Ask the Rabbi

Troubled by Basic Questions: God, Torah, Running the World..


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Iyyar 27, 5783
Dear Rabbi, Did Hashem write the Torah? Does Hashem run the world? Does 2+2=4? I know at first glance it seems that these might be simple questions, but lately these questions have really bothered me. Let me explain. We know that Hashem created the world to be good to people and give to them. Assumingly, though, he didn’t want to be a little good. His goal would have been to be as good as he can. After all, if his very goal was to be good and to give to his creations, then why would he stop short of the best gift he can give. And also we know that the world is just a physical reflection of the Torah, as G-d looked in the Torah and created the world. So in essence, the world is made to create for us the best atmosphere for being good to us (in the next world), and the Torah reflects that and has the best Mitzvos that can bring us there. So I guess, it would reason to say that the very best situation is what we have now of the 613 Mitzvos, which perfectly represent 248 limbs and 365 sinews, and with these we can best get to understand G-d’s thinking, the Torah, and benefit most in the next world. But could Hashem have chosen to give us a different set of 613 Mitzvos? Could He have decided that the Mitzvos should be that one needs to rest on Tuesday, and can’t wear a mixture of cotton and wool? And to take that further, could Hashem have decided that the Mitzvos should be that one can steal between sunset and sunrise and kill with glee? Are these things inherently wrong, or did Hashem create them to be wrong? We all have an innate moral compass, but is this real, or just something Hashem planted in us, that could also have pointed somewhere else if on Hashem wanted it to? The Rabbis teach us that the Torah is Daas Hashem, and the Torah is the very essence of Emes (Brachos 5b), and Hashem even signs his name as Emes (Shabbos 55a). This would seem that the Torah is real truth, not Hashem’s truth. It isn’t just that Hashem decided that these things are what He wants us to do, in a sense just randomly. Rather they are what is the real right way. In a sense, it needs to be like this, as otherwise what is the very concept of Mishpatim and Chukim? Chukim are things we can’t understand, and Mishpatim are things that we can. But that would stand that there is a reason for them, (some of which we understand, and some of which we humans don’t understand). Are the morals behind them also just G-d created morals, but aren’t real and inherent. That isn’t real truth, as Hashem could have for the same price created ‘true’ morals that are the exact opposite. Also, when Hashem gave the 613, the only way it would make sense that it is the best possible, and no better way, is if these are the real 613. Hashem couldn’t have added a 614th Mitzvah that one can get more benefit, as the full truth is already fully covered. There is nothing more that gets a person to the full truth of what is G-d’s thinking. But the problem with all this is that the Torah, G-d’s thinking, would have been forced onto Hashem, in a certain way. He does fully understand it, more than any human capable, but it is almost like there is some other entity that has created it and forced Him into it. He didn’t create it, He just has it and ‘lives’ it, and understands it. This is because the truth stood ‘before’ Hashem came and compiled it, and the truth is there regardless. I am not saying that this option is completely impossible. This goes into my third question. Does 2+2=4? In other words, can Hashem have made it that 2+2=5, or is Hashem limited to basic math, as basic computation and such logic is inherent. People sometimes ask, “can Hashem create a rock that is too heavy for Him to pick up”, and it is based on a fundamental flaw; that Hashem can do everything, which isn’t the case, as the truth is just that he isn’t limited. He doesn’t have a limited amount of strength. So he can’t create a rock too heavy for Himself, as that would mean that He has a limit. As the idea is that basic logic and computation is inherent, and therefore Hashem maybe couldn’t have made it that 2+2=5, just like he can’t make a rock too heavy for Him to carry. The Gemara says many times, “Lama Li Kra, Sevara He”. This would imply that logic is true ‘before’ the Torah came to be. (Unless logic too is a creation of Hashem, and not a real truth.) But the end result of all this idea would be that then Hashem didn’t write the Torah. I am not talking about who took a quill and wrote it. As for that, in any case Hashem didn’t do it, Moshe did (with the possible exception of 8 Pesukim) (Bava Basra 15a). Hashem may have dictated over the Torah to Moshe, but he didn’t create anything in it. It is all basic math and computation of what is the real truth, and what will get people to the best possible place. But then, what is Hashem’s place in the Torah’s originality? It would seem that anyone who just can see the truth well enough, and has the brains to do the math right should be able to put it all together. Is that all Hashem has in it; a higher level of understanding? Maybe it is true that one can calculate it all logically? Is that what Avraham did to fulfill all the Mitzvos before they were given (Yuma 28b)? Did he calculate what the best things are? Maybe he looked at the world and saw the blueprint from there? Either way it takes quite a good sense of seeing only the truth and putting two and two together, if only that does equal four. So that is the first and third question, what aspects of logic, computation, and math are inherent