Monday, December 31, 2012

The World to Come

The Coming of the End

Maimonides Views Life
"The good which is reserved (lit., 'hidden') for the righteous is the life of the World to Come. This is the eternal life (lit., 'the life which has no death with it'), and the good without evil. This is as it is stated in the Torah, 'in order that it will be good for you and you will lengthen days' (Deut. 22:7). From our tradition [the Rabbis] have learned, 'in order that it will be good for you' -- in the world which is all good, 'and you will lengthen days' -- in the world which is eternally long. And this is the World to Come.

"The reward of the righteous is that they will merit this bliss and be in this perfect state (lit., 'in this goodness'). And the punishment of the wicked is that they will not merit this life but will be cut off and die. Anyone who does not merit this life is considered dead, whose life is not eternal but who is cut off in his wickedness and perishes as an animal. This is the excision (Heb., 'karais') written in the Torah, as it is stated, 'Cut off, shall be cut off that soul; its sin is in it' (Numbers 15:31). From our tradition [the Rabbis] have learned (based on the fact that cut off is written twice in the verse), 'cut off' -- in this world; 'shall be cut off' -- in the World to Come. Meaning, that soul, which departs its body in this world, will not merit life in the World to Come, but will be cut off from the World to Come as well."

For the past two installments I have been giving an overall introduction to some of the topics the Rambam will discuss in this and the coming chapter. In Part 1 we discussed what happens to a person after he dies -- his judgment, period of purgatory and ultimately his receiving a share in the World to Come. In Part 2 we talked about the end of the world on a grander scale -- the period of the Messiah and the events leading up to it. This time I would like to complete our discussion of the End of Days and reconcile it with the fate of the individual after he dies.

Last week we saw that the Messiah will usher in a period of worldwide peace and knowledge of G-d. The Messiah himself, scion of King David, and his descendants will rule over the Children of Israel in a much larger Land of Israel. All of mankind will live in peace and harmony, paying homage to G-d and His nation (see e.g. Zechariah 14). They will come to Israel to study G-d's word; they will beg us for the honor of serving us (see Bamidbar Rabbah 3:69). And -- in striking contrast to most of our exile -- we and all of the nations will be able to serve G-d undisturbed. No one will question the truth of Judaism. We will know and understand clearly G-d's will; prophets will again walk the earth to instruct us. The world will reach a perfected state, a heavenly state. It will become a true reflection of the G-d who created it.

At the end of 6000 years, two things will occur. The first is that the Final Judgment will be visited upon mankind. All of mankind, both the righteous and the wicked, will be resurrected. The worthy will be judged favorably and live forever, while the wicked will rise only to be utterly destroyed. (The most explicit verse pertaining to this is probably Daniel 12:2: "And many of those who sleep in the dirt of the earth will rise, these to everlasting life and these to shame, to eternal abhorrence.")

After the judgment, the world as we know it will be destroyed. It will remain in that state for 1000 years until it is renewed on a higher state -- akin to the state of the world when man resided in the Garden of Eden. (The Talmud (Brachos 34b) actually states that Adam dwelled only in the Garden; we will be in Eden itself.) The righteous will then return to life (how physical the life will be is a subject for a future lecture), and dwell eternally in a blissful, perfected state. The Sages often depict us as "strolling together" with G-d in Eden (e.g. Rashi to Leviticus 26:12).

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) observes that this 7000 year cycle of the world parallels the 7-year Sabbatical year cycle. Just as we till the earth for six years and leave it fallow on the seventh, so too the world will toil for 6000 years and rest on the final millennium. Similarly the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 29) notes that all of this parallels the 7-day workweek, and so too seven Sabbatical cycles culminate in the Jubilee year. Thus, the world functions in multiple cycles of seven. (I have likewise seen brought down from one of the commentators that even the 7000-year cycle will repeat, as G-d will continually create and recreate the world.)

Beyond this, there is not much more I can write about this final state of man -- for the simple reason that we were not given even the vaguest description of that state. It is wholly and utterly beyond the ability of physical man to comprehend. Likewise, the Talmud (Brachos 34b) states that all the prophets prophesied about the era of the Messiah alone. Regarding the World to Come, however, "An eye did not see it, L-rd, other than You, what He will do for those who look to Him" (Isaiah 64:3). It will be the ultimate state. And in a way, it's good that we cannot even begin to comprehend it. If it would be something puny man could relate to, it could hardly be the ultimate good -- or very good at all, for that matter.

I would now like to back up a bit. What we have seen thus far is that there are two "ends" every person encounters -- immediately upon his death, and together with all mankind at the End of Days. Each end culminates with a judgment and (hopefully) an admittance into the World to Come. What should be clear by now is that the two "Worlds to Come" are not identical. The first is clearly not the final destination. Mankind and the world must pass through a final climactic phase before the ultimate stage is reached. The world will have to be destroyed and recreated to be readied for this final state. It will be reality on an entirely different level.

The "personal" World to Come each of us will merit after his death is a very different experience. In fact, Jewish thinkers generally do not refer to it as the "World to Come" but as the "World of Souls" (olam ha'neshamos) -- the place where souls reside between their deaths and the Resurrection. It will be nice, to be sure, but it will primarily be a holding pattern for the worthy souls, until the universe can be readied for its ultimate state.

R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, great Italian philosopher and ethicist of the early 18th century, in his work _The Way of G-d_, discusses the role of the World of Souls. He states firstly that it is not at all the final state of man. The highest state will be a union of spiritual and physical. The physical world will be recreated in a higher state -- one which is a complete reflection of and in total harmony with the spiritual. Man's spiritual side will be so powerful and ascendant that it will entirely permeate and sanctify his physical. Man will be a whole entity -- physical and spiritual -- living on the ultimate plane.

