Monday, October 19, 2009

The Davidic Covenant, Part III

After instructing Natan to tell David he will not build "a house for My dwelling", Natan is told to inform David that the tables have been turned: the Lord will build a bayit for David. Of course, we know God does not mean bayit in the sense of a structural house, but a dynasty ('house' has the same double sense in English as well). David is to be assured that his lot is different from the charismatic leaders of Israel's past - who would rise up to save the people from trouble and then pass without an heir to continue their legacy. The House of David would continue on. The first to inherit the throne would build the bayit l'shmi, "a house for My Name". God made a name and a house for David and David's son will make a house for God's Name.

As for David's son, God assures David that he will benefit from a special providence from Him. This providential relationship is expressed through a father-son metaphor. God will be like a father to him and David's son will be like a son to Him. Specifically, in so far as if he becomes corrupt God will chastise him with the 'rod of men' and the afflictions of humans. And, even if he does become corrupt God's chesed - literally: kindness, often used to refer to a b'rit, covenant in 1 & 2 Samuel - would not depart from his line - meaning, David's dynasty would continue uninterrupted in perpetuity.

As for the "son" metaphor I think the sense is clear from Psalms (2):
5. Then He speaks to them in His wrath; and He frightens them with His sore displeasure.
6. "But I have enthroned My king on Zion, My holy mount."
7. I will tell of the decree; The Lord said to me, "You are My son; this day have I begotten you.
8. Request of Me, and I will make nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession.
9. You shall break them with an iron rod; like a potter's vessel you shall shatter them."

Commenting on "You are My son", Rashi writes:
You are My son, the head of Israel, who are called in the Torah (Exodus, 4:22), "My firstborn son", and they will endure through you, as is stated concerning Abner (I2 Sam. 3:18): “for God said, etc., ‘By the hand of My servant David shall I save My people Israel.’”, and for their sake, you are before Me as a son, because they are all dependent upon you.

Rashi sounds somewhat convoluted at first. The more obvious interpretation is that the king is called a son because he shares a special providential relationship with God. However, Rashi is reminding us that this simple interpretation would be ignoring God's relationship with all of His people and the true origin of the "son" metaphor. Israel emerged out of a society that deified their king and viewed him as either a son or an incarnation of a god. God tells Moshe (in Exodus, 4:22) that in response to Pharaoh hardening his heart he is to tell him, "My firstborn son is Israel." Though, in a sense, all of humanity and all nations are God's "children" in regards to His providence - Israel is the firstborn - the one God has chosen to impart His inheritance and show special favor. Rashi is saying that the king's status as "son" must be viewed within this context. The king is only a "son" for the sake of the people.

In summary, to understand the "son" metaphor we must take note of the following: a son shares a privileged status: favor, when the son is virtuous (as in Psalms 2 and Exodus 4); chastisement, when he is corrupt (as in 2 Samuel 7); and even the corrupt son does not lose his father's chesed - meaning, the relationship (in 2 Samuel, the Davidic covenant) will never be absolutely severed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Davidic Covenant, Part II

Once the Lord had given David rest from all his enemies it David shared his observation with Natan that it was improper that he, David, should be dwelling in a house of cedar while the Ark of God resided behind curtains. Natan concurred and gave David carte blanche to do what was in his heart. However, that night the Lord told Natan otherwise:

5. "Go and say to My servant, to David; so says the Lord: 'Shall you build Me a house for My dwelling? 6. For I have not dwelt in a house from the day that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle. 7. In all [the places] wherein I have walked with all the children of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the rulers of Israel whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying: 'Why do you not build for me a house of cedar?'

The key word here is house (bayit). This "house" seems to stand at odds with the pastorally depicted past of the children of Israel. Permanence is contrasted with transience. The problem seems to be not particular to David but with the very concept of a "house for My dwelling". As David's son proclaims on the day he brought the ark into the Holy of Holies (1 Kings, 8:27):

"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You; much less this temple (bayit) that I have erected."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Davidic Covenant, Part I

I was recently asked the following two questions:
What is your understanding of the "Davidic Covenant", as referenced in 2 Sam. 7:8-17?
What is God really saying when he states: "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me."

