Elijah: What Is A Defender Of God? | Aleph Beta

Lecture I

Elijah: What Is A Defender Of God?


Rabbi David Fohrman

Rabbi David Fohrman

Founder and Lead Scholar

This audio introduces the Elijah story by setting the stage and introducing the main characters. Rabbi Fohrman explores the significance of Ahab’s sins and his vendetta to eradicate the home of God. This ultimately leads to Elijah stepping into his role as defender of God and miracle worker.

Watch more: What Does It Mean To Be Zealous For God?


Male Speaker 1: Hi and welcome to Elijah, a series of audios about the prophet Elijah. Just a note before you begin. This course was recorded live quite a while ago. We dusted it off and decided that we needed to share it with you because the content is fantastic. But we also want you to be aware that the audio quality is not up to our usual standard. Okay, that's our warning. Enjoy, and as always, please leave questions or comments below.Rabbi David Fohrman: All right. You know, while we're at it, we'll start the beginning of the Elijah story. I don’t have so much to say about the beginning of the Elijah story, because I'm sort of working on them, but just to give us some perspective, maybe we’ll start from there. The Elijah stories begin in Kings I Chapter 16, middle of 16. So by this time the kingdom is split between the kingdom of Israel on one hand and the kingdom of Judah on the other hand, and the northern kingdom is called the kingdom of Israel, it's ruled at this time by Omri. Omri dies, and has a child by the name of Ahab, a king by the name of Ahab.

By the way, in secular literature, if you want to read a very interesting parable for the Elijah story, the book is Moby Dick -- and of course Captain Ahab, from Ahab. And the great white whale, the king that Ahab hunts, and I wonder if that's actually a parable in a certain way to the hunt that Ahab has for Elijah, actually. The elusive Elijah, because Elijah is elusive, you never know where he is, as you'll see. Nobody can ever find him, kind of like the great white whale that no one can ever find. Ahab is on the hunt and he's driven mad by this desire to find, you know, the great white whale, much as Ahab is obsessed with finding Elijah. Of course, Captain Ahab dies tragically in the battle against the great white whale and so does Ahab. So those are kind of things to keep in mind.

You've also got a great sermon in the middle of the story on a stormy night just because of the ship sets off, in Moby Dick, which is reminiscent of another story in the Book of Jonah, the sermon is about the Book of Jonah, but we'll get to that. If you're reading Moby Dick with this in mind, it pays attention to -- it pays to listen to the names of the characters. Another character in the story, the narrator, is who? Remember, in Moby Dick? Ishmael, call me Ishmael. Why Ishmael? So the truth is that, who was the author of Moby Dick, was it Hawthorne? Melville, I'm sorry, Herman Melville. Right? So Melville was probably a good reader of Tanakh. And as you pay attention to these Elijah stories, you might want to ask yourself, who is Ishmael in the Elijah story, or, can you find an Ishmael along with Ahab? So let's kind of pay attention to that.

"V'Achav ben Amri malach al Yisrael bishnas shloshim ushmoneh shanah li'Asa melech Yehudah vayimloch Achav ben Amri al Yisrael biShomron esrim ushtayim shanah." Capital of the northern kingdom is Samaria, it's there for 22 years.

One of the interesting things about Ahab, by the way, you have to wonder about is the man's name. In the Torah you always have to wonder about names. Wondering if they're really names, or if they're -- or if the names themselves are made up caricatures or if they have other meaning. What does Achav sound like? Ach and av. Strange, you have a person whose name is a confluence of brother and father. What does it mean that you have brother-father as king? That's kind of interesting. What does that mean? Does Ahab have anything to do with brothers, does Ahab have anything to do with fathers? Does he have anything to do with fathers and brothers? So, another thing we'll want to think about.

Anyways, so Ahab son of Omri reigns over Israel for 22 years and the Torah then summarizes Ahab's reign. "Vaya'as Achav ben Amri hara bi'einei Hashem mikol asher lifanav." Ahab was really bad. Now, that's pretty bad because the kings of Israel that we're dealing with is Jeroboam, right? Who made these golden calves and diverted people from praying in the Temple. You then got Omri, Omri is described as being as bad as Jeroboam, and now Ahab is described as being worse than them all.

"Vaya'as Achav ben Amri hara bi'einei Hashem mikol asher lifanav. Vayehi hanakeil lechto bichatos Yaravam ben Nivat vayikach isha es Izevel." So the slighter sins of him were the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he was even worse. "Vayikach isha es Izevel", and he took as his wife the wicked queen Jezebel. "Bat Etba'al melech Tzidonim", the daughter of Ethba'al the king of Sidonians. Sidonia was apparently a neighboring nation. "Vayeilech vaya'avod et haba'al vayishtachu lo."

