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31.10.14

Some people might like to know the names of the basic achronim (later people written after the time of the Shulchan Aruch) .
I probably should go into the pluses and minuses about them. But just for public information I think I should at least give a brief rundown. Rabbi Aikiva Eiger. [There is a great full edition of everything he wrote in one big set.] The Ketzot Hachoshen  and the Netivot Hamishpat both found in the big Shulchan Aruch. Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik and his disciples (Baruch Ber and Shimon Shkopf). Also there is Naftali Troup. At least for reference every home needs these books in them. Because of the time factor I can't go into the ins and outs of how to go about learning these people. I am sure everyone is getting ready for Shabat. But at least I wrote the list for people that need to know what to look up in the achronim.

It is important to realize that these people define the continuation of classical Torah learning. But learning them is very different from learning the page of the Gemara you are on with the Tosphot. I would love to go into this but time is limited because of Shabat.


The first group of achronim are not usually concerned with the same issues that Tosphot is concerned with. Nonetheless they are important. The later ones beginning with Reb Chaim are getting back into the Tosphot itself.

Here is another idea I had in  tractate Sanhedrin which I apparently forgot to put in that little booklet
that I put on my blog a few days ago.

א)סנהדרין סא. תוספות ד''ה "איכה יעבדו". החברותא שלי, דוד, הציעה סיבה אפשרית למה שהמאור הגדול לא פירש כמו תוספות.תוספות מבינים את שאלת הגמרא להיות אם יש לנו השתחווייה למה צריכים את איכה יעבדו? היינו בשלב הזה הגמרא לא יכולה למצוא דבר שאיכה יעבדו אוסרת שהשתחווייה כבר אסרה. וזה בגלל שלפי תוספות השתחווייה אוסרת את הכול [היינו כדרכה, שלא כדרכה, דרך כבוד, דרך בזיון]. וזה טוב. אבל הגמרא ממשיכה, אולי איכה יעבדו בא למעט (היינו לפטור) פוער לזובחים(דרך בזיון לאלילים שעובדים אותם דרך כבוד). אבל השתווייה כבר מיעטה את זה. (והגמרא נותנת סיבה לכך: כמו שהשתחווייה היא דרך כבוד אף כול דרך כבוד).אלא צריך לומר שאיכה יעבדו בא למעט פוער למרקוליס. אבל נסתכל למה שהגמרא אמרה. היא צימצמה איכה יעבדו לדרך כבוד. והתוצאה מכך צריכה להיות שיש לנו עכשיו דבר שאיכה יעבדו יכולה לאסור, היינו כדרכה דרך בזיון. תוספות יודעים שיש הקושיה הזאת, והם מתרצים שעדיין השתחייווה הייתה אוסרת כדרכה דרך בזיון. והם מביאים ראיה (הוכחה) לזה, שזה מובנת ממה שהגמרא אמרה אחר כך שהשתחווייה הייתה אוסרת פוער למרקוליס אם לא הייתה איכה יעבדו. השאלה של החברותא פה היא שאין לנו סיבה לחלק בשלב הזה בין כדרכה ושלא כדרכה.אם מצמצמים את השתחווייה לדרך כבוד אז המשמעות היא שזה כדרכה ושלא כדרכה. ולכן יש לנו צורך באיכה יעבדו לאסור את כדרכה דרך בזיון. זו שאלה טובה. והיא יכולה להיות הסיבה שבעל המאור דרך דרך אחרת. והשאלה שלי הייתה שאפילו שתניח שתוספות צודקים שהיינו אוסרים כדרכה בזיון למרקוליס, זה לא אומר שהיינו אוסרים כדרכה דרך בזיון לזובחים. והחברותא ענה שאין כזה דבר. דרך בזיון לזובחים על ידי פירוש המילים אינה כדרכה.



30.10.14

Sanhedrin 61a I wanted to take the time today to give the answer to my question on Tosphot that I asked yesterday on this blog .
Remember the Gemara (Talmud)  said we could learn service not like its way from "bowing" (Deuteronomy 17).

Rav Acha asked on this: Then what would we do with "How do they serve?" (Deuteronomy 12)?

Tosphot asked on this: Why he did not ask this when we were learning from "sacrifice?"(He who sacrifices to false gods will be destroyed Exodus 22:19).

Tosphot answers: because bowing tells us everything.

Yesterday I asked: Then when the Gemara continues and limits "bowing" to a way of honor, then why did it not jump right away on the simple answer: So now we know what we could do with "How do they serve?" That is to forbid quadrant IV, service its way and dishonor.

