Sunday, September 5, 2010

Checking Out Girls and Free Will: the Daf and the Parsha

I have an acquaintance who I (supposedly) know from the Mir (I don't quite remember him), who, like me, is one of those "lost souls of Borough Park", and, like me, does thinks like go to Arbit at one o'clock at night for no particular reason. Anyway, he spotted me picking up some lemons at the 24 hour fruit store and inquired about the state of my religiosity (he sees me as being a bit "modern"). As it happens he then met a mentally unstable friend of his (another lost soul) and we spoke with him for a while. After he parted from us though, my friend suggested that if I'm not doing much Torah-learning on a daily basis, perhaps it would be best for me to look into at least reading the Torah portion correspondent to the day of the week and/or the Daf Yomi.

On Friday night I had felt back that I didn't give much thought to taking up his offer, so I, surprisingly enough, learned the Parsha and the Daf Yomi. Both actually turned out to be very interesting, and even connected in a way. I will proceed to discuss how they are connected and what gleanings I derived from them:

The Connection: The twentieth page of Avodah Zarah discusses the issur of "לא תחנם". While Nitzavim/Vayelech don't mention it specifically, it does state in verse five of the thirty first chapter "וַעֲשִׂיתֶם לָהֶם כְּכָל הַמִּצְוָה אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי אֶתְכֶם", i.e. those stated in seventh chapter, "לא תחנם" being one of them.

As it happens I did write a critique of a post by "e" regarding "לא תחנם" almost exactly a year ago (כה יתן ה' וכה יוסיף)...

The Daf: Even without the talk of "לא תחנם", I'd definitely put this daf on a list of "most interesting dapim in the Gemara". It talks about giving away land in Eretz Yisrael, it talks about looking at girls and how the Tanaim dealt with it, and it contains the quote which is the foundation of my main spiritual guide, the Messilat Yesharim. Yes, certainly not a daf you want to miss. For me by the far the most absurd part about it is something I had thought of when I was young, if only whimsically: saying the brachah of "שככה לו בעולמו" (which is recited upon seeing beautiful creations) on on attractive girls! (You'll have to read the sugya to find out what happens with that!).

The Parsha: There are two major theological questions that I noticed in this parsha, and they both occur when G-d calls Moshe and Yeshoshua' to the tent to tell them what will happen in the End of Days. First of all, the fact that G-d knows they'll sin brings to question the principle of "הכל צפוי והרשות נתונה". Secondly, it's well known that the Halocaust is alluded to here (via the Torah Codes).

G-d knows that we'll sin: I actually heard a shiur on this by רב אורי שרקי  recently, as to how this relates to tshuvah (there's another connection to current events!). After Maimonides, many other sages, such as the Gersonides, Hasdai Crescas and Isaac Abarvanel all dealt with this issue, as well as many philosophers such as Malebranche and Kant. In the end, they only complicate the theological paradox by suggesting solutions. The truth is though, I really never understood the difficulty; even though G-d knows every scene in the film as if it was unrolled, if you walk into the movie in the middle, all you see is one tiny part of the film. And you, therefore, still don't know what's going to happen...

Holocaust: Some Eli Wiesel type "Post-Shoah" scholars feel that, as a result of what was displayed during the Holocaust, that once G-d imbued Man with the power of Free Will, even He cannot control what they do. I always thought it's silly to change your theological views in the long run due only to the Holocaust. If Khmelnytsky had gas chambers he definitely would have used them. Every generation kills its Jews based on the technology they have available. That's simple. Just because the Germans had better technology to kill Jews doesn't mean it was more "theologically significant". Rashi clearly states about The Flood that, "אנדרלמוסיה באה לעולם, והורגת טובים ורעים". Capitulating to the ideas of those "ריקנים" is a symptom (no offence) of the theological weakness and ignorance of young people the likes of Chana (The Curious Jew), who are more swayed by the words of contemporaries than by the words of our Sages...

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