Talmudic Wisdom

What people have looked for in Talmud sages  is wisdom.
--not Talmudic ingenious ideas, and not moral lessons.

The Hebrew sages were all monotheists who held that God fashioned the world, but remained outside it [God and the world are two radically different things]

  When people ceased to find wisdom Jewish teachers there began the mass movement of psychology which dressed itself in the respectable garments and academic gowns of Science.

When people today look for  sound and serene judgment regarding the conduct of life they can't find it anywhere  except among charlatans that claim this knowledge.

Some people still make good money by pretense to this deep knowledge, though they have no idea about the truth in human life.

This creates a sense of outrage in people that feel they have been defrauded.

[1] Learning Torah is important. The main thing is Rav Shach's Avi Ezri which combines all aspects of Torah and  puts them into a simple to swallow pill form.
The reason the Avi Ezri (אבי עזרי) of Rav Shach is important is the same as when you do math you look at the proofs. You see how it is derived and then you get a true understanding of what is going on. It is like when I read the Handbook of Mathematics which gave me a general picture of the theorems, but not an understanding of any one theorem thoroughly. You need to learn how the law is derived.  

The final result of Torah is as it relates to actions and being a mensch. Get  Musar [Ethics]. 

(Torah in this context means the Old Testament (תנ''ך) and Gemara, Rashi and Tosphot). It is a gateway into the real reality hidden outside the cave.
You have to learn Talmud at home. There are exceptions to this rule. There are sometimes places [like Ponoviz in Bnei Brak and the great Litvak yeshivas of NY] where people have no agenda, and are just there to learn Torah. But these places are rare. In general, it is best to play it safe, and stay home and do your learning without bad influences around. [It is a problem today that the Sitra Achra (סטרא אחרא Dark Side) has penetrated most places of pretended Torah. Torah of the Dark Side/Sitra Akra.]

[2] One aspect of my wisdom for the world are ideas about the conduct of life that I received from my parents. One is "Balance." That is that even though it is true that we all need to sit and learn Gemara, but this needs to be done with balance. You still need to go to a technical collage or university and learn an honest profession.
You still need to go to the  learn survival skills and learn how to work together with others.

You need to be self sufficient. and self reliant. It is nice if you have  a community around you to support you, but self reliance was the first commandment of my Dad.

[3] Musar. Ethical books written during the Middle Ages concerning the acquiring of fear of God. The Middle Ages  was a time when fear of God was a primary topic, and the books concerning this aspect of life written during that period are better than anything written later. [Simply because it mattered more, -and because logical reasoning was more valued. Medieval books  never have the problems of circular reasoning that all philosophy and theology books have after that period.] And fear of God is an essential ingredient for human life.

[4] Natural Sciences.  Learning of natural sciences was an important part of life to Maimonides and my parents. I can't account for why they thought this to be so. [Physics is the hidden Torah inside of the world.

That is to say: There is no reason for anyone to say they can't learn Physics or Math. All you need to do is to say the words in order (see the Talmud Tractate Shabat page 63a that says to learn like this. לעולם לגריס אף על גב דמשכח ואף על גב דלא ידע מאי קאמר) and go on until you have finished the whole book four times. The ideas will automatically be absorbed into your subconsciousness. And then they will grow and one day you will wake up and discover that you understood all the material you thought you did not understand. I hold that learning Physics and Math is as important as the Oral and Written Law. When it comes to learning Torah we do not make a difference whether one is good at it or not. We say everyone is required to learn Torah. Once the Rambam included Physics in the category of the Oral Law, the same idea applies. We do not make a distinction whether one is good at it or not. Therefore my idea of saying the words and going on is important because it is the only way for some people to get an idea of Physics at all.

[5] Stay away from cults and false leaders that sprout up like mushrooms. Especially the world of Religious Judaism today is filled with them. And they never go away even when they die. They just get stronger.
[6] Outdoor and survival skills.
[7] I am a fan of sit-ups. There is something about sit ups that helps me concentrate afterwards that no other form of exercise can do.
[8] Hydrogen peroxide with toothpaste for brushing.
[9] Iodine  for wounds and cuts. This was well known in the USA and the USSR. The reason is it stays there and continues its anti bacterial action for longer periods than other kinds of medication.
[10] Boric acid for bacteria on feet or fungus.
[11] Obesity? Have a coffee [or tea] first thing in the morning with one whole raw egg mixed in. Beets with black bread in the morning for breakfast. [These are just my own ideas but based on the Talmudic idea of פת שחרית bread first thing in the morning.]
[12] I used to jog. I found that not convenient any more but I still think it is the best. I think for me sit-ups are important also. At least these are things that do not need a gym.
[13] The Talmud warns us about people that make a show of being religious. Especially people that put themselves forward to show they are teachers of Torah. The Talmud derives this warning from a verse in Tenach. The basic subject in in tractate Shabat "When ever you see troubles come on a generation check out the judges of Israel for all the trouble that come into the world only come because of the judges of Israel." In short that means the religious world is to be avoided at all cost. There is there some kind of unspeakable evil that parades itself as Torah.

() The Gra went did a kind of repentance called "Galut" that is wandering from place to place where people do not recognize you and not to spend much time in  any one place. This kind of teshuva has the aspect to it that it is not good to always be hidden from the way the world really is. people can get disconnected with reality when they are too sheltered. And a lot of the world revolves on status. You can't get married or get a job without status. but too much status tends to be harmful. One forgets his own faults and failings. Thus this idea of Galut is very important.


Torah stands at the door: The Will To Torah. or The Tragic Torah

The Tragic Torah

Torah Tragedy.

In the Torah and Gemara Rashi and Tosphot [Talmud] we find  Tragedy at every turn. We find the lonely individual Moses in the wilderness took the wrong step in life and hit the rock instead of speaking to it , abruptly finding himself cut off from the land of Israel forever. David after being anointed king finds himself a hunted fugitive. in the life of every Talmudic sage we find some tragic event and inexplicable mysteries.

 For Torah, the truth about life is in tragedy. True Torah, must reveal the essence of life [the ten statements by which the world was created] and thus be amoral, because life in its very core is not moral.
We know the Rambam [Maimonides] was not a particularistic. We know he held that behind every law of the Torah there is a principle at work that are  life, love, and natural law.

And as the Torah is not moral guidance but rather primal natural laws, through which the Torah both creates and destroys lesser life such as human beings and animals, Torah must be regarded as "anti-life" to morally condemn natural things such as death, pain or tragedy.

Torah life unconditionally and captures its essence of existence without flinching or defending itself with morality but with natural principles.

For the truth of Torah we need not look into historical documents but into the Platonic realm of myth and magic. and  without a strong and rich life of myths and magic , the people slowly decay from within.

 Torah is not  is not created from moral or rational principles, but from the depth of the soul of a people. The myth is the expression of that unique soul, but as soon we try to "objectify" or rationally explain its relevance, we slowly kill our cultural life and replace it with a clinic, materialist worldview. This worldview is the modern one, where we have literally killed the belief in religion, passion, magic and myth, because we no longer understand their function. We search for "objective" answers to the myth itself and unsurprisingly we find none, because the truth about life,  does not lie in the Torah  itself, but in its metaphorical expression of life.

 There is a correlation between Torah and perception of reality. We cannot gain direct access to any "dinge an sich"  objective truth, the "thing in itself"; instead, we interpret it through Torah symbolism


The Nefesh HaHaim puts learning Torah on a level that was unprecedented.

The Tragic Torah

Torah Tragedy.

In the Torah and Gemara Rashi and Tosphot [Talmud] we find  Tragedy at every turn. We find the lonely individual Moses in the wilderness took the wrong step in life and hit the rock instead of speaking to it , abruptly finding himself cut off from the land of Israel forever. David after being anointed king finds himself a hunted fugitive. In the life of every Talmudic sage we find some tragic event and inexplicable mysteries.

 For Torah, the truth about life is in tragedy. True Torah, must reveal the essence of life [the ten statements by which the world was created] and thus be amoral, because life in its very core is not moral.
We know the Rambam [Maimonides] was not a particularistic. We know he held that behind every law of the Torah there is a principle at work that are  life, love, and natural law.

Torah life unconditionally and captures its essence of existence without flinching or defending itself with morality, but with natural principles.

 Torah is not  is not created from moral or rational principles, but from the depth. The myth is the expression of that unique soul, but as soon we try to "objectify" or rationally explain its relevance, we slowly kill our cultural life and replace it with a clinic, materialist worldview. This worldview is the modern one, where we have literally killed the belief in religion, passion, and myth, because we no longer understand their function.

