Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Eleventh Degree

Posted by Rebecca

In Rambam’s Guide to the Perplexed, degrees of prophecy are listed according to the “requirements of speculation” and the explanation supplied by our Law. Rambam continues to explain that not everyone who is found to have one of his eleven listed degrees is necessarily a prophet, but that all prophets possess these requirements. The eleventh degree consists of a prophet seeing an angel who addresses him in a vision as Abraham did in the binding of Isaac. “In my opinion,” Rambam writes “this is the highest of the degrees of the prophets whose states are attested by the prophetic books…and with regard to the question whether it is possible that a prophet would also see in a vision of prophecy that G-d addressed him – this in my opinion, is improbable.”

This eleventh degree came as a surprise to me. Upon further investigation I found a pasuk in Bamidbar where Hashem says “I do make myself known unto him in a vision; I do speak with him in a dream.” (12:6) Hashem assigns speech to dreams only- people cannot handle speaking with Hashem through a vision.

Upon further reflection, I remembered studying Avraham who, after making a covenant with Hashem, sat outside his tent speaking with G-d. Avraham then interrupts his conversation with G-d so that he may receive three guests. In reference to this, Nehama Leibowitz writes in her book New Studies in Bereshit that “we never find in the Torah another example of Hashem revealing Himself to His creatures unless it is for the express purpose of delivering a message, uttering a message, uttering a blessing or a promise, or issuing a command.” While this implies that Hashem never has casual conversations with His creations, it does imply that Hashem has very direct communications with them.

Furthermore, later when Hashem decides to destroy the city of Sedom, Avraham argues with Hashem in an attempt to save lives. When Hashem tells Avraham to listen to Sarah and send Hagar and Yishmael away, the Torah writes, “G-d said to Avraham” (21:12). This would be unusual language for a dream; one might expect the phrase “Hashem appeared to him,” instead. Not only did Avraham feel comfortable with Hashem that he might be able to argue with him, but so too do Adam, Eve, and Noach. In fact, Adam and Eve appear not to have felt intimidation enough by G- to have avoided violating their only commandment.

Experience has shown me that Judaism differs from other religions in that it always stresses Hashem’s power and omnipotence. Hashem does not share status with a son or spirit. The Hagaddah is proof of a text that states this outright. When commenting on the pasuk “Hashem brought us out of Egypt,” the Hagaddah says, “not through an angel, not through a seraph, not through a messenger, but by the Holy One, Blessed is He, in His glory, Himself.”

I have trouble understanding how Rambam can make such a statement in his list of degrees of Nevuot. On a wider scale, I do not understand why Hashem cannot be more approachable to His creations? Why are people fearful of being spoken to by Hashem? Why can’t Hashem calm people when He is near? Why do many people appear to obey Hashem out of a sense of fear instead of love?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the very opposite. THat Hashem is very approachable. Every day, we daven to Hashem, and we may not think this as we are davening but Hashem is right in front of us, looking at our every move. Everything we ask for, we arent jsut praying and asking from air, we are asking from Hashem. I think this is why a lot of people of difficulty with prayer, bc they cant visualize that Hashem is in fact in front of us. So in the prayer way, Hashem is very easy to approach. All we need to do is open up our souls and ask him for what we need. Furthermore,I think the main reason people are fearful of having direct contact with Him is bc hes God. Hes created us and he is the only being that can destroy us or do wtvr he wants with us. He created us and control us. This personally scares me out of my mind. And personaly, I dont think im holy enough to have this direct contact with him. Also think about it logically, anyone who has a confrontation with Hashem, their lives will never be the same EVER again. It changes your being. But althoguh people may have this underlying fear of Hashem, thats not why they serve him. Yes, of course there is always that threat that if we dont, then we will be punished but I dont think thats a main reason for our service. We serve Hashem because we love what he does for us. We love the fact that he keeps us alive day to day and bless's us for eveything we have. And im going to argue with Rebbecas point about Hashem not being able to calm people when he is near. Throughout my life, whenever Ive had scary expericnes, knowing that Hashem is near has only calmed me. And all those stories that Ive heard about the Houlacaust and the pain that Jews have gone throguh, many people in those stories have found comfort that Hashem is always protecting htem no matter what.
Shira Zurndorfer

