Friday, October 22, 2010

Obama-friend of my enemy #2-- a call to Teshuva?

On January 24, 2009, I posted an article entitled, Obama- friend of my enemy. The idea was that Obama, because of his cowardice or hypocrisy, would mismanage the phenomenon of an Iran in pursuit of nuclear weapons. Israel, because of her dependence on US friendship for her existence, would be asked to sacrifice her security, to appease Arabs into an anti Iranian coalition, by the US. The 2009 article is worth a review, in light of recent events, and President Shimon Peres' remarks, from today's Jerusalem post. Certainly, this might have been a lucky guess, it might also be, a productive first hypothesis worthy of further development.

Much as we might agree with Peres' political assessment that Israel currently depends on US friendship for her survival, we should also view this as a Tzara, and a call to Teshuva on our part. Why are we not asking ourselves, how did we get to be in this situation of dependence upon frienship? Should we not be seeking a realistic way out of this dependency based upon our Mesorah? Obviously, there is no simple answer to the question, Teshuva begins with almost impossible questions. Yet, we are obligated to ask the question:

הלכות תענייות פרק א  אבל אם לא יזעקו, ולא יריעו, אלא יאמרו דבר זה ממנהג העולם אירע לנו, וצרה זו נקרוא נקרית--הרי זו דרך אכזרייות, וגורמת להם להידבק במעשיהם הרעים, ותוסיף הצרה וצרות אחרות:  הוא שכתוב בתורה, "והלכתם עימי, בקרי.  והלכתי עימכם, בחמת קרי" (ויקרא כו,כז-כח), כלומר כשאביא עליכם צרה, כדי שתשובו--אם תאמרו שהוא קרי, אוסיף עליכם חמת אותו קרי.

 Jpost October 22, 2010
President Shimon Peres said that Israel cannot survive without the help of the United States, at a Jerusalem conference of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute on Thursday.

Peres said that, "for our existence, we need the friendship of the United States of America."

Speaking of how Israel can give back to the US, he said that just "as the US is trying to understand the security needs of Israel, we Israelis ourselves must understand the security needs of the US." He continued, "We cannot give back to the United States what the US is giving us, but in our own small way, we can be of help."

Connecting two of the largest issues on the Israeli - and American - agenda, the president said Israel could be of help to the US by enabling an "anti-Iran coalition in the Middle East, and the contribution will not be by declaration, but if we stop  the secondary conflict between us and the Palestinians," in order to allow the US to focus on the Iranian threat.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tisha Bav 2010 -The Cause of Churban part 1

Gittin 57b
דף נז,ב גמרא  אמר רבי חייא בר אבין אמר רבי יהושע בן קרחה סח לי זקן אחד מאנשי ירושלים בבקעה זו הרג נבוזראדן רב טבחים מאתים ואחת עשרה רבוא ובירושלים הרג תשעים וארבע רבוא על אבן אחת עד שהלך דמן ונגע בדמו של זכריה לקיים מה שנאמר (הושע ד) ודמים בדמים נגעו אשכחיה לדמיה דזכריה דהוה קא מרתח וסליק אמר מאי האי אמרו ליה דם זבחים דאשתפוך אייתי דמי ולא אידמו אמר להו אי אמריתו לי מוטב ואי לאו מסריקנא לבשרייכו במסרקי דפרזלי אמרי ליה מאי נימא לך נבייא הוה בן דהוה קא מוכח לן במילי דשמיא קמינן עילויה וקטלינן ליה והא כמה שנין דלא קא נייח דמיה אמר להו אנא מפייסנא ליה אייתי סנהדרי גדולה וסנהדרי קטנה קטל עילויה ולא נח בחורים ובתולות קטל עילויה ולא נח אייתי תינוקות של בית רבן קטל עילויה ולא נח א"ל זכריה זכריה טובים שבהן איבדתים ניחא לך דאבדינהו לכולהו כדאמר ליה הכי נח בההיא שעתא הרהר תשובה בדעתיה אמר ומה אם על נפש אחת כך ההוא גברא דקטל כל הני נשמתא על אחת כמה וכמה ערק אזל שדר שטר פרטתא בביתיה ואגייר
R. Hiya b. Abin said in the name of R. Joshua b. Korhah: An old man from the inhabitants of Jerusalem told me that in this valley Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard killed two hundred and eleven myriads, and in Jerusalem he killed ninety-four myriads on one stone, until their blood went and joined that of Zechariah, to fulfil the words, Blood toucheth blood (Hosea 4:2). He [Nebuzaradan] noticed the blood of Zechariah boiling and bubbling, and asked what it was. They said: It is the blood of the sacrifices which has been poured there. He had some [animal] blood brought to make a comparison, it was different from the other. He then said to them: If you tell me [the truth], well and good, but if not, I will tear your flesh with combs of iron. They said: What can we say to you? There was a prophet among us who used to reprove us regarding issues of Heaven, and we rose up against him and killed him, and for many years his blood has not rested. He said to them: I will appease him. He brought the great Sanhedrin and the small Sanhedrin and killed them over him, but the blood did not cease. He then slaughtered young men and women, but the blood did not cease. He brought tinokot, students of Torah and slaughtered them over it, but the blood did not cease its boiling. So he said; Zechariah, Zechariah. I have slain the best of them; do you want me to destroy them all? When he said this to him, the blood came to rest. Straightway Nebuzaradan began reflecting on his derech in teshuva.  He said to himself: If such is the penalty for slaying one soul, what will happen to me who have slain such multitudes? So he fled away, and sent a deed to his house disposing of his effects and became a convert.

History vs Heuristic

Clearly, Rabbi Hiyya’s report, is not meant as a historical account. As R. Chait points out, a killing event of such magnitude, would be common knowledge, it would not be a secret known only to a particular old man. But, if it is not a historical account, what then is the nature of this narrative? R. Hiyya, was sufficiently detached from the tragedy of the Churban, to be able to comment upon its significance, as a case study in Israel’s relationship with the Creator.  It would seem then, that story has a heuristic character, rather than a historic one. The story is then a metaphor, a Mashal created to create a basis, for reflecting upon the horror of Churban, in a productive way.

The issue then, is not whether these events happened exactly as they are recounted. No doubt,  Nebuzaradan was responsible for the death of masses of Jews. What is at issue, is how to glean the moral of the story underlying the Churban as depicted by the great R. Hiyya, in the  Mashal. As R. Rosenthal points out, this is much like Sefer Iyov, as the Gra said Iyov Lo haya Vilo Nivrah,ela limashal. Iyov only existed, in the sense of being a mashal. Another example of this is Plato’s Republic, where actual historic characters are used, to illustrate certain ideas Plato wishes to work through.

To do gain access to R. Hiyya’s perspective then, we must seperate the themes being illustrated from the characters being used as a Mashal vehicle. To do this, we will scrutinize the narrative, in order to tease out the underlying themes. Specifically, in our next post, we will scrutinize the passages marked in red.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Old post, as true now as it was then

Obama friend of my enemy

In the reactions to the previous post, I realize that I created a false impression that I want to rectify. It seems that my language caused people to zoom into a sort of Hitlerian framework of understanding Obama. Much as we should distrust this man, this was not the impression I meant to convey. Neither is it necessary for a "Hitler" to arise as the leader of the U.S., in order for Israel, and by extension Jews everywhere, to be in very deep trouble indeed.

For Israel to be in trouble, all that is required is that the U.S. shift in its basis of security, moving away from classic approaches, towards those more common in Europe and the third world.

The classic basis of American security is American "exceptionalism", the notion that the U.S. is singularly blessed by God, among all nations on Earth, because of its unique form of government. The essence of this notion can be reduced to this - a justice logically based upon the chochma of the G of the universe is superior to any merely human form of government. It is this exceptionalism that is at the core of identification with Jews and Israel. It is also this exceptionalism that has allowed a unilateralism that shielded us from world opinion. US Public opinion could be summarized something like this. "What matter if Europeans and Arabs don't like our economic system or foreign policy supporting Israel? They are a rather unimpressive, cowardly lot that depend upon us anyway". This view, while widely shared, is most prevalent in the Conservative community.

What we need to understand, is that our long involvement in inconclusive wars, topped off by an unprecedented failure of our economic system, has opened the door to systemic change regarding exceptionalism itself. It is not accidental that Mccain was making headway laughing at Obama's flowery, meaningless rhetoric a few short months ago, while today- no one is laughing. Talking in terms of reinterpreting ikrim sounds laughable in normal times, but as a "change" that could "restore hope" in times of deep crisis. This was what allowed the "new deal" a generation ago, the "patriot act" after 9/11 and what will allow a virtual nationalizing of our economy now. The essential point here is- exceptionlism is dead, security through fitting in with the world is in.

It is not necessary for a U.S. government to transform into an Arab society for disaster to occur to Israel. Was it necessary for America to become Hitlerian for millions to die at the hands of Germany or Vietnam? All that was needed was an excuse to remove the support that had held the genocidal forces from acting before.
The Europeans and third world are united in their inability to understand the basis of American exceptionalism. Europeans are far to materialistic to understand the American idea of natural justice. Europeans don't believe in God- they don't believe in one nation under God, but rather in one nation under Man. This belief in Man causes hatred for American's as believers in God, as well as a deep hatred for Jews.

As one might expect, if we explore the European democracies, we will see, not Hitlerian anti Semitism, but very real Jew hatred nonetheless. While there is obviously some guilt at this hypocrisy of hating a fellow Man, Jew hatred redeems itself through the excuse of the image of "injustice" to the native Palestinian by the colonial Jew. But this is not the real issue. The article showing Europeans viewing Israel as the #1 threat to world peace attests to that. The #1 danger to world peace? The #1 Czechoslovakia opportunity to appease Arabs and third world tyrants would be more like it. If we explore Arab society, we get much closer to Hitlerian hatred and imagery, as we have all seen innumerable times on T.V. and the U.N. The Muslim hatred comes from a competing notion of God, rather than the absence of one.

