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General My Research on the Bible and Biblical Hebrew Shorties

Shorty*: The Basic Human Condition — “Angels of God Ascending and Descending” (Gen. 28:12)

(Related podcast:  Basic Human Condition: “Angels of God Ascending and Descending” (Gen. 28:12; Podcast-audio) .)

The Bible starts with a succinct description of all that there is:

“In the beginning God created The Heaven (“Ha-Shamayim“) and The Earth (“Ha-Aretz“)” (Gen 1:1).

This seven-word verse (in the original Hebrew) delivers four messages:

  • There is God; * There is creation; * God and His Creation are separate (pantheism is false); * There is a point in creation when time started (“In the beginning”);

However, there is an additional most important fifth message:

* There are two worlds apart: The Earth and The Heaven.

In the rest of Genesis creation narrative (Chapters 1 and 2), “The Heaven” is not addressed ever again. Genesis describes only that which is visible, or potentially visible, to humankind — “The Earth” (more specifically, the universe). As part of the description of the six days of creation of The Earth, the narrator relates to two separate parts of the universe (“The Earth”):

  • That part that God calls heaven (“The” omitted) — “and God called the sky (Rakia) heaven (Shamayim)…”, Gen. 1:8;
  • That part that God calls Earth (“The” omitted) — “and God called the dry land (Yabashah) Earth (Eretz)…”, Gen 1:10. However, The Heaven (Ha-Shamayim) is not repeated again, neither described nor implied. When alluding to Shamayim, Genesis 1 refers only to Rakia-Ha-Shamayim, as if to emphasize that this is not Ha-Shmayim of the first verse of Genesis.

These two worlds, The Heaven and The Earth, are they communicating with one another?

The Bible is mostly mute about it. Existence of free-will for the human species cannot co-exist with the explicit and undeniable knowledge that The Heaven does exist, that it influences our experiences in life and that… it responds to our decisions.

This should be contrasted with our explicit knowledge of The Earth (the scientifically observable universe), governed by law-of-nature. The latter allows us knowing, or potentially knowing, how “it influences our experiences in life and respond to our decisions“. For example, we know well in advance how nature would respond if we have decided, out of free will, to jump from the rooftop of a highrise.

So, is the Bible indeed utterly mute about communication between The Heaven and The Earth? Is there such communication at all?

There are stories of communication between the Divine and human beings, either one-way communication, like the Ten-Commandments, or two-way communication, like biblical stories of dialogues between the Divine and human beings (“…perhaps ten shall be found there? And He said: I will not destroy for the sake of the ten”, Gen 18:32). Yet, these stories relate to direct communication between man and God, not between “The Earth”  and “The Heaven”, both created (according to the first verse of Genesis). Also, they are not as compelling as Law-of-Nature — You believe these stories or you do not. Same cannot be extended to Law-of-Nature:

Free-will is preserved, maintained and protected with regard to possible “dialogues” between human beings and The Heaven these are completely invisible to us; Free-will is not so with regard to “dialogues” between human beings and Law-of-Nature (The Earth) —  these are visible to us in their entirety.

Areas in our lives that are not subject to Law-of-Nature are areas where free-will is exercised. These are the areas where The Earth and The Heaven communicate. However, to preserve free will, Scripture is mostly mute about this communication‼

There is one exception — a single verse in the Bible that describes, in a very vivid way, the basic condition of humankind, namely, the untold and intuitively unrecognizable continuous dialogue, maintained by us all, between The Heaven and The Earth:

“And he dreamed and, behold, a ladder set up to The Earth and its top reaches to The Heaven; and behold angels (Malachim) of Elohim ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12).

To fully understand this verse, and the function of  ladder in Jacob’s dream, let us be reminded what “Angel” (Malach) is in biblical Hebrew — a messenger (human or non-human), dispatched for an explicit purpose, to deliver a certain message or to perform a certain task. Examples:

  • “The Lord God of The Heaven, who took me from my father’s house… He shall send his angel (Malacho) before thee…” (Genesis 24:7);
  • “And Jacob sent messengers (Malachim) ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom” (Genesis 32:3);
  • “The angel (Ha-Malach), who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads…” (Genesis 48:16);
  • “And there came a messenger (Malach) and said…” (Job, 1:14).

We realize that same word, Malach, serves in Scripture to describe delivery of two sorts of “messages” — one via words, another via actions; Also, same word, Malach, is used for both human and non-human messengers.

In view of the new insight about the meaning of Malach, what does it mean that messengers are ascending and descending on a ladder that connects “The Earth” and “The Heaven”?

There can be a single interpretation:

“Messages” are being exchanged between the two worlds, explicitly declared to exist in the first verse of the Bible — “The Heaven” and “The Earth”‼

These messages are being exchanged, unknowingly to us, continuously; And they are delivered by us by thought, by word and by action. Wishes that we express, prayers that we pray, acts of grace and righteousness, or, conversely, acts of evil, these are all “messages” sent by us, via “ascending messengers”, to “The Heaven”; Experiences we go through, which look to us random and not the outcome of interference of Law-of-Nature, these are “messages” sent back to us, by “descending messengers”, from “The Heaven”.

And these experiences, from the realm of “randomness”, where free will reigns supreme, unconstrained by Law-of-Nature, these are doomed to remain unexplainable so long as free-will is preserved and the Divine is hidden, hiding also His hiddenness (“aster astir panai“, Deuteronomy 31:18).

There are three well-known symbols signifying that same idea, an ongoing dialogue between The Heaven and The Earth.

  • God relates to the rainbow, a bow aimed to Heaven from Earth, as a reminder, a message, sent to Him from humankind and all living beings on earth: “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign for the covenant between me and the Earth; Whenever I bring clouds upon the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and all living creatures of every kind, so that never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (Genesis 9:13-17);
  • In the most well-known symbol of the Jewish faith, the Magen David, there are two triangles: One aimed from Earth to Heaven, another directed from Heaven to Earth;
  • The pyramids of Egypt are similarly built as a triangle directed from earth to heaven.

In Conclusion:

The most basic condition of humankind is existence of a dialogue between “The Earth” and “The Heaven”, the two parts of creation alluded to in the first verse of the Bible (and only there). This dialogue is maintained via two channels:

  • A visible dialogue between all living creatures and Law-of-Nature; The latter, unexplainable but well described (by science), is all observable; In this “Dialogue”, Law-of-Nature is forced on us for full compliance — no compromise, no freedom of choice;
  • A hidden dialogue, partially visible to us in the sense that only “messages” from The Earth may be recognizable; By contrast, to preserve free will, messages from The Heaven are invisible, incomprehensible to us; Yet, not always and not completely:
    • At times, they may be deduced, providing explanation to our experiences as Heavenly response (descending angels) to our own “messages” (ascending angels);
    • At other times, they may not even be deduced, doomed to remain hidden and utterly unexplainable (“..and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy”, Exodus 33:19; “Why bad things happen to good people”).

  • Shorty is a short post
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My Research on the Bible and Biblical Hebrew Videos

One-on-One with Avi Ben Mordechai and Haim Shore (Three half-hour episodes)

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.

 

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My Research on the Bible and Biblical Hebrew Shorties

Shorty*: What Ultimately Comforted Job?

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”.

Examples:

  • 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

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General

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

“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.