 There is a correlation between Torah and perception of reality. We cannot gain direct access to any "dinge an sich"  objective truth, the "thing in itself"; instead, we interpret it through Torah symbolism

The path to the dinge an sich, the Will, the real reality is through the long arduous process of finishing Shas [Gemara, Rashi and Tosphot.]


[1] There is a reason that people resist have their belief system interfered with. The reason is that they do not want to become schizophrenic.
It works like this. People absorb their basic world view and belief system at young ages. Very few people make up their own value system. Most get their worldview from friends in school, from parents, from television, from the movies, from collage professors,  etc. This is all along the lines of putting the circuits into a circuit board. As long as you have not put the circuit board into the oven, you can still correct wires that have the wrong alignment. Once the circuit board has been solidified, there is nothing to do with it. If you find a faulty connection and try to correct it, you end up shorting out the entire circuit board. Similarly if a person tries to correct beliefs that he finds evidence against later in life after his belief system has become hard wired, then he goes crazy--literally.

This also explains why the Orthodox world is especially wary of baali teshuva [newcomers]. They may be brilliant, and also perhaps have accepted full heartily the belief system of the Torah and Talmud, but if done after ones teenage years, then it is all just software that can easily be deleted and replaced with a highly lethal program or even a virus. Soft-ware can be hacked. Hard-ware can't be hacked.

The other reason people do not like their beliefs tampered with is because their circuit board is not alone. It is part of a supercomputer. People need to be part of a super-organism. If you tamper with their circuit board after it has been put into the oven, not only does it get an electric short circuit, but it also becomes useless for the super-organism and has to be thrown out.

Extreme examples of this are: Muslims that find themselves in an airplane driving into a building in order to murder people and themselves. Though at some point human instinct for self preservation kicks in, but it is overwhelmed by the more powerful human need to not tamper with their world view and to remain good Muslims.

The most common example is people in their first few years of college who get indoctrinated into left wing doctrines and then later in life when they see the fallacy if their beliefs simply can't let them go.

 A famous college professor expressed this thus: "Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students ... When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank... You have to be educated in order to be ... a participant in our conversation ... So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable."[sic]


One of the major ways that universities fail when it comes to subjects concerning Jews is that they do not teach Torah, but they teach peripheral issues about Torah. They teach about Jewish history or about Jewish philosophy [which was always of minor interest to Jews].
Even when they teach Talmud, they do not teach Talmud, but they teach about the Talmud.

Even in first class places like Hebrew University,  they also do not teach Kabalah but about Kabalah.

  If you go to university to learn mathematics you want to learn Math right? You don't want to spend all your time learning about mathematics or the lives of mathematicians!

  The way to understand Talmud for university students is not to learn a lot of Talmud but to learn how to examine one subject. This is like when you learn poetry. You learn how to examine one single poem. Having read lots of poetry does not make one capable of examining a single poem.

  The way to understand one single page of Gemara is by Rabbi Akiva Eigger, the Pnei Yehoshua and R. Chaim Soloveithick [i.e. Chidushie HaRambam (חידושי הרמב''ם)] If you can understand these three people on one single page of Gemara then you already know how to learn. If you do not understand them then you ought to start working on them.

  Halacha also has this in common with Talmud. Knowing a lot does not count. The question is are you capable of understanding even one single Halacah properly.
  It is also like Mathematics in this respect. I don't care if you have learned lots of mathematics. I care if you can solve the one single problem that is being proposed. It does not matter if it is a simple Algebraic equation or a problem in Algebraic Topology. You need to be able to solve the problem properly.
  And in spite of what you may have heard there are no two ways of doing Halacha properly. There is only one way. It is to learn the actual Halacha in the Talmud itself and then trace the development of the Halacha down through the Beit Yoseph and then the Shulchan Aruch with the Shach and the Taz.
If you can do that with one single Halachah, then you understand Halacha; and if you can't do this, then you have no business discussing Halacha at all. It does not matter how much Kitzur Shulchan Aruch or Mishna Brura you think you know.

And Kabalah is the same thing. I don't care if you know the history of kabalah or can decipher medieval script.

If you can't discuss intelligently one single paragraph of the Etiz Chaim of the Ari then you don't know Kabalah.

Just a quick example for this last thing. Atik (עתיק) has circles-(עיגולים)-even after the breaking of the vessels(שבירת הכלים). In Mavo Shearim by Reb Chaim Vital vol 2, section 3, chap 4 the Ari says from Keter of Yosher of Atik (כתר דיושר דעתיק) is drawn inner light (אור פנימי) to all the circles of Atik. However he also says that because of the time elapse between the creation of his circles to his yosher, the light of his yosher does not reach his circles! This is a simple thing and yet it would be hard to find a kabalaist who can answer this except in the usual way of evasion which is meant to cover up ignorance.


The God of the Torah is the God of light and reason, and as a life- and form-giving force, characterized by measured restraint and detachment, which reinforces a strong sense of self. But also the  God of wine and music, and  frenzy of self-forgetting in which the self gives way to a primal unity where individuals are at one with others and with nature.

The modern world has inherited philosophy's’ rationalistic stance at the expense of losing the human. We now see knowledge as worth pursuing for its own sake and believe that all truths can be discovered and explained with enough insight. In essence, the modern,  rational, scientific world view treats the world as something under the command of reason rather than something greater than what our rational powers can comprehend. We inhabit a world dominated by words and logic, which can only see the surfaces of things, while shunning the real world  which cuts to the heart of things.  We belong to a culture that’s bound for self-destruction.

The only way to rescue modern world from self-destruction is to resuscitate the spirit of Torah.

We have no direct understanding of Torah anymore, but we always mediate the power of Torah through various rationalistic concepts, such as morality, justice, and history.

 ecstasy stands as a counterbalance to the thoroughgoing rationality that is so prominent in Orthodox Judaism. In most Torah investigations, the importance of truth and knowledge are taken as givens, and thinkers trouble themselves only over questions of how best to achieve truth and knowledge.

 questions where this drive for truth and knowledge come from and answers that they are products of a particular, wrong view of the world. Deeper than this impulse for truth is the impulse to lose oneself in ecstatic frenzy.

He criticizes his own age (though his words apply equally to the present day) for being overly rationalistic, for assuming that it is best to treat existence and the world primarily as objects of knowledge. this stance makes life meaningless because knowledge and rationality in themselves do nothing to justify existence and the world. Life finds meaning,  only through prayer while alone is a forest or a mountain top. Art, music,   bring us to a deeper level of experience than philosophy and rationality. Existence and the world become meaningful not as objects of knowledge but as ecstatic frenzy  experiences. ecstatic frenzy does not find a role in the larger context of life, but rather life takes on meaning and significance only as it is expressed in ecstatic frenzy .

 Ecstatic frenzy  gains its strength from exposing the depths that lie beneath our rational surface, whereas
Western philosophy insists that we become fully human only by becoming fully rational.
 rational methods cannot reach to the depths of human experience. that philosophy is a shallow pursuit. True wisdom is not the kind that can be processed by the thinking mind, We find true wisdom in the dissolution of the self that we find in Torah and the Talmud, and music.

a purified  Torah culture can rescue  civilization from the deadening influence of  rationalism.

This process however starts in a highly counter intuitive way.The way to ecstasy finds its basis in Gemara, Rashi and Tosphot.
The thing that makes Gemara Rashi and Tosphot interesting is not the intellectual aspect of it.

Rather it seems to be part of a process that leads a person into ecstasy and fulfillment. But  ecstasy --it would seem can come from God or from the Dark Side. So I think that one of the major advantages in learning Talmud is that it directs one's vector in the right direction.The basic process seems to be learning Talmud for a few years with Musar [medieval books on ethics]-- while trying to improve ones character.  And then Kaballah seems to come in. I can't explain what it is about kabalah [Issac Luria specifically] that does this, but it seems to me that when one learns it after proper preparation [Talmud], it has the effect of attaching ones soul to God. I mean specifically the writings of Isaac Luria. At that point if one is properly prepared and comes to Israel, even for a short visit, the Divine ecstasy seems to take effect.


I would here like to defend the idea of sitting and learning Torah [i.e Gemara, Rashi, Tosphot].
I would like to approach this from a few different angles. The first would be philosophy. From the standpoint of philosophy of Plato there are objective moral values that can be perceived by reason. While this should be taken in the larger platonic context of the question of universals at least as far as right living is concerned it is a clear tradition in Plato and Aristotle  and the later rationalist school that moral values can be perceived by reason. Though certainly Nietzsche was right that most of what people call moral values is their Id projecting itself onto their consciousness. But that only proved that it is hard to reason correctly and we knew that before Nietzsche.Even the intuitionist school does not claim we can easily perceive moral values. [well actually it does look like Prichard did hold that but the modern Intuitionist school headed by Michael Huemer does not hold that way.]

