I had a few idea to mention. One in particular I think stands out. It is related to something the Chovot Levavot says--The Duties of the Heart.

It is the idea that one is not supposed to make up a new religion.

That means in practical terms that even though what does it means to keep the Torah can be hard to decide on a daily basis still we know what it means not to keep the Torah.

That means to say we know more or less that a Jews is supposed to learn the Oral and written law--the Five books of Moses and the Babylonian Talmud from cover to cover- and to keep what the Torah says. Period.
But in this process sometimes people have experience with other individuals which might not be optimum. This still does not give one permission to go and make up some new religion.
Learning Torah has been considered the prime directive of the Torah for a couple of thousand years. This is not the subject of any debate. That means to say at minimum everyone should sit down a learn Gemara, Rashi, and Tosphot at least an hour every day. And when it comes to Jewish law, the requirement to keep it is not a debate-- although the particulars are.

Also Monotheism is the philosophy of the Torah. This also has never been the subject of ant debate. Torah is not a document of pantheism in any sense and no one ever considered it as such--not Maimonides nor Isaac Luria


Devykut "attachment with God."

For me it so happened that I   that I started reading the Ari (Isaac Luria רבינו האריז''ל).  And after about a year I made Aliya to Israel and then I did a lot of  personal conversation with God while hiking in the forests surrounding Safed in the north of Israel].

 I spent most of my time in a forest. And then I got something that you could call Devykut. Devykut means literally "attachment with God." 

But outside of the subject of of this devykut, I would like to defend the Arizal [Isaac Luria--known by the short name the Ari] here in a philosophical way.
 The system of the Ari is Neo Platonic. That is is assumes a very Neo Platonic system, and then develops it in great detail based on the personal insights of the Ari himself-not on reasoning or logic.

But what makes it particularly interesting is the fact that it looks like Plato was right. I mean let's looks at the rival schools of thought. The rationalist-- the antimonies of Kant demonstrated well the fallacy of rationalism.
The empiricists. There are a few well known simple proofs that empiricism is wrong. [See Michael Huemer's counter examples like you know an object can not be blue and green in the same place at the same time.]  Also Twentieth century philosophy is problematic. In the famous words of John Searle [at University of California, Berkeley], Post modern philosophy and all the analytic linguistic approach is "Obviously false". Just by default alone you are stuck with Hegel or Kant. At this point I rest my case. In either case you are dealing with a neo Platonic approach.

[Well I am not exactly done. I am not very happy with Hegel. But I would rather not go into that right now. And Kant many people associate with the Neo-Kant School. And that is definitely not Neo Platonic. {They also do not think we can know if the Ding An Sich  exists, and that is not Kant who wrote that we do know it exists--but its character is modified by our subjective input.} 

[It would be possible to argue with me that the Ari and Neo-Platonism do put a large degree of confidence in reason--much more than Kant. I assume this is why many Jews like were happy enough to go along with Hegel. 

[On a side note I might mention that there is another system of Kabala of Avraham Abulafia which Moshe Idel did some work on. And I should let people know that in university when people talk about Kabala they are usually talking about Avraham Abulafia, or some other Medieval system [like the "Heichalot"] and not Rav Isaac Luria. [These are relatively unsophisticated systems.] When people in the religious world talk about Kabalah, they usually means three specific people: the Zohar, Moshe Cardovaro and Isaac Luria. There is in fact almost no intersection between University Kabalah and Isaac Luria Kabalah.

There are a few different approaches to I. Luria. The best I think is Shalom Sharabi from Yemen. But there is also a good approach of the Ramchal [Moshe Chaim Lutzatto]. These are both very sophisticated approaches]. 


Kabalah in the Ashkenaic world after the events surrounding Shabati Tzvi are filled with interpretations from Natan his disciple. Of all Ashkenazim, only the Gra is clean. The rest of the books take the system of Shabati Tzvi in Kabalah -- but the problem is the system itself is wrong and from the Sitra Achra.
When people think they are reading holy books of Kabalah, they are getting a heavy dose of the Sitra Achra (Dark Side) when they read Ashkenazic Kabalah.


