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26.10.14

I sometimes use the ideas of Kant  and the Kant-Friesian school of philosophy to defend the approach of Rebbi Nachman. That is not to imply that they agreed with any kind of mysticism. And Rebbi Nachman was a mystic.The Kant-Fries school would use immediate non intuitive knowledge to get to a priori judgments to truth. Not to expand the range of a priori judgments.

In fact Kelly Ross says:
"While mysticism is a form of intuitionism, not all intuitionism is mysticism. The difference, again, will be in the objects. Mysticism is intuitive knowledge of transcendent concrete objects, i.e. not the phenomenal or material concrete objects of ordinary perception. The mystic sees things that are not part of ordinary experience. "

"Intuition" here means perception (based on the Latin root of the word for "intuition"). And when Dr. Kelly Ross says "Intuitionism" he means the school of thought of G.E. Moore, Prichard, and Dr. Michael Huemer in Colorado.


However I have some reason to choose the Kelly Ross (Calif.) school over that of Michael Huemer.
This is simply the same objections to intuitionsim that Kant addressed in the first critique.[The basic idea is that intuitionism is a form of quietism,, i.e. simply a refusal to deal with the question in the first place, not an answer to the question.]

I should mention Hegel. Hegel asks on Kant that there is in him no window to the a priori. But this objection was solved by Jacob Fries. And Hegel along with the intuitionist does not answer the basic problem of Hume on how we can know things like causality because to Hegel nothing transcends appearance.Phenomenal reality is all there is.












22.10.14

Eliyahu from Vilnius was very influential. It was his emphasis that learning Torah is the central thing that made the world of yeshivas as it exists today. Yet the need for an authoritative biography has not been filled.. So far all we have is the type of silly, story book tales you can see in religious book stores. A few years back I was hanging out in Netivot in southern Israel, and there was a three volume set (HaGeon by Aliach) that was very well done, and people were telling me I should buy it. I did not because I was about to come to Uman and I had already too much baggage. But later I found out that three volume set was subject to excommunication. The book was apparently was not politically correct. I am pretty sure that there must have been people that did not like the idea that the Gra (short for the Vilna Geon, Eliyahu from Vilnius) was against certain subgroups in the world of Orthodox Judaism. But why that should be a surprise to people I do not know. Or why that should be a reason to suppress the only well researched book written on an academic level on the Gra.

It is fairly well known the Gra thought that a well known group of Orthodox Jews was the Sitra Achra. [Or had fallen into the "Dark Side" in English vernacular and were teaching doctrines that  were subverting the Torah, all while pretending to be committed Orthodox Jews. [This group using  good and experienced operators, was able  by the use of psychological methods, to alter the loyalties of an individual so deftly that he himself did not suspect that he has  changed.] What is the great news? We know this. It is uncomfortable to know this for people like me that find inspiration in the teachings of Rebbi Nachman but that is no reason to subvert the simple historical facts . In fact, there is an idea of Rebbi Nachman that helps me to deal with the fact that there are disagreements between tzadikim (saints). He considers arguments between saints to be an essential part of the natural order,-without which there could not be free will.


When I asked someone from Bnei Brak to bring me this three volume set, I was told it was written by a Baal Teshuva. The Ultimate Put-down. However, the book was by a well known grandson of an famous Rav in Bnei Brak and he was asked to write the book by  Rav Kanievsky and  research for five years was done to produce it.] At any rate, my learning partner suggested that it is important to find this book because apparently it has a good analysis of how the Gra thought people should learn Torah.

21.10.14

The general way of Lithuanian yeshivas is similar today in many ways to what it was in Europe.
 There are are some differences however. One of the main differences is the Rosh Yeshiva. This in Europe used to be someone who had spent most of his life learning and by the time he became a teacher, he had a his own new ideas to give over in every class. That is he not only knew the basic material--the Gemara, Rashi, Tosphot with most of the commentaries, but also had his own original ideas to give over every single day.
And in fact, when the first yeshivas were planted on American soil this is how they were. Not only that but also the one baal teshuva yeshiva in N.Y., Shar Yashuv, tried hard to be along the same lines.

I experienced this in the class of  Reb Shmuel Berenbaum. His classes were eventually taped but never put into writing.

