Friday, June 29, 2012

20 Classic Gedolim Pictures

The following is a series of "traditional" depictions of famous rabbinic figures. Please bear in mind that some of the depictions (such as the picture of the Baal Shem Tov) are known to be incorrect, and many - especially of the earlier figures - are probably completely imaginary.

Rav Yitzchak Alfasi - The "Rif"

Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki - "Rashi"

Rav Yaakov b. R' Meir - "Rabbeinu Tam"

Rav Moshe ben Maimon - The "Rambam" (Maimonides)

Rav Moshe ben Nachman - The "Ramban" (Nachmanides)

Rav Asher ben Yechiel - The "Rosh"

Rav Yaakov ben Asher - The "Baal HaTurim"

Rav Don Yitzchak Abarbanel

Rav Yitzchak Aboav - The "Menoras HaMeor"

Rav Yosef Karo - The "Beis Yosef"

Rav Moshe Isserles - The "Rema"

Rav David ben Shmuel HaLevi - The "Taz"

Rav Shabsai HaKohen - The "Shach"

Rav Avraham Gombiner - The "Magen Avraham"

Rav Tzvi Ashkenazi - The "Chacham Tzvi"

Rav Yonason Eibschutz

Rav Yisrael Baal Shem - The "Baal Shem Tov"

Rav Eliyahu of Vilna - The "Vilna Gaon" or "Gra"

Rav Akiva Eiger

Rav Moshe Sofer - The "Chasam Sofer"

Chukas - Chukim: The Importance of the Non-Rational Commandments

A famous passage in the Talmud (Yoma 67b), based on Leviticus 18:4, tells us that there are two basic categories of mitzvos mishpatim and chukim:
ת"ר "את משפטי תעשו" - דברים שאלמלא לא נכתבו דין הוא שיכתבו. אלו הן: ע"ז, וגילוי עריות, ושפיכות דמים, וגזל, וברכת השם. "ואת חקותי תשמרו" - דברים שהשטן ועכומ"ז משיבים עליהם. ואלו הן: אכילת חזיר, ולבישת שעטנז, וחליצת יבמה, וטהרת מצורע, ושעיר המשתלח. ושמא תאמר מעשה תהו הן, ת"ל "אני ה'" - אני ה' חקקתים, אין לך רשות להרהר בהם.
Our Rabbis taught: [The Torah states,] "You shall do my judgements (mishpatim)" - These are matters that, if they had not been written [in the Torah], reason would require that they be written. These include [the prohibitions against] idolatry, sexual immorality, murder, robbery, and blasphemy. "And you shall guard my decrees (chukim)" - These are matters that the soton and the idolaters challenge [as being unreasonable]. These include [laws such as the prohibitions against] eating pig, wearing shaatnez (fabric made from wool and linen), [and the laws of] chalitza of a yevama (widowed sister-in-law who is subject to levirate mariage), the purification of a metzora ("leper"), and the goat that is sent away [as part of the Yom Kippur ritual in the Temple]. And lest you say that these are empty matters, the Torah teaches us, saying, "I am Hashem" - I, Hashem, have decreed these laws, and you do not have the right to doubt them.
The Talmud defines mishpatim as laws that "if they had not been written, reason would require that they be written." In other words, these mitzvos serve functions that are clearly comprehensible by human reason, to the degree that we would recognize the need for such laws even if God had not commanded them. Chukim, however, are simply decrees from on high. As Rashi puts it, "חק משמע דבר שאינו אלא גזירת מצות מלך" - "Chok implies something that is nothing but a decree by command of the king." From a human perspective, a chok appears to be arbitrary, even irrational. It is certainly not something that we would have come up with on our own.

As the Talmud points out, throughout history the chukim have been mocked, both internally, by Jews who have fallen prey to the doubts of their inner soton (the inner "opponent" that seduces man to sin and heresy) and, externally, by the nations of the world. However, as the people of God, who merited to hear God speak to us directly at Mt. Sinai, we have no right to doubt the authority of these laws simply because we do not understand their purpose.

The law of the para aduma - the "red heifer" - that we read of in this week's parsha is considered the quintessential chok, the perfect example of a mitzva that does not make sense rationally (mainly due to its paradoxical nature). Rashi, in his first comment on the parsha, writes:
זאת חקת התורה - לפי שהשטן ואומות העולם מונין את ישראל לומר, מה המצוה הזאת? ומה טעם יש בה? לפיכך כתב בה "חקה" - גזירה היא מלפני, אין לך רשות להרהר אחריה.
[The Torah states,] "This is the chok of the Torah." - The soton and the nations of the world afflict the Jewish people saying, "What is this mitzva? What reason is there in it?" Therefore He wrote by [this mitzva] "chuka" - it is a decree from before Me; you do not have authority to question it.
Maimonides
(traditional depiction)
It is important to understand that the chukim are not truly irrational commands, but simply commands that we are not able to understand due, as Maimonides puts it (Guide for the Perplexed III:26 - Friedlander translation), "either to the deficiency of our knowledge or the weakness of our intellect." As Maimonides states further:
[T]here is a cause for every commandment: every positive or negative precept serves a useful object; in some cases the usefulness is evident, e.g., the prohibition of murder and theft; in others the usefulness is not so evident, e.g., the prohibition of enjoying the fruit of a tree in the first three years (Lev. xix. 73), or of a vineyard in which other seeds have been growing (Deut. xxii. 9). Those commandments, whose object is generally evident, are called "judgments" (mishpatim); those whose object is not generally clear are called "ordinances" (hukkim). Thus they say [in reference to the words of Moses]: Ki lo dabar rek hu mi-kem (lit." for it is not a vain thing for you," Deut. xxxii. 74); "It is not in vain, and if it is in vain, it is only so through you." That is to say, the giving of these commandments is not a vain thing and without any useful object; and if it appears so to you in any commandment, it is owing to the deficiency in your comprehension. You certainly know the famous saying that Solomon knew the reason for all commandments except that of the "red heifer."
All of the mitzvos have reasons, however their reasons are not always known to us. In some cases, such as the para aduma, the mitzva may even appear fundamentally illogical. The chok therefore represents the essence of lishma - the performance of the commandments for their own sake, as Divine commands. By a chok one does not know what purpose is served by the command, one performs the command simply because God has commanded it.