Tosphot actually deals with this last question and suggested that that area quadrant IV would have remained forbidden under bowing. And his proof of this is that the Gemara anyway suggests that it would forbid a way of dishonor like exposing oneself to Markulis [an idol one usually throws stones at to worship].
There were yesterday two questions on this. One of my learning partner and one of mine. That of my learning partner is the best. So far we have no reason to distinguish between its way and not. So if we limit "bowing" to honor then that should be that.
But my question was different. I asked: All we know is dishonor to Markulis that is not its way.  And so all we know in its way is the same thing. [It is an all the more so.] But a way of dishonor to idols one usually sacrifices to might still be permitted if done in a way of honor and then we have something for "How do they serve"? to forbid.
I asked my learning partner this today and he said an unbelievably simple answer. "There can't be any such thing." Think about it. It is an idol one worships in a way of honor and you are serving it in its way  by an act of dishonor.  Clearly there can't be any such thing. If one is serving it in its way, he is by definition serving it in  away of honor. I can't imagine why I did not notice this. It is an obvious mistake on my part.

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Same essay with a little more Hebrew for people like me that understand it better in that way.
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סנהדרין סא עמוד א I wanted to take the time today to give the answer to my question on תוספות that I asked yesterday on this blog .
Remember the גמרא  said we could learn service not like its way from "bowing" דברים י''ז.

רב אחא asked on this: Then what would we do with "How do they serve?" Deuteronomy 12?

תוספות asked on this: Why he did not ask this when we were learning from זובח לאלהים יחרם.

תוספות answers: because התשחוויה tells us everything.

Yesterday I asked: Then when the גמרא continues and limits התשחוויה to a way of כבוד, then why did it not jump right away on the simple answer: So now we know what we could do with איכה יעבדו That is to forbid quadrant IV, service its way and dishonor.

תוספות actually deals with this last question and suggested that that area quadrant IV would have remained forbidden under bowing. And his proof of this is that the גמרא anyway suggests that it would forbid a way of dishonor like exposing oneself to מרקוליס [an idol one usually throws stones at to worship].
There were yesterday two questions on this. One of my learning partner and one of mine. That of my learning partner is the best. So far we have no reason to distinguish between its way and not. So if we limit התשחוויה to דרך כבוד then that should be that.

That is if we learn from התשחוויה then quadrant I and II should be forbidden and III and IV permitted.But Tosphot says we would expand it to IV also so David asked then we would have to expand it to III also. That means that in the question of Tosphot we are assuming התשחוויה forbids
area 4. and we are looking for something for יכה יעבדו To permit. and we can't find it because area 3 is already permitted by means of התשחוויה. These are the conditions needed for the question of Tosphot to be valid. But David asked if IV is forbidden by התשחוויה  then must III  be forbidden by the same reasoning.

Now in the answer of Tosphot that is in fact what Tosphot says. That we don't distinguish. But the question of David is what reason did we have in the first place to think there could be a difference?


















29.10.14

Talmud Sanhedrin 61a.

תוספות first words "How do they serve?"(איכה יעבדו)(Deuteronomy 12) my learning partner suggested today a possible reason why the Meor Hagadol [on the Ri'f] did not choose to go on the path of Tosphot.
The thing you need to do to see this is to take the idea of Tosphot that is how he wants to read the Gemara and just go with it. Tosphot is understanding the Gemara's (Talmud) original question to be if we have "bowing"(Deuteronomy 17) then what do you need "How do they serve?" (Deuteronomy 12) That is Tosphot understands that the Gemara can't find anything that "How do they serve?" forbids that "bowing"(Deuteronomy 17) does not already forbid--because to Tosphot "bowing"(השתחוויה) forbids everything, [the way of the idol and not the way of the idol and in a way of honor and not in a way of honor]. Okay. So far so good.
But then the Gemara continues: Well. Perhaps "How do they serve?"(איכה יעבדו) tells us to allow service in a way of dishonor towards idols one usually honors. It answers: "That can't be because that is already allowed because of 'bowing.'" And it gives a reason for this. Just like bowing is in a way of honor, so also any service you want to forbid has to be in a way of honor.

