Monthly Archives: December 2017

Rav Shagar – Chapter 1

I’m excited about a new book that I recently bought. It is called “Faith Shattered and Restored: Judaism in the PostModern Age”. It contains excerpts from Rabbi Shagar’s writings. Reading the introduction, it is clear that the intent is to speak to people for whom the “old” ways of being religious don’t work – but can’t find a new way.

Chapter 1 deals with the Akeda. The title of the chapter is: “Uncertainty as the Trial of the Akeda”. Rav Shagar does not focus the question of the Akeda as Abraham’s being asked to obey an ostensibly unethical divine command. Rather, his focus is on the injustice of God ordering a trial involving the sacrifice of one’s son. “Can God act unjustly?” is the question the Midrash asks. The question begs comparison to Job, whose ordeal was caused by Satan. Would it be correct to assume the same of the Akeda?”

Rav Shagar quotes the Gemora Bava Batra 15b as follows: Greater praise is accorded to Job than to Abraham. For of Abraham it is written “For now I know that you fear God”. Whereas of Job it is written “That man was perfect and upright and feared God and eschewed evil”.

Additionally, Rav Shagar notes that “the Rishonim (including the Rambam) used the Akeda to prove the absolute certainty of prophesy. Abraham never would have been willing to slaughter his son, they posited, were he not absolutely certain of the authenticity of the divine command. In many ways, such a portrayal of the ordeal renders it irrelevant to us, for we have not been granted the privilege of prophecy.”

Rav Shagar notes, however, that the Akeda is saved from irrelevance because many midrashim portray Satan as being the one who commands Abraham; or at least Satan claiming to Abraham that it was his idea. “Hazal’s approach is far from simplistic, eschewing the view that God’s voice is clearly apprehensible and that the focal point of the ordeal is Abraham’s willingness to obey it. The question of Abraham’s capacity to know whether it is indeed God’s voice speaking to him – and that he must obey – or whether it is Satan’s, is posed in all its starkness. Perhaps that is the essence of the ordeal – the ability to distinguish between the two voices.”

So, what is God saying and what is Satan saying? How did Abraham react to injustice and how did Job react? Job protested while Abraham did not. Which reaction is preferable? Rav Shagar quotes Gemora Sanhedrin 89b which, says Rav Shagar, implies that God preferred Job’s reaction.

Rav Shagar says “The lesson is clear: A conceited, all-knowing religious stance renders the trial, and with it the entire religious endeavor, a sham. The trial, along with a religious lifestyle and a connection to God, can exist only in the context of a humble personality that is content in not knowing. A conceited stance stems from pride, and it is the voice of Satan. The trial will forever be associated with a subject who by nature is in the dark.”

Parshat ויגש – Bereishit 46:1 – Is There a Commandment to Honor Grandparents?

Bereishit 46:1 And Israel and all that was his set out and came to Beer Sheba, and he slaughtered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.

Midrash Raba: It doesn’t say “to the God of his father Abraham”. Rabbi Yochanan said regarding this that a person is obligated to honor is father more than the obligation to honor his father’s father. The Rama states in his commentary on Yoreh Deah (Section 140) that we see from here that a person is obligated to honor his father’s father, but the obligation to honor is father is greater.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #1:

The above quote is the opinion of the Rama. The Mahari has the opposite opinion: a person is not obligated to honor his father’s father. Many later commentators wrestled with this question and brought proofs for each of the opinions. The Gra, in his commentary on Yoreh Deah writes a new idea on this topic. The Gra states that the grandson is certainly not obligated to honor his mother’s father. The Gra brings a proof from Midrash Bereshit Raba (Section 98) where it states explicitly that the sons of one’s daughters are not referred to as one’s children.

I have doubts, however, whether the Gemora itself agrees with the Midrash Raba on this question. Note that there are many places in the Gemora where it states explicitly that one’s daughters’ children are referred to as one’s children. For example, in the Gemora Yevamoth 66b the Gemora explains the verse in Deuteronomy 33:9 “Nor did he know his children” as referring to his daughter’s children.  Another example is in the Gemora Yevamoth 70a where it comments on the verse in Leviticus 22:13 “if the kohen’s daughter has no children…” and states that it is understood that the verse must include “children’s children”. There it is explicitly discussing a daughter’s children. Another example is in the Gemora Kedushin 68b where it discusses the verse in Deuteronomy 6:4 “if he will turn your son from following Me…” and concludes that this includes the children that your daughter may have even with a non-Jewish father. There are many other Gemoras that prove the same point. We additionally see the same with Lavan’s statement in Genesis 31:43 that “the sons are my sons” when speaking about his daughters’ children. Therefore, it seems probable to say that the Gemora disagrees with the Midrash Raba quoted above. The Gemora’s opinion is that the children of one’s daughters are referred to as one’s children. Thus, the view of the Gra would have to be investigated further in terms of its halachic ramifications.

Consequently, in general, it is logical to state that one is obligated to honor one’s father’s father. We see that the father’s father is [himself] obligated equally to the father. As it states in Gemora Kedushin 30a “how do we know that a grandfather is obligated to teach his grandchildren Torah? From the verse in Deuteronomy 4:9 “But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children”.

If so, the logical conclusion is that since the father’s father has the strictness of the obligation regarding educating his grandchildren, similarly the grandchildren have the strictness of the obligation regarding giving him honor.

There is, in actuality, nothing new in this conclusion. We find similar statements by the Rif and the Rosh and other halachic commentators in their comments on the Gemora Kedushin 44a regarding the obligation of a person to make a blessing if a miracle occurs for him. The commentators state that this obligation occurs not only if the miracle happens to the person himself, but also to his children and his children’s children. The reason for this derives from the Midrash Raba’s statement regarding the verse in Genesis 21:23 [And now, swear to me here by God, that you will not lie to me or to my son or to my grandson; according to the kindness that I have done with you, you shall do with me, and with the land wherein you have sojourned.”] The Midrash Raba comments there that father’s have mercy onto their children up to the 3rd generation of descendants. If so, then the reverse is also true that the son and the son of the son have mercy on their father and grandfather. Thus, since according the measure of feelings of the son of the son and the father of the father are the same and we obligate them equally to make a blessing with God’s explicit name, so to it is logical to obligate them to honor [the father’s father].

Editor’s Note: In this note, the Torah Temimah disagrees with the Gra (The Vilna Gaon) and states that it is an obligation to honor one’s father’s father. Additionally, the Torah Temimah digresses slightly to show that the Gemora and the Chumash consider one’s daughter’s children to also be included.