I am good friends with the questioner and I know that he would appreciate what I would call a "full answer". The following is the first part of my reply:

It's always tricky to give just the right amount of context; I am always tempted to give way too much. That said... In the first four chapters of 2 Sam. David solidifies is reign over Judah while at war with the kingdom of Israel ruled by the son of Saul, Ish-Boshet. Ish-Boshet is assassinated at the end of the fourth chapter and at the beginning of the fifth chapter David is "elected" king by the "Northern Kingdom of Israel". For the first time there is a "Kingdom of Israel" ruled by one king: David. The age of "Tribes" and "Judges" is over. David establishes his capital in Jerusalem - a well fortified city in the Judaen mountains right on the border between Judah and the North (specifically, the portion of Benjamin). David's success is apparent and Hiram, king of Tyre forges an alliance with him (with obvious benefits for Hiram). David continues to weaken the Philistines and defeats them repeatedly. In the sixth chapter David attempts to move the Ark to Jerusalem failing on his first attempt. He is successful on his second attempt (when he stops imitating the Philistine method of Ark transportation made famous in 1 Sam.). Finally, we come to the first verse of chapter seven and with great relief and joy read:

"And it came to pass, when the king dwelt in his house, and the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies." - David has finally found some respite.

Quick methodological point: the Hebrew Bible is chock-full of allusion to the Torah/Five Books of Moses. For the prophets/authors of the books of the Prophets the Torah was the literary and spiritual (can you really separate the two?!) soul of their society. Their writing had to have its imprint. For the prophets the Torah was the context. Though the Torah was sealed, their writing was an extension of the Torah. They wrote to further the grand unfolding plan of the Torah. However, they did not usually do this by citing chapter and verse - this would not have been necessary nor, in my opinion, as effective. The Torah in Ancient Israel was speech itself (Deut. 6, 7):
And you shall teach them to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.

The Ancient Israelite could not read 2 Sam. 7:1 without viscerally connecting to Deut. 12:10-12:
10. And you shall cross the Jordan and settle {same verb in Hebrew as 'dwelt'} in the land the Lord, your God, is giving you as an inheritance, and He will give you rest from all your enemies surrounding you, and you will dwell securely. 11. And it will be, that the place the Lord, your God, will choose in which to establish His Name there you shall bring all that I am commanding you: Your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the separation by your hand, and the choice of vows which you will vow to the Lord. 12. And you shall rejoice before the Lord, your God you and your sons and your daughters and your menservants and your maidservants, and the Levite who is within your cities, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.

Friday, August 07, 2009

What is a Mitzva?

I do not know if the patient confused lurker is still lurking but I wanted to let that person know I am now thinking about his question. This post is not a complete answer to his questions, just some thoughts.

PCL asked if the Rambam defines what a mitzva is. To start, I feel confident in saying that the Rambam does have a definition. His 14 principles for counting mitzvot imply that he must have a definition. However, he does not seem to define it outright in the Sefer HaMitzvot. Curiously, virtually all of those principles are negative - the Rambam tells us what should not be counted as a mitzva.

In the beginning of the Mishne Torah the Rambam does provide us with something close to a definition:
א כל המצוות שניתנו לו למשה בסיניי--בפירושן ניתנו, שנאמר "ואתנה לך את לוחות האבן, והתורה והמצוה" (שמות כד,יב): "תורה", זו תורה שבכתב; ו"מצוה", זה פירושה. וציוונו לעשות התורה, על פי המצוה. ומצוה זו, היא הנקראת תורה שבעל פה.

א כל המצוות שניתנו לו למשה בסיניי--בפירושן ניתנו, שנאמר "ואתנה לך את לוחות האבן, והתורה והמצוה" (שמות כד,יב): "תורה", זו תורה שבכתב; ו"מצוה", זה פירושה. וציוונו לעשות התורה, על פי המצוה. ומצוה זו, היא הנקראת תורה שבעל פה.

Here the Rambam seems to define mitzva as the peirush of Torah Sh'bikhtav - which is Torah Sh'ba'al Peh. This leads to some interesting conclusions: when it is said that there are 613 mitzvot this means that there are 613 peirushim; we know the 613 mitzvot via the Mesora - not the Torah Sh'bikhtav.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Ralbag Livens Things Up

In the previous post I discussed the term maqam which refers to melody types. I believe this maqam can help us understand the Ralbag's m'qomot and their purpose. The reader of Chumash can be likened to a musician. But first more about the music.