But you can see an example of this kind of class and intellectual greatness in the book Sukat David by the person that gave the first level class in the yeshiva.



Today such a class of scholars no longer exists in most yeshivas. But they still strive to be like the great Lithuanian yeshivas at least in structure. That is they still have the in depth learning in the morning and the fast learning in the afternoon.  And they still have the Musar 20 minutes before Mincha and 15 minutes before Arvit.

What I wanted to say is that this developed over time and was not from what I can tell what the Gra himself was advocating. In essence the path of the Gra in learning looks very similar to what Rebbi Nachman was saying about learning fast and not being overly concerned if you understand the material the first time around. and recently I saw the exact same idea in the  Shelah Hakadosh.   
But in trying to follow the Gra in this respect can be difficult because he differs in that he placed a lot of emphasis on review. It is hard to know what this means. What is the limit of review? The same page? The same Tractate? The whole Shas.
So I think the Lithuanian yeshivas were the right synthesis. In depth in the morning and the afternoon for straight fast learning -no review. Just get through Shas  and poskim  and writings of the Ari as many times as possible.






Sanhedrin 61a in Tosphot. I have asked on Tosphot that in his approach he is expanding the area of prohibition of bowing (Deuteronomy 17) to include the way of the idol not in a way of honor[quadrant IV]. And yet we see in the Gemara itself that it does a similar thing. It says we would know from "bowing" to absolve a way of dishonor to idols that one usually sacrifices to[quadrant III]. But we would not know to absolve service in a way of dishonor towards idols one worships in a different way of dishonor. So we need "How do they serve.?"to absolve that.
So we clearly are expanding some kind of prohibition into quadrant III.What could it be? It is not going the be "how do they serve?" because that is what we are about to use to tell us not to expand the the prohibition there.




That is to say we might think such and such a thing so we have a verse to exclude it. But I am wondering on the Gemara itself why would we think to expand it? Well the Gemara itself gives a reason. What is it with exposing oneself to Peor is liable, so also all types of service that are not honorable are liable. But how does that reasoning help to expand bowing to serve that is dishonorable that is its way that Tosphot requires in order to answer his question?



Actually I dont think this last answer is right, and rather the real reason we would have expanded the prohibition into quadrant III is just because idolatry is forbidden. i.e from the verse "least he will go and serve"

20.10.14

I would like to suggest that people should go out and get themselves a full set of the Talmud and Musar (Ethics) books and poskim {Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Rambam, Reb Chaim Soloveitchik's book on the Rambam, the Chidushei HaRambam which is a revolution in understanding of the Rambam} and learn Torah at home.  The reason for this is that learning Torah is a mitzvah and obligation that is upon every person. Just like it is a mitzvah to get married and have children so is it a mitzvah to learn Torah.
And you can't delegate getting married to someone else. And you can't paid someone else to do it in expectation that you will get the reward. It is the same with learning Torah


There is a mitzvah to get married we know from the verse, "Be fruitful and multiply."(Genesis 1) And it is listed on every list of the 613 commandments. It shows up on the list of the Sma'g [Sefer Hamiztvot Hagadol] and Sma'k(Sefer Hamitzvot Hakatan) and in Maimonides and all those who counted the mitzvot. Well, so is learning Torah. "And thou shalt teach them to your children and speak of them on the way and when you sit in your home and when you get up and when you sit down." Deuteronomy 6
 Now you can help someone else get married and that is a kindness. But it does not mean that now you don't need to get married. Similarly you can help others learn Torah by giving money to their yeshiva, but that does not mean you have fulfilled your obligation of learning Torah.




And we know that any public institution has pitfalls. But when you are at home and you are learning Torah then there is nothing between you and the Torah at all. You are getting the information directly and you are not dependent on any other person. and often institutions that are built for certain purposes can become obstacles to that very purpose. I used to have a theory that this is in fact always the case. That is I used to think every institution eventually turns against the very purpose for which it was made.