Fear of God brings to length of days. [That is that each day should be filled with things that contribute to life goals--and not having your day taken up by things you know to be a waste of time].
I think we can rely on his intuition in this but it still does not tell us how to come to fear of God.

We know the Rambam had an unusual approach to this. [Even though he hides this approach well for the sake of uninitiated still you can see it openly in the Guide.] He held that learning the work of Creation leads to fear of God. and he defines this as what the ancient Greeks called Physics.

I have only a few minutes left here so I would like just to get to my point about Fear of God.
A proper Fear of God program that would I hope lead to length of day I think could be divided into several areas.
[1] Talking to God in a wilderness or forest far from other people. [Pack a lunch and canned water] This is not prayer but opening up ones heart to God. This is very very different from prayer. One advantage of this is that prayer is for specific things that are often contrary to ones actual interest. Another advantage is that it takes exercise to get to a wildness.
[2] Musar. That is two parts. Ancient medieval Musar books and part two the Musar books of the disciples of Israel Salanter. [Christians might try to find similar books that apply to them. Perhaps St John of the Cross.]
[3] The Rambam program of Physics. This goes even for people that are not talented in Physics and Math.


An overview of philosophy today

And further more I want to take note of the very significant Neo Platonic approach to reason   There he divides reason into three parts reason in potential, reason in actuality and reason that is acquired. This seems highly Kantian. It assumes a kind of process where reason has gotten a hold of the data that is out there, and now has to process the data.

 This has already been noted by Edward Fesser concerning the general Aristotelian idea of potential and actuality.

This essay I wrote yesterday. But today I just wanted to add a few ideas concerning the implications of the above essay.

And most philosophers of the twentieth century have been trained in linguistics and existentialism and thus lost their ability to think logically. So in fact the only interesting thing today in philosophy is this debate between California and Colorado. (And also Edward Feser-- for Catholics.)

There is among Catholics and effort to get back to work on Aquinas and Aristotle. This is a good thing but  Aquinas never made a bridge between the First Cause who is total actuality and the God of the Old Testament. Aristotle also I see as an important aside to Plato. But his Metaphysics has an essential contradiction in it that to me makes Plato much more interesting


The path of Torah is fairly well understood

Though I think that there is a basic Torah path which involves learning Gemara Rashi and Tosphot and basic acetic practices which lead to enlightenment.

But the questions about Torah are many and I think might even be insolvable.

In spite of this I think the path of Torah is fairly well understood. We don't have a lot of questions about what the oral and written law say to do. Nor do we have a wide range of ambiguity about the world view of the Torah. These are fairly well settled issues. The problem that makes it ambiguous is not just intention either. The ambiguity comes from some mysterious aspect of the whole Torah path to perfection. For some people it seem to work and for other it does not. And this seems to have nothing to do with intention. It is just that even person has his own path he must trod down on.

OK now I hope that I have made it clear that particular aspect of Torah. But I wanted to point out a some of the basic problems about what you might call Torah world view. In this we have to start out with the assumption that the Torah is not a glass that you can pour out its world view, and substitute your own in it place. Maimonides and Saadia Geon did a basic analysis of the world view of Torah. They bring to light the basic approach to Torah that one might not be able to see by just learning Gemara, or the written Torah itself. (There is no reason to think their analysis of the world view of Torah is obsolete. No new information has been made available to suggest this.)

I want to add that not only does the Torah have a particular world view but it also has something to say about human goods.[It is not just a book of rituals.] And it sees a connection between non moral values and moral values. People might have alternative views about human goods, but they should not claim that their views are consistent with the Torah. [The issue is not what is Apikorosut/heresy. Rather what does the Torah think about a certain set of questions. If people don't agree with Torah that is their prerogative. But it is not their prerogative to claim their alternative scheme is what the Torah says.]