The World of Souls, by contrast, will be entirely spiritual. As our bodies decompose in the grave, our souls will ascend to Heaven, enjoying the pleasures of the soul. And this is no small matter. As R. Luzzatto explains, our souls are positively stultified within our bodies. Attachment to so lowly a physical form makes it impossible for our souls to truly thrive. They are hamstrung, unable to realize their potential. To use R. Luzzatto's language, they cannot shine in their true radiance so long as they are trapped within this world.

Once our spirits enter the World of Souls they will be able to achieve their true greatness. They will bask in the Divine glow and realize their full potential. (The Sages often refer to the souls in heaven as learning Torah on the highest level -- enjoying the closest bond with God attainable. It will be blissful -- no mere academic exercise, but as we've written in the past, to a great degree it will depend on how appreciative we grew of G-d's wisdom in our lifetimes.)

Finally, writes R. Luzzatto, this state will be an important prerequisite for the final World to Come. Unlike when they're in the physical world, our souls will reach their highest, most perfected state in the World of Souls. And as a result, when the Resurrection does occur, they will be ready to embark on their ultimate task -- purifying their bodies to their highest degree. By first perfecting themselves in the World of Souls, our souls will be prepared to begin the final process of self-perfection in the true World to Come.

Okay, we've outlined the process fully enough by now. I would now like to conclude with a few words about the Rambam himself. The Rambam here seems to describe the World to Come as a simple yes/no proposition. You either make it in or your soul is destroyed.

The commentators (who get quite lengthy on this matter) note that the Rambam is clearly talking about the final stage of existence. As we've discussed -- and the Rambam himself discussed in the third chapter, every individual stands for judgment immediately after his death (as well as on every Rosh Hashanah). Now that judgment is much more nitty-gritty. It is not pass-fail; every act is judged and rewarded or punished appropriately. The wicked will suffer purgatory for a time and will then join the righteous in Heaven (in their much humbler station). (The utterly wicked will suffer the torments of Hell for all their sins, and it will *not* be followed with their entrance into Heaven. They will float around in the world aimlessly, in abeyance, until they are utterly destroyed after the Resurrection.)

The final judgment, by contrast, will be the ultimate. There will be no last chances. We will either merit it or be utterly destroyed -- and presumably a hairsbreadth of merit divides the righteous from the wicked. The commentators do point out that even there, there will be levels of closeness -- naturally depending upon how well we lived our lives. Yet it will be the final decision and final destination, with no appeals, no chance for clemency, and too late for remorse. As the Sages state it, "Today to do [the commandments], and tomorrow to receive their reward (Talmud Eiruvin 22a). Let us be prepared; the clock is ticking.


How do we enter into eternal life?

Mat 19:16 A man approached Yeshua and said, "Rabbi, what good thing should I do in order to have eternal life?" He said to him,
Mat 19:17 "Why are you asking me about good? There is One who is good! But if you want obtain eternal life, observe the mitzvot."  

Friday, December 14, 2012

The struggle between Good and Evil - Jewish Wrestling

Jewish Wrestling

Since Evil itself has no independent life and only exists by living off the scraps, as it were, of the G‑dly life-force channeled to Good, it is necessary to understand how Evil could struggle for supremacy with Good at all: should this not be impossible?

The answer, however, lies in the fact that G‑d transcends any distinction between Good and Evil. G‑d could just as easily have created a world in which what we know as Evil is superior to what we know as Good. Evil sought not merely to challenge Good, but to challenge the very divine plan by which Good is superior to Evil in the first place.

The mystical correspondence between G‑d's attributes and the major sections of the human body underlies the symbolism of the bodily struggle between Jacob and the angel, in which each embraced the other and sought to topple him.

A strange incident is related in the Torah portion for this week: On the eve of Jacob's crossing the river Yabok on the way to meet his brother Esau, a mysterious stranger appears on the scene and wrestles with him. They struggle through the night and, as day breaks, the stranger reveals himself as an angel of G‑d and begs Jacob to release him. In exchange for a blessing, Jacob does so, and is told that from then on he shall be known as "Israel", a Hebrew name which signifies victory in the struggle.

Everything in life…reflects an underlying spiritual nature…
To appreciate the significance of this, we must consider that everything in life, all that occurs, reflects an underlying spiritual nature. This is especially true of incidents related in the Bible, in which the protagonists were the most pious and saintly figures imaginable. Our divinely inspired forefathers were able to perceive on their own the spirituality of things, the G‑dliness concealed within nature, and often consciously coordinated their actions to be physical parallels of some spiritual concept.

It is in this context that we may understand the narrative of the angel wrestling with Jacob. Our Sages have taught that that angel was the guardian angel of Jacob's wicked brother, Esau, and that the struggle was the very embodiment (in the sense discussed above) of the struggle between Good and Evil.
Yet this itself requires explanation. It is one of the most fundamental principles of Judaism that G‑d is One, and that there is nothing else besides Him. Literally everything in the universe, whether a physical object or an intangible concept or event, can only exist if G‑d so wills it; put another way, since G‑d wills that something should exist, He bestows upon it the spiritual "life-force" which brings that thing into existence and sustains it. This applies to "Evil" as much as to anything else. It is only because G‑d's great and inscrutable "master plan" calls for the existence of evil (in order that we may conquer it, and transform it into good, by observing the Torah) that evil exists at all - but there is no question that its existence is derived from none other than G‑d. Certainly, there is no "independent power" responsible for evil, separate from the One G‑d (as if such a thing were possible).

Moreover, since it would not be fitting for G‑d to directly create things evil, the spiritual life force which gives Evil its existence is "routed" through the forces of Good. This will be explained in greater detail below; suffice it to say here that Evil derives its sustenance from the "leftover" spirituality that could not be used by the forces of Holiness, of Good. For example, a stray dog may derive its sustenance by foraging among garbage in the street. Although it is nourished by leftover food that could not be used by the household, it certainly could not be said that the householders are feeding the dog. Or, the heat emanating from a subway grate may likewise warm stray dogs, but the subway officials, while aware of it, do not intend this result. Evil, however, depends on Holiness even more than in these examples, because while the dog itself already exists, the very existence of Evil is derived from the "leftovers" of the divine life-force which animates Good.

