about it's anatomy. Not a genetic mishap but an adaptation. Not an individual but a generation. With viable continuation (this means males and females would have to make the same genetic adaptation simultaneously).

Still he wanted to claim, "It's not a big leap to assume genetic adaptation for anatomical changes as well."

This is today's science, what you see you see and what you don't see you assume. And it boils down to how big a leap is it. Your opinion is that "it's not a big leap" and so evolution is a fact. My opinion is that so far a cat has never given birth to a fish or even to a catfish and a chimpanzee has never begat anything more intelligent than another chimpanzee. And it never will. A panda's thumb is not going to get any new digits.

I think it's an insurmountable leap.

So, IMHO, if you have to rely on "It's not a big leap" to establish evolution as a fact, excuse me for not signing on.

In my travels around the blogosphere to try to understand how skeptics (or non-believers) think, I chanced upon a site of one who calls himself Atheist Jew (R"L). His most recent post shows a video of a fascinating creature called the Hairy Frogfish which propels itself on its fins like legs. This poor soul (the blogger, not the fish) somehow thinks that the existence of this creature is a challenge to "creationism". That's Hoshea 14:10 for you.

In the blurb for this video, the blogger writes:


Yes, the frogfish doesn't have legs, but those fins are darn close, that it
doesn't take a genius to figure out that with a little time, fish can evolve
into amphibians if water and food sources started to dry up in a certain
ecosystem.

This is all very nice. And I am certainly not a genius. But why don't we take some of these fish and place them in a controlled "ecosystem" where water and food sources start to dry up and lets give them a "bit of time" and see them change into amphibians? How about just to see them start to change into amphibians?

I can assure you it isn't going to happen. Not in his lifetime, not in mine, and not in anybody's.

But he can rest assured that he's got "evidence". Plus a whole "fossil record" full of missing links. I just have Gosse.

But I'll take the Gosse theory, and you can have the Mishu-Gosse theory.



Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Doubting Thomases...and Yosselas

Over at Emes Ve-Emunah, Harry seems to be taking a much needed hiatus from his standard "Up With Centrists - Down With Chareidim" fare. Yesterday's post dealt with a much more serious issue, and one that I completely agree with: the issue of waning Emunah - belief in G-d - in the greater Orthodox community.

Until my recent foray in the blogosphere, I was ill-prepared for the depth and magnitude of this issue. There are a lot of confused people out there.

Harry's post was actually well written and I do not have much to add to it. Still I want to present a short analysis of the issues of Emunah, perhaps it can help some people reduce the confusion.

All the players in the game must be aware of one principle: There is not any and cannot be any irrefutable empirical proof of G-d.


How do I know?

G-d told me. (Of course, for those of you who do not believe in G-d, then the Torah was written by a deranged prankster. Thus, a deranged prankster told me.)


Where?

Shmos 33:20. Here G-d (or the prankster) tells us: כ ויאמר לא תוכל לראת את-פני כי לא-יראני האדם וחי:

And He said, "You are unable to see My face, for a man cannot see Me and live."


Although there are many ways to understand this pasuk, one simple understanding is that if there were irrefutable evidence of G-d, and thereby we would be able to "see" Him, we would lose our free-will, our bechira. Not having free-will is tantamount to death.

And so, for our own benefit, G-d does not allow us to "see" Him with unequivocal clarity. This being the case, it is impossible to prove the existence of G-d to another person. Don't bother trying.

Still, G-d leaves His imprint all over the place. Anybody who looks for G-d can find Him. And therefore, a person is capable of proving to himself, and only to himself, the existence of G-d.

Who told me this?

King David told me this. He wrote it for me in Tehillim 145:18 and he left instructions to read it over at least twice a day. There he wrote: קרוב ה' לכל-קראיו לכל אשר יקראהו באמת:
Hashem is close to all who call Him, to all those who call Him in earnest.

What does this mean? It means that anybody who looks for G-d can find Him, provided one thing:

He calls in earnest. In other words, he wants to find Him.

And herein lies the key to Emunah - one will never believe in G-d unless one wants to believe in G-d!

What comes out is a true example of G-dly irony. Only a believer will find proof of G-d - and plenty of it. A non-believer will find nothing. This is because G-d is actually a real nice Guy and gives everybody what they want. If you want to find Me - here I am. You don't want to find me, you never will.

Thus Rabbi Avigdor Miller ZT"L says in his tapes that a watermelon is a proof of G-d. To someone like me who is interested in seeing G-d, I agree with him and see G-d in a watermelon. Also in apples and oranges, chickens and eggs, birds and bees, flowers and trees, mountains and seas, and, more than anything, in children. (For the life of me, I cannot fathom how anybody who ever produced a child of their own can doubt G-d; but that's just me.) But the scoffer scoffs at Rabbi Avigdor Miller and at the watermelon and at the children and at everything else and believes in the "fossil record". (Incidentally, I see G-d in the fossil record, as well.)

This a variation of the age old adage:

To the believer, there are no questions and to the non-believer there are no answers.


So a non-believer is somebody who doesn't want there to be a G-d. And a doubter is somebody who is not sure he wants there to be a G-d.

The question boils down not to: "Is there a G-d or is there no G-d?" but rather to: "Do I want a G-d or do I not want a G-d?" Or, as Tommy Lee Jones would say: "Can I handle a G-d?"


"What's in it for me?"
"Am I better off with a G-d or am I better off without one?"
"Is G-d good for me or not?"

Or - lets shorten that last question a bit: "Is G-d good or not?"


What is G-d, anyway?

Well, according to Rambam's 13 principles, G-d is: the supreme Creator of all that exists (Priciple 1), unique in his Oneness (Principle 2), and has no tangible form and thus cannot be perceived by Humans (Principle 3).

Most of us can handle that.
Why? Because it does not have much to do with us.
But let's move on.

According to Rambam, G-d also gave us the Torah through Moses (Principle 8), is aware of all of our actions (Principle 10), and will reward us for obeying Him and punish us for disobeying Him (Principle 11).

This means we have rules to live by and we are accountable to G-d for how we live up to these rules. It means that we cannot do whatever we want. It also means that when we leave this world, the game is still not over.

Some of us like this deal. We want G-d to be here for us and we are willing to be here for Him. And because this is what we want, we are willing to believe.

Others cannot handle this deal. As we say to the bee: We don't want your honey and we don't want your sting. They do not want G-d. And so they are not prepared to believe.

But, either way, nobody can prove it. It's not what you believe. It's not watermelons or fossils. It's what you want for yourself.

And so, G-d (or the deranged prankster) tells us in Parshat Bechukosai: If you walk in My ways and do My bidding - if you include Me in your life - I will make life very pleasant for you. It comes at a price but it is well worth it.

But, if you leave me out and refuse to look for Me, then you will never find me. If you want a G-dless existence I will give you a G-dless existence. And you can do whatever is within your power to do. I will not interfere. And you will become part of the "fossil record".

Sounds to me like the world is just one big foxhole.