How does one distinguish between a proficient musician and a master? The proficient musician possesses all the skills a musician must have - his artistry is impeccable. However, the master possesses something more. The story in the previous post about Alfarabi is an excellent example of the master musician. The master brings new life to music. For the master, the music is merely a means to convey the deepest passional experiences. So how does one become a master? The maqam are the key. They give a student a map (or topology) of the kinds of music appropriate to conveying different psychological states. If the student memorizes these he can simply check his roster for the appropriate maqam for the venue and occasion. This does not automatically make the proficient musician a master. It helps him develop the proper habits of mind.

M'qomot (in the larger sense of the word) are "places" in the imagination (or psyche in modern terminology). They familiarize a student with different situations he might encounter and provide him with a tool-kit of appropriate responses. M'qomot are appropriate to every art which demands a wide range of action from the student. In the case of a musician each maqam gives him a general sense of how to perform. Even if presented with new lyrics or a new composition he can refer back to the appropriate maqam and find guidance. Is this a happy song? a sad song? a somber moment? a festive occasion? a mournful gathering? By training with maqam the musician would rarely feel unprepared. The proficient musician builds his intuition around these maqam. Likewise, the m'qomot of the Ralbag.

Seeing how the mitzvot emerge from the words of the Chumash does not feel natural at first even for an expert reader. The m'qomot are the means to bring new life to that reading - in this case a derekh haChayim.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Sweet Music of the Ralbag

I was discussing the m'qomot of the Ralbag with RS this past Shabbat. An interesting connection occurred to me that I believe adds greatly to the understanding of the m'qomot. Sephardim refer to the different modes of chazzanut as maqam. This has its source in the Arabic musical tradition.

Maqam is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebew maqom.

The following description of maqam is given in wikepedia.

Arabic maqām (Arabic: مقام; pl. maqāmāt مقامات or maqams) is the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music, which is mainly melodic. The word maqam in Arabic means place, location or rank. The Arabic maqam is a melody type. Each maqam is built on a scale, and carries a tradition that defines its habitual phrases, important notes, melodic development and modulation. Both compositions and improvisations in traditional Arabic music are based on the maqam system. Maqams can be realized with either vocal or instrumental music, and do not include a rhythmic component.

This article includes a list - according to Al-Farabi - of the different kinds of maqam.

"So what?", you may ask. I believe the following story about Al-Farabi (you might remember him being compared to fine flour by the Rambam (thanks to Matt for a translation of the letter in which he says this on his blog)) will reveal the usefulness of this connection.

Al-Farabi happens to be one of the greatest figures, not only in Arabic philosophy, but in the science of music.

There are many versions of this story floating around but this is the earliest written record I could find (January 1, 1318, to be exact) of the famous story about Al-Farabi (Nizam ad-din Awliya: morals for the heart : conversations of Shaykh Nizam ad-din Awliya recorded by Amir Hasan Sijzi; by Niẓāmuddīn Auliyā, Bruce B. Lawrence, Ḥasan Dihlavī; Translated by Bruce B. Lawrence; Published by Paulist Press, 1992; p. 272)

He then told a brief story about PHILOSOPHERS. "Farabi was a philosopher, " he noted. "One day he came into the assembly of the Caliph dressed in a short cloak and simple clothes, for he was of Turkish origin. Farabi began to play his cymbal and to sing. Now there were three kinds of music, according to this philosopher. One made people laugh, another made them cry, and a third put them to sleep or rendered them unconscious. In short, when Farabi began to play the cymbal, at first the whole assembly erupted in laughter. The when he began to sing, they all fell to crying, "Ah! Ah!" Then when he kept on singing, they all became unconscious. Writing these words on the wall, he left:

Farabi did indeed appear here, but then he disappeared.

When the members of the assembly regained consciousness and read what he had written, they said to themselves: 'This Farabi was indeed a philosopher; alas we did not recognize him as such!'"

In a future post I will fully elaborate what maqam reveals about maqom.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Speaking of Great Things

This is a rewrite of a piece that I posted last year. It still doesn't feel finished but I wanted to share it anyway.

שִׁמְעוּ, כִּי-נְגִידִים אֲדַבֵּר; וּמִפְתַּח שְׂפָתַי, מֵישָׁרִים. (משלי ח:ו)

Listen, for I will speak noble things, and the opening of my lips shall be right things. (Mishlei 8:6)

Our Rabbis tell us that we must tell the story of Pesach in a peculiar manner:

וְצָרִיךְ לְהַתְחִיל בִּגְנוּת, וּלְסַיַּם בִּשְׁבָח.
It is necessary to begin with denigration and end with praise.