19.10.14

Rav Eliyahu from Vilna. The Vilna Geon

Rav Eliyahu from Vilna held from learning Torah to a high degree. It is no accident that his inspiration caused yeshivas to be founded. But there obstacles preventing people from learning Torah. And the main one seems to be  a kind of spiritual obstacle. It seems like the Torah is so precious that one needs some kind of extra merit to be able to learn and keep it. At least this looks like what the Vilna Geon was thinking. And it looks like Rebbi Nachman was also thinking along the same lines. When  Rebbi Nachman talks about being close and being tied to a saint/ tzadik he always refers to it in this way: The Torah is the main thing. And the tzadik is connected and tied to the Torah. So for people that have fallen from the Torah, the way to get back to Torah is to be close to a tzadik. It looks to me that he was not making a tzadik out to be a special category besides the Torah. So I think that he and the Geon from Villna were in fact saying the same idea.

Nowadays we know that yeshivas are only for people from 18 until about 24 years old. So what is one to do when he has no place in the Yeshiva World? It seems to be that there is no easy answer for this question. I think however the only advice is that one should do his best to go out and get the basic books of Torah and to learn them on his own. That is  the Old Testament,  The Babylonian Talmud, the poskim--that is the Rambam, Tur, and the Shulchan Aruch of Joseph Karo, the  basic commentaries Rabbi Akiva Eiger, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik [Chidushei HaRambam], and the writings of Isaac Luria. If you make a yeshiva in your own home at least you are not dependent on others to have a place to learn Torah.

And there is something to be gained from this endeavor.  He who accepts on himself the yoke of Torah from heave there is removed from him the yoke of the government and the yoke of making a living.

And if anyone needs to learn Torah it is certainly not just frum(Orthodox) people. Everyone needs to learn Torah because everyone needs to become free from the government and free of  drudgery. I have never hear of a person who enjoys waiting in line at government agencies or enjoys interaction with any government, or enjoys having his time wasted on drudgery. Why not take the words of the sages at face value and start to learn Torah today?
But clearly not everyone is fit to learn Torah. There are obstacles that are placed in front of people to keep them from this great gift. There are questions in philosophy which make even the existence of a law given by the First Cause impossible. That is metaphysics has had a good number of of people that thought it is impossible. And then there are questions in one's own mind? I cant account for all the questions but I think a good deal of them have to do with abuse of Torah. And there are lots of variations of that. Like, "If Torah is so great why is so and so a jerk?" Or "If Torah is so great why did so and so suffer." These are all good questions. The last was asked by Job and God told him that his questions were good questions and that his friends that claimed he was suffering because of sin were in fact wrong. And in fact we know from the very beginning of the book that he was suffering in spite of his being righteous. So by analogy to the first question it is possible to say it also is a valid question. But in spite of this it is expected of us to do our best to discover Gods will for our lives and to fulfill it. That fact that others do not succeed to not mean we should follow their example.

This does not mean not to go to university. The Vilna Geon clearly himself  wrote  book on Trigonometry and told one of his students to translate all of Euclid into Hebrew and to publish it. Not does this mean not to work for a living. It only means that when one is not working or doing university he should learn Torah in every day in this way. To have one session in the Old Testament in Hebrew. He should start from the beginning and have place marker in the book and just say the words in order. If one does not understand Hebrew then he should learn it with an English translation along side of it. Don't do any commentaries because then you will never finish it.  You  need to get to the end. Then the second time you can add commentaries if you want. Then you need to have a separate session with the Gemara. Start from Brachot and say page after page until you have finished Shas at least once. And the same goes for the Rambam and the Tur and the writings of Isaac Luria.

I should mention  that none of the above requires one to accept any particular set  of beliefs.  All one is required according to Rabbi Joseph Albo is rather common sense propositions. That things had a beginning and so needed something to begin them- a first cause you could call it. And that there was only one first cause. Not two or more. Its seems straightforward enough. It is hard to know what kind on alternative reality people need to believe in in order to deny either of these simple propositions.