Well if we have gotten this far then we have already closed the gap between reason and Torah to a large degree. We know now that there are objective moral vales but these values are hard to see. We agree we can be distracted by our Id. [The Id is an discovery of Nietzsche, not Freud incidentally.]
 We know that according to the Rambam [Maimonides ] that Saadia Geon that the ground and basis of all Torah law is in reason, not divine decree. Both the Rambam and Saadia Geon reject the ground of Divine decree for Torah and say rather it needs to be ground in reason. [The reason they both do this is they did not want the laws of the Torah to be arbitrary].

So far we have now got philosophy and the Torah to be rather close.We know that the project of the Gemara [Talmud]] is to use reason to understand the Divine Will as expressed in the Torah. And the Torah was given as the Rambam says because not everyone is smart enough to start from scratch and find a moral path.

Part of the reasoning here is also based on the idea that morality is hard to decipher and also that there is no mathematical algorithm to decide any issue in moral at all. that means we are all left with the arduous task on using reason the decide what objective morality would have to say about any given issue. this is exactly what the Talmud is trying to do.

It is also possible to defend the idea of sitting and learning Torah from Bava Sali.
The existence of people that did this and did succeed in some way to come to some kind of spiritual levels in which they no only gained wisdom in life for themselves but for others also is powerful recommendation of following the path of Torah.
In this essay I am not dealing with specific question that must arise in people minds when they hear this--in fact the major question that people have on this is an ad hominum argument and not worthy of discussion in the  first place. So not all people that are in their exterior dress are following the path of Torah in their deeds? Is that supposed to be a kashe [question ]on the Torah??


People will automatically use any system they are a part of to get ahead and use it for money, and power.

 People will automatically use any system they are a part of to get ahead and use it for  money, and power. . If we would complain about this, then we would have to complain about Capitalism and Communism and every other system that exists.

But people also have another trait--they want things to make sense. The Love of truth may be the weakest of human  passions, but it still exists.

Because of this last trait, it seems to me that I should show how Torah is justifiable. [That means classical Torah--The Old Testament [Tenach], the Gemara [i.e. the Talmud Bavli].] But to justify Torah we have to go out of Torah into philosophy. This is how the Rambam/Maimonides did it, and Saadia Geon. You can't justify Torah on its own terms. To find a ground of justification, you need an external ground.
Since Reason has been in retreat in the Western World since the rise of Post Modern Philosophy, most people do not think that philosophy can justify Torah, and they also think they do not need Reason to justify it.

Now I should admit that my intention here is not to teach philosophy, but rather to explain why it is justifiable to sit and learn Torah [Gemara, Rashi, and Tosphot.]
To do this I can't use Aristotle like the Rambam did. I have to go to a modified Neo Platonic approach like Saadia Geon and the Chovot Levavot [Duties of the Heart] .

The intuitionist school of G.E.  Morse and Prichard is close Kant school is better.
The Intuitionists are I think ignoring some of the real problems posed by Kant.

Now I get to the meat and potatoes of this discussion.
Frege wanted to expand the "a priori." [Things knowable by reason].  He wanted this to include all possible traits that can be derived from reason about objects of reason. The critique of Wittgenstein on this was true. But it was used by later incompetent philosophers to  backfire on Kant himself and to deny the existence of the a priori and of metaphysics all together.

One example of a priori I would like to suggest is in mathematics. It is the number two. You don't literally stumble over the number two when you walk in the street. But few people would be inclined to deny its existence altogether. At least to deny it it would seem you should have some strong proof. At least strong enough to deny common sense. And it does not seem that my knowledge of the number two is dependent on chemical reactions in my brain. Let me ask you to complete this sequence: 2 is to four as 4 is to eight. Eight is to 16 as 16 is to 32. Then 32 is to 64 as ... fill in the blank. Is this dependent on what I ate for breakfast this morning? If so, then you, my dear reader who ate something different [I had  eggs] would have to come up with a different answer.

[I should mention that one of the major ways that people that learn Torah think of it is as something that is applicable to Jews only. But this is clearly a mistake. Because objective values  are by definition applicable to everyone and perceivable by everyone. And Torah does claim that it is objective.
And though many commandments are addressed specifically to Jews. still the value system of the Torah is universal. and in fact the Rambam says the Torah is for "anyone that wants it." [In the Laws of Gerut. keeping Torah in no way depends on getting other people to accept oneself. This is an open halachah in the Rambam.

Some people keep Torah as a means of social identity. And this is lamentable. Torah should be kept because it is true.


a philosophy program at universities that deals with Metaphysics

I would like to suggest a philosophy program at universities that deals with Metaphysics.

And in particular I am thinking about the nature and origin of Evil.

This is something barely noticed by Western Philosophy up until Schopenhauer.  
But to deal with Evil in a philosophical way my suggestion would be to have a university course that would deal first with the pre-Socratics  and Schopenhauer.

This suggestion could not be made while British and American philosophy departments were still in the Dark ages. Recently the fallacies of post Modern Philosophy have become apparent even to school children and it is high time for some real philosophy to be done. John Searle wrote that L/A linguistic analytic philosophy of the twentieth century  is "obviously false."

Obviously the actual Book of Aristotle, "Metaphysics", would have to be tackled also but that it seems would require it s own separate course.
Obviously Schopenhauer is very important for this issue, but one does need a little background in Kant to understand his basic thesis.
In fact without Schopenhauer it is hard to find any philosophical justification for the existence of evil at all. 

I agree --but I think in a university course, you should need only a few introductory lectures to get the orientation right and then you can go to the actual material after a few weeks. After all you don't need to have learned all of Kant to understand Schopenhauer.]

prohibitions that are from the sages דרבנן if they are intended or not.

It looks like R. Yehuda in the Gemara does not make any distinction in prohibitions that are from the sages דרבנן if they are intended or not.
[This subject is part of a large Tosphot in Yoma. I just wanted to bring up one little point that I think is interesting.]

This approach of R. Yehuda seems to be contrary to the way the Rambam understands Rabbinical law.
To the Rambam, the Torah gives permission to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (or people with what the Torah considers ordination--not the ordination that is common today) to interpret the law based on the thirteen principles of how to derive laws from verses and also to make a fence around prohibitions. [Also, they had some traditions of what is considered work on Shabat and other oral traditions that they have to hand down.] This we see in the verse in Deuteronomy "you shall listen to all they teach you." [The whole verse says basically when you have cases in Torah Law that come up, and you can't decide, you shall go to the supreme court in Jerusalem and follow all that they teach you.]

The Rambam makes it clear that it is not up to every individual to decided how to interpret the the law. This is clearly stated in the Torah itself.
But the law to listen to the Sanhedrin is specially a law to not ignore them. And this can't apply to an unintended act. When one forgets the law he is not ignoring anything.

The resolution to this is that the Rambam  in fact decided in a "thing not intended" like R. Shimon and not like R. Yehuda.

I hope it is clear what I am trying to say. We have two arguments between R. Yehuda and R. Shimon. One about work not intended. The other about work done  for a different than purpose the work was done in the tabernacle in the desert. The question here is on R Yehuda. If we understand a rabbinical decree in the way the Rambam does, then how does the opinion of R. Yehuda make sense? That is the question I intend to answer in this short essay.

The big issue I have not addressed here is if there is in fact any authority to make extra decrees not in the Torah and from the commentary on Pirkei Avot from the amoraim it seems there is no such authority. This book is called אבות דר' נתן and it is included in every edition of the Vilna Shas. The basic idea there is on the Mishna "Make a fence around the Torah" and the general approach there is to say that Adam HaRishon added to the command of God [don't eat and do not touch] and that  caused him to fall. R.Yose said there "Better ten hand-breaths high that stand rather than 100 yards high that fall." There the Gra makes a few corrections to the text. I showed this to Rav Eliyahu Silverman the Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva that goes by the path of the Gra in the Old City of Jerusalem and he agreed with me that that is the meaning of that commentary on the Mishna

The basic issue is that often there is a dilemma, Keeping some decree might interfere with some more serous obligation. Or with דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה--the way of the earth. I have in fact found this to be the case often. Instances abound. Being careful about things one is not obligated in often turns out to cause one to ignore real obligation. Just take for instance the morning prayer that is a decree. Though a great thing in itself, it can take time from learning Physics. And to the Rambam learning Physics is in itself the fulfillment of the command to Fear God which is one of the most important commands in the Torah


 I think that the Torah itself is in need of some kind of interpretation in many places where the simple explanation just does not work--like the flood of Noah for example. [The Rambam  has already told us that Genesis chapter one is not to be taken literally. So I say well then let's see what Isaac Luria says that it means!] the female waters..

On a side note-- I have noticed that some people on their own tend to spend more time on Breslov books than on Gemara.
Now Breslov books are inspiring, but they are not the Written or the Oral Law. They have emotional appeal. worship of tzadikim is one basic problem because the Torah tells us not to do idolatry. At least Breslov is honest about this what they are doing. Most other groups put on a nice face to hide the rot under the surface. The Gra saw this and put teh whole movement into Excommunication. Which means not to go anywhere near them because when one ignores the excommunication, it goes upon the one ignoring it. See the Laws in חרםin Shulchan Aruch

As is known the Kabalah has a highly Neo Platonic approach to philosophy.
I just had one small comment on the issue of the breaking of the vessels (שבירת הכלים) today.
Even though the Ari usually does not give exact reason for this, there are a few places that he does say openly the reason[s]. One thing he always mentions is the fact that the light was only the name 52.(יוד הה וו הה) He says if it had been 52 with 45 (יוד הא ואו הא) or just 45 alone there would have been no breaking. Also he says the "breaking" happened in the circles also of the name 52. [עיגולים דב''ן] I.e. it is not just that the breaking happening in the world of "dots" [נקודים]. Even when the dots expanded and became ten circles of 52 with inner and outer light, the breaking still happened.

I mention this here because I think that metaphysics should be returned to philosophy and as far as metaphysics goes I think the Arizal [Isaac Luria] does  a good job 

Hegel actually discusses  the above aspects of the Ari. He was quite aware of Adam Kadmon where this breaking happened-- i.e. above emanation [אצילות] and in front.--if you go by the simple explanation/peshat in the Ari. You could also interpret the Ari like the Reshash-- but that is extremely complicated and for some reason when the Reshah רשש''ש (Shalom Sharabi from Yemen and later in Jerusalem) came to  Yaakov Abuchatzaira in a dream asking him why he did not learn his book the Nahar Shalom, Rav Yaakov said he had a different path. (And his path can be seen openly in all his books--it is the simplest possible way to understand the Ari.)

I had just two small ideas to talk about today. So I will put them here on the main blog. One refers to the way Reb Chaim Soloveitchik answers for a difficult Rambam. The Rambam says concerning a field that is made an apotiki אפותיקי [a thing that the lender must get paid back from if the borrower defaults]. In short the Rambam says the law of "his hand is on the bottom"(ידו על התחתונה) applies to half the improvement (חצי שבח) and concerning the expenses he says if they are less than the half improvement then the lender pays all. The thing that Reb Chaim says that I could not figure out before was that as far as the expenses are concerned the field is considered as the property of the lender and so the lender pays all. The reason is this neat חילוק-- distinction--that Reb Chaim makes. As  far as an apotiki is considered it is considered as the field is considered as owned by the lender--but this does not stop the law from Bava Batra of half improvements also coming into play because as far as improvements goes we say the obligation comes from the fact that the seller writes "I will  repay the improvements if a lender collects from the field." [I already wrote about this stuff enough on my other blog wine women and transcendence, so I will make this short here.]
the Rambam is in the laws of loans chapter 21 law one and law 6

This is already taking more time than I expected so I will try to make this next idea as short as possible.
It concerns the idea that on Shabat one can't do a work that is done for its own sake. (מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה) But if done not for its own sake this is subject to disagreement between R. Shimon and R. Yehuda
I have not written about this before here so I will at least be obligated to bring a little bit of the Gemara. R. Abahu says all types of work that do damage are not obligated in a sacrifice except for causing a wound and lighting a fire. (כל המקלקים פטורים חוץ מחובל ומבעיר)This is because the Torah allows one to do Brit Milah on Shabat. So obviously if the Torah had not allowed it it would have been forbidden [since both are among the 39 types of work that are not allowed on shabat] But why should Milah have been forbidden? It is causing a wound and doing damage! So we see causing a wound even in the case of doing damage is obligated in a sacrifice.That is all just the simple Gemara. The question is is it not also a work done not for its own sake? In fact Rashi says it is! So we see also that work done not for its own sake in the case of wounding is obligated.

What I am trying to bring out here is to nullify the other possibility that it is work done for its own sake. [צריכה לגופה] I can't prove this but I am at least showing how Rashi might answer this problem. For all I know Tosphot might say to R. Abahu that it is work done for its own sake and that is why the Torah has to allow it.


Joy as a prime mitzvah, i.e. not a mitzvah to bring to any goal, but being a goal in itself. As a philosophical concept I have  brought objections to this point of view. Plus there is no such mitzvah.
The other trouble is there are plenty of people for whom bringing pain to others constitutes the highest joys in life.

[4] . Bava Sali's primary principle was never to be without a wife. There was even a case where he got married on paper to a girl in Fez who he never saw or had any contact with. It was just in order not to be wifeless for even a short time.

[5] Fear of God solves the problem of short days. For instance I have found my days too short because of events which happen during the day that occupy my time and mental energy which I would have rather that had never occurred. A good solution to it: Fear of God. In my case I understood this to mean to learn books about fear of God like the "Duties of the Heart" and the Or Israel of Israel Salanter [and the Nefesh haChaim of Chaim from Voloshin--a disciple of the Geon from Villna] and I found that in fact by just spending a couple of minutes on these books per day --my entire days stated to expand and all the little things that were getting in my way disappeared.


[1] One remarkable aspect of talking with God while alone in a wilderness or forest setting  is that one  relates to God directly. And the ability to relate to God directly is not something that comes easily. If people try to relate to God at all usually it is in some social setting like a church or a synagogue and usually it comes through some intermediary. The social setting usually takes away the actual event of a relationship with God.

[] Now , Yoga tries to resolve this problem by meditation but it seems to me that this also has several problems.
 The question of effectiveness of Yoga is that its main effect seem to be to get people into the intermediate zone (illusions) where they stay put.


[] In most of the solutions of relating and gaining some connection with the Divine, one is going through a middle-man or some Mitzvah, and that even when successful has the drawback of coming through a filtered lens.

[] Some try to resolve this issue by learning Torah.
Learning Torah is a half way solution because it is hearing and trying to relate to God through the inspired medium of the Torah.
  And yet this can be turned into a business in such a way that it in fact has little to recommend it to the general public.
[] I would have to say that from what I can tell talking with God while hiking alone is probably the best solution to how to get right with God.
But I would say this needs to be coupled with learning Torah (i.e. the Old Testament and Gemara) for it to be effective.

[] The Rambam/Maimonides did try to justify Torah practices on Aristotle.

Up until the time of Maimonides there was a tradition of about a thousand years of justifying Torah through Neo Platonic thought. The cumulation of this process was in the Zohar and the Ari [Isaac Luria].
At any rate, it seem to me that after the basic questions of Kant about synthetic a priori one needs some justification beyond simple Neo Platonic thought.

[] On a personal note I should mention that I got involved in talking with God after I had spent a few years at the Mir in NY.  At any rate, for some reason, when I got to Israel and started hiking in the forests around Safed while doing this Hitbodadut [talking with God], something clicked in me.
So I can say from experience that this can be a very effective tool to get right with God. [Besides being good exercise and also being a good way to get in contact with your inner self and find out what you are really thinking and feeling deep inside. People without talking with God /hitbodadut often do not even know what is going on deep inside of themselves.]


Talk with God as you would talk with a friend while alone in some forest or on some mountain top.
[or in your room by yourself.]

 I think it would also be a good idea for people to assemble their own personal Talk with God kit.
This would include the usual things that go into a survival kit along with hiking boots with spikes so one does not slip in the snow. . Since in the U.S.A. people work during the week, the major emphasis of the Talk with God movement would be centered on weekends. [Also there should be a book of normal Ethics (Musar) like the Duties of the Heart or the Mesilat Yesharim. Without Normal Musar, people that concentrate on Breslov books alone often come up with some world view contrary to Torah.

But that would mean taking a long car drive up to the mountains on Friday afternoon and then having to set up camp in the mountains before Shabat begins. [And then one would have to figure out how to keep Shabat in a camping situation. Frankly, learning how to get along on one's own is a good skill to learn in any case.]

