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Unread 12-23-2003, 06:59 PM   #1
noahidelaws
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Using Kabolas Ol To "Explain" Mitzvos To Newcomers To Judaism?!

Someone suggested elsewhere that we ought to "explain" a certain law in Torah to other Jews by saying that "G-d makes the rules."

G-d makes the rules, i.e., it's a "gezeiras ha'kasuv," a "chok," to be accepted blindly, with "kabolas ol," or can it also be explained rationally?

And "G-d makes the rules" is all very well in speaking to already-frum-Jews (although even then I'd resort to that only when absolutely necessary), but it won't work when speaking to people one has to win over in the first place to observance.

If that's the "answer" to a question, then I say that in general it's better to avoid the issue and stick to things that you know for certain CAN be explained, so the Judaism that you present to them will appear sensible and meaningful, and thus appealing to them.

"Hashem said so"/"it's a 'chok'"/"kabolas ol" is not a satisfactory explanation, and is off-putting!! The newcomer perceives that as an admission that Judaism is all about silly, meaningless restrictions, ch"v!

Of course--all Mitzvos, even mishpatim, are ultimately observed because it's Hashem's Will (which transcends reason). But a newcomer is not ready for that! Even if it must be mentioned, that should be done only in very little measure, with the main emphasis being on the beauty, rationality, and fulfilment that an observant lifestyle brings.

We can say "Hashem said so because..." I don't think that that is a false statement, although there is much elaboration and qualification necessary, which will come over the course of time.

Perhaps, in the context of a profound philosophical discussion of the importance of kabolas ol, like the advantage of Yitzchak over Yishmael, such discussion is appropriate.
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Unread 12-23-2003, 07:04 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally posted by stwill
I don't think it is correct to say "Hashem said so because...". The Mitzvos were not given according to man's understanding. The opposite is true. Man can understand part of the Mitzvos, because Hashem made him be able to. Torah Kadma Laolam.

That said, I agree that whenever possible we should search for rational explanations, as far as human understanding can reach.
I believe I addressed your first point in my first post. As for your second point, that is a famous statement of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim about chukim.
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Unread 12-23-2003, 07:16 PM   #3
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Elsewhere someone suggested that my assertion in the first post may apply to non-Jews, but not to Jews. Do other members agree with this?
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Unread 12-23-2003, 10:18 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by noahidelaws
Elsewhere someone suggested that my assertion in the first post may apply to non-Jews, but not to Jews. Do other members agree with this?
I have never had a problem explaining the concept of kabbolas ol. the trick is to get them to believe in ma'amad har sinai and the rest will follow
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Unread 12-23-2003, 10:29 PM   #5
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Kabolas Ol as an introduction is quite logical; let's start with the assumption that Judaism is true and work from there, instead of coming from a point of cynicism.
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Unread 12-23-2003, 11:10 PM   #6
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But my point is that for people who are yet to accept that assumption, but ask for explanations for Mitzvos, answering with "kabolas ol"/G-d said so" is inappropriate.
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Unread 12-24-2003, 05:55 AM   #7
RebMoshe
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Quote:
Originally posted by noahidelaws
But my point is that for people who are yet to accept that assumption, but ask for explanations for Mitzvos, answering with "kabolas ol"/G-d said so" is inappropriate.
Chinoch l'naar al pi darcho.
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Unread 12-24-2003, 02:26 PM   #8
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by R' Bolton

On the last days of the "Peace in Galilee" war, I was one of a group of ten Chabad Chassidim that got permission from the army to enter Beirut, Lebanon to cheer up the soldiers.

The soldiers welcomed us as though we were announcing the end of the war. The entire night we went from group to group singing, dancing, talking, laughing, and of course making L'Chaims.

There was no time to sleep, so at the crack of dawn we got our Tefillin and began asking soldiers if they wanted to do a Mitzvah and put them on for a minute.

At that hour of the morning, most of the soldiers were still asleep, so I walked around looking for "customers", and happened on a line of about ten open jeeps with two Israeli soldiers seated in each one. Their motors were running and they were waiting in the chilly morning to go out on some sort of mission. It must have been some sort of combat foray, because they were armed to the teeth and were wearing bulky bulletproof vests and metal helmets.