Now, if you just look at the alliteration in that sentence you notice something interesting. What do you notice? Right, get it? What was Jezebel's father's name? Ethba'al. Right before we talk about Ahab serving "et haBa'al" right, you get it? Ethba'al, et haBa'al. So the commentaries wonder whether the girl's father name was really Ethba'al, or whether that itself is a euphemism. As if to say, he either married her and she hadn't converted, she was still a worshipper of the Ba'al.

In any case it seems that there's some sort of attachment between Ahab's marriage to Jezebel the daughter of Ethba'al and his decision to go serving the Ba'al. Indeed, the father's name. You also wonder, I wonder, thinking about the man's name, Ahab's name, fathers and brothers. All of a sudden he has a father-in-law by the name of Ethba'al and he starts serving the Ba'al. So you kind of wonder if there's a connection there.

Anyway, "Vayakem mizbei'ach" -- so what does he do that's wrong? "Vayakem mizbei'ach l'Ba'al", actually, make this a full screen. Vayakem mizbei'ach, we're over here, Verse 32. So he sets up an altar for Ba'al, "Beit haBa'al asher banah biShomron", and he builds a house for Ba'al in Samaria, in the capital city. "Vaya'as Achav es ha'Asheirah", and he also makes an Asherah. Asherah can either be -- the Torah talks about it in terms of these trees that you would worship, but also, in ancient Cana'anite religions, actually Asherah was the wife of Ba'al. So Asherah was actually the fertility goddess of Cana'anite and Ba'al was the storm god. And you would understand why the storm god would marry the fertility goddess, it's actually a match made in heaven. Anyway, "Vayoseif Achav la'asot l'hachit et Hashem Elokei Yisrael mikol malchei Yisrael asher hayu lifanav." So he was worse -- again, he was worse than all the other kings before him.

Now, "Biyamav banah Chi'el haeli." In his days, Hiel from Beit El built Jericho. Now, those of you, right, if you remember from the Book of Joshua, building Jericho, what was the idea about building Jericho? Was that a good idea or a bad idea? That is a bad idea. In the Book of Joshua, Joshua makes everyone swear that they will never again build up Jericho. So Jericho is a city that's never supposed to be built up, so in his day, in the days of Ahab, this guy Hi'el builds up Jericho. "Ba'aviram bichoro yisdah u'visguv tzi'iro hitziv dilaseha." He lost his oldest child when he started building it and he lost his last child when he finished building it. "Kidvar Hashem", just like God had promised. This was the curse, that you would lose your children, the one who decides build up Jericho, "asher diber biyad Yehoshua bin Nun", just like God had said to Joshua bin Nun.

Now, the question is, why are we being told this? What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? So, what does this have to do with the price of tea in China?

Audience Member: To show how bad the people are.

Rabbi David Fohrman: So is that what it is? We're talking about how bad the people were in this time? Okay. So let me ask you something, do you see anything -- maybe you would say that Ahab allowed this to happen. So, you know, it's described as part of Ahab's badness. But let me ask you this. Do you see any connection between, say, Verse 34 and Verse 32 and 33 before that? They seem to be completely disconnected. Is there any connection between Ahab building a House of Ba'al and Hi'el building Jericho? Now, let's talk about this for a second. What's the rationale behind Joshua's oath not to ever build up Jericho? Presumably, whenever you would look at the ruins of Jericho, it would be a remembrance of what happened there. And what happened there?

Audience Member: It was God's help that enabled them to do what they had to do.

Rabbi David Fohrman: It was God's help. This was the first miraculous victory in the Land of Israel, and by not building up Jericho, you'd see what happened to Jericho. You'd see the sunken walls, you'd see the miracle at Jericho.

Audience Member: It helps remember what they did at Ai, which was just as bad. They didn't listen to God so one reminded you of the other.

Rabbi Daniel Fohrman: Okay, all right, good. We'll get to that in a minute. But before we get to Ai, so, again, think about it carefully. What is it that Ahab does to Ba'al, what is so abhorrent about what Ahab does with Ba'al? What does Ahab do? He serves Ba'al, but if you look carefully at the verse, you will find he does something else besides just serve Ba'al. And he does something more than just bow down to it. He builds an altar, and what else does he build? He builds the House of Ba'al. He actually builds a temple for Ba'al. So in other words, when you get -- the verses seem to escalate the sins of Ahab.

Not only does he marry a girl who is beholden to Ba'al, not only does he after that then serve the Ba'al, not only does he after that build an altar to Ba'al, but he even builds a temple to Ba'al to house the altar in which he serves Ba'al. And then the fifth element is, and in his days, somebody actually build up Jericho. So if you think about it, it kind of fits. Right? There's almost a connection between building the temple for Ba'al and building Jericho. It's almost like building the temple of Ba'al and building Jericho are almost like positive and negative images of each other. Jericho is destruction, but that -- so, let me put it to you in this kind of way, actually, now that you think about it.