December 17, 2006 7:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Shira that Hashem can indeed be approachable to people. The idea behind emunah, bitachon, faith in God is that we should ultimately trust in Hashem. While it is true that faith can not be proven rationally, we have to accept that the Orthadox Judaisim that we practice and teach and essentially all religion besides is faith based. The fact that true faith is so hard to achieve is what makes it so special, so prized in religion, so unique. Unadultured Orthadoxy requires a spiritual commitment as well as an intellectual one. Yes, God can not be proven rationally, but the point of religion is to try to find a way to spiritually and emotionally connect to him.

December 18, 2006 5:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


December 19, 2006 9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even though we do not know what Hashem’s being is like-it’s incredibly difficult to imagine God’s glory-we can still be in awe of his glory. Every day we wake up, it is Hashem’s doing. He is responsible for many good things that occur to us throughout our lives. What an awesome and incredible God He is for doing such things to us. Another interpretation could be the fear of punishment. I’m not sure if this is an answer to the question but often when someone does something wrong, they are afraid of the consequences. If I knew that I did something, I would be scared for anyone at all, even more so God, to approach me about my actions. Similarly, because the appearance of God to a human was not necessarily commonplace, the experience would be frightening. This is not really comparable but often times in school, when Mr. Levitt calls a student out of class, the first thought that goes through their mind is “what did I do wrong”? Now this student may not fear him but I definitely think that there’s a feeling of discomfort. How much more so when God, your creator, chooses to communicate with you.
Naomi Z

December 26, 2006 1:51 PM  
Anonymous dasi said...

I agree with Rebecca that often our relationship with God is distorted. We glorify Him to the greatest heights, cringe in fear, or ignore. The relationship seems to be one of intimidation. The scene form The Prince of Egypt comes to mind-with the burning bush. God begins by instilling fear in Moses, and then ends up speaking with a soft and gentle voice, similar to a parent. We are taught to treat out parents, who are compared to Gods partners in two ways: Reverence and Respect. Reverence is that cringing back instinct, the rabbi with the white beard or the Queen of England instinct. It pushes up to be all that we can be in front of the person. We are always told: would you talk in the middle of a conversation with George Bush? In comparison with Tefillah. Through this facet, we are humbled. This side, I believe, was stressed too much in our lower school education and that’s why we put too much of an emphasis on it today. The other side, respect should have an equal emphasis. It symbolizes a give and take, a comfort with one another, yet still realizing the consequences if we betray the other person. Respect is what happens when Hashem helps us, when we do tefillah. I thin there is a great deal to learn from Reb’s post.

December 26, 2006 4:08 PM  
Anonymous Eliana said...

I think Rebecca and Dasi bring up a really interesting observation about Judaism: the fact that we are often tought contradictory concepts of fear and love. We always have leanrt that Yirat Shamayim comes first. As Mrs. Freundel taught us, we must first have ol malchut and then can we have ol torah.
But, I disagree with a lot of the cynicism towards this concept. I believe we do have to fear God first and then love him. This is, in fact, true with almost every relationship with an authority figure. When was the last time a teacher that was only nice to you and only your friend ever got your respect? Or when has a parent ever succeeded with a child when he does not want to discpline him but only to be friends with him. THe only way we can possibly make a relationship with god is if we first fear him and accept that he is a higher being than us and that he has total control over every aspect of our live sand of the world, and then build a relationship with him based on that. If we were only friends with him how would we ever be able to maintain a relationship with him when bad things did happen. We wouldn't be able to understand why he would do something like that to his FRIEND. On the other hand if he is also something to be feared we could understand his actions a little bit more.