12.10.14

The Kabalah of Isaac Luria

Learn the Eitz Chaim (Tree of Life) of Isaac Luria Ashkenazi. [No introductions. Just the actual book itself. Introductions are a waste of time at best and mostly pervert the meaning of Isaac Luria.] If possible, learn it with Talmud and Musar. But even by itself the Tree of Life of Isaac Luria is an amazing masterpiece. And it is different from other masterpieces in that it has the ability to open up the higher spiritual worlds,- if one learns it in the right way. The other writings of the Ari [abbreviation for HaElohi Rabbi Isaac Luria]--the Pri Eitz Chaim and the Shemona Shearim [Eight Gates] are good, but without the background of the Eitz Chaim are not possible to understand. A word of warning: Almost all books on Kabalah written after the events of the time of Shabatai Tzvi (note 6) are highly influenced by Shabatai Tzvi and his false prophet, Natan. Even when they are not crypto followers of the Shatz [short for Shabatai Tzvi], they unknowingly use his basic approach to Kabalah. So it is important to give people an idea of which books were not affected by the teachings of the Shatz, and thus can be learned and studied without fear of being infected by the terrible virus (in a spiritual sense) that affected the Shatz. The books of Kabalah that were unaffected by the Shatz and have no secret teachings which stem from the Shatz are Sefardic. That means Rabbi Yaakov Abuchazeira's (note 1) books and Shalom Sharabi's (note 2) are all highly recommended. Almost all books of Kabalaist type of teachings in the Ashekenazic world after the Shatz are full of interpretations that come directly from the Shatz, even though I think this happened unintentionally. [But in these sensitive areas intention does not mean much. A mistake is still a mistake. It is just like a mistake in making a bridge  in which it does not matter how well meaning the student is. A mistake is still a mistake.] [I just know that people are wondering about the Ramchal (note 5) and Komarna. I think they are OK, but it is safer to go with the Sefaradi books I mentioned above. I hate to say it, as I myself am Ashkenazi, but in this case the Sefardim got it right. Notes (note 1) Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzira wrote many books and a lot do not deal with Kabalah at all. But there are books in which he deals with some Kabalah and they are excellent. (note 2) The Nahar Shalom by the Reshash [short for Shalom Sharabi] has a vast system based on modifications that the Ari added towards the end of the Eitz Chaim and the famous Drush HaDaat. (note 3) Pri Eitz Chaim is a book by Reb Chaim Vital about how to apply the concepts of the Eitz Chaim to prayer (note 4) The Eitz Chaim is the text from Isaac Luria which gives the basic structure of all the higher spiritual worlds. (note 5) Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzato, author of the famous Musar book, Mesilat Yesharim (note 6) The Shatz was a false messiah. His follower Rabbi Nathan in Israel was a tremendously and famous, brilliant, scholar of Talmud and Kabalah wrote very influential books on Kabalah that initiated approaches and ideas in Kabalah that were and still are widely accepted by Ashkenaic Jews. Perhaps a bit more detail is proper here. The Shatz was basically weak minded Baal Teshuva. When he came to the most famous tzadik Hador in those days Nathan from Gaza, Nathan told him that he is the messiah. I mean how would you react if you got an interview with Reb Moshe Feinstein and he told you that you are the messiah? After that this Tadik and the Shatz were accepted by 99% of world Jewry as being the promised Messiah. Just by mentioning the name of the Shatz people did amazing miracles all over the world.--Witnessed and recorded and notarized. Even up to the revival of the dead. This was even in places that people never saw the Shatz. After he became an apostate the Jewish people went through a period of great regret and there was a purge of all documents that could tie anyone to that movement. Appendix ) The Tzadik of Komarna wrote a kind of running commentary on the Five Books of Moses based on the Ari'zal and to me it looks very straightforward and kosher. ) Rebbi Nachman I think also has a valuable approach to understanding of R. Isaac Luria. ) The Geon from Vilna [ R. Eliyahu from Vilna] has a commentary on the Sefer deZniuta from the Zohar which I highly recommend. ) The student of The Vilna Geon, Reb Chaim from Voloshin has a book called the Nefesh Hachaim which is the best of all Kabalah based books to come out of the Aschenazi Jewish world - ever. ) There are dangers of learning Kabalah for people that are not properly spiritually prepared, even authentic Kabalah. All the more so is there danger in learning Kabalah that is not authentic. ) Rebbi Nachman's approach to kabalah is to learn it as a part of a normal Torah curriculum. He made a list of things that one must finish every year, the whole Babylonian Talmud, The Yerushalmi Talmud, The Poskim Rishonim i.e. the Rif the Rosh the Tur and the whole Shulchan Aruch with all its commentaries and the whole Zohar and the writings of the Ari etc. That does not mean literally that one must finish all this but rather he should have learning sessions every day in all these subjects in such a way that within some limited period of time he will go through all the above. You can see he said to learn Kabalah but only as part of a regular Torah learning curriculum. I think sometimes that Musar is important. Not just for Orthodox Jews but for all people. And then it occurs to me that Musar is a highly limited tool in character correction. Sic et non. Yes and no. (Musar means books of classical ethics based on the Torah and Talmud.) And then I think about Kabalah. And it occurs to me my own very inspiring experience with learning the writings of Isaac Luria. And then it occurs to me the effect I have seen Kabalah usually has on people. Sic et non. Yes and no. And then I think about the Gemara, Rashi, and Topsphot. Also I think about my experience and then I think about other people's. Sic Et Non. I would like to suggest that this must have been the situation facing Rebbi Nachman. And I think his solution is unique. Learn every day a little bit of the written Torah, and every day a little of the Gemara. And every day a little Kabalah. Jews are required to finish the Torah [That is the Five Books of Moshe] twice a year with the targum --Aramaic translation. And also to hear the Torah on Shabat in a way that they finish it every year. This is the day the Torah is finished and started again. I find it hard to keep this miztvah. At best I can barely get to a shul on Shabat and hear the Torah section. And Reform Jews depend on a Yerushalmi that Jews in Israel finished the Torah once every three years. So that is what reform Jews do. My suggestion is to learn the written Law along with the oral explanation-- the Mishna and the Gemara. Also Musar [Ethics] for character improvement. Also Kabalah. The reason is that without Kabalah it is very hard to see what is going on inside of the Torah. I mean to say the we Jews think that the Torah is divinely inspired, and that it hints to great hidden wisdom. But it is hard to see any of that wisdom on the surface level. So Kabalah is an attempt to scratch the surface of the Torah to discover its hidden depths. Kabalah has a bad name by gentiles as if it is some kind of magic. If that would be what it is about, then their critique would be justified. But that is not what it is about at all. When you sit down to learn Torah whether the Oral or written Torah don't you wonder what is the deeper meaning of the stories about Abraham, Isaac, Yaakov? That is what people like the Gra {The Villna Geon} Isaac Luria, and Moshe Kardovaro, and Shalom Sharabi wanted to understand.