The European, Arab / third world partnership is Genocidal to Israel. Their concept of "justice" allows for nothing less than the dismantling of "colonial" Israel and the liberation of the "victimized" Palestinian. While the passionate Arab does the killing in the name of his God, the European watches eagerly on B.B.C. enjoying the murder of Jews while he self righteously "tut tuts" at the foolish Jew who brought this on himself through his own greed and injustice to Man. The only natural force that holds this back, is massive American force of aid and military, diplomatic support.

This religious, exceptionalist "unilateral" approach that identification with Jews and Israel depends upon, is not consistent with the secular, consensus approach with Europe and the third world that democrats and Obama advocate. Any move therefore toward such consensus, is a revolutionary change in America and a danger to Israel and Jews.

If we take into account the extreme financial crisis we are in, as well as the fact that Iran is about to go Nuclear, the danger to Israel becomes mortal. A Mccain exceptionalist would have viewed it as the right, honorable and necessary thing to use military force to prevent Iran as an enemy of Democracy from acquiring nuclear weapons. If need be, this would have been done unilaterally.

An Obama will be far too equivocal to act decisively. His complex conflict about "liberation theology" will not allow for a unilateral action. Such action would imply a real break with tribalism, something Obama cannot do as we saw with Wright. We must remember, an important part of Obama, the part that happily listened to Wright in church for all these years, sympathizes with hatred of America and wants "victims" like Iran to have nuclear weapons. This equivocation will mask itself as "diplomacy", "soft power" multilateralism or the like. What it really is, is a break with the notion of natural justice and American exceptionalism that promotes identification with Jews. In its stead comes a sympathy with Muslims as fellow tribal "victims".

Without defeating Iran, we are going to have to be make a deal the Arabs. The oil rich states will have to be propped up, and that propping up will demand tangible progress on the Israel front. Nothing less than tangible progress on the Israel front will allow the Oil states to remain in the Western alliance. Tangible progress means indefensible borders for Israel, especially as aid and weapons begin to wane from an America equivocating about itself and Israel.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Experiencing the eye of the soul

What changes as one shifts from recognizing the following toar as being either the phenomenon of an old woman or the phenomenon of a young girl?

Young Girl-Old Woman Illusion
German postcard
Anchor Buggy Company
W.E. Hill in Puck magazine
A famous perceptual illusion in which the tzelem Elokim switches between naming the following toar as a "young girl" and an "old woman". An anonymous German postcard from 1888 (left figure) depicts the image in its earliest known form, and a rendition on an advertisement for the Anchor Buggy Company from 1890 (center figure) provides another early example (IllusionWorks). For many years, the creator of this figure was thought to be British cartoonist W. E. Hill, who published it in 1915 in Puck humor magazine, an American magazine inspired by the British magazine Punch (right figure).

Sunday, February 28, 2010

tzelem and Purim

In the previous post we noted that Rambam views the problem with identifying a meaning with the word “tzelem” in the tendency of man to confuse this word with another, the word “toar”. It is worth asking why do we tend to confuse these two words? Are we too lazy to look up the different meanings in the dictionary?

In fact, the issue goes far deeper. The difficulty is similar to explaining the difference between the words “love” and “like” to a child. The child has not experienced the passion of “love” and therefore cannot stabilize a word to distinguish it from “like”. We confuse Tzelem and Toar because in our frame of reference, in our world of experience, the recognition of phenomenon that would enable a distinction in words is underdeveloped.
Tzelem and Tzura point to two different mentalities, two fundamentally different frameworks of seeing the world, each enabled by a different mechanism or prism in man. The world of material structure-Toar- is seen with the eye of flesh, the world of tzelem- natural principle pointed to by structure- is seen through the eye of the soul.

יג  [ז] לעולם אין אתה רואה גולם בלא צורה, או צורה בלא גולםאלא לב האדם--הוא שמחלק הגוף הנמצא בדעתו, ויודע שהוא מחובר מגולם וצורה, ויודע שיש שם גופים שגולמם מחובר מארבע יסודות, וגופים שגולמם פשוט ואינו מחובר מגולם אחרוהצורות שאין להם גולם, אינן נראין לעין, אלא בעין הלב הם ידועים, כמו שידענו אדון הכול בלא ראיית עין.

יד  [ח] נפש כל בשר, היא צורתו שנתן לו האלוהדעת היתרה המצויה בנפשו של אדם, היא צורת האדם השלם בדעתו; ועל צורה זו נאמר בתורה "נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו" (בראשית א,כו), כלומר שתהיה לו צורה היודעת ומשגת הדעות שאין להם גולם, עד שיידמה להןואינו אומר על צורה זו הניכרת לעיניים, שהיא הפה והחוטם והלסתות ושאר רושם הגוף, שזו תואר שמה.

