This post considers various paths to Holiness, suggested in the past, and contrast them with the biblical way.
Why is there free-will?
What are the necessary and sufficient requirements for free-will to be exercised?
How do we make decisions within the two worlds, comprising our lives, the “World of Law-of-Nature” and the “World of Randomness”?
These questions and others are addressed, supported by excerpts from the Bible.
Below are links to three videos, produced by Avi Ben-Mordechai, following our three-hour talk during the meeting that took place at the office of the university:
Episode 1: https://youtu.be/BnNpyurCTq4
Episode 2: https://youtu.be/25-qKaLqLzk
Episode 3: https://youtu.be/GprBVEYNEsw
Episode 1 maintains a certain line-of-thought conveyed to the viewer from beginning to end. The other two comprise short excerpts from our talk about various subjects that came up during the conversation.
No pre-publication review of the produced videos had been done on my part.
I am indebted to Avi Ben-Mordechai for kindly allowing me to post these videos in public on my YouTube personal channel.
Job feels he is righteous and has done no harm. Why bad things happen to good people?? What ultimately gives Job comfort?
The first of the Ten Commandments reads:
“I am Jehovah, your Elohim, who have brought thee out of the Land of Egypt, of the house of slaves” (Exodus 20:2).
This commandment looks more like a declaration:
- There is God;
- There is Divine Providence (Hashgacha Pratit: “For His eyes are upon the ways of man, and He sees all his goings”, Job 33:21).
What then transforms this “declaration of facts”, “description of reality”, into a commandment?
“Why bad things happen to good people” is an ancient quandary that has occupied the minds of thinking people for millennia. We have likewise addressed this issue in this post. As related therein, perhaps the ultimate source to address this issue is the biblical book of Job, not coincidentally attributed to Moses. The story of Job is well known:
“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Furthermore, he had a family and much property so that “…this man was the greatest of all the men of the East” (Job 1:3).
Alas, one day the angels came before Jehovah, among them Satan, and the latter challenged the Divine that Job is “blameless and upright and fears God and shuns evil” (as described by God; Job 1:8) only because Job was protected and blessed by God (Job 1:9-10). God then delivers Satan the permission to harm Job any way he wished (“all that he has is in thy power”) except for taking Job’s soul (Job 1:12). Thus, Satan was allowed by God to test Job so that all may realize whether Job, despite all “bad things” that had befallen him, remained faithful to his former self.
Following description of the “bad things”, three of Job’s friends come to visit him “to mourn with him and to comfort him” (Job 2:11). The multi-sided dialogue that then develops, between Job and his friends, is in essence a debate on whether “Bad things happen to good people”. Job holds on to his basic conviction that he is “blameless and upright and fears God and shuns evil” and therefore he is helpless to explain all the harm that has befallen him. The friends defy this claim and elaborate on why it is illogical and impossible to assume that the perfect God would allow this to happen, therefore concluding that Job probably is not “blameless”, as he pretends to be.
Job remains unconvinced and therefore also uncomforted.
What then ultimately comforted Job?
Throughout Scripture, a single theme keeps resurfacing: “The ways by which Jehovah leads his world are unknown to us and therefore humanly unexplainable”.
- “I will be Whoever I will be” (Exodus 3:14)
- “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19)
- “And Moses said to Jehovah…show me thy way that I may know thee” (Exodus 33:12-13), and Jehovah said “you cannot see my face for no man shall see me and live...” (Exodus 33:20); Therefore, “thou shall see my back and my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:23). Re-phrased: One may witness the results of Divine leadership and intervention in the world; these, however, cannot be explained (predicted) in advance, neither can they be explained post-factum. These results remain only to be witnessed!
The debate between Job and his friends comes to an abrupt conclusion when Jehovah intervenes in the debate. The essence of God’s explanation for “Why bad things happen to good people” is a genuine mystery:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4)
Obviously, this does not constitute a satisfactory answer to the basic question. Surprisingly, Job is now comforted and he expresses this explicitly:
“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now that my eye has seen you I abhor myself and am comforted for the dust and ashes” (Job 42:5).
(Note that “dust and ashes” are signs of mourning, as mentioned early on in Job 2:12.)
Job had not received an answer to the basic question “Why bad things happen to good people”. Yet, once God has spoken to him, Job is comforted. He understands that there is Divine Providence and there is no more room for the basic question— silence is the right response (“..and Aharon kept his silence”, Leviticus 10:3).
