Monday, April 27, 2009

T'filla #6- Rabbi Maroof

Review of #5

The preoccupation with taking the general principle of Hasgachically guided delivery system and applying it to the self, is fraught with difficulty. How is one to know the ways of hashgacha?

As is has been so many times in the past, it is the clear, honest questioning of RJM that leads the way to the answer.

R. Maroof's struggle

In purely practical terms, the difficulty that I struggle with is the material reality that most of us obtain our parnassa through some form of human agency - we are employed by a company managed by humans, our salary is paid by humans, and our job security is dependent upon human opinion - so the hashgacha focus, while theoretically true, is limited in its impact on our "bottom line" conduct.

How resonant, how succinct, how quintessentially honest and true. Yet, there is a path to victory in this very struggle that RJM identifies- if we look through the eyes of Yaakov.

Yakov's struggle with Human Agency

The struggle with falling prey to seeing the "human agency" as the hand which delivers our food, is indeed a fundamental one. Why is it so fundamental? It is fundamental because it lies at the root of transcending the limiting function of our animal psyche. It is significant to note that the very names Yakov and Yisrael connote struggle. Yakov indicates material struggle, the immature grasping of the younger brother for the material heel of the animal Bechor- Esav. The struggle for bechora was over the most significant of issues- control of the material resources needed to maintain a legacy of the Abrahamic seed. But a legacy founded on what- there were two possibilities- the material power and glory offered by Esav the hunter. Or the metaphysical educational legacy of Yakov the tent dweller.

Underlying these two individual men, lie two principles of Man. Yakov the tent dweller is moved by the principle of Hashgacha- a Superior systemic Chochma guiding a material process the reflective mind can see providing the good possessed by mankind and ones very self. Esav the hunter is guided by another principle- the principle of animal psyche that seeks to make its own self image the motive force of the environment.

From these two principles arise two mutually exclusive priorities of human greatness. Mikdash versus Migdal bavel. The land cannot be ordered primarily to both. Resources can either be dedicated to the the functioning of Mikdash needed for greatness in the educational priority of Yakov or it can be ordered to the pyramids and towers of Babels needed to project the illusion of the animal greatness of Esav.

Hunter or manipulator

The animal hunts, not so much through brute force,as through cunning. The human animal is the same. Chazal point out that Esav hunted his father, created illusions of himself as a "righteous son" that Yitzchak could not see through. Indeed it is precisely this ability to manipulate relational images that is the power source of Esav leaders. The salesman manipulates the image of "friend" to his advantage. The client falls into the web of the salesman's "friend" image and swiftly finds himself with a car he does not need or want.

The fan finds himself swayed by the larger than life image of his idol, the child falls prey to the image of the parent and vice versa. As Rabbi Maroof notes, the employee falls prey to the mighty image of his employer.

What is critical to note, is that the leadership principle of Esav, this tendency to found one's actions on the image of an all powerful human, is a natural principle of animal man. Without בכורה, families and tribes would not form, nations could not emerge, economies and social systems would grind to a halt. Yet from this power an Esav arises who must attack Yakov, an Egypt arises that must enslave Israel.

Yakov's struggle with the angel

It is this notion that Chazal point to when they note that the angel that Yakov struggled with as Esav approached, was none other than the angel of Esav, the rhetorical power of illusion needed to maintain the state. Yakov realized that if he were to survive, if the principle of Hashgacha were to be maintained through him, he would have to transcend not only Esav the man, but the very natural principle underlying him. The reason for this is that if Yakov were to prevail, a plan worthy of being realized would have to be formuated. Such a plan would have to find a logical chink in the armor of the image of Esav -it would have to use this underlying weakness as a tool to allow a weaker tent dweller the bechora.

In the prophecy it was made clear, not only would this particular struggle with Esav over בכורה have to be waged, it would be continued throughout generations. The nation of Israel was born and named through this struggle- B'nei Yisrael- the sons of struggle. So it was with David and Goliath so it was with Mordechai and Haman. It fell to the sons of Yakov to find the necessary chink in the armor of the "invincible leader" for Hasgacha to relate to them as a vehicle.

