In spite of my critique on Breslov, there are an amazing amount of things that Reb Nachman got 100% right. Some of them were mentioned before him,  but some were pretty unique to him. One thing he got absolutely right was the problems with those that set themselves up to teach Torah. He called them "demonic Torah scholars." That is however just one area that he hit the nail on the head. Maybe I should go into the other areas also, but for now I wanted to dwell on this because it comes up so often in the Lekutai Moharan. The thing that you see in the LM is that the one and most major obstacle on the path of Torah is the Satanic  teachers of Torah.
In a way this is quite an elegant way of putting it, because it corresponds to what Reb Nachman thought was the greatest help toward coming to Torah - and that is finding a true tzadik.

But my basic feeling is to stay away from all Satanic teachers of Torah. I would rather not risk my immortal soul by going anywhere near them. And nowadays they have penetrated the entire religious world. There is no where safe in the religious world that I know of that has not been infiltrated,-- and that includes most Litvak yeshivas which you would suppose to be immune and the very best, and this includes Breslov itself.

[I would like to go into this a drop, but this is one topic that causes me to lose all my readers. Still it seems important enough for the few that care to listen. Mainly this comes from famous verses in Jeremiah and Isaiah about God giving false teachers to Israel since we did not listen to true teachers.
This topic comes up in the Mishna, and quite often in the Talmud itself. "All the problems that comes into the world are from the judges of Israel,"[at the end of tractate Shabat].  But Reb Nachman himself brings the idea from the Zohar. In any case, unless you have a yeshiva of the stature of Ponovitch or Brisk in your area, I suggest just avoiding the religious world.  You might pick up one or two mitzvot but lose your soul. It is not worth it.
[This is not just in theory, but experience shows this to be true. The religious teachers leave long trails of broken lives where ever they go. No wonder the Rambam had a simple solution for this problem. Simple and radical--fire them all. Stop giving them money. After all, they are not allowed to teach or learn Torah for money anyway. So why pay them to ruin our lives? It is not as if we do not have enough trouble without them. Where you can see this is in the Rambam in Mishne Torah and his commentary on Pirkei Avot I think around chapter 4 where it says, "One who uses the crown passes away," and also the Mordechai on Bava Batra at the end of the first chapter where he brings the law that one is not allowed to teach Torah for money. "God said, 'Just like I taught Torah for free, so you must teach Torah for free.'" And there the Mordechai brings the problem of "Melamdim"--teachers of children. That is in a practical sense how do you have any schools, if you can not pay the teachers?  I forget how he answered this. In any case, are not they saying to keep Torah even when it seems wrong in our eyes? Is it not true that the Torah knows better about right and wrong than our limited intellect? Fine so lets start keeping Torah by not paying people to learn or teach it which is an open Halacah for all to see.
[Just as a side point Reb Nachman was amazingly insightful and most of his advice and ideas are great. The problem tends to be Breslov.]

Religious fanaticism and the placebo effect.

Religious fanaticism is so bad that even with knowledge it just becomes worse. in itself is a form of OCD and insanity. This applies also to political fanaticism. 

While basic faith is important some prayer also, but still I have seen people that think the reason they do not get their problems solved is from lack of faith or prayer. My approach is rather to learn Torah--the word of God, to seek God, and then all good things will come to one. But my approach to learning Torah is a bit different from way the Lithuanian yeshiva world understands it. For as per the Rambam, I include Physics and Metaphysics along with the Oral and Written Law.

[Take philosophy out of the set and you end up with fanatic ideology. Thinking comes before believing because belief is nothing else than thinking with agreement.]

The trouble is the Jewish religious world is solely that of fanaticism. Even the groups which are apparently  are moderate are simply moderate  as a result of being fanatic about moderation. Their moderation is just as sick.

Most of the writings in the religious world are placebo religion.[Plecebo is the sugar pill you give to a patient that they believe is a real pill and it in fact makes them feel better.]

In placebo religion all the benefit comes from the belief of the believer. Not surprisingly there are psychological benefits, just like there are with a placebo pill, but there is no evidence that there's any spiritual benefit in the writing itself. For example, there is no evidence that in it there is an 'absolute Truth' or that finding it will lead to some sort of miraculous change in one's life. Without belief a placebo religion, just like a placebo pill, has nothing substantial to offer. And to offer placebo religion as though there's something substantial in it is clearly deceptive and immoral.

Frankly I think pretty much or all religious writings is all placebo pills that make people feel good and holy without having any real benefit, spiritual or otherwise. I do not deny that most religious writings make people feel good--very good and part of their group just like the sugar pill gives real positive effects when people believe in it. But in the long run it is a lie.
However the basic set of the Tenach and Two Talmuds with the Halachic and Agadic midrashim with the rishonim I believe to be of real objective benefit. Sola scriptura sola talmuda. אין לנו אלא דינא דגמרא ("We only have the law of the Gemara.") [That is a statement from Reb Chaim from Voloshin a disciple of the Gra. But it is obvious to anyone whose has learned any poskim [legal authorities] at all. All poskim [legal authorities] without exception are looking for דינא דגמרא (law of the Gemara). For example the Magen Avraham, Shach Taz, חלקת מחוקק, 
 בית שמואל ר'עא ונתיבות etc. always look for (law of the Gemara) דינא דגמרא. If that is how the Shulchan Aruch come out then fine. But if not then they have no trouble throwing out the decision of the Beit Joseph in the Shulchan Aruch and going by the Gemara.