We, mere mortals, are not privileged as was Job. We are “doomed” to exist in a universe of free will, and the latter cannot co-exist with the certainty that God exists and that there is Divine Providence. Either we have free will or we know for certain that God exists. Both, by definition, cannot co-exist. Job, once being exposed to God speaking to him, is no more a man of free will. We are.
The first of the Ten Commandments, outwardly looking like a mere declaration of facts, is in fact a commandment that demands of us the ultimate expression of free-will:
“Out of free will I accept as faithful description of reality existence of Elohim-Jehovah; Out of free will I accept as faithful description of reality existence of Divine Providence (Hashgacha Pratit)”.
*Shorty is a short post
The forbidden fruit, in Adam and Eve Genesis narrative, carries a double message for our time.
As humans we experience two worlds: The “World of Law-of-Nature” and the “World of Randomness”. Violating law in the former incurs immediate penalty. In the latter world, we are uncertain of the consequence of our decisions and therefore it is in this world solely that we may exercise free will. I have addressed this distinction at some length previously (for example, here and here) and therefore will not elaborate on it further here.
The relevance to our days and time of the sin of eating of the forbidden fruit, as described in Genesis (3: 1-19), had been discussed by me in a separate post. Here I expand on that and address the double message conveyed by the story of Adam and Eve eating from the forbidden “Tree of Knowledge, Good and Bad” (Etz ha-Daat, Tov ve-Ra), or “Good and Evil” (as commonly translated, erroneously in my opinion).
Studying present-day relevance of the forbidden fruit, particularly with regard to the two worlds, as just described, reveals stunning new insights. Let us start by elaborating on the true meaning of the Hebrew Daat (knowledge).
There are two modes of learning (obtaining knowledge), which in biblical Hebrew are denoted by two separate terms: One may learn by absorbing new information, utterly dis-associated from the source of knowledge; or one may learn (and know) by experiencing, by connecting to the source of knowledge. An example for the first mode is conducting research on the Internet. No personal experiencing of the subject of learning is involved. An example for the latter mode is touring a mountainous area, as a result of which one is acquainted, connected, knowing by personal experience, the visited area.
The Bible is permeated aplenty with the distinction between “Acquiring knowledge” (Haskalah) and “Knowing by Experiencing”, or “Knowing by Connecting” (Daat). For example, prophet Jeremiah calls, in the name of the Divine: “Thus says Jehovah: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glories glory in this – Haskel (“Acquiring knowledge”) and Yadoa Oti (“Knowing Me”) that I am Jehovah exercising grace, justice and righteousness in the land, for in these I delight”, so says Jehovah” (Jeremiah 9:22-23). And elsewhere in the Bible: “He who keeps the commandment shall experience no evil thing (Lo yeda davar ra); and a wise man’s heart would discern (“Yeda”) both time and method” (Ecclesiastes 5:5). And similarly: “And Adam once more knew (Va-yeda Adam od) his wife and she bore a child and she called his name Shet” (Genesis 4:25). Likewise, in modern day Hebrew we wish a bereaved family Lo tedeo od machov (“You shall know pain no more”). Knowing here is devoid of any of the common sense reserved for knowledge, but everything to do with personal experiencing.
Given these sources and others, it is essential that we take note that the forbidden tree is not a tree of wisdom, neither a tree of understanding or of advice. No. This is a tree of “Knowing by Experiencing”, Etz ha-Daat, which spells a two-stage learning process: First we experience and then we internalize that experience so that we are capable of telling apart the “bad” from the “good”. The first stage of the learning process is prone to pain and suffering because only after experiencing the “good” and the “bad” may one tell them apart. Not a moment earlier. Adam and Eve, not privy to the agony associated with experiencing the “bad”, are eager to eat of the forbidden fruit noticing only the end result— that they will be like Elohim (God as creator). In modern day parlance, such a fake imaginary process of learning is called “Instant Learning”
But what is “Good” and “Bad”?
Given the two worlds that we constantly experience in our lives, the “World of Law-of-Nature” and the “World of Randomness”, it is obvious that one needs to specify “Good and Bad” in terms of both worlds. Not coincidentally, the narrator of the story of the sin of Adam and Eve already relates to the Divine only by the double name, Elohim-Jehovah, imparting the two aspects of leadership that the Divine exercise in His world: Leadership by Law-of-Nature (scientifically exposed, “public” leadership by the creator, Elohim); and the hidden, concealed leadership by Jehovah in the world of free-will, in the seemingly “World of Randomness”. There is perhaps no better demonstration for the latter than the famous dialogue between Abraham and Jehovah:
“And Abraham drew near and said:” Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? .. Shall not the Judge of all the Earth do justice?”; And Jehovah said: “If I find in Sodom fifty just men within the city then I will spare the whole place for their sakes” (Genesis 18:23, 25-26).