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch
Ultimately, this principle applies to all the mitzvos. Even with regard to the mishpatim, which we are able to explain, our fundamental obligation to obey the mitzva is rooted not in the fact that the mitzva happens to correspond with what we believe to be morally obligatory, but in the fact that it is a Divine command. As R' Samson Raphael Hirsch (d.1888) writes in his foreword to Horeb:
It is commandment, the command of God, that constitutes duty for the Israelite, and the will of God that is the sole basis of all our duties. ... God's command... constitutes duty for us, and God's will is the only basis on which our obligation rests. ...
Even, therefore, if every Divine precept were a riddle to us and presented us with a thousand unsolved and insoluble problems, the obligatory character of the commandments would not in the slightest degree be impaired by this. Whatever command or prohibition of God it may be that prompts one to ask why one should do this and not do that, there is but one and the same answer: Because it is the will of God, and it is your duty to be the servant of God with all your powers and resources and with every breath of your life.
This answer is not only adequate; it is essentially the only one possible, and it would remain so if we were ourselves able to penetrate into the reason for every commandment, or if God Himself had disclosed to us the reasons for His commandments. We should have to perform them, not because there was such-and-such a reason for any commandment, but because God had ordained it. ...
The Jew who sincerely carries out and observes [the] commandment[s] with the simple idea, which everyone can grasp, that he is thereby performing God's will and so fulfilling his vocation as a man and an Israelite, is, in the complete sense of the term, a Jew and a servant of God, even though he has never unravelled the significance or perceived the connection of the parts of any one of all the Divine commandments. Such a Jew has attained to the highest bliss of earthly life. For the man of pure heart there is no higher or more holy consciousness than that of having fulfilled the Divine will.
R' Yechiel Michel Epstein
The Aruch HaShulchan
Similarly, R' Yechiel Michel Epstein (d.1908), in his Aruch HaShulchan (יורה דעה רמ:ב), writes with regard to the mitzva of honoring one's parents:
כיבוד אב ואם היא מהמצוות השכליות ונתפשטה בכל אום ולשון וגם הכופרים בתורה נזהרים בה מפני השכל והטבע. ואנחנו עמב"י נצטוינו על כל מצוה שכליות לבלי לעשותה מפני השכל אלא מפני ציוי הקב"ה בתורתו הקדושה. ועל זה נאמר, "והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה וגו'." דמקודם כתיב, "ושמרת את החוקים ואת המשפטים וגו'," ולזה אומר, "והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה," כלומר דהחוקים וודאי תעשו מפני שאתם שומעים לקולי, אבל עיקר השכר הוא שגם המשפטים - שהם המצות השכליות - תעשו מפני השמיעה, כלומר מפני שאני מצוה אתכם ולא מפני השכל. וזהו שאמר דוד, "מגיד דבריו ליעקב חוקיו ומשפטיו לישראל." וזהו עיקר גדול במצות התורה.
The mitzva of honoring one's father and mother is one of the mitzvos sichliyos (rationally comprehensible commandments) and it is found among all nations and peoples. Even those who deny the Torah are careful to uphold this obligation due to its rationality and because of human nature. However, we, the Jewish people, are commanded with regard to all the mitzvos sichliyos not to fulfill them due to their rationality, but because God has commanded us to do so in His holy Torah. It is in this regard that the Torah (Deut. 7:12) states, "And it shall be, if you listen to to these mishpatim..." [thatGod will bless you]. For immediately before, the Torah writes, "And you shall keep [the commandment,] the chukim and the mishpatim...", and it is in this regard that the Torah says [the promise of reward] "And it shall be, if you listen to to these mishpatim." [God is] saying that, by the chukim, it is certain that you are doing them [only] because you are listening to My voice, but the primary merit is that also by the mishpatim - i.e. the mitzvos sichliyos - you should perform them because you are listening [to Me]. In other words, [you should do them] because I commanded you [to do so] and not because they are rational. This is what David said (Psalms 147:19), "He tells His word to Jacob, His chukim and mishpatim to Israel." This is a great principle of the mitzvos of the Torah.
(It isn't entirely clear how the Aruch HaShulchan sees this idea in Psalms 147:19. I believe his proof-text is based upon the context of the following verse which states "ומשפטים בל ידעום" - "and [the other nations] do not know the mishpatim." In other words, the non-Jewish nations do not truly know even the mishpatim, for, at best, they see them merely as human laws, and, all too often, they fail to recognize many of them at all. Whereas the Jewish people are not dependent upon their own reasoning to know the mishpatim, for they know them the same way they know the chukim, through God's revelation in His Torah.)

The function of the chukim is precisely to teach us this fundamental lesson. Thus, the classic Sefer HaChinuch (c.14th century), a work that enumerates and discusses each of the 613 commandments, refrains from his normal practice of giving a reason for the mitzva when he discusses the commandment of the para aduma (Mitzva 397). He writes:
אע"פ שמלאני לבבי לכתב רמזים מטעמי המצוות שקדמו על צד הפשט, עם ההתנצלות שהמלאכה לחנך בה בני והנערים חבריו, במצוה זו רפו ידי ואירא לפצות פי עליה כלל גם בפשט, כי ראיתי לרז"ל האריכו הדיבור בעומק סודה וגודל ענינה, עד שאמרו שהמלך שלמה השיג לדעת בריבוי חכמתו כל טעמי התורה חוץ מזו, שאמר עליה, "אמרתי אחכמה והיא רחוקה ממני." גם אמרו במדרש רבי תנחומא: רבי יוסי ברבי חנינא אומר, אמר לו הקב"ה למשה, לך אני מגלה טעם פרה ולא לאחרים. וכיוצא באלו הדברים רבים.
Although I have been so presumptuous as to write hints of the simpler reasons for the previous mitzvos, with the justification that the task [of this work] is to educate my son and his young friends, with regard to this mitzva my hands become weak and I am afraid to open my mouth even to give the simplest explanation of it. For I have seen how the Sages speak at length of the depth of its mystery and its great significance, to the point that they say that King Solomon, with his abundant wisdom, was able to grasp the reasons of all the commandments except this one, about which he said, "I said I will be wise but it is far from me." (Ecclesiastes 7:23) The Sages also say, in the medrash of Rabbi Tanchuma: Rabbi Yosi b'Rabbi Chanina says, God said to Moses: To you I will reveal the reason for the para [aduma], but not to others. And there are many similar statements.
R' Yaakov Kamenetzky
R' Yaakov Kamenetzky (d.1986) points out (אמת ליעקב עה"ת) that the Chinuch certainly would never claim that the various reasons he gives for the mitzvos are the final and comprehensive reasons for the commandments. They are simply his own insights, given to help his fellow Jews derive moral lessons from the mitzvos. If so, R' Yaakov asks, why did he feel that he had to refrain from giving such a reason for para aduma? Because, R' Yaakov answers, by para aduma the mystery is itself the primary function of the mitzva. Despite whatever insights one might be able to give into the meaning of the para aduma, in the final analysis its main function is to teach us that we must obey God's commands even when we are unable to understand them.

