Immortality by 2077

Immortality by 2077

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying. -Woody Allen

Modern scientists have reached a stage of technological development where they can start to dream of extending man’s life indefinitely. While immortality still remains in the realm of science-fiction, multiple solutions are being worked on that should there be a breakthrough in any one of them, would signify a serious change in man’s longevity. The search for eternal life has often been connected with Messianic dreams.

It has long been taboo in Judaism to predict when the long-awaited Messiah may finally arrive. Maimonides declared it a fundamental principle of Judaism that we need simple belief and faith that the Messiah can arrive any day and to await him expectantly. Not that this has stopped countless Rabbis throughout the generations from giving dates and deadlines (all the past ones clearly erroneous so far) as to when the personification of our redemption will show himself.

Rabbeinu Bechaye does something a little different. In his commentary on Genesis 11:10 he predicts when the Messianic age will end. Back when he wrote his commentary, around the year 1290, he predicted that the Messianic age would end by 2077. And it would end with eternal life, for some.

When the Torah provides the list of generations and descendents of Shem son of Noah, it doesn’t mention their deaths, as opposed to the similar list of descendents of Adam until Noah. Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that the reason may be because Shem was the ancestor of the Davidic monarchy and the Messiah son of David will not die, but rather will live forever.

He states that after the year 2077 (really, 5837 in the Hebrew calendar) we will enter the seventh millennium which is the Sabbath of the world, and eternal life. He further implies that only those who cleave onto God will merit that eternal life.

For the younger ones among us, they may very well live to test Rabbeinu Bechaye’s prediction 60 years from now. The rest of us need to work on our life extending strategies. All of us need to work on cleaving to God.

May the Messiah show up rapidly in our own days.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the staff and volunteers of IsraAID who consistently provide life-saving help in disaster scenes around the world.

The Creation of Hell

The Creation of Hell

So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the burning marl. Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is – other people! -Jean-Paul Sartre

                                                                  Chart of Hell, Sandro Botticelli, circa 1485.

According to ancient Jewish sources, Hell was created on the second day of creation. The plain text narrates how on the second day of creation, God creates the firmament which separates between the upper waters and the lower waters. Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 1:4 wonders why the second day of creation doesn’t end with the characteristic phrase “and it was good,” which other days mention. He quotes the creation of Hell as a reason; however, he adds that something else was created on that same unfortunate day: quarrelling.

The term for second in Hebrew, “Sheni,” already hints at the unlucky nature of the number two. “Sheni” is related to the word “Shinui” which means difference or change. There is something negative and even dangerous when there are unwarranted differences between things and people or even to just being the second and being compared to what came before. It sets the stage for quarrelling. Even nature itself seems to quarrel with God from the second day and onwards. None of God’s further commands to the inanimate world were correctly implemented. For example, on the third day, God commanded that the earth produce fruit trees, meaning trees whose bark would be savory and could be eaten, however, the land decided to produce only fruit-bearing trees, with inedible bark.

The concern with the number two was serious enough that even the Talmud mentions a superstition about bad luck in eating pairs of a food or drinking pairs of drinks. Nonetheless, Rabbeinu Bechaye’s main point is that whoever instigates a quarrel will be judged in Hell. There is a direct correlation between creating anguish, controversy and clashes between people, and experiencing Hell.

However, we also know that arguments for the sake of Heaven, which are handled with sensitivity, intelligence and respect, will eventually be settled well.

May we avoid unnecessary quarrels and stick to Heavenly arguments.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the beginning of a new year of commentary. May it lead us on peaceful ways.

Unjustified means

Unjustified means

Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things. -Russell Baker

backstabberJacob, the Patriarch of the nascent nation of Israel lies on his deathbed. He convenes his twelve sons, the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. He addresses them as a unit and individually. His language is flowery, poetic, prophetic.

He chastises his first three sons, Reuven, Shimon and Levi. The remaining sons receive positive pronouncements and predictions.

Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 49:7 analyzes Jacob’s reprimand of Shimon and Levi. Jacob is upset with these two sons for their deception and brutality when they massacred the residents of Shechem. It went against the norms of justice and morality. Rabbi Hirsch attacks the popular belief that all is fair in statecraft. He claims that the concept that the end justifies the means runs counter to the principles of Judaism. What is reprehensible if done by one individual to another for their own personal consideration is equally reprehensible if done in the name of the state. Morality applies in politics and diplomacy. It is not only the purview of private affairs.

Rabbi Hirsch takes this interpretation a step further:

“The last will and testament upon which the Jewish people was founded pronounces a curse upon all acts of deception and brutality, even if they are committed for the most legitimate interests of the nation, and it sets down for all time the doctrine that even in public life and in the promotion of the common good not only the ends but also the means used to attain these ends must be clean.”

“However, it is only the anger and outrage of Shimon and Levi that are cursed. The curse is directed neither against Shimon and Levi personally, nor against their aims as such.”

Government reactions of anger, outrage and deception, while understandable or even politically justified, are often ineffective or counterproductive as matters of public policy. Once we’ve identified the correct aims, we need to reach them through correct and straightforward means.

May we have a leadership that will take the correct path, see that justice is done to those that promote and insight terror, and is not swayed by the political winds of expediency.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

In memory of Erez Orbach of Alon Shvut. God will avenge his blood.

Party Sacrifice of Peace

Party Sacrifice of Peace 

Joys divided are increased. -Josiah Gilbert Holland

banquet

Up until the time of Jacob, the animal sacrifices that our ancestors brought to God were completely consumed by fire. The entire beast was burnt in a ceremony known in Hebrew as a Korban Olah. This act demonstrated a total submission and entreaty to God. It all went to God. Jacob does something different.

Jacob is informed that his beloved long-lost son Joseph was alive and not dead as he was lead to believe for twenty-two long years. As he rushes down to Egypt to reunite with Joseph, Jacob offers a different type of sacrifice, which is called Zevachim and also Shelamim (peace offerings). In this sacrifice, part of the animal is burnt upon the altar, but here man also partakes of the meat of the sacrifice.

In the words of Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 46:1:

“[The peace offerings] express a loftier concept, that of “God coming into our midst.” They are therefore offered in the happy awareness that wherever a family lives in harmony, is faithful to its duty and feels that it is being upheld by God, there God is present. That is why the spirit of the Shelamim, the “peace offerings” of a family life blessed by God, is so typically Jewish. The concept of surrendering to God and permitting oneself to be absorbed by Him has begun to dawn also upon non-Jewish minds. But the thought that everyday life can become so thoroughly pervaded by the spirit of God that “one eats and drinks and while doing so, beholds God,” that all our family rooms become temples, our table altars, and our young men and young women priests and priestesses – this spiritualization of everyday personal life represents the unique contribution of Judaism.”

“The reason why Jacob-Israel at this point did not offer a Korban Olah, but Zevachim, is that now, for the first time, Jacob felt happy, joyous and “complete” (“Shalem” in Hebrew also means “complete” or “whole”) within the circle of his family. It was under the impact of this awareness and this emotion that he made a “family offering” to God.”

Part of the point of the Shelamim sacrifice was to share it with family and friends in a festive celebratory spirit: to consecrate the meal, to make the meal itself holy and have God as part of the celebration.

May we have many causes of celebration and holy festivities.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

On the engagement of our son Eitan to Rebecca Charytan who complete each other. We are filled with joy that we look forward to sharing.

 

Joseph, Social Economist

Joseph, Social Economist

But while they prate of economic laws, men and women are starving. We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings. -Franklin D. Roosevelt

crops

Joseph correctly interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, warning of seven years of plenty followed by seven year of famine. Pharaoh was so impressed by Joseph’s abilities that he appointed Joseph as his Viceroy and put him in charge of the Egyptian empire. Joseph takes the reins of the kingdom and distinguishes himself by creating storehouses for the grain, overseeing the orderly sale and distribution of the grain during the famine, and successfully managing and developing the overall Egyptian economy.

Rabbi Hirsch, in his commentary on Genesis 41, points out two noteworthy economic policies that Joseph instituted during the years of famine.