From the perspective of G‑d Himself…Good and Evil are equally insignificant…
In light of the above, the idea that Evil should struggle with Good, vying for supremacy, as it were, with its own life-force, seems more than simply biting the hand that feeds it - it seems as though it should be "mechanically" impossible. How then are we to understand the teaching of our Sages that the incident in this week's Torah portion represented an attempt by Evil to overthrow Good?

In order to comprehend this, it will be necessary to understand in more precise detail the manner in which Evil is "nourished" through Good.

The fact is that the statement above - that it is not fitting for G‑d to give life to Evil, only to Good - is only meaningful from our mortal perspective. To us, it seems inappropriate for G‑d to animate Evil. However, our perspective is severely limited; the truth is that from the perspective of G‑d Himself, Who created the world and everything in it, Good and Evil are equally insignificant. They are both functions of behavior in this physical world, a world which G‑d Himself transcends utterly. We must certainly observe the distinction between Good and Evil, because we dwell in and are subject to the boundaries of this world; to G‑d, however, Who created Good and Evil to begin with, it's all the same. Why then, does G‑d chose to recognize Good over Evil, allowing His creative vitality to flow directly into Good but withholding that vitality from Evil? The reason is that G‑d, in his love of the Jews, allowed us to influence the paths of G‑dly sustenance to the world. In the merit of Jewish Torah study and mitzva observance, G‑d validates "our" perspective by channeling His spiritual life force directly only to those who are subjugated to Him.

This is hinted at by the verse toward the end of this week's Torah portion, "And these are the kings who reigned in the land ofEdom before there reigned a king over the Children of Israel."(Gen. 36:31) The word "Edom" is associated with Esau, representing the forces of Evil generally, and the reference to the kings ruling in Edom is a mystical allusion to the ways in which G‑dly vitality was in fact once found even there. However, this was "before there reigned a king over the Children of Israel" - that is, once the Jews, through their worship, limited the direct flow of G‑dliness to that which has nullified itself before G‑d, the forces of Evil - characterized by a lack of deference to G‑d's Will, and in fact by defiance of G‑d's Will - no longer received their spiritual sustenance directly (as explained above). This latter state of affairs is the mystical meaning of the verse, "There was no king in Edom". (Kings I 22:48)

It emerges, then, that deference to G‑d's Will - "bitul" in Hebrew, which denotes more than mere deference but actual nullification, making oneself completely insignificant, as nothing, before G‑d - is the factor that distinguishes Good from Evil.

Considering how bitul is reflected in our own personalities will help us to understand how this comes about spiritually as well.

…thought has never been capable of observation.
Paradoxically, the highest faculty of man is that which is least "substantial": the intellect. Unlike other organs, whose action is physically observable (whether with the naked eye or on a microscopic level), the activity of the brain - thought - has never been capable of observation. To be sure, medical science has been able to observe electrical impulses in the brain, but actual thoughts, the mind itself, is mysteriously separate from any physical manifestation. Conceptually too, we are hard-pressed to identify the source and nature of the intellect: at its essential level, it is the capacity to conceive ideas and then to develop and understand them, but where do these new ideas come from? They seem to pop into one's mind from nowhere.

The above may be considered characteristic of the quality ofbitul: The intellect is as "nothing" in and of itself. Its own substance or sense of "self", as it were, does not get in the way of its sensitivity to that which is outside itself. It is therefore inherently able to receive input from the source of new ideas (which source is mystically associated with a high spiritual level), similar to the way in which light shines into a room in direct proportion to the transparency of the material covering the window.

Continuing the analogy to our own personalities, the emotional faculties are not as closely associated with the quality of bitul, but are still susceptible to its influence. (Although it is true that emotions per se can not be empirically observed either, they are by definition the emotions of the particular person and manifest that person's sense of self, unlike new thoughts or ideas which seem to come to a person externally.) For example, if the mind contemplates sufficiently the greatness of G‑d, then the emotions of love of G‑d, reverence for G‑d, and so on will be aroused within the person, even to the point where the person puts G‑d above his or her own interests. (E.g. the person may want to read a novel, but out of love for G‑d will read Torah literature instead.) Thus, the emotions too, although initially less "transparent" than the intellect, can be made subservient to G‑d.

The intellect, of course, is associated with the head, while the emotions are traditionally associated with the heart, or, more generally, the torso. Beneath these levels are the legs, which, like the head and the heart, also symbolize particular spiritual attributes. However, these are focused not on the person him- or herself, but rather on someone to whom the person wishes to transmit his or her own influence. For example, one who wishes to teach another must first evaluate the student's capacity to understand the concept, and then formulate the teaching in a way appropriate to that capacity. Or, before giving charity, the giver evaluates the need of the recipient. These considerations - focused on a recipient instead of the person himself - are represented, allegorically speaking, by the legs of a person, which carry the person's own self (the head and torso) forward.

Finally, after formulating the most appropriate plan for transmitting one's influence to another, the person actually transmits that influence. This concludes a process which may be understood as a gradual progression from receipt of a new idea from an external, "higher", source, through the filtering down of that idea to the point where it influences the person (for example, to love G‑d, as mentioned above), and ending with the transmitting of the teaching to someone else. Every step of this process can be imbued with the quality of bitul; however, once the transmitted concept has left the original person and been passed on, it is susceptible to lack of bitul and distortion.