This might be hard for some people but I figure that the importance of Private Conversation with God overrides other considerations.

3] The advantage of talking with God is as far as I can tell is that it gives practical way to fulfill the commandment of the Torah "to be attached to God." Attachment to God is one of the  commandments in the Torah. The way it is understood in the Talmud is to be attached to Torah scholars and this is the way it is brought down in all the people that count the Mitzvas. And the way to be attached to Torah scholars is explained by all of them  to mean to patronize the businesses establishments of Torah scholars and to marry their daughters etc.
The way I understand the Talmud is that being attached to  Torah scholar gives one a means to fulfilling the basic command of being attached to God but it is just one possible way to get to true attachment and is is not meant to replace the simple idea in itself. After all it is understood that the Torah scholar himself is attached to God directly  So in theory one could also learn Torah and thus fulfill the commandment directly himself!


I admit the Talmud is important to define what the Torah says about how to keep the mitzvot.) This may seem completely trivial to most people, but to me this makes a big difference. I want what I am doing with my life to make sense.  I can now easily understand what path the prophets took to reach God . They went out into the wilderness and talking and prayed with God. They did no Talmud learning, and they did no kabalistic unifications.


Talking with God where ever one goes  is a remarkable concept in the thought of
Brother Lawrence in his little book The Practice of the Presence of God.  


{Reb Nachman later took up this theme and it seems unlikely that he got it from Brother Lawrence. In any case there is a slight difference. Brother Lawrence is concentrating on being in the Presence of God and the speaking with God as a side effect. Reb Nachman is concentrating on speaking with God in one's own language with one's own words about one's own problems. The focus is a little different. In any case I think as worthy as this is it tends to take off the focus from learning Torah which is about hearing what God has to say. Talking with God is telling God what you have to say. No wonder that talking with God does not seem seem to improve people's character by a single jot.

 While by itself it does not sound like much but it has the potential to answer a lot of conundrums.
At least I should say it did solve a number of problems that I faced over several years.
I will just mention here a few points without trying to develop this into an essay with one single point.
Talking with God  should  considered  an priori value.  In this concept of speaking with God while alone, it would make sense to take a bag lunch in the morning and go out into some nearby forest and spend the whole day just talking with God.

We find in classical books of Musar that separation from this world is considered a noble goal. [See Chovot Levavot [Duties of the Heart] Shaar Habitachon for one example.] where it says in the old days when someone wanted to fulfill this he went out into a forest and built a hut and stayed there for several years subsisting on some merge diet and learning Torah all day.

Talking with God alone for some time during the day seems to me to be a good way of tasting a bit of separation from this world while still being in a position to fulfill ones other obligations It seems that if one can't do this every day, then at least on weekends one should take a field trip to some mountain top and spend time alone with God.[Get hiking boots before you do this.]

] It seems to answer the question of how to be attached to God. Now in the Torah we do find that attachment to God is one of the goals of the Mitzvas. [I mean to say that most of the mitzvas of the Torah are not considered goals in themselves. The Torah itself says to do the mitzvas for certain reasons that it lists. Attachment to God is one of these goals.  As it says in Deuteronomy: "Do these mitzvas in order to love and fear God, and to be attached to him."]

[] To me it seems unlikely that Yoga can lead to attachment with God. It depends on sitting and thinking. And sitting and thinking can easily become thinking about things that have little or no relationship with God. And also there does not seem to be an reason to say that thinking about God leads to attachment with Him. I should say as a preface that I consider numinous value to be highly connected and correlated with Moral value. Prayer seems to have the value that it is in fact in the category of a mitzvah-- that of prayer which is in fact one of the 613 commandments.Yoga does not seem to have that advantage.

[] It seems to me to be important in fact to follow the Reb Chaim from Voloshin program of learning Torah. The reason is that prayer may open one to hear the words of God, but then one needs to learn them. That is one should not think that since he has talked with God that it is automatic that God has talked with him. One still needs to do the effort to learn what God's Will is in the Torah.


The origin of Evil.

The origin of Evil.

That does not seem like a hard problem. To the Ari it comes from the light that came from the eyes of Adam Kadmon שם ב''ן דאדם קדמון and when that light reached the region that would later become  the world of Emanation (אצילות) the events called the breaking of the vessels occurred (שבירת הכלים).

This subject is dealt with at length in the Ari and I don't want to rehash it here. [In my opinion it is the best rational account of the existence of evil that I  have seen. You can try Hegel if you want, but I think the Ari wins the debate here.  As far as I can see his account is even better than that of Schopenhauer.]
 Israel Salanter:  the evil inclination{the "Yetzer Hara haRa"}  has two components: (1) the physical desire part and (b) a spiritual part [see the famous"Letter of Musar" written by Israel Salanter about this subject ]

He considers the evil inclination to be a continuum from the low physical desires up until the Satan himself. But the former levels of the evil inclination are not  significant causes of evil. Now the main force of evil in people is  delusion.

Divide the problem of evil into two major subdivision. -Kelipot and demons.
Kelipot in this context means delusions including delusions of demons or of grandeur etc. Demons he considers real.
Now in this context it is hard to say what he does with world view issues.

 even good meaning people can have all their good channeled into evil because of evil world views.

There is a deeper kind of evil to the original condensation of the presence of God from the space where later would become the worlds. From there is drawn an evil in which it is impossible to find God because people don't even know that God is hidden

So the best approach to evil that I have seen is that of Isaac Luria. It is based on motifs from the pre-Socratics and the Zohar and builds into a rigorous logical system in the Eitz Chaim and Mavo Shearim.
 For those with limited time the thing to do would be to get the Eitz Chaim of the Ari. and read from the beginning until about towards the beginning of Emanation. That is to do Adam Kadmon, Akudim, Nekudim, Shevirat HaKelim. If possible I recommend doing the Reshash Shalom Sharabi's Nahar Shalom with this. Then the Igeret Hamusar of Israel Salanter. In any case  the whole question of evil gets to be enormously complicated. In a practical sense it seems to have sources outside of a person like his group, religious leaders, bad friends, and internal sources. In any case, it always comes down to either the חלל הפנוי or שבירת הכלים the empty space or the breaking of the vessels.

Question on Tosphot Bava Metzia page 14

This essay deals with the question someone bought stolen land and improved it. When he gives it back from whom does he collect the value of the improvements? The thief or the owner?
And what if

You have a person whose land was stolen, the owner (נגזל)
The thief is the גזלן . The person that bought the stolen land from the thief is  the buyer (לוקח).
The land goes back to the owner (נגזל) with the improvements (שבח). Rav says the buyer (לוקח) gets the money he paid for it, and also the value of the improvements from person th thief (גזלן). [Bava Metzia page 14B]
Tosphot relates this law to the law [Bava Metzia page 103a] that concerns a person that goes into the field of another person and does improvements (שבח). The law stated by Rav is thus: when the improvements are more, then the owner (נגזל) pays for the expenses, and thief (גזלן) pays nothing.
My question is, "Why not?"
Bear with me while I try to say over why I think this is a problem.
First of all I want to make it clear that on page 103a the improvement is independent from the expenses.
On page 14 the law of Rav refers to paying improvements that are more than the expenses. [Of course, in my question there are no such things, so obviously he does not pay the expenses.] My point is that the owner נגזל) pays the least amount because of the law on page 103. The thief pays the improvements because of Rav's law on page 14. This page 14 law does not come from page 103 . And you can ask "From where does it come?" Well, one  option is to say it comes from the deed of sale. But if that is the case then  the thief should pay the expenses also. And in  fact he ought to pay the improvement also if we are going by the deed of sale!
I am not asking a rhetorical question here. I really do not know what Tosphot is doing  on page 14.
Anyone with an answer is welcome to share it here.
Later note: I think after this I wrote some answer to this question in some later blog entry.
Here is what I wrote in Hebrew about this subject:
א) ב''מ יד: יש פה שלשה אנשים: נגזל,גזלן, ולוקח מן הגזלן והקרקע שנגזלת. הקרקע חוזרת לבעלים עם השבח שהשביחה הלוקח. רב אמר שהלוקח גובה מחיר הקרקע ושבחה מן הגזלן. תוספות אומרים שהדין של היורד לתוך שדה חבירו בלי רשות שמקבל היציאה שייך לפה. זה דין של רב בדף קג. ושם רב אומר ידו על התחתונה. זאת אומרת שאם השבח פחות מן היציאה, אז הנגזל משלם את היציאה. ואם היציאה פחותה, אז הוא משלם את היציאה. ועכשיו אפשר להבין כוונת התוספות פה בדף יד:. פה יש שתי אפשריות. א) השבח יותר מן היציאה. ב) השבח פחות מן היציאה. מצב הראשון הוא המצב שרב דיבר עליו. שם הנגזל משלם את היציאה, והגזלן משלם את השבח. [פה כוונת רב היא שהגזלן משלם את השבח היתר מן היציאה, היינו ההפרש. וזה שלא ככוונתו בדף קג. אולי יש פה איזו קושיא?] במצב השני שהשבח פחות, אז הגזלן אינו משלם כלום, והנגזל משלם את השבח. וזאת היא השאלה שלי. למה הגזלן אינו משלם את היציאה? אם אנחנו הולכים לפי מה שכתוב בשטר, אז הוא חייב לשלם את היציאה. אם אנחנו לא הולכים לפי מה שכתוב בשטר (אחריות לאו טעות סופר היא) אז גם השבח אינו משלם.
I see in my Hebrew note that I did have an answer for this problem.


