Friday, June 29, 2007

led astray by G-d??? (II)

The most glaring example of being led astray comes from our parsha. G-d at first tells Bilam to stay away from the Jews, but then acquiesces to Bilam’s going. How can we blame Bilam for accepting the job of going to curse the Jews if G-d appeared to him in a dream and gave the OK?

Chazal (cited by Rashi) say “b’derech she’adam rotzeh leilech bah molichin oso” – G-d will lead a person in the direction he/she wants to travel. AddeRabbi beat me to the punch (at least once a week I seem to be writing about something he touched on once before) in citing an amazing R’ Tzadok (Tzidkas haTzadik #64), but after reading his piece I think I interpret R’ Tzadok slightly differently than he does (AddeRabbi – any feedback?).

Just like an ordinary person can marshal tremendous physical energy and invest it in an incorrect cause, a great person can marshal tremendous spiritual energy even to the point of causing miraculous occurrences, but it may all be in the name of a misguided mission. G-d does not lead people astray – people lead themselves astray. A bully who beats people up cannot complain that G-d gave him strength and that caused his downfall; a spiritually great person cannot blame G-d for granting him prophecy.

I think R’ Tzadok means even more than that. Asking why a person would receive nevuah or be able to perform a miracle if they are wrong presupposes that there is some objective definition of “wrong” out there that stands in the way of attaining a deep religious experience like nevuah, and an objective “truth” that opens the door to these experiences. I think R’ Tzadok does not see things that way (see Tzidkas haTzadik #90) – there is no objective truth “out there”; truth is a construct we create as part of our own religious experience. Bilam was sincerely committed to the truth of Torah as he interpreted it, and that sincere commitment gave rise to the power of prophecy.

I’ve been mulling this R’ Tzadok over for 2 days and still am not sure I captured the essence of the idea. It is not easy to digest, and is worth reading in the original.


  1. Anonymous2:08 PM

    Bilam was sincerely committed to the truth of Torah as he interpreted it, and that sincere commitment gave rise to the power of prophecy.

    I find it hard to accept that Bilam received prophecy as a result of his personal commitment to Torah.Chazal definitly don't describe him as a person worthy of the Rambams requisite criteria for reaching nevoah.
    In relation to the intrinsic issue-There are explicit pesokim speaking about a novi sheker showing real signs because Hashem is testing us.The proper term IMHO isn't deception but rather that Hashem gives nisyonis(as the posuk phrases it) that can allow a person to have doughts in emunah.Those nisyonis aren't overwhelming however and leave room for emunah also.
    Altough Bilam did have permission from Hashem to go I'm confident that(1) deep down he knew it wasn't the real ratzon that he go (2)in general ratzon hashem wasn't a paramount concern of his altogether which is what led into the situation

  2. R' Tzadok clearly disagrees with you, ayen sham. I don't know that Bilam said a single word of false prophecy, so I am not sure why you label him a navi sheker. Nor am I sure what criteria of nevuah you find him lacking in - he was rich, a chacham, and was set upon fulfilling what he perceived to be the derech haemes. Not sure either why you are so confident that 'deep down' he was anything less than a sincere but misguided individual. Finally, if ratzon Hashem was not his concern, why did he simply go the first time he was asked?

  3. Anonymous4:20 PM

    " Nor am I sure what criteria of nevuah you find him lacking in"

    I believe the Rambam says that to qualify for Nevuah one has to be "Mtgaver bDaito Al Yisro Tamid" "Always has his mind in control of his evil inclination". The midrashim brought by Rashi all over the parsha clearly show that he did not possess this trait.

    One example:
    Rashi: a house full of silver and gold This shows us that he was greedy and coveted other people’s money. He said, “He ought to give me all his silver and gold, since he has to hire many armies, and even then, it is questionable whether he will be victorious or not, whereas I will certainly succeed.”- [Mid. Tanchuma Balak; Num. Rabbah 20:10]

  4. Back up a bit - you can't ask a kasheon a ma'aseh. He was yode'a da'as elyon, no? However you explain how that worked, l'ma'aseh Hashem did overlook his faults and give him nevuah. So what do you want from me?

  5. i agree with you that r' tzadok acknowledges the intersubjectivity and construction of truth more than other thinkers, here he seems to be saying that there is some kind of subjective yardstick, which he calls 'in God's eyes', for which the actions of these individuals doesn't stack up.
    regarding your other points, i don't think i agree with your 'mechanistic' approach, where performance of miracles is a God-given talent or power, much like the ability to dunk a basketball, whose bearer must choose to apply iy well. i think (and, admittedly, would LIKE to think), that these miracles require some kind of 'active' input from God - i think that's the sense of 'molichacha ba-derech telech'.