Here I list  a few Torah views which I think should not be up for debate (1) Reality is objective.
 (2) Moral principles are also objective and can be known through reason. [But because human beings are flawed we need the Torah to reveal to us what  reason would say about how to achieve human goods.] (3) Capitalism is the only just social system. This is obvious when you open up the Torah portion after the Ten Commandments in Exodus. You could also consult Tractate Bava Metzia for more details concerning the practice of capitalism. (4) According to Maimonides and Saadia Geon the Torah is Monotheistic. That is that the First Cause/the Creator  made the universe something from nothing--not from His substance. (5) According to the Torah the universe is not God, and it is not condensed god substance. Maimonides goes into this in great depth in the Guide for the Perplexed and Saadia Geon also goes into this in his Emunot Vedeot.


]. The belief system of the Torah is monotheism.  God is not identical with the world, but that He is accessible to every human being. But access to God he did not think came through other human beings but by direct talking with God from ones deepest core in his heart.
This might be hard to do but it is a lot easier that running around after people for help that they can't give anyway.
] Part of the issue here is that there seem to be a list of things that are offered to people to promote some kind of connection with the Creator. Yoga and meditation is high on the list if you are considering Brahma to be identical with the First Cause, but I seriously doubt if this works. Also praying through other people seems to me to be problematic. Monotheism I think implies direct prayer to God, not through intermediates. This is not to disparage anyone's religion but rather to suggest to people to get together a private prayer  kit and to go out into the wilderness with hiking boots and pack lunch and talk to God directly. And not invoke any persons merit but to speak to God as you would your own parents. If you were asking your mother a favor, I do not suppose you would ask it in the name of some saint. And God I think is not less concerned about you than your own parents.

Now some people go to public buildings for religious matters, This seems to be to form more of a connection with people than with God and I think it should be avoided unless there are social reasons involved or else to Learn Torah and Talmud which does need a learning environment. But religious ceremony in public buildings in my opinion is purely negative


fear of God

On the subject of fear of God. On my last essay here I talked about how important it is. But I did not mention some of the pitfalls involved with it.  The problem is that fear of God, even true fear of God, is often mixed up with stupidity. He brings this idea from a verse in Job, "Is not your fear your stupidity?"   Fear of God needs to be coupled with intelligence. This is not something we see much.
Some books of Halacha in fact we find are institutionalized stupidity or concretized fanaticism.

  In spite of these problems, and even if one goes to public school, I think the basic set of Musar books [especially the Chovot Levavot/ Duties of the Heart] are important and apply to everyone across the board.

  I should just mention here one advantage of fear of God that I think if people would know about  it would inspire them towards more effort in that direction. Fear of God helps to have less of your time wasted by idiots. You get more of your life goals [or natural human goods] accomplished and less of your time is taken up by nut cases. Fear of God forms a protective cover against nut cases.

Also I should mention that to justify fear of God nowadays you really need a modified Kantian approach.

Simple Medieval philosophy would be hard to use to justify fear of God today. Simply put the reason is that there are legitimate complaints by the rationalist like Descartes and Spinoza, and from empiricist like John Locke. So you clearly need either Hegel or Kant in any case.

[Most approaches to life I judge based on the idea of where their vector is pointing to.  I.e. one approach my be full of flaws but of their vector is towards God then I will consider it kosher. Other approaches might disguise themselves in religious clothing, but if their vector is towards some human being or political ideals , then I will consider it as not kosher--even if they are strict about religious rituals and symbols. That  will not make any path kosher to me. In fact an emphasis on religious rituals will in general cause red warning lights to go off in my mind.]

To conclude the main idea here to get the basic books dealing with fear of God and learn them every day.
The basic books are Chovot Levavot חובות לבבות, Mesilat Yesharim, Orchot Tzadikim, Shaari Teshuva.
[from the Middle Ages except the second]. Then the next would be the disciples of Israel Salanter, Madragat HaAdam  [Navardok], Chochvei Or by Isaac Blazer. And the Nefesh Hachaim by Reb Chaim from Voloshin. Also the Gra has a few like the "Even Shelama," and the Sidur HaGra. If I could I would like to add to this basic set also the books coming from the Rambam--that is Musar books written by him and his son and grandson, etc.
The nice thing about Musar is it encompasses both the numinous aspects of Torah and the aspects that deal with human relationships together without emphasizing one over the other. Needless to say I think we have all witnessed people that do one part of the Torah and ignore the other part. So it is good that there is this balanced approach.
[Even Shelama collects pithy statements of the Gra from his commentaries. But sometimes the way they are written in that book do not correspond exactly with what the Gra wrote. To correct this flaw there is an edition of the Even Shelama  from Israel that brings the actual language of the Gra on the side.]


