Thursday, April 30, 2009
Rabbi Tatz skimmed over his idea about the reality which is repeated in many manifestations throughout the human experience, not least of which being the Judaic experience, in which there is an initial boom or inspiration, followed by a struggle, the end of which being quite difficult and seeming hopeless, followed by a reward or attainment of some kind.
One reality in which this phenomenon is evident is the history of the Jews in the past century: Yesterday marked the day that, a little over half a century ago, the Jews were granted a parcel of land and self government in historical Palestine by it's British protectorates, something the Jews haven't been awarded in quite some time. This event, as it is well known, came after a terrible loss had come upon the Jews in the countries in which they were most populous (the killings in the German "Concentration Camps").
It has become known that when the Allied powers discovered that these civilian killings were taking place, those in charge of the camps sped up the extermination processes as much as possible before the Americans arrived. This, of course, meant that the worst time for people in the death camps were the last few days (especially considering they were not previously aware of the American arrival). Yet after this bleakest of times one of the greatest salivations came to the Jews, with the renewal of their homeland and national strength, the commemoration of which took place yesterday with celebration and thanks to G-d for his many miracles bestowed upon us.
This very same process, it was said, happens not only to עם ישראל as a nation, but to the איש ישראל as an individual as well. First there is, in the hearts of people to whom G-d has called, an initial inspiration and yearning for G-d and good, and they are for but a moment shown a vision of their potential selves if they were to continue on this path. When this inspiration fades, therefore, is the only time one can work with his own hands to make that potential a reality, and the hardest time to do it is after all the challenges one thought were hardest, in the very end. Yet if one is able to hold out till after that trying period, one will reap the luscious fruits of ones potential.
In my eyes it is the same as the attractive individual: Have you ever seen the attractive individual? (*sigh*, here we go with "gender sensitivity"!) There becomes a will in ones heart to become close to this individual, to benefit this individual, all in the hopes of finding grace in the eyes of this individual. Yet what beauty can you behold from this person if you are blind to see that this will is the will of Satan? For it is obvious that the beauty that this person harbors, as well as the accomplishments of any person to whom ample opportunity has been given to them is unearned. I do not respect the beauty and accomplishments of these individuals, for just as the gourd of Jonah which came up in a night and withered in a night, so too unquestionably has and will the beauty and accomplishments of these.
This beauty I speak of, to me, is analogous to spiritual עליות that a person may receive, that are not representative of any labour that one put in to achieve them. No gourd can last for this person if it is not watered daily, only then can one feel glad and confident about any religious or spiritual accomplishments.
Rabbi Tatz mentioned that preventing oneself from sinning is "as painful as death" (אדם כי ימות באהל), and "one must conquer death to achieve eternal life". To me this is somewhat reminiscent of a thought I once had; that in a sense, as far as a person's senses go, "good"(מצוה) is essentially defined by doing things that are painful to oneself and "sin"(עבירה) is defined as doing things that are pleasureful. The definition therefore of doing only good and no evil is experiencing only pain and no relief. Yet it is this pleasure, this animalistic individualism of the Nefesh that must be eradicated if one is to make himself into the "Spirit-Man".
Even after one reaches this plateau of spiritual accomplishment though, not only must one make sure to stay on this plateau, but to strive to new areas of spiritual accomplishment. To me, again (don't think that yawning is inaudible to me!), this is comparable to a suspension bridge; even after all the effort and materials are put in to the bridges construction, all that effort will go to waste if the bridge does not receive proper upkeep. In the case of a suspension bridge, the upkeep is in the form of constantly applying paint to it, so the elements don't crack the paint and corrode the iron, which would ultimately make the bridge fall.
And if ones bridge is securely in place, one will surely be able to build an entire spiritual city, building after building, year after year.
(Don't fret about the lack of coherency; these were very fleeting thoughts).
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Well, I've been having somewhat of a discussion recently with a fellow named David (down by my "Bircat Hachama" post) which I feel worthy enough to be posting about (personally, I've never really had a discussion of this nature, so it's a good thing that I'm being "kept on my feet" in regards to my hashkafot once in a while)..
*Sigh*, where to start where to start...
2. "We have NO mesorah that 7 days means 7 billion years."
A 'mesorah' is not needed, it's obvious that G-d has no eyes even if there was no such "mesorah". To be honest though, I don't know that there is such a mesorah considering that the Rambam mentions that some rabbis of his time (who were over-literalistic) had some "corporeal ideas" about G-d.
