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23.4.14

The original Musar movement of Reb Israel Salanter had among its goals the idea of character correction. Though this is does not see to be the focus of Musar today still it is something to think about--the idea that there could be a process by which ones personality faults could be identified and weeded out by some self help mechanism.


Today Musar is devoted to being more frum-- religious. That is the exact opposite of what reb Israel had in mind. He saw people that were fanatically religious but lacking severely in between man and his fellow man mitzvahs and wanted to correct that problem.


At any rate I think we can agree to one thing--that Reb Israel thought that learning Musar was the way to go. and I would have to agree. So the question remains for today, is their some way to modify Reb Israel's original idea to in fact bring people to character improvement?

I can imagine that people have thought of this before in in fact people that had academic background in psychology tried to combine Musar with Psychology for this very reason--I suppose]. I went a different path and after accepting that Reb Israel was right in  his goals I thought the approach of Rebbi Nachman was closer than Musar to achieving these goals.

Today I would have to admit that Breslov is not really a mechanism for character improvement, though it does achieve other goals that I would consider important. I in fact feel a close affinity to rebbi nachman and his approach. But it does not focus on character improvement.

I am at a point in saying to myself and others that we all just ought to go back to the simple Lithuanian yeshiva model of learning Torah and trying to keep it as simply and plainly as possible and that all the movements made to try and improve on this model just tend to damage it.













Monotheism verses pantheism.

Monotheism verses pantheism.


This subject came up in my mind recently because of reading the prayer of reb Nathan the disciple of Rebbi Nachman from Breslov.

I was reading one of these prayers yesterday and it was about saving Jews people from people trying to take us away from our traditional belief system.
This seems to be to be highly ironic. Breslov is pantheistic. Not just Breslov but in fact most of Orthodox Judaism. If we would be seriously praying to be firm in the faith of our ancestors it would mean to avoid Orthodox Judaism. Traditional Judaism is Monotheism.

You can see this in several places. EG: the Zohar,  the writings of Isaac Luria, the Emunot VeDeot of Saadia Geon, Guide for the Perplexed by Maimonides. And last but not least in the Lekutai Moharan of rebbi Nachman himself.


To go through each one at a time: the introduction to the Tikunim: the sepherot of emanation are divine, not the sepherot below emanation.

The Arizal in the beginning chapters of the Eitz Chaim says the Tmitzum [contraction] was of God's essence.
He repeats this several times. . Now as a matter of fact this would not make any difference anyway. The Tzimtzum could have been simply of God's light and this still would not have implied pantheism.


Maimonides devotes the second volume of the Guide for the perplexed to showing that God made the world from nothing.

Rav Nachman devotes a whole chapter to this.[64] He says though God contracted his essence that does not means there was no godliness in that place for nothing can exists without God. But this is something we can't understand. But this approach of rebbi nachman in no way implies panthiesm
What some people try to do is a trick like this. Since everything comes from God everything must be from God's essence, so everything is God.
This is a trick. It is what Reb Nachman calls Chachmot. We do not use tricks to determine Jewish faith.
 Part of the problem I think is that in Hebrew there is no simple way to describe the problem. People hear caught phrases like "Everything is Elokut [Divine]" that Rav Shick [Moharosh] made famous. Or other things and they think that is traditional Jewish belief. It gets to be that if you tell someone that Jewish belief is that there is a first cause, God, who made the universe but is not the universe, people think you   are a Epicurus [Heritic].

22.4.14

How to learn the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] of Joseph Karo.

I think today I should concentrate on how to learn the Shulchan Aruch.

The fact of the matter is I have assumed that everyone in the world understands this intuitively. But recently I have noticed that this assumption is unwarranted.
Maybe I have thought it was simple because it was the way I learned Talmud in my first year in yeshiva in Far Rockaway in New York.

So without further ado let me explain it.

The actual way to understand any single halacha in the Shulchan Aruch is by starting from the Talmud.
Sometimes this is very simple. A very good example is in fact the very first example that I learned . The yeshiva in Far Rockaway was learning Chulin. And I was part of the first year [beginner's] class. Now we all know that one is not allowed to eat milk and meat together. But what about a cow's milk producer--the gland that makes milk? This is an argument in the Gemara and  is contained in a few short, simple paragraphs. So once you have read those simple paragraphs, you can trace the halacha down through the Tur, Beit Yoseph, Bach, and the Shulchan Aruch with the Shach and Taz.  [You could do the Rambam and Rif and Rosh also but nothing would change substantially in your understanding.] This is an unusually simple example.

Later on the yeshiva began doing Ketubot and I got involved in learning with Naphtali Yegear. That already involved very deep analysis of the Gemara and Tosphot with the Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Shav Shemtta. That was a level of depth I simply was unprepared for. So on my own, as I was doing Ketobot I continued doing the path of Halacha type of learning that starts from the Gemara and weaves down until the  Shulchan Aruch with all its commentaries like the Shach and the Taz. But Halacha type of learning is not the same as in depth learning of Gemara.