2) The Rambam/Maimonides has an approach that learning Metaphysics brings to love of God and Physics to fear of God. [He was referring to these two sets of books by Aristotle.]
3) In any case basic Musar seems to be important. When the question is applied to non Jews I am not sure how it could be answered.
My suggestion is talking to God in a private place. That is getting into the habit of talking with God directly where ever you go. And making it  a habit to do a lot of walking so that you get a chance to tell God what is in your heart a lot. And learning Torah, the Oral and Written Law.


Israel Salanter's Musar Movement

I have been a kind of follower about the idea of Fear of God ever since I read about it in a book by Isaac Blaser --a major disciple of Israel Salanter.

This is something you really have to see his book to get a taste for. Ever since then the whole idea has gone up and down in stages for me.

To just to try to make it clear to people what I am talking about let me explain that to Isaac Blaser fear of God is the Dinge An Sich [the thing in itself].

But that original reading of Musar started a whole train of events. I read then the major corpus of the books of Musar [the Famous Five: Duties of the Heart, Gates of Repentance, Mesilat Yesharim (by Moshe Lutzato),  Sefer HaMidot, and Orchot Tzadikim (Paths of the Righteous)]. That led me eventually to notice that a lot of the books of Musar were in fact telling people to learn Kabalah. (That is most Renaissance books of Musar.) And that got me started on the Tree of Life of Isaac Luria.

He said that it relates to length of days. He said that when a day starts for most people it is short. There are lots of things to do and not enough time to do them. He said this in a context of learning Torah and doing mitzvot, but I suppose it applies in wider area of a polynomic realm of values also. [note 1]

So when I saw my days were in fact getting shorter. I was spending way too much time doing things that I knew were just plain a waste of time. I got a wake up call and realized that I had wandered too far from the path of Fear of God; and Musar.

I would like here to suggest that the idea of length of days also applies in a physical manner. I.e. that the door way to length of days can be found in books of Musar [Fear of God.] That is instead of the over emphasis on doctors and medicine I would suggest to people that have physical aliments that they also should work on Fear of God solutions. [Or to put it more bluntly--to go out a buy the regular Musar books and read them--out loud, word after word, until you get to the  end and then start again.]
[Also, I should mention that the general Musar corpus has expanded to include books like the Nefesh Hachahim by Reb Chaim from Volloshin and the Madgragat HaAdam by the Alter of Navardok. The more recent ones you might like more and you might like less, but they still contain that spark of Fear of God which is the Dinge an Sich!]

[note 1] Everyone it seems has some kind of problem with length of days issues. It does not matter if you are a movie producer, or a theoretical physicist, or the general secretary of the Communist Party in China. Half your days are spent on complete waste of time things, and the other half seems to get nowhere- even when you are doing what you know is right.
You try to do physics, and then you get to university and then you discover papers to be graded and other varieties of wasted time. Even if you are a fireman, you find this. [This hit me in particular when I went to Polytechnic University of NYU. The amounts of wasted time were enormous. I am sure everyone knows exactly what I am talking about and how it applies in their own lives.]


 I ended up at the Mir in NY.  So years were going by a no shiduchim [marriage proposals] were even offered to me while everyone around me was getting married at exponential rates.

Then a girl I knew in California decided to get me. [the blessing was during the 10 day period from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. ] She found out where I was during the Yom Kippur holidays and came there (without my knowing or telling her) and there was an arranged meeting after Simchat Torah. And then she ran to NY to get me. Nothing swayed her intentions. I told her many times in ever conceivable way that I did not want her, but eventually I did give in and I am happy I did so.