But fifty righteous men were not found, neither ten. And the people of Sodom were puzzled, probably to their last moments, why the world is so random and unexplainable. As were probably the residents of the corrupt “Sodom-like” ancient Pompeii, destroyed by random by mother-nature at 79 AD.
“Good and Bad” in the story of eating of the forbidden fruit therefore carries double meanings: “Good” and “Bad” in the physical world, which is governed by “Law of Nature” (imprinted on nature by Elohim, the creator); and “Good” and “Bad” in the “World of Randomness”, governed by “Law of Justice and Grace” (emanating from Jehovah, ultimate source of morality):
“For thus says Jehovah, creator of the Heavens, he is the Elohim that has formed the Earth and has made it”; Isaiah 45:18).
The double message of the “Tree of Knowledge” sounds loud and clear for our times:
Message 1: Not all that can be experienced in the physical world, in the “World of Law-of-Nature”, is allowed.
There is a spiritual dimension to our existence as human beings that imposes limitations on our behavior in the physical world and on what we may experience. Eating of the “Tree of Knowledge”, supposedly the most natural and beneficial thing to do, is not without boundaries. And once these are crossed, seemingly without inflicting physical harm, the spiritual dimension may adversely be affected, ultimately causing harm also in the physical world (due to loss of ability to exercise free will in the “World of Randomness”). This realization may at times be extremely excruciating and agonizing. Ask any ex-alcoholic, or ex-narcotics-addict, who had gone through rehabilitation, and you may get a faint idea what the process of “knowing by experiencing” may look like once the spiritual dimension of our existence is ignored.
(Again we note that Adam and Eve’s idea is limited, nearly contrary to reality: According to their perception, eating of the forbidden fruit would educate them how to distinguish “the bad” from “the good” in the physical world so that they would instantly be Elohim-like; all the while being unaware of the pain and suffering that this prolonged learning process, ignoring the spiritual dimension, may entail.)
Message 2: To live life fully, it is not sufficient to distinguish “Good” from “Bad” within Law-of-Nature only.
The “World of Randomness”, where free-will is exercised, has its own “Good” and “Bad”, decided by the “Law” that prevails in this world (law of morality, grace and righteousness; or law of Karma, as preached in some religions). And that law, relating to our spiritual dimension, should be heeded, learned and internalized no less than the “visible”, scientifically validated, Law-of-Nature, that we are so intent and careful on pursuing every single moment of our lives on this planet.
In this post I show that at present-day and age we witness a replay of the biblical sin of Adam and Eve.
We, as humans, entertain free will. This is made possible since our submission to the Law-of-Nature is not total. There are isolated islands in our lives where randomness prevails, allowing us to do whatever our heart desires, with apparently no moral consequences and no penalty due to violating some punishable law.
For example, we cannot decide to jump out of the window of a fifteenth floor of a high-rise because penalty would be immediate and ultimately catastrophic to our very survival. No free will here. Conversely, we may decide whether we wish (or wish not) to join a certain group of people for a shared activity with seemingly no devastating consequence, irrespective of which course of action we may have decided to pursue.
In summary, without ever so defined, our lives comprise two worlds intermingled with one another and generally indistinguishable from one another: The world of the “Law of Nature” and the world of “Randomness”. Our ability to exercise free will is conditioned on the existence of the latter; however we are prevented from exercising free will within the confines of the former.
Let us rephrase this assertion in biblical terms. The two seemingly unrelated and independent worlds, that of “Randomness” and that of “Law of Nature”, both originate in one source, which the Bible relates to as “Jehovah-Elohim”. Jehovah is source of the law of morality that prevails in the world of randomness. Elohim is source of physical creation and of Law-of-nature, within whose confines creation conducts itself since the beginning of time, at the Big Bang.
From its inception, humankind has aspired to be like God. But in what sense?
As the sin of Adam and Eve is described in the third chapter of Genesis, the serpent seduces Eve, explaining to her why it would have been beneficial to eat of the “Fruit of Knowledge”:
“For Elohim knows that on the day that you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be like Elohim, knowing good and bad” (Genesis 3:5).
In other words: Gaining knowledge, by eating of the Fruit-of-Knowledge, aims at becoming like Elohim, knowing the Law-of-Nature that would grant us knowhow of that which is beneficial to us (“Good”) and that which is not (“Bad”). The burning desire is dominance over nature (including dominance over other human beings), but not the study of Law-of-Morality, which prevails in the “World of Randomness”, concealed from us so that we may exercise free will.
