Wednesday, October 29, 2008

גדולים וקטנים

Sometimes I ponder how it's sort of interesting how all different kinds of people are living in the same world, and the same time..and sometimes in the same place..

Take the "פני יהושוע" for example (Jacob Joshua Falk), one of the most popular Talmudic commentators of the early acharonim period, and someone very suspect for being perceived as living in some sort of vacum, was a contemporary, for example, of (Gottfried) Leibniz (I know, not the most shocking thing in the world, but not often thought of). In fact, it turns out that "the pne yehoshua" was kicked out of a Rabbinical post in Berlin (during only his third year there) because he displeased 'Veitel-Heine Ephraim' by making a judgment against him. And this Ephraim guy is the same dude who was in charge of depreciating the Prussian currency during the Seven Years' War.

The same time Yisrael Meir Kagan ("the חפץ חיים") was putting together a yeshiva in Raduń, Linclon was "freeing the slaves" in America. When he died things like the Hindenburg were flying around Germany (there's actually a brand new 'Zeppelin' blimp starting flights in California right now- the height of innovation!).

And the "שונה הלכות", or the "דרך אמונה" (works by Chaim Kanievsky that might one day be named after him) and the "יחוה דעת" (Ovadia Yosef) are living not far from Shiri Maimon(!), and in the same world as Paris Hilton! ..I don't know why, I just think that's a little funny!

There are obviously infinitely more examples than these, but you get the picture...

(By the way, the links are in case someone doesn't know what the hell I'm talking about.)


And while I'm already mentioning European conlficts of the last couple of centuries I want to mention that I think it's ironic that the Western Europeans and their descendants make light of the struggle over the future of "دار الإسلام " ('dar al-Islam') taking place on many fronts today, by asking "how anyone in todays' modern world could act so barbaric?". While in the meantime their own ('enlightened', European) conflicts of the past few centuries were only about money and power- and the only reason they're not fighting now is because they've lost all they had!

Monday, October 27, 2008

הערותיו של יעקוב שטיין על הפרשה

Also: If you would like, see Jacob Steins' blog this week for some novel ideas in an attempt to prove the possibility of the events recorded in Genesis 6-8 as having occurred in reality.

It seems his positions were challanged by "Wolfish Musings" and "Frum Heretic" (citing the book "Before the Flood: The Biblical Flood as a Real Event and How It Changed the Course of Civilization" as being the most logical approach to things. I gotta look into that).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

תורה ודעת

One realization I just came to (although it's really quite obvious), which is the kind of thing I would have expected to be mentioned in "Jews G-d and History", is that it seems one of the reasons Jews have risen to prominence in the countries they have reached is due to the Talmud. What is usually mentioned though, is that the reason for this is that their minds were sharpened in the sharp, penetrating and analytical arguments and give-and-takes of the Talmud. One thing I think worth considering though, is that their minds were undoubtedly sharpened by the breadth of subject matter that the laws of the Mishna and the Talmud cover as well.

This thought came to me as I was involved in reading Mishna, Tractate Kilayim (though the same is true for any other tractate, and definitely for the Talmud); one must have a firm grounding in botony if one is to ever fully comprehend the underlying principles of that tractate, as well as for parts of Tractate Berakhot and other tractates. But then again, one must be proficient in the realities of real estate interactions to fully comprehend the principles behind Tractate Bava Batra (of Nezikin). One too must have a firm grip on mathematics and geometry for one to understand the more technical discussions in parts of the Talmud.

Even today; one cannot come to a decision about whether pasteurized grape juice if fitting for the blessing recited upon wine if one does not comprehend the physical and chemical reality of pasteurization. And so on and so fourth, with all the laws. The 'artist' must know what is going on on 'Wall street'. The 'banker' has to know what is happening in the 'art world'.

Therefore one must have a great storehouse of many different branches of wisdom in order to understand 'The Torah'. But for these studies the knowledge one gains in the process is not mundane- for it being a means to understand G-d's word sanctifies it to a level of purpose and import that it otherwise would not have had.

And in my mind, it is this 'worldliness' that the Mishna and Talmud (not to mention The Tanakh) afford the Jew that has made him intellectually a step above the rest, and has given him prominence in the countries he has travelled.

(Sorry about having so many pictures- I just couldn't part with them!)