It is interesting to note Rambam's examples of Toar, what it is that we see with the eye of flesh. In principle, Rambam could have chosen any material structure as an example, the oblong structure of the Earth, the atomic structure of a chemical, or the geological structure of a mountain, any of these would be a toar seen by the eye of flesh. But Rambam does not use these examples. Following the Torah in the story of Gan Eden, Rambam uses the animal properties, the structure of the animal body, the mouth the nose, the jaws. Why is this? At one level, the reason is, that it is intuitive for us to note that mouth nose and jaws are instruments of a life principle. One preserves life by proper use of the mouth, with its structure of an opening with teeth needed to process food in eating or the digestive system. One preserves life by proper use of the nose, with its openings and hair follicles that allow processing of oxygen through the lungs and blood stream- or the respiratory system. So too all animal parts that are instruments of life systems. It is this understanding, namely that material structure points -to principles of systemic function that Rambam wanted to bring out. Through the particular example of the natural life systems of animal- the tzelem of animal-Rambam points to the broader natural system. If it were not for the divine crafting of tzelem into the very design of Shamayim Varetz, if it were not in the nature of the Earthly ecosystem to provide air, food and water to us, our mouth and nose, our very life function would be of no avail. Rambam's treatment of tzelem arises from the story of Breesheet that make this very point.

20 ויאמר אלהים, ישרצו המים, שרץ נפש חיה; ועוף יעופף על-הארץ, על-פני רקיע השמים: 21 ויברא אלהים, את-התנינם הגדלים; ואת כל-נפש החיה הרמשת אשר שרצו המים למינהם, ואת כל-עוף כנף למינהו, וירא אלהים כי-טוב: 22 ויברך אתם אלהים לאמר; פרו ורבו, ומלאו את-המים בימים, והעוף ירב בארץ: 23 ויהי-ערב ויהי-בקר יום חמישי:    פ

Rambam warns us that human life is like peering through a latticework of silver to see the underlying apple. All too often we get stuck in the world of toar or material structure, and fail to seek the underlying systemic functions of our world. We limit ourselves to the world seen through the eye of flesh, we fail to peer through to the glorious golden apple, the systemic functions we could glory in.

It is interesting that modern science has chosen this very example, an apple, as its metaphor for this very process. How many people saw apples fall in the thousands years of civilization before Newton? Yet, we failed to grasp the systemic sense of a universe of material bodies all moving in accordance with a unified principle of “force”. We could not see gravity in the falling of the apple. All we saw was that there was a pattern of motion, a familiar toar of an apple falling, we did not choose to use the eye of the soul to explore the underlying causal system calling to us, the golden apple behind the latticework of the falling apple.

 We left off the previous post with the question of what a scientist would think of Adam Ha-Rishon's exploration of his world. In a sense, the scientist, at least the more thoughtful among them, would be highly approving. After all, rather than allowing himself to remain in the limited world of appearances, Adam quested to name, to scientifically organize and seek underlying theoretical principle. We can begin to imagine the process he went through. Noting wings, noting legs. Perhaps reflecting on basic survival mechanisms. But above all, what seems to have attracted Adam's attention was reproduction, the continuity of species through generations of individuals. This continuity underlies the "name" or tzelem of a thing. Deer is not deer because of its particular features, toars like grazing, particular sizes and colors seen through the eye of flesh. These do no last. Deer is deer, bear is bear, wolf is wolf, because of the continuity pointed to by reproduction.

24 ויאמר אלהים, תוצא הארץ נפש חיה למינה, בהמה ורמש וחיתו-ארץ למינה; ויהי-כן: 25 ויעש אלהים את-חית הארץ למינה, ואת-הבהמה למינה, ואת כל-רמש האדמה למינהו; וירא אלהים כי-טוב: 26 ויאמר אלהים, נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו; וירדו בדגת הים ובעוף השמים, ובבהמה ובכל-הארץ, ובכל-הרמש הרמש על-הארץ: 27 ויברא אלהים את-האדם בצלמו, בצלם אלהים ברא אתו; זכר ונקבה ברא אתם: 28 ויברך אתם אלהים, ויאמר להם אלהים, פרו ורבו ומלאו את-הארץ וכבשה; ורדו בדגת הים ובעוף השמים, ובכל-חיה הרמשת על-הארץ: 29 ויאמר אלהים, הנה נתתי לכם את-כל-עשב זרע זרע, אשר על-פני כל-הארץ, ואת-כל-העץ אשר-בו פרי-עץ זרע זרע; לכם יהיה לאכלה: 30 ולכל-חית הארץ ולכל-עוף השמים ולכל רומש על-הארץ, אשר-בו נפש חיה, את-כל-ירק עשב לאכלה; ויהי-כן: 31 וירא אלהים את-כל-אשר עשה, והנה-טוב מאד; ויהי-ערב ויהי-בקר יום הששי:    פ

A good sense of this approval is seen here in Feynman.Feynman describes his wonder at his friend locked in a world of immediate appearances who sees the skin deep "beauty" of a flower with his eye of flesh, yet fails to focus his eye of soul upon the deeper wonder of tzelem incarnate in matter.

