web analytics
March 28, 2015 / 8 Nisan, 5775
At a Glance
Blogs
Sponsored Post


How Far Will Gershonides Go to Avoid Mystical Interpretations?

In short, he says the whole thing was a prophetic vision, a dream. There was no physical battle.

Israeli stamp commemorating Ralbag (who was also a renowned astronomer).

Israeli stamp commemorating Ralbag (who was also a renowned astronomer).

Ralbag (Rabbi Levi ben Gershon 1288–1344, aka Gershonides) is famously rationalist and shuns all mystical interpretations in his commentary on the Chumash. Sometimes it seems impossible to avoid a mystical interpretation. One such section in the Chumash is the wrestling match between Jacob and the sar (minister) of Esau. They wrestle all night, Jacob is victorious, the sar says he needs to be on his way, Jacob asks for a blessing, he is blessed with the name Israel, and due to Jacob’s leg injury we do not eat the sciatic nerve.

Traditionally, the sar is interpreted as a heavenly angel who represents the spiritual side of Esau. I’ve always had a problem with this, my limited knowledge of angels notwithstanding, because I don’t understand why Esau has an angel who corresponds to his flesh and blood self. Do we all have corresponding angels? If not, why is Esau special? But I digress. Ralbag will have none of it. He does not subscribe to the view that angels exist. So what happened?

A couple of years ago Hakirah published an excellent article on Ralbag by Yitzhak Grossman. The article is a broad overview of Ralbag and provides a fairly thorough depiction of Ralbag. One section of the article is about how Ralbag would allegorize passages that could not be understood simply in his worldview. The primary example is the story of Jacob wrestling.

In short, he says the whole thing was a prophetic vision, a dream. There was no physical battle. There is no actual heavenly minister of Esau. Rather, Jacob was concerned about his upcoming battle and we know that what one thinks about will have an influence on their dreams. So Jacob dreamed the whole thing.

But how did he injure his leg in a dream? There is no reason to think Jacob did not actually injure his leg because the Torah prohibits us from eating the sciatic nerve based on the incident. Jacob’s leg must have been injured. But how? Ralbag gives two answers.

1. Sometimes a dream can feel real. It can activate our bodies in a way that causes a physical action despite the fact that what we are seeing or experiencing is not real. He mentions nocturnal emissions as an example. The person’s body reacts to the thoughts in the person’s dream. Sometimes we dream that we are jumping or running and it will cause our leg to suddenly move. We’ve all experienced this at some point.

Jacob was having an extremely visceral dream. When he saw his leg injury in his dream it caused him to move his leg in a way that caused him to severely injure himself. When we woke up, he was limping.

2. Sometimes we dream about the things that are happening to us during our sleep. If you are cold, you might dream about being in a cold place. If a man is aroused, he might dream he is with a woman. Our physical condition during our sleep can affect our dreams.

So it’s possible that Jacob dreamt about his leg becoming dislocated in a wrestling match with Esau’s heavenly angel because while he was moving his family and transporting his possessions across the river he actually hurt his leg. That night he dreamed about his aching leg and spiritual meaning became attached to it.

Pretty creative and pretty interesting, if you ask me.

This path of Torah study has been mostly neglected in our current system of Torah learning. We study the other commentaries. The ones who believed in angels and magic are much more popular. That’s just the way it is. Perhaps we could say this is some sort of “survival of the fittest” Torah and our Mesorah has evolved to focus more on the mystical side of things.

But I wonder how different Orthodox Judaism would look and feel if this Maimonidean version of Judaism had won the day. Would we be better off? Would we be worse off? Would it have any impact at all?

I can’t help but think that the Judaism of the Maimonidean persuasion flourished in a time and place that was not that different than our American Orthodox Judaism. Jews were not subject to violence and pogroms. Jews were protected under the law and by and large were able to live productive lives within the society of the Arab world. Mysticism was certainly found there as well, but mysticism really flourished in the European countries where Jews were living in constant fear for their lives.