The world of religious Judaism has\ too much Sitra Achra [dark side] just waiting for naive people to stumble in. The main problem seems to be in fact in the cult the Gra put into excommunication. The Litvaks while not having much in the way of tzadikim, don't have much in the way of their opposite either.

It is almost as if the dark side found away to penetrate the world of Torah by coming in the disguise of tzadikim.
 And the only way this is possible is because there were true tzadikim that it is possible to copy in external dress and customs.


Normally I would just write this stuff in a private notebook but it occurs to me that there might be people out in the world that would like to understand what it means to learn Gemara [Talmud] properly.If I write in in a private notebook maybe no one will ever see it. On the Internet it might help people get an idea of how to learn the Talmud.

Gemara Tosphot Yoma 34b. [i.e. the Babylonian Talmud]
I wanted to mention two questions on this Tosphot.

But before I do I need some terminology. "Work done not for its own sake" = A. "Work that is not intended" is B (אינו מכווין). Pesik Risha פסיק רישא [automatically happens] is C.
In Tractate Kritut we have the case of turning over coals. For turning over the bottom coals Rabbi Shimon says he is not obligated. Tosphot says there are three reasons to say he is ought to be obligated in a sin offering: (1) Melechet Machshevet (מלאכת מחשבת). [ Done on purpose, not accidentally] , (2) damaging by fire which R. Shimon says is obligated, and (3) it is a case of  being intended and automatically happens. So why is he not obligated ? Answer (of Tosphot): A מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה.
Then why, Tosphot asks, does not the Gemara say this? Why does it say the case is B (אינו מכווין)? Answer to show the strength of R. Yehuda who says even though it is B, he is still obligated in a sin offering.

Tosphot then approaches the Gemara in Tractate Shabat 103a. There is is picking green leaves (chicory, endive (plant)) [] that can be eaten. If he does it to eat, then to R. Shimon he is obligated only once and not for the additional obligation of making his field look nicer. But we ask is it not B+C (אינו מכווין בפסיק רישא)?
 Answer: It is someone else's field.
That is just the straight Gemara.
The two questions on Tosphot concerns the way he treats this later Gemara.
Question one: Tosphot is satisfied with his being not obligated in someone else's field since it is B+C (אינו מכווין בפסיק רישא) . This is in direct contradiction to what he said in Kritut concerning the parallel case of coals.
Question Two: In his own field, we should also make a distinction if it is A מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה or not.

The 2nd question is really just a note, but not really a "kashe".

I really have to be running along but I will take a couple more minutes to make question one even more powerful.
Tosphot says the reason in Kritut that the Gemara said it is a case of B+C is because it wanted to show the strength of R Yehuda. So why, Tosphot asks, then in a later on case when he draws the coals closer to himself, the Gemara does not say the same thing? Why does it say it is a case of A?
Answer: In drawing coals it could be that he does not mind if they get hotter. So the Gemara can't say it is not intended. Only in the case of turning over coals in which case he is against the idea of the bottom coals getter hotter. He would rather they would not . But he simply has no choice since he has to get the top ones to the bottom of the pile where they will cool down and  become usable coals. My point here is that Tosphot says that even so, R. Shimon would say he is obligated to bring a sin offering except for the fact that it is A.

So why then in Tractate Shabat is Tosphot satisfied with the fact that it being B+C makes him not obligated even thought it is simply a case of his not caring whether the field gets improvement in value.

I probably should mention here that I do not mind if he is not obligated in Shabat 103 because it is A. I only wish that that would be the reason that the Gemara or Tosphot would use over there.

My learning partner made a suggestion that perhaps Tosphot meant for the original three means of being obligated to R Shimon  were meant to work together. [I.e.  that the idea B+C with the idea of damage by fire]. That is: Maybe Tosphot meant for those three original means to be obligated to work together. But if you look at the actual language of Tosphot you can see that is not what he says. But at least it might save Tosphot in a conceptual manner--even if it is not exactly what he said.