What would you say the significance of the Jewish Temple is, when we think about the Temple? This, by the way, is one of the issues that divided the southern kingdom from the northern kingdom, which is, would there be an allegiance to the Jews praying and coming to the Temple. So this is the idea of Jeroboam making the golden calves, that they wouldn't have to go down to the southern kingdom. But if you think about the significance of the Temple, what would you --why would you say the Temple is a significant place? What happens at the Temple that is so significant?

If you think about it, there's really two aspects of the Temple which are significant. You even see it in the very fascinating way in Maimonides' Book of Commandments, in the way he describes the commandment to build the Temple. I don't have Maimonides' Book of Commandments in front of me, so I can't show you this, but it's fascinating how he structures it.

Just to cut a long story short, most of us, when we think about the Temple, we think -- the first thing we think of is that it's the central place in which to worship God. What happens in the Temple is the worship of God and the worship of God takes the form of sacrifices and takes the form of the various services which take place in the Temple. There's various things that happened and those things are a function of servicing God -- serving God, so to speak, in the Temple.

However, the truth is, that's only one function of the Holy Temple. There's two central functions of the Holy Temple. If you look carefully at Maimonides, it seems that there's a more significant function of the Temple than just a place of worship. What is the other significant function, how would we define it?

Audience Member: Unity.

Rabi David Fohrman: You could define it as unity. There's an interesting Maharal that talks about this, it's a place -- it's clearly a place where all Jews can come together. But again, it's unity, why is that unity important? Again, this not just a JCC. A JCC is also a place of unity, but it's not like it was just a big JCC, that everyone got together and played basketball.

When you say that they were unified, that they were worshipping God. You might say well, yes, the Jewish Nation was unified, they were worshipping God. But no, there seems to be something else that's happening with the Jewish Nation unified in the Holy Temple besides worshipping God.

Audience Member: (Inaudible).

Rabi David Fohrman: Okay. What is that?

Audience Member: The Jews and God connect there.

Rabi David Fohrman: Okay. Good. I think that's correct. It's a place for the Jews and God to connect. Where do you see that in the Torah? What verses suggest that? When do the Jews and God connect as a whole in the Holy Temple? "Asher leshalosh regalim." What commandment is there at the three pilgrimage festivals? "Shalosh pe'amim bashanah yeira'eh", the commandment of re'i'ah. If you think about the commandment of re'i'ah, what does re'i'ah mean? To see. It's a commandment to come and sort of see, see and be seen. That's sort of to come see and be seen.

If you think about the place where the Temple was, the Temple was what? It was where? Mount Moriah. Nahmanides considers the word Moriah to come from seeing. It's the place of seeing. At the Akeidah (Binding of Isaac) you have seeing over and over again, "vayar et hamakom meirachok," "vayar et ha'ayil," he sees. Then, of course, the angel comes out of the clouds and says "atah yadati", now I know, "ki yerei", which is a playoff of seeing; you are one who fears God.

It's interesting that in the Binding of Isaac the word for fear and the word for seeing is actually the same word. It's that a word which has been used to mean see, see, see elsewhere in the Biding of Isaac, all of a sudden switches and means fear, which suggests that there's a connection between seeing and fearing.

One of my general theories, whether it's right or not I don't know, but it's one of my theories is that you guys ought to expect this as a mathematical equation. It's a literary device that the Torah uses. Occasionally, in the story, it will use a certain word and the word will mean X over and over again and then we'll use it one more time and it will only mean Y.

When the Torah does that, why does the Torah do that? It's creating a sort of like a magic trick. It's like slate of hand. It's like you're getting ready for it to mean X again, because it always means X in this story, but all of a sudden it means Y. The time that it means Y, my theory is, it really means Y over X. In other words it's the Torah's way of saying that even as you're thinking Y, but your brain is telling you X. Do you know what I mean? It's like Y over X.

For example, in the story of the Tree of Knowledge, the word for nakedness over and over again is used in the story "Adam ve'ishto lo yisboshashu," and then they realized they were naked and they weren't ashamed and all that. But then all of a sudden it means "vehanachash haya arom mikol chayat hasadeh," and there it doesn't mean naked, it means tricky. It means that the snake, maybe, was tricky, but he was tricky over naked. There was something naked about the snake that even as he was tricky if you think about tricky, it's the opposite of naked, that even as he was being tricky, but there was something innocent about the snake, there was something naked about the snake.

In our story too, in the Binding of Isaac, there's this word that means see; Yud-Reish-Aleph. Then all of a sudden the angel comes down from the clouds and says "atah yadati ki yerei Elokim atah", now I know that you are a fearer of God. It suggests that it's a fear over seeing, in other words that the quality that Abraham has is fear over seeing. If you think about that, what does that mean, fear over seeing? Yeah.

Audience Member: (Inaudible).

Rabi David Fohrman: No. There it does mean seeing or appear as sort of seeing. What would you say fearing has to do with seeing, anybody want to take that?

Audience Member: To see him is to fear him.

Rabi David Fohrman: Right. To see him is to fear that. Why?