For that sin, the sin of wishing to know Elohim (source of Law-of-Nature), and not Jehovah-Elohim (the complete and all-encompassing manifestation of God’s leadership of his world, which is also the only name for God used by the “objective” narrator), Adam and Eve are subject to expulsion from the Garden-of-Eden.
Knowing Elohim with the objective of being Elohim-like implies knowing Law-of-Nature and gaining dominance over nature and people. Murdering another human being is the ultimate expression of dominance over nature as a result of the desire to be as powerful (and as “Great”) as Elohim.
An individual calling “Allahu Akbar” (“Allah is greatest”), while taking someone else’s life in an act of murder, commits the exact same sin as that of Adam and Eve, only taken to the extreme:
“I know Elohim (since I know Law-of-Nature)” → “Therefore I have gained dominance over nature” → “Therefore I am Elohim-like” → “Therefore I have Elohim’s privilege to take your life away”.
All wrong!! And on many counts.
The privilege to take away one’s life does not belong to Elohim but to Jehovah Elohim. Alone.
And no amount of knowledge of Elohim, supposedly leading to a state of being God-like, provides complete knowledge unless complemented by the knowledge of Jehovah and his law:
“And now, Israel, what does Jehovah, your Elohim, requires of you but to fear Jehovah, your Elohim, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve Jehovah, your Elohim, with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12).
The history of the human race is marked by committing, over and over again, the exact same sin of Adam and Eve: Gaining knowledge about Law-of-Nature, originating in Elohim, with utter lack of interest in knowing Law-of-Morality, originating in Jehovah.
The stated mission, indeed the role, of the Jewish nation in the world is to declare in the public square:
“The free will that you experience in the “World of Randomness” is an illusion. As there is Law-of-Nature there is also Law-of-Morality. These are not two separate worlds, one governed by Law-of-nature and another governed by.. nothing.”
And days are coming, when all will know, and aspire to know, not only Elohim but also Jehovah:
“Behold, days are coming, says Jehovah, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Yehudah”,…, “and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, know Jehovah; for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says Jehovah” (Jeremiah 31:30-33).
“Allahu Akbar”, followed by murder, is present-day ultimate replay of the ancient sin of Adam and Eve. The latter have produced first human attempt at separating Elohim from Jehovah, learning the ways of the former (leading by Law-of-Nature), while ignoring, and neglecting to learn, the ways of the latter (leading by Law-of-Morality).
Days are coming, prophesizes prophet Jeremiah, when this artificial separation of the two worlds will be no more.
This post may also be read at Times-of-Israel:
Participants to this meeting were, besides Rav Ginsburgh, Rav Samuel Yaniv, Mr. Pesach Melamed, Mr. Oren Evron and me.
A recording of part of the meeting (in Hebrew), addressing “Tov ve-Rah” in the Hebrew Bible and much more, is linked below (with permission):
What do we mean by “Two books of the Divine” and their “Scientific Linkage”? In this post, I discuss the significance of my research about the Jewish Hebrew Bible and biblical Hebrew.
Since my research findings were first published in a book (Shore, 2007) and later, when these findings had become more widely spread due to Oren Evron’s movie (Evron, 2014, 2015), I have received mixed responses, extending from complete apathy, to attempts to explain away the findings by attributing them to ancient Earthly civilizations that somehow possessed modern scientific knowledge, up to sincere and true appreciation of the implications of the findings as alluding to the divine origin of biblical Hebrew and the Hebrew Torah.
In all these responses, one element seems to have been missing, and that is the inevitable conclusion emerging from the new discoveries:
The two books of the Divine are scientifically linked.
What do we mean by “the two books”?
Since its primary inception at the historic event of receiving the Ten Commandments by Moses at Mount Sinai, Judaism has consistently emphasized the two aspects of the Divine, as experienced by humans: God as creator of the cosmos and Law of Nature (Genesis 1:14, 8:22), and God as source of morality and its dictates.
Those two percepts of the Divine correspond to our own personal experience as concurrently living in two worlds:
* “The World of Law of Nature”, where free will is not feasible since violating law of nature results in immediate, apparent and non-miraculous penalty;
* “The World of Randomness”, where apparently no law exists with adverse consequence for its violation, wherefore we are free to act as we please.
