I see in the world today several causes for alarm. War between Russia and the Ukraine. The threat of a Muslim Atom Bomb in the hands of a fanatic Muslim State that sees jihad  and suicide in the cause of Allah as the highest mitzvah. The  fact that the USA seems to be in the hands of a Socialist.

These are all cause of worry. My solution is to repent. But repentance in my way of thinking means to find out what the Torah requires of me and to do it.   We can’t assume that what our preconceived ideas of repentance are actually correspond to what the Torah thinks repentance requires. For one thing the Torah has several areas of value which almost by definition have to conflict.  And you can see this problem when ever you try to go about actually keeping the Torah. 

No to Kiruv (Kiruv means making people into Orthodox Jews). Kiruv has the problem that it takes people away from one area of Torah value--honoring ones parents and other areas of human relations and places them in another area--like keeping Shabat. So Kiruv is not what is needed. 

That also is not what is needed. What we need is simply places devoted to the idea that everyone should learn Torah and do what it says. Period.


I thought that sometimes it is easier to understand things in the Talmud if you learn them in Hebrew rather than in English translation. So with that in mind I decided to place here my ideas on the Talmudic tractate Sanhedrin page 61 in Hebrew. And after that an English translation.

סנהדרין ס: אני רוצה קודם כל להציע את הגמרא בקצרה ואחר כך מחלוקת תוספות עם בעל המאור, ואחר כל זה להציע שתי קושיות על בעל המאור. הברייתא אומרת שלומדים עבודה שלא כדרכה מזביחה (היינו מן הפסוק "זובח לאלהים יחרם") [שמות כב].
רבא בר רב חנן שואל,"למה אין יכולים ללמוד את זה מהשתחוויה ("וילך וישתחווה") [דברים יז]. רב אחא מדפתי שאל על רבא בר רב חנן, "אם היינו לומדים מהשתחוייה, אז מה היה 'איכה יעבדו הגויים את אלהיהם' בא למעט? [היינו מה היה בא לפטור?]
תוספות ובעל המאור שואלים על רב אחא, למה הוא שאל רק על השתחווייה? למה הוא לא שאל גם על זביחה? היינו, אם לומדים שלא כדרכה מזביחה, מה בא "איכה יעבדו" למעט? תוספות עונים ששואלים רק על השתחווייה בגלל שאם משתמשים עם השתחווייה אז שייך לשאול מה בא "איכה יעבדו" לומר לנו. זה בגלל שמהשתחווייה אפשר ללמוד את הכול, אפילו עבודה כדרכה. האופן לראות את זה הוא לדגש שבשלב הזה הגמרא חושבת שהשתחווייה כוללת גם עבודה של בזיון. רואים את זה מן התירוץ לשאלת רב אחא שהשתחווייה לא כוללת עבודה של בזיון. אבל מזביחה לא היינו כוללים עבודה של בזיון, ולכן שייך לא לשאול למה בא "איכה יעבדו"? הוא בא לומר עבודה כדרכה חייבת. אבל בעל המאור הולך בכיוון אחר. הוא ראה ששאלת הגמרא היא מה איכה יעבדו בא למעט (לפטור). היינו שהיא בא לרבות מה שהוא ולמעט מה שהוא. ובהמשך הגמרא משתדלת למצוא דבר ש"איכה יעבדו" יכול לפטור. לפי ההקדמה הזאת הוא אומר שמן זביחה היינו מחייבים נשיקה למגפפים[עבודה זרה שדרכה בחיבוק]. ואז בא "איכה יעבדו" לומר לנו שאינו חייב.
שתי שאלות יש לי פה על שיטת המאור. אם זה נכון ש"איכה יעבדו" בא לפטור נושק למגפפים, אז למה לשאול על השתחווייה? תגיד שהשתחוייה בא לחייב נושק למגפפים. ותגיד ש"איכה יעבדו" בא לפתור אותו.

שאלה שנייה איך התירוץ עובד? איך היינו חושבים שזביחה בא לחייב נושק למגגפים מראש? אין סיבה לחשוב שזביחה היה כולל נשיקה למגפפים. אפשר לראות את זה על ידי זה שנזכרים שמשתמשים עם זביחה בשביל להרבות עבודות פנים. אין שום הווה אמינא שזביחה היה כולל שום דבר אחר. רק השתחווייה חשבנו שהיא באה לרבות כל דרך כבוד.

Sanhedrin 60b and 61a.

I put this on the Internet so here I am just going to put down the gemara in brief and then two questions I have on the Meor and also to mention one clearly invalid question.
 First of all the Braita says you learn service not according to the way from sacrifice. Rava Bar Rav Chanan asks, "Why can't we learn that from "bowing" and use "sacrifice" for something else?
Rav Acha from Diphti objects to this question of Rava bar rav Chanan and says how could we use "bowing" (Deuteronomy chapter 17, parshat Shophtim)? If we would use "bowing" (to include other types of service) then what would "How do the nations serve their gods?" come to exclude? (That is what would it come to permit?) Tosphot and the Baal HaMeor both ask on Rav Acha: Why does he make this objection only on Rava Bar Rav Chanan when he tries to use "bowing" to include? [To forbid] Why does he not ask also on the braita that uses 'sacrifice' (exodus 22)(mishpatim)? [To include other types of serve no according to it way] That is if we use "sacrifice" to be inclusive, then what does, "How do they serve?" come to exclude?

Tosphot answers to this that we only ask on bowing because if we used "bowing" then we could ask, "What does "how do they serve" come to tell us? Since from "bowing" we could include everything [even service according to it way]. The way to see this is to note that at this point the Gemara is thinking that "bowing" includes also all service that is not honorable. You can see this from the way the Gemara answers the question of Rav Acaha by saying that "bowing" would not include dishonorable service. So we see that up to that point we thought it did include dishonorable service. But from "sacrifice" we would not include service that is not dishonorable whether according to it way or not, so we could not ask, "What do we use 'How do the nations serve?" We use it for all service that is according to its way that is dishonorable.
But the Baal Hameor takes a different approach. He notices that the the question of the Gemara is "What does the verse, 'How do the nations serve their gods?' come to exclude?" That is, it has to include something and exclude something else. And in fact you can see this from the way the gemara continues. It tries to find what does "How do they serve?" come to allow?
He says that from "sacrifice" alone we would forbid kissing idols that one usually hugs or visa versa. And that "how do they serve" come to tell us that this area is not liable.

The basic two questions on the Baal HaMeor are these. If you are right that "How do they serve?איכה יעבדו" is coming to allow the in between areas of quadrant II [kissing idols that one usually hugs] then why ask on "bowing"? I.e., you say that if we would learn from "sacrifice" then we would not ask what do we use "How do they serve?" for because we have something we would use it for [to absolve from guilt]: the in-between areas of quadrant II.
But then why not say the same thing with bowing? Also there say that "how do they serve?" is coming to allow the in between areas of quadrant II.

Question 2: how does the answer of the Meor work? How would we use sacrifice to forbid those things in order to need how do they serve in order to allow them? There is no reason to assume that sacrifice would include kissing things that you hug. We can see this by the fact that when we do use sacrifice to include things it only come to include inner services. No one has the slightest idea that it would include anything more. It was only for bowing that we thought it could include more.

The answer to both of these questions is the difference between potential and action. Bowing means in action  that kissing an idol that one hugs is liable. Therefore it makes sense to ask then what does how do the gentiles serve their idols come to permit. but sacrifice only means that would in potential could enlarge the field of forbidden-ness and therefore how do they serve come to tell us that we do not do so. So the Baal HaMeor makes perfect sense.



Sanhedrin [page 60b]

In Sanhedrin [page 60b] we find a braita that says we learn  from the word "sacrifice"זובח לאלהים יחרם to tell us also pouring and burning (עבודות פנים). The reason is that "sacrifice" was in the set of idolatry and came out of the set . And we know that in that case it comes out to teach us something about the whole set. כל דבר שהיה בכלל ויצא מן הכלל בא ללמד על הכלל כולו Rava bar Rav Chanan asked why not learn from, "he will bow down?"וישתחחוו Rav Acha asked, “How is that a good question? If we would learn from ‘bowing’ then what would “how do the nations serve their idols’ come to tell us?”
The Gemara concludes that it teaches us about service not according to its way of idols that are not served in an honorable way.
Tosphot and the Baal HaMeor [that is the book called the Meor Hagadol on the Rif (Isaac Alfasi) in the back of the Gemara] both ask on Rav Acha, “Why not ask on “sacrifice” also what does ‘how do the nations serve their gods’ come to tell us?