Audience Member: Because seeing is barely understanding.

Rabi David Fohrman: Well, let's talk about fear. When we say that Abraham was one who feared God, what do we mean by that fear? We mean fear in a conventional sense?

Audience: No.

Rabi David Fohrman: We mean more awe than fear. It can't be fear in a conventional sense, that Abraham was scared of God. If Abraham was scared of God and he wanted to carry out the Binding of Isaac he wouldn't be a hero. If somebody's willing to kill his child because he's scared of the consequences, we would not call that heroic.

What Abraham is doing is instead he is in awe of God. If you think about what awe is, what is awe? Awe is something related to fear, not quite fear. There's a kind of reverence. What is the feeling of awe? How would you define awe?

Audience Member: To recognize that something is greater than you without understanding it.

Rabi David Fohrman: Okay. To recognize that something is greater than you without understanding it. Okay. Good. The only thing I would change in that is the word recognize, because recognize implies something very cognitive, but awe is a much more emotional state than cognitive. It is the emotional state brought about when we come into contact with something which dwarfs us, which is much greater than us. How do we feel when we are in awe? How do you feel when you're in awe?

Audience Member: Minimized.

Rabi David Fohrman: You feel minimized, you feel small, you feel insignificant and you feel like you're mevatel (belittling) yourself so to speak to the thing that you're in awe of.

That's really what Abraham is doing. If you think about what Abraham is losing in the Binding of Isaac, he's losing everything. That's the first lech lecha of Abraham's life is losing his past, the second lech lecha of Abraham's life "lech lecha el eretz haMoriah," he's losing his future and everything that he's a master over his life.

Not only does he lose his child, his child was one thing that he loses, think about what else he loses. He comes back down from the mountain and Sarah says where is Isaac? That conversation is not going to go very well. What about all the people that he converted with his vision of God, the God of chessed, the God of love and kindness. Where are they going now? The whole kiruv (outreach) mission is down the tubes, if you come back without Isaac, the whole promise of a nation and all of that. Abraham's really losing everything and awe is a willingness just to give everything up. It's what can I say.

"Atah yadati ki yerei Elokim atah." The truth is that's very close to seeing, because if you think about it the relationship between seeing and awe, it all depends on what you're looking at. If you look at things that are awesome, so the closer you see them, the more awesome they are. If you look at things that are not so awesome, the closer you see them, the less awesome they are.

For example, if you're looking at magic tricks, magician usually don't do tricks twice. Why? Because the closer you see, the less magical it appears, the less in awe it appears. But if you're looking at something that really is awesome, the closer you see it, the more awesome it is.

If you're looking at a mountain, if you see it from very far away, that's no big deal. If you see it from very close up, it's a big deal. If you're looking at the stars, you see them with light pollution in New York City, it's no big deal. You go to Montana and you look at the stars, you really see them, then it's a big deal. If you see them through the Hubble Space Telescope then it's really a big deal. The closer you see something, the more awesome it is.

That's not just true for the macro world, it's true for the micro world. If you're looking at a molecule or an atom, or you look at a cell. You look at a cell through a conventional microscope, 300 power, so a cell looks like a little blob with a little bit of cytoplasm and that nucleus is a little point and it's like how complicated could that be. If you look at a high-end electron microscope, when you see it at 500,000 power and every atom is the size of a tennis ball and the whole thing looks like the size of New York City and you can see that the manufacturing capacity in the cell actually dwarfs that of New York City. That's a pretty awesome kind of thing to look at.

The closer you look at something, the more awesome it is. The closer Abraham sees the more fear he has. He has a closer encounter, so to speak, with God. This place, the place of the Temple is a place of encounter. It's a place that we encounter God.

You see that also in a fascinating thing, which I will tell you now, but I will deny if you ever say you heard it here. That's right. Efrat will disguise my voice on the tape and ask me permission before she posts this out to anybody else other than you.

If you look at the Temple, and I may have done this with you before so I'm just going to do this briefly, but if you look at the Temple from an aerial view, you see something really kind of spooky. If you look at it from an aerial view you will see, I think if I had a little tablet I could actually draw this for you here.

Audience Member: I have a model of the Temple here.

Rabi David Fohrman: What? You have a model of the Temple here? You actually have a model of the Temple here?

Audience Member: There is, (inaudible).

Rabi David Fohrman: Oh, really? No, you can't really see because it's covered.

Audience Member: (Inaudible).

Rabi David Fohrman: No, I'm talking about the actual Heichal (Sanctuary), the inside of it. All right. Well, anyway, can I draw on something? Could you get me a pen? Anyways, if you look at the Holy Temple, you'll find the following thing, the following structure. You have the Kodesh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies), in the Holy of Holies what do you have? You only have one thing which is --

Audience Member: The Aron (Ark).