Might our social environment be more similar to the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry? Might our world be more conducive to Maimonidean philosophy? I think it’s very possible.

Visit Fink or Swim.

About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

8 Responses to “How Far Will Gershonides Go to Avoid Mystical Interpretations?”

  1. its real event not make beliefe, u r making it into yoshka "religion"

  2. Stephen Leavitt says:

    Perhaps Yaacov herniated his disc when he lifted the rock off the well for Rachel. Then, the extreme stress and anxiety he felt due to his upcoming meeting with Eisav caused the back muscles to tighten, squeezing the vertebrae together and causing him sciatica pain.

  3. Who is the "u"? Rav Fink, the Ralba"g, or both?

  4. whoever is saying such stuff, Yakov Avinu fought with actual Angel not some dream

  5. Arkadiy Avezbakiyev – Go back to the beit midrash…you are forgetting that there have always been different שיטות from very honorable and holy Jews that just might not be what you think or were taught. Why would you be so intimidated by the opinion of a recognized and renowned Rishon such as the רלב"ג?

    Best of luck finding out, and חנוכה שמח.

  6. Arkadiy Avezbakiyev – That's not much of an answer, that's all. Cheers.

  7. Ben Yosef Shomer says:

    LOL the prophetic vision IS REAL. Maybe r. Fink has a vision to change (or to reform) our Torah perspectives , but as he says, is just a dream …..from his daily activities…..

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu to Release Frozen Palestinian Authority Tax Revenue
Latest Blogs Stories
The Dimona nuclear reactor dome. Iran has been using Israel's reluctance to join the NPT to escape criticism of its own program.

“Israel has nuclear weapons & it isn’t afraid to use them if necessary-Does that frighten you? Good”

JB Flag

American Jews think they know what’s best for Israel-better than Israelis. Here’s my take…

HarHabayitwDome.jpg

An old Arab man yelled at me “You’re stupid!” I returned the compliment; He had murder in his eyes.

Doug Goldstein

Why do people feel the need to check their email 50X a day, constantly dipping in & out of Facebook?

Betar is the world-wide Zionist youth movement that refuses to be silent, and as our founder Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote: “Silence is despicable.”

Life in Europe’s pre-War Yeshiva world makes today’s rulings look like the Taliban has taken over.

Moshe’s the 1st family member in thousands of years to have the honor of serving in a Jewish army

Often wig wearers become more attractive after marriage. Doesn’t this turn the intent on its head?

US official interference in Israel’s Elections is not only immoral but may be illegal under US law.

The greatest thing about leaving Israel is the joy in returning, hearing/seeing/smelling coming home

I never felt an election resonate so much; I had true existential fear that my candidate might lose

It appears that Agudah has joined with those choosing to erase women from the public sphere.

How can you turn your passion into your business? How can you build your business around your life?

Politicians have their own egos as priority, not the good of the country nor the will of the people

I might have to “reassess” my position on President Obama if his “new positions and comments” on Israel don’t match his pre-election statements.

Find out about peak oil and how the production & sale of cheap oil has affected other oil sources

More Articles from Rabbi Eliyahu Fink
QuestionsandAnswers-logo

People act not because they think it’s right; they do what they do because it’s what they want to do

Dusk in the early morning hours seen from Mt Meron, Northern Israel. March 26, 2014.

What do we do when we want to be mad at God but we also want God to make it all better? Indeed, what do we do?

Rambam would also allow charity from a mumar as long as the person maintains basic belief in God and Judaism.

There is no song that tells the story of freedom like Shir HaShirim.

It is unfair to judge a 52 year old man with the glasses of a person who lives in a different world.

Adegbile was not making a moral statement by representing a man convicted of killing a cop.

Women learning Torah is becoming increasingly permissive, but women wearing tefillin is becoming increasingly stringent.

When the “offensive” statements in our Talmud were stated, no one thought they were offensive.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/fink-or-swim/how-far-will-gershonides-go-to-avoid-mystical-interpretations/2013/11/19/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: