29.10.14

It is common to think of the Rambam as being rational. My learning partner confronted me with the fact that Maimonides gives some reason for the sacrifices and that Nachmanides tears him apart. It is not just that Nachmanides has some mystical reasons for the sacrifices but that he shows that this must be the thing the verses of the Torah themselves are implying.

I answered that one of the most important mystics of the Middle Ages Avraham Abulafia [in the generation right after the Rambam] said that the secret of the Redemption is contained in the first forty chapters of the Guide for the Perplexed by Maimonides. and wrote an entire book revealing the deep mystical secrets in the Guide for the Perplexed.
What I am saying is that the Rambam is rational--but not just rational. He clearly has some deep path and the best suggestion I have heard says that he was a proto-type Kant-Friesian. And I think that has a lot of evidence for it. [That is the school of thought that sees Schopenhauer and Fries as the rightful successors of Kant. And they see in Maimonides many of the same ideas and connections]
Obviously Maimonides had a mystical aspect. But one that he thought was unknowable. And he is famous for the idea that our ideas of good have no real application to God. That is he considers God to be the Dinge An Sich [exactly like Schopenhauer]





28.10.14

The idea of learning with a learning partner is ideal. It is not always practical. But when it is possible it is desirable. Just today it occurred to me as my partner and I were discussing the Talmud in Sanhedrin 61 and I brought up the question I mentioned a few days ago that a possible answer occurred to me. Just to remind the public I will review the basic question. I was bothered by the question of Rav Acha on Rava bar Rav Chanan. If we would have "bowing" (Deuteronomy 17) then what does "How do they serve?" (Deuteronomy 12) come to tell us? I was bothered by something that has nothing to do with all the other posts I put up on this blog and my other blog "The Tao of Torah." I was bothered by the fact that he thinks "bowing" comes first and then we wonder what to do with "How do they serve?" Why not just the opposite? Lets says we have "How do they serve?" and then we should wonder what "bowing" comes to tell us. Well the answer would then have to be that it tells us that we need both its way and bowing. It is an intersection, an "And" gate and not an "Or" gate. So even without my learning partner answering this question it occurred to me that we do have such constructions. This is the subject of an argument between Rabbi Oshiya and Rabbi Yonatan if "and" means "et"(intersection)  or "vel" (union). Well at that point he mentioned in half syllables that that argument is not dealing with our kind of situation. [It is talking about verses in close proximity.]
At any rate, if you can't learn with a partner, I believe the advice of Rabbi Nachman is the best--just say the words in order and go on. This I have done in other subjects and I have found it helpful. I have heard in the name of Reb Natan [the disciple of Rebbi Nachman] that you have to do it because you believe that Rebbi Nachman knew what he was talking about. If you do it in any other way, the approach gets dropped.

Maybe I should mention this that there were times I modified this approach. For example, when I was doing the Eitz Chaim [Tree of Life ] by Isaac Luria [the edition printed by the Ashlag group], I found it very helpful to say each paragraph twice and then go on. I can't explain why, but that approach was the best experience I ever had with the Eitz Chaim. In that way I really got the idea, and was able to make lots of progress also. But when I would only read the words once and go on, I understood nothing.
And when I was starting out in Gemara also review of each paragraph was also very helpful. But for some reason in Mathematics and Physics I found just sticking with Rebbi Nachman's idea of just saying the words and going on the best. I can't explain why.






We find Nachmanides (the Ramban) predicted the final redemption of the Jewish people in 1358 A.D.
Frankly I never thought much of this and chalked up another victory for the Rambam Maimonides who never gave any dates for the redemption and made it clear that such a thing is against the Torah. Yet my learning partner so rightly pointed out that that was the  beginning of the  Renaissance. Now the Renaissance itself had many different aspects to it but one major one was human rights. It was the beginning of the work or Hobbes and John Locke to take down and take away power from the Kings and princes and Church  and rabbis, and give the people their natural rights.  And that in itself is a major part of the Redemption. After all no matter how religious you are you don't want to live in Meah Shearim with the Tzniut patrol watching your every move. And without human rights, Jews also had no rights and no protection as I have seen often in the Orthodox Jewish world which adequate displays everything that people must have felt was wrong with the Middle Ages

25.10.14

Teshuva

Repent --the end is near.