The first policy was that people had to pay for the grain that he distributed. Though the storehouses of Egypt were overflowing with “uncountable” amounts of grain, Joseph still charged the starving population for it. Rabbi Hirsch explains that had Joseph handed the grain out for free, it would not be valued by the population. People don’t value or appreciate handouts as much as something that they have to pay for.

The second policy was that Joseph sold only enough grain to each family to feed that family. He did not sell wholesale. There were only retail sales. He wanted to prevent a situation of hoarding, speculative buying and enterprising capitalists cornering the grain market.

Although socialists may have preferred free handouts and capitalists would have preferred freer access to wholesale deals, investments, a fluctuating market, speculation, and letting their capital work for them, Joseph’s policies insured that Egypt survived the famine.

A balanced economic policy seems to have been exactly what the country needed.

Shabbat Shalom and Chanuka Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the irrepressible Pieprz family for a glorious Shabbat in Karnei Shomron.

Clueless Joseph?

Clueless Joseph? 

Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm. -Graham Greene

clueless

Joseph recounts to his brothers his fantastical dreams which seem to imply that he will rule over them. The brothers don’t take this well at all. If they detested him before for being their father’s favorite, now they outright hate him.

After this episode their father Jacob orders Joseph to meet up with his brothers who are tending their sheep far to the north, around the area of Shechem. Joseph appears to go without hesitation or concern.

Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 37:13 explains that Joseph had no fear of his brothers because he had no ambition whatsoever to rule them. His dreams were just dreams; not anything that he planned or foresaw might come to fruition. Therefore, in his innocent mind, he had nothing to fear from his jealous brothers.

The brothers, on the other hand, took his dreams very seriously. They believed that the apparently chosen son did intend to rule over them and saw him as a clear and present danger to themselves and how they hoped to conduct their lives, free of tyrants or rulers. Hence, the acts they took, first of planning to kill Joseph and then the decision to sell him as a slave, stemmed from purely defensive motives. They were protecting themselves from the mortal threat of Joseph the tyrant. The fact that this was the furthest thing from Joseph’s mind did not have one iota of effect upon the brothers’ fears or actions.

Joseph, though he did suffer over the prolonged enslavement and separation from his family, always seemed to have God with him, and the very actions the brothers took are what eventually lead Joseph to rule over them, thereby inadvertently fulfilling his prophetic dreams.

God often protects the innocent, but it doesn’t hurt to be less naïve.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all the subscribers and those that have encouraged and promoted the launch of my Daily Torah Tweets. Thanks!

The Darkness Will Pass

The Darkness Will Pass

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. -Carl Gustav Jung

pre-sunrise

After twenty years, Jacob escapes from his treacherous father-in-law, Laban, only to approach his deadly brother, Esau. The night before his fateful meeting he is accosted by an angel. They wrestle the entire night, and only with the approach of dawn does Jacob get the upper hand on his otherworldly opponent. It is at that momentous encounter that Jacob is named Israel, the name we carry to this day.

Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 32:27 explains that throughout the night, the adversary appears to be stronger. With daybreak, suddenly Jacob sets the terms to end the conflict. The single request is the recognition that Jacob is deserving of a blessing and not of persecution. Rabbi Hirsch elaborates: “…only by paying him such recognition will the nations bring blessings also upon themselves, and only thus will the promise, “and through you will all the families on earth be blessed, and through your seed” [Genesis 28:14] be fulfilled.”

The enemy fights ceaselessly throughout the night to destroy Israel. When morning approaches the enemy is ready to give up, but Jacob will not cease his struggle until he is accorded recognition by being blessed.

Rabbi Hirsch continues:

“The goal of history is not that Jacob should be forced to merge into the mass of nations, but the reverse. The nations must come to understand that precisely those principles which Jacob has championed and held aloft amidst all these struggles hold also the happiness of those nations which adopt them as their own.”

The night will pass, daybreak shall come. We will emerge stronger and victorious and will both receive and bestow blessings. It is already coming to fruition.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication 

To Bob Dylan on his Nobel Prize