Either way, the Torah is not a science book; G-d had no interest in telling the Jews who came out of Egypt strange astronomical factoids about the age of the world. The age of the world does not concern the Torah; ethics and mitzvot concern the Torah. It is unquestionably silly to take the opening words of Genesis to be blatantly telling the ancients exactly how old the world is..
2. If the world were..billions of years old, all gittin would be pasul because of an incorrect date."
In regards to Gittin: ? "אנחנו חוקרים עד מקום שידינו מגיעים".
3. "The Rambam's true approach to Torah is not that which he states in Moreh Nevuchim"(Link).
..if anything that footnote is a criticism on the "י"ד", not the "מורה". As far as I can tell it's basically saying that his טעמי המצוות in the י"ד are overly simplistic. Either way, if you are correct I side with the "More Navochim-Rambam"!
It is basically true though that the Rambam tried to write the י"ד in "the language of the Mishna", and not add that much of his own opinions (though his interpretations of Talmudic passages and halakhic decisions are evident throughout the book (but that's only since he felt his explanations to be the most logical approach to things).
But listen, the More' (Navochim) itself comes from a philosophical and theological school of thought that are a bit alien and antiquated to us and, but that doesn't mean that it's not possible to tell from it was the basic opinions of the Rambam were..
4. "..its not gonna take a billion years for Moshiach to come."
Again, uh, I looked up the Ramchal I mentioned, and I saw that he does actually deviate a bit from what it says in the Talmud: Seemingly the only Talmudic source for the 6,000 year idea is an ambiguous statement by one amora (Rav Katina) in Perek Chelek that "the world exists six thousand years and one will be barren", and that statement itself is understood in many ways- see link (a more "modern" understanding, based on the idea that these kinds of numbers (those with sixes and sevens for example) are symbolisms but not actual dates, would suggest that all Rav Katina meant to say was that there will come a time when "G-d will be alone", i.e. people will cease to exist (not to mention the Talmud there suggests that he was making a verse-oriented comparison with shmitta)).
One point worth mentioning about this is how this relates to the famous first chapter of Sefer Haikarim (again, if you haven't read it, you should); the well-known opinion of Rav Hillel is mentioned in the Talmud as saying "there is no mashiach for Israel, etc.". Rav Albo asks that if this opinion was really that inflammatory, why is this Amora called "Rav" Hillel in the Talmud? We therefore see that there are legitimate differing opinions about Massaism in the Talmud, which doesn't delegitimize the authority of those who "don't believe in Mashiach" (umm, just to clarify; it's called "sefer haikarim" because Albo's school of thought was very skeptical about the rambam's "13" principles of faith; he felt that opinion to be unfounded and got the principles of faith down to, like, three in the end).
The reason I mention this is that it's obvious that the majority of Rabbis in the Talmud were of the opinion that there should be a Mashiach, and Rav Hillel was a small minority in this matter. One opinion in Agadta doesn't change Jewish beleif. So similarly this statement of Rav Katina has no more Agadic authority than that of Rav Hillel.
Though to be totally honest, the Rambam has said many times (in opposition to the opinion of Rashi) that the Talmud is not a political manual, nor is it a history book, nor is it a treatise on science or medicine; it is a work regarding religious ethics and religious law. Though the Talmud might have had some very insightful observations and traditions, one cannot judge science based on the Talmud or based on the Gita or based on the H'adith or based on the Epistles; scientific discovery can only be made using raw data and the scientific method. One can judge those discoveries based on religious teachings if they like. This was the opinion of the Rambam.
...the way I understand it there are no arguments in outcomes, only in premises; so the best thing is to pin-point differing premises and see what aspects cannot be reconciled (although the most novel thing to do is refute a premise).
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I notice these things partially because I’m so “involved in history” (no, it’s not what you’re thinking; I don’t have a time machine and go back in time to change history); I constantely learn about past events or have some aspects of past history in my mind, which makes me very aware of the novelty of every aspect of technology I come in contact with.
Which got me to thinking: Is all this technology really representative of us being more “advanced” than our predacessors. Even though we’re surrounded by technology, we ourselves are still the same animals, we just do things in a more sophisticated way; we eat off a plate and with utencils, but it's essentially the same act of eating that one of our forebearers might have done off a freshly killed carcass. Obviously the fact that we exrete into small, mobile bodies of water doesn’t change the nature of exretion, and even though we sleep on a bed it’s the same sleep (it goes without saying that our sexual interactions, not considering certain partner preferences are no different than they once were). So essentially we’re cavemen living out our earthy lives in these hi-tech-filled edifices we call homes.
Which brings us to consider the nature of civilization in general; what does it mean to be “civilized”? Obviously much has been said about this by the philosophers of the past millennia or two, but I wish to reconsider it. For starters, it has always been my opinion that people even a century ago were far more “civilized” than we are. Today, to some extent, the only sign of our civilization is the technology we use, not the philosophies we harbor. And what, my friends, is the end goal of technology, what is its purpose? It seemed to me, on my bed last night (while trying to balance my thoughts between this and a mélange of senseless thoughts a man is bound to have before the currents of sleep overtake him) that the only purpose of these technologies is, to a large extent, improving people’s physical existence. So while a reasonable amount of it seems to be beneficial, it’s end seems pointless. In America, for example, it has created a nation of people who eat in a hi-tech way, sleep in a hi-tech way, go to the bathroom in a hi-tech way and have sex in a hi-tech way. But for what? To aggrandize the animal within us?
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik's book I mentioned not long ago on this platform, “Lonely Man of Faith”, is based on the idea that he felt that his place among the rabbi's and philosophers was a lonely and relatively pointless one considering that the majority of people are engeged in actions that are productive in reality and help make the world a better and thriving place. I personally am not really sure how he had this problem; all the physical and technological accomplishments people make only serve to improve people's physical life--i.e. making them better and more efficient animals! The real "innovators" are the men (...and women) of spirit and thought, of religion and philosophy, for they give the entire process meaning, and lends significance and purpose to the toil of men (....and women). (and Larry).
This actually seems to be a recurring theme in my philosophy; I think I've written about this here before...
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Let me set it up for you (ayy, such colloquialisms today): For many people (including my accursed little self) the Yamin Noraim are a problematic time; you're basically asking G-d to reward you with another year "to serve Him with" on the back of your changing your wicked ways and accepting certain resolutions for change on yourself for the following year. And for most people (if this isn't you, than: sorry) after Yom Kipur is over, and you're looking back, relieved that G-d hasn't struck you with lightning, the resolutions you made quickly fall to the wind, if not by Succot then by Cheshvan, and if not by Cheshvan then by Chanukah, and the whole thing turns out to have been bogus.
What was suggested (according to the situation I'm setting) is to not look forward from Rosh Hashana for a better future, but to look at Rosh Hashana as that future. In other words the resolutions should be made before the coming year, and you should envision a picture of your potential self by next year. During the year you should attempt to live up to that potential you (and the fact that Rosh Hashana is coming itself could possibly serve as some kind of security that you'll actually change).
..this was expressed very poorly. You should check out the post yourself.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
ושלאדם שכזה לא רק שישמור את התורה, אלא שהוא בעצמו יהיה מקבל את התורה מאת הא"לוהים מורה לנו שאפילו לאלו שנכנסו לגדר "נעשית לו כהיתר" לגבי כמה עבירות, ואבדו את רגשם לחומר העבירה, אין בכך כדי להדאיג, שהרי למשה רבינו היו כל עבירות שבתורה כהיתר בצעירותו. ואפילו מעשים שהיו נחשבים לאיסור לבני ישראל אז, למשה, בתקופה מוקדמת יותר בחייו, היו עבירות כאלו "מעשים בכל יום". היו כהיתר שהרי בין-לילה נהיו מעשים מסוימים נחשבים כ"עבירות", ובוודאי שלא יחסו בני ישראל רגישות מיוחדת לעבירות אלו לפני שקיבלו את התורה. י
מכאן הרי יוצא לקח להאיש הישראלי שאבד את רגשו לעבירות: בני ישראל "עשו ושמעו" אל מצוות הא"ל בהר סיני, אפילו שהיה קשה להם לפרוש מעבירות החדשות כקושי פרישת התחבושת מן העור מלא-השיער. י
Personally I'd much rather some good Moroccan "bakashot" (without music, of course). I used to like listening to stuff like Chaim Luk and Waish Cohen doing "דודי ירד לגנו" in Hijaz Al-Kbir during the omer (every week it's sung in a different tune. Long story, but one for which there is no audience for), but I lost that CD a long time ago and it's not very easy to get your hands on that kind of stuff in America. It's likes are obviously not available on "playlist.com" either, so...
[Some basics about the structure of Semitic music.]
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
[Now, this is not for those Ashkenazim who are stringent on themselves, to not eat Matzah that came in contact with water or any other liquid (though I think that opinion has a thin halakhic basis).]
Hold two matzot under water, make a ground beef sandwich between them, cut it into four pieces, dip both sides in egg, and that fry that mother f---er (oh, and the meat obviously has to be cooked before hand. Fry under a low flame).
I recently experimented with this recipe to make it an egg sandwich and a grated carrot sandwich (I have vegan leanings). ..they were essentially flops though, but I still think the idea is a good one).
Monday, April 13, 2009
Anyway, I (along with my family) "had" Pesach by my brother's house.. ..I would have liked to visit our cousins in Cincinnati for Pesach, though he wanted to stay where he was..which became a source of some discontent..
He asked me to say something of religious significance by the seder. ..a sudden idea came to me: A notion of "commendable rebelliousness" can be repetitively found in the Exodus narrative. I started by mentioning an idea from Aviva Zornberg, who says that the fact that the rasha' proceeds the h'acham in four sons list seems to indicatethat the rasha' is more commendable than the tam and she'eino yodea lish'al since he at least has the spirit of questioning burning within him. In the Midrash we find that Miriam displayed a sense of rebelliousness towards her father when she questioned his decisions concerning national family planning (which resulted in Moshe being born by her own parents). The daughter of the Pharaoh was doing something unorthodox by taking in a strange (Semitic) baby (especially considering the Hyksos issue, if the chronology we have is legitimate). In fact the Midrash says that she had to go out of her way and greatly exert herself to retrieve the child before he drifted away. Moshe obviously displayed a positive rebelliousness by exacting justice on a taskmaster and leaving Egypt (and act which ultimately ended in his being rewarded by the "burning bush" vision). In fact the whole idea of slave workers wreaking havoc and leaving is a rebellious notion.
Yet in other instances we find those who question authority being criticized, for example Korach's complaining that Moshe had an unbalanced level of power, or the Israelites who complained that G-d was not sufficiently providing for his people in the wilderness. And then again, Ber Borochov is known to have said that he finds the source of his whole ideology in the rasha', since he represents honest inquiry and an ability to express ideas imported from the general world, whereas the h'acham represents the passivity and acceptance of the status quo which is responsible for Jews remaining exiled in foreign countries.
I suppose it has something to do with the fact that those whose complaints are frowned upon were lacking self-analysis of their motives, and that had they done so truthfully they would find they were lacking (Luzzatto's Messilat Yesharim speaks about the absurdity of spending time in religious studies that have little bearing on one's own reality, and not spending at least the same amount of time and sober analysis on reflection on one own religious intentions).
..all I managed to accomplish was making him make mock snoring sounds (he doesn't fancy himself the biggest intellectual). All in all I had a nice time though...
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
4.6 billion years ago. Within a maze of galaxy clusters which looked like a night view of midtown Manhattan from an airplane, within the outer arm of an obscure galaxy that is now known as the Milky Way a nascent star was forming. G-d was very pleased. For the entire process of stellar development in the universe was for the purpose of this one star. "O luckiest of stars!", said he, "All that which I have formed before you are for your own sake, for a planet to circle thee is to be the first and last home of intelligent life".
The present. Halfway through it's life, in it's very prime of accomplishment, this star has finally realized it's goal. Intelligent life. Capable of realizing the benefits and cycles of it's star, and capable of giving thanks to it's creator. For without this star, human life could not have developed. Surely everything that exists in our planet we owe to this never-tiring ball of light, energy and happiness. And yet, in a way, it should perhaps be more grateful to us than us to it, for there are many stars, but we are the ones who give this one it's purpose.
Today we bless G-d for this star, yet what blessing does it recite upon us? Our very existence, one must say, is blessing enough for the sun.
One billion years from now. Our star will amass too much energy to sustain any life on it's planets. Yet it will die happy, knowing that it's grand purpose has been fulfilled.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Well, it's time to fulfill my wish and write a bit about the "meat and potatoes" of what I see Pesach to be about. That's something I like about Pesach; there're just so many aspects of it: יציאת מצריים, the personalities of it's main players, the קרבן פסח, the leavening idea, the סדר, etc..