Example for the first world (“Law of Nature”) is jumping from the 100th floor of a high-rise, where ignoring (“violating”) gravity results in immediate unambiguous “penalty”; An example for the second world (“Randomness”) is responding to a beggar’s plea for money, where we exercise free will on how to react, with seemingly no apparent consequence and no implication to our own personal destiny (irrespective of how we have responded).
The Ten Commandments, relevant only to the “World of Randomness”, where free will can be exercised, convey to us the “news”:
By word of the Creator, you are not completely free to act as you please.
Our own personal experience of the world as allowing free will, however only to a confined degree, namely, only in “The world of randomness”, this personal experience is expressed in biblical Hebrew in two concepts of the Divine, as creator and as source of morality. These concepts are epitomized in two names for the Divine, which repeatedly appear throughout the Hebrew Jewish Bible:
Elohim and Jehovah
(Please relate to my talk with Avi Ben-Morechai, accessible on this blog).
Prophet Isiah explicitly reference these two names and what they stand for:
“For thus says Jehovah that created the heavens, Elohim himself that formed Earth and made it, he has established it, not a wasteland created He it .. I am Jehovah and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:18).
The two books of the Divine, corresponding to these two names, are the physical cosmos, subject of investigation by modern physics, and Hebrew Torah. These two books have heretofore been perceived as unrelated to one another (at least not scientifically). For example: To this day, well known physical constants, like the speed of light or the electromagnetic charge of an electron, are accepted by modern physics as given. Furthermore, it is accepted that there is no scientifically established theory to determine these constants, apart from stating that if these constants were minutely changed the cosmos as we know it would not have been in existence (see lengthy discussion of this issue, for example, in Wikipedia, entry “Fine-tuned Universe” and references therein).
Obviously, no one ever linked these physical constants to biblical Hebrew.
The scientific new discoveries have changed this perception. They lead unavoidably to the conclusion that numerical values of biblical Hebrew words represent quantitative values of major physical properties of objects that the words stand for. For example, Eretz (Earth in Hebrew) represents Earth’s geometrical properties (like diameter and surface area) but also Earth’s mass, all of which are major physical properties of Earth. The scientifically unexplainable nature of the physical constants, alluded to earlier, become explainable in light of the new scientifically established discoveries: The speed of light (a physical constant) is what it is because light in Hebrew is Or, with a numerical value of 207 (which, by proper change of scale, converts into the physical speed of light).
By establishing the deep significance of the numerical values of Hebrew words, namely, their relationships to actual physical properties observed in the cosmos, the two worlds experienced in our lives, the “World of Law of Nature” and the “World of Randomness” (where apparently no law prevails unless one regards the Ten Commandments and their derivatives), these two worlds are scientifically unified and experienced as originating in one source. At the same time, the two books of the Divine, “Law of Nature” and “Law of Morality”, Elohim and Jehovah, respectively, no longer are experienced as separate “entities”: One subject to scientific enquiry; the other existing as a controvertible article of faith.
Rather, physical reality and morality are experienced as stemming from a single source.
With this, an ancient prophecy starts to begin to have its imprint on the annals of human history:
“..On that day Jehovah will be one and his name One” (Zechariah 14:9).
Comment: Above post may be downloaded as a PDF file:
A while ago, I was approached by Mr. Avi ben Mordechai, owner and operator of “Torah on Location“, a by-subscription-only Internet-based platform for studying Torah, aired from Israel. Avi had suggested that we met for a talk about subjects of my choosing related to my study of Torah and biblical Hebrew, and that this talk would be videoed and be displayed on “Torah on Location“.
The results of this talk are several half-hour episodes, to be displayed on “Torah on Location”.
According to an agreement between Avi and me, one of these episodes would be displayed, open to the public, on YouTube.
A link to this episode is given below:
A new in-depth interpretation of the sin of Adam and Eve.
The story of the sin of Adam and Eve, as it is unfolding in the third chapter of Genesis, is well known. Simplistically summarized, the story relates how God had forbidden Adam from eating of the Tree of Knowledge, good and bad, warning him that ”on the day that thou eat of it thou shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Seduced by the serpent, Eve, Adam’s madam, defies God’s command and also convince Adam to join the party. As a result of the sin, God imposes custom-made penalties on the serpent, the woman and the man, and expel Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden lest they also ate from the Tree of Life and would live forever (Genesis 3:22-24). The whole story of the sin begins at Genesis 2:15-17 and ends at Genesis 3:1-24.
Numerous interpretations have been offered for this story. The article below offers a new and innovative interpretation:
A PDF file of this article may be downloaded here: