My Research on the Bible and Biblical Hebrew

First, Ten “Says” (Creation); Then Ten “Acts” (of Divine Intervention); Finally, Ten “Speaks” (Commandments)

Biblical Hebrew offers a fundamental distinction between “Say” and “Speak”. The difference put them worlds apart:

  • In “Say” one sends a message in one direction; There is no expectation of a response. “Say” implies sending contents that no doubt will be accepted (by listeners) or implemented. Kings and absolute rulers “Say”. They do not speak. An example: “And God said let there be light and there was light” (Genesis 1:3);
  • In “Speak” one sends contents in expectation of a dialogue with the receiver of the message. “Speak” implies an expectation of a listener that reacts and responds. An example: “And God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am Jehovah” (Exodus 6:2). One wonders why the repetition of “Speak” and “Say”. But there is no redundancy. First— a message is sent to the reader that God started a dialogue with Moses. Then the message itself is said by the supreme ruler.

A byproduct of this distinction, an expression of the unique role of “speak” in biblical Hebrew, is Davar (thing). The latter derives from same root as “speak”. This sends a powerful message that every “thing” in the universe is intended to speak to us. Nothing is “message-less”. All have meaning. And that message speaks unto anyone who wishes to listen and maintains a constructive dialogue with the world and all that it contains. A good example is God Jehovah forming “out of the ground” “every beast of the field and every bird of the air” (Genesis 2:19), bringing them to Adam “to see what he would call them and whatever the man called every living creature that was its name” (Genesis 2:19). Thus, names are not senseless combination of letters but rather expressions of the essence of that which is named. And same goes to every Davar in the universe, defined by a certain combination of letters in biblical Hebrew.

Having elaborated on the distinction between “Say” and “Speak”, one may monitor the evolution of the dialogue of the Divine with mankind. Witnessing the different forces of nature and their seemingly unpredictability (for example, the seemingly random trajectories of the stars in the sky), ancient generations had no choice but to believe that they are helpless living creatures under the control of forces that they cannot understand or maintain dialogue with. The main message of the Torah is that this perception is fundamentally flawed, and it gives a timeline for the evolution from an “incomprehensible world” to a world, the creator of which wishes to listen and to respond.

Certain time-points mark the transition from the one to the other. First, Jehovah God calls unto Adam “Where are thou? (Genesis 3:9). But Adam prefers to hide and not to maintain a dialogue with the Divine because Adam, like most humanity nowadays, does not like anyone to tell him what he is allowed to do and what he is allowed not. This led to a perception of the world as rule-less, in ancient times, or as intervention-less (by the Divine), and ruled only by the mathematical laws of nature, as revealed to us by modern science. But in truth, nothing has fundamentally changed in the basic condition of humankind: Only the randomness of a chaotic world, as perceived by our ancestors, has been replaced by a rule-full world, as described by modern science. But with non-explainable randomness notwithstanding, randomness of a different sort. Seemingly randomness of the observed world of ancient times has been replaced by the inexplicable randomness of current laws of science. For example: The phenomenon of the constant speed of light, as well as the very value of the latter, both remain as mysterious and as random and inexplicable today as were directly observed natural phenomena of ancient times. Seemingly randomness has migrated from the directly observable natural phenomena to the non-observable, but just as random and inexplicable, laws of nature, as articulated by modern science.

To demonstrate to the struggling human species that not all is indeed random and that there is a monitoring authority that is not subject to laws of nature, yet wishes to start a dialogue with us, human beings, the ten plagues of Egypt were initiated and carried out by messengers of the Divine, Moses and his older brother Aaron (starting at Exodus 7:20). The ten interventions of the Divine, as unfolding in Exodus, were meant by Torah to send a single message— The Divine is maintaining a dialogue with us, mere mortals. If only we listen. This dialogue is succinctly summarized in Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:12):

“And he dreamed and behold a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it”.

We are reminded that in biblical Hebrew “angel” is malach, namely, a messenger whose only function is to carry a message or carry out a message. For example: “But there came a messenger (“Malach”) to Shaul, saying, “Make haste and come, for the Philistines are raiding the land” (1 Samuel 23:27).

This lends Jacob’s dream a whole new interpretation: Every human being sends messages to Heaven of his/her wishes and desires. Most often, these messages are not expressed explicitly, but at times they do (as in prayer). These messages are “processed” and sent back down to Earth in corresponding Divine messages, to be executed by “descending messengers of God”.

How does Torah make explicit this dream, making clear that the dialogue between Heaven and Earth is a living reality?

By showing that the Divine intervenes in all that occurs on planet Earth, at times even via violating laws of nature.

This had occurred with the ten plagues of Egypt. And to Pharaoh, who had initially stated “Who is Jehovah that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, nor will I let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2), ten Divine interventions sent a clear message, causing Pharaoh to change his stance:

  • First, acknowledging Jehovah as a judge of the Earth (“..I have sinned this time: Jehovah is righteous and I and my people are wicked”; Exodus 9:27);
  • Eventually, by letting Israel go out of Egypt to worship their Jehovah God, but with a little request: “..Rise up and get you out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel and go serve Jehovah, as you have said, ..and be gone and bless me also” (Exodus 12:31-32).

The ten Divine interventions in Egypt had started, indeed made possible, the process of a dialogue between heavens and earth. Now ten Divine “says” of creation, of the first chapter of Genesis, followed by the Divine seeking a dialogue with humankind (“Where are thou?”), then ten interventions demonstrating that the Divine is not subject to the rule of nature, eventually culminating in ten Divine “speaks”, as manifested in the Ten Commandments:

“And God spoke all these things (Dvarim), saying: “I am Jehovah thy God, who has brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slaves; Thou shall have no other gods beside me.” (Exodus 20:1-3)..”..Thou shall not murder   Thou shall not commit adultery   Thou shall not steal   Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 20:13).


Free Will— The Act of Separating and Choosing

The essence of being human is exercising free will. This is the act by which we continuously create ourselves and form our personality and character.

The Divine has created mankind (“So God created mankind in his own image…”, Genesis 1:27); but He has also formed it (“And the Lord God formed mankind of the dust of the ground…”, Genesis 2:7). We, human beings, whether we wish it or not, are doomed throughout our lives to repeat, via exercising free will, the two acts of creating (establishing a solid link between soul and body, while we grow) and forming.

What is the needed environment for human beings to be able to exercise their free-will?

There are two conditions (necessary and sufficient):

[1] Existence of “Good” and “Bad” mixed together (as in “The Tree of Knowledge, good and bad”, Genesis 2:9);

[2] Hidden-ness of God and the concealment of God’s hidden-ness.

Prophet Isaiah delivers succinct and stunning expression to the existence of the first condition:

“That men may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides me— I am Jehovah and there is no one else; Forming light and creating darkness, making peace and creating the bad, I Jehovah am doing all these” (Isaiah 45:6-7).

Note that creating (“something from nothing”) precedes forming ((“imprinting form on the created”), just as forming precedes making. Yet prophet Isaiah sets absence of light (darkness) and the bad (the harmful, the evil) at a level higher than that of light— the former were created, the latter was “just” formed.

Existence of the second condition, a daily human experience revealed in countless debates on whether God exists, is evidenced both by biblical Hebrew and by the Bible. In biblical Hebrew, “World” (Olam) derives from same root as all Hebrew words pointing to concealment. Examples: Ta’aluma (Mystery); He’almut (disappearance); Ne’elam (unknown (noun), as in an algebraic equation); Alum (secret, adj.). In other words, the whole world is testimony to the hidden-ness of God. Prophet Isaiah repeats same motive:

“Indeed, thou are a God who hides thyself, O God of Israel, savior” (Isaiah 45:15).

Concealment of God, however, is itself concealed (“Does God exist?”):

“And I will surely hide my face on that day…” (Haster Astir; Deuteronomy 31:18).

The repeat of same root twice (in two consecutive words) is traditionally interpreted by Jewish scholars as implying concealment of the concealment, an integrated fact of life that we all have probably experienced at one time or another throughout our lives (“Does God exist?”).

Having studied the two conditions for the existence of free-will, the next question to ask is:

What are the limitations to exercising free-will and what does the latter entail?

We continuously live in two worlds, intermingled and most often inseparable and indistinguishable from one another: “World of Law-of-Nature” and “World of Randomness”. We can exercise free-will only in an environment that allows choice, namely, in the “World of Randomness”. Unlike in the “World of Law-of-Nature”, where external constraints force us to behave in certain ways (and not others, namely, no free choice is available), in the “World of Randomness”, where randomness prevails, we are free to exercise whatever our heart desires. It is only then, in the “World of randomness”, that we become an agent of our own free will.

What exercising free-will is comprised of? It comprises two actions:



We need to separate “Good” from “Bad”, before choosing. Most often in our daily lives, the good and the bad are intermingled to a degree that the two can rarely be told apart; Therefore, we need to separate before choosing. God created darkness (per prophet Isaiah), thereby allowing the good and the bad in our world to co-exist, mixed. Consider the biblical Hebrew word for “evening” (as in “…and there was evening and there was morning…”; Genesis 1:5, for example). The Hebrew word derives from same Hebrew root used for mixing (as in “mixture”). The “Tree of Knowledge good and bad” also implies mixed together. In biblical terms, one may allegorically assert that we all have eaten of “The Tree of Knowledge, good and bad”, where “Good” and “Bad” are mixed together in the same fruit. And since then, “Good” and “Bad” have become intermingled in our body and soul, delivering us our mission in life to grow and mature and create ourselves and form our personality and character, all via the process of separating (“Good” from “Bad”) and then choosing.

The act of separating (good from bad) is two-folded and it is expressed differently in the two worlds we inhabit:

  • In the “World of Law-of-Nature”, we need to separate “good” from “bad” because absent this separation we may choose the “bad”, thereby harming our well-being and possibly even endangering our life. Thus, buying fruit in the supermarket, we are careful to separate good apples from the bad ones (rotten apples) so that we can then make the correct choice of purchasing good apples only, benefiting our health and well-being. Separation is also inherent to many of our bodily processes (like in the kidney);
  • In the “World of Randomness”, the act of separating good from bad (or “good” from “evil”, as commonly used in biblical parlance) is a much harder task. Unlike in the “World of Law-of-Nature”, where science assists us in forming clear distinction and separation between the good and the bad, we do not easily, clearly and immediately differentiate between the two in the “World of Randomness”. Let us demonstrate with a simple example. I am selling a used car, aware that the car carries a certain defect. I can inform the buyer about it or I can inform her not. In the latter case, the thinking goes like this: “I have allowed the buyer to inspect and check the car thoroughly, have I not? However, the defect was not exposed. It is the buyer’s responsibility to identify the defect, not mine, is it not?”. Such thinking testifies to the daily blurring, in the “World of Randomness”, of “good” and “bad” (or “good” and “evil”, in biblical terms). Therefore, Jewish Torah explicitly instructs: “Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor GIVE a stumbling block to the blind…” (Leviticus 19:14). In other words, one cannot hide behind an argument like the one just articulated. It is the seller’s responsibility to turn the blind into non-blind by alerting the buyer to the car’s defect.

Once we understand the act of separation in the two worlds, and grasp the role of science in assisting us separating in the “World of Law-of-Nature”, how do we separate and choose right in the “World of Randomness”?

Moses, speaking to the Children of Israel on behalf of the Divine, set to them clear separation and clear choice:

* Separation: “Behold, I have given thee this day life and the good, and death and the bad” (Deuteronomy 30:15);

* Choosing: “I call upon heaven and earth to witness this day against you that I have set before thee life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore, choose life that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Is free-will an endowment of the human species, granted to it for eternity?

Not according to Scripture. The free-will act bestowed on humankind, that of separating and choosing, has a limited life-span. It is not eternal. Time will come when God will reveal Himself and then free-will, by definition, will be no more:

“For then I will convert the peoples to a non-confounded language that they all call upon the name of Jehovah to serve him shoulder to shoulder” (Zephaniah 3:9);

“And Jehovah will be king over all the earth; on that day Jehovah will be one and his name One” (Zechariah 14:7).

Furthermore, not only the task of separating and choosing no longer be in the hands of mankind; At End-Times, the Divine will conduct a process of separation of His own; However, the separation process will not be between “Good” and “Evil” (as the latter exists in the “World of Randomness”), but rather between the righteous and the evil (who exist amidst humankind):

“I will also turn my hand against thee, and will purge away your dross as with lye and remove all thy alloy” (Isaiah 1:25);

“Therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will smelt them and try them…” (Jeremiah 9:6);

“As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall you be melted in the midst of it…” (Ezekiel 22:22);

“I will bring the third part through the fire, and refine them as one refines silver and test them as one tests gold…” (Zechariah 13:9);

“But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like the washers’ soap; and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver…” (Malachi 3:2);

“Many will be purged, and purified and refined…” (Daniel 12:10).