Rabi David Fohrman: The Ark. Okay. That's right in the middle of the Holy of Holies, then you have the perochet, the curtain, and then what do you have? Then you have the Sanctuary. What's in the Sanctuary? Right next to the perochet, the curtains that divide the Sanctuary and the Holy of Holies, you have two utensils. What are they? You have the Shulchan (Table) and you have the Menorah. You have the Menorah over here, you have the Table over here. Then you've got the Mizbei'ach Haketoret (Altar of Incense) in the middle of the, what do we call it, and then you've got the large Mizbei'ach (Altar) with a big ramp leading up to it.

Now, if I showed you an aerial view of this, I don't know if you can see this --

Audience Member: (Inaudible).

Rabi David Fohrman: Yeah, you can't see. Can you see this?

Audience Member: Yes.

Rabi David Fohrman: Now, if I just did a raw check test with you when you were looking at this, what would you say you're looking at?

Audience Member: A face.

Rabi David Fohrman: You're looking at a face. We're almost like tefillin (phylacteries) where the brain is, you get this, and then it's like, right, it looks like a face, eyes, nose and mouth. You say oh, that's ridiculous, that's like the craziest thing in the world, what is Fohrman talking about. Then, if you actually start thinking about this, so one second, this isn't so ridiculous. Think about how we relate to the Ark, what's inside the Ark.

Audience Member: The Luchos (Tablets).

Rabi David Fohrman: The Tablets. Through what part of our bodies do we relate to Tablets? The Tablets are the Torah. How do you relate to the Torah? The Torah is well, it's cognitive, it's telling you why.

Audience Member: (Inaudible).

Rabi David Fohrman: It's the what?

Audience Member: (Inaudible).

Rabi David Fohrman: Oh boy. All right, this is way beyond me, but okay. All right. Maybe it's the third eye, maybe it's the brain, maybe the brain is the third eye. I will refer you -- you can all discuss this with, what's your name?

Audience Member: Chaya (ph).

Rabi David Fohrman: With Chaya afterwards. Anyway over here you got your Menorah and the Menorah would be one of the eyes, how in fact, what does the Menorah do? What do you do with the Menorah? It's light, right. Light illuminates. You actually need two things to see, you need light, you need something to illuminate. You got showbread over here, something to illuminate, something which is consumed, kind of consumed at the end of the week, just on show. You have your light.

Over here you have the Altar of Incense, where the nose would be. How do you relate to the Ketores (Incense)? You smell it. Over here, of course, you got your mouth. What is this? This is the Altar with the ramp. What happens there? That's where things are consumed and we consume with the mouth.

It seems pretty coincidental, doesn't it? Now you're thinking, oh my God, this is like what is this, is like pagan, what is Fohrman talking about. Is this face in the middle of the Temple, like why would that be. That's the craziest thing in the world. You try to go home and suggest it, they won't know what you're talking about. What does this tell you, what does it mean?

I want to suggest a theory. Actually I heard that somebody says this. Somebody besides me says it, but I don't know who. There is some really spooky sefer (book) that actually says this, but I can't quote you its name. But over here's basically the theory.

Yes, it's a face. Why? Here's the problem. What is the Holy Temple? The Holy Temple more than a place to worship, is a place where God is. "Ve'asu li Mikdash veshachanti betocham." What do we mean a place where God is? Normally when we think "ve'asu li Mikdash veshachanti betocham," we think of it kind of poetically, like oh well, you know, God.

We all know the Uncle Moishy song, right, how does the Uncle Moishy song go here? "Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is really everywhere, up, up, down, down." Right, you know the song. The problem is if the Uncle Moishy song is true, so then what's the Holy Temple? What do you mean "ve'asu li Mikdash veshachanti betocham?"

You think well, it's all poetic. Whatever, like yes it's really true Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is really everywhere. Yes, it's really true that Hashem is in the Temple too, Hashem is here, Hashem is everywhere, Hashem is in the Temple. But then why is the Temple so important.

What I want to argue is, and here's part of the tune is blasphemy, that the Uncle Moishy song is wrong. It is not true that "Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is really everywhere, up, up, down, down." That's a nice thing to say, but it's not actually true. Why is it not true? This by the way, I will concede that this is a machlokes (debate) between the Chassidim and the Misnagedim, but I, being a good Misnaged am going to take the Misnagdic position over here.

The Misnagdic position is that Uncle Moishy is wrong; the classical Misnaged position and that it is not true that God is everywhere. Now, before you start yelling at

me, let's understand what we mean by that; okay?

I'm not saying that God isn't mashgiach everywhere. God is mashgiach everywhere. I'm not saying that God can't see everywhere. God does see everywhere. It is even true that "melo kol ha'aretz kevodo", that the world is filled with His glory. All of those things are true. But even as the verse says "melo kol ha'aretz kevodo," it also says something else which is "kadosh, kadosh, kadosh Hashem Tzvakot melo kol ha'aretz kevodo." Now, what do those words mean, when we say "kadosh, kadosh, kadosh Hashem Tzvakot?" The word kadosh means what?