The truth is that the distinction between the mishpatim and the chukim is far from simple. We live in a world where even the most "obvious" of the mishpatim are no longer self-evident. Many of the laws against sexual immorality are now seen by many supposedly educated and civilized people as irrational and even immoral. Even the "ultimate" rational law, the prohibition against murder, is no longer unambiguously obvious to many apparently civilized people in the world today. Thus the philosopher, Peter Singer, who is widely considered one of the most influential philosophers alive today and whose books are required reading in many university courses, has argued in favor of broadly expanding the legality of euthanasia and infanticide (no, not abortion). There is no immoral act that human beings cannot justify to themselves if they wish to do so. What seems like a mishpat in one society, may well seem like a chok in another. Ultimately, our commitment to the mitzvos must be based on our belief in the Divine origin of the Torah, and our obligation to obey God's will as expressed in His Torah.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On Gedolim and "Daas Torah"

The following was originally written for grade school students (5th-8th grade) as an introduction to a school wide "Gedolim" project. The goal was to introduce the concept of "gadlus" and Torah leadership, and to counter some of the misconceptions that many children (and adults) have in this area. It has been modified somewhat for a general audience:


A gadol (lit. "great person" - referring to a great Torah leader) is a Jew that has perfected himself. This means that he has striven with his entire being to truly fulfill the expectations that God has for every Jew. Every gadol started out as an ordinary person. Every Jew is capable of gadlus, and God expects all of us to strive to perfect ourselves.

Gedolim are not carbon copies of each other. Although a great Torah sage has subjected his entire personality to the purifying light of Torah, it remains his personality, not a generic “gadol” personality. Like everyone else, each gadol has his own unique personality and character traits, his own unique interests, and his own sense of humor. By studying the Torah, internalizing its message, and fulfilling God’s mitzvos, the gadol has freed his personality from the slavery of the yetzer hara – the natural urges and temptations that prevent us from being who we really want to be. The Torah enables us to be ourselves in the truest sense.

Nevertheless, there are several basic characteristics that are essential to the status of a gadol. Each of these characteristics is one that the gadol has striven to perfect in himself. Gedolim are made, not born.


Basic Characteristics of a Gadol

The following is a list of characteristics that we all must strive to achieve. A gadol is simply a person who has already done so.
  • Torah Knowledge – A gadol must be a master of Torah knowledge. He must have a comprehensive knowledge and familiarity with the Torah. In particular, he must be knowledgeable in the Talmud and Poskim. Even more important than the amount of book knowledge he possesses - which is very important - the gadol must become a master of how the Torah “thinks”, i.e. he must develop a broad understanding how the Torah deals with various types of issues.
  • Mesorah The gadol must have a genuine commitment to the mesorah – the interpretation of the Torah as it has been passed down from generation to generation since Moshe received the Torah at Sinai. He expresses this commitment in his study of the Torah and in teaching it to the next generation of students.
  • Self-MasteryA gadol is a person who has developed complete control over himself. He is a master of self-discipline, in which every act, every statement, and every reaction, is measured and trained according to the Torah. He is a person that has worked on all of his middos (character traits) to perfect them to the greatest degree possible.
  • Ahavas Yisrael­ - Love of One’s Fellow Jew – A gadol has developed in himself a genuine love for every Jew. He truly fulfills the mitzvah of “V’Ahavta l’rei’echa kamocha” – “Love your fellow as yourself.”
  • Genuine Ruchnius (Spirituality) – A gadol has a real relationship with God. He doesn’t just “believe” in God; he knows God. He has true ahavas Hashem and yiras Hashem (love of God and fear of God). He sees an aveira as truly harmful and destructive, a mitzvah as truly beneficial and constructive. When a gadol prays, he truly feels that he is standing in the presence of the Creator of the Universe and that he is speaking to Him, and that He is listening. When a gadol studies Torah, he truly feels that God is speaking to him in the words of the Torah.
  • Anava - Humility – The middah of anava is of unique importance. Anava does not mean seeing yourself as lowly and worthless. Rather, it is the opposite of self-centeredness. The natural state of human being is to be self-centered, in that we care only about ourselves. As a person grows spiritually, he becomes less self-centered and cares more about others. The gadol has developed his personality so that his own self-interest is no longer an obstacle to his spiritual development and care for others. In truth, anavah is an essential prerequisite for all the previously mentioned traits.
A gadol is not a hermit or a monk. He doesn’t exist in some otherworldly, mystical realm. A gadol lives a full, normal life. He has a family, a wife and children, and he cares for them just like any husband and father. He is part of a community – with neighbors and friends. He has a job – frequently, but not always, as a teacher of Torah – and co-workers. He pays taxes, buys gasoline for his car, uses a credit card, etc. In other words, he has the same challenges in his life that everyone else has.


Daas Torah – The Torah Mind

Every community requires leaders who are capable of making decisions on behalf of the community as a whole. To be made properly, such decisions require much more than simple competence in the specific topic at hand. Leadership is not simply about making the best pragmatic decision. A leader needs to be able to make decisions that properly reflect the values of his community. This is true not only for determining the goals that the community should be striving for, but also, perhaps more importantly, the means that should be used to achieve those goals and the prioritization of values. In reality there is no such thing as a purely pragmatic or practical decision. All decisions are reflections of values.

Of course, the ability to make intelligent decisions that reflect the values of the community is only the beginning. The ideal leader must also be genuinely motivated to do the best he can for his community and he must be able to rise above the self-interests and biases that can prevent a person from making proper decisions.