Yet  without philosophy, people tend to pick up the attitudes of the age. They unknowingly absorb the spirit of the times from their environment, and think it is obviously what the Torah means.

Like Steven Weinberg said: The  major advantage learning philosophy--  is to protect oneself from other  philosophies.

And I think that my point of view is born out by experience. In the world where this anti-learning-philosophy attitude is prevalent, we do find large kaleidoscope of attitudes and worldviews --none of which have any correspondence with the actual world views presented in the Torah and Talmud. It seems to me that without learning philosophy, one is simply not equipped with any intellectual tools that one needs to even be able to discern incoherent world views.

On the other hand,  academic philosophy is a real problem, nowadays especially in the English speaking world where the accepted world view is that of Linguistic/Analytic philosophy.

Yet the irony of this situation is that the philosophical foundations of materialism, in a proper metaphysics, are in worse shape now than they have ever been.

The truth is that the evils detailed by atheists in religion are by no means unique to religion but are simply characteristics of human nature.
It is noteworthy, however, that the heaviest blows against materialism in the 20th century have been delivered, not by philosophy or religion, but by science itself. The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, proposed by Niels Bohr (1885-1960), although metaphysically poorly motivated in some respects, represents a stark anti-realism that merely bewilders the physicists and philosophers who literally appear not to have the philosophical background to address it properly. It has proved easierjust not to worry about it and to lapse back into a naive materialism.

Much as Thomas Sowell has said, this incoherence is found in people who don't understand the virtues and advantages of their own land, but idealize some foreign hell hole as Utopia.

Most versions of relativism involve a reinterpretation or redefinition of moral judgements. What is common to all of the redefinitions of moral concepts is that they leave out everything moral. 

Second, it has been argued from time to time that moral relativism presents a simpler picture of the universe than objectivism. Objectivism postulates these entities, objective moral values, that we could explain the world just as easily if not more easily without. Therefore, the burden is on the objectivist to prove the existence of these things.
I think this argument is insincere; that is, nobody ever became a relativist because of this. It was invented after the fact to confuse objectivists.
The argument is exactly analogous to the following argument for mathematical relativism: Objectivism postulates these entities, objective numbers and numerical relationships, that we could explain the world just as easily if not more easily without. Therefore, the burden is on the objectivist to prove the existence of these things. Since he cannot do so, I conclude that all mathematical statements are arbitrary and subjective.

I have tried to show that, like most false philosophical theories, moral relativism dissolves under clarification.

"Calling twentieth-century philosophy superficial gives it too much dignity; vacuous is the closest term."


The Gra saw the energy of spiritual rot of Shabatai Tzvi was subsumed into Hasidut

The excommunication of the Gra  had in it two points that were common to all the different excommunications against.

The Gra saw the energy of spiritual rot of Shabatai Tzvi was subsumed into Jewish cults.

There were many  excommunications, but the two points that come up in all of them was disparaging learning Torah and disparaging Torah scholars. Though cults have been hard at work to deny these two allegations by a parade and show of learning Torah, it is still hard not to see that the Gra was right. I do not mean that this is something you can see looking in from the outside, but rather if you are in the actual world of cults it is hard not to admit that both of these complaints are based on actual attitudes that continue today--very strongly.

Now I don't  know if it is right to excommunicate people for things, even if they would be 100% true, but the Gra did feel that these were serious issues.

The excommunication of the Gra did not treat this as a minor problem. The actual text stated that  one is not allowed to sit in 4 amot [yards] of a chasid, nor talk with a chasid, nor marry the daughter of a chasid etc. It is interesting that this excommunication did not single out secular Jews.
I mean there have always been secular Jews and Jews of various degrees of religiosity. Why not excommunicate Jews that go to Collage? Or other such things? Why specifically Hasidut?

Part of the answer is that the essence of something is what  makes it what it is. That is when we talk about the essence of a thing we mean that something else of the same essence would be put into the same category. When there is a  claim to be of the same essence as the Creator of the Universe and this does not spark outrage in the general world of , then we know something is off.

The problem of the provability of the connection between Shabati Tzvi  with later Jewsih cults was the reason it was not mentioned in the actual text of the excommunication. That was in those days. Today we have lots of evidence of this connection. Cookies that were placed in the writings of the Shatz and Natan from Gaza that you find in all books of Ashkenazic Mysticism. The connection is undeniable. Even if you don't see how that stuff got into Ashkenazic Mysticism never the less it is there.



Speed reading when it comes to Talmud studies does not require much of an explanation.

There are two major kinds of learning in the Talmud. One is the learning of the Sugia [subject]. The other is speed reading. Speed reading when it comes to Talmud studies does not require much of an explanation. It simply means saying the words in order and going on without worrying whether you got it or not.

This type of fast learning I found very helpful when it came to learning Physics at Polytechnic Institute at N.Y.U..

The other kind of learning is called learning the Sugia (subject). This does mean to some degree learning a particular subject with the commentaries. But it also means getting a general feel for the subject. This kind of learning is hard to define.
Two examples may help to describe what I mean. Lets us take the subject (סוגיא) of work done on Shabat not for its own sake. מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה. This is a subject which you really could not understand by speed reading alone. The reason for this is that the subject itself is spread all over the Talmud  and the particular Tosphots that deal with it are not in Tractate Shabat at all but rather in Yoma page 34 and in  Ketubot and in Bava Kama.

So what I am suggesting is that every subject  has it own peculiarities that make going into one subject completely different than going into another one.

Learning fast helped me also in physics. When I first applied to Polytechnic Institute of NYU, and they accepted me, they gave me one piece of paper of math to see whether to put me in a remedial math program  or to let me into Calculus 101. I had no idea which side of the paper was up. But since I did not have to start there until Chanuka, I had the three month period from Rosh Hashanah   until then to prepare. And during that time I plowed through [read fast saying the words and going on] the pre-Calculus and Calculus books that I had. And amazingly enough it went in!
But I should mention the reading fast part was done from Rosh HaShanah until Hashana Raba and then I started work on problems and doing so I read everything again forwards and backwards. This all worked well except the Calculus book I had {by Bittner} was economics based and so he did not have right-hand sums and left hand sums for Riemanian Integrals. So when I got to that in the actual Calculus class I was totally unprepared. I started saying  the words and going on. And that helped me very much to at least get to basic String Theory, Group Theory, Abstract Algebra, and Algebraic Topology. So even though there is still plenty of stuff I do not understand, still I learned a lot more than if I had gotten stuck on every last detail. And I think other could benefit from this approach also.
[One slight advantage of this is that when philosophy professors or other amateurs start spouting nonsense about physics, at least you can tell they don't know what they are talking about. Just by this fats method at least you get a feel for the subject.]


The major evil that people do is when they think they are doing a mitzvah.

The Satan is disguised  in Mitzvas.
This concept is also mentioned by the Geon from Villna.

The basic idea is that we  find that the evil inclination does not try to seduce a person into sin by openly advertising what his intentions are. Rather he says, "Come, and let's do a mitzvah." But mitzvas are highly dependent on the particular Halacha [Jewish Law] that apply to any given situation.  nowadays we should no longer call the evil inclination by its common names ["Satan", or the "evil inclination" etc.] but rather call it the name of "Dimion"/"imagination". [דמיון] That means to say:  the major evil that people do is when they think they are doing a mitzvah. [If people would settle for being selfish jerks, we would all be better off than having people that are out to save the world.]

The idea that "the Satan dresses himself in Mitzvot"  Also, many times the Satan will come to you and ask you to do some actual mitzvah. This is another case of the Satan being dressed in Mitzvot.

