Saturday, Jul 20, 2024

Not For Prophet

In his introduction to his Sefer Chayei Olam, the Steipler Gaon zt”l speaks at length on the topic of emunah and the widespread attitude nowadays (and this was in his day!) that every layman and anonymous ignoramus can spout opinions on the most fundamental issues of Torah, halachah or hashkafah. It is worthwhile reviewing these most relevant and applicable observations.

For starters, he explains that ever since Hakadosh Boruch Hu told Moshe Rabbeinu (Devorim 31:18), “Ve’Anochi haster asteir PonaiAnd I will hide my Face,” by definition, there will always be some questions and some doubt. To understand it all would be to see that which Hashem Himself has hidden, something clearly impossible. It is this hester ponim that is the root of all our doubts and uncertainties.


The Steipler goes on to say how in today’s times of ikvisa deMeshicha, the questioning and the doubts will be multiplied exponentially. We live with moral decay all around us. We are witness to open rebellion against all that was once sacred. We are brought up on the professed “right” – of every layman, university professor, high-school kid, and illiterate letter-writer – to question and pass judgment on moral teachings and basic beliefs held sacred for millennia in the name of “open-mindedness” and “non-judgmentalism.”


It is little wonder, then, that even those of us brought up in homes solidly committed to Torah have been influenced by the free-for-all attitude where an anonymous letter-writer is given equal standing with the words of Chazal or even with outright pesukim in our Torah. In a discussion not too long ago on a topic pertaining to bitachon and the fact that nothing happens in this world unless Hashem expressly wills it – one of the thirteen fundamental basics of our faith! – a letter-writer responded that he “heard” a “story” told “in the name” of one of the gedolim, who said “something to the effect” that this does not apply to the subject in question.


The writer, and seemingly many readers as well, failed to find it mind-boggling for one to question a fundamental principle of our very faith based on the flimsiest of stories heard “somewhere” that a gadol said “something” which “seems” to contradict one of the bedrocks of millennia-old Jewish belief.


Were we to hear from the mouth of a gadol himself a statement seemingly at odds with one of the thirteen ikrei hadas, principles of our faith, all it would mean is that we clearly cannot comprehend the statement of that gadol. Never would it mean that one of our thirteen “Ani Ma’amins” are suddenly in question or are no longer applicable, chas veshalom.


Thus, writes the Steipler, “I have sadly seen many of our young people today who are completely frum but find no rest from the burden of confused thoughts and perplexing doubt in their hearts.”


Many, many years ago, in a certain free periodical, there appeared an article penned by an anonymous person (of course) who made the case for frum parents to allow their children to read any and all treife reading material – meaning items containing blatant apikorsus or indecency. The writer’s ingenious and oh-so-original reasoning was that forbidding certain reading materials would only make children want to read them even more. On the other hand, once children read their full of the worst garbage, they would, by themselves, become disgusted by it and surely never read such material ever again.


Now, forgetting the fact that, like so many progressives nowadays, the writer overlooked the simple fact that each and every one of us has been born with a yeitzer hara that is constantly curious and craves the forbidden, even while we may be disgusted by our own cravings; forgetting the ridiculousness of buying into the progressive notion which believes that humankind the world over, even terrorists, really all want to just have fun and be good and sit around the campfire and sing Kumbayaif we would just let them; even were the writer to have been correct in theory, there was still one tiny, by-the-way problem the writer overlooked, and that is that the Torah simply does not allow the reading or perusing of smut and the like.


As the Steipler wrote, in today’s confused times, we so easily forget that all our ingenious ideas, methods and notions are child’s play next to the omniscient wisdom of He Who created us all.


Last week, the Yated’s incisive columnist Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum succinctly pointed out in a must-read article the tragedy of our great nation, an am chochom venavon recognized worldwide for our genius and wisdom, allowing ourselves to be dumbed-down into a superstitious bunch of hysterical lightweights running crazed from this segulah to that “auspicious time,” awed by some dreamer’s dreams or miraculous tales rather than by the eternal, uplifting and life-giving words of our Torah, our chachomim and our sifrei kodesh. Rabbi Birnbaum’s words are self-evident and need no further backing. They struck this author, though, as another symptom of the confusion of the times to which the Steipler refers, a confusion where reciting various, often out-of-order prayers or offering newfangled, invented “korbanos” is placed on par with, or even supersedes, chalilah, the age-old wisdom of Chazal and the words of our tefillos and Tehillim.


In Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah (8:1-2), the Rambam tells us that “Moshe Rabbeinuwas not given credence by Klal Yisroel due to any miracles that he performed… All the miracles were performed simply due to necessity (not in order to convince Klal Yisroel of Moshe’s or Hashem’s greatness). He needed to drown the Egyptians, so he split the sea and subsequently drowned them in it. We needed food, so he brought down monn. We were thirsty, so he split the stone (from which gushed forth water). Korach denied his leadership, so the earth swallowed him up. And so it was with all the miracles.


“What, then, caused us to believe in Moshe? When we stood at Har Sinai and our eyes saw, and no one else, and we heard, not any other, the fire, the sounds and the lapidim, and he (Moshe) approached the opacity and the Voice spoke to him and we heard [Hashem call], ‘Moshe! Moshe! Go tell them such and such…’


“And how do we know that at Sinai alone did we receive proof of [Moshe’s] prophecy…because it says, ‘Lo, I come to you in the thickness of the cloud so that the nation will hear as I speak to you and also in you will they believe forever.’ We see that before, they did not believe in [Moshe] with full faith…”


Amazing! Klal Yisroel saw Moshe perform awesome feats, beginning with the ten plagues and culminating with the splitting of the sea, the monn he brought down from heaven and the myriad other miracles he performed. In addition, the Torah tells us that Moshe’s face shone with an otherworldly light so that no one could look at his face unless he covered it with a mask. We cannot begin to fathom his greatness or the greatness of the miracles he wrought.


Yet, we, the Jewish people, writes the Rambam, believe in Moshe as a novi Hashem through whom we know the Divine will not because of any of the above unprecedented and never-since-repeated phenomenal feats or signs of greatness, but solely because Hashem declared him a novi and we ourselves heard that declaration.


Yiddishkeit is a rational religion based on the word of Hashem. Miracles can surely remind us of the awesome power of our Creator and can be utilized as a vehicle to reinvigorate our practice of that which we already know, rationally, to be the right, just and proper way of life. Our actual avodas Hashem, be it in areas of tznius, Shabbos, shemiras halashon, tefillah or anything else, is based, however, on our understanding of the beauty, correctness, righteousness and propriety of following the beautiful path given us by our Creator and illuminated through the wisdom of our sages. Heathens, not us, base their way of life on hysteria and the supernatural.


“As such,” continues the Rambam, “any prophet who will arise after Moshe we do not believe in him due to any miracles he may perform, so as to say, ‘If he performed such an awesome miracle, we better listen to him!’ Rather [we heed a prophet] because the Torah [which we know through our own cognizance to be true] tells us to do so.”


This is how it is until today. Miracles, wondrous dreams and phenomenal incidents of Hashgachah Protis are great vehicles to remind us and inspire us to renew our commitment to that which we already know through the age-old wisdom of the Torah and Chazal to be true. It is the same with methods of parenting, education or teaching social skills. “Wondrous” studies, the latest hype, mass hysteria, the fads of letter-writers and blindly following every latest “progressive” study is for confused heathens. We, the People of the Book, are smarter than that.


We follow the eternal word of G-d.


All else is merely commentary.


The Gemara (Niddah 30b) tells us that before a baby is born, “ner daluk lo al rosho vetzofeh umabit misof ha’olam ve’ad sofoumelamdin oso kol haTorah kulah. A light shines over his head, and he can see from one end of the world to the other…and he is taught the entirety of the Torah. Vekivan sheba le’avir ha’olam ba malach vesotro al piv umishakcho kol haTorah kulah. When it comes time for him to be born, an angel comes, strikes him by the mouth and he forgets the entirety of the Torah.”


The Satmar Rov, Rav Yoel Teitlebaum zt”l, noted that the Gemara tells us how the child is made to forget all of the Torah before he is born (so that he will relearn it now through his own effort). What happened, though, asked the Satmar Rov, with the light shining over his head and his ability to see from one end of the earth to the other? Nowhere does the Gemara tell us that the light is extinguished or that the ability to see is taken away. Yet, clearly, no child is born with such abilities or such otherworldly light. What became of it?


The “light shining over his head and the ability to see from one end of the world to the other,” explains the Satmar Rov, represent supernatural ruach hakodesh and mofsim, holy vision and miracles. The Torah the child learns is, of course, Torah. Where there is Torah, says the Satmar Rov, there may also be found holy visions and miracles. Where there is no Torah, all the visions or miracles in the world are meaningless and count for nothing. As such, once the child is made to forget his Torah, there is no need to separately extinguish the light over his head or remove his supernatural vision. Those amazing and awe-inspiring abilities are worthy only as supportive pillars to the mainstay and fundamental truths of Torah.


Ultimately, a true understanding and appreciation of the fundamentals of Yiddishkeit andJewish belief are far more inspiring and longer-lasting than the most ingenious of our own ideas or the greatest supernatural wonders we may witness.




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