As noted, the above should help us to understand the manner in which G‑d transmits spiritual influence to the forces of holiness, from whence it is possible for the forces of evil to derive benefit as well. As explained elsewhere, G‑d manifests Himself in the world, or transmits spirituality to it, in ten general ways known as the "ten sefirot". Our own characters are fashioned after thesesefirot, so that, by Torah-guided contemplation of our own personalities, we may better understand G‑d. Thus, we refer to the sefirot by names to which our own attributes correspond, fromchochma ("wisdom," or the point at which new ideas come into the mind), through chesed ("kindness"), gevura ("might" or "restraint") and related "emotions," all the way down to malchut(the faculty which actually transmits influence to another).

G‑d wants the world to exist in a form which allows for diversity and multiplicity…
At the highest level - i.e. when G‑d first manifests Himself through the ten sefirot- they are all "batul" (the adjective form of the abstract noun "bitul") to G‑d Himself, and are really one with Him. This state of affairs is described as the spiritual realm of Atzilut. However, since G‑d wants the world to exist in a form which allows for diversity and multiplicity (which would not be possible if everything were seen to be united with G‑d, Who is One and not diverse), He also allows (through the attribute of malchut, which transmits outward) the spiritual life-force to flow beyond Atzilut, through countless, progressively lower, spiritual levels (known in a broad, general sense as the three spiritual realms of Beriya,Yetzira, and Asiya) which are not necessarily completely batul to Him.

(In this sense, it is important to understand that the degree of bitulto G‑d in these spiritual realms is not a measure of how much they "accept" G‑d's sovereignty (for this is not a matter subject to their choice), but a measure of how revealed G‑d is in those realms. The more openly revealed G‑d is, the more "transparent" and batul the inhabitants of that realm; conversely, the more G‑d conceals Himself, the more the inhabitants appear, as a result, to be separate, independent entities - the opposite of bitul.)

Our physical universe is the lowest of all levels (because in it, G‑d is completely concealed from our perception), and the ultimate purpose of the entire progression, because it is specifically in a context within which G‑dliness is not apparent at all (and in fact, in which it appears that G‑d does not rule (G‑d forbid) that the ultimate expression of G‑d's sovereignty can be achieved - by us (the inhabitants of that realm) deliberately subjugating ourselves to Him anyway.

Now, "good" and "evil" are defined by bitul to G‑d's Will. That which is "transparent" to G‑dliness, which does not set itself up as an independent existence but merely expresses and furthers G‑d's Will, is "good"; that which opposes and hinders G‑d's Will, as though it possessed a valid existence in its own right and a will of its own, is "evil." Clearly, on the highest plane of spiritual existence, the realm of Atzilut, evil cannot exist, since at that level, as explained above, everything is one with G‑d Himself and completely batul to Him. However, in order for the purpose of creation to be achievable - in order for us inhabitants of that lowest of realms, in which G‑d is completely concealed, to bring G‑dliness into open revelation by making ourselves subservient to Him - there must necessarily be a concealment of G‑dliness, allowing for a lack of bitul, somewhere along the line. The existence of evil begins, in fact, after the point at which malchut ofAtzilut has transmitted the G‑dly life-giving force beyond that realm of total bitul to G‑d. (This is analogous to an idea being transmitted from one person, whom that idea totally permeated and motivated, to a separate person, where it might become distorted.) The life-force is not transmitted to evil; rather, it is nowaccessible for evil to benefit from, similar to the dog which can get warmth from a subway grating.

Whether or not evil is able to entirely up to us…
(Here is an awesome thought: If evil is defined as the opposition to G‑d's Will, what defines opposition to G‑d's Will? The answer is that G‑d has revealed his Will to us in the Torah: study of Torah and living by its directives, i.e. the mitzvot, are expressions of G‑d's Will, while neglect or violation, G‑d forbid, of the mitzvot are the very definition of opposition to G‑d's Will. Thus, whether or not evil is able to exist - by drawing from the spiritual life force flowing through good - is entirely up to us: if we, G‑d forbid, transgress the laws of the Torah, evil exists; if we obey the Torah, it does not.)

Now that we have examined the way in which G‑d's life-force is accessed, although in a "back-handed" manner, so to speak, by evil, we are in a position to understand the underlying symbolism of the story of the angel of evil wrestling with Jacob.

We said above that the distinction between good and evil is meaningful to G‑d's creatures, but not to G‑d Himself, Who created and defined them to begin with. Charity seems "good" because it was G‑d's Will that the world be structured in such a way; had He willed otherwise, however, He could just as easily have set up a society in which charity is considered wicked and murder, praiseworthy. G‑d Himself is utterly transcendent of all worldly matters, including "good" and "evil." The archangel of Esau, representing the forces of evil, was not seeking to be cut off from its own life force by overthrowing the forces of good; rather, it challenged the very system by which its life force had to be filtered through good in the first place. Its characteristic lack ofbitul, or humility, left evil dissatisfied with its place in the scheme of things: it sought to rise up and, bypassing good entirely, draw its life force directly from that sublime level of G‑d Himself which transcends the distinction between good and evil.

This was manifested in the struggle with Jacob specifically, for it was Jacob whose spiritual accomplishments were rewarded by the investiture of G‑d's life force primarily into the forces of good.

Let us bring this down to earth by relating the concepts, and the specifics of the struggle, to human experience. Evil has no hold over intellect (which, as explained above, is inherently batul); objective intellectual analysis is able to recognize good as good and evil as evil. It is only on the emotional level that a person's own desires and temptations can cause one to "forget" the difference between right and wrong. If one has contemplated at length on such ideas as the greatness of G‑d, one's emotions should be stimulated to desire only G‑d and the performance of His Will. The desire for worldly things should then have no hold even over the emotions. However, without adequate meditation, one's emotions could theoretically be drawn after worldly desires instead of spiritual ones.