  6. that should be 'objective yardstick'

  7. >there is no objective truth “out there”; truth is a construct we create as part of our own religious experience."

    Chaim, would you conclude that this idea of R' Zadok confirms Dr. Tamar Ross' proposition of non-foundationalism in Jewish doctrine?

    See this post:

    and tell me if you would still phrase R' Zadok this way.

  8. FKM, I read your post and am not clear (I didn't see a reference to it) how Dr. Tamar Ross uses non-foundationalism in her thesis. Can you pls explain what you mean before we can talk about whether R' tzadok would agree to it?

  9. >>>i don't think i agree with your 'mechanistic' approach,

    Maybe I overstated that point a bit (I found it very hard to formulate the idea). What I was trying to drive at was that nevuah/nes occur in a subjective context of passionate adherence to Torah, and one cannot challenge that experience based on the fact that such a nes/nevuah is invalid in the construct created by "others".

  10. Dr. Ross said the following:
    >"As stated in chapter 10 of my book (Ross, pp. 193-197) and exemplified in my discussion of the principle of reward and punishment in chapter 11 (Ross, pp. 219-220), my understanding of the nature of religious truth statements relates to a more general sympathy for non-foundationalism (i.e., rejection of the view that there is one universal truth, "out there", simply waiting to be discovered, and unaffected by our perceptions of it). This leads me to view the function of such statements, in the wake of the 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and his followers, as expressive, constitutive or regulative rather than propositional. The profession of doctrines and the willingness to live by them comes to reflect or enable certain attitudes, experiences or mindsets essential to the religious life or even to serve a ritual function as declarations of loyalty to the general worldview entailed."<

    In short, there is no such thing as a statement of absolute truth.
    This is non-foundationalism. And she uses R. Zadok heavily to support her thesis that revelation of Hashem's will cannot be confined to a fixed expression of human language which is conditioned by the socio-cultural background of the humans who are being addressed.
    The revelation of Hashem's will must be an ongoing process that develops over Jewish history.

    I think this is fine POST-NEVUAH, where the dass of a chacham cannot access the pure infinite will without using his own human faculties as the tool.
    But to say that ALL nevuah itself is subject to this distortion is more difficult.
    But is R. Zadok supporting this with his examples from Billam, Korach and Eliyahu?
    And might be true for personal communications to private people. But does this exclude the possibility that the TORAH of Moshe could not rise above this distortion?

  11. Anonymous6:05 AM

    FKM: The nevuah of Moshe Rabbeinu is singular, as the Chumash itself tells us.

    How do you understand Chazal's metaphor of "Aspaklaria she-eino meira" in reference to the nevuah of everyone else if not as meaning that other nevuah is filtered through the Navi's personality and experience (i.e. includes a certain amount of subjective distortion)?

  12. I agree. That's what I said above as a possibility.
    But I think calling it a subjective "distortion" already concedes that there is an objective truth being communicated with every prophecy. And the Navi's job is to "let in" as much as he can without distortion given his limitations.
    A better Navi will let more objective messeges in and a lesser one will let in less.
    But all this implies that people can overcome the subjectivity of personality and experience to a greater or lesser degree and this is what is expected of us when confronting the divine will.

    Wittgenstein and Ross say its a hopelessly naive fantasy to think that any objective truth exists in theory.
    This, I think, is completely wrong and wrong-headed.

  13. I think you have to distinguish method from outcome. R' Tzadok I think would not object to postmodernest ideas of truth as a consensus constructed by observers within a given context. But the result of that consensus ultimately is consistant with the dvar Hashem. R' Tzadok and Ishbita are very deterministic (almost to the point of negating bechira) and see human efforts as a reflection of Hashem's will, even if we ourselves are unaware of how the Divine plan is being played out.

  14. Dr. Ross agrees that the outcome is the Ratzon Hashem. That's what she considers "ongoing divine revelation in history" which can overturn previous theological understandings about halacha.

    My question is, does R. Zadok say anywhere that every prophecy on every level (like Moshe's prophecy in recording the words of the Torah) is also subjective because there is a human involved?
    Or does he agree that on some level there is an objective Ratzon that humans can access?