Kant Friesian school and Gra based Musar yeshivas

 The most curious phenomena in religious history; the bright and dark sides are almost invariably found together. Whenever an attempt is made to shed some light on the mystery of the world and of man, the whole nature is pulse of nature is accelerated , and if the animal nature  is the stronger, it becomes all the more uncontrolled.  Every area of value when it deteriorates it deteriorates into its opposite.

I should mention that in Israel I felt a tremendous outpouring of God's light on me, but it did not give me understanding. I do not know what it was all about, but at some point I pushed it away for invalid reasons. In any case, I believe pushing away God's light was a mistake based on a commentary with no name on the first four chapters of the Mishne Torah of the Rambam. In any case, my basic approach based on this experience is that the basic path that had led me to God's light is the best of all paths. And that is the basic learning of Torah in the straight and simple Gra way. For all other paths I believe are paths of deception and evil. No sooner does one come to an authentic yeshiva like the Mir or Ponovitch that someone comes long to seduce him to some path of the Dark Side. In religion light and darkness are sadly mixed.
{I hold from Reb Israel Salanter, but I do not want to knock yeshivas like Brisk that learn Gemara only. After all, my first yeshiva, Shar Yashuv, of Rav Freifeld was a Gra based non Musar yeshiva. But if you would ask me, I would say it is important to have two musar sessions per day. And Rav Shach (Elazar Menachem Shach) also says Musar is important as you can see in one of the introductions to the Avi Ezri.}
I would like to add that this experience of the outpouring of God's light convinced me about the truth of the Kant Friesian school, that is the modification that Fries and Kelley Ross made on Kant. That is that a synthetic priori knowledge is known through non immediate intuitive knowledge [knowledge that is known not through sense perception nor through thinking]. That applies also to the dinge an sich (things in themselves) through Schopenhauer. That is that the dinge an sich can be known until we get to the Ding An Sich (God). At any rate, I wanted to also say that the support that the Kant Fries school comes from much more than my own experience,  but also through the fact that it makes the most sense. And the truth is: in philosophy there is simply no competition. The majority of twentieth century "philosophy is obviously false" as John Searle [of Berkley] so eloquently put it.

[However I do think the other thinkers of German Idealism have some good and important ideas.]

One fundamental advantage of Kant is that he provides a good account of light and the electron. As far as light goes the principle of Einstein that its speed is the same to anyone watching it, whether moving or not means that space does not exist except as a way of measurement. The electron also we know depends on the observer in order to decide whether to be a wave or  a particle, so its existence is independent of the observer but its characteristics are not

Stop. You are going to Hell. Turn around and go back. Reb Israel Salanter

I have given Hell a lot of consideration, and I would like to divide the topic into two parts. One part is "What actually gets a person out of Hell?" and the other is "What is sin?"  

First I want to give my perspective and then mention other points of view.

My own perspective on this issue really came to me one Rosh Hashanah at the Mir yeshiva when I was already married. During Musaf during חזרת הש''ץ (repeating of the prayers) I spent learning the אור ישראל Light of Israel of a disciple of Reb Israel Salanter, Isaac Blazer.  
That book is really a collection of several books but the one I opened up to dealt with the difficulty of getting out of Hell.[I have zero sefarim with me so I can not look it up to tell you which book it is. I vaguely recall that it is the first section.] His point is simple. It is hard to get out of Hell. He brings lots of proofs from the Talmud. Thus, even if one is thinking he keeps the entire Torah properly, (or thinks he has some other guarantee), in all likelihood he or she is deciding based on lack of evidence. 
To a lesser degree you can see this same in the books of the Chafetz Chaim, Reb Israel Meir HaCohen.

What bears on this issue in terms of an answer I want to bring the Reshash (Shalom Sharabi) and the Rambam.

The Reshash in Nahar Shalom נהר שלום says the soul is the character traits. Mitzvot are only the clothing of the soul. Learning Torah is nourishment of the soul. Thus a sin one can repent on. Also lack of Torah. But a lack of a good character trait is a basic limb of the soul that is missing. On that little can help. מעוות לא יתוקן
Proverbs "What is crooked can not be made straight." [The Chafetz Chaim says the same in שמירת הלשון.]

The Rambam says in Mishne Torah that one's portion in the next world depends on גודל המעשים וגודל החכמה deeds and wisdom.
[Thus what matters in the long run is not one's standing in the superorganism nor one's social group. Nor commitment to religious or political movements.]