December 26, 2006 9:59 PM  
Blogger saragaut said...

i agree with eliana that fear comes first with an authoritative figure and then love and respect, and that we can't just love right away. However, i have other ideas to bring to the table.
1) Hashem is approachable when it comes to prayer, however prayer and seeing Hashem right before you and getting a meassage directly from him (aka nevuah) are two very different things. If Hashem appeared befor you it is understandable to be afraid b/c it's extremely hard to understand why He chose you. Like would you be totally cool if president bush came to u and said "hey watsup." no you would have a respectful fear.
2) The reason we are always told to fear Hashem instead of the world love is b/c loving him is like applying one on one human emotions with Hashem. We are not supposed to love hashem the way we love our mom or dad or brother of friend we are supposed to show our acknowledgemnet of our inferiority to Hashem and this is done by Yirah.
o.k im done

December 27, 2006 5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok, it seems like everyone has stressed my point, but ill mention it anyway. Ok, so in history class we read this excerpt written by an ancient diplomat in the midevil period. It's called "prince" and in it the author notes of how a leader obtains and sustains power. His main message is that enforcing authority and fear comes first, then love. Meaning that first a leader must acquire the nation's obedience to his authority, and then he should have good relations with the people. I realize that making a compareson between the all omnipotent God and a mere human ruler isn't entirely justified, but i think that both ideas are similar. Hashem makes sure that we fear him and obide by his rules before we are able to love him. And this makes sense, because if we dont obide by his rules, how would we ever grow to love or respect him-for we would have no connection to him. and i think that Rebecca's question about "why are people freaked out when Hashem approaches them" is self evident. Clearly, Hashem's direct approach is something supernatural and therefore as humans we feel uncomfortable, (no nevermind, that was an understatement,) we fear his approach-with the exception of Avraham and Moshe-who are known for their unique ability to approach God without real fear. Additionally- i think that Rebecca's underlying issue is Judaism's approach to God. that we only believe in his sole power and thus fear him so much. And that is the definiton of monotheism. If we question the validity of our uniqueness- of our belief in one omnipotent God, then we question the base of Judaim-which im not about to in conclusion-peace out it's all good...

December 28, 2006 11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if I am really allowed to post a comment about my own blog post, but....
I agree with much of what was said however:
In response to Sara's comments: I understand I would be incredibly intimidated if the President of the United States were to even speak to me, but I feel that Hashem is an entirely different case. The President is a civil servant, whereas G-d is supposed to be my Father. Can you imagine not speaking to your father? Can you imagine your father not speaking/responding to you? Can you imagine your father punishing you without explaining why? Can you imagine the most infinitely merciful being to be a fearful being to speak with? How can Hashem be compassionate and not approach people in a less frightening way? This leads me to Arella's post.
Arella, like Eliana mentioned theories posited in Niccolo Machievelli's The Prince, which I have had the pleasure of reading twice. Machievelli does in fact write (as Arella pointed out) that it is better to be feared than loved; however, before that statement he says the ideal situation would be for a ruler to be loved. It is only because Machievelli has such a negative view of society, that he believes this case never to be possible. That point aside, again, Hashem is supposed to be a father-like figure. Your father does not need to be strict with you to show his authority. His authority is naturally accepted.
All of the comments presented G-d as a king but not as a compassionate, merciful father. I want to know when Hashem, the father, plays with His children. When does He play the fatherly part? When does He speak soothingly to His creations?
Just some thoughts to keep the conversation flowing...