Punishment vs. Guidance — Explaining Adverse Outcome of Well-intentioned Behavior

(Related podcast: Punishment vs. Guidance — Explaining Adverse Outcome of Well-intentioned Behavior (Podcast) )

“Why Bad Things Happen to Good People” is an age-old mystery that has plagued humankind for millennia. Understanding and contrasting the two principal explanations,  the Punishment and Guidance principles, may be key to better understanding adverse outcome for well-intentioned behavior.

Perhaps the ultimate source to address this issue is the biblical book of Job, not coincidentally attributed to Moses (see following paragraph). Jewish prophets (like Jeremiah) also turned their attention to the seemingly “Lack of Justice” that befalls “good people” and had “grumbled” this sentiment to the Divine. As this year’s Yom Kippur is upon us, I attempt in this post a possible solution, with a simple example. Naturally, the solution offered is not scientific, probably also not entirely original. Yet it is presented in this post as an article of faith that I believe is supported by my life-long personal experience.

Moses, wondering how God leads the world, asks: “I pray Thee show me thy glory” (Exodus 33:18). Part of the detailed response is: “…I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19).

This response is made more explicit in God’s response to King David, after the latter has expressed wish to build a temple. God’s response, via prophet Natan: “..I will raise up your off-spring to succeed you .. He is the one who will build a house for my Name .. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me who, on perverting his ways, I would reproach with the rod of man and such plagues as befall the sons of Adam” (2 Samuel 7:12-14).

Using “Pervert” as implying walking a twisted path (instead of a straight one) is further pronounced by Job, who uses same Hebrew root (as in the preceding quote): “..I have sinned and perverted that which was straight and it profited me not” (Job 33:27).

Jeremiah, like Job, also cries out to God: “Righteous are Thou, O Lord, that I would plead my case with Thee yet I will reason matters of justice with Thee; Why does the way of the wicked prosper, at ease are all those dealing in treachery?” (Jeremiah 12:1).

For people of faith, who have abandoned the anti-biblical credo that “When randomness reigns all is coincidental”, the ancient quagmire of “Why well-intentioned behavior may lead to adverse outcome” may lead to one of two seemingly mutually-exclusive explanations:

Punishment vs. Guidance.

The Punishment interpretation is, I believe, a disruptive relic from our childhood. For some of us, the punishment/reward belief-system, instilled in us in childhood, has taken hold of our adult perception of reality and how we interpret unexplainable adverse personal experiences (internal, like physical pain or sickness, or external). Via parents and teachers who administer a system of rewards and punishments, we are conditioned in childhood to defend ourselves against harm and seek gratifying experiences. The fundamental moto of childhood education is: “Good things happen to good children” and “Bad things happen to bad children”. This system is active both in the child’s experience of the physical world and of the social world. It is hoped, by agents of education, that the reward/punishment system would instill in the educated child correct patterns of behavior that would spare her/him harmful effects caused by violating “Law-of-Nature” (like falling from a high place), while concurrently leading to appropriate integration into the prevailing social system. Growing up, some grown-up “children” of faith continue to believe that same reward/punishment system reigns supreme in all gray areas of our lives, where we are helpless providing logical explanation for adverse outcomes resulting from well-intentioned decisions and actions. People of faith then tend to resort to irrelevant past decisions or actions, explaining current adverse outcomes as belated Divine Punishment for those past events.

The Guidance principle (“Hashgachah Pratit”) is an alternative explanatory principle. It claims that to understand why “Bad things happen to good people” one should not look to past irrelevant events but rather to the present and occasionally also to the future. What matters is not past decisions and actions but rather the final outcome of the “bad” experience. This outcome is invariably the best explanation for current unpleasant experiences. The road to destiny may not always be straightforward, it might take longer than expected and perhaps even be painful; but it would eventually lead to destiny, embodied by the final outcome. What that outcome is may not always be immediately clear. It may at times require some deep personal investigation and even patience. But once the major outcome is clarified, a sense of relief and perhaps even internal joy may indicate to us that, indeed, guidance is there available to us at all times. If we only properly attune our spiritual and practical antennas to receive the clues..

There are three main reasons for why “Bad things happen to good people”:

[1] Past bad choices that we have made, when straight roads were still open to us and “shouting” clues delivered to us to choose correctly or rightly; Yet we have ignored those clues, chose wrong and “perverted that which was straight”.

[2] Straightforward paths to destination do not exist (irrespective of our past decisions): Occasionally, only twisted ways are available to reach destination. An example for this scenario is given later on.