 Baal HaMeor  that we could not ask what do we learn from "How do they serve?" איכה יעבדו  because we learn something from it-- kissing idols that one usually hugs.

Tosphot takes a different approach. He says something very deep. He considers that fact that at the point of the question the Gemara is thinking that "bowing" tells us even not in an honorable way. We see this from the fact that the answer of the Talmud is that it does not in fact include service in a dishonorable way.
 Tosphot is saying that when the Gemara asks, "What do we need 'how do they serve?'" it means it literally-- that we would learning everything from bowing. And if that is the case then the answer of Topshot is common sense--if we would be learning from sacrifice then there is a large area that we would need “how do  they serve?” for that is service according to its way that is dishonorable.

Now once we understand Tosphot then we can see its advantage over the Baal HaMeor. Just think about the fact that in fact we do learn from "Sacrifice!" Not from Bowing. So according to the Baal HaMeor how do we know that kissing an idol that one usually hugs is liable?
 I noticed the Maharsha asks some question on the Baal HaMeor and answers it also. I am not sure if it is the above question because I have not had a chance yet to look into it. But I think at this point we can all agree that the Tosphot approach is prima facie better since it gets everything right  with no complications.


I noticed yesterday the story of Israel Odessaer getting involved in Breslov.  This story as long as it was did conform what I had suspected for a long time. That the people that are considered "tzadikim" (saints) in breslov tend to be unsuccessful students.

.  And then after a few years they forget their origins, and become "tzadikim". And then naive Baali Teshuva [Newly religious people] start laying the groundwork to claim that they are hidden tzdikim (saints) that know the whole Shas (Talmud) and Poskim [one word that includes the whole set of Rif, Rosh, Rambam, Tur, Shulchan Aruch].

And people that follow the Petak [the letter Reb Isael Odessar believed he had to received from  Nachman of Uman that contained the phrase Na Nach Nachem Nachman from Uman] tend to be claiming deep kabalistic secrets for the petak when they have barely learned a page of the Zohar and certainly not Arizal.

Sanhedrin page 60b and 61A

It is not usual but just yesterday discovered that the Baal HaMeor has a nice explanation of the Talmud that looks better than Tosphot. Usually Tosphot comes out on top. But this case might very well be different.
It all starts with the subject of idolatry which to the Torah way of thinking is a very serious wrong.

We have to divide idolatry into several subsets. Service according to its way and service not according to it way. Service not according to it way was suggested by Rava bar Rav Chanan to be forbidden by the words "he will bow down."

Ravina  asked, "How is this possible? That is it is OK to learn not according to its way from the word he will sacrifice but not from he will bow down. The reason is that if we learn it from he will bow down then what does, 'How do the nations serve their gods come to exclude?'"
[Now I wanted to mention here as a side topic that this will probably be the subject of great attention my learning partner. Knowing him, he will problem be bothered bu the fact that if there would be no verse "How do the nations serve their gods," then "He will bow down" is not coming out of any general category and then you could not learn anything from it except exactly what it says. For all I know today he might want to sit on this problem for several weeks.]

To make a long story short I just wanted to say that the Gemara comes out that service not according to the way of that idolatry is liable for types of service that are honor and in not liable for types of service that are not honorable. That is just a brief summery. The question that both Tosphot and the Baal HaMeor ask is: Why could the same question not apply to when we learn this law from "sacrifice" and not from "bowing?"

The Meor HaGadol (on the Rif) says something very common sensible. He says there are areas in the set of honorable service  not according to its way that would not be liable e.g. kissing an idol that normally one hugs.


But seems that numinous value can slip very easily from holiness into its opposite. It would be nice if there was some kind of test for this

 Numinous value.   Over-excitement in the service of God.

Also we do find that the world of Kabalah deals with a different planes of existence than the Oral Law.

This we can see right away in the Zohar itself. The Zohar takes mitzvot and applies them to areas that are clearly not legal parts of that mitzvah. That means that sometimes a person gets connected with what can be described as higher spiritual worlds. The idea would be that while a person is still in his physical body his spirit gets embedded in some kind of higher plane of existence.