[לאפוקי מדעת המתנגדים לעיון ב"ספרים חיצונים", וסוברים דכל מה שאפשר לדעת כבר נמצא בתורה]

Friday, October 24, 2008


הינו דבר ידוע, אבל נצרך להזכרה, שכפרת יום הכיפורים וקבלת הא"לוהים את תשובתו של האדם ביום ההוא תלויים ממש בשינוי מעשיו היום-יומיים של האדם מרעה לטובה, ובשיעור עמדתו נגד לחץ ניסיון הרגלו. י

יהי רצון שנזכה להתגבר על יצרינו בכל יום תמיד אמן! י

Monday, October 20, 2008

מתנוצץ, גדל, פורח ועולה בי השקפת עתיד חשוך יותר משהיה לי אי-פעם.י

Saturday, October 18, 2008


In my mind it is clear that at least one of the lessons of the Divine laws restricting certain types of eating on פסח and סוכות (i.e. eating only unleavened bread/bread products on פסח, and not eating meals outside of a סוכה on סוכות, and the ensuing inconviniences in eating they create) is general self-discipline.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The President

[Well, this is a bit risky for a post, but ..I feel like.. I must..]

My father has a very ..different..way to say things in English than most people. fact not only have I never heard the type of pronunciation of English he has anywhere else, I've never heard a lexicon like his, or word-usages such as his elsewhere. ..for example(!): For some reason(?) every time he has to use the restroom he tells everyone "I have to go see George Bush" (well, that's what he's been saying the past eight years anyway..). When looking for reading material to take in he says "I can't go in without my files"(!) etc...

I happened to be passing the Waldorf hotel tonight just when I was frantically looking for a restroom, and I saw all the Television film crews, so in passing I asked them what was going on. They informed me that presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama were attending a dinner there (they were just leaving actually. I saw McCain!). But I was in such a hurry I told him "who cares about McCain or Obama, I have to see George Bush!

..I didn't really tell them, but, ; )

(Cardinal Edward Egan was also there, ..he asked me if I was doing anything tonight, but he lost interest when I told him I'm not Catholic..).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Succot supporting naturalistic lifestyle

I haven't given it much thought yet, but it obviously seems the Commandments of סוכות have (beyond the sense of being transient) some preference to 'naturalistic' sort of ideals (which needs looking into. i.e.- סכך that is not a plant is מקבל טומאה.. It has to be disconnected.. ארבעת המינים have to be fresh.. ניסוך המים has to come from a stream.. יום חיבוט ערבה במקדש..etc...).

Monday, October 13, 2008

צילא דמהימנותא

Well, we got our Succah up (wasn't too difficult, being that it's principles of engineering were the same as those of Lego(!)), and what is perhaps my most beloved holiday begins tonight. I always liked Succot more than others holidays because there are just so many interesting actions and thoughts to ponder, and in my opinion the main purpose for the commandment of these actions is to cause one to ponder.

So ponder I shall! One particular nuance that I enjoy reminding myself of, and one that I think plays a central role in this festival, is what some of the sixteenth century Kabalists said about the Succah; that it is a holy place due to the fact that in a kabalistic sense the aura of G-d (שכינה) is there, and therefore one's level of respect and awe while in the Succah should be the same as it would in a place of worship (דינה כדין בית הכנסת). A 'Succah' (דבר שמסכך) is defined only by the 'סכך' itself (by the 'shade' itself). It is defined as being under the shade and protection of this temporary roof, commemorating G-d's protecting cover over our ancestors in the wilderness, and known in kabalah as 'צילא דמהימנותא' (the shade of belief').

But then again, we know that that which it says in the Torah "בסוכות תשבו שבעת ימים" means that one should live in the Succah as one lives in their house. The Mishna and the Talmud explain that every aspect of living should be transferred to the Succah, from eating to drinking to sleeping! From enjoying one's idle time in good conversation to writing blog posts using the neighbors wi-fi (well, the Gemara didn't actually mention that, but..)!

So we therefore are faced with a paradox of sorts; one the one hand we have the injunction to live in the Succah in the most mundane of ways, being instructed to bring all of our daily squalor into the Succah, and on the other hand we have this idea that one must be in the same awe of the place (due to G-d's presence there) as we would in a house of prayer (it's known for example that Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn didn't feel comfortable sleeping in his Succah at all due to it's holiness)-?-

But that itself is obviously the lesson. That after seven days of feeling that "well, I can't fully 'let my hair down here because 'G-d is here' ", we then return to our actual bedrooms. And the obvious dawns on us; is G-d not also present in my bedroom?!
I was once by the kotel (I was doing that whole '40 day thing' once) and on Shabbat, a not religious guy asked me what I thought was a legitimate question; isn't praying by the kotel a type of idol worship? I thought the question was "how can we say G-d is in the Temple as opposed to other places?", but I soon realized he didn't know there was ever a Jewish Tmple there, and thought everyone was praying to the wall (*sigh*, Israeli public schools!). But in essence it's a good question; how can we suppose G-d was 'more' in the beit hamikdash than outside of it? Without all the discussion, one answer is "He isn't! It's all about our perception of it!