Audience Member: Separate.

Rabi David Fohrman: Separate. Lehakdish really means to separate something. Kidushin means a woman is separated, she's no longer part of the world, she has a unique relation with so and so. When we talk about God being separate we say God is separate, separate, separate. If you think about God, if you really think about God, God is pretty separate. How is God separate?

God is very separate. How is God separate from human beings? Well, He knows a lot more than we do, He's Omniscient and all of that. One of the ways that God is separate is that He is actually not a part of our world. How's He not a part of our world? He doesn't really exist in the world. Why? Because He's not a physical being, He doesn't have a body.

Now, when we say that God is not a physical being, we're actually saying something a little bit deeper than the fact that God doesn't have a body. It's more than the fact that God doesn't have a body, God doesn't occupy space in the world. He's not a spatial being. That's not the way God is. God also is not a time bound being, He doesn't really exist in the world of time.

When we say, for example one of the classic answers to the yedi'ah and bechirah (free will) question which is how could God know everything and you still have free will? How could you choose if God knows?

One of the classical answers to this is well, you have to ask how does God know? God doesn't know because it's preordained what you're going to do, God only knows because from His perspective you did it already. In other words, God is outside of time. If you imagine it being outside of time, just looking at time is time, so I could see time, so I know what happens in the future, because from My perspective there's no future, so I see what happens. That doesn't take away your ability to do it. I know because you did it. I don't know because I could predict what you're going to do. Do you understand?

This idea, by the way, that God is outside of time and space, I talked about it before in the Exodus Series. Basically, the idea behind this it's actually very intuitive and it's almost scientific. It's not scientific because God is not really in the realm of science. If you could just extrapolate science just a little bit, you kind of get there, because for example, when we think about modern science, modern science also agrees there was a moment of creation. Modern science calls that moment of creation the Big Bang, right, this moment when there's this explosion and out of nothing comes something and all of a sudden there's a universe.

Now, modern science believes that what was created during the Big Bang was not just all the stuff in the universe. What was created already in the Big Bang was actually the environment for the universe itself. What that means is that space and time, which is the environment for the universe, itself was created in the moment of the Big Bang.

For example, if you would ask yourself what's outside the universe, like, if you would go to the edge of the universe, would there be like this brick wall. You ever read that book like The Monster at the End of this Book, you know what I'm talking about, the Sesame Street book, so it's like would there be this brick wall at the end of the universe saying danger, do not progress, no space beyond here. Like what would there be? What would there be at the end of the universe?

The answer is there is no end of the universe. There is no outside the universe. Outside the universe implies that there is a space outside the universe. There's not --space itself is expanding with the universe.

Similarly, what was there before the universe? What was there before the universe is also a nonexistent question because there is no before the universe, because in the moment of the birth of the universe time itself is created, time and space or in the modern physics theory of relativity, two flip sides of the same thing, are itself created with the universe.

Now, if you think about that, if we from a religious perspective view God as the Creator, as the Author of this Big Bang, so where's God going to be? Is He going to be in space and time? No, He's the Maker of space and time, He's the Creator of space and time. He's not going to be there. You're just not going to see God.

The analogy I always give to this, to those of you who were here with my Exodus series, forgive me for repeating this, but it's a really pertaining analogy so I'm just going to give it to you, it's my monopoly game analogy. You're going around.

Imagine a conversation between the little hat and the little shoe on the monopoly board. The little hat says you know, I don't get it, do you believe in Parker? The little shoe says, Parker, what are you talking about. You know, every time I go around the board it says made by Parker Brothers. Do you believe in Parker? He says what are you talking about?

He says well, I don't know about you, but I've been going around this board a long time, I've seen the whole thing, Marvin Gardens, Park Place, Tennessee Avenue, Jail, I've seen the world and I ain't never seen Parker, I mean, like I've seen no evidence of Parker. I see the greens, I see the yellows, I see Boardwalk, I see luxury tax, but I ain't never seen Parker, so what's the deal. Where's Parker?

What's the answer to little shoe? Little shoe, you idiot, of course you're not going to see Parker. Parker made the game, he's not on the board. He's not going to be constrained by the board. He doesn't live on the board. He lives outside the board. You're not going to find the creator inside the thing that he creates. That's just a little fishbowl.

What happens is that God made this little fishbowl called space and time. We're in there, you won't be able to find God in there. God's cupboard is in there, all of the glory of the fishbowl, you could infer God from that, you could communicate to God, but God is going to be outside of space and time.

All right. If that's true though, that's what it means when you say "kadosh, kadosh, kadosh Hashem Tzvakot", that God is holy, holy, holy, He's separate, and not even the angels know where He is.

This also explains what Chazal (our Sages) always say that God is called Makom. Why is He called Makom? You know this famous tongue twister of our Sages, "Mipnei shehu mekomo shel olam, ve'ein ha'alom mikomo", that He is the Place of the world, but the world is not His Place. If you think about that, that's really a mindboggling phrase. He's the Place of the world, but the world is not His Place.