I would like to initiate this monologue by saying that the aspects of Pesach that are generally stressed today are, at best, only secondary aspects of what the "true" Pesach once was. What I mean of course is that since the Pascal Sacrifice has (generally) not been performed for a while, the stress has shifted a bit more to חמץ and מצה issues. This year the ברכה to be recited over the renewal of and appreciation for our star's once in 28 year renewed cycle (ברכת החמה) is also apparent, yet this too pales in comparison with the more important (Biblical) commandments regarding the קרבן פסח. It's interesting to note, for example, that there are a great many Biblical stipulations in regards to this mitzvah, while it's well known that mitzvot such as שבת and תפילין receive little Biblical representation comparatively.
So, even though we personally might not be fulfilling this command this year, it is of great importance for he who wishes to focus their minds on the essential aspects of Pesach, to ponder this mitzvah, and more importantly, to attempt to visualize what significance those to whom G_d spoke concerning this would have attributed to it (thereby revealing the Divine purpose inherent within it).
It is well known that "the Egyptians worshiped sheep" and that G_d commanded to kill the sheep as a representation of separation from Egypt and all that she held important. Which is why I have always felt that the best way, then, to understand this sacrifice would be to better understand this aspect of the ancient Egyptian religion, and the best way to understand this aspect of that religion is to better understand the concept of "animal worship" in general (there is historical evidence that Egyptians didn't believe in animal sacrifice). In that realm there seems to have been a difference of opinion between Herodotus and Diodorus as to what this worship meant to the Egyptians; the former suggested that the Egyptians did not "worship" animals, rather they respected animals that (they felt) the gods held sacred and, at times, manifested themselves in, while the latter felt they were actually worshiping the animals. Herodotus' view has been accepted as being more correct than that of Diodorus.
The Ram (Sheep) represented a number of deities, one of whom was the chief god, Amun (who, at most times in the history of his worship, seemed to have been at the head of their pantheon, and was representative of virility).
....I once read that it's really kind of silly to say "people worshiped" so-and-so god in ancient times. It's almost like writing in an abridged history for future students, "Adolf Hitler was a political leader in Germany in the 1930's and 40's". Yes, he was a political leader, but that doesn't display how people felt when they went to Hitler's rallies. The same wonder one would have as to why Germany voted for a destructive leader in the 30's without knowing about the emotions that were rampant then is that which he would have when atempting to understand why people worshiped a statue of a guy with a ram head without knowing the prevailing moods people had in his worship. It was everything; patriotism, religion, euphoria, numinous and social event all in one (I mean, people shed tears in those temples, man!)..
Then we are faced with this commandment to sacrifice this national representative of the divine, with all it's particularities (איסור שבירת עצם, נותר, וכדומה). So again, I feel it would be wrong to jump to conclusions about how the lesson of the קרבן פסח can be translated to our lives, yet I also feel it's not advised to come to quick speculations about how the Israelites were to feel about these קרבן פסח commandments. I feel the best is to present the premises, and allow individuals to come to the conclusions they see the most logical, and the most applicable to their lives.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
One penetrating point he made that I recall off hand is a theory that many (including myself) have been puzzled by greatly; there were many British rationalists in the past 200 years who consistently tried to explain the miracles of the bible (especially those mentioned in Exodus) in a naturalistic sense, with the premise that the laws of nature cannot be changed). These are well known ideas, and new ones always appear, and traditional theologians and lay people of religious sensibilities usually quickly dismiss these ideas, and Kugel mentions the obvious reason for this. To paraphrase; if one does not feel that G-d can change nature than the entirety of religion must be manmade, and therefore somewhat bogus, for if G-d cannot intervene in nature, He cannot inspire prophesy to anyone, and prayer to Him is obviously also useless. Obviously the entirety of religion is based on the concept of prophesy, and prophesy is based on the premise that the creator of the universe somehow communicates His will to actual human beings, and listens when they speak. Now, while it is true that the Bible usually indicates that some form of natural means are generally employed to carry out salvation for His people (like the east winds in this case) it is obviously impossible to have a “theologian” who does not believe that the miracles of Exodus did not and could not have veered from the course of nature in any way (….unless they’re some sort of Humanist theologian or something).
In the past though, I thought the only purpose in hearing what the Bible critics had to say at all was because it was included in the general goal of expanding knowledge (especially in the field of religion). There’s a book that slightly changed my mind about that though; Lonely Man of Faith. In it, Rav Soloveichik, through a knowledge of the early form of the Documentary Hypothesis developed by the early German Bible critics that Genesis 1 and 2 (for example) were written by different groups (J and E, respectively), takes advantage of them by using them to explain those chapters in a very novel way, while not necessitating that the chapters have different authors, but rather (obviously) one author discussing different themes.