Quote by Richard Feynman:
(As quoted from the "Best Mind Since Einstein" NOVA Video)
I have a friend who’s an artist and he’s some times taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say, "look how beautiful it is," and I’ll agree, I think. And he says, "you see, I as an artist can see how beautiful this is, but you as a scientist, oh, take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing." And I think he’s kind of nutty.
First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me, too, I believe, although I might not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is. But I can appreciate the beauty of a flower.
At the same time, I see much more about the flower that he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside which also have a beauty. I mean, it’s not just beauty at this dimension of one centimeter: there is also beauty at a smaller dimension, the inner structure…also the processes.
The fact that the colors in the flower are evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting – it means that insects can see the color.
It adds a question – does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms that are…why is it aesthetic, all kinds of interesting questions which a science knowledge only adds to the excitement and mystery and the awe of a flower.
It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.

So too Einstein.

[The World As I See It]
His [the scientist's] religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. 

What Einstein had a glimpse of, which Adam also noticed, is that the existence of Idea expressed in matter points to a unique identity of man in Creation.

This process of apprehension of ideas, as a unique and distinct process, is shown by man naming himself. Man's naming of himself is not the same as his naming of the external world. Naming the external world can lead to theoretical action, action of the mind only, Ahavat Hashem, a need to pursue the  apprehension of Gods wisdom to its ultimate conclusion. But naming oneself, leads to another imperitive awe of God- a new sense of identity as a humble mind, as well as the need to act in a manner harmonious and consistent with being a mind that sees ideas incarnate in matter that point to God.


I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.

My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.
The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.
Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. 

What Einstein did not grasp, which he could not grasp without prophecy, was that Man's spiritual evolution, is itself, part and parcel of the phenomena of ideas in nature. It is in the very nature of these ideas or tzelem, to attract us to an sense of the world and ourselves as a mind in the "tzelem" of our Creator that causes us to evolve in our striving for a formulation of tzelem. 

15 ויקח יהוה אלהים את-האדם; וינחהו בגן-עדן, לעבדה ולשמרה: 16 ויצו יהוה אלהים, על-האדם לאמר; מכל עץ-הגן אכל תאכל: 17 ומעץ, הדעת טוב ורע, לא תאכל ממנו; כי, ביום אכלך ממנו מות תמות: 18 ויאמר יהוה אלהים, לא-טוב היות האדם לבדו; אעשה-לו עזר כנגדו: 19 ויצר יהוה אלהים מן-האדמה, כל-חית השדה ואת כל-עוף השמים, ויבא אל-האדם, לראות מה-יקרא-לו; וכל אשר יקרא-לו האדם נפש חיה הוא שמו: 20 ויקרא האדם שמות, לכל-הבהמה ולעוף השמים, ולכל חית השדה; ולאדם לא-מצא עזר כנגדו: 21 ויפל יהוה אלהים תרדמה על-האדם ויישן; ויקח, אחת מצלעתיו, ויסגר בשר תחתנה: 22 ויבן יהוה אלהים את-הצלע אשר-לקח מן-האדם לאשה; ויבאה אל-האדם: 23 ויאמר האדם, זאת הפעם, עצם מעצמי, ובשר מבשרי; לזאת יקרא אשה, כי מאיש לקחה-זאת:

As Rambam would say Adam moved beyond the world of external features seen by the eye of flesh, choosing instead to seek the deeper principles, incarnate in and expressed through the phenomena of matter.

On this day of Purim, may we all be blessed with the ability to see the underlying cruelty hidden in the ignorance of Achashverosh, who lived for the allure of the female toar. May we be blessed to see in Esther not an attractive figure or Toar, but an underlying mind a tzelem capable of apprehending and acting on its understanding of tzura. Then we will see a nahafoch who, in an instant society will be turned on its head, and we will be led by Mordechai's and not Haman's. Purim Sameach!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I just wanted to take the opportunity to say that I subscribed to Hakirah. The article on Rambam- Mishne torah science and art- by R. Buchman is an absolute must read and deserves any support we can give. It can be found at [Thank you Yakov].

The issue also includes an important give and take between R. Zucker and R. Slifkin on the issue of the Yesodei hatorah- among French Jewry. In light of this discussion, I highly recommend reading Rambam's letters on French Jewry as well as his letter to the Jews of Marseilles. The essay "Milchamot Hashem" of Rabbenu Avraham Ben Harambam is also highly important in understanding the background of this issue.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tzelem #3

We began our exploration of tzelem with a translation. The remoteness of Tzelem, as an expression of natural principle or "form" is palpable. Yehuda and Micha suggested model as a translation. Dan suggested essence Reb David suggested quality or property Hagyan suggested that which is pointed to by Yirmiyahu perek 18, and I suggested principle. Sensing the remoteness of a word signifying "natural form" I gave the explanation of "idea expressed in the world of external things" and gave background material from Einstein regarding reason incarnate in existence.