What is the purpose of this halakha? I believe the answer can be found through an analysis of the laws of the prohibition of lashon hara, slanderous speech.

Concerning the ba'al lashon hara, the slanderer, David HaMelekh writes in Tehillim 12:

ד יַכְרֵת יְהוָה, כָּל-שִׂפְתֵי חֲלָקוֹת-- לָשׁוֹן, מְדַבֶּרֶת גְּדֹלוֹת.
ה אֲשֶׁר אָמְרוּ, לִלְשֹׁנֵנוּ נַגְבִּיר--שְׂפָתֵינוּ אִתָּנוּ: מִי אָדוֹן לָנוּ.
4. May God cut off all smooth lips, the tongue that speaks great things.
5. Who said, "With our tongue we will overpower; our lips are with us. Who is lord over us?"

The ba'al lashon hara is dangerous because he thinks that he speaks of 'great things'. He seeks to gain power and prominence by denigrating his fellow. He raises himself up by bringing others down. If only he recognized the true majesty and dominion of God he would not be so glib and unconstrained. Then he would realize that the very idea of seeking power is delusional - all the more so through slander! This is why the Rabbis say that the one who speaks lashon hara is, "כְּאִלּוּ כָּפַר בָּעִיקָר", as if he denies the most fundamental principle of the Torah: God's existence.

Oddly enough, lashon hara, slanderous speech, bears striking similarities to the mitzva of Sippur Y'tziat Mitzrayim, telling the story of the Exodus. First of all, lashon hara is also referred to as a kind of sippur, story telling. The purpose of Sippur Y'tziat Mitzrayim is knowledge of God (Sh'mot 10):

א וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, בֹּא אֶל-פַּרְעֹה: כִּי-אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת-לִבּוֹ, וְאֶת-לֵב עֲבָדָיו, לְמַעַן שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה, בְּקִרְבּוֹ. ב וּלְמַעַן תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן-בִּנְךָ, אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי בְּמִצְרַיִם, וְאֶת-אֹתֹתַי, אֲשֶׁר-שַׂמְתִּי בָם; וִידַעְתֶּם, כִּי-אֲנִי יְהוָה.
1 God said to Moses, 'Come to Pharaoh, for I have made heavy his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I would be able to place these, My signs in his midst. 2 And in order that you tell it in the ears of your children and grandchildren how I made a mockery out of Egypt, and My signs that I placed on them. And you will know that I am God.'

The purpose of the the m'sapeir (teller of) lashon hara is clearly not so lofty. The m'sapeir lashon hara also speaks of what he thinks are wondrous and great things as Rambam writes at the end of Hilkhot Tumat Tzara'at in which he discusses the root cause of tzara'at: lashon hara:

קַל וְחֹמֶר לִבְנֵי אָדָם הָרְשָׁעִים הַטִּפְּשִׁים, שֶׁמַּרְבִּים לְדַבַּר גְּדוֹלוֹת וְנִפְלָאוֹת; לְפִיכָּךְ רָאוּי לְמִי שֶׁרָצָה לְכַוַּן אֳרָחָיו, לְהִתְרַחַק מִיְּשִׁיבָתָן וּמִלְּדַבַּר עִמָּהֶן, כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִתָּפֵס אָדָם, בְּרֶשֶׁת רְשָׁעִים וְסִכְלוּתָם.
[Miriam was afflicted with tzaraat for saying a very limited form of lashon hara against her brother Moshe...] All the more so, evil, foolish people who say great and wondrous things at length; therefore it is proper for one who wants to properly align his path to distance himself from their dwelling places and from speaking with them so that he will not get caught up with them, in the web of the evil and their foolishness.

While the m'sapeir lashon hara in his foolishness speaks at length about what he considers to be great and wondrous, the m'sapeir b'y'tziat Mitzrayim is commanded to speak at length of the truly wondrous and truly great deeds of the Almighty (Hilkhot Chametz uMatza chapter 7):

מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁלַּתּוֹרָה לְסַפַּר בְּנִסִּים וְנִפְלָאוֹת שֶׁנַּעֲשׂוּ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בְּמִצְרַיִם
It is a positive commandment from the Torah to tell of the miracles and wonders that were done for our forefathers in Egypt.
כָל הַמַּאֲרִיךְ בַּדְּבָרִים שֶׁאֵרְעוּ וְשֶׁהָיוּ, הֲרֵי זֶה מְשֻׁבָּח.
Anyone who expands upon the matters that happened and that were - this is praiseworthy.