Given these requirements, it should be obvious that a gadol is uniquely qualified to be a leader of the Jewish people. This is due to all the characteristics we already mentioned:
  1. He is a master of Torah knowledge and methodology.
  2. He has a genuine commitment to the continuation of the mesorah.
  3. He can think clearly without any “static” from bad middos.
  4. He genuinely cares about his fellow Jews.
  5. He has true emuna (belief) in God.
  6. He is not self-centered and self-serving.
As Torah Jews, we believe that God controls the entire world. A person with a true “Torah mind” – what is popularly called Daas Torah – has the clearest insight into what God wants us to do in any situation. A gadol has developed his mind so that it functions entirely according to Torah. Before rendering a decision on any matter, a gadol will gather whatever information is necessary. Depending on the issue, he may consult with experts in various fields. The gadol will then process this information with his Daas Torah and come to a conclusion. This final decision will be based purely on Torah reasoning and instincts as applied to the particular circumstances.

Added to this is the fact that gedolim, having developed a true relationship with God, also benefit from a special siyata d’shmaya – “Heavenly assistance” – in their thinking. This is a unique insight that is akin to ruach hakodesh.

This does not mean that all gedolim will always agree on every issue. Gedolim may disagree because of they have received different information, because they have different perspectives, or many other reasons. It also doesn’t mean that a gadol will always make the best possible decision. Wisdom is a gift from God and He will sometimes withhold that gift even from those closest to Him. Ultimately, gedolim are still human beings, and like all people - including the most talented leaders - they can err. Nevertheless, the best possible choice to render decisions for the Jewish people is a gadol.

Our gedolim are leaders and teachers, but, perhaps most importantly, they are models and exemplars. A gadol demonstrates what the Torah means when it say that we are all created “b’tzelem Elokim” – in the image of God.” Our study of gedolim should motivate us to achieve greatness in our own lives.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Korach - Dealing with Machlokes

The Chofetz Chaim
The Chofetz Chaim (R' Yisrael Meir Kagan d.1933) used to tell a story (recorded in ספר חפץ חיים עה"ת on Parshas Korach) about a machlokes - a dispute - that broke out in a small town between a resident and the head of the community. The machlokes deteriorated to the point that the resident threatened to inform on the head of the community to the government about various illegalities he was involved in. When the resident's wife learned of this, she tried to convince him not to do so, pointing out that the head of the community had been responsible for freeing their own sons from the draft. (Referring to the infamous Cantonist decrees of 19th century Russia.) "If they investigate him," argued the wife, "they will also arrest our sons!" The husband replied, "It is worth it! It is worth it for all of us to be imprisoned, as long as we can lower him from his position!"

The Chofetz Chaim pointed out that once a person is involved in a machlokes, there is no telling where it may end.

The incident with Korach in this week's parsha is the classic case of machlokes. Although he was one of the greatest men of his generation, Korach's desire for honor and his jealousy of Moses and Aaron led him entirely off the proper path. His name is now used to epitomize the baal machlokes (disputatious person) to the degree that the mitzva to avoid machlokes is "לא יהיה כקרח ועדתו" - "Do not be like Korach and his congregation" (Numbers 17:5 - Talmud, Sanhedrin 110a).

In Pirkei Avos (5:17) we learn:
כל מחלוקת שהיא לשם שמים סופה להתקיים, ושאינה לשם שמים אין סופה להתקיים. איזו היא מחלוקת שהוא לשם שמים - זו מחלוקת הלל ושמאי, ושאינו לשם שמים - זו מחלוקת קרח וכל עדתו
Any machlokes which is for the sake of Heaven, "its end will be upheld," and a machlokes that is not for the sake of heaven, "its end will not be upheld." What is a a machlokes that is for the sake of Heaven? This is the machlokes of Hillel and Shamai. What is a machlokes that is not for the sake of Heaven? This is the machlokes of Korach and all his congregation.
Here we find that the Sages made a critical distinction between two kinds of machlokes, "for the sake of Heaven" and "not for the sake of Heaven." However, there are a number of aspects of this mishna that need to be explained. Most importantly, what exactly is the difference between these two categories?

The commentaries explain that the essence of machlokes for the sake of Heaven is a dispute in which all the disputants are motivated by the commitment to determine the true will of God as expressed in His Torah. While they may disagree about the details, the core motivation of both sides is identical. This is the kind of dispute we find throughout the Talmud and traditional literature, and it is exemplified by the famous disputes between the great Talmudic sages Hillel and Shamai.

The Baal Shem Tov, R' Yisrael Baal Shem (d.1760) (ספר הבעש"ט - ואתחנן מט) made an analogy to a group of architects who were appointed to design a palace for the king. The architects met to begin their plans and they began to disagree. Each one had a different idea as to what would make a more beautiful palace. Even though they are in disagreement about the details of the palace, their basic goals and motivation are identical. Each one seeks to express his love and respect for the king in the best possible way.

Similarly, taught the Baal Shem Tov, when Torah scholars argue for the sake of Heaven, as we find in the Talmud, their disagreement is only on the details of how to serve God properly, but their basic values and motivations are the same.

This idea can help us understand the famous Talmudic passage (Kiddushin 30b):
א"ר חייא בר אבא, אפי' האב ובנו, הרב ותלמידו, שעוסקים בתורה בשער אחד, נעשים אויבים זה את זה ואינם זזים משם עד שנעשים אוהבים זה את זה
R' Chiya bar Abba said, Even a father and son [or] a rebbi and disciple who study Torah at together (literally, "in one gate") become enemies of each other but they do not move from there until they love each other.
Initially, when a dispute in Torah study begins, each one sees the other's approach as improper. However, as the discussion continues and each one comes to understand the other's perspective and reasoning, they recognize that the disagreement is not rooted in a rejection of their most basic values, but only on the details of their application. Thus, their love is rekindled even stronger than before. (See the עץ יוסף there in the עין יעקב who gives a mashal from the עקדה that is very similar to the mashal quoted above from the Baal Shem Tov.)