Jacob symbolized a thorough dedication of one's emotions to G‑dly matters.
Jewish mysticism identifies Jacob with those levels of G‑dly manifestation referred to as the "emotional" attributes of the realm of Atzilut. Jacob symbolized a thorough dedication of one's emotions to G‑dly matters. The angel of Esau symbolized the corruption or diversion of the emotions to worldly desires. Each tried to topple the other, swaying the emotional faculties of Man entirely over to their side. More specifically, the major emotional attributes of chesed and gevura are symbolized by the right and left arms respectively; thus, each combatant encircling the other with his arms was an earthly manifestation of the spiritual struggle of the evil character traits, on the one hand, to envelop and dominate the personality, and that of the holy character traits, on the other hand, to dominate and convert the capacity for worldly desires entirely to good.

Evil's mistake, however, was in failing to recognize the true nature of Jacob. The emotions can only be swayed to material desires when the influence of the intellect is lacking, for, as noted above, the objective intellect can discern right from wrong. However, Jacob was not merely the embodiment of the dedication of one's emotions to G‑d; he embodied also the influence of the intellectwhich permeates the emotions and motivates this dedication. This is hinted at by Jacob's name, "Yaakov" in Hebrew. "Yaakov" is spelled by the Hebrew letters yudayinkuf and beit. A yud is written as a simple dot, representative of that mysterious "point" at which ideas enter the intellect. The latter three letters of "Yaakov" spell the Hebrew word "eikev", meaning "heel", the very lowest part of the body.

The name "Yaakov", formed by combining these two elements, symbolizes the fact that in Jacob (Yaakov) and his descendants, the Jewish people, the influence of the yud - the intellect and itsbitul to G‑d - permeates and pervades the entire personality, extending even to the lowest level. For this reason, the evil angel was no match for him, and could only injure Jacob in the thigh (as recounted in the Biblical story): the thigh, as mentioned above, is a part of the body associated with relating to another, as opposed to being intrinsic to the person's own self.
Not only that, but Jacob actually overwhelmed the evil forces, subjugating the inclination to do evil - the desire for worldly pursuits - to the inclination to do good - the desire for spiritual pursuits. (This is what is meant by the exhortation expounded from the Shema prayer that we should struggle to love G‑d not only with our inclination to do good, but also with our desire for worldly pursuits: even our capacity to appreciate physical, mundane matters should be used in the furtherance of holy objectives.) In mystical terms, Jacob - the embodiment of the emotional attributes of Atzilut, the capacity for dedication of one's emotions to G‑d - overwhelmed and elevated the emotional attributes of kelipa, the capacity for diversion of the emotions to worldly desires.

…when people engage in a fierce physical struggle they kick up clouds of dust.
Finally, we should note that the Biblical incident mirrors these spiritual themes in all its details. The Sages teach that the Hebrew word used here for "grapple" or "wrestle" - "vayeavek" - is etymologically related to the word for "dust" (in Hebrew, "avak"), because when people engage in a fierce physical struggle they kick up clouds of dust.

Based on this, the Sages say that Jacob and the angel "raised up dust unto the Throne of Glory [G‑d's throne]." The raising of this dust itself symbolizes the ideas discussed above, and carries them one step further. The difference between "dust" and "dirt" is that dirt, despite its position at the relative bottom of the ecological ladder, nevertheless possesses the miraculous ability to grow plants, thus making it the very foundation upon which the vegetable, animal and human kingdoms depend. Dust and ash, by contrast, are not really endowed with this quality.

Spiritually, this is because dirt (which is the physical manifestation of the divine attribute of malchut), like intellect, is as nothing - to the point where it is trod upon by all - and therefore "merits" the revelation within itself of that same spirituality which shines within intellect. (This is in accordance with the Kabbalistic principle that "the beginning is wedged in the end" - i.e. the very highest level is, paradoxically, expressed specifically within the very lowest.) Dust and ash, however, symbolize what remains after all useful material has been extracted, for example, after all a material's substance has been consumed by fire.

The symbolism of Jacob and the guardian angel of Esau "raising dust unto the very Throne of Glory" is thus as follows: Jacob (Good) and Esau (Evil) battled for supremacy, each bodily embracing the other and trying to overwhelm it. Evil was no match for Good, and was itself overwhelmed, resulting in Jacob being renamed "Israel" in recognition of this victory. The victory was so complete that not only were the emotional attributes of kelipa, of the evil angel, subjugated and elevated to the emotional attributes of Atzilut, but even the "useless dust" of evil, mystically derived from malchut of kelipa, was "raised", i.e. elevated, unto malchutof Atzilut, associated with G‑d's Throne of Glory.


Adapted by Yitzchok Wagshul from a discourse in Torah Or;
Yitzchok D. Wagshul /

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Irvin Baxter's Rapture Heresy

Irvin Baxter's Rapture Heresy


One of the strangest statements on Mr. Baxter's website concerns the Rapture. In response to a question about the timing of the Rapture, he says, "Unfortunately, rapture timing debates between brothers in Christ often become divisive, and for this reason, Endtime has chosen to avoid the issue for now." This non-answer is truly astonishing! Here is a person with an opinion on everything in the prophetic scriptures, yet he chose to "avoid" one of the most important issues!

"What I want to do is to teach the Jews the prophecies of the Bible, so that they're not operating blindfolded," says Mr. Baxter

Bear in mind, the Jewish Scriptures were written in Hebrew, not in seventeenth century King James English. What has made Christian believers so vulnerable to Bible tampering is that almost none of them can read or understand the Hebrew Bible in its original language. Virtually no Christian child in the world is taught the Hebrew language as part of a formal Christian education. As he and countless other Christians earnestly study the Authorized Version of the Bible, there is a blinding yet prevailing assumption that what you are reading is Heaven-breathed. Tragically, virtually every Christian in the world reads the translation of men rather than the Word of God. On the other hand, every Jewish child in the world who is enrolled in a Jewish school is taught to read and write Hebrew long before he or she even heard the name of Luther.