[During the Middle Ages the issue of Hell was in the forefront of most people's mind. See Dante for example. Dante for me was גירסה דינקותא the learning of my youth. I had it with me all the time in high school. One thing you see in Dante is this same opinion expressed by the Reshash--that Hell depends on character traits. Each circle of Hell is for one particular character trait. I forget the order. I think the top is for excess desire, then anger, greed, lying, stealing, and being traitorous to people that trust one.

The christian perspective also relates to the issue of how not to go to  Hell and instead go to the Garden of Eden.[called salvation]. (Soteriology). To the Catholic baptism is a sine qua none for salvation. But it apparently is not sufficient. One can wreak it up as we see in Dante lots of people in Hell even after being baptized including a pope.  [That is there are things  that take care of Purgatory. But that is not baptism. But baptism does not save from Hell proper if one does any of the deadly sins like lying etc.]

  Protestants  don't believe in that but rather say faith alone saves, but good character is an epi-phenomenon of being in fact saved.
In any case, there is also the basic fact of salvation and good character [human decency] as being closely tied. [There is some degree of tension here. Catholic are trying to have their pie and eat it too. They want sin to be forgiven by baptism but then to still need repentance. And Protestants want to have no sin after one says a few words about faith. This trivializes sin.]

Now there is another subject of what is sin. Protestants mainly want to define this without reference to the Bible. This  has some justification since they are looking for what you would call wholesome living  along with kindness. That is the exact same things I was discussing above about having good character. Still the ignoring completely the laws of the Torah and making up their own set of what is called sin is disturbing to me and apparently also to Peter and James in The Recognitions of Clement. [
Baur was the first to point  out, and his followers in the Tübingen school elaborated his views into the theory that Simon Magus is simply the legendary symbol for Paul. The remarkable similarity of the doctrinal points at issue in both the Petro-Simonian and Petro-Pauline controversies cannot be denied, and the scholarly reputation of the Tübingen school is such to make this probable..] Apparently Paul came up with this doctrine and as we see in the first Corinthians his followers took him quiet literally which left him aghast and caused him to backpedal.

To make a long story short what my approach is is mainly that of Reb Israel Salanter in the sense that I accept this idea that midot is the main and primary thing. However I also can see the idea that midot is an epiphenomenon of some internal state of the soul. This was note by the Chazon Ish --that midot do not come differentiated. One is either a good and decent person and that is that or not. Kant noticed the same thing and he called it by some name that I forget. The idea is that one is either radically good or radically bad based on one thing alone--the acceptance of the moral law.


The arrow of causality is from faith to reality. This is what Kant said that reality has to conform to our a priori knowledge. That is that reality has to conform to your faith. [I am saying that faith is a kind of a priori knowledge that is immediate non intuitive in Kant's terminology.] [That is the electron has to conform to how you measure it, with one or two slits, but the laws it follow are objective.]

But there is also free will. Thus the decision to have faith is dependent on one's will and it is part of the nature of the world to have this faith tested many times. But if one falls from faith because of some test and then his faith becomes less, then reality will conform that that lesser amount of faith. And then when things stop going right, then one's faith gets even less. And then things get worse and worse because they have to conform to his lack of faith.
At some point you have to stop the process and make a distinction between faith and trust. That is, you have to no longer trust that things will go your way-- so as to be able to hang on to simple faith in God that he is One, and he made the world ex nihilo,  and he has no reason or obligation to be concerned with you at all. Because at that point, you do not want to lose faith in God because of things getting even worse.
The best solution to this problem is simply not to fail in the original test of faith. To stick with trust in God, even though things are obviously not going the way you want and need. The trouble is that there is no simple formula for how to stand in a test of faith. [I should know..]

Appendix and thoughts.

(1) The arrow of casualty is actually determined by intention. Otherwise it is undetermined.
(2) בטח אל ה' בכל לבך ואל בינתך אל תשען היינו שיהיה לבך שלם במדת הבטחון ואל בינתך אל תשען שלא תאמר אבטח בה' אלא  אני מחוייב לעשות ולהשען

גם על שכלי ולכן אמר לא תשען על שכלך אפי' בתורת משענת וסוד העניין שתהפוך לבך לבטוח בה' בכל אז יברך אותך ה' בכל
That is: the Gra also said that reality has to conform to your trust in God.
(3) Just in the way to make it clear what I am saying. If you are in a situation where you are able to learn Torah [That is the Tenach and Two Talmuds], then unlike me, you should not leave. It is hard to find a situation in which one can learn Torah and if one leaves it, it is impossible to return. [By this I do not mean to exclude two topics the Rambam thought were part of the Oral Law, Physics and Metaphysics. It has always been the custom in the Lithuanian yeshiva world to gain expertise on the side, but not during the regular yeshiva session in the morning. However since Physics is hard I recommend the opposite--that is to do the Physics session  first thing in the morning and then later the sessions in Tenach (Old Testament) and Gemara.]

(4) Just in the way of explanation: Kant wants to justify universals (synthetic a priori) by means of the fact that reality has to conform to a priori knowledge. This really all started with John Locke and his primary qualities and Descartes. Then it dawned on Kant and even things we consider primary qualities like number quantity and extension depend on the observer.