This Halacha  type of learning is not really how to learn Gemara. Learning Gemara proper, means to stay on one Tosphot for weeks and maybe months until its depths start to reveal themselves to you. Yet I want to emphasize here that this Halacha type of learning the Gemara is the only legitimate way to learn Halacha. The only reason we do things like reading the Shulchan Aruch straight is to get a general idea. But we must not fool ourselves to think that since we have read a halacha in the Shulchan Aruch that now we understand that Halacha -even with all the commentaries. This is simply not the case. There is no halacha anywhere that one can understand unless he has made that progression from the actual Talmud until the text of the Shulchan Aruch through the poskim in-between.

[But if you do not have a good learning partner ii admit it might be best to do the Halacah type of approach to the Talmud. The in depth approach might simply be too hard for people to do on their own and most people are not even aware of its existence. they think learning th Talmud in depth actually means doing it with poskim [Rif, Rambam, Rosh, Tur, Shulchan Aruch]. This is obviously false But it still might be the only thing available to most people. And I might as well admit it the in depth approach was something I could never really get a good handle on. Though I sat through the classes of Reb Shmuel Berenbaum the foremost Talmudic expert in the world in his time. Still I never could figure out how on my own to get into the depths of the Gemara.]









21.4.14

Once Muslims get their hands on Atom Bombs, the term "suicide bomber" will take on a whole new meaning.]


At this point I think it is best not to take a stand on the Ukrainian/Russian issue.
I admit my basic interest in this is purely from a Jewish perspective. I just don't see that Jews have a dog in this conflict.  Jews have been treated very well in the Ukraine after the fall of the USSR. But also Jews in Russia are also treated very well. Even though the Synagogue in Uman [Ziun] of Rebbi Nachman was closed during the time of the USSR I don't think that Russia would now close it to Jews.
There are yeshivas in Russia. My own learning partner was a rosh yeshiva in st Petersburg for some time.





And as for the main issues of the conflict I see it a family affair between two brothers; an older and more powerful brother, and a younger brother. This is a conflict that no one should get involved in. It is a family affair that is no one's business.


[Though I admit I would like to hear the opinion of several people that I respect greatly: Dr Kelly Ross [the Kant-Fries school of thought], Dr Michael Huemer [Libertarian], Brian Caplan, Steven Dutch.] If any of these people would think there is a reason to get involved in this conflict I would have to rethink my position.
The world is definitely headed towards global conflict but it is not between the Ukraine and Russia. It is between Christendom and Islam. and therefore from my Jewish point of view I would like to see Christendom united and strengthened. [OK I admit if everyone would-sit and learn Gemara that would be a better option. But being that that is unlikely at least we can all agree that mankind ought to make progress towards a more ethical moral human decent world rather that towards barbarianism and jihad. Progress towards the later at this point would mean the extinction of the human race. Once Muslims get their hands on Atom Bombs the term suicide bomber will take on a whole new meaning.]



18.4.14

lThere is an idea around on the Internet that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in any given subject. I was aware of this way before I got to sit and learn in any yeshiva. And when I got to yeshiva, I realized instantly the magical quality of the place. It was easy for me to put in 11 hours per day for about 3.5 years in Shar Yashuv yeshiva in Far Rockaway, and then another 3.5 years at the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn. This took no effort on my part. I simply went with the flow. But is this a recommended path for everyone? I would not think so.
The reason is that I think the Yeshiva World is a mix of good and bad.  If you get connected with the good part of it then happy are you in this world and the hereafter. But is has a negative part to it also. A non negligible percent  --something like 50%. To avoid that you need great help from heaven. And in fact I had great help from heaven. God granted to me great teachers (Roshei yeshiva) like Reb Shmuel Berenbaum and Naphtali Yeager. But not everyone gets that.
So my advice to people is to decide the one subject you want to become expert in and  do that. Don't  think you will be able to be an expert in many things.

And I should add that even if you do not go for the expert in Talmud approach still one does need to learn Talmud. There area few reasons for this.
One is the Mitzvah of Learning Torah. And I agree with Reb Chaim from Voloshin that this particular Miztvah can bring a person to self realization and enlightenment. [But it does not work very well if people do it for alternative reasons].
It is also important to learn Talmud in order to get an idea of what Halacah is about.
It is also good in order to get an idea of how to understand the written Law--the Torah. Many people do not have a very rigorous idea of how to derive proper conduct from the Torah. Some people, think it is a free for all and that every person can decide for himself what it means. Of course if every person could match the  rigorous logical deductions of the Talmud then that would be valid. But most people can't do that. How would they go about rigorously derive laws  from the Hebrew Bible when they don't even know where to find the relevant verses?
[I knew this idea even in high school. I was aware that the many courses i had to take were distracting me. and i even made several attempts to go to some school that i could concentrate on one thing alone. And many years later when i returned to NY and wanted to major in physics i went to Polytechnic hoping for this same type of concentrated learning. But that did not work very well.
 In fact it would be nice of the idea of a yeshiva could be applied to Math and Physics but so far i have no heard of anyone that could make this transfer. People that do physics  have to go against the flow of university and society.]









