Reader: Why, in connection with King David and Batsheva, does the written Torah say “wife”? Why does the prophet use the word “wife”? Why does it say that “and Hashem struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David”? Your own site states in the article “Trust, Hope or Denial” the following: “When King David took Batsheva for his wife it was considered evil in God’s eyes because she was still the wife of Uriah. David had Uriah killed in battle and Batsheva mourned her husband.” This is confusing. This says to me that the Oral Law is to be taken OVER the written. When the Written Law says “wife”, we cannot really believe it. How will I know if anything that I read is really saying what it appears to say? I realized that the Oral Law “fleshed out” the Written Law, but I had no idea that I cannot trust the Written Law. I am not trying to be disrespectful; this concept just REALLY throws me for a loop. God has allowed the Written Law to be spread all over the globe, but we cannot trust what we read? With all sincerity, please help me make sense of this.
Mesora: Yes, the Oral Law overrides the Written Law, but in a complimentary manner, not a contradictory one. And it takes decades to master both systems. In another case, the Written Law says King Solomon served idols. But the Rabbis say he did not: Oral Law informs us that the Written Law wishes to condemn King Solomon in harsh terms, and equates Solomon’s allowance of his wives idolatry to “his” actual worship, as if he did so. There is an idea being expressed by the use of exaggeration.
I understand your confusion, and therefore urge your first step: “Arrange for yourself a teacher [Rabbi]”. (Ethics, 1:6) A Torah scholar is indispensable to our accurate understanding of both God’s and the Rabbis’ intent.
Reader: Moses tells the Jews they might choose one option: life or death. Choosing “one” - life or death - means they are mutually exclusive. Thus, if I choose death, which Moses says is “not life”, then life cannot be experienced be me any more: no reincarnation. My death is terminal.
Alternatively, if I choose life, and I will not experience death, this means I will experience no successive deaths: meaning no reincarnation. Again choosing life means the alternative of death. Therefore, death will not be included in what I receive. This is great, but one must ask why do people die? Is it the case that everyone (with four notable exceptions) has chosen death? Or is it that death is natural and choosing death in the context above has to be understood in another way? This is not an attempt to prove or disprove reincarnation, but a question of logic.
Mesora: Up to this point, I have been discussing death, which is due to sin. But the institution of death for all mankind - even non-sinning men - came to the world due to Adam and Eve’s sin. Mortality was a necessary response to the human condition as evidenced by Adam and Eve. Therefore, based on man’s very design, witnessed in these two people, God’s wisdom decreed that man must live knowing his mortality, and then experience death. This is necessary, not because of our subjective sins, but be cause of man’s very nature as a sinner, seen in Adam and Eve.
Reader: I have a question and some comments upon which, I was hoping you could shed some light for me. Yesterday, in the live class, the subject of the “red string” came up. If the red string were a form of idol worship, then would a Chamsa be the same? I come from a Sephardic mother whose great grandparents were from Turkey. To them, the Chamsa, as was taught to me, represents the “hand of God”: the three middle fingers is Shin. The Thumb is dalet. The pinky is yod, which spells Shadai, God’s name. This is what I was taught. Is this just as silly as the red string? To me it is a symbol like the Mezuzah is a symbol. So I consider the Chamsa a way to remember we are in “God’s hand”. However, my mother does not like the eye. She says it is superstitious and goes against Torah. She says that some our people are superstitious and have developed silly belief from the middle ages. Can you shed some light on this Chamsa and why our people are superstitious?
Mesora: The Mezuzah is God’s intelligent commandment: make no equation between it, and the man-made Chamsa. And yes, the Chamsa is akin to the red string idolatry prohibited in Torah (Tosefta Sabbath 1:7) where man seeks objects for security…instead of the true security: God. All suggested meanings of letters you cite, are meaningless, unless sourced in Torah. But there are no sources for red strings and Chamsas. It makes no difference whether the Chamsa has an “eye” as your mother opposes. It is an “object”, and unless commanded in the Torah, we are not to create objects, as violated by the Jews who created the object of the Golden Calf. Many Jews hide behind attributed “meaning”, as in this case, where the Chamsa supposedly refers to God’s name. Chamsas and red strings have years of allegiance...many Jews adhere to them as if they are Torah Law. However, shall this influence our thinking or behavior? Or, shall God’s commands decide the matter?
But most damaging is the idea that Chamsa is God’s hand as you mention. Above all else, we must possess the truest meaning possible regarding God, and he is not physical. He has no hand. And when the Torah states “the hand of God”, we understand that metaphorically, meaning “the workings” or “actions” of God.
God does not endorse Chamsas or red strings, but prohibits one from living a life where he or she attributes ANY power or meaning to objects or ideas, other than God Himself. Follow the Torah: “Do not add or subtract from it”. (Deut. 13:1)
Reader: Rabbi, if the Jews are called Jews (Yehudim?) because they descend from the tribe of Judah (Yehudah), (or is it the Kingdom of Judah?) why is Abraham called the first Jew?
Little Rock, AR
Mesora: The first Jews are called “ivrim” plural for “ivri”. Abraham was termed “Abraham the Ivri”. The word ivri means the “other” [side] or “limb”. Meaning, Abraham was from another view (limb), i.e., he was “other” than his generation who were idolatrous. Abraham was uniquely monotheistic. Abraham may be termed the first Jew, since he was selected as the forerunner of the Jewish nation based on his discovery of monotheism. In this weeks parsha Lech Licha, God grants him a nation numerous as the stars. My understanding is that God desired the Jewish nation to be synonymous with someone who was able to extricate himself fro idolatry, and reach the great level he did. Thereby, Abraham stands as a prime example for all of mankind, that with a mind alone, and no teacher or books, man can discover the truth.