The Sheivet Mussar (R' Eliyahu of Smyrna, d.1729) (37:48) comments similarly on the famous Talmudic passage (Brachos 64a), תלמידי חכמים מרבים שלום בעולם - "Torah scholars cause peace to increase in the world":
והנה אע"פ שלעיני הרואים נראה כמחזיקים במחלקת בהיותם נלחמים זה עם זה בהלכה... אדרבה מחלקת זה אינו אלא שלום
Behold, even though to the observer it seems as if [the Torah scholars] are engaging in machlokes in their disputes with each other on the law... on the contrary, such machlokes is nothing but peace!
While the Sheivet Mussar explains this idea in rather esoteric kabbalistic terms, the basic idea is clear. Whatever the disagreements may be between Torah scholars, they are rooted in core values that are not in dispute at all. The love of God, the commitment to obey His will as expressed in the Torah, and the commitment to absolute truth in the pursuit of those goals - these are held to by both sides and, when all is said and done, it is these values that really matter. The machlokes of the Sages is only on the surface, but with regard to the most basic and central issues they are entirely בשלום - at peace. Indeed, the very passion with which each side argues for its position and attacks the others testifies to their commitment to these shared values.

This principle, that machlokes for the sake of Heaven refers to machlokes where both sides are seeking the same goal of truth, helps us understand the odd language used by the mishna, "כל מחלוקת שהיא לשם שמים סופה להתקיים" - "Any machlokes which is for the sake of Heaven, 'its end will be upheld.'" What does the mishna mean by "סופה להתקיים" - "its end will be upheld"? Many commentaries explain this to mean that the true goal - the "end" for which both sides are striving - will be upheld. Thus the Bartenura (commentary on the mishna written by R' Ovadia m'Bartenura, d.1515) writes:
ואני שמעתי פירוש 'סופה' - תכליתה המבוקש מענינה. והמחלוקת שהיא לשם שמים, התכלית והסוף המבוקש מאותה מחלוקת להשיג האמת, וזה מתקיים, כמו שאמרו, "מתוך הויכוח יתברר האמת," וכמו שנתבאר במחלוקת הלל ושמאי, שהלכה כבית הלל. ומחלוקת שאינה לשם שמים, תכלית הנרצה בה היא בקשת השררה ואהבת הניצוח, וזה הסוף אינו מתקיים, כמו שמצינו במחלוקת קורח ועדתו שתכלית וסוף כוונתם היתה בקשת הכבוד והשררה והיה להיפך

I have heard explained that "its end" refers to the purpose that was sought from [the machlokes]. In a machlokes for the sake of Heaven, the purpose and the end that is sought in the machlokes is to know the truth, and this purpose will be upheld, as is said, "Out of debate the truth is made clear." As it is was clarified by the the machlokes of Hillel and Shamai that the law is like the academy of Hillel.
But by a machlokes that is not for the sake of Heaven, the desired purpose is the pursuit of power and the love of victory. This purpose will not be upheld, as we find by the machlokes of Korach and his congregation. Their goal was the pursuit of honor and power and in the end they found the opposite.
The Talmud (Eiruvin 14b) discusses why the law followed the opinion of the academy of Hillel:
מפני מה זכו בית הלל לקבוע הלכה כדבריהם? מפני שהיו שונים דבריהם ודברי בית שמאי, ולא עוד אלא שהיו מקדימין דברי בית שמאי לדבריהם

Why did the academy of Hillel merit that the law should be according to their words? Because they would study their own words as well as the words of the academy of Shamai. Moreover, they would study the words of the academy of Shamai before they studied their own!
R' Chaim Shmulevitz
R' Chaim Shmulevitz (d.1979) points out (שיחות מוסר תשל"ב - מאמר ל"ג) that this demonstrated that the academy of Hillel was devoted purely to knowing the truth to an even greater degree than the academy of Shamai. Because of their complete devotion to knowing the truth, they merited to be the dominant opinion.

The great sages Hillel and Shamai epitomize machlokes for the sake of Heaven, where the goal of both sides is purely to determine the truth. Korach and his congregation epitomize the opposite, a machlokes not for the sake of Heaven, but for selfish purposes, motivated by jealousy, pride, and the desire for honor. Such machlokes, asides from being a sin in its own right, also paves the path towards many more sins, ranging from lashon hara (gossip and tale-bearing) and leitzanus (mockery) to the extremes of physical strife and even murder. The spiritual harm caused by machlokes is immense for it causes the Shechina (Divine Presence) to depart from our midst. R' Chaim Shmulevitz says:
כמה קשה המחלוקת, שראינו כמה ישיבות קדושות שהחזיקו מעמד במצבים קשים ביותר ולא נחרבו אלא על ידי מחלוקת. ואף על פי שבית המדרש הריהו מקדש מעט שהשכינה שורה שם... אבל על ידי המחלוקת השכינה מסתלקת ונעשה ח"ו "ביתו" של השטן

How harsh is machlokes! For we have seen many holy yeshivos that continued to function even in the most difficult of circumstances, and they were destroyed in the end only by machlokes. Even though the beis medrash (Torah study hall) is a miniature Mikdash (Holy Temple) in which the Shechina rests... but machlokes causes the Shechina to depart and it becomes, God forbid, a "house" of the soton.
Knowing all this, we must still bear in mind that Korach and his congregation were men of great stature. While it is very easy for us to talk about the evils of machlokes in theory, in practice it tends not to be so simple. Whenever there is a machlokes, the instigators always claim to be acting for the sake of Heaven. This was certainly true of Korach. So how is the ordinary person to distinguish between a true machlokes for the sake of Heaven and one that is not actually for the sake of Heaven?

Indeed, one of the more disconcerting aspects that arises from the story of the dispute is that Korach apparently believed that he was in the right and that, when they all came before God with their burning incense, God Himself would chose him as the high priest. This tells us that not only can it be difficult for an outside observer to know if a machlokes is truly for the sake of Heaven, but it can even be difficult for the leader of the machlokes to recognize this! These signs are therefore vitally important not for judging others, but for assessing ourselves.

One method is alluded to in the mishna. When the mishna gives an example of a machlokes for the sake of Heaven, it refers to Hillel and Shamai, the two opposing sides in the machlokes. When the mishna gives an example of a machlokes that is not for the sake of Heaven, however, it identifies "Korach and his congregation," which was only one side in the dispute. On the simplest level, this is because, while Korach and his congregation instigated the machlokes against Moses and Aaron for their own selfish purposes, Moses and Aaron acted purely for the sake of Heaven. 