So at this point the Gemara has confined "bowing" to a way of honor. Then it suggests that "How do they serve?" comes to allow a way of dishonor towards idols one usually serves in a way of dishonor  but that not being their usual way.
But let us take a look at what the Gemara has said. It has now confined "bowing" to a way of honor. That means we now have an easy use for "How do they serve?"--all of quadrant IV which is the intersection of "its way"[כדרכה] and the way of dishonor (דרך בזיון). So then why does the Gemara after that have to find something else that "How do they serve?"(איכה יעבדו) comes to permit. Did not we say originally that we are looking for any use of "How do they serve?" Now we have a use for it,- service in its way that is dishonorable. Quadrant IV.
Now Tosphot does deal with this question. He says that the Gemara still wants to use "bowing" to forbid a way of dishonor towards idols one usually serves in a different way of dishonor. After all that is exactly what it says we would forbid  if not for "How do they serve?" So all the more so would we forbid its way in a way of dishonor. That is: We do assume bowing forbids part of quadrant III {intersection of dishonor and not its way} that deals with Markulis. [Markulis is an idol one serves by throwing stones at it] so all the more so quadrant IV. But in fact that would only forbid quadrant IV.
In other words, I am not sure that the answer of Tosphot works well here. Because all you see in the Gemara is dishonor to Markulis is permitted by "How do they serve?" And that would have been forbidden by "bowing." But what does that tell us about "bowing" in quadrant IV--only things relevant to Markulis. Also what have we said about "bowing?" That is forbids only things that are honorable. So, at this point we have limited greatly what "bowing" can forbid.

So what comes out is that the  Hameor HaGadol may have had a good reason not to walk in this path. We see Tosphot is right that he has support from the Gemara itself. If you forbid dishonor to Markulis, it seems a fortiori you would forbid all kinds of service in its way. But how would you get this distinction from the verse? That you forbid everything by bowing and only allow dishonor to idols one usually honors and use "How do they serve?" to permit dishonor to idols one usually serves with dishonor. Does not this seem like a stretch? We can see why the  Hameor HaGadol went a different path here.

Appendix: My question on Tosphot and my learning partner's question are two different things. And now that I think of it, it seems to me my question needs a little more thinking. Because even though it seems like a good point, but what would you gain from my question? You would have to move the boundaries a little and that is all. "Bowing" would still forbid certain most things, and "How do they serve?" still permits things that bowing would have forbidden. But so what? That does not seem right now to me to be  a big deal. Rather, my learning partner's question seems much more powerful.

A possible approach to understanding Isaac Luria: (1) External and internal worlds refer to subject and object. (2) Light and vessel mean the essence of existence and characteristics.

A possible approach to understanding Isaac Luria: (1) External and internal worlds refer to subject and object. (2) Light and vessel mean the essence of existence  and characteristics.

This is different from Ashlag [note 2] who wanted to interpreted the Ari as advocating a basically communistic system


In philosophy  there is one area which deals with how we know things.{note 1} And there is another area which deal with what things actually are. This later area is called Metaphysics. [The name comes from the set of books called the Metaphysics by Aristotle which deals with the question of what things actually are as distinct from their characteristics. ] And this Metaphysics also got to be divided into different areas. One is the nature of things and the other is the existence of things. And both these later areas got divided up into the question of the person looking at stuff. He is called the subject. And the objects he is looking at are called the objects.
The divisions are divided between Kant, Hegel, Berkley, and Descartes.
Kant holds characteristics of objects depend on the subject. But their existence is independent.
That is transcendental [independent of experience] idealism (dependent on my existence). This is the exact opposite of Hegel who holds from empirical realism.




My suggestion here is to understand the Ari [Isaac Luria] and the Reshash in this way of transcendental idealism. That is not to say that this is the only level on which the Ari can be understood. Rather I have always understood him to be referring to many (maybe infinite) sub-levels.

The basic idea here is that with Kant we have the existence of the subjects that is you and me and of objects being transcendent, i.e., independent of experience. But not in terms of characteristics. We can see such a thing in an electron who knows to act differently when he sees two slits in front of him or one slit.  He know that is there is one slit he is supposed to act like a particle. If two slits he know to act like a wave and to interfere with himself if there are no other electrons present. This fits perfectly with Kant.



In Isaac Luria we also have these sub-divisions. The light is the essence of the thing. and the vessel is its characteristics. And the worlds are divided into inner and outer, [subject and object.].  This you can see best in diagram the Reshash has in the regular Eitz Chaim that is somehow missing in the Ashlag edition.

Now in terms of knowledge of stuff we have the exact same divisions: Kant, Hegel, Berkley, and Descartes. And that also you can see in the famous Drush Hadaat of the Reshash.

For further reading see

 (2) And also the regular Eitz Chaim [Tree of Life] by Isaac Luria and Chaim Vital.
Also the Eitz Chaim printed by the Ashlag group]
(3) The only things to read in Kant are the three Critiques. The area of Moral theory which is teh only thing they teach to university students is the weakest of all of Kant's writings and anyway cant be understood without the three Critiques.



(Note 1) This area is not very interesting. It gives us "the Fundamental Fallacy of Philosophy: the idea that the limitations of our minds tell us anything about the nature of reality. What we can call The Fundamental Fallacy of Modern Philosophy might be defined as the idea that it makes sense to study structure divorced from content. This is the idea that has given us businessmen who think they can "manage" without knowing anything about what they manage, critics who claim that only the technical excellence of a work of art matters, not its content, and sociologists of science." (Steven Dutch)
(Note 2). Ashlag was influenced by Hegel and thought Communism and/or Socialism is the ideal goal.
I can't But this political position does not show up in his commentaries on the Kabalah except in rare places. At any rate, I am thinking that it is first not true that Socialism represents the ideal society. 100 million victims of Stalin, Lenin, and Communistic China would seem to prove this last point. Also, I think that Ashlag did not take into account that the Torah is highly capitalistic. How can you read the Torah and not realize private property is an essential part of it.?

I should add perhaps that Kabalah is not usually understood as an alternative to Torah but as a deeper understanding of Torah. At least that is what we get with the Zohar and the Ari  and the Gra. No question people that get into it tend to start to make up their own religions. That is a sad tendency but it is I think contrary to the spirit of the authentic kabalists. I am trying to concentrate on the good aspects of Kabalah here. But I am aware of the pitfalls. If you want to avoid the pitfalls, then learn it in the general context of the Geon from Vilnius.





28.10.14

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/28/nyregion/ebola-new-york-hazmat-workers.html?_r=1

After Ebola got to NY I am wondering why it would not have been simpler to place a ban on all incoming flights from Africa? Perhaps I would not have been politically correct? Maybe even perhaps seen as racist? But does the fear of being perceived as being racist triumph over human life?

How far does it go this fear of being perceived as racist? Apparently it runs so deep that it cancels the desire for self preservation in NY.


At any rate I can say that in this case there is another factor that is working against NY. It is the need of people not to be seen in anything but their best image. In other parts of the world like in the Ukraine or Russia when there is news of some outbreak people go to work waring surgical masks over their mouths and noses. It looks funny. And it is highly embarrassing. But these people figure that their own lives are worth a little embarrassment

It seems to have the same basic effects as the Black Plague http://www.sciencemag.org/site/extra/ebola/

Some accurate information about Ebola from the hard science is that it is highly contagious and highly deadly. It seems to have the same basic effects as the Black Plague. I would have thought that New York would have suspended all incoming flights from Africa. But no. They now have it is NY also.

27.10.14

Eliyahu from Vilnius

The Geon from Vilna considered learning Torah the highest service of God.
In this he was depending on statements in the Talmud (Yerushalmi Peah chapter 2). Also there is considerable support for this idea in the Zohar. The disciple of the Gra goes into this in detail in his book the Nefesh Hachaim.


.  The fact is the Gra has support from the Talmud. There is a Halacha that when there is a mitzvah that needs doing and it can't be done by someone else one should interrupt his learning of Torah to attend to that Mitzvah. And praying to God to be saved from sin and to be drawn towards His service is a mitzvah that can't be done by anyone else.



The Gra (Eliyahu from Vilnius) is someone that is not charismatic. You can't get excited about the Gra. But it is possible to get excited about the Torah.



I sadly dropped my extent of involvement with the Torah. Sure I would keep on learning to some degree, but mainly my time was taken up by kivrei tzadikim [graves of saints] and saying lots of tehilim [psalms] and the like. Anything but Torah. And I discovered and odd fact. That when one drops  Torah he can't just pick her up again when he pleases.

26.10.14

Idolatry

In the Gemara [Talmud Bavli] Sanhedrin 61a Rav Acha asked if we would go with the idea of rava bar rav chanan to learn servce to an idol not like its way from "bowing" (i.e. they will go and serve and bow down Deuteronomy 17) then what would we do with, "How do they serve?" (Deuteronomy 12)? My question on this is why start with bowing or even with sacrifice as the outside teaching (Braita) does? Why not start with "How do they serve?" and go from there? That is why do we not start out saying that "how do they serve?" tells us that service not like its way is not liable, and then ask so what can "bowing" or "sacrifice" be coming to tell us? And then we would be forced to answer that bowing or sacrifice must be telling us that only bowing or sacrifice according to it way is liable. That means the Gemara would be taking the two verses as an intersection instead of as a union. i.e. an "And" gate and not an "Or" gate. I mentioned this to my learning partner and he said my question is not really on Rav Acha at all but rather on the original Braita. For the original Braita starts out assuming all service according to its was is liable and then tells us that sacrifice not like its way is also liable.