Let's take that apart. What do we mean the world is not His Place? The world is not His Place is what we've been talking about. The world, the physical world, the monopoly board is not His Place. That's not where He is. He's the Creator of the monopoly board. Where is His Place? "Ayei Makom kevodo." Where does God reside if He doesn't reside in the world? If He doesn't reside in space and time and all of that, where does He reside?

"Hu mekomo shel olam ve'ein ha'olam mekomo." You want to know where God is? The world is not His place. He's the Place of the world. What does that mean? What does the word place mean? If you think about the word place, how would you define place?

Audience Member: A concept (inaudible).

Rabi David Fohrman: A concept, and what does the concept place mean? Define place.

Audience Member: Location.

Rabi David Fohrman: Location. The place is the spot within space and time that something is. Now, that's the way we use it because we're in space and time. Now, let's try to ask ourselves if you can imagine place outside of space and time what is the concept of place even without the concept of space and time? You would say something's place is the environment in which it needs to have in order to exist. Something can't be unless it has a place. A place is this thing in the environment that holds something. That's what a place is. Are you with me?

In a world of space and time we would say it's the coordinates in space and time that something is. If you're talking outside of space and time it would be the environmental thing that is needed to pocket, so to speak, for something to be. That is God. If you would say what does space and time exist in, so to speak, space and time exists in God. Or God is the environment which allows for the existence of the world which He creates.

If you take God away, there is no world, because there's no place for the world. That's how our Sages seem to be understanding God. He's the Place of the world, but the world is not His Place.

The only problem with this theory is that it seems to make God distant, because God isn't here. God says oh, but "ve'asu li Mikdash veshachanti betocham." If you think about why after so many years we are mitabel (mourn) the loss of the Holy Temple, why is that such big deal? I mean, it's only sticks and stones, a building was destroyed, like how big of a deal is that. For 3000 years we have national mourning for this? Why?

Because again, if it was just a place where we could serve God, I would argue we wouldn't really have this mourning. Okay, so we'll serve God through somewhere else, but it's more than a place to serve God. It's the apartment which we made for God in our world.

God gave us a world. The Parker Brothers gave you a board. You were so happy to have a board, a place to be, you were so happy to live, you decided you're going to make a little apartment for Parker and the world. Parker then created this miracle which he actually exists in this little thing, which is crazy, because how could God exist in this little apartment.

But God -- there is this connecting point, the ladder going up to heaven. There's this wormhole, this place, where somehow this non-spatial, non-time bound being actually exists in our world. We can encounter God there. God is actually there. We can see and be seen.

That's what we do on the "shalosh pe'amim yeira'eh kol zachercha." We're coming to see and be seen. We're coming to have a closer encounter. As Bobby said, it's a place where we come as a unity, it's a one-on-one relationship with God. The Jewish Nation is having a one-on-one encounter with God. That's a big deal. That's an awe-inspiring experience. It's Sinai all over again, and to lose that, that's like a really big deal.

Now you can imagine a philosophical skeptic saying, but one second, you've just convinced me that God can't be in the world because He made the world and He's outside of space and time, so how could you come back and tell me God is in the world, that there's this place in the world that God is. I thought that's impossible. What's the answer to that? Now we come to the stakes.

Here's the answer. The answer is there is no answer. It's a paradox. It doesn't make any sense for a non-spatial, non-time bound being to exist in the world. There's just no way to wrap your arms around it. There's no way we, in our finitude, can even begin to understand that. It makes no sense. But it's true anyway.

Now, how would you know it's true anyway? Here's what I want to suggest. You know it can be true that a non-spatial, non-time bound thing can exist within time and space. How do you know it's true? You know it's true because you experience it every day, 24 hours a day. How do you experience that? You know it's true not because you can figure it out rationally, but because you experience it. How do we all experience that, a non-time bound, non-space bound thing somehow existing within a world of space and time?

The answer is our consciousness. Who are you? Are you your little pinkie? Well, if you lost your little pinkie, would you still be you? You'd be you. Or if you had a heart transplant, you'd still be you. Who are you really? You can get frum (religious) and you could say you're your neshama (soul). Okay, fine, but let's actually, I want to ask you how you experience you?

Audience Member: What if you had a brain transplant?

Rabi David Fohrman: That's a good question. What if you had a brain transplant? Well, a brain transplant, all of a sudden we're not so sure, we're not so sure. We're not convinced that we wouldn't be us, but we're not so sure.

Audience Member: (Inaudible).

Rabi David Fohrman: What? Why are we not necessarily convinced? Why are we not so sure? Because we'd have to say if there is any physical part of ourselves that we associate ourselves most with, it would definitely be our brain. But we're still not so comfortable saying that we are our brains. Would you say we are our brain? That's not how you experience yourself. How do you really experience yourself?

You experience yourself as a bundle of thoughts, as this thing that rides -- tell me, this is how I experience myself. I am this thinking thing, this conscious thing that's aware of itself, that knows that there's this thing called David in the world, and that thinks and sees and almost like I'm riding above my brain, I'm kind of controlling my brain.

It's almost like the brain is the horse and I'm the rider and I see and I experience through my eyes. My eyes are, I have sensory experience which is giving input to my brain, but my brain is just my central nervous system. It's just a place that's amalgamating all that data and then feeding it somewhere, to my mind.

My mind is what? It's not a physical part of my body. We experience mind even if you're going to argue that mind comes from physicality, whatever that answer is, we don't experience mind as brain. We experience mind as a spiritual force which we are, we just are; this cloud hovering over our brain is how we experience mind. It's associated most with brain, but it's not brain, it's something more than that.

Now, if you think about it, Nahmanides asks how come the Torah never talks about life in the World to Come? If it's really true that there's life in the World to Come, how come the Torah never talks about it? Nahmanides says you know why it never talks about life in the next world? Because that's obvious. The miracle is life in this world.

If you think about it life in this world is the thing that makes no sense. To tell me that there's a world with disembodied souls, disembodied consciousness, for sure. The soul is a disembodied thing. Of course, there's a world of disembodied consciousness, because what else would there be?

To tell me that there's a world where there's a disembodied, non-spatial, non-time bound thing which exists in a seamless integration with a body and a world of space and time. You want to explain that to me? Forget it. That's crazy.

Of course, the idea that the soul would live on after the body, what else is it going to do. Of course the body's going to die, there will be a world of disembodiment. The soul's just gone back to its non-time bound, non-space bound state which it normally is. The connection is the thing which is amazing, which makes no sense.

The only reason why we don't see that is because we're so used to it, and it's so seamless, the miracle is so seamless that it doesn't even seem miraculous, but that itself is the miracle. Hagufah, that's the miracle, that there's a seamless connection between body and mind.

God says you experience this every day in your face. Your face is the physical vehicle for your mind. You can't answer, you can't figure it out, you don't know how your mind connects to your face. But somehow through that medium, there is a place in the world where this non-spatial being called your consciousness, well, guess what, make me a face. Right. Also exists in the world in something like that. All come into the world through the same vehicle that I made for you which is a face. You're going to make for me --

Audience Member: (Inaudible).

Rabi David Fohrman: What?

Audience Member: (Inaudible).

Rabi David Fohrman: Right. Maybe that's the idea. "Hinei demuso guf v'eino guf." When we make an apartment for God, God says what should you build for Me? God says you know what, build the same thing I made for you. I made you a face and that's what I use as a vehicle, so make Me a face. I'll use that as a vehicle to come in the world and you'll understand. It's the same kind of thing. In fact, that's what it is.

What the Holy Temple is, if you think about the significance of the Temple, why we mourn, why it's such a big deal, it's not just a place that we can serve God, it's a place that God is in the world. It's part of it. If you think about the way the Temple is taught, that it's always "makom asher azkir et shmi", that it's a place that God's name is present in the world, where He is present in the world.

If you think about the avla (sin) of what Ahab is doing, it's not just that he's worshipping the Ba'al. Worshipping the Ba'al is just half the problem, it's not even half the problem, the same way that worshipping God in the Temple is not even half the deal. It's not the worship that's the deal. It's that and then you made him an altar, and then you made him a house. You made him a place and you say the Land of Israel is the place for Ba'al in the world. The Holy Temple is the place for God, is the place for God in the world. What you're doing is you're displacing the Land of Israel as the place of God and you're making it instead a place of the Ba'al.

Now think about Jericho. Jericho's just the flip side of that. You see, and this is what I want to argue, the Land of Israel being God's place in the world has a negative dimension and a positive dimension. The positive dimension is the place that we build for God in the world is the place in which God is resident. That's the Holy Temple.

The negative dimension is Jericho, which is to say Jericho is the flip side of the Temple; it is the destruction that God has wrought and that destruction is a siman (sign) that this is God's place in the world. Seeing that destruction that God becomes manifest in the world almost as a result of the destruction of Jericho, we're seeing here is God, right here in the world, and in the Temple. Here is God, right here in the world. Through building, and through the flipside of building, you're destroying building.

What Ahab is doing then there's a deep connection between these three verses. What he's doing, he's not just worshipping Ba'al; he's making a place for God in the world, and allowing Jericho, the destruction to go away. In building Jericho and in obviating the Holy Temple, what you're doing, the centrality of the Holy Temple is you're doing two things. You're taking away the positive residence of God in the world and you're also taking away the negative residence. Both the positive and negative sides of the coin are being minimized. You're taking God away from the world. That I think is Ahab's sin.

Okay. We've just gotten started. I'll leave you here and I'll see you next time.

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