However, a number of commentators (עץ יוסף, עקבי  הצאן, מלבי"ם) see in this an additional lesson. When Korach and his congregation began their machlokes, each one of them was motivated by his own selfish purposes. Their alliance with the others was purely one of convenience, to enable each of them to achieve his own goals. Ultimately, each of them really wanted to gain power exclusively for himself. Thus, when Moses told them that each claimant to the high priesthood would burn incense and God would choose the one who was worthy, Korach correctly understood this to mean that only one of them would survive (רש"י טז:ז). Yet, this did not bother Korach, because Korach did not care a whit about "his congregation". They were nothing more than a tool for Korach to use. Thus, not only was there discord between the two ostensible sides of the machlokes, but there was also discord within the camp of Korach and his congregation. They too were not truly at peace with each other. This is a sign that the machlokes is not truly for the sake of Heaven.

Another way to assess if a machlokes is truly for the sake of Heaven is discussed by R' Yonason Eibschutz (d.1764) in his Yaaros Devash (vol. 2, p.135b). R' Yonason  Eibschutz says that the Sages referred to Hillel and Shamai together to give us a sign by which to distinguish between a true machlokes for the sake of Heaven and a machlokes that is not for the sake of Heaven:
אי המחולקים ובעלי ריבוח הם זולת הדבר שחלקו בו ומנגדים זה לזה הם אוהבים גמורים בלב ונפש זהו אות שמחלוקחם לש״ש אבל אם אויבים ונוטרים שנאה זה לזה על ידי מחלוקת זהו שלא לש״ש ויתיצב השטן בתוכם
If the disputants, asides from the specific issue in which they disagree, love each other completely, heart and soul, this is a sign that their machlokes is for the sake of Heaven. However, if they are enemies and hold hatred towards each other, then this is not a machlokes for the sake of Heaven and the soton stands among them.
The disagreements of Hillel and Shamai never impacted upon their love and respect for each other. This is a sign that their disputes were motivated purely for the sake of Heaven. If however, the machlokes leads the disputants to express hatred towards their opponents, as we find by Korach and his congregation, then this is a sign that the machlokes is not for the sake of Heaven.

In general, one of the most reliable ways to know if a machlokes is truly for the sake of Heaven is to look at the methods used by the disputants. By Korach we find that he made use of a wide range of "dirty tricks" to achieve his goals. He engaged in the worst forms of lashon hara and motzi shem ra (libelous gossip and tale-bearing), accusing Moses of being a power-hungry egomaniac and even of immoral behavior (Talmud Sanhedrin 110a - חשדוהו באשת איש). We also find that he made use of leitzanus (mockery) in his attacks on the Torah (such as his mockery of the laws of tzitzis and mezuzah) and of chanufa (flattery) and other forms of bribery in his appeals to the people.

However, in the end, the best advice when faced with a machlokes is, if at all possible, to simply not get involved. As the Talmud states (Chullin 89a):
א"ר אילעא, אין העולם מתקיים אלא בשביל מי שבולם את עצמו בשעת מריבה...
R' Ilaah said, The world survives only for the sake of those who silence themselves at a time of strife...
R' Samson Raphael Hirsch
In Proverbs we read (26:17), מחזיק באזני כלב עבר מתעבר על ריב לא לו - "Like one who grasps the ears of a dog, is one who gets angry over a quarrel that is not his." R' Samson Raphael Hirsch explains (From the Wisdom of Mishlé, ch.11):
Disputes are compared to biting animals. Do not meddle if a quarrel does not concern you. If you mix in, you are (as it were) grasping the ear of a biting animal: it will let go of its previous adversary and direct its attacks at you. (וכן פירש רש"י והגר"א)
This, in essence, was the advice that On ben Peles received from his wife that saved him from being destroyed along with Korach and his congregation. Even though On was initially one of Korach's supporters, as we see in the opening verse of the parsha (16:1), we find that he is not mentioned again. The Talmud  (Sanhedrin 109b) explains:
אמר רב, און בן פלת אשתו הצילתו. אמרה ליה, מאי נפקא לך מינה? אי מר רבה אנת תלמידא, ואי מר רבה אנת תלמידא!
Rav said, On ben Peles was saved by his wife. She said to him, "What are you going to get out of this? If he is the master you will be the disciple, and if he is the master you will be the disciple!"
The Sages praise the advice of On's wife very highly, applying to her the verse from Proverbs (14:1), חכמות נשים בנתה ביתה - "The wisest of women builds her house." Sometimes the greatest wisdom is also the simplest. While On almost certainly believed, at least initially, that he was supporting the right side in the fight, his wife was wiser than he. "This is not your fight! Stay out of it!" With this advice On's wife saved her husband and her family from the fate of Korach and his congregation.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Shelach - "What was Wrong with Them?" - Why Didn't the Children of Israel Trust God?

In Parshas Shelach we learn of the incident of the meraglim - spies - in which the spies sent to investigate the land of Israel returned with an evil report about the land. The Jewish people accepted this report and spent the night crying and bemoaning their fate. In the end, God condemned the people to remain in the wilderness for forty years, while the spies themselves died immediately in a plague.

What exactly was the sin of the Jewish people in accepting the report of the spies? God sums up the sin in His initial statement to Moses (Numbers 14:11), "How long will this people anger Me, and how long will they not have faith in Me, with all the signs that I have done in its midst?" The essence of their sin was their failure to have faith in God. After all that God had already done for them, with all the miracles of the Exodus, the Revelation at Sinai, and their supernatural survival in the wilderness (e.g. manna, clouds of glory, the well of Miriam, etc.), the Jewish people were still not ready to wholeheartedly trust God.

As a rebbi (Torah teacher) teaching seventh and eighth grade students, when discussing this parsha, my students would often ask, "What was wrong with them? After everything they had seen with their own eyes, they still didn't believe?" The following is how I would address this issue when it came up in the classroom.

Clearly, the Jewish people believed in God. They knew God in a way that no later generation can even begin to comprehend. Yet, despite their knowledge, they were not yet capable of truly trusting Him. Trust is an emotion, and with all their intellectual knowledge of God, they were incapable of creating the emotion of trust within themselves.

The Jewish people had just experienced several generations of horrific abuse at the hands of the Egyptians. When they had first come to Egypt, they were welcomed, and they had been respected and productive members of Egyptian society. Suddenly, almost overnight and for no apparent reason, that ended and the Egyptians turned against them. The Jews were forced into dehumanizing servitude and became nothing more than property.

Unsurprisingly, this experience, which lasted several generations, deeply scarred the Jewish people. Not only had they been abused, but they had been abused by people who were once their friends! And not only had their friends turned against them, but they had done so for no reason!