Avoda and struggle

This clarity of Yakov's, the insight into the necessity of struggle with the animal principle of Esav, as well as its individual human expressions, is the struggle Rabbi Maroof describes so well. Yakov's way out-is the only way. Yakov realized that the Hashgacha would relate to help the sons of Yakov in their struggle to be vehicles of the Shem Hashem taught by Avraham. Yakov in his tefilla, realized his fear, from his older brother from Esav would ultimately only be overcome through a plan expressed in terms of t'filla. He knew that only formulating his sense of his own instrumentality in the Nvua could be the basis of redemption from the natural principle of the angel of Esav. It is precisely this seeking of a reasonable interpretation of Nvua in which one is oneself the instrument of Hashgacha that is the core of Yakovian t'filla. As Mordechai says- "who knows if this is why you were put in the Queenship"?

Seeing Hashgacha through Yakov's eyes

So it is for us. Once we realize the natural animal basis of our seeking security through the various leaders or image manipulators, we see that only seeing ourselves and our plans via the prism of Nvua can be our release. It is this function that t'filla in fact does serve. T'filla shows us how to formulate our plans, as instruments of N'vua regarding Geulat Yisrael in the 19 areas of life.

Through T'filla we see Hasgacha as a living system in which we can root our plans and release ourselves from human agency. Of course if we look through Yakov's eyes.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

T'filla #5

Review of #4

In the previous post we explained the unique role of redemption in incorporating the Shem Hashem into one's outlook. Redemption is the process by which our eyes are opened to the reality that our good is a the product of natural delivery system guided by Hashgacha rather than a social forces rooted in the fantasy of great personalities. Critical to the mind's eye opening experience of redemption is the phenomenon of Yam suf, observing in oneself the transition from being a victim of the force of
the fantasy to having one's minds eye opened by the undeniable natural system revealed by the purposeful termination of Egypt by the Hasgacha.

We left off asking about the connection of redemption to Yakov avinu as well as to tefilla.

Seeing life through the lens of Hasgacha

The relation of the mind redeeming experience of Yam Suf to tefilla or עבודה is clear.
Yam suf secures the general realization that we must admit we receive good exclusively through the natural system of aretz as directed by hashgacha (Yad Hashem). This premise of עבודה however, is a far cry from developing the habit of mind needed to calculate and plan our lives within the many subsystems of human endeavor- בכל דרכך דעהו. The realization of עבודה comes when we move from Geulah to tefilla- planning our lives via applying the idea of redemptive Hashgacha gleaned from Yam suf- to ourselves. The mind opening character of Geula is embedded in the Halacha of semichut Geula litefilla. The gavra hamitpallel, as one able to reflect on himself via the higher principle of Hashgacha, is best focused via the beracha on Geula in Keriat shema.

This need to move past general principle to calculating ones personal place is also evident in the foundational halacha of tefilla- requesting ones needs. In the words of Rambam

אחר כך נותן שבח והודיה לה' על הטובה שהשפיע לו: כל אחד כפי כוחו
The key to Avoda, is perceiving the good, as a product of the natural delivery system-as evident in the self.

The preoccupation with taking the general principle of Hasgachically guided delivery system and applying it to the self, is fraught with difficulty. How is one to know the ways of hashgacha? It is here that we finally come to the topic of the next post-the connection of "seeing" Yam Suf to Yaakov Avinu.

Monday, April 20, 2009

T'filla #4

In the previous post we identified Yakov's life with the continuity of the theoretical framework via the mesorah of the Jewish people. It is in the nature of a theoretical framework to provide universal principles utilized by generations of students. But surely Yakov would not be alone as an Av of Mesorah. At the very least the other two Avot -Avraham and Yitzchak should also be considered to be alive!

The focus on redemption also needs explanation- why should the understanding of this phenomenon alone be attributable to the Avhut of Yakov?

To answer these questions, we need to get a better understanding of redemption.


When we think of the redemption from Egypt, we tend to focus on the material side of the transformation. We suffered pain at the hand of a cruel tyrant and God rescued us, thereby making us an independent power. As important as this material dimension of redemption is, it misses the essence entirely. Geula is at its core a transformation of mind- not body. This is clear from the pesukim
שמות י
א וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, בֹּא אֶל-פַּרְעֹה: כִּי-אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת-לִבּוֹ, וְאֶת-לֵב עֲבָדָיו, לְמַעַן שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה, בְּקִרְבּוֹ. ב וּלְמַעַן תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן-בִּנְךָ, אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי בְּמִצְרַיִם, וְאֶת-אֹתֹתַי, אֲשֶׁר-שַׂמְתִּי בָם; וִידַעְתֶּם, כִּי-אֲנִי יְהוָה
10:1 Hashem said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I may show these my signs in their midst, 10:2 and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your son’s son, what things I have done to Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that you may know that I am Hashem.”