Unbeknownst to Mr. Baxter and parishioners worldwide, the King James Version and numerous other Christian Bible translations were meticulously shaped and painstakingly retrofitted in order to produce a message that would sustain and advance Church theology and exegesis. This aggressive rewriting of biblical texts has had a devastating impact on Christians throughout the world who unhesitatingly embrace these corrupt translations. As a result, Christians earnestly wonder why the Jews, who are the bearers and protectors of the divine oracles of God, have not willingly accepted Jesus as their messiah. [1]

Mr. Baxter' approach to prophetic interpretation makes it clear why the plain sense meaning rule is so important. That rule states: "If the plain sense makes sense, don't look for any other sense, or you will end up with nonsense."

Replacement Heresy
There are many forms of Replacement Theology. We wont go into much detail here. In essence however, any teaching or movement (including the Two House/Armstrong Church of God spin-off sects) that claims to have replaced Israel as the Elect falls into this category. Some Nicene Christian denominations claim to have replaced the Jews directly (the Catholic Church, Jehovah's Witness etc) while others are more subtle, claiming that only those who "accept Jesus" according to their understandings are "true Jews" or "spiritual Israel." If you take nothing else from lessons, understand that HaShem is ONE and that Judaism has not and will never be replaced by anyone. To claim the Jews have been replaced is to call HaShem a liar because He said: "For I am Adonai, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" -- Malachi 3:6 and "God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him -- Genesis 17:19.

Is the Rapture a Biblical Doctrine?

By John of AllFaith

To make sure we are on the same page with what the Rapture is supposed to be, please begin by watching this 2 minute video by a Rapture beliving ministry:

The Rapture doctrine means one thing and one thing only. It does not refer to people going to Heaven after they die, to people having visions or traveling in visionary states etc. The Rapture theory refers to the belief in the nearly instantaneous translocation of every single "Born Again Christian" on earth to Heaven as shown in this video. It refers to the nearly instantaneous disappearance of millions (if not billions) of human beings around the globe without a trace. It speaks of the "taking away" of every child on earth, of jets falling from the skies as Christian pilots are "taken" (arguably a good reason not to hire Christians hehe); it foretells the worst multi-car pile-ups in history as every vehicle being driven by a Christian is suddenly abandoned and careens out of control, of husbands and wives, parents and their children being separated as the Christians are "taken" in a twinkling of an eye from all over the globe.

This is what we mean by the term Rapture.

The Doctrine of the Rapture of the Church is the popular Nicean Christian belief that at some point in the future HaShem will extract all true "Christians" from the earth, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" leaving everyone else here to suffer under the reign of the coming Antichrist (Rex Mundi).

This idea gained popular support through the teachings of Dr. Clarence Larkin (Dispensational Truths), Rev. Charles Scofield (The Scofield Bible), a plethora of Second and Third Great Awakening Evangelists (see my study The Great Awakenings for more on these religious developments), and more recently from the unbiblical works of fiction by Tim Lahey known as The Left Behind Series in which the Antichrist is depicted as a Transylvanian Dracula-type Liberal do-gooder gone bad! Likewise, Family Radio of Harold Camping has used this teaching to mislead millions. We need to understand the truth of this! Is this a biblical doctrine? 

There is voluminous evidence in the Bible that the Kingdom of God will reign on this earth!

"But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the House of the Eternal shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be ex
alted above the hills; and people [physical human beings will still be alive on the earth during that day!] shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Eternal, and to the House of the God of Jacob and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the Word of the Eternal from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Eternal of Hosts has spoken it" (Micah 4:1-4).

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God [meaning, 'God-breathed'], and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16)

Major footnote: When Paul wrote his letter to Timothy there was No "New Testament". Paul is talking about the Tanach (what christians call the old testament)

The divinely-revealed Word of God is the ultimate source to which we must go to discover the real truth about the reward of the saved, about what happens at death; about the promise of "heaven," or the threat of "hell."

Wouldn't it seem logical to you that if heaven is the reward of the saved; that if hell is the reward of sinners; that if the saints are raptured away to heaven—there would at least be one scripture somewhere in the Bible plainly saying so?

Jesus was a Jew. I know, shocking to some, he would most definitely been versed in the thirteen principles of faith, one of which is the belief in the resurection of the dead.

"The Christian idea of rapture is another such idea, which has little or nothing to do with Jewish tradition, which has always believed in the notion of the resurrection of the dead.”

Belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead is so fundamental to Jewish thought that it is one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith. These 13 basic Jewish beliefs were compiled in the 12th century by the one of the greatest codifiers of Jewish law, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (also known as Maimonides or Rambam).

I believe with perfect faith that there will be a resurrection of the dead at the time when it shall please the Creator, Blessed be His name, and His mention shall be exalted for ever and ever.

"Thy dead shall live, my dead bodies shall arise–awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust–for Thy dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall bring to life the shades.” Isaiah 26:19

© 4.16.08 (updated 5.17.11)
Let's discuss this on his Blog!

A Closer Look at the Crucifixion Psalm by Rabbi Tovia Singer

A Closer Look at the ‘Crucifixion Psalm’ by Rabbi Tovia Singer

A Lutheran Doesn’t Understand Why Rabbi Singer Doesn’t Believe in Jesus: A Closer Look at the ‘Crucifixion Psalm’


Dear Rabbi Singer
A Closer Look at the Crucifixion Psalm: "I am a Lutheran living in Switzerland and have been reading your web page with interest. I admire your commitment to your faith, yet I am perplexed as to why you so assuredly reject Jesus Christ as your messiah. He came not only for the gentiles, but for the Jews as well. He was born to a Jewish mother and came to the Jewish people."