Now, let us return to our original question. The halakha says one must tell the story of y'tziat Mitzrayim (Hilkhot Chametz uMatza, chapter 7) in the following manner:

וְצָרִיךְ לְהַתְחִיל בִּגְנוּת, וּלְסַיַּם בִּשְׁבָח.
It is necessary to begin with denigration and end with praise.

The halakha demands that we do this in two ways:

כֵּיצַד: מַתְחִיל וּמְסַפֵּר שֶׁבַּתְּחִלָּה הָיוּ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ בִּימֵי תֶּרַח וּמִלְּפָנָיו, כּוֹפְרִים וְטוֹעִין אַחֲרֵי הַהֶבֶל וְרוֹדְפִין עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה; וּמְסַיֵּם בְּדַת הָאֱמֶת, שֶׁקֵּרְבָנוּ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לָהּ, וְהִבְדִּילָנוּ מִן הַתּוֹעִים, וְקֵרְבָנוּ לְיֵחוּדוֹ. וְכֵן מַתְחִיל וּמוֹדִיעַ שֶׁעֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ לְפַרְעֹה בְּמִצְרַיִם, וְכָל הָרָעָה שֶׁגְּמָלוּנוּ; וּמְסַיֵּם בְּנִסִּים וְנִפְלָאוֹת שֶׁנַּעֲשׂוּ לָנוּ, וּבְחֵרוּתֵנוּ.
How [does one begin with denigration and end with praise]? Begin and tell that originally our forefathers in the days of Terach and before him were heretics and were swayed after vanity and chased after idolatry; and conclude with the true religion - that the Holy One Blessed is He brought us close to Him and separated us from the wayward and brought us close to His Unity.
And also, begin and inform that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and all the evil he caused us; and conclude with the miracles and wonders that were done for us and with our freedom.

What greater denigration can there be than being slaves and idolaters! As we know, the slanderer also denigrates, however, for him that is where it ends (Hilkhot Deot, chapter 7):

יֵשׁ עָווֹן גָּדוֹל מִזֶּה עַד מְאוֹד וְהוּא בִּכְלַל לָאו זֶה, וְהוּא לָשׁוֹן הָרַע; וְהוּא הַמְּסַפֵּר בִּגְנוּת חֲבֵרוֹ, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאָמַר אֱמֶת.
There is an much greater sin than this [gossiping] … : lashon hara, slanderous speech. It is [defined as] one who tells/relates the scorn of his fellow, even if he says the truth.

In contrast, speaking of the B'nei Yisrael's degradation is a means to recognizing and praising God (Tehillim 113):

ז מְקִימִי מֵעָפָר דָּל; מֵאַשְׁפֹּת, יָרִים אֶבְיוֹן.
ח לְהוֹשִׁיבִי עִם-נְדִיבִים; עִם, נְדִיבֵי עַמּוֹ.
ט מוֹשִׁיבִי, עֲקֶרֶת הַבַּיִת-- אֵם-הַבָּנִים שְׂמֵחָה:
7. He lifts the pauper up from the dust, from the dungheap He raises up the needy,
8. To seat [him] with princes, with the princes of His people.
9. He seats the barren woman of the house as a happy mother of children. Hallelujah!

We must tell the story in this manner because we only come to recognize God's greatness by recognizing our own frailty. On the night of Pesach we do not regale our family and friends with stories of the heroic deeds of our ancestors. Moshe's name does not even appear in the haggadah! We begin by recounting the scorn of our forefathers and end with the praises of the Holy One, blessed is He.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mishneh Torah Eyes