It occurred to me that my father had a harder time than I was aware of. He had his own business in Newport Beach CA. It was based on an invention of his that he had a patent for, An X-ray super-sharp copy machine. I did not know it at the time but his business was not doing well. So when TRW contacted him to help them build a system of laser communication between satellites he took the opportunity. That was part of the SDI project. [TRW was subcontracted to build the SDI Star Wars project.] He must have thought he would have job security. The irony was that after seven years he left. He said the firm was hiring new graduates out of MIT and he was going to be fired anyway. His degree from Cal Tech was by modern standards ancient. And the further irony was that the firm itself had a person that was selling their secrets to the USSR. And when that was discovered the firm went under. Obviously they were not going to get any more government contracts.
I could go on but my point is my dad had a rough time making ends meet. And today I thought that He and I had perhaps similar experiences in this regard. He had gone to collage in a time when there were no collage loans and had to stop after his masters degree in Mechanical Engineering at Cal Tech. I think he must have felt betrayed by the system he put all his efforts into. I know I certainly felt betrayed in a similar way but by a totally different system--the yeshiva system.



This makes the path of Teshuva repentance difficult for me. Because to me, the path of Teshuva is hidden.
I am not going into the details but to make it short I think the problem for myself and I think perhaps for others is two fold. One is how much desire there is to do God's Will. The other is the fact that God's Will is hidden. That is it is not a simple matter to open up books of Musar and Torah or to go to some Kosher Lithuanian Yeshiva. It is that the path itself is hidden.
Yes, one should step into a normal straight Lithuanian Yeshiva and learn Torah with a partner every day.
But that is only a first step.

The problem seems to be that once one has sinned and caused others to do so there is a kind of obstacle placed before him or her. The He in Hebrew is open on the bottom to show us that when wants to fall away from Torah he can do so.  But it has an extra opening up on the left to show that one can get back in. But what not just go in the way one went out? Because it does not work. Once you have left the Torah you can't just waltz back in. You have to take a round about path.





23.10.14

Look at the Talmud tractate Sanhedrin page 61a at the second Tosphot. I had mentioned many times that I thought I needed to do that Tosphot with my learning partner in order to get it straightened out.
Well finally the chance came. And, in fact, things became clearer. So let me say over briefly what is so urgent here. First is the fact that my question on Tosphot was not a good question. [That you can find on my other blog The way of the Torah] . I had asked what justification Tosphot has for expanding the scope of "bowing" Deuteronomy 17. Well, to some degree it became clear that Tosphot does expand the scope of the prohibition by not because of "bowing," but rather because we have three verses (1) How do they serve (Deuteronomy 12) (2) bowing and (3) sacrifice (Exodus 22). One of them is coming out to tell us about the whole category of idolatry. So we can chose sacrifice. But in the suggestion of Rava Bar Rav Chanan we don't. Rather we choose "bowing". So since bowing came out of idolatry instead of sacrifice, therefore it does not limit anything. That is to say that "sacrifice" we do know was highly limiting--only the three services would be liable. So since "bowing" came out of that  instead, we have no reason to limit it.

[I think yesterday or some time ago I gave a different answer  for Tosphot that the Gemara is not expanding the scope of bowing but rather of idolatry itself. Today this last answer looks best to me.] But so far I have only answered why Tosphot makes sense. But I have not yet answered what problem there is in this answer in order for both the Maharsha and the Baal HaMeor to reject it and go on a different path. This is because at the beginning of this long question of Rav Acha, we are thinking of "bowing" as forbidding every possible kind of idolatry. But as soon as you return to the Gemara after reading Tosphot you see the first thing the Gemara does is to treat "bowing" as limiting something--i.e.  hugging idols one usually sacrifices to. My learning partner today thought that this might very well be the reason the Maharsha tells us to look at the  HaMeor HaGadol to see a completely different approach to this Gemara.

You people out there might not see what there is to be excited about here, but what I see is that it is very important to learn Gemara with a learning partner. Because you can see for all the other blogs I wrote about this Topshot that I was only scratching the surface without any depth. Also I thought I had a great question on Tosphot when clearly I did not at all and I completely missed the real questions.

[The question I thought I had on Tosphot had two simple answers.]


So we see in Gemara it does not matter how smart you are. It matters only if you learned it with a learning partner.

I thought today that I should mention that this question on Tosphot is more like a semi-question. Because if you think about it you will see that  Gemara extends the scope of what bowing allows into quadrant III (the area of service in a way of dishonor and not its way) and Tosphot expands its scope of prohibition into quadrant IV (dishonor but its way.)   So first of all there is certainly no contradiction at all. That is the first thing to notice. Second it makes sense too. It certainly makes sense to forbid service in the way of the idol even if it is in a way of dishonor more than forbidding service that is both not its way and also not in a way of honor. But there still is a question. It is funny that Tosphot would consider bowing to be indefinitely expanding and then all of a sudden the Gemara stops it in its path with no warning. At least we can see what might have been bothering the Meor Hagadol about this answer  and what caused him to take a different  track.

22.10.14

One of the refreshing thoughts of the Gra  {Eliyahu from Vilnius} is that worship of human beings is considered idolatry. This is not something that should be hard to understand. To most Reform Jews it comes naturally.When a person believes in Torah it seems natural to think that worship of any being besides God should be considered idolatry. Yet for some reason when people ascribe to some great zadik/saint, their attitude becomes suspiciously close to idolatry. And you don't really hear too much in the way of clarification. Mostly if you ask about this, you hear  people obscuring the issue. Now I had read the Nefesh HaChaim of Reb Chaim from Voloshin (the prime disciple of the Gra) some years ago when I was at the Mir Yeshiva in NY. But I was only reminded recently of a passage that I had forgotten. That the essence of idolatry is to tie oneself in spirit to something other than God. And he then goes on openly to say that even if one ties himself in spirit to the Divine spirit in some tzadik/ saint that also is considered idolatry. Now this is not to say that any great tzadik who inspires people to serve God according to the Torah is bad because people turn him  into an object of worship. Rather it is a problem when the worship of that person becomes the official doctrine.

When people find some tzadik that inspires them, the proper attitude is not worship but gratitude.
And this should be considered a serious issue. Because in Torah, idolatry is the most serious of all issues. And it is only too easy to transgress. Worship of a tzadik/saint in the usual way of worship is considered liable. This comes from the verse "Least you ask 'How do they serve their gods?' and I will do the same." Deuteronomy 12.

That is that to serve an idol is forbidden in two ways: (1) According to its usual way. (2) Bowing, burning something before it, pouring something before it, sacrificing something before it. [That means if ones bows towards an idol, even if that is not the usual way of worshiping it, he is liable. The same goes for teh other three.]

21.10.14

I think I have come to some clarity about the idea giving money to yeshivas. We know the Rambam is against this completely. We know other people like the Beit Joseph allows it. What makes this confusing is that the Rambam does not make any distinction whether ones intention is to use the Torah to make money, or to accept money to learn Torah. Both are forbidden, and one that does either forfeits their portion in the world to come. And in fact in the actual language of the Halacha he mentions specifically the later possibility because the former is clearly forbidden. The Beit Joseph and the Tashbatz also do not mention intension in their allowing it.
The great clarity I had about this issue came today when I opened up a Shelah haKadosh (Shnei Luchot HaBrit).
He specifically discusses intension. And this seems to me to make life simple. To him to use Torah to make money is forbidden. To accept money to learn Torah is permitted. And even though this is not like the decision (pesak) of the Rambam, it makes things clearer for me. It explains the many cases we have in the Talmud where we see it was considered a mitzvah to support Torah scholars. And it makes things in real life easier to discern. For even though peoples thoughts and intentions are often hidden from us but there are times when we can tell a persons intentions based on their deeds. For there are lots of Kollels where the Rosh Kollel says openly that the kollel is business. It is his way of making money. He claims he is a professional person  working in his profession. So there we have a clear case that giving him money is absolutely forbidden. This is base his intentions are stated explicitly that is to use the Torah to make money.
{This type is common in the USA}. There is another type of Kollel (common in Israel) in which the intention is stated explicitly that it is to learn Torah and through the money they receive it is possible to learn. This is allowed to most poskim (authorities). In other words if people state their intentions and their deeds conform with what they say, then we don't need to dig any deeper. The idea of intention making a difference is actually found in the American court system also. It should not be a surprise that a halacha depends on intension.