Clearly, in our time, as in Rambam's, it is not easy to isolate a meaning for the word "tzelem". It is interesting to note that Rambam explains the word tzelem, he does not himself give a single meaning to the word. The difficulty in understanding tzelem, according to Rambam, is our tendency to confuse "tzelem" (natural concept or principle) with "toar" (material character as in quality and quantitative structure).

Is this true? Do we really find in ourselves and those around us a tendency to confuse material character with underlying concept or principle? What is a world of form like? A world of material structure?

To bring out this idea of Rambam imagine the following gedanken experiment. A modern scientist has the opportunity to observe Adam harishon. Adam has just explored the animals in the garden and named them. He is preoccupied with the difference between the nefesh chaya as animal vs man.

What would the scientist think of Adam's scientific exploration? Would he think of what Adam saw in nature? What would he want to say to Adam? What would Adam say back? Which, if either of these people would be concerned with tzelem which with toar?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The wise man and the Prophet

 My Thanks to Reb David Guttman for his help in thinking of the idea behind this post and for posting it on his excellent blog.

A few days ago, I was asked a very good question about Prophecy, by Josh K. I thought we all could benefit from the discussion, as another useful backgrounder to tzelem.Here is the ,slightly edited, discussion.
Josh Asks

1) why is it that Jewish prophecy no longer occurs? If it is (like Rambam tell us) not a miraculous event in which God randomly selects an individual; but rather the individual must be of a sound mind and so on. Surely as the generations continued and people became more aware of their surroundings scientifically and philosophically our minds would develop as such.

I respond

What allows a person to shift from what we call "thinking" to "prophecy" is a matter of completeness of mind. We tend to think of this "completeness" as an ability to delight in the majesty of a unified wisdom expressed in the external world, love of God as seen in Newton and Einstein, Abraham, Moses and Rambam. In reality, this ability to delight in the unified wisdom of the external external world while necessary, is not sufficient to completeness of mind. To attain this completeness, one must also attain objectivity about oneself and ones humble position in the universe as well- awe of God. Note Rambam
What is the way to love and fear God? Whenever one contemplates the great wonders of God's works and creations, and one sees that they are a product of a wisdom that has no bounds or limits, one will immediately love, laud and glorify [God] with an immense passion to know the Great Name, like David has said, "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God". When one thinks about these matters one will feel a great fear and trepidation, and one will know that one is a low and insignificant creation, with hardly an iota of intelligence compared to that of God, like David has said, "When I observe Your heavens, the work of Your fingers...what is man, that You are heedful of him?". Bearing these things in mind, I shall explain important concepts of the Creator's work, as a guide to understanding and loving God. Concerning this love the Sages said that from it will come to know God.

This duality of wisdom- in terms of delight and humility, expresses itself in Rambam's view of the true Philosopher. Such a one must be very wise, as well as humble and well ordered in character. He does not just know things about the external world, this knowledge is the basis of his humble attitude and wise path of action.

Just as a wise person is recognisable in his wisdom and temperaments and is differentiated by them from other people, so also should he be recognisable in his actions: his manner of eating, drinking, copulation, relieving himself, speaking, walking, dressing and the conducting of his affairs with his work and his giving [should all be exemplary]. All of these actions should be as fine and as correct as possible.

This duality,of course, also expresses itself in the prophet

 One of the bases of religion is to know that God visits people in prophetic visions, which come only to exceedingly wise people of outstanding characteristics, whose inclinations never lead them to earthly matters but who always conquer their inclinations, and who are of correct temperaments. A person who fullfils these criteria, and is of perfect health, will, when he studys the foundations of philosophy and is attracted by those elevated issues and is of an appropriate temperament to understand and comprehend them , and sanctifies himself by moving away from the path of the common man, who concerns himself with ephemeral matters, and instead encourages himself not to have any thoughts about useless matters and its contrivances, but rather have his thoughts permanently attuned to above

As such the prophet is, to a very large degree, limited by his ability to perceive his place humbly. If a circumstance arises that a prophet cannot handle, he may become angry- unaccepting of his reality, and his thought or prophecy ceases.

There are some intermediate temperaments which one is forbidden to have, but one should adopt one of the extremities of such temperaments. One of these is the temperament of haughtiness. It is not good [enough] for one to be just modest, but one should be humble, and one's spirits should be low. Therefore, concerning Moses our Teacher it is written, "...very humble", and not just, "humble". Therefore, the Sages commanded that one should be very humble. They said further that anyone who raises his spirits is denying the most essential reality, as it is written, "...then your heart be lifted up and you forget the Lord your God". They also said that all those with haughty airs should be excommunicated, even if they are only slightly haughty. It is the same with anger, which is an extremely bad temperament and from which it is fitting for one to distance oneself as far as its opposite extreme. One should teach oneself not to get angry, even over something about which it would be normal to get angry. If one wanted to instill fear in one's sons or members of one's household, or in the community if one was their leader, and one wants to be angry at them in order that they will return to the good [ways], then one should show them that one is being angry at them just to correct them, and, when displaying such anger, one should bear in mind that one is like a man who is similar to being angry, and that one is not really angry. The original Sages said that if one is angry, it is as if one has worshipped idols. They also said that when a man gets angry, then if he was wise his wisdom leaves him, and if he was a prophet his prophecy leaves him, and that the life of angry people is not [really] a life.