But people looking for numinous value can find this kind of value in the Sitra Achara {the Dark Side} [a phrase made famous by Star wars movies but comes directly from the Kabalah].

Regardless of the problems with this area of value still there are people that interested in numinosity and they will get their thirst satisfied by someone illegitimate of they if they are lucky find someone or something legitimate.

But seems that numinous value can slip very easily from holiness into its opposite. It would be nice if there was some kind of test for this.


There is an area of value which the Geon from Villna was sensitive to--that is learning Torah and keeping mizvot in the most basic simple way possible.  It seems to me that this is a hard area of value to hold on to. For one thing some people are on a different frequency anyway. \
 It is like radio transmission. If you are tuned into the right frequency then  you have got it but if you are even a fraction of a micron off all you get is static.

I was once tuned into this frequency. Loud and clear. .

 I had a friend they went around with the Na Nach group of Breslov for a few years and he thinks that they in fact felt some kind of lift by saying Na Nach all the time. But that is not any different from what Hindu people  feel when they say the mantra given to them by their Guru.

In conclusion I would like to suggest that there is no substitute for simple and basic learning Gemara, Rashi and Tosphot and keeping Torah in the most simple basic way possible. .


But because idolatry is in fact the central issue of the Torah I thought it would be worth my while to do some digging into it.

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (the Rambam) [Maimonides] held that worship of an intermediate is idolatry.
I claim that this does not include going to a prophet or a  saint for a blessing.

The reason for my claim is that we find lots of people in the Old Testament going to a Jewish saint for a blessing. Avimelech was commanded by God to go to Abraham and ask him to pray for him. Naaman, the Syrian, went to Elisha the prophet to ask a blessing to be cured of his leprosy. The examples are far too many to bring here.
 Be that as it may with the Rambam we get the idea that worship of a mediator is idolatry. With the Nefesh
HaChaim [the disciple of the Geon from Vilna] get the idea that tying ones soul to the Divine spirit in a tzadik is also idolatry.

These are two independent variables. Now what happens I ask if these two variables intersect? One ties his soul to the spirit of an intermediary? The Rambam did not say anything about the tying of ones spirit but rather referred to straight forward worship of an mediator which means either one of the for types of service pouring burning bowing and sacrifice or service according to its way. But it looks like he would agree that tying in spirit is what Reb Chaim also thought --the essence of service. At least we know that Reb Chaim from Voloshin would say that tying oneself in spirit to the spirit of a mediator is idolatry. 
I wanted to make clear that this does not imply that this is not an area of disagreement. All I am doing here is what you hear  "It is an argument among the Rishonim [Medieval Authorities]." While this approach does not answer any question it is important in order to clarify issues. 

I was discussing some of theses issues with an elder person at the synagogue of  Nachman in Uman on Shabat and he asked me to write some of my basic sources after Shabat.   So it occurs to me that there could be others interested in the source material here. So here is the list in a nutshell:Talmud Sanhedrin 60b and 61 a. Talmud Avoda Zara, chapters three and four and the very beginning of each chapter. Nefesh HaChaim by Chaim From Voloshin, the major disciple of the Geon. The Mishna Torah of the Rambam, chapter 3 of hilchot teshuva. Perush Hamishna of the Rambam on Perek Chelek in Sanhedrin. Ikar 5. Shaar Ruach HoKodesh written by Reb Chaim Vital the major disciple of Isaac Luria.

Now the relevance of this subject is vast. But it is not the same thing as the subject of the Sitra Achara (the Dark Side). [Or cults.] And that is a subject I tried to tackle  a few years back with no success.

We can also see now why some people make an exaggerated attempt to be extra careful about Jewish rituals. The reason is they think this will clear them from the charge that they are doing idolatry. But clearly one can be dressed religious and be careful in lots of rituals and still be doing idolatry. 


Whenever I bring up the subject of Musar  I get a viral reaction as if I was saying to rob the Federal Express. In fact if I was to suggest robbing the Federal Express I probably would less of a virulent reaction. I have been accused of advocating flattering the wicked and desecrating the Shabat and even much worse things just by mentioning this seeming modest trivial word Musar. What is it I wonder about Musar that evokes this violent and hostile reaction?

It has to do with world view issues. The three main examples I can think of this minute are Pantheism, the emphasis on rituals instead of on interaction between man and his fellow man (bein adam lechavero), and the centrality of the tzadik.