20.10.14

Sanhedrin 61

I wanted to discuss the difference between the Meor Hagadol [on the Rif/Isaac Alfasi] and Tosphot in Sanhedrin pg 61. [The second Tosphot on the page.] Tosphot does actually expand the area of "bowing."(Deuteronomy 17) and he does this with any special "Ribui".{A Ribui is some extra word that indicates to us that we should expand the area of application of the verse.} That is how he understands the Gemara. When Rav Acha asked on Rava  it was only on his potential use of "bowing" to forbid idolatry in its way and not in its way.
First of all I am not sure why this is justified. (Why would we expand "bowing" without a ribui? And if we would have a ribui, then how could "How do they serve"{Deuteronomy 12} come to limit it?) Also I was suggesting  that this is the reason why Tosphot was not going with the simpler explanation of the Meor Hagadol. That is because without any extra verse we can't expand the area of prohibition of any verse.

This is again one good reason why it is important to learn Gemara with a learning partner --because so far I have not learned this Tosphot with my learning partner  and that is probably why it is still highly mysterious to me.


But just now it occurs to me that this in fact might be the exact point of Tosphot. That is it is how Tosphot understands the point of Rav Acha. That is we have "How do they serve?' (Deuteronomy 12) to tell us all kinds of service towards idols is forbidden if it is in the way of that idol. So clearly you are not going to be able to expand "bowing" ["and they will go and bow" Deuteronomy 17] to forbid what is already forbidden.

My learning partner agreed to spend some time on this Tosphot. And while we were doing the Gemara that the Tosphot is talking about he noticed that when the Gemera says we would have thought that exposing oneself to the god markulit  is liable. Now know it is not because of the verse "How do they serve?" That Gemara is not expanding the scope of "bowing" but rather the original verse that forbids idolatry "he will go and serve" Deuteronomy 17.
And the way the Gemara does this is not by an extra verse but why simple reasoning. What is it with Markulit, it is served in a dishonorable way, thus any serving of markulit in a dishonorable way is liable.
But so far this puts Tosphot into a difficult position. Because he is trying to expand the scope of bowing without any discernible reason or verse.




I think Rebbi Nachman has some very valuable ideas. [Learning fast, talking with God in ones own words and not repeating formulas. Rather to talk with God as one talks with a friend, and many other ideas.] Also, I think that there is a danger that when people discover him, they tend to get intoxicated. And because of this, it is hard to know how to deal with the subject. And I don't want here to deal with this question, but rather to acknowledge that it is a valid question.
And I think that everyone would benefit by just admitting he has good advice for a wide range of human problems, but that it is important not to get overly excited.

One thing I should mention is that while I was involved in two very good Lithuanian type of yeshivas, I did notice that when people had a need for spiritual uplift, or the need for a blessing, they would go to the Ribnitzer Rebbi. [That was a person that was friend of the Satmar Rav, who had recently come to the USA.]
So from early on I had a idea that there was something special about people who keep the Torah with more intense self sacrifice than is the norm.

The Ribitzer was one of those kinds of people that would break the ice is the Russian winters to go to the mikvah, and fast from Shabat to Shabat, and other types of things that we consider to be difficult types of service. And he was a person that was accepted and respected by the entire Lithuanian world.

So it is to be expected when I discovered Rebbi Nachman that I would be interested. Even if he passed away, there are people that feel that his spirit never really passed away completely, and than some small percent of his soul is left there. [And one percent of the real thing is better than 100 % of  an impostor.] But I admit that I too went overboard. Certainly he never meant to replace the normal type of Divine service (that is learning Torah and doing mitzvot) with any innovations. Rather his intention was to intensify people's devotion to God.









I was putting here some ideas I had in Tractate Sanhedrin 61 for a few days in English so I thought just in case there are any Hebrew readers here i might put them down in Hebrew also.

)סנהדרין סא. יש מחלוקת בין בעל המאור ותוספות איך להבין את קושיית רב אחא.