  15. Let's say the words of Torah sheb'ksav are an exception - what have you gained? I imagine Ross would argue (like a good postmodernist) that any work cannot be read without interpreting it - letters on a piece of parchment have no objective meaning before they are read by an audience who create a context for that act of reading.
    What exactly is bothering you with Ross' thesis? Call it objective truth, call it truth by consensus which is ratified by G-d, what's the difference? If G-d gives his stamp of approval, what more do you want?

  16. My problem is that Ross doesn't make it at all clear that Torah Shebichtav is an exception.

    This is understandable: once she allows Moshe Rabbenu to be an exception, we traditionalists can easily make the case (as the Rambam clearly does) that the written Torah WITH ITS INTERPRETATION was all given to Moshe at Sinai!
    We do indeed have room for later legislation, but it cannot budge any teaching in the name of Moshe Rabbeinu--including the "mysogynist" or "pro-male" teachings of Moshe.
    Once she acknowleges that Moshe did have access to the absolute unchanging will of Hashem which "favors men" in halacha, she loses all.

    Does R. Zadok save her?

  17. I don't know about R' Tzadok, but you are arguing against a Ritva in Eiruvin that says Moshe was taught 49 ways to be metaheir and 49 to be metamei and the rest is eilu v'eilu. Anyway, the whole thing makes no sense - let's say all of halacha is a construct by men with their biases. R' Tzadok and everyone else still says bottom line is G-d gave his stamp of approval to the halachic construct these men created. Unless G-d c"v is a mysoginist, I'm missing the point here. G-d doesn't give an OK to sheker or to a flawed system that needs change. You can cite R' Tzadok from today until tomorrow, but I don't see how it helps. I haven't read Ross, but I must be missing something because this is a non-sequitor.

  18. She wants to say that everything up till now WAS the ratzon Hashem for THEM givien their socio-cultural mysogynist limitations.

    Her argument therefore is that the past should not dicate the future and and poskim with hightened awareness our our reality today will be doing ratzon Hashem TODAY by legislating equality in religious life. So Rav Zadok will help her if he says each generation has access to new ratzon Hashem based on their perception of the reality which has never been objectivly based.

  19. R' Tzadok does say this - #90 in Tzidkas haTzadik. But poskim are not legislators. See

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  21. Anonymous9:15 AM

    I'm beginning to think that Izhbitzer thought, R. Tzadok's in particular, has to be understood at a very high level to be understood at all. Imperfect understanding can allow it to be misused to justify anti-halachic propositions.

  22. >"But poskim are not legislators. See"<

    Tell that one to Rabbenu Gershom!

  23. Hello. I thought your question was answered? R' Gershom is an exception - aside from local minhagim you don't really have poskim who create halacha yesh m'ayin. If Ross would give some examples then there would be more to talk about. Even something like aliyot for women was justified within the context of existing halacha - no one said we could just throw out the idea of 'kavod tzibur' or reread it based on a completely different understanding than already found in rishonim. Part of the reason the argument has failed is precisely because it does not seem consistant with the way halachic precedent has been construed. Have you read Ross' book? Without reading it, I don't have much to say.

  24. WADR, Saying Rabbeinu Gershom was an exception is a lame response. The power of takkana is a normative halachic one and the overwhelming prevalance of pre-nuptials in MO weddings is a modern example that can be pointed to. Are they against halacha or not?

    I think we have to distinguish between issur ve'heter/minhag issues and strictly legal issues that have much more room for personal perrogatives and joint consent. I.e.-First two parts of S.A. vs. last two parts.
    What do you think?

    I only read her 24 page rebuttal which is a darn thorough review of her book. I can't find her book in the stores around Geula- even the tourist ones that carry all the Urim and Devora titles.

  25. >>>The power of takkana is a normative halachic one

    B'mechilas kvodcha, this is completely wrong. Pre-nup is a good example - no one in the MO world would claim kiddushin are pasul if they do not have a pre-nup! That power of takanah is reserved for Chazal, not for us. All we have is suggestions, minhagim, community practice, but none of these are binding in the way the gezeiros v'takanos of Chazal are.
    I think you can order her book through Amazon.

  26. See Shulchan Aruch hilchos Nedarim.
    A tzibur today has the power to obligate its members in whatever takkanos have been established. And the obligation binds all future members of that tzibur who either join from somewhere else, or are born to its members.

    Community practice (if arraged properly and defined formally) is certainly binding!