Let me mention the second issue here for a minute. The laws between man and his fellow man are often neglected in Orthodox Judaism because of the above mentioned principles that guys can concentrate on a very limited number of principles and when the religious ritual aspects of things looms large the aspect of the Torah which relates to the interactions between people becomes small and insignificant. Musar was meant to correct this. The Musar movement before World War Two did emphasize this. Whether it was Slabodka or Kelm or Navardok they all claimed that the most essential part of the Torah is the midot- the bein adam lechavero- the interaction between people. [The Reshash Shalom Sharabi makes this abundantly clear in his magnum opus the Nahar Shalom]. This aspect of Musar has become largely forgotten and breslov is no exception.

Appendix: Musar is founded on the idea of learning classical Musar like the book the duties of the heart and Orchot Tzadikim and the Mesilat Yesharim. But it developed in time its own secondary literature based on the approaches of Navardok, Slabodka, Kelm, and Mir. My suggestion for people in general is to look at the Madragat Haadam from the school of thought of Navardok.


Idolatry is by all accounts the central issue in the Torah. I think it is perhaps because some people have never finished reading the Old Testament [Tenach] in Hebrew that they are not aware of this fact.

But as you go through the Old Testament you notice that this is the most essential theme. I admit that keeping all the mitzvot comes in a close second but this is clearly what all the prophets considered the most essential aspect of the Torah. For this reason you would think that people would spend more time in clarifying exactly what is idolatry. After being involved in Breslov for a good number of years it started occurring to me to attempt to bring some clarity to this issue.

I want to first of all suggestion that (1) Idolatry has a close connection with spirituality.
(2) Also I want to suggest that it is easy to become an object of idolatry. Anyone can do so with one word. ("Serve me," Rabbi Mei says is liable for idolatry. Sanhedrin 61a)
(3) Also I want to defend the  thesis of the Rambam [Maimonides] that worship of a mediator is also in the category of idolatry by means of an idea of Reb Chaim from Voloshin [in his book the Nefesh Hachaim]

First the ways of doing idolatry are five. Four are not according to its way: pouring, burning, sacrifice, bowing, and one according to its way. [Sanhedrin 60b].
Second of all, no god needs to be considered to be a world creator..No god ever was. [  For example Zeus was the god of lightning.] [Brahama the creator is himself created  by Brahman. And Brahman is not a creator but a former of the world from his own substance.]Even those that were world formers had always found preexisting substance.. The gods were not immortal. The Norse gods could die.
To be considered a god all one needed was power over some aspect of the world like healing or giving birth to children etc.

So it seems possible to say that coming to a navi [prophet] for a blessing could be in this category. All one needs to do is to think that he has some kind of spiritual power over some aspect of the world like giving blessings for children or healing. And then doing the service that is special for him as perhaps in giving to him charity.

Yet we do find in the Torah people coming to a  navi (prophet) for blessings. Avimelech was commanded by God to go to Avraham and ask him for a prayer.
 It looks that the Torah is thinking that a mediator is OK. If one thinks the being has powers in himself that is idolatry but if he is only a pipeline to God that is OK.

This presents a problem to the Rambam who says a mediator is also idolatry.

The answer to this is in the Nefesh HaChaim by the disciple of the Geon from Villna. He considers that when a person attaches himself to the divine spirit in a tzadik that is idolatry. This is how the Rambam would answer our objection that when the Torah says to go to a Navi or prophet for blessing it does not mean that one attaches himself to the spirit of that prophet. That is that the idea of idolatry is a kind of spiritual connection with some being besides God.

The other people besides the Rambam that do not seem to think that a mediator is a problem are thinking of idolatry more along the lines of the Talmud itself that is means accepting some being as ones god.

Based on the above analysis I think we can see the reason that some people have considered Chasidut as problematic and others have thought it  very important. This seems to be dependent whether you go with the Rambam or other opinions.

I think there is no chance that older Hasidim will change their world view. I think they will continue in older  theology in which the tzadik is the central figure. But every day new people get involved in Chasidut and my hope is they they will understand that a tzadik is not the central aspect of Torah, but rather God.