Now along came God and rescued them from Egypt, bringing them into a wilderness where they are completely dependent on Him, telling them that He would bring them to a land "flowing with milk and honey". Everything looked wonderful -- yet, deep down inside, the Jewish people were waiting for the second shoe to drop. On some level, even with all that they knew of God, they still had an irrational fear that all of this was just a set-up for a betrayal. In the end it would go bad, because, after generations of slavery, they knew, on an almost instinctual level, that things always go bad.

With this understanding, much of the behavior of the Jewish people in the wilderness (from the sin of the golden calf to the complaints about the food) makes far more sense. While they certainly wanted to trust God, their insecurity in their relationship with God caused them to continually “test” the relationship and to overreact to every possible problem.

This is why, even after the people had repented, they still had to remain in the desert for forty years. The forty years in the desert wasn't really a punishment; it was therapy. The people needed to experience forty years of life in which God directly participated in the daily life of every single person. Only after those forty years would their relationship with God be strong enough that they would be ready to go on to a normal life in the land of Israel.

God certainly understood the internal struggles that the Jewish people were going through, and He knew that they were not truly ready for a healthy relationship. God knew from the beginning that the Jewish people would need to spend the next forty years in the desert. Yet, before this could be made “official”, it was necessary that the people should recognize this as well. Otherwise, the forty years in the desert would have appeared utterly senseless, and would have led to even greater problems. It was therefore necessary for the Jewish people to “sin” in such a manner that they too would recognize that they were not yet ready to enter the land of Israel.

This explains why God told Moses to send the spies, even though He knew what would happen. “Send for yourself men…” – in the end the spies revealed to the Jewish people far more about themselves than they did about the land of Israel.

This also explains why God had to “go through the motions” of “anger” and “forgiveness”, first threatening to destroy them and then, in response to the prayers of Moses, “forgiving” them. (Indeed, the Sforno (14: 20) understands God’s response to Moses’ prayer to mean that God had already forgiven the Jewish people before Moses had even begun praying.) This taught the Jewish people two vitally important lessons. Firstly, it made it clear that this kind of distrust was not acceptable in a proper relationship and that they needed to change. Secondly, it made it clear that even so, no matter what they did, God would ultimately forgive them.

This understanding of the incident of the spies teaches us several important lessons. One lesson we can learn from this is that there are times when God will send us a test that He knows we will fail. This can happen when we are unaware of a spiritual flaw that is impeding our spiritual development. When we fail a test that, by all appearances, we ought to have passed, we realize that we aren't really at the level that we thought, and, hopefully, we are motivated to find those hidden flaws and rectify them. (See Rav Eliyahu Dessler in Michtav M’Eliyahu I:165 and IV:186-187 for a discussion of this concept, based on the Pri Ha’aretz of R’ Menachem Mendel M’Vitepsk.)

A more basic lesson that we can learn from here is the profound connection between our relationships with others and our relationship with God. To the degree that our relationships with other human beings are dysfunctional, so will be our relationship with God, whether we recognize it or not. If our fellow human beings find us difficult to deal with, then the likelihood is that God feels the same way. Thus the Sages taught, “Anyone who is pleasing to his fellow men is pleasing to God, and anyone who is unpleasing to his fellow men is unpleasing to God.” (Pirkei Avos 3:10)

Along the same lines, this also brings out a profoundly important spiritual aspect of our interpersonal obligations. For when we hurt another person, we are not only hurting them physically and emotionally, we are also hurting them spiritually. Every time we betray a friend, hurt a loved one, abuse our authority, or do any of the other cruel things that human beings tend to do to one another, not only do we undermine our own relationship with our fellow human beings and with God but we also chip away at our fellow human being’s relationship with God. On the other hand, every time we do an act of kindness, when we keep our word, when we give of ourselves for the benefit of others, not only are we making the world a better place for ourselves and others, but we are also bringing the world a little bit closer to God.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Who Achieves Divine Inspiration?

What does a person need to do in order to achieve the highest levels of spirituality? What are the steps one must follow to achieve a genuine connection with God? What were the minimum requirements that had to be achieved by any prophet?

The Gemara (Avodah Zara 20b) tells us a famous beraisa (teaching of the Tannaim) that gives us the basic information:
אמר רבי פינחס בן יאיר: תורה מביאה לידי זהירות, זהירות מביאה לידי זריזות, זריזות מביאה לידי נקיות, נקיות מביאה לידי פרישות, פרישות מביאה לידי טהרה, טהרה מביאה לידי חסידות, חסידות מביאה לידי ענוה, ענוה מביאה לידי יראת חטא, יראת חטא מביאה לידי קדושה, קדושה מביאה לידי רוח הקדש, רוח הקדש מביאה לידי תחית המתים.
Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair said, “Torah leads to Carefulness, Carefulness leads to Diligence, Diligence leads to Cleanliness, Cleanliness leads to Abstinence, Abstinence leads to Purity, Purity leads to Piety, Piety leads to Humility, Humility leads to Fear of Sin, Fear of Sin leads to Holiness, Holiness leads to Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration), and Ruach HaKodesh leads to the Resurrection of the Dead.”
One of the most popular and influential works of mussar (character development) of all time is the classic Mesillas Yesharim, by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (d.1747). The Messilas Yesharim is based on the beraisa of R’ Pinchas ben Yair. He discusses each of the steps, from זהירות - Carefulness to קדושה - Holiness, in detail.