The aim and good intended by the Geula process culminating at Yam Suf under the watchful "eye" of Yakov was education in the Shem Hashem, release from the fantasy principle underlying cruelty, not release from the physical pain of suffering cruel tyranny per se.

But what was the
the fantasy principle underlying cruelty? The educational transformation from unnatural fantasy to natural wisdom is described every day, as part of the Mitzva of kabbalat ole malchut shamayim in Birkot Keriat Shema. Exactly as the Midrash indicates, the destruction of Pharaoh at Yam Suf was perceived as a historic phenomenon, the culmination of generation becoming knowers of the the rock of Jacob. The eyes were the eyes of Yakov, to be sure, but eyes alone are not enough. The eyes must be exposed to a transformational observation, the kind of daled amos case needed to transform the nation.

It was through the unique observation of Yam Suf that Pharaoh was finally seen for what he was, a fantasy image designed to maintain the idea that Man can be an independent power from God's Chochma. Pharaoh's destruction displayed the most beloved human hypothesis- "you shall be powers knowers of good and evil"- and unequivocally refuted its root cause. The core of our illusion is sustained by refusing to consider man as part of the cosmic order, stubbornly limiting ourselves condidering ourselves within the daled amos frame of our own accomplishments. If we were ever to seriously reflect on the implications of a sovereign power seperate from causality, we would be free. But our fantasy of Pharaoh keeps sucking us in.

In short- the aha experience of seeing the image of the invincible man -the embodiment of the principle of human sovereignty shattered is critical to insight into the complete reality of the sovereignty over all things- man included.

Redemption is in essence (to borrow a term from Joe Green) a national epiphany. To use a phrase the Torah often employs- the eyes of the Jewish people were opened- released and redeemed from the screen fantasy the image of Pharaoh normally imposes. It was the dissipation of the invincibility of Pharaoh right before their eyes that allowed Malchut Shamayim to emerge. It is not normal for an enemy to be so completely overcome by cosmic phenomena, just as he is in the midst of his highest success of projecting his image most effectively. Only the Hashgacha could have created such a fortuitous observation, ideally suited to the educational disposition, the Yakov perspective, the Jews needed to see exemplified in a real world example. Certain phenomenon are manifestly cosmic, they make Hashem's Chochma Nikkar.
It is for this reason that Pharaoh was overwhelmed by the waters overwhelmed by the Chochma of Hashem as manifest in the clear example of the water. This epiphany of contextualizing man in the "big picture" of cosmic order is well described by Kohelet:

:1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem: 1:2 “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” 1:3 What does man gain from all his labor in which he labors under the sun? 1:4 One generation goes, and another generation comes; but the earth remains forever. 1:5 The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hurries to its place where it rises. 1:6 The wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north. It turns around continually as it goes, and the wind returns again to its courses. 1:7 All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again. 1:8 All things are full of weariness beyond uttering. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 1:9 That which has been is that which shall be; and that which has been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. 1:10 Is there a thing of which it may be said, “Behold, this is new?” It has been long ago, in the ages which were before us. 1:11 There is no memory of the former; neither shall there be any memory of the latter that are to come, among those that shall come after.

In a sudden flash, the absurdity of disconnecting the daled amos frame of accomplishment from the big picture became clear -manifest and nikkar. It resulted in the by the sudden declaration of Emet and in true song as we see in the beracha.

אמת--אלוהי עולם מלכנו, צור יעקוב מגן ישענו; לדור ודור הוא קיים ושמו קיים, כיסאו נכון ומלכותו ואמונתו קיימת.

It is the truth,the G-d of the universe is our King , Rock of Jacob

Shield of our salvation, from generation to generation He endures

and name His endures , and throne His (is) correct/proper and His kingship

and His steadfastness endures forever...

אמת--אתה הוא ראשון ואתה הוא אחרון, ומבלעדיך אין לנו מושיע. אמת--ממצריים גאלתנו, ה' אלוהינו: מבית עבדים פדיתנו, וכל בכורי מצריים בדבר הרגת, ובכורך גאלת, וים סוף בקעת, וזדים טיבעת, וידידים עברו מים, ויכסו מים צריהם עד אחד מהם לא נותר. ועל זאת שיבחו גאולים, ורוממו לאל; ונתנו ידידים שירות זמירות, תושבחות למלך אל חי וקיים. רם ונישא, גדול גיבור ונורא, משפיל גאים, עדי ארץ. מגביה שפלים עד מרום, מוציא אסירים, ופודה ענווים, ועוזר דלים, ועונה לעמו ישראל בעת שוועם אליו; תהילה לאל עליון, ברוך הוא. משה וכל בני ישראל, לך אמרו שירה--בשמחה רבה, אמרו כולם: מי-כמוך באלים ה', מי כמוך נאדר בקודש; נורא תהילות, עושה פלא. ה' ימלוך, לעולם ועד.