I approached the first jeep and asked them if they wanted to put on tefillin and one agreed. Then, when he finished, I moved on to the next one and asked the driver the same question, but I was in for an unpleasant surprise.

He just listened, looking straight ahead, and even didn't react to my question. So I just stood there and waited for a reply. After a few seconds of silence, he turned to me and said. (Loose translation) "Get away from me you parasite religious scum" If you don’t get out of my face I'll tear you in pieces! NOW GET OUT OF HERE! I hate you vermin!"

I understood that the answer was no. I tried to force a smile and figure out something to say, when suddenly the driver of the next jeep in line called out to me in a desperate tone.

"Rebbe, Rebbe. Come here. I want to put on Tefillin" I turned, happy to get away, and began to walk toward him.

"Tell me Rebbe" he yelled nervously after I had taken a few steps and was still quite a distance from him, "If....if I put on Tefillin will G-d protect me?"

It was obvious that he was very worried. Yesterday he was probably sitting in his hardware store selling pipes and tools, when they called him up to reserve duty, and suddenly here he was about to enter the front lines.

"Listen my friend" I assured him. "G-d will protect you whether you put on or not. Don't worry. He loves you because you're a Jew. But if G-d protects you for free, so why not do something for Him for free, and put on Tefillin?"

It seems that the soldier in the second Jeep, the one that cursed me out, had heard all this and was thinking it over, because when I finished putting on and then removing the Tefillin from this soldier he yelled out:

"Hey Rabbi! Come over here!"

I turned around to see him rolling up his sleeve like he wanted to do the commandment, and motioning to me to come.

I took a few steps toward him and called out as I was walking, "What do you want? What happened?"

"Listen!" he replied "What do you care? I want to put on too."

I gave him a look and an Israeli hand motion as to say, "Are you for real?" And he replied;

"Listen my friend. To put on Tefillin in order to go to heaven or to be religious, that's NOT for me. But to put on Tefillin for no reason...THAT I'm willing to do!"
-------------------------------------------------
"no reason" = because Jews do things like wrap straps on their arm
why? because G-d said so
this is actually how mivtza tefillin etc. are done (in contrast to the way other kiruv organizations go about it) - you ask a stranger, "Are you Jewish?" If they say yes, you give them an opportunity to do a mitzva. No lectures, no sources, no historical background. Why do people go along with this and actually roll up their sleeves? Because they're Jews and G-d gave us mitzvos and they want to do what G-d said to do.

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I have never had a problem explaining the concept of kabbolas ol.
that says it all!
a Chassid has a geshmak in kabbolas ol and he conveys this to others; a Chassid doesn't approach kabbolas ol with a sour face and moans and groans. It's "ashreinu, ma tov chelkeinu."

We are enjoined, by Hashem, to put in effort to study His mitzvos and to seek "taamei ha'mitzvos" (lit. taste of the mitzvos, i.e. reasons that make the mitzvos palatable to our logic and emotions), and this too, we need to do with kabbolas ol.
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Unread 12-24-2003, 10:06 PM   #9
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As I said at the end of my first post, if one explains the concept of kabolas ol, it may be discussed with newcomers. It's not really doing it "because Hashem said so," if that itself is being explained to you! My point was simply that "Hashem said so" alone is not a satisfactory "explanation."

Also, there is a significant difference between someone who is a newcomer but is already inspired and enthusiastic, and someone who is still openly sceptical, and (at least on a revealed level) not considering adopting Torah and Mitzvos, but merely asking to see if there's any reason behind what he r"l perceives as antiquated, backward rituals.

The former type might be slightly more inclined to accept "kabolas ol" "explanations," but not the latter. It was the former category of people that I had in mind in my first post, and in the thread about polyandry from which my first post was taken.

If you can't explain things logically, they'll walk away thinking (or being confirmed in their suspicion) that Judaism is ch"v arbitrary and senseless.

And my point was not about encouraging Jews to do Mitzvos without explanation, bivechinas "na'aseh kodem le'nishma," which the Rebbe has taught us is appropriate.

My point was that when they approach you and ask you for "nishma," for logical explanation, like over a discussion at the dinner table with non-frum relatives, and that explanation exists, and instead you answer "because Hashem said so," that is off-putting.

Also, although at the appropriate point the concept of kabolas ol should be discussed, even then, if a logical explanation exists for a Mitzvah or custom, and the "answer" is given "because Hashem said so," whoever gives that "answer" is being very remiss.
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Unread 12-25-2003, 11:22 AM   #10
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I think it very much depends on the situation.

A. If I'm trying to convince someone to actually do something, like put on Tefilin or enroll his child in a Jewish school, then I have to use convincing - to him- arguments.

B. If I'm introducing someone to Judaism, well, Judaism is a religion based on our connection to G-d. I think if you present the Mitzvos as simply useful conventions that enrich and improve our lives, that is similar to how Reform and Conservative portray Judaism. Of course, while stressing the fact that Mitzvos are from G-d and not based on human understanding, I will also elaborate on the many ways in which they do enrich and improve our lives.

C. If someone asks me for the reason for a specific Mitzvah, I answer: "First of all, we do it because G-d says so. However, we can also understand the meaning behind it as follows ..." and I try to give plausable explanations.

The phrase "Hashem said so because..." still strikes me as being, if not false, at least extremely inaccurate.
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Unread 12-25-2003, 12:00 PM   #11
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I agree with everything you say in A., B., and C. Well put. Glad we've sorted in out!
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Unread 12-25-2003, 02:52 PM   #12
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Quote:
The phrase "Hashem said so because..." still strikes me as being, if not false, at least extremely inaccurate.
why? can't imagine why else I live the life the way I do
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Unread 12-25-2003, 03:13 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by stwill

The phrase "Hashem said so because..." still strikes me as being, if not false, at least extremely inaccurate.
It is not only not false, but a yesod of Torah and Chassidus. As the Kedushas Levi had said, 'Why do we blow the shofer? Because HaShem said to blow.' The minimal meaning of l'shema is becaue HaShem said.
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Unread 12-25-2003, 03:59 PM   #14
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Noahidelaws said:
Quote:
We can say "Hashem said so because..." I don't think that that is a false statement,
Stwill said:
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The phrase "Hashem said so because..." still strikes me as being, if not false, at least extremely inaccurate.
Jude said:
Quote:
why? can't imagine why else I live the life the way I do
Did Hashem say to make a Bris "because" it is has health benefits? Did Hashem say to keep Taharas Hamishpacha "because" it leads to a more stable family life? Did Hashem say to keep Shabbos "because" it gives you a break from hectic everyday life?

When a person keeps Mitzvos, he gains all these benefits and more, but I don't think it is at all accurate to say that they are the reason why Hashem gave us these Mitzvos
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Unread 12-25-2003, 06:15 PM   #15
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Quote:
Did Hashem say to make a Bris "because" it is has health benefits? Did Hashem say to keep Taharas Hamishpacha "because" it leads to a more stable family life? Did Hashem say to keep Shabbos "because" it gives you a break from hectic everyday life?
Firstly, some of these reasons are fundamentally inaccurate. Circumcision is specifically not for health reasons (see sicha Likkutei Sichos vol. 4 parshas Zochor), but as an eternal sign of the bond between a Jew and Hashem. What you say about Taharas Hamishpacha seems accurate, and is reflected by maamarei Chazal. Shabbos is also an eternal sign of the bond between a Jew and Hashem, not just a day to take off from work at all.

Then there are also profound Chasidic explanations for the Mitzvos.

But in any case, regardless what the explanation may be, it is indeed in a sense inaccurate to say that we do them "because" of the reason. As Chasidus explains, Hashem's Will (Rotzon), which is that Jews perform Mitzvos, transcends His Intellect (Chabad) that desires us to do it for a particular reason. So stwill's reservations are founded.
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Unread 12-26-2003, 02:04 AM   #16
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After I posted my last post, I realized you were probably referring to the spiritual meaning behind the Mitzvah and not the physical side benefits. However, my reservations toward the phrase do stand, for the reasons you mentioned.