That being said, we all should learn Torah [i.e. the Old Testament, Talmud and its commentaries, the Zohar, Isaac Luria]. That fact is not the issue here.
Rather the issue is sometimes something seems like a mitzvah when it is not. There are an infinite number of factors which can make this happen. For example the situation is not parallel to the situation the Shulchan Aruch or the Rambam is talking about. That is: there is a mistake in the material facts of the case. Or there is a mistake in understanding the actual Halacha.
Reb Joseph Karo made this point in his commentary on the Rambam. He wrote that people dot understand the Rambam because they don't know the sugia in the Talmud from where the Rambam derives his law.  And the same idea was stated by the Maharshal and the Maharsha about the Shulchan Aruch. The Maharsha said it is proper to rebuke people that decide halacha from the Shulchan Aruch without knowing the sources.


Israel Abuchatzeira

Bava Sali [Yisrael Abuchatzeira] did not have any shortcuts to the spiritual realm. Nor did he believe in such things.
His path was as simple as possible: Learn Torah and do God's commandments. [Learning Torah in this context does not include most things people today claim is Torah.  Torah to him meant classical Torah: The Old Testament, the Talmud with the traditional commentaries, the Zohar, writings of Isaac Luria, and the Musar/Ethical works from the Middle Ages.] That is Classical Torah is what he considered to be Authentic Torah. And he was aware of the danger of  fraudulent Torah. All the more so Fraudulent Kabalah.

One interesting point about him was his diet. The most curious thing about his diet was that he did not seem to have one. I was discussing with his daughter once about the importance of having a balanced diet including certain vitamins and minerals. She told me that she did not know about such things, but she knew that when they were living in Morocco, Bava Sali would stay in a tiny attic room for a few weeks at a time and be sitting and learning. She would bring him his meal in the morning and leave it by the small window that led to the attic. When she returned at night the meal was untouched.
In general, laws of nature seemed to be suspended when he was around. I heard from many people their personal problems that were solved once and for all after they went to him.  I forgot most of them. But for sure, I never met a person that went to him that did not have some personal crisis solved. [Everywhere I went in Israel someone had a personal story to tell me about this.] Every person that went to him always had a amazing story to tell me.--everything from healing people, to finding a marriage partner, to the revival of the dead etc. and etc. These are not things that it is very easy to fake.
The fact that Bava Sali is gone definitely created a crisis in Israel. Israel fighter pilots no longer have tzadik (saint) to go to to get a blessing before their missions. Average working Jews no longer have a person to go to to get advice about their personal affairs that they can trust comes from a source of holiness.

 For a few decades already people have gone to any kind of person that seems to have a slight possibility of having something like Bava Sali and are invariably disappointed. The amount of tricksters and fakers is almost infinite. I discussed this problem with the daughter of Bava Sali several  times. Also I was close with Shimon Buso (a grandson of Bava Sali) for several years. He was a Magid Shiur [teacher]  in a in Jerusalem (a branch of Ponovitch) at the time and I was doing my personal kind of kabalistic stuff by Shmuel HaNavi. But when we had time off we would go around Israel on all kinds of interesting kabalist missions. So the subject of the lack of a Bava Sali type of person came up with him also. His general approach is that there is no one to go to today. All one can do is to sit and learn Torah and be the best person one can be and hope for the help of God in ones personal situation.

But Bava Sali could make mistakes. The mistakes mostly have been forgotten. But there was one fellow who was told he would get remarried and it never happened. The failures of Bava Sali were never made public. The miracles I admit were amazing and real. He was after all human. And he made mistakes. And he would have been the first person to say so. When Moshe Buso (his grandson) came to serve him from midnight to dawn (as was the custom for his grandchildren to do) Moshe asked him if he wanted normal ground coffee or Neis Coffee {נס קפה}Instant coffee. But Neis also means miracle in Hebrew. Bava Sali said "no nisim" no miracles. That is he was saying he wanted natural coffee instead of instant coffee, but he put it in such a  way as to suggest he did not want miracles. [Most often he wanted coffee with tea together when he got up for the midnight prayers.] (I should mention midnight prayers are what one says in the middle of the night concerning the Temple that was destroyed in 70 AD). The first part is a few psalms and also the last chapter in the book of Lamentations.   The last part consists of a few more psalms. Altogether it takes about 10 minutes. After that it was his custom to learn Torah until dawn. Once it was completely dark outside and yet he said to Moshe Buso (his grandson) "It is time for the morning prayers." Moshe Buso said he did not understand how that was possible until I showed him how most rishonim/authorities hold the law is like Rabbainu Tam. And that the opinion of Rabbainu Tam applies in the morning just like it does at night.

For the general information I should mention some basic information about Bava Sali. There was a kind of cloud of blessings that followed him. In the morning he would learn Torah but at a certain hour of the day he would open his doors to people that needed a blessing. And what blessings they were! I know people that had all kinds of problems that were solved after they went to him. But most of his life he was known only to a small number or Moroccan Jews. One fellow was a newly religious and had a drivers license. Bava Sali asked him to drive him to Meron. On the way back he wanted to fill the gas tank but Bava Sali said not to bother, and the drove back to Netivot on an empty tank.

In summery: It is good to have a real tzadik around. And it is bad to have fakers. And it is important to be able to tell the difference.

Absent a person like Bava Sali a true Torah scholar is a good option. But in this case also it takes a great deal of perception to be able to tell the difference between the fakers and the real thing. In any case to get a blessing from a real Torah scholar is a very good thing to do. The usual NY rosh yeshiva is in general an authentic Torah scholar--but only if his yeshiva is Lithuanian.

I don't know if there is anyone around who could fill the shoes of Bava Sali. The best one out there is Shimon Buso in Netivot [a grandson of Bava Sali from the side of  Abigail, Bava Sali's daughter.]
There are descendants of David Abuchatzaira, the older brother of Bava Sali, also known as עטרת ראשינו with whom I am impressed with, but they are not public people. Actually neither is Shimon. But still it is worth the time to get a blessing from him.
The whole Buso family I should mention I am impressed with. If that special flow of the ability to bless of Bava Sali went anywhere it is probably to the Buso family. [There is one Moshe Buso in Jerusalem who is I think the oldest son. Still, I think Shimon is the best of the bunch--at least in terms of advice and getting a blessing.]

In any case the descendants of Yaakov Abuchatzaira are around.  And whichever one it is does not seem to matter that much. Any of them are good to go to for a blessing and advice.


It is hard to get over the impression that Reb Israeli Abuchatzeira had something special. [Bava Sali]

But at least I merited to spend a lot of time with his immediate family and learned a little bit of what it was that made him special. I have never heard of a person that went to him to receive a blessing that did not receive some kind of miracle in their life.

His daughter is Avigail Buso [originally Abuchatzeira but then she married a person by the name of David Buso and became Mrs. Buso]. She had a lot of insights about her father. And her children also. One of her children Moshe Buso receives visitors in Jerusalem.

However it does seem that there is a careful guarding of the name Abuchatzeira in such a way that there is great jealously about who gets the name and who gets to be considered as passing on the mantle of greatness.

It is well known that there was a ten year period of rivalry between R. Baruch in Netivot and R. Elazar in Beer Sheva.

First of all, it should be known that although something miraculous was going on in that family for about five generations, it does seemed to have come to a halt. There is no member of the Abuchatzeira family today that you can go to and be guaranteed to come back with a miracle. However some drop of that holiness and special quality does remain in the Buso Family.
 The most basic thing that made Bava Sali special was his personal service towards God. Without that kind of self sacrifice no one can claim the Bava Sali mantle. One does not become a tzadik/saint by reason of birth, but by choice.

In general the path of Bava Sali was what is described by classical Musar books like the Chovot Levavaot [Duties of the Heart]. Its world view is essentially that of Conservative Judaism --Mesorati Judaism.

 Today if someone would want a blessing in their life, my recommendation would to go to Shimon Buso in Netivot. He is the closest thing that I can see to the continuance of the Bava Sali Tradition and Path.

[ that Shimon Buso does not officially receive visitors. Still I think one who wants a blessing would be wise to go to him.]

Bava Sali,  did learn Kabalah. But that was not in any way the thing that stood out by him. His thing was just plain, old, simple service of God. (Just the old, old time religion was his thing.) And service of God was a personal thing for him. It did not include any of the fanaticism of the general Ashkenazi world.