בתחלה אני רוצה להציע את הגמרא, ואחר כך את המחלוקת. הברייתא אומרת שלומדים שלש עבודות פנימייות (עבודה שלא כדרכה) מן הפסוק "וילך ויזבח"(שמות כ''ב). רבא בר רב חנן שאל למה לא לומדים עבודה שלא כדרכה מן הפסוק "וישתחוו"(דברים י''ז)? רב אחא שאל על זה שאם היינו לומדים מ"וישתחוו",אז מה היה "איכה יעבדו הגויים האלה את אלהיהם?"(דברים י''ב) בא למעט? בעל המאור ותוספות שואלים על זה, "למה רב אחא לא שאל את השאלה הזאת על הברייתא שלומדת מזביחה?"
בעל המאור מתרץ את האשאלה הזאת כך:אם היה לנו רק "זביחה" היינו פוטרים מגפף לזובחים או מגפף לפעור, אבל מגפף לנושקים או נושק למגפפים היינו מחייבים. ולכן צריכים "איכה יעבדו" לומר שגם אלו פטורים. זאת אומרת שאם היה לנו רק "זביחה" יש דברים שהיינו חושבים שהם אסורים. ולכן "איכה יעבדו" בא לומר לא לחשוב כן. אבל אם היינו לומדים מן "השתחוויה" אז אותם דברים הם באמת אסורים. ולכן הגמרא שואלת במצב כזה מה בא "איכה יעבדו" לומר לנו? יש לתוספות מהלך אחר בגמרא הזאת. הם שואלים למה רב אחא לא שאל על הברייתא שלומדת מזביחה, "'איכה יעבדו' למיעטי מאי?" והם אומרים שאם יש לנו רק "זביחה" אז "איכה יעבדו" בא לאסור עבודה כדרכה. מה שאין כן אם היינו לומדים מן "השתחוויה" אז היינו אוסרים עבודה כדרכה גם מזה.
הפירוש של המאור הגדול הוא לפי פשוטה של הגמרא. רואים את זה על ידי ההמשכה של הגמרא. להלן הגמרא מסבירה את קושייתה, ואומרת שהשתחוייה פוטרת שלא בדרך כבוד שלא כדרכה, ולכן למה יש צורך ב"איכה יעבדו"?לפי בעל המאור זביחה בא לפטור מגפף לזובחים ומגפף למרקולית. אבל היינו אוסרים מגפף לנושקים או נושק למגפפים בלי הפסוק איכה יעבדו. ולכן צריכים איכה יעבדו. תוספות לא מתרצים כמו בעל המאור. נראה לי הסיבה לכך היא שתמיד כשמרחיבים את הגבול של פסוק שאוסרת מה שהוא יש סיבה לכך.או שיש איזה ריבוי או גזרה שווה או מה שהוא. ופה בעל המאור מציע שהיינו מרחיבים את הגבול של וילך ויעבוד בלי סיבה. בעל המאור יכול לתרץ שבאמת מרחיבים את גבול האיסור לכלול עבודות פנים. אבל תוספות יכולים לומר שיש סיבה שמרבים עבודות פנים היינו שיש פסוק "בלתי להשם לבדו".ריקן את עבודות פנים לשם השם. ואחר זה הברייתא באמת מציע לברחיב את גבול האיסור. והיא בעצמה מתרצת את זו על ידי הכלל שזביחה הייתה בכלל וילך ויעבוד ויצא מן הכלל ללמד לא על עצמה לבדה היא באה ללמד אלא על בכלל כולו. מה זביחה עבודת פנים, אף כול עבודות פנים. להוציא מגפף או נושק שלא כדרכה. ולכן רואים שזביחה בעצמה היא ממעטת, ולא מרחיבים אותה בלי סיבה

And here is a question I had on Tosphotאבל יש להקשות על זה. תוספות אומרים שהשתחווייה כן היינו מרחיבים בלי סיבה לאסור גם כדרכה שלא בדרך כבוד. ועל ידי זה הם מתרצים את הקושיה. אם אומרים שלא שואלים על זביחה בגלל שזביחה לא אוסרת כדרכה, ולכן צריכים איכה יעבדו. אבל השתחווייה כן הייתה אוסרת כדרכה ולכן אין צורך באיכה יעבדו.