I am trying to state briefly the vision of life that the Rambam's Mishneh Torah provides me with. I also want to give a sense of how and why the Mishneh Torah is the main source of this vision.
אָז לֹא-אֵבוֹשׁ--בְּהַבִּיטִי, אֶל-כָּל-מִצְו‍ֹתֶיךָ תהילים קיט,ו
The Rambam's Mishneh Torah (not to neglect his other works) is the main source of my vision of life. It is the only source in the Jewish tradition that provides a comprehensive, systematic presentation of the entire corpus of the oral law. The Mishneh Torah, though practical in its purpose, gives the theoretical underpinnings of the entire system and it fundamental objectives. Additionally, it is written with tremendous clarity and precision in a simple Hebrew. It is the ultimate salve to the practice of Judaism as disconnected rote behaviors. The Mishneh Torah is web-like in its efficiency to link from the micro-details of a particular halakha to the macro-structure it is part of. In this way one can never miss the forest for the trees (or as the Rambam would say miss the roots for the branches of the branches). At the core of the Rambam's Mishneh Torah is the centrality of the Written Law. This roots the practice of halakha in the covenantal relationship between B'nei Yisrael and God. In all, the vision afforded by the Mishneh Torah is an organic, interconnected world in which the halakha infuses every aspect of life with wisdom and meaning and facilitates an ongoing ascent in the love of God.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Real Angel

There is a famous Rashi in Parashat Vayishlach (Chapter 32) on the following verse:

ד וַיִּשְׁלַח יַעֲקֹב מַלְאָכִים לְפָנָיו, אֶל-עֵשָׂו אָחִיו, אַרְצָה שֵׂעִיר, שְׂדֵה אֱדוֹם
4. Jacob sent angels ahead of him to his brother Esau, to the land of Seir, the field of Edom.

And here is the Rashi (translations from JPS found on here):
ד וישלח יעקב מלאכים
מלאכים ממש
Jacob sent angels Heb. מַלְאָכִים, literally angels (Gen. Rabbah 75:4).

In the book of Shmuel I (Chapter 23) there is a similar Rashi on the following verse:

כז וּמַלְאָךְ בָּא, אֶל-שָׁאוּל לֵאמֹר: מַהֲרָה וְלֵכָה, כִּי-פָשְׁטוּ פְלִשְׁתִּים עַל-הָאָרֶץ
27. And a messenger came to Saul, saying, "Make haste and go, for the Pelishtim have spread out over the land!"

And here is the Rashi:
כז ומלאך בא אל שאול - מלאך ממש כדי להציל את דוד
And a messenger came (Heb. ‘malakh’) a real angel, in order to save David.

I believe, (based on a Bar-Ilan query) that these are the only two instances in which Rashi makes the point that malakh is referring to an angel as opposed to a more mundane messenger (of the human variety). The context in the book of Shmuel is highly instructive. David has been surrounded by Shaul and his men – his fate is certain, there is no escape. At the moment when all hope has been lost for David a messenger comes to Shaul sending him off to defend his nation from an onslaught of Pelishtim. A sensitive reader knows that the verse could just have easily told us that a man came. The reason for saying a malakh came is clear. David was saved, not by chance, but by divine intervention. The 'messenger' is an 'angel' – this is the text's way of telling us to not view this event as mundane. Clearly, Rashi is not trying to tell us that a metaphysical being came with the message to Shaul.

With this in mind, one should consider what Rashi means in Parashat Vayishlach.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ralbag's Preliminary Remark on Sefer B'reishit
Part II

(Continued from here)

Additionally, because the Torah covers the domains of the three divisions that we mentioned in our introduction and the division that covers the science of existing things continually perfects and gives form to the other divisions it is fitting to first establish that this is what the Torah is directed towards.

We should not be confused about the commandments in the Torah - such as belief in the Exalted God, serving Him, awe of Him - that are the ultimate purpose of the Torah, and think that they should precede the division that covers the science of existing things. This is because, it is not possible to posit that we should be in awe of the Exalted God and serve Him before we grasp that there is such a Being of this description. And when we have knowledge of the science of existing things we become enlightened to the fact that there is an existence that actualizes all of the existences, and we comprehend and know Him by way of his actions. And this comprehension brings us to serve Him and have awe of Him.

Additionally, since one of the cornerstones of the Torah is the belief in signs. And it is clear that if the world was eternal there would be no way for signs to exist – it is absolutely necessary to first establish the belief in the creation ex nihilo.

For this reason it begins with the creation of the world. In addition, it is an investigation of the utmost profundity to the point that it is rare for a wise-person to reach the truth in this area by way of analytical investigation if not for the guidance provided by the Torah. And, additionally, it makes known to us many of the deepest ideas concerning existing things, as we shall explain.