that even Hashem has to ‘abide’ by them, and accordingly, if so what place did Hashem have in creating the Torah if the Torah is just a reflection of the real truth? My second question is similar to the first, but I think independent of any answer to the first. Even if it would be true that two and two didn’t have to equal four, at the very least, Hashem made it that it does. We live in a world that it does. We know that Hashem does the best things for us, just we with our minimal human minds, which can’t see the full picture, might not see it at the time, or at all. But it is very much there. Accordingly, whatever is the best possible situation for a person to be put in, they will be put into. Accordingly, it is all basic math and computation, that maybe only a great mind can figure out, but it is just following a very basic formula. For example, if it is best (taking in all and every possible factor) for Jack to have three kids, and to have a steady business for twelve years, followed by losing all his money, and stubbing his toe six times, that is exactly what will happen. And I can predict it just like anyone else can. I just need all the information. And a very good brain. But is that all that Hashem has? There isn’t much ‘running the world’ in that. That is just like pressing enter on the calculator or on some computer program. I am not saying that we shouldn’t be grateful for all that Hashem gives us. Just, it doesn’t seem like such a big thing for some entity that already has all the information and no limits on processing it. It would just seem that Hashem isn’t really doing much to run anything, and He is just running a basic formula? Thank you, Troubled By Basic Questions
Shalom! You touch upon some very basic matters. Yes, Hashem wrote the Torah and runs the world. Mitzvot are issues which are inherently and objectively right or wrong, good or bad, and are not at all "random". Hashem (the Creator and Torah-Giver) created our feeling for morality and conscience to match those inherently good actions. For example, killing is inherently wrong for Hashem loves life (e.g. creation, tahara vs. tum'ah) and is a "King who wants life"; stealing is inherently wrong, for a monotheistic and perfect God, doesn't lack anything, so He's not a "Taker/Stealer" but a "Giver". Accordingly, man who is created in the image of God, is meant to emulate such giving ("Imitateo Dei"), and support and give life. Already in creation, the number 7 is consistently found to be the number of the nature of this world (you can find much on the topic), and accordingly Shabbat, holidays, Omer, Shemitta etc. obviously revolve around this theme of 7 days, 7 weeks, 7 years, etc. and have nothing to do with "Tuesday"! Not mixing linen and wool is connected with Cain and Able, and the difference between vegetation and the animal world, etc. etc. There is deep meaning to each of these Godly mitzvot, and the more you learn them in depth, one at a time (especially recommended: Sefer HaChinuch, Rav Hirsch, Rav Kook), your connection with Torah will be that more deep and true, and your mitzvot will be out of identification, and not out of fear or rote. In short, as Rav Kook explains, learning will turn your Chukim into Mishpatim, and accordingly "Kra" or psukim are needed for we who are unlearned and don't yet (!) see the svara (logic) in each and every mitzvah. Similarly, some of your questions are connected to the issue of time, where Hashem created time, so He's obviously not bound by time. By Him there is no "before" or "after". Accordingly, logic and Torah appeared together. Similarly, He created the world with certain laws and givens, which bind and "run" us, but not Him. Count on your fingers that 2+2=4, because those are part of the "givens" or laws of nature of this world which He gave us. For us it's a riddle or seeming contradiction: "can He create something so heavy that He can't lift", but He isn't bound by such riddles, laws or "givens", for He created them. Also, the Torah is the expression of God's truth and "thinking" which are one and the same, and there's no difference between Hashem, His Torah and His "thinking" or logic. Yes, He abides by all of the mitzvot/ideals-like resting on Shabbat, "procreating" (=giving life), giving charity, etc. etc. in ways which apply to Him (as taught in Kabbala and Hassidut). According to all this, the more man thinks and learns, he in fact will keep revealing more and more of the Godly truth and ideals, but He, His truths and His ideals are eternally un-ending, so even if we live to the age of 1,000, we will continuously reveal more and more wonders and great ideals, but will never reach it all, for He, His Torah and His truths are un-ending. Also, He willed to give us free-will, and accordingly takes our free-will into account, so that the "number of times a person needs to stub his toe" (and learns to walk more carefully!), continuously changes, as does the needs of his family, community and nation. It's a lot more complex than what you call "math and computation". Hashem also knows our feelings which are continuously changing and dynamic, and constantly intervenes accordingly. You can call this all "part of the formula", but to also be Creator, Torah-Giver and constantly Mashgiach and run history (sometimes with small shake-ups and sometimes with large or world-wide ones, like Covid…) over each individual, and his interaction with all other individuals, all nations, and all mankind everywhere, each technological advancement, each political and economic variant etc. etc. is pretty complex, no matter how you look at it!
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