I have been trying to understand the subject of Musar for a while.
One of my motivations was that there is a connection between fear of God and length of days.
So I asked someone to bring a few books of Musar which I was reading for a while.
I still am not sure how to evaluate the whole subject.
The good things are that it gives a basically consistent world view of the meaning  Torah and Life and the universe. And having a consistent world view are important in order that a person should not do evil.

The reason is simple. If the evil inclination can get an inconsistent world view into a person that has conflicting principles then anything can be justified.

Or if the Satan can get an evil world view into a person then even if the person is good hearted , his actions will be evil.

On the other hand I did notice that books of Musar written under the influence of Kabalah tend to become a bit fanatic.

My learning partner suggested that  what is called today orthodox Judaism has a lineage that comes directly from the Ramban (Moshe ben Nachman) and not from the Rambam and Saadia Geon.

Musar is traditionally divided between the Rishonim or the classical books, and then later achronim,  and then the actual books of the disciples of Israel Salanter. But I think a better division is between kabalah based books and Rambam based books.


I feel the world is headed towards catastrophe. My feeling about what to do is to learn Torah. 
I am not making this up. In fact I heard from Reb Shmuel Berenbaum this idea countless of times. It is certainly not what you would hear from Breslov people that I started hanging out with after only a few years at the Mir.

In Breslov prayer and coming to Uman for Rosh HaShannah are considered as the cure alls. But at the Mir it was definitely learning Torah.

I would like to defend the basic idea of the Mir. But before I do I want to explain what the idea of learning Torah is. The simplest way of explaining this is to quote from Maimonides: "Just like there is not validity in the concept of adding or subtracting from the written Torah so is there no validity in the concept of adding or subtraction from the Oral Torah."

I.e. at the Mir the idea of learning Torah was highly limited to the actual content of the Oral and written Torah. Things that were written after the Talmud bavli only had legitimacy in so far as they were accurate explanations of the Talmud Bavli. Rishonim might be called second level Torah. Torah but not actual first level Torah.

Musar could also be considered second level Torah because it explains the basic world view of the Talmud.
But one problem I have with Musar is in fact in a the area of world view issues.

I think it is very important to have a world view that is consistent with reality and also has no internal inconsistencies.  So while Musar as a whole does give a basic world view based on Torah and Talmud still there are areas which it gets too frum (religious).


Idolatry is   highly relevant issue nowadays especially in the world of Hasidut. It is a surprise for me that this issue is not studied more in depth. 

In the Nefesh Hachaim of Reb Chaim from Voloshin we find the idea of attaching oneself to the divine spirit inside of another human being is idolatry. This is also a helpful idea and might give us an idea of some problems we find in Chasidim today. But again it is not the kind of definition I am looking for.

I have gotten into the habit of looking at original sources to decide any issue. And I think this is helpful here also. So I went to the Talmud in Sanhedrin page 60b to learn what the ancient Jewish sages thought about idolatry.
There we find in the mishna a difference between serving an idol according to it way and not according to its way. The Mishna says serving an idol or even not according to its way is idolatry if it is one of four kinds of serve--sacrifice or a service that was in the temple in Jerusalem and also bowing.

My point today in this essay is that when the Talmud comes along to discover the reason for this mishna it brings a braita [outside teaching] that is hard to understand.

So now I come to my point.
The Braita gets sacrifice from "he sacrificed." It gets other kinds of service that were done in the temple in Jerusalem from "only to God alone." Then it gets bowing from "and he will bow".

So far everything looks good.

But then it wants to take out kissing or hugging or anything that is not one of these four types. It does this by invoking the rule anything that was in a category and has been mention specifically, has been mentioned to tell us not about itself alone but the whole category.
Sacrifice has gone out to tell us when it is not according to it way he is only liable if it is avodat panim[inner service --serve that was done in the temple]

Now the way this looks [at least from rashi ] is that it is referring to the verse he went and served which means all kinds of service [according to its way or not]. But this can't be so.
The verse,"He will sacrifice," tells us nothing about service according to the way of idolatry.

The Braita has to mean that he will sacrifice has come been singled out for mention out of the category of "only for God alone".
Just to give the reader a little context I should mention that there are plenty of issues in the rashi here as you can see in the Maharam from Lublin. And the Gemara on the next page also goes deeply into problems that this Braita poses. One could easily spend a good year on these two pages of Gemara. But I wanted to focus here on this problem that apparently no one else has mentioned.