However Kabalah is at best a commentary on the Oral and Written Law. It is not meant to take the place of Talmud learning and it was never intended to do so.  And at this point it is important to justify the Oral Law.
What is is and why is it necessary?

When we come to look at the Written Law/the Old Testament we find the first issue that confronts us is that of interpretation.. How do you resolve things that look like contradictions? Or how do you solve the problem that sometimes a verse says things that could have been said with less words. What are the extra words for? When we assume that this document is divinely inspired we have to know that there is a good reason for every word. This is the place of the Oral Torah. That is to resolve these issues. The Talmud does not claim to be Divine. It only claims to be a rigorous examination of the verse of the Torah and the highly human attempt to get one coherent doctrine out of it. It assumes that it is not open to individual interpretation. It is meant to be a book of Laws for the Jewish people. and no law book is open to individual interpretation.
How would it look in a court of Law if the defendant could say to the judge Your honor I am afraid you interpretation of this law about murder is incorrect. In fact it does not mean what you say at all. It only means not to murder unless you are angry and can't help yourself.
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Also I think it is important to make a difference between the idea of a tzadik and the idea of the written and Oral Law.

We know that Rebbi Nachman does make the idea of finding and being close to a saint (tzadik) is something that is essential to keeping the Torah properly. But the idea of Rebbi Nachman is that the Torah--the Law of God is the main thing and the tzadik/saint is a device that helps one to keep the Torah. The tzadik/saint is not supposed to be a replacement for the Torah. However we also know that it is common in Breslov to conceive the Tzadik/saint as being the central issue. But that is not  the position of Rav Nachman himself. It comes mainly from  Reb Nathan.







Appendix: The concept of  a tzadik/saint in the Lekutai Moharan is someone who is attached to God by means of keeping the Torah. And there can be many levels of such a thing. There can be greater saints and lesser saints. But they all have this trait of being attached with God  and as such can help others become attached with God.