The following is a description of the essence of each of these traits as explained in Messilas Yesharim. As we study it, it will quickly become clear that very few people achieve more than a few of these steps. Even that is a great accomplishment! This should bring us to appreciate the incredible heights of self-perfection that were achieved by every holy Jew who ever achieved Ruach HaKodesh.
  • תורה – Torah: The first step for any achievement of spirituality must be the study of the Torah and the commitment to follow its commandments.
  • זהירות – Carefulness:  A person must carefully consider all his actions and habitual behavior to determine if they are proper and conducive to his spiritual growth.
  • זריזות – Diligence: Just as זהירות trains us to avoid the negative, זריזות trains us to actively pursue the positive. This trait requires us to overcome our laziness and to strengthen ourselves to serve God.
  • נקיות – Cleanliness: A person must work to cleanse his mind and soul of any inclination or desire towards sins and bad middos (character traits). He will then have a perfectly clear mind, capable of pure clarity of thought.
The traits detailed above describe the level of a tzadik, the following traits are towards the higher level of the chassid:
  • פרישות – Abstinence: This is the level where one trains oneself to stay away from anything that might lead to spiritual harm, even if the thing itself is permitted. (The Messilas Yesharim emphasizes that this principle can be misused to cause a person to abstain from proper and necessary behavior.)
  • טהרה – Purity: This is the perfection of one’s thoughts so that even when one does take pleasure from this world, it is not done for the sake of enjoyment but only for the sake of the good that will result. Similarly, when one does a mitzvah, it should be done purely for the sake of God.
  • חסידות – Piety: This is when a person serves God out of love, doing more than is strictly required by law. A person with the trait of חסידות looks at every mitzvah to find its underlying message and works to fulfill God’s desire, not just His command. (The Messilas Yesharim emphasizes here too that this principle requires great care to avoid improper behavior. He devotes an entire chapter to the methods used for determining what is true חסידות and what is not.)
  • ענוה – Humility: This is when a person does not attach any importance to himself and does not consider himself deserving of praise or honor.
  • יראת חטא - Fear of Sin: This is the trait of one who is constantly concerned that some element of sin may have entered into his actions, thus detracting from the glory of God. Fear of Sin is not fear of punishment, which is a very basic level, which even the simplest Jew must achieve. Fear of Sin derives from a consciousness of the awesome greatness of God, and a constant fear of doing anything in opposition to His greatness.
  • קדושה – Holiness: This trait is similar to טהרה, mentioned earlier, but much stronger. In קדושה, a person engages in physical acts, not simply with pure intention, but in a state of complete attachment to God, lifting the physical items he uses to a higher spiritual level. The Messilas Yesharim emphasizes that this trait is one that a person must strive for, but it can only be fully achieved as a gift from God.
  • רוח הקדש - Ruach HaKodesh: This is when the Shechina (Divine Presence) rests upon a person and his understanding transcends his human nature.
  • תחית המתים - Resurrection of the Dead: It is possible for a person to reach such a high level that, through his perfect union with God, he is granted the power to revive the dead, as did Elijah the Prophet and his student, Elisha.
We must always bear this in mind when we learn about the great holy people of Tanach (the Jewish Scriptures). The first ten traits, enumerated above, are the minimum requirements for achieving Ruach Hakodesh. Every holy prophet in Tanach reached these high levels. As we see, this means that they reached a level of self-control that is almost impossible for us to truly understand. Such a person never just did something by habit, or gave into temptation. On the contrary, every action was carefully measured and used to achieve higher levels of spirituality.

The Fundamental Beliefs of Judaism - The Thirteen Foundations of Maimonides

About 800 years ago, Rabbi Moses Maimonides saw the need for a formal compilation of the most fundamental Jewish beliefs. The beliefs enumerated by Maimonides were certainly not new to Judaism; on the contrary, they were all broadly accepted concepts in Judaism.

In his compilation, which he wrote as part of his commentary on the Talmud, Maimonides succeeded in creating a summary of Jewish religious doctrine that has been accepted by Jews all over the world. Brief versions of these thirteen foundations are printed in most Jewish prayer books and many Jews recite them on a daily basis. The following is a basic summation of the thirteen foundations:

  1. The First Foundation is to believe in the existence of God. God is defined as the Creator of all that exists. He is entirely independent of all that exists, but all that exists is dependent on His constant maintenance and control.
  2. The Second Foundation is that God is one. God is absolutely simple; He has no parts or divisions, and there is nothing that can be compared to Him.
  3. The Third Foundation is that God is not physical and physical concepts cannot be applied to Him.
  4. The Fourth Foundation is that God existed prior to everything else.
  5. The Fifth Foundation is that it is proper to serve God and it is improper to serve any other being, no matter its stature, even as an intermediary to God.
  6. The Sixth Foundation is that there have been—and will be—people who have received communications from God. These people are called prophets.
  7. The Seventh Foundation is that the prophecy of Moses, as embodied in the Torah—the first five books of the Bible—has absolute authority over all other prophecy. Moses achieved a higher level of prophecy than will ever be achieved by any other human being.
  8. The Eighth Foundation is that the Torah is from God. We believe that the Torah that was conveyed to us by Moses is entirely the word of God. Even Moses himself did not add anything on his own.  This is also true for the traditional explanation of the Torah, which was also received directly from God. This traditional explanation is called the Oral Torah.
  9. The Ninth Foundation is that the Torah is permanent. We may not add anything to or remove anything from the Torah. This is true for both the Written and Oral Torah.
  10. The Tenth Foundation is that God knows the deeds and thoughts of man and never turns His eyes from us.
  11. The Eleventh Foundation is that God rewards those who obey the commandments of the Torah and punishes those who violate its prohibitions. The primary domain of reward and punishment is in the afterlife.
  12. The Twelfth Foundation is that God will eventually send the Messiah. The Messiah will be a descendant of King David. He will return the Jewish people to the land of Israel and rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. At this time the world will enter into a time of complete peace and security and all mankind will know God and serve Him wholeheartedly.
  13. The Thirteenth Foundation is that at some time in the future all the righteous people from all time will be resurrected.
These are the thirteen fundamental beliefs of Judaism. Maimonides’ use of the word “foundations” is very specific. Just as in erecting a building, the foundation is only the beginning; similarly, these foundations are only a starting point.

There is a wide spread notion, found in many popular books on Judaism, that Judaism makes no creedal demands upon its adherents, but demands only righteous action. This myth originated in the 18th century, and there is no support for it anywhere in traditional Jewish literature, whether in Scripture, the Talmudic and Kabbalistic literature, the writings of the medieval Jewish philosophers, or later.

Adherents to this misconception often point to the controversy surrounding Maimonides’ Foundations as evidence for their case. They assume that the critics of Maimonides were upset that he had created a list of required beliefs, when, they believe, Judaism doesn’t have any required beliefs. This is not what the controversy was about. On the contrary, the main criticism of the principles was the implication that these thirteen principles had a status above and beyond the rest of the Torah. As the critics put it, one is obligated to believe in every word of the Torah! What justification does Maimonides have in giving priority to these thirteen?

Other criticisms were based - explicitly or implicitly - on the answers given to the above challenge. Whatever the function of these thirteen principles, critics would argue that the list could be modified to better serve that function.

For further study on this topic, see the excellent book, With Perfect Faith
, by J. David Bleich.