Because you are a rabbi, I am particularly perplexed as to why you have not willingly accepted Christ. You surely have read the 22nd Psalm which most clearly speaks of our Lord’s crucifixion. Read verse 16. It states, “Dogs have compassed me; the assembly of the wicked has enclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet.” Of whom does the prophet speak other than our Lord? This Old Testament prophecy could only be foretelling Jesus’ unique death on the cross. What greater proof is needed that Jesus died for the sins of mankind than this chapter which was written a thousand years before Jesus walked this earth?

I know that the Jews have been maligned and persecuted by so-called Christians. This has certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of the Jewish people against Christ; but certainly you must know, rabbi, that these were not real Christians, for a believer in Christ must love the Jew, for his Savior is a Jew.

Many Jewish people accuse Christians of anti-Semitism, and one can understand from where this bias is coming; for the Jews have been persecuted by those who claim to be Christian, but they are not. The true Christian loves the Jewish people.



This is certainly one of the more surprising letters that I have received in recent memory. There is nothing about your question that is unusual or uncommon; I receive questions about this mostdebated Psalm regularly. It is rather the denomination with which you proudly identify that caught me by surprise.

How odd that a Lutheran would proclaim that the tormentors of the Jews “were not real Christians,” yet you apparently are not embarrassed to identify yourself with a denomination that is called after, and founded on, the teachings of Martin Luther. Among all the Church Fathers and Reformers, there was no mouth more vile, no tongue that uttered more vulgar curses against the Children of Israel than this founder of the Reformation whom you apparently revere. Even the anti-Semitism of the New Testament and the church fathers pales in comparison to the invectives launched by Luther’s impious tongue during his lifetime.

In your letter you declared with certainty that those “so-called Christians” who “maligned and persecuted” the Jewish people “were not real Christians.” Do you believe that the founder of your church, Martin Luther, should be counted among those who are not real Christians? Have you not read his odious volume entitled, Of the Jews and Their Lies? If you are familiar with this and other indecent works of Luther, do you also believe that this German Reformer lost his salvation because his maniacal hatred for the Jew prevented him from being an upstanding member of Christendom? If this is in fact what you believe, why would you belong to a church that boasts his unblessed name?

These burning questions do not apply to you and other members of your denomination alone. Every member of the Protestant Church and every Christian who looks to the Reformers as vessels of God must wonder aloud whether God would use anti-Semites to carry out a sacred task? For virtually all the other leaders of the Reformation held the Jewish people in utter contempt as well. Martin Bucer’s sneering disdain for the Jews is legendary; and, although Calvin’s epithets against the Jews are less plentiful than Luther’s abundant invectives, this disparity is not due to Calvin’s piety. Rather, it is unlikely that Calvin, the father of the Presbyterian and Reformed Church, encountered any Jews at all during his lifetime. Although the Swiss Reformer lived in countries where Jews were forbidden to reside, his words were no less disturbing than those of Martin Luther.

Although evangelicals proudly declare that true believing Christians love the Jewish people, this assertion is not consistent with the annals of history. With few exceptions, the tormentors of the Jewish people emerged out of the fundamentalist Church. Remarkably, denominations that evangelical Christians regard as heretical, such as The Church of the Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not have a strong history of anti-Semitism. Liberal-leaning Christian denominations such as the Unitarian and Methodist churches also have for the most part resisted this teaching of contempt that is so ensconced in Christendom’s shameful history.

The consistent and unyielding pattern of Jew-hatred that has for so long gripped the imagination of the true believer cannot be attributed to coincidence or to a remarkable quirk of history. The accounts in the New Testament — the most cherished book of the devout Christian — already display the animus of the early Church toward the Jews, portraying them as the people of the devil: cunning, traitorous, corrupt, deceitful, and conspiring. In essence, whatever it is that humanity abhors, that is precisely how Luther's Bookthe Jews are depicted in the Christian Bible. Without rest, post-canonical Christian literature continued to perpetuate this dark image of the Jew. There can be little doubt as to why Christians believe of the Jews what common sense would forbid them to believe of anyone else. To some extent, Luther and his countless followers who eagerly embraced his shameful message were together willing followers of a body of literature that scandalized, smeared, and ultimately condemned the children of Israel to an unimaginable history.

Moreover, in an effort to distance Christians from a compelling Jewish message, the founders and defenders of Christianity methodically altered selected texts from the Jewish scriptures. This rewriting of Tanach was not done arbitrarily or subtly. The Church quite deliberately tampered with the words of the Jewish Scriptures in order to bolster their most startling claim: The Old Testament clearly foretold that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. With this goal in mind, missionaries manipulated, misquoted, mistranslated, and even fabricated verses in Tanach in order to make Jesus’ life fit traditional Jewish messianic parameters and to make traditional Jewish messianic parameters fit the life of Jesus.

Bear in mind, the Jewish Scriptures were written in Hebrew, not in seventeenth century King James English. What has made Christian believers so vulnerable to Bible tampering is that almost none of them can read or understand the Hebrew Bible in its original language. Virtually no Christian child in the world is taught the Hebrew language as part of a formal Christian education. As you and countless other Christians earnestly study the Authorized Version of the Bible, there is a blinding yet prevailing assumption that what you are reading is Heaven-breathed. Tragically, virtually every Christian in the world reads the translation of men rather than the Word of God. On the other hand, every Jewish child in the world who is enrolled in a Jewish school is taught to read and write Hebrew long before he or she even heard the name of Luther.

Unbeknownst to you and parishioners worldwide, the King James Version and numerous other Christian Bible translations were meticulously shaped and painstakingly retrofitted in order to produce a message that would sustain and advance Church theology and exegesis. This aggressive rewriting of biblical texts has had a devastating impact on Christians throughout the world who unhesitatingly embrace these corrupt translations. As a result, Christians earnestly wonder, just as you have, why the Jews, who are the bearers and protectors of the divine oracles of God, have not willingly accepted Jesus as their messiah.