The general approach is that as much of divine service that one can do--all the better. But everyone was accepted by Bava Sali. No one ever came away without a clear and definite miracle. The only exception was when once he visited Jerusalem. And some kabalist wanted to visit him, and he refused to see him. In fact, all kabalists were rigorously eliminated from his list of visitors, according to Bava Sali's daughter, Mrs. Buso.

Mrs Buso also once summed up for me the essence of Bava Sali's path-. But this was understood very differently that the fanatic Ashkenazim understand Shulchan Aruch. For example, Mrs. Buso regularly listened to classical music--including specifically the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel. Moshe Buso asked me on several occasions to play for him the violin concerto of Mendelssohn.

I did spend some time learning the Eitz Chaim of the Ari with Shimon Buso. I was with that family in around 1991 and 1992 and then later I reconnected in around 2000-2003. Then there was a third period around 2009-2010. So I do not know what is going on there today. But from the entire family of Bava Sali and his older brother David Abuchatzeira and their grandfather Rav Yaakov I can say their path was a simple as possible--straight Litvak Torah: Talmud and Musar of Reb Israel Salanter.
The mot interesting thing about that path is not what it does but what it excludes. Any all all frills and extras, all kinds of frumkeit that people want to add were totally missing.


Bava Sali's Path is actually very easy to describe and yet still very mysterious.

Rav Israel [Avuchatzeira].
The last time I was in Israel I was at a pidion haben [the party you make after a first born son is 30 days old] and one fellow started telling me the story of how he got married. It seems he was in a kind of situation in which no one was offering to him a shiduch.[marriage possibilities]
 So he went to Israel Avuchateira in Netivot. It was Friday --a day on which Bava Sali did not accept visitors. But his wife had compassion of this  student and brought him into Bava Sali. He was doing the normal Chok LeIsrael  seder [reading the Bible portion for that week].
He interpreted to start raining blessings on this student in the kind of dialectic that Jews from Morocco used to speak  Within a very short time he found his wife and got married.
I don't know the name but there was apparently a rav in Europe who was the prime  rav there. I think in Antwerp. Once a visitor came to see him and saw in his home pictures of Bava Sali and asked him why does he have pictures from a Sefardi Rav. He answer that once Bava Sali was in France and he this rav came to see him. After the visit he left at 3 PM and a when he arrived at this city it was still 3 PM. [This is called Kephitazt HaDerech]

The son in law of Bava Sali David Buso told me how once in Paris, he and  Bava Sali were waiting for the moon to come out on the last night that Kidush Levana was possible [the blessing on the new moon]. When it seemed apparent that the clouds cover was just too think for the moon to come out on its own, Bava Sali waved his hand and moved the clouds aside.

Once I was praying in Safed a one person came over and told me the story of  how a female relative of his was a secular Jew. From what I remember her husband was slightly sick and she had heard of a rav who had come from Morocco and people were going to him to get blessings. [Even though she was secular she thought, "Why not give it a try?"] She took the long trip from Kiryat Shemona to Netivot [about a six hour drive from the tiptop of Israel to the very bottom].When she arrived she discovered a  disappointing fact,- Bava Sali never saw women or received them as visitors.. She was left with no option but to give her request to the Gabai [the attendant] and he forwarded the request to Bava Sali. He returned and said that Bava Sali asked her to write a check.She did so and in return she received a bottle of water that Bava Sali had blessed. She took it and drove back home.That means she was altogether 12 hours on the road, plus the time she had spend by Bava Sali. When she returned home she put the bottle on the kitchen table and went into the bathroom. By that time she was angry, tired, and frustrated. She opened the faucet in the bathroom and saw the running water and began to think to herself, "Here in my own home I have running water and bottles also! Why did I need to waste a whole day to get an ordinary bottle of water?"
When she returned to the kitchen to her surprise she saw the bottle of water was gone; and in the place where she has set it down was her check.

Sadly today that impressive family line seems to have lost the touch that it had a for at least 5 or more generations.Yet there are still some members of that family that I think still retain some of the holiness. In particular, I am impressed with Shimon Buso --a grandson of Bava Sali who is  in Netivot. From what I can tell he seems to be on the path that Bava Sali himself was on of service of God in the way of learning Torah day and night with self sacrifice.

Bava Sali's path is actually very easy to describe and yet still very mysterious. He learned Torah and kept Mitzvot. Now learning Torah in the Bava Sali way means that he learned Torah, Talmud, Rambam, Zohar, R. Isaac Luria and etc.--all the things that are part of a regular Torah curriculum. It was a path that included learning a little bit of Kabalah, and a lot of Talmud. It included a lot of fasting--from week to week. And it also meant no contact with women unless it was his own immediate family. Also I should mention Bava Sali had a thing about being married. It was kind of a personal law for him not to be without a wife even for a second.

There was once a student in Netivot who used to drive Bava Sali around when  he needed a ride.
Once he drove him to Meron and wanted to fill the gas tank on the way back. Bava Sali told him "Just drive." So they drove the whole five hours from Meron to Netivot on an empty tank of gas.

 He also had zero patience for the so called Kabalists in Israel and thought they were a bunch of fakes. As Bava Sali's daughter once told me:" No kabalist was ever allowed in to see Bava Sali. He never accepted any of them under any circumstances."]

I perhaps should mention the community around Bava Sali was Mesorati [traditional Judaism- not Orthodox] While he was involved in Torah alone the community around him was a working community and he never expressed any disapproval of that. Sefardim in Netivot generally worked and served in the Army and got regular secular Israeli educations. And that is the vast majority of the people that still follow in that tradition.


falling of the generations in their spiritual level

The concept of the falling of the generations in their spiritual level [Yeridat Hadorot] is  mentioned in the Gemara itself concerning Chizkia the teacher of Rabbi Yochanan.
R. Yochanan had answered a hard problem brought up by his teacher and his teacher said "This is no ordinary human being." At that point the Gemara brings up this idea that "If previous generations were like angels, we are like men etc."

However the Rambam disagrees with this idea. He sees no problem in disagreeing with the Geonim [Example in Hilchot Ribit], or the Rif [e.g  in Ketubot] [see in the laws of Mishpatim and the beginning of Mishna Torah where he discuss the rules of deciding Halacha]
Also this idea is clearly in contradiction to the other idea mentioned by the Gemara itself that the law goes by the last Amora [the later Talmudic sage]

Now sometimes the idea of the falling of the generations makes sense. I encounter this all the time when I see the difference between Tosphot and Achronim [later commentaries] that come after the Beit Yoseph.


Nothing is a holy and as truth. And truth is the way things are.

World view issues. 

My basic was formed by growing up as a Jew  in a relatively decent and wholesome society. That was a thoroughly WASP society in Orange County in California.
So I have had every reason to believe that Democracy and Capitalism can create along with basic Torah values a highly wholesome and moral society. I have what could be considered as empirical evidence to testify to that fact. [The evidence is I lived in a wholesome home in a wholesome community in a whole country.--the way things used to be in the USA]

But to justify this kind of system based on philosophy can be a real sticky issue. While growing up this kind of question occupied me very much and I did plenty of reading. Plato, Buddhism, Torah, Nietzsche, Chinese Philosophy, Spinoza, Ann Rand, the Communist Manifesto, etc. And later,  I continued this and learned postmodern philosophy. [That was at the recommendation of my teacher  Shelomo Freifeld at Shar Yashuv. I myself would have been happy just to concentrate on Torah.]

With most of the systems that I studied, I noticed sooner or later different problems. And sometimes the problems were so thick that I decided that the whole system had to be thrown out, i.e. one mistake or another will not bother me much, but a lots of shoddy logic will eventually turn me off. [Postmodern philosophy is a good example of that]. [Also, empirical evidence counts for me. No matter how logical a system is, if I see its results in people acting in ways that are obviously evil, then I will reject the system. Nothing is as holy and as truth. And truth is the way things are.]
 The best of philosophy today I have seen in  Dr. Kelley Ross in California. 

John Searle is obviously great but as Kelley Ross noticed he fell into scientism.
Habermas is Germany is also very great. Steve Dutch wrote a bunch of great essays on his site one of which is a detailed critique of Hume. Also Michael Huemer and Bryan Caplan and very good when they stick with their subject, not when they wander into other territories.

To be brief I think that there are universals. Universals are perceived by reason and by non-intuitive immediate knowledge. Universals applied to the human realm are moral values. [That is I do not hold from Empiricism,  Rationalism,  Nominalism, nor moral relativism].

The advantage of learning philosophy,  is that it gives a protection from  philosophers (and religious manics). For in general without learning to analyze ones world views, he or she will usually pick world view that often can't stand the test of reason and logic.