Quote:
As Chasidus explains, Hashem's Will (Rotzon), which is that Jews perform Mitzvos, transcends His Intellect (Chabad) that desires us to do it for a particular reason.
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Unread 12-26-2003, 02:25 AM   #17
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I don't think it's illegitimate to say that Mitzvos should be kept because of material benefits. That's the concept of reward. So the second point you made above, about Taharas Hamishpacha, stands. My objection was to giving explanations that are fundamentally inaccurate.
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Unread 12-26-2003, 03:15 PM   #18
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the Rebbe emphasized that mitzvos are good for you b'gashmius, and that this should also be told to goyim re their Sheva Mitzvos
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Unread 12-28-2003, 10:44 PM   #19
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b'hashgocha protis, I read this thread last night, and then "happened" to read a letter of the Rebbe the same night mentioning this very issue:

"...Needless to say, one need not apologize for asking questions. On the contrary, since Jews are described in the Torah as "a wise and understanding people," it is desirable that questions which come within the realm of human understanding should also be favored with a response and the questioner not thrown back on faith alone--wherever this is possible. There is only one prerequisite-and this goes back to the time when the Torah and mitzvos were given at Har Sinai--namely, that the Torah must be accepted first on the basis of na'aseh and only then on v'nishma --for the performance of mitzvos must not be made conditional upon our understanding of their deeper significance, etc., nor must the vitality and enthusiasm of our performance be diminished in any way."

(bold not in original)
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Unread 12-28-2003, 11:30 PM   #20
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yashar koach!
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Unread 12-31-2003, 11:16 AM   #21
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Here is an explanation of the concept of kabolas ol in Mitzvos:

In our practical day-to-day lives we don't attach any importance to how food satisfies our hunger, or how water slakes our thirst; the main thing is that it does. The same is true in spiritual terms. When the soul is hungry and thirsty for the "bread and water" of Torah and Mitzvot, the main thing is to satisfy it. Only afterwards, when the soul is a little stronger and healthier, can it properly grasp how Torah and Mitzvot help--much easier and quicker than before--even though it has but a limited human intellect.

One who insists that he first wishes to be healed, and only then will he dedicate some of his free time to understand the need for Torah and Mitzvot, and only after understanding it will he begin to do it, can be compared to a patient who refuses to take his medicine until he finishes studying medicine and is able to understand how these pills will help heal his illness. Common sense tells us the contrary: If he takes the medicine, that itself will make it easier for him to understand and to study the areas of medical knowledge in which he is interested.

Kovetz Emunah U'Mada, p. 54.
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Unread 01-08-2004, 08:18 PM   #22
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In Hilchos Teshuva 5:5, the Rambam says that the contradiction between the doctrines of free choice and divine foreknowledge is insoluble.

The Raavad comments sharply: "This author [i.e., the Rambam] did not behave in the way of the Sages, for someone should not begin something not knowing how to complete it. He began with questions and left the matter unresolved, and turned it over to faith.

"It would have been better to leave the matter to faith ["temimus ha'temimim"], and not arouse their hearts and leave their minds in doubt concerning this."

One lesson is that the Raavad doesn't think that a resort to faith is satisfactory, so much so that he prefers that we avoid the issue altogether--even in the context of the Mishnah Torah (although in his preface the Rambam does say that it is written for beginners as well).
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Unread 05-04-2004, 03:42 PM   #23
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http://www.chabad.org/magazine/article.asp?AID=132274
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Unread 07-15-2004, 02:50 AM   #24
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The Talmud relates that R' Yosi was often approached by Roman noblewomen and challenged about Jewish belief and practice. He knew that were he to leave their questions unanswered, or to say that the "answer" is that that concept is beyond human comprehension, these non-Jews would regard the Torah with disdain, thinking that the fact that a rational explanation was not forthcoming proves that the Torah is imperfect, G-d forbid. Thus, he would always answer these questions thoroughly, even if the matter was unrelated to the Noahide Code. This brought these non-Jews to recognize the authenticity of the Torah and praise its beauty. The same applies even when teaching religious Jews, that one should explain matters to further increase their respect for Torah

Sichos Kodesh 5738, Vol. 3, pp. 37-41. See Rashi, beginning of Chukas.

although the Rebbe doesn't say so explicitly, I would think that not-yet-religious Jews are to be compared to these Roman noblewomen, who will look down on Torah if matters are not explained to them
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