Showing posts with label fear of god. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fear of god. Show all posts


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.


I want to start a Musar Movement II [Jewish Ethics].

This was to be a side topic today. The most important thing I wanted to discuss was that I found what I believe to be a possible answer for the Rambam concerning the Talmud Bava Kama page 19B. But I think I will have to put that on another blog because I think the idea of Musar for the general public is more of immediate concern.

So concerning the Musar Movement II let me first state why I think Musar Movement I is not sufficient.
The problem with  Musar Movement I as it exists today is that it became frum [religious]. The main issue are, "Be frum, learn Torah all day, don't go to university, be a good part of the chareidi world," and all that is somehow supposed to be related to fear of God or fixing of bad character traits. Musar today does not seem to have any connection with fixing of bad character or at all; and fear of God it seems to define as  frumkeit [being extra strict in ritual most of which are not from the Talmud and are not halacha]. This alone would have to put a damper on any enthusiasm for Musar for any reasonable person.

My suggestions are these. Musar first of all should be based on the original texts that R Israel Salanter wanted to be the basis of Musar Chovot Levavot, Orchot Tzadikim, MesilatYesharim, Sefer Hamidot,Sefer HaYasher of Rabbainu Tam (and a few other basic Ethical works from the Middle Ages).

But I also wanted to add a philosophical angle to this whole project.
My basic reasoning is that Musar depends a lot on metaphysics. Now most of the Metaphysics in Musar you don't see in the original set. [Notable exception the beginning of the Chovot Levavot ] But as you go on in time and kabalah gets more to be a part of the Musar books you see more and more metaphysics being thrown in. Yet we know from Kant that metaphysics is a problem.
Kant is not an issue that can be ignored. If you accept him then metaphysics is impossible. You can just choose some pre Kant approach like the Kabalah and go your merry way.

Musar II would also have to include books related to world view issues like the Emunot Vedeot of Saadia Geon. Because you can't separate character traits from world view. They are highly interconnected.

[There is a tendency that you find in the book of Job, "Is not your fear your stupidity?"Fear of God is often coupled with not very smart doctrines. Musar as it exist today is a good example. Most Musar books that are published in the Orthodox Jewish would today are incredibly stupid.
Musar has certainly decayed from the time of Israel Salanter. This has to be changed.]


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.


Fear of God

I would like to suggest that the basic path of fear of God of Torah is well explained in Gemara and Musar.

That is why I think education should be first:  the great books--Torah, Talmud,  Plato, Aristotle, the Ari. These are world books that extend infinitely beyond their time and space. Then there are lesser books which are also important which also extend beyond their time and space but not infinitely--i.e.  and Kant.

The problem though with Kabalah as some people have noticed that the Dark Side gets into the act.  Nowadays they are almost synonymous. And with chasidut a similar kind of problem exists--it is idolatry.

My suggestion for fear of God in a proper way is to "learn Torah." [That is the idea of Reb Shmuel Berenbaum, of the Mirrer Yeshiva in NY. His answer to most people when they came to him with some kind of problem was to learn Torah. This is in accord with the general idea that the Torah {the Oral and Written Law} contains all the answers to life's problems. I should mention that "learning Torah" in the Lithuanian yeshiva world is  considered a life goal in itself. The idea is that by learning Torah one brings good things into one's own life and into the world in general. This is a radical idea I know and hard to accept. But it is the major premise of all Litvak Yeshivas.