That above paragraph is my idea for today in Torah. But just for people that are new to this blog let me try to give a little background. The Braita says we learn service not like the way of the idol from sacrifice. (Exodus 22. "He who sacrifices to false gods will be destroyed.") Rava asked why not learn from bowing? Rav Acha asks if we would learn from bowing then what would you do with How do they serve?


However I have some reason to choose the Kant  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.]











22.10.14

Eliyahu from Vilnius and learning Torah

Eliyahu from Vilnius was very influential. It was his emphasis that learning Torah is the central thing . 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 that find inspiration in the teachings of Breslov but that is no reason to subvert the simple historical facts . In fact, there is an idea of  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. [Ontological undecidablity see Kelley Ross and Schelling ]


When I asked someone from Bnei Brak to bring me this three volume set, I was told it was written by a "baal teshuva" (newly religious). The ultimate put-down. However, the book was by a well known grandson of a 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

\
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.

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, 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. 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. 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. 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.

 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. Do this in your own home so  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 can't 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

1) 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.


2) A word of warning: All books of chasidut on Kabalah written after the events of the time of Shabatai Tzvi (note 6)  borrow a lot from 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.

) 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 Ashkenazi Jewish world . ) 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.

 )  kabalah is best learned as a part of a normal Torah curriculum,  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 with the writings of the Ari .


 I think  that Musar is important. But Musar is a highly limited tool in character correction.  (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.
 And then I think about the Gemara, Rashi, and Topsphot. Also I think about my experience and then I think about other people's.

 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 after doing the Talmud a few times. 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.


 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.





2.10.14

Idolatry seems to have two different parts.One is accepting a different god other that the God of Israel as ones god. The other is actual service towards anything under God. That is the set of everything or anything under God. [That is how the Rambam out it in his commentary to the Mishna.]

Why I say this is because   that accepting any other god as ones god besides the God of Israel is idolatry.But Abyee in Tractate Sanhedrin page 61b that serving an idol from love or fear is also liable--So we see at least to Abyee that one does not need to accept this other god as ones god in order to be liable. Service alone is enough.

[For general information I should mention that "serve" in this context means that you have an idol or a statue of some physical object someplace and one either serves it according to its generally accepted way (like throwing stones at it --if that is its service) --or sacrificing an animal, or pouring  wine, or offering incense, or bowing.] These last four are learned from verses in the Book of Deuteronomy e.g. "Least he will go and sacrifice"]


Abyee brings a proof from a braita- -(a teaching from the period of the Tenaim but was not part of the Mishna).
In short, we see from the Braita is that there is such thing as serving idols accidentally. I can't go into the details right now and they don't matter for what Abyee needs the braita for.
Abyee goes through the different possibilities what this "accidentally serving idols" might mean. After he has gone through all the logical possibilities and nothing works, he decides that it must means from love or fear.

What I wanted to get to in this essay is this one simple point--apparently idolatry needs some level of knowledge that you don't usually need in normal prohibitions-- even to Abyee.The reason I say this is lets looks at what Abyee actually says.

He asks, if he bows down to a house of idols but thinks it is a synagogue, then he has not done anything wrong--his heart is towards Heaven . If he knows it is a house of idols, then he is liable. If it is the statue of  king then if he accepts it as his god, he is liable, and if not then he has not done anything wrong.

What I wanted to point out, is that why can't Abyee take the usual case of "accident"--one has two pieces of fat in front of him. One is forbidden fat, and the other allowed fat; and he eats one and finds out later it was forbidden. So why can't we say "accidentally" there is a synagogue and a  Buddhist temple and he walks in and prays the afternoon prayer and he found out it was a Buddhist temple.

Clearly we see that this would not be liable to either Abyee or Rava. Why Not? Because clearly idolatry needs a higher degree of knowledge that normal prohibitions just like Shabat.

Appendix:
I just wanted to mention here why this is important. Most people do not have an idea of what idolatry is. So they take hybrids are being prime examples. This does not serve in the cause of intellectual clarity. For example take Hinduism. If you take the Bahavagad Gita it looks like worship of  a god who seems much like the First Cause, the God of Israel. But if you take a look at normal worship in India it seems to be clearly idolatry. It is not good to take a hybrid and use it as a prime example because that just confuses things. This is why we need to go to the Gemara directly to understand in it essence what exactly does the prohibition of idolatry include and what does it exclude.