In Jewish exile, it is extraordinarily difficult to not be angry and depressed about the circumstance of man, and one self. Living in a world dominated by ignorant and superstitious people is no picnic, as you well know. What sort of human communities will these people create? As you know well, this superstitious ignorance has enormous impact on every facet of life. In fact, it seems that it was a unique character of Abraham our father to so transcend his circumstance that he could remain focused on thought, despite the devastation all around him. Even Rambam was not so blessed. We look forward to our redemption from ignorance and the restoration of Wisdom and Justice as the basis of our Human community. This time, we are told, will also see the restoration of prophecy.

40  In our times, severe troubles come one after another, and all are in distress; the wisdom of our Torah scholars has disappeared, and the understanding of our discerning men is hidden.  Thus, the commentaries, the responses to questions, and the settled laws that the Geonim wrote, which had once seemed clear, have in our times become hard to understand, so that only a few properly understand them.  And one hardly needs to mention the Talmud itself--the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, the Sifra, the Sifre, and the Toseftot--which all require a broad mind, a wise soul, and considerable study, before one can correctly know from them what is forbidden or permitted and the other rules of the Torah.

41  For this reason, I, Moshe son of the Rav Maimon the Sephardi, found that the current situation is unbearable; and so, relying on the help of the Rock blessed be He, I intently studied all these books, for I saw fit to write what can be determined from all of these works in regard to what is forbidden and permitted, and unclean and clean, and the other rules of the Torah:  Everything in clear language and terse style, so that the whole Oral Law would become thoroughly known to all, without bringing problems and solutions or differences of view, but rather clear, convincing, and correct statements in accordance with the legal rules drawn from all of these works and commentaries that have appeared from the time of Our Holy Teacher to the present.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Exploring Tzelem and Toar in dogs

I would like to give an example of tzelem and toar, as I see them in nature. A while back my parents brought a video to my house, "Dogs that changed the world". While there is much to be enjoyed in the movie, what most interested me, was the discussion about the relation of dogs to wolves.

It seems that dogs are genetically almost identical to wolves, they can breed with wolves, though clearly they are very different in terms of their ability to be domesticated and participate in human society. These two properties, DNA and ability to breed on the one hand, and socialization are key toarim of an animal. They are material features that point to the underlying nature or tzelem of a thing.

The ability to breed with another, while clearly a significant result, is not the underlying nature, the life principle, of animality expressed in a dog, cat or fish. It is a material character recognizable to us- a toar or characteristic that points to tzelem, it is not tzelem.

So too socializing. The ability of a creature to pursue its needs, emotional and physical in a herd with another also, while clearly a significant result, is not the underlying nature, the life principle, of animality expressed in a dog, cat or fish. It also is a material character, a toar or characteristic.

These two toars point in two different directions. Is a dog a tzelem of wolf, with the detail of quantitatively heightened tameness as ability of interbreeding points to?

Or is dog a new tzelem, as evidenced by its unique social character?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reason incarnate in existence

Before summarizing our first approach to the word tzelem, I sense, as I always have, a great tension, that needs to be allowed to dissipate. Let us all take a deep breath, as we gently allow our intuition to to move our souls past their initial starting points.

Thank you commentors for your initial salvo. Perhaps we all can benefit from reminding ourselves of Rambam's advice, in approaching translation. In essence, he notes that translation, must be done in the context of thinking about a subject, a real world area, that the word or piece is about.

Let me premise one canon. Whoever wishes to translate, and purposes to render each word literally, and at the same time to adhere slavishly to the order of the words and sentences in the original, will meet with much difficulty; his rendering will be faulty and untrustworthy. This is not the right method. The translator should first try to grasp the sense of the subject thoroughly, and then state the theme with perfect clearness in the other language. This, however, can not be done without changing the order of the words, putting many words for one word, or vice versâ, and adding or taking away words, so that the subject be perfectly intelligible in the language into which he translates. This method was followed by Honein ben Is'hak with the works of Galen, and his son Is'hak with the works of Aristotle. It is for this reason that all their versions are so peculiarly lucid, and therefore we ought to study them to the exclusion of all other. 

We may not be perfectly aligned in the word we choose as most similar to tzelem. Yehuda and Micha chose "model", Dan -essence I chose "principle" and Hagyan chose the phenomenon which is to be gleaned from craftmanship as in Yirmiyahu.