What evangelicals fail to understand, however, is that the passionate resistance of the Jew to the teachings of Christianity has little to do with the Church’s bad manners. Rather, it is the direct result of the Church’s contrived and therefore implausible message. This stunning conclusion, however, is impossible for Christians to accept without bringing injury to their own faith and world view.

In Christian theology the Jews are not portrayed as a tribe whose beliefs conflict with the teachings of the Church. Quite the contrary, the religion of Christianity readily concedes that the Jews were God’s “firstborn” — the people who were chosen to receive and protect the divine Oracles of God. The spiritual principles of such a priestly nation cannot be dismissed lightly. As a result, Christendom systematically engaged in a thorough ad hominem assault against the Jewish people, slandering them as a nefarious, demonic nation. It isn’t difficult to understand how polemical literature against the Jews became a common feature in Church writings. By declaring that the Jew rejects the claims of the Church as a result of Christian anti- Semitism, as you insist, or the Jew’s spiritual blindness, evangelicals spare themselves the festering anguish that self-searching and selfdoubt invariably create.
To understand the brazen manner in which Christendom tampered with the Jewish scriptures, let’s examine the verse that you insist “proves” that Jesus is the messiah. Psalm 22:16 in the King James Version (KJV) reads,
Dogs have compassed me; the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet.

It isn’t difficult to understand why Christians are so confident that this verse contains a clear reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. “This Old Testament prophecy could only be foretelling Jesus’ unique death on the cross.” “Of whom other than Jesus could the Psalmist be speaking?,” missionaries ask. They insist that the Bible could not be referring to any other person in history but the man that bore the marks of the Cross.
Apparently, you were so impressed by this argument that you wondered how a rabbi like myself could miss this reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. Paradoxically, well-educated Jews are utterly repelled by the manner in which the church rendered the words of Psalm 22:17.1
To understand how Christian translators rewrote the words of King David, let’s examine the original Hebrew words of this verse with a proper translation.

Read the full article*

1. Although in a Jewish Bible this verse appears as Psalm 22:17, in a Christian Bible it appears as 22:16. So as not to create confusion, I refer to this controversial verse as Psalm 22:17 throughout this article.
2. In the Book of Luke, Jesus’ last dying words are, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ last words are “It is finished.”
3. Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24.
4. Rosen, Moishe. Y’shua. Chicago: Moody, 1982, p. 45-46.
5. This Letter of Aristeas (2nd-3rd century B.C.E.), written by a Hellenistic Jew, describes the events leading up to and surrounding the writing of the original Septuagint. There is considerable disagreement as to the date when this was written.
6. Tractate Megillah, 9a.
7. Josephus, preface to Antiquities of the Jews, Sec 3. For Josephus’ detailed description of events surrounding the original authorship of the Septuagint, see Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, XII, ii, 1-4.
8. For example, St. Jerome, in his preface to the Book of Hebrew Questions, addresses this issue and concedes that, “Add to this that Josephus, who gives the story of the seventy translators, reports them as translating only the Five Books of Moses; and we also acknowledge that these are more in harmony with the Hebrew than the rest.” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Peabody: Hendrickson, Volume 6. P. 87.
9. Ptolemy II, also known as “Philadelphus,” reigned from 283 to 245 B.C.E.
10. Tractate Megillah, 9a-9b.
11. Of these 15 phrases which appeared in the original Septuagint (Genesis 1:1; 1:26; 2:2; 5:2; 11:7; 18:12; 49:6; Exodus 4:20; 12:40; 24:5; 24:11; Leviticus 11:6; Numbers 16:15; Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:3), only Genesis 2:2 and Exodus 12:40 are found in the current Septuagint.

The above image was digitally enhanced, and it is difficult to discern by studying the faint, ancient text whether the word in question ends in a elongated י (yud) or a shortened ו (vav). Unlike other ancient texts, the writing on this script found at Nahal Hever is not sharp or uniform. If, for arguments sake, we conclude that the debated word written in the Nahal Hever script is כארו (ka’aru), as Rosen and Flint argue, it is obvious that this anomaly is the result of the scribe’s poor handwriting or spelling mistake. There is clear evidence, in fact, from an obvious spelling mistake in the script itself that the second century scribe was not meticulous. The very next word after the debated word is “my hands.” The Hebrew word in Psalm 22:17 is ידי (yadai). The Nahal Hever scribe, however, misspelled this word [as well] by placing an extra letter ה (hey) at the end of the word. Thus, the Nahal Hever 5/6HevPs reads ידיה instead of the correct ידי. The Hebrew word ידיה (yadehah) means “her hands,” not “my hands.”

Moreover, as explained above, there is no verb in the Hebrew language as כארו (ka’aru). In order to create the word “dig” or “excavate” in the Hebrew language, the א (aleph) would have to be removed from the word כארו as well. Again, כארו (ka’aru) is Hebrew gibberish.

Rosen is not the only church apologist to use scribes and rabbis of antiquity to defend the Christian translation of Psalm 22. In fact, missionaries more frequently refer to the Septuagint to justify the manner in which Christian Bible translators render Psalm 22:17. They argue that the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the entire Old Testament, which was completed by 72 rabbis more than 200 years before the Christian century, renders the last phrase of Psalm 22:17 as “they pierced my hands and my feet.” They conclude from this translation that even the rabbis who lived before the first century believed that the last clause of this verse reads “pierced” rather than “like a lion.”

Evangelists are typically quite fond of this response because it enables them to circumvent the oftentroubling original Masoretic Hebrew Bible. This notion may seem strange at first glance. Yet, although Christians typically launch their assault on Judaism by swearing staunch allegiance to the Hebrew Scriptures, more often than not, they will renounce this vow in order to rescue their dubious proof-texts.

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