16.4.14

It seems to me that the best approach to Torah is to go to public school and to learn Torah after school.


It might seem to some people that it is better to ask that everyone should learn Torah alone all day. Other people might ask that no one should learn Torah.
Now on one hand I tend to think that the first approach is valuable for many people but it does not seem to me to be for everyone..

The basic opinion of only Torah all day finds its basic expression in the Nefesh Hachaim of Chaim from Voloshin the major disciple of the Geon from Villna. But to a large degree it is implicit in older books of Musar and in the Talmud itself. In fact in the Tenach (the Hebrew Bible) we do find the idea that serving God is the only thing that has value. And in fact in a normal Lithuanian yeshiva we do find a basic kind of serving God. This is hard to put into words. You really have to have been there to have experienced what it is. The only way I can explain it is in the way that Gershom Sholem explains the evolution of ecstatic experience in the age of the prophets until the age of the kabalists. He sees the very experience itself as evolving and changing. While in the time of prophets we do not really know what they did to receive prophecy but we know they were not doing unifications. This changed by the time of Avraham Abulafia and Isaac Luria, -the ecstatic experience because dependent on unifications.

The experience in  a Lithuanian  yeshiva is the direction that this experience has evolved to.

Unifications no longer bring the ecstatic experience, but rather a wide range of illusions.

The Shechina has set herself on Lithuanian Yeshivas.

However as I mentioned before this is not for everyone.
And to some degree we can see that many yeshivas themselves today have lost the touch of the divine.

While total immersion in Torah all day might good for some people but i have some questions if the Torah itself asks this from people. If we take a look for example  at the first and foremost of all books of Musar --the Chovot Levavot [Duties of the Heart] we find that he claims [Shar Prishut] that one is obligated to learn an honest profession that does not include depending on being supported for learning Torah.


But in truth the idea of learning Torah as a profession i did not hear about when i was in NY yeshivas. There never was a question in anyones mind that one should learn Torah all the time but that it is not to be a paid profession. The idea in NY was that if one was sufficiently devoted to learning Torah that God would provide some means of support. in some kosher  way--not in the form of a pay check for sitting  learning.
 Everyone knew the simple basic Halacha that one is not allowed to make the Torah into a device to make money. Secular and religious Jews alike. Lakewood Yeshiva has attempted to scam people into thinking that learning Torah is a kosher paid profession. This is a scam and it is sad that some people have fallen for it. In Israel also the ultra religious have trying to scam the Israeli public about this issue.
There is a difficult fine line here--the line that one should learn Torah but that this should not be a paid profession.


 Perhaps it should be noted the approach of Rebbi Nachman in this regard. To him Torah is everywhere.  It is the root of all creation. The Ten statements of creation the root of creation and inside of them are the Ten Commandments which are to essence of the Torah.
Torah is everywhere and in all actions and in all people. But in forbidden actions the glory of God is not revealed. So how do forbidden actions have any existence? They is by the first of the ten statements of creation the hidden statement. This is the highest of all the statements. That means that when one has fallen into the kelipot-- areas of darkness where there is no glory of God and from there one realizes how far he is as fallen and begins to seek god from there, that is when he has the highest flight into the highest mountain.
The point being that one needs to learn Torah in order to find God. But when one does learn Torah and keeps his commandments then he can serve God through anything.















15.4.14

One of the reasons that Israel is criticized for protecting itself is the issue of a preemptive strike. Even though when it is the clear and stated intent of an adversary to carry out his threat, still this is frowned upon in international law. [people utilize this fact to criticize Israel and make its attempts at self defense seem illegitimate.

It does not help either that there is still antisemitism-- which means that a lot of people simply could not care less if Israel was destroyed,- and they can hid their lack of feeling about this in the moral high ground of the problematic natural of a preemptive strike.

So I would say that antisemitism is the source of the problem Israel faces on the international stage. And from where does antisemitism come from? Well clearly Martin Luther is a significant factor in this. Almost all Protestant denominations until  this very day every Sunday preach sermons that just repeat the basic positions of Martin Luther in different words. Martin Luther is still of great influence in the West--in some good ways and some very bad ways.

I would like to suggest another source of antisemitism--it is the verse as the face is reflected in water so is the heart of man to his fellow man.  Chauvinism. This is what we see  in some Jewish people. It is not everywhere but its presence is undeniable. This Chauvinism I think can be considered as at least one major cause of antisemitism.