יח הדבר אשר היה אל-ירמיהו, מאת יהוה לאמר: 2 קום וירדת בית היוצר; ושמה אשמיעך את-דברי: 3 וארד בית היוצר; והנהו (והנה-הוא) עשה מלאכה על-האבנים: 4 ונשחת הכלי, אשר הוא עשה בחמר ביד היוצר; ושב, ויעשהו כלי אחר, כאשר ישר בעיני היוצר לעשות:    פ
5 ויהי דבר-יהוה אלי לאמור: 6 הכיוצר הזה לא-אוכל לעשות לכם בית ישראל נאם-יהוה; הנה כחמר ביד היוצר, כן-אתם בידי בית ישראל:    ס    7 רגע אדבר, על-גוי ועל-ממלכה; לנתוש ולנתוץ ולהאביד:

The common thread of meaning here is, I think, that pointed to by Einstein in his phrase- reason incarnate in existence. This phrase, I think, refers to our foundational intuition that there is in fact an expression of idea in the external things we see around us. It is not just Newton who can apprehend a unifying idea actually expressed in the material apples around us- we all can apprehend a reason incarnate in the things around us.

refers to reason incarnate in existence in the sense of an approximation of our minds, due to our limited apprehension of reason incarnate in existence.

Essence and principle
refer to the underlying idea expressing itself via the core properties of a thing such as the ability to speak and act justly, rather than details such as color in a man. This notion is of the external thing, more so than the limitations of our apprehension.

Hagyan's sense of craftsmanship pointed to by  Yirmiyahu similarly refer to this sense of reason incarnate in existence, in the sense that a craftsman imprints an idea or design, upon his material, producing a product, expressive of the idea in its structure.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Useful background material

It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics!

If it is one of the goals of religion to liberate mankind as far as possible from the bondage of egocentric cravings, desires, and fears, scientific reasoning can aid religion in yet another sense. Although it is true that it is the goal of science to discover rules which permit the association and foretelling of facts, this is not its only aim. It also seeks to reduce the connections discovered to the smallest possible number of mutually independent conceptual elements. It is in this striving after the rational unification of the manifold that it encounters its greatest successes, even though it is precisely this attempt which causes it to run the greatest risk of falling a prey to illusions. But whoever has undergone the intense experience of successful advances made in this domain is moved by profound reverence for the rationality made manifest in existence. By way of the understanding he achieves a far-reaching emancipation from the shackles of personal hopes and desires, and thereby attains that humble attitude of mind toward the grandeur of reason incarnate in existence, and which, in its profoundest depths, is inaccessible to man. This attitude, however, appears to me to be religious, in the highest sense of the word. And so it seems to me that science not only purifies the religious impulse of the dross of its anthropomorphism but also contributes to a religious spiritualization of our understanding of life.

Tzelem #2

As we attempt to find an adequate translation for, "צלם" we immediately run into enormous difficulty, by the very nature of the loftiness of the notion pointed to by this word. In fact, it is precisely for this point that Rabbenu brings up discussion about this word. It seems that all research rests upon reflection, and insight, into this notion. Rambam says that people have the notion of  "צלם" all wrong, confused with what , in fact should be referred to as  "תאר" but what is Toar? Neither of these terms are exactly common sense ones. Most of us do not usually find contexts in which we speak of either.

כבר חשבו
*בני אדם כי "צלם" בלשון העברי מורה על תבנית 2 הדבר ותוארו, 3 והביאם הדבר לידי הגשמה מוחלטת. לפי שנאמר נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו 4, וחשבו *1 כי ה' כצורת אדם, כלומר: תבניתו ותארו, וחייבו 5 הגשמה מוחלטת והאמינו בכך, ונראה להם שאם יעזבו דעה זו יכחישו את הכתוב, ואף יהיה בכך העדר האלוה אם לא יהיה גוף בעל פנים ויד כמותם בתבנית ובתואר, אלא שהוא יותר גדול ובהיר לפי דמיונם 6, וגם החומר שלו אינו דם ובשר 7. זהו תכלית מה שנראה להם שהוא רוממות ביחס לה'.
אבל מה שצריך להיאמר בשלילת הגשמות וקביעת האחדות האמיתית, אשר אין לה אמיתות כי אם בהרחקת הגשמות תדע הוכחת כל זה מן המאמר הזה 8, ואין ההערה כאן בפרק זה אלא על ביאור עניין צלם ודמות.

Who in fact is it that is preoccupied with such distinctions as between tzelem and tzura, and why?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Stepping out

In response to popular request, it is time to restart our "steps" program. I have suggested that perhaps the best words to use, would be those of Rabbenu, the guide to the perplexed, in his book the Moreh Nevuchim.

The general tenor of the steps, is to guide the soul through its natural progression, from relatively imprecise intuition and picture, to carefully focused abstract meaning, useful in exploring mada, as it manifests itself in creation either through observation or reading of Torah.

In outline, the process begins with "translation" identifying a resonant English word, that can serve a an opening step in the process. The resonance of a translation, lies in its ability to suggest luminous examples, rather than in formal precision.

With this in mind let us all read Rabbenu's first Chapter of MN- on the word צלם. I suggest R. Kapach's translation, the link to which is to be conveniently found in the new "resources" gadget on the side of the blog.

Please offer your resonant translation of the word צלם. A short explanation of your choice an example summary of the chapter and or question on it are all acceptable as well. The one thing I would advise, as anyone who knows this process can attest to, is to keep explanations of methodology and questions about it, to an absolute minimum.