December 28, 2006 8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still have some more thoughts on this topic...
Sara mentioned that if the president of the United States were to speak to me I would be intimidated, how much more so with Hashem. I think this is a very valid point. I have often wondered however, why people do not seem to funtion with this mentality. When I see people davening in school I often ask myself how people who believe that Hashem is the supreme ruler daven in slovenly school clothes. How can one even function during the day wearing anything other than what they would wear before President Bush, if they believe that G-d is watching their every step? Now, I do understand that I dress overly formally to school, but how could somebody go to speak to the King of all Kings dressed any worse than they would to see the president of the U.S.? People feel so distant from G-d to the point where they (and myself being at the very top of this list) feel they can talk to friends and not to G-d during prayer. This distance is, in my opinion, is due to the fact that Hashem has not communicated with His creations in a more approachable way.
Can you imagine there being any crime or any social problems if Hashem spoke directly to His creations? If people truly felt that they were important and that Hashem was watching/looking out for them the world would be a pretty perfect place. If Hashem had not singled out Moses as His communicator to the people, and had instead spoken directly to B'nei Yisrael, so that they could handle it, there would have been no rebellions or plots for power. Think of the billions of lives throughout history that could have been saved if Hashem had only spoken directly to the people and not through intermediaries. (Christianity and Islam would never have been formed, no Crusades, no religious wars..)
I also do not understand how there can be any expectations of people if they are not directly spoken to. We criticize Christians all the time for believing in what we believe to be a phony deity, yet they are basing these beliefs on the same foundation that we use to worship Faith would be engrained in every person if Hashem only spoke to people. This in my opinion would solve world peace, world hunger, and create global unity, and would be the perfect solution to all world problems.
[Sorry Rabbi Krestt- please count these two as one blog post]
Rebecca, again

December 28, 2006 8:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry that im probably repeating what someone else siad but all the comments are wayy too long ot read. so as u said, adam and eve seemed to have this direct connection with God, yet they sitll disobeyed Him, form that piont on i tihnk that HaSHEM realzied that in oreder for people to follow \Him theyh must fear Him, he re-created His realationshp with humans from one of lvoe/ closeness to none of fear/love. we must serve God out of fear and love but in order ot reahc the stage of love we msut first become clsoe to God. Additionally. the people that we see in histroy that have a more direct conneciton to God are people who come from a non- Jeiwsh/monotheistic background; Noah was the only one who beleive din Hashem at his time, Avraham-the first monotheist, Moshe- grew up in Beit Paroh, all these men had to work harder to become clsoe to GOd, then lets sya u or me, who have grown up in a relgiious background with religious neducation. theyre hard work merited them to become clsoer to God and therefore have a more direct connection with HIm. in roder to be one the 11th ddegree of RAmbam, one must work har dand become very clsoe to God and have a loving relationship wit HIm. i think that nowadays to be osn the 11th degree is impossible tohugh, b/c i rthink jsut as Hashem changed His relationship with humans after adam and eve , He ndid so agian after the Beit Hamikdash. during the Tkufat of the Beit Hamikdashiot the nation had a close more lvoing relationship with Hashem since they again [like, adam and eve] betrayed HIm, He decided to distance Himself further and create an even more "fear filled" relationship,. nowadyas we need to work to change our relationship forma fear filled one ot a close/loving one .
~tamar schneck

December 29, 2006 6:53 AM  
Anonymous tova said...

as many people mentioned, and as we see in jewdaism, it is crucial to first instill fear, and then love and respect. i also think it works as a chain, the more fear u have, the more true love and respect u have (this may not be true with all relationships but i do think so in terms of a humans relationship with the divine, Hashem) yes it is easy to have love and respect for hashem, it is even hard not to if we pay attention to all that he does for us, however if he also have a fear for him, this strengthens our love and respect. it is hard to imagine this to be true b/c it is hard to visualize out relationship with hashem. however if we put our relationship with hashem into something more tangable. forexample a relationship with someone of higher status. if u think of lets say a relationship with a great rabbi of high status, of course u respect this rabbi, but due to that fact that he is on a higher madrega then u, and thus u fear him in this sense alone, i think only further strengthens ones respect.
in terms of hashem being more approchable to his creatures, i think hashem is very approchable, he is very loving and wants us to be able to have this deep connection with him. the sense of fear which many peaople have metnioned, hashem only instilled within us in order to strenghten our relationship with him. as rebecca mentioned in the blog about adam and eve. i think adam and eve were lackin this correct fear of god, hashemlearnt from them, and after gan eden instilled within humans this yirat shamayim (fear). fear in order to have a proper relationship between the divine and the human. when we think of fear, naturally we think of y do we have to have fear in order to love, but i think if u think more deeper into it, as hashem learnt from adam and eve, he brought this fear only in order to strengthen and create a proper loving relationship with his creations.