[3] Divine scheme: This at times requires that what humanly seems humanly-adverse, needs to occur in the grand scheme of things. Yet it remains completely incomprehensible to us:

  • I will be Whoever I will be” (Exodus 3:14)
  • I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious” (Exodus 33:19)
  • Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4)

For people of unshaken faith, the Holocaust is first and foremost in what may come to mind.

For those of us who believe that no reward/punishment system is active in the universe, only Guidance, the ultimate principle is this:

Look not into the past for irrelevant choices that you have made. Instead, look into the present, and at times also into the future. Find out what ultimately transpired following “Bad Experience”, what was the major consequence and final outcome. Soon enough, you would learn to realize that this outcome is the best possible explanation. At times, the searched for major outcome may be elusive or lie in the distant future; But ultimately you will find out, to your great surprise, that Guidance is much more prevalent in your life than you ever thought possible.

Is there no punishment at all, according to Scripture? Of course not. Punishment recurs often both in the Torah and in reproaches for un-righteous conduct leveled at the Israelites by the biblical prophets. Yet Punishment is not contradictory to Guidance. Rather, it is a particular mode by which Guidance materializes. Here too an effort is required to search for the final outcome of the “punishment” in order to fully comprehend what the destiny has been in the first place. “Punishment” is realization of Guidance, to be understood merely by observing end-results like improvement in character and in patterns of communicating with others. Prophet Isaiah takes this position to its extreme: “On that day you shall say, I give thanks to three, O Lord, for being angry with me, your anger has turned away and thou does comfort me” (Isaiah 12:1).

Looking back at actual major outcomes of life-events to reveal Guidance in action is clearly indicated in part of God’s response to Moses request: “I pray thee show me thy glory” (Exodus 33:18). God’s response:

“I will make all my goodness pass before thee…Thou cannot see my face for no human being would see my face and lived…I will put thee in a cleft of the rock and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by; and I will take my hand and thou shall see my back but my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:19-23).

The principle of “looking back” at what ultimately transpired could not be more clearly pronounced. Pain and sorrow, “Bad things”, are invariably intermediate results preceding the ultimate, final and major outcome delivered by Guidance. And that major outcome is always good.

For several days I have prepared several elaborate examples to Guidance from my own life experience and experiences of others to which I have been witness. I have eventually decided to scrap them all. In current public atmosphere, where agents of public opinion feel that they live, due to recent scientific and technological breakthroughs, in the era of the Tower-of-Babel (“Let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach to heaven”; Genesis 11:4), any insinuation of Guidance may be a subject for ridicule. Therefore, I will do with a simple trivial example from my own recent experience. That example may be perceived as an allegory to larger events, as shall be elaborated later on.

An Example: “At last, a parking space”

The following is a real occurrence that I have recently experienced. Some weeks ago, Ruth and I were driving in Haifa towards a certain restaurant. A “bad experience” then unexpectedly happened – I missed a turn. Annoyed and frustrated, I had to drive some extra miles until I was able to return back (to the missed turn). I have finally arrived at the restaurant to find out that there were no available parking spaces around. Worst still, in that area where parking was possible no car-waiting spaces were available at all times. This meant that if a parking space had not become available right upon arrival your chance of finding parking space was extremely slim. We left the place heading home when I had decided to give it another trial. Back near the restaurant, at the exact moment of arrival, a single parking space suddenly became vacant. “Timing is all”. It immediately dawned on me that had the “Bad experience” of missing the turn not occurred, the final major outcome (available parking space exactly on arrival) could not have taken place. An article of faith? Obviously. But to a degree also statistically (evidence) based. To my family and close friends, who have traveled with me in my own car, finding parking space, where none seems possibly available, has become a highly-esteemed “expertise”, particularly given absence of any prior training…

What is the allegory? A long way, possibly loaded with intolerable delays, may at times be required to arrive at the right timing to the desired outcome of Guidance.

The Guidance principle, namely, looking at final results in order to understand the driving force, may well be applied responding to the eternal question:

Why do we live?

To comprehend the purpose of life one needs only look around and learn what has transpired during his/her own life-time. That which one observe is that for which one lives:

Connecting to reality (directly observable or otherwise); Experiencing reality, learning from it and passing on the learned lessons to others; Associating with fellow human-beings and with other living beings, communicating with them and assisting them to fulfill their own life destiny; Loving and being loved;

And to top it all: We are here to constantly make decisions out of free will (available to us whether we are completely free or otherwise).

These, taken together, constitute the ultimate destiny of life: Learn, develop and with the power of love overcome our inherent separated-ness.