It is the truth that you are first and you are last, we have no rescuer but you. It is the truth -from Egypt you redeemed us Hashem our God All firstborn of Egypt You killed but Your firstborn You delivered,redeemed and the Sea of Reeds You split

and insolent ones You drowned and dear ones You caused to cross over

For this reason the beloved ones praised and exalted G-d and beloved ones gave psalms, songs and praises

blessings and thanksgivings to the King G-d living and enduring exalted and lifted up great and awesome.

But what exactly does this epiphany have to do with Yakov? What is its connection to T'filla and Avoda?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Looking for love in all the wrong places or Goodbye American exceptionalism

While historic analogies are never perfect, Obama's stark efforts to change the U.S. image abroad are reminiscent of the stunning realignments sought by former Soviet leader Michael Gorbachev. During his short—by Soviet standards—tenure, he scrambled incessantly to shed the ideological entanglements that were leading the communist empire toward ruin.

But Obama is outpacing even Gorbachev. After just three months in power, the new American leader has, among many other things:

—Admitted to Europeans that America deserves at least part of the blame for the world's financial crisis because it did not regulate high-flying and greedy Wall Street gamblers.

—Told the Russians he wants to reset relations that fell to Cold War-style levels under his predecessor, George W. Bush.

—Asked NATO for more help in the fight in Afghanistan, and, not getting much, did not castigate alliance partners.

—Lifted some restrictions on Cuban Americans' travel to their communist homeland and eased rules on sending wages back to families there.

—Shook hands with, more than once, and accepted a book from Hugo Chavez, the virulently anti-American leader of oil-rich Venezuela.

—Said America's appetite for illegal drugs and its lax control of the flow of guns and cash to Mexico were partly to blame for the drug-lord-inspired violence that is rattling the southern U.S. neighbor.

At a news conference ending the three-day Summit of the Americas on Sunday, Obama was asked to explain what a reporter called this emerging "Obama Doctrine."

He said that first, he remains intent on telling the world that the United States is a powerful and wealthy nation that realizes it is just one country among many. Obama said he believes that other countries have "good ideas" and interests that cannot be ignored.

Second, while the United States best represents itself by living up to its universal values and ideas, Obama said it must also respect the variety of cultures and perspectives that guide both American foes and friends.

"I firmly believe that if we're willing to break free from the arguments and ideologies of an earlier era and continue to act, as we have at this summit, with a sense of mutual responsibility and mutual respect and mutual interest, then each of our nations can come out of this challenging period stronger and more prosperous, and we can advance opportunity, equality, and security across the Americas," the president said.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Obama Iran and Israel- as expected

Obama's stance worries Israelis

CAN Israel still call the United States its best international friend? Apparently not, if you believe the tone of the local media.

Watching the drama unfold inside Israel, the increasingly tense dialogue between US President Barack Obama and new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking on all the trappings of a duel.

Almost every day brings news of another sore point between the two countries, a source of yet further inflammation of their once warm relations.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the more immediate threat to Israel's national security lay across the Atlantic rather than from closer to home.

It is bad enough that President Obama uses almost every opportunity he can to set the parameters of a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Now US officials are openly using Israeli anxiety over Iran's fledging nuclear program as a bargaining chip to force Israel's hand on giving up control of the West Bank Palestinian territory.

No less a figure than White House chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel — whose father fought with the militant Zionist group the Irgun, and whose appointment had provided such reassurance to Israeli officials — was quoted this week laying down the law to Israel.

If Israel wants US help to defuse the Iranian threat, Mr Emanuel was reported to have told Jewish leaders in Washington, then get ready to start evacuating settlements in the West Bank.

Monday, April 13, 2009

T'fillah #3

My thanks to Aaron Zimmer for bringing up this Gemara and pointing the way to understanding it

(בבלי תענית ה ע"ב)

רב נחמן ורבי יצחק הוו יתבי בסעודתא, אמר ליה רב נחמן לרבי יצחק: לימא מר מילתא!