December 31, 2006 8:23 PM  
Anonymous Shira Moer said...

Hashem is omnipotent and omnicient, so obviously he cannot be so approachable to His creations. I actually think there is a very good balance, because since He is the highest in a way I dont think he should be so approachable, but at the same time we can daven and talk to Hashem, He just doesnt usually respond in conversation. Hashem knows what we think and what we want, and in a way this is fearful. I would be very scared of someone who knew exactly what I was thinking. Also since Hashem is above all we have a sense of fear towards him becasue he is so high. But we also have a balance between this fear and love and respect. Hashem's relationship with us is very balanced. We cannot just speak to someone of this high. We either need intermediaries(neviim) or something to get closer with Hashem (davening). Many people obey Hashem out of a sense of fear instead of a sense of love because to fear Hashem is a lot easier then to love Hashem. Hashem can punish and can reward, he is the head of everything. Once we fear Hashem we can start to respect and love Hashem which is what tova was saying. Eventhough fear comes first we must have both.

December 31, 2006 11:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a different view (hah, I always do...but also have to-cause everyone mentioned the main idea-anyways), I would like to mention that people are tested in many different ways everyday. One way is if people go forth and talk to Hashem. Hashem is everywhere at all times. It is up to you to inniciate and talk to Him...not Him. Hashem gives you free will every day, so don't blame it on Hashem, but rather, blame it on yourself. If you want to have a close and powerful relationship you should make the effort to do a simple small step and either dress nicely, be well groomed, pray, etc. Although I understand that some of these things are not easy to be achieved by all, I think that you need to inniciate everything, if you want to make it happen.
On the other hand, I also think that yes it is true that many are G-d fearing, keep shabbat, kashrut, etc., but still bad things happen to them. Like Rebecca mentioned before, if Hashem had a more communicative relationship with us, then so many bad and terrible things would / may have never occurred. To think about this thought is pretty disheartening. Since I'm not a wise scholar and immature, I don't really know the answer to this issue. Although I do know that anyone can still believe and have faith, as well as making an effort to become closer to Hashem, in order to feel that He is a part of our every day lives.


January 01, 2007 5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Besides the comment I just posted I would also like to add another thought.
Honestly, I had always this thought that bothered me: if Hashem is the Ultimate Divine and Great One, who created us, and we are just mearly flawed/ imperfect humans, then shouldn't we strive to reach our potential to be perfect?(even though it's impossible-but trying is the key)... Of course we are just humans but I mean, if we are suppose to walk in the ways of Hashem and try to be/ act like Him, then shouldn't we do the ultimate possible to try and reach and act that way?
In connection to Rebecca's blog questions, if you want a connection with Hashem, then you have to work at it and make the effort. Really, it is your decision. Personally I feel a better connection with Hashem when I try to be and act as a good person, making a difference in people's lives, praying (with concentration), singing Shabbat-israeli songs, being with loved ones, and so much more. I mention these examples b/c I'm trying to say that it matters how much effort you put into things. Whether small or big, it really does all matter. And by having more of an understanding/ more knowledgeable, and a feel of love of Hashem, it makes you realize and appreciate more what Hashem really does for you everyday. That is why we shouldn't take things for granted, but rather, realize how much Hashem cares about you and does so much for you- and just be thankful to be alive.


Btw, Rabbi Krestt, you can count this comment as an addition to the previous one- if it means that I get a high grade on it- thanks.

January 01, 2007 5:33 PM  

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