Incidentally this all came up because my learning partner and myself were looking at Reb Chaim Soloveitchik  who has very nice piece on Maimonides concerning Shabat. But after looking at his essay for a while it occurred to my learning partner that we ought to go back to the Talmud itself to get a little more background.
So that led us to this Tosphot in Yoma.

[1] Work done not for its own sake: Classical example: Digging a pit for the dirt, not for the hole to plant in.
Work not intended: Classical example: He does something permitted but something forbidden might result.
Pesik Reish is he does something permitted but something forbidden must result.
[2] You might take a look at the essay of Reb Chaim Soloveitchik about "work done not for its own sake" which has real grace and power. It is complete and self contained and answers some good questions about the approach of Maimonides to this whole subject.
[3] There is a third question also on the same Tosphot. It concerns the issue of how Tosphot treats the Gemara in Kritot. In that Gemara there is a case where someone pulls burning coals closer to himself. the Gemara itself says it is not obligated in a  sin offering because it is "A".work done not for its own sake.

Now to some degree we can accept this. we already are understanding that the only time lighting a fire is obligated is when he needs the coals. I might like to argue about this here but I am anxious to get to a much more glaring difficulty. Before Tosphot says one of the three reason R  Shimon would say tuning over the bottom coals is obligated is that even though it is accidental it would be obligated for even damage by fire is obligated. I mean to say that Tosphot. That is, you do not need intention to be obligated for lighting a fire. So even if he thinks he is pulling apples closer to him he would be obligated in a sin offering. how then do we say he is not obligated because of A? [That is for R Shimon you do not need melechet machashevet (מלאכת מחשבת) for fire.]

Normally, I would just write this stuff in a private notebook, but it occurs to me that there might be people out in the world that would like to understand what it means to learn Gemara [Talmud] properly. If I write in in a private notebook maybe no one will ever see it. On the Internet it might help people get an idea of how to learn the Talmud.


Trust in God

We do not find that the Alter of Navardok [the Madragat HaAdam] ( Joseph Yozel Horwitz )  tried to justify Torah based on reason.
In fact it seems that one of the minor themes that are developed in his book is the idea of tests. That is that people can have tests of their faith because of reality.

It is hard to know what he would've said about the Guide for the Perplexed of Maimonides.

On the surface it does look like a basic difference in approach.

I would like to suggest that there is no contradiction and that Joseph Yozel Horwitz was referring to a Platonic level of reality that supersedes physical reality.
 [I may not have said it in so many words, but I tend to look at the world as a superposition of a lot of planes of existence. There is a moral plane- -a world as real as this, and it is superimposed on this physical reality. This is not a thing different than Plato except that I think there are these planes right "inside" of things like Aristotle ]

I think in the West people been highly influenced by the empiricists like Hume and thus find this approach to be difficult to accept.

One of the most famous essays in the history of philosophy, and specifically in the philosophy of religion, is Hume's "Of Miracles," which is Section X in the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Yet Hume's argument against miracles suffers from a logical circularity.
While Hume is the most famous for undermining the certainty and necessity of the Principle of Causality, that every event has a cause, miracles do not in fact violate the Principle of Causality. They are caused. The Red Sea parts, not because it just happens, but because God makes it happen.
[Trust in God and learning Torah,  Gemara, Rashi, and Topshot were the major themes in the book of Joseph Horowitz. Tests that prevent one from this path were a minor theme also mentioned in his book. He seems to have the idea that Torah always comes with tests. But the tests will be different for each person. In his days the attraction of the wider world seems to have been the major test.

Today people might have tests of different paths that lay claim to be legitimate Torah paths. But regardless of the type tests involved the Alter of Navardok thought that learning Gemara, Rashi, and Tosphot  every day as much as feasible defines the true Torah path.
To get to Torah you have to deal with several layers of tests. One is being thrown out of good yeshivas. The other is to run from the frauds and charlatans that claim to be following the path of Torah. There might many other tests , but these two are the main ones. Even Hillel got thrown out of teh yeshiva of Shamaiya and Avtalyon. and in the Gemara there were plenty of great amoraim that had this happen to them too.