...אמר ליה: הכי אמר רבי יוחנן: יעקב אבינו לא מת.

אמר ליה: וכי בכדי ספדו ספדניא וחנטו חנטייא וקברו קברייא?!

אמר ליה: מקרא אני דורש, שנאמר (ירמיהו ל') 'ואתה אל תירא עבדי יעקב נאם ה' ואל תחת ישראל, כי הנני מושיעך מרחוק ואת זרעך מארץ שבים' - מקיש הוא לזרעו, מה זרעו בחיים - אף הוא בחיים.


אף הוא בחיים - שיביאנו בגולה כדי לגאול את בניו לעיניו, כמו שמצינו במצרים: וירא ישראל וגו', ודרשינן: ישראל סבא

Rabbi Nachman and R. Yitzchak were having a meal together. R Nachman said to R Yitzchak say a piece of Torah! R Yitzchak responded: " R Yochanan said - Yakov Avinu never died". R Nachman said back- did they eulogize him, embalm him and bury him for nothing?
R Yitzchak said- I am giving a derash, as it says:
(Jeremiah 30:10) "Therefore don’t you be afraid, O Jacob my servant, says Hashem; neither be dismayed, Israel: for, behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity..." we compare Yakov to his seed, just as his seed is alive - so is Yakov alive.

Rashi: So is Yakov alive- Hashem will bring Yakov from exile to redeem his children before his eyes. As we note in the case of Egypt "Israel saw the great hand that Hashem displayed with Egypt" we doresh that it was Israel the elder who saw this event.

The focus of the Gemara is to bring out two startling derash insights, obscured by a simple minded approach to the world of peshat.

1. Yakov, though presented in peshat as biologically dead, in some important sense, is still "alive".

2. This "life" of Yakov expresses itself in observation of the Geula process, most specifically at Yam Suf
where "Israel saw the great hand that Hashem displayed with Egypt".


1. If the peshat states that Yakov was biologically dead- in what sense is the derash saying he still alive?

If the peshat states that "Israel" refers to the generation of Yotzei Mitzraim observing the "great hand of Hashem" in what sense is derash saying Yakov was posthumously observing the event?

3. Why is Yakov alone among the Avot in being alive?

Why is Yakov's posthumous life reduced to observing the redemptive process?

Why is Yakov alone among the Avot in being shown the redemptive process?

"Life" of Peshat and "life" of Derash

According to Rashi, the key to understanding the derash insight lies in the principle of redemption. Yakov's post biological life reduces to observation of generations of his children, B'nei Yisrael, undergoing their experience of Geula as we see in Yirmiyahu:
I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity". What insight must we make to understand this act of Yakov observing redemption?

If we think about it, the pasuk chosen by chazal strongly indicates the answer. What does it mean that "Israel saw the hand of Hashem". We are too cavalier in our expectations about observing the acts of Hashem. A simplistic reading of the pshat reduces observation of the principle of Yad Hashem in history to trivial sense perception.
This sort of trivializing of Chumash is an affront to the Chochmas Hashem. We do not expect to be able to observe "gravity", "dna" or any other principle of theoretical Chochma without deep and extensive prior education. How much more so is education necessary, if we are to observe the expression of the framework of Shem Hashem implied by "Hashem's hand striking the Egyptians"?! Observing that a tangible event is an effect of the principle of hasgacha requires a deep theoretical basis, a formulation of a shem hashem framework capable of application to the observable phenomenon.

It is this simplistic view that the derash seeks to shock us out of. In reality, observing Yad Hashem is anything but a triviality, it is an application of theoretical principles of the highest order. The derash accomplishes its wake up call by reminding us of the living mesorah of Yakov, the theoretical framework of Shem Hashem that allowed Geula to be a phenomenon we were capable of observing at all. Pharaoh was not able to make this observation, nor were the vast majority of Jews who died in Egypt.We observe Yad Hashem because of the theoretical framework of Yakov, we see because we sit on the shoulders of giants. We are now in a position to see the point that the derash is driving home regarding Yakov being alive. In the biological life sense of peshat, Yakov was dead, to be sure. In the derash's deeper life of mind, in the sense of being the giant upon whose shoulders observation rests, Yakov was anything but dead.

We have answered questions 1 and 2, let us now deal with the rest in Tefilla #4-

3. Why is Yakov alone among the Avot in being alive?

Why is Yakov's posthumous life reduced to observing the redemptive process?

Why is Yakov alone among the Avot in being shown the redemptive process?