Which also reminds me of all the times I have had to sleep in Synagogues; I would say to myself "I'm so self-conscious now- then why not when I sleep in a bed?" Is G-d not as 'present' in the Succah as in the bedroom?! In the house of worship as in the night club?! Before a Rabbi as before a comedian?! By the Kotel as on Ben Yehudah st.?! We have to reshape some perceptions, friends, as we sit 'בצילא דמהימנותא'.

חג שמח

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

לכפור בכפיית כופר הכפרות

A bit of Background:

There were two men who lived in the same era, knew each other and one's son even married the other's daughter. They both had very strong influences on the Jewish people, but they took different perspectives based on their differing traditions, backgrounds and leanings.

I'm discussing of course the 'Beit Yosef' (Joseph Caro) and the Ari(za"l)(Isaac Luria). Just one example out of quite a few is that which the Jews take for themselves an 'atonement' in chickens (or money..or plants(?)) on the eve of the day of Atonement. They both were raised seeing this phenomenon. Rabbi Caro, in following the tradition of many of the Spanish halakhist scholars, did not even omit this practice (which would be expected) but frowned heavily upon it in his 'Shulkhan Arukh'. Rabbi Luria, in the tradition of the European Rabbis (a community from which he descended), and based on 'great hidden meaning' associated with it, not only encouraged, but added stringencies and guidelines in the practice of this 'taking of chickens'.

We (Jews of the Orient) have been directed to follow the halakhic guidelines of Rabbi Caro (as opposed to his contemporaries or those who came after him who might argue), but in this case his words are abandoned by even the most Oriental Jew in preference to the teachings of his contemporaries, or those that came after him.

There's much more to it than that, but that's what I feel is really the main point, and all I wish to mention on that note at the moment.

My Perspective:

Well, unfortunately abandoning many an injunction -as those I just discussed-, and relying on the rulings of the more contemporary Rabbinic leaders, I personally prefer to indulge in the practice of 'kaparot' before yom kippur when it makes itself available to me. I see in it a reasonable amount of psychological and ethical significance, for the entirety of the process is of acute irony for a sound mind; a bird is taken, a white chicken who has obviously very few 'sins' to atone for, if any, as it stands. We then proceed to declare upon the chicken that it is "in our place", "our redemption", our "atonement", and then kill it, feeling that some level of our 'responsibility' has been transferred to the chicken. On face value it obviously seems a bit absurd, but this is the essence of the sacred sacrificial ceremony performed in the Temple in Jerusalem (which is one of the main reasons many opposed it).
To me this utter irony is the most important aspect of the whole process; it is invariably us who should "לשחיטה ילך", and the chickens who should be going "לחיים טובים ולשלום", and yet we're changing this preferable arrangement so that we should feel we must run back in protest, exclaiming that an error has mistakenly occurred; "we should stay and the chickens should go home"!
...I feel bad writing about such an insignificant issue though, on the eve of this ever-important day...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

נהנה ומצתער

My mother made an interesting statement last week:

"Pain is the extention of pleasure"

( regards to nerve endings at least...but it can be found true for other kinds of pain and pleasure as well...)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Journal Idea

As an even deeper revelation into myself: I just finished going through Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London" (actually at the advice of my mother, being that I've often been "down and out" in weird places). It did actually make me somewhat reminisent of some of my past experiences.. which kind of got me thinking- I should write about some of my experiences (experiences that usually end up omitted from this blog even if they occured while I've had it up, being that I cannot usually be found by a computer at those times, and don't feel to write about them later), for at least my own reading- lest I totally forget them in the future (I'm quite forgetful). But then again, making a blog of them would be questionable, being that every blog I've tried to write besides this one has ended in utter disuse (for some reason I 'create' them, but never 'get around' to writing in them). (?) ...representative of my life; lost potential! ברכה לבטלה!

About ראש השנה

I can't beleive it, I just posted about not taking Rosh Hashana too lightly, and there I was on Rosh Hashana; looking to put together enough money to put up hotels on Illinois and Indiana ave's, and trying to sell Boardwalk for triple it's price (in other words; playing 'Monopoly'! ...we spent the חג by my (now married) brothers' new place in Queens. ..he was set on playing Monopoly..?).