Thursday, November 24, 2011

Natural law of Man

In the previous post, I noted that the expulsion of Dr Schectman from the scientific community, for the crime of offering novel ideas, reveals a tension in man. On the one hand, our minds demand constant revision of our models. On the other hand, our need for dignity and security demands a stability in these very same models. The history of science is characterized by the steady victory of innovation over stability, as in the case of Dr Schectman. Problems in the sciences exist, to be sure, but mankind is committed to seeking formulations of natural law to solve these. Because of this commitment to research, progress in the math and the natural sciences seems to be steadily increasing since the renaissance, with old models giving way to new ones, almost as a matter of course.

In stark contrast to math and natural sciences, the science of living life, lags far behind. We do not find a corresponding commitment to seeking natural law in the domain of living life, in this sphere, the dark ages persist.

In the T’fila of the zmanim, we focus attention upon this issue. We yearn, to bring to the study of everyday living, the same framework of dynamic research into natural law found in the sciences. This yearning to bring dynamism into research of the laws of life itself, is the mission we were chosen for and what characterizes us a Jewish nation. His “Name” the sense of the Wisdom and natural law which underlies His Creation generally, is associated with the Jewish nation.
מו  ברכה אמצעית של ראש השנה, בערבית ושחרית ומנחה:
אתה בחרתנו מכל העמים ורצית בנו מכל הלשונות, וקידשתנו במצוותיך וקירבתנו מלכנו לעבודתך; ושמך הגדול והקדוש, עלינו קראת.
But why is this commitment to research in natural law in the domain of life, so unique? This is the topic of the next post.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Nature of Teshuva

Reading about Dr Schectman’s expulsion from the scientific community, one finds oneself confused. What was it about the future Nobel prize winner’s questioning, that warranted this drastic action? Surely in a scientific community dedicated to furthering knowledge, there would be an honored place for an innovator such as Dr Scechtman? What better way is there to succeed in research, than asking fundamental questions? Yet, Dr Schectman was not saught after as a valuable asset to his team, far from it. The mere presence of an individual who actually questioned a fundamental of established science was intolerable to his community and resulted in his being shunned? How do we explain this? What mechanism underlies this human disposition to discredit a thinker who dares to question the established order?

The answer lies, in appreciating the complexity of human nature. On the one hand we are like Dr Schectman, a Tzelem Elokim,a mind blessed with an insatiable desire to draw ever nearer to His Absolute Knowledge. As Ralbag points out nicely, this absolute knowledge, is unattainable to us. Yet, via exploration of His Creations, in Chemistry Physics and other disciplines, we can draw ever nearer, in our models of science.
Blessed and most revered be the tzur ("rock"), foundation of all existence, whose “insight” (T'vunaso) , “wisdom” (chochmaso) and “knowledge” (Daato) bring into being, a system of existing things, whose existence exhibits a wisdom and grace which none but He can completely apprehend.

It is vital that we keep in mind that it is impossible for us to completely apprehend the wisdom and grace expressed in the nature of the Torah’s existence. In reality we know but a pittance and are ignorant of much, as is the case with our knowledge of the nature of all existing things with regard to their wisdom and grace. In reality we apprehend but very little, as is well known to all those who do real research in the natural sciences- and come to appreciate the gap between our models of the of the laws of the Universe and their reality.
The very limitation of our apprehension, is naturally painful to us. Our psychic makeup causes us to desire to be Elohim, great beings secure in power over their environments. We yearn for science to cure cancer and disease extending our power over the environment, not to point out our frailty. We need to have confidence in our pillars of science, in the absence of such pillars education would be impossible, as would much applied research.

Much as we can identify with the pioneering spirit of Dr Schectman, we must be be able to appreciate the limitation of his community as well. It is understandable that the research community would at first reject fundamental questioning. Much research depends upon applying established knowledge to new particular cases. If a biologist is not confident in the core notion of DNA, how is he to spend the long years needed to become educated in his field? How is he to dedicate himself to applying this notion to the myriad of cases available in the real world?

It is recognizing the tension between our psychic needs for security and dignity in the application of old models of knowledge, alongside our need to move ever closer to Him through attaining breakthroughs in models that we come to understand the natural relationship of Teshuva and time.

We should be working through the complexity of our relationships with “Dr Schectman’s” on a yearly basis. The conflict between security in our current representation of the world, and its absolute reality should be playing out, on a regular basis, it is the lifeblood of the human community. The nature of Teshuva, the motion of ever increasing recognition of the limitations of the psychic world and motion toward the Absolute, is therefore the central theme of Moadot. How this is so will be explored in the next post.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Insight and Reflection

In the previous posts, I identified the Moadot, as being a very special case of generational development in time. All species on Earth develop in time- in a bodily sense. The tree gathers rings, the vegetable and animal fullness of body or physical function. It is man alone, as a mind or Tzelem Elokim, that develops through attaining  abstract knowledge.

The process of developing as a mind, requires insight into observations. It is through scrutinizing the nature of insight, that we can understand the specific function of moadot, in catalyzing human development. To illustrate the nature of "insight" let us consider the interesting case of the recent Israeli Nobel prize winner in Chemistry, Dan Shechtman.

Dr Schectman was blessed with a unique insight into Chemical structure, an insight so fundamental, that it contradicted accepted notions of science. As might be expected, Schectman's insight was not initially met with encouragement and support, quite the contrary. As reported in the press:
"I told everyone who was ready to listen that I had material with pentagonal symmetry. People just laughed at me," Shechtman said in a description of his work released by his university.

For months he tried to persuade his colleagues of his find, but they refused to accept it. Finally he was asked to leave his research group, and moved to another one within the National Bureau of Standards, Shechtman said.

He returned to Israel, where he found one colleague prepared to work with him on an article describing the phenomenon. The article was at first rejected, but finally published in November 1984 - to uproar in the scientific world. Double Nobel winner Linus Pauling was among those who never accepted the findings.
"He really was a great scientist, but he was wrong. It's not the first time he was wrong," Shechtman told reporters Wednesday.

What is particularly interesting about Dr Schectman, is that his battle to share his insight in physical science, brought about another, perhaps even more fundamental reflection upon the challenge the human social system imposes upon the process of attaining knowledge. The reality is that every new insight forces humility upon the scientific community. Much as man pays lip service to the notion that his "knowledge" is but a model of the laws of nature, people stake their reputations and grant money, on current thinking. It is extremely difficult to give up the security of the tried and "true" model, for the new. Schectman seems to have taken this lesson to heart, his great insight in Chemistry and subsequent battle, have resulted in a distinct maturity of outlook. Over time, his reflections on his personal journey, have left lasting impressions. A deep regard for humility in thought and the need of every individual for his fellow man
"The main lesson that I have learned over time is that a good scientist is a humble and listening scientist and not one that is sure 100 percent in what he read in the textbooks," Shechtman, 70, told a news conference Wednesday at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel.

Fresh off Wednesday's announcement that he will receive the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the Technion's Dan Shechtman was forthcoming in sharing the honor. "I think this is a great day for me, of course, but also a great day for the country," he said at a press conference.

The prize does not belong to him alone, he continued. "There are thousands of scientists that research the subject I developed, and I'm sure they all see the prize as an achievement for themselves as well, and indeed they deserve it."

Monday, October 17, 2011


The previous post stated that the Torah has a specific perspective on the relationship of time, to life.The general principle of time as Halacha views it, is a cyclical process in which generations of individuals come to maturity ultimately replacing the previous generation. In the story of Creation the Torah shows that this framework of time is composed of units of "days" and "nights" , resulting from the relationship of Sun to Earth.

The ongoing accumulation of nights and days become periods or "seasons" of life and death of individual lifetimes which merge into each other in changing generations. This process of ongoing maintenance of the various species through seasons and changing generations of individuals is called "good".

(Gen 1: 14-18)
14 And God said: 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.' And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; and the stars. 17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good

The framework of time, in which seasons result in generations of individuals attaining maturity and then old age is seen in all species on Earth- vegetable, animal and in man himself.

11 And God said: 'Let the earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth.' And it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after its kind; and God saw that it was good

24 And God said: 'Let the earth bring forth the living creature after its kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after its kind.' And it was so. 25 And God made the beast of the earth after its kind, and the cattle after their kind, and every thing that creeps upon the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good

26 And God said: 'Let us make man in our Tzelem, and our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.' 27 And God created man in His Tzelem, in the Tzelem of God created He him; male and female created He them. 28 And God blessed them; and God said unto them: 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth.' 31 And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good

It is in this sense of time, seasons composed of the days, years and seasons of maturational process of generations, that we must understand the statement of T'filla. Man is a mind- a Tzelem Elokim. As a mind, man attains maturity through a growing knowledge and its application in a successful life. The seasons, years and days measure a process of knowledge, in which generations of individual men and women, express their learning and education in an ongoing life of Halacha. This maturational process involves a number of stages, that are intimately connected- Kedusha of mitzvot, immersion in Torah, happiness, satiation, purity of heart and finally true service. 
                                                           Elements  of Human Development                                                  #1
  קדשנו במצוותיך 
ותן חלקנו בתורתך,
ושמח נפשנו בישועתך 
ושבענו מטובך, 
וטהר ליבנו 
לעובדך באמת

What these 6 elements of human maturation are, will be discussed in the next post.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Its about time

Though the 10 days of Teshuva have concluded and we are in the midst of Sukkot, my mind still lingers on the themes of RH  as well as Yom Kippur.

But is this lingering I experience, there by design? Is there a shared conceptual framework that justifies extending the themes of RH/ Yom Kippur into Sukkot? Or is my lingering upon RH/ YK merely happenstance, born of the very magnitude of the Yomim Noraim and their proximity in time to the next Holiday which happens to be Sukkot? 

If we reflect upon the T’fillot of these respective holidays, RH/ YK and Sukkot we will see that they are both expressions of a shared framework. In fact, all the moadim are component elements of one unified framwork. The essential theme of Tfillat RH, which is shared with all Moadot, is the request that Hashem realize an ongoing process that the lifestyle of Mitzvot is intended to bring about.
מו  ברכה אמצעית של ראש השנה, בערבית ושחרית ומנחה:
אתה בחרתנו מכל העמים ורצית בנו מכל הלשונות, וקידשתנו במצוותיך וקירבתנו מלכנו לעבודתך; ושמך הגדול והקדוש, עלינו קראת.  ותיתן לנו ה' אלוהינו, את יום טוב מקרא קודש הזה, את יום הזיכרון הזה, זכרון תרועה באהבה--זכר ליציאת מצריים.  אלוהינו ואלוהי אבותינו, יעלה ויבוא . . . כי אל מלך רחום וחנון אתה.  אלוהינו ואלוהי אבותינו, מלוך על כל העולם כולו בכבודך, והינשא על כל הארץ ביקרך, והופע בהדר גאון עוזך על כל יושבי תבל ארצך; ויידע כל פעול כי אתה פעלתו, ויבין כל יצור כי אתה יצרתו, ויאמרו כל אשר נשמה באפו, ה' אלוהי ישראל מלך ומלכותו בכול משלה.  קדשנו במצוותיך ותן חלקנו בתורתך, ושמח נפשנו בישועתך ושבענו מטובך, וטהר ליבנו לעובדך באמת ודברך אמת וקיים לעד.  ברוך אתה ה', מלך על כל הארץ, מקדש ישראל ויום הזיכרון.

What is this process intended by all mitzvot?  What is the particular role of RH / YK and Sukkot in the process?
The answer to these questions comes from re-examining the notion of time. Halacha views time as the underlying framework underlying all the mitzvot and moadot specifically. How do we understand this unique perspective on time? We will deal with this issue in the next post.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tefilat Rosh Hashana- Parable of the Vineyard #1

In the Tefilla of Rosh Hashana, there is an extension of the 3rd beracha, HaKel Hakadosh. The extension emphasizes the Kingship of Hashem, that will be revealed in its complete form at the time of Mashiach. The true nature of this manifestation of Hashem's Kingship at the time of redemption, is captured by pasuk 16 in Yeshaya Chapter 5. טז וַיִּגְבַּהּ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, בַּמִּשְׁפָּט; וְהָאֵל, הַקָּדוֹשׁ, נִקְדָּשׁ, בִּצְדָקָה.
This pasuk is part of one of the most famous passages in Yeshaya, the "parable of the vineyard". This section, along with its message for Rosh Hashana, is worth our attention at this time of 10 Yimei Teshuva.
ישעיהו פרק ה
א אָשִׁירָה נָּא לִידִידִי, שִׁירַת דּוֹדִי לְכַרְמוֹ:  כֶּרֶם הָיָה לִידִידִי, בְּקֶרֶן בֶּן-שָׁמֶן.  ב וַיְעַזְּקֵהוּ וַיְסַקְּלֵהוּ, וַיִּטָּעֵהוּ שֹׂרֵק, וַיִּבֶן מִגְדָּל בְּתוֹכוֹ, וְגַם-יֶקֶב חָצֵב בּוֹ; וַיְקַו לַעֲשׂוֹת עֲנָבִים, וַיַּעַשׂ בְּאֻשִׁים.  ג וְעַתָּה יוֹשֵׁב יְרוּשָׁלִַם, וְאִישׁ יְהוּדָה--שִׁפְטוּ-נָא, בֵּינִי וּבֵין כַּרְמִי.  ד מַה-לַּעֲשׂוֹת עוֹד לְכַרְמִי, וְלֹא עָשִׂיתִי בּוֹ:  מַדּוּעַ קִוֵּיתִי לַעֲשׂוֹת עֲנָבִים, וַיַּעַשׂ בְּאֻשִׁים.  ה וְעַתָּה אוֹדִיעָה-נָּא אֶתְכֶם, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-אֲנִי עֹשֶׂה לְכַרְמִי:  הָסֵר מְשׂוּכָּתוֹ וְהָיָה לְבָעֵר, פָּרֹץ גְּדֵרוֹ וְהָיָה לְמִרְמָס.  ו וַאֲשִׁיתֵהוּ בָתָה, לֹא יִזָּמֵר וְלֹא יֵעָדֵר, וְעָלָה שָׁמִיר, וָשָׁיִת; וְעַל הֶעָבִים אֲצַוֶּה, מֵהַמְטִיר עָלָיו מָטָר.  ז כִּי כֶרֶם יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאִישׁ יְהוּדָה, נְטַע שַׁעֲשׁוּעָיו; וַיְקַו לְמִשְׁפָּט וְהִנֵּה מִשְׂפָּח, לִצְדָקָה וְהִנֵּה צְעָקָה.  {פ} ח הוֹי, מַגִּיעֵי בַיִת בְּבַיִת--שָׂדֶה בְשָׂדֶה, יַקְרִיבוּ:  עַד אֶפֶס מָקוֹם, וְהוּשַׁבְתֶּם לְבַדְּכֶם בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ.  ט בְּאָזְנָי, יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת:  אִם-לֹא בָּתִּים רַבִּים, לְשַׁמָּה יִהְיוּ--גְּדֹלִים וְטוֹבִים, מֵאֵין יוֹשֵׁב.  י כִּי, עֲשֶׂרֶת צִמְדֵּי-כֶרֶם, יַעֲשׂוּ, בַּת אֶחָת; וְזֶרַע חֹמֶר, יַעֲשֶׂה אֵיפָה.  {ס} יא הוֹי מַשְׁכִּימֵי בַבֹּקֶר, שֵׁכָר יִרְדֹּפוּ; מְאַחֲרֵי בַנֶּשֶׁף, יַיִן יַדְלִיקֵם.  יב וְהָיָה כִנּוֹר וָנֶבֶל, תֹּף וְחָלִיל וָיַיִן--מִשְׁתֵּיהֶם; וְאֵת פֹּעַל יְהוָה לֹא יַבִּיטוּ, וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו לֹא רָאוּ.  יג לָכֵן גָּלָה עַמִּי, מִבְּלִי-דָעַת; וּכְבוֹדוֹ מְתֵי רָעָב, וַהֲמוֹנוֹ צִחֵה צָמָא.  יד לָכֵן, הִרְחִיבָה שְּׁאוֹל נַפְשָׁהּ, וּפָעֲרָה פִיהָ, לִבְלִי-חֹק; וְיָרַד הֲדָרָהּ וַהֲמוֹנָהּ וּשְׁאוֹנָהּ, וְעָלֵז בָּהּ.  טו וַיִּשַּׁח אָדָם, וַיִּשְׁפַּל-אִישׁ; וְעֵינֵי גְבֹהִים, תִּשְׁפַּלְנָה.  טז וַיִּגְבַּהּ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, בַּמִּשְׁפָּט; וְהָאֵל, הַקָּדוֹשׁ, נִקְדָּשׁ, בִּצְדָקָה.  יז וְרָעוּ כְבָשִׂים, כְּדָבְרָם; וְחָרְבוֹת מֵחִים, גָּרִים יֹאכֵלוּ
I will sing to my beloved, a song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard. My beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful field. He fenced it and cleared out its stones, planted it with choice vines . He built a tower in its midst, and carved out a winepress for it; He expected it to bring forth fine grapes, but it brought forth worthless ones. 
“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, please, between Me and My vineyard. What more could have been done to My vineyard that I have not done ? Why then, when I expected it to bring forth fine grapes, did it sprout worthless ones?”
“And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned or dug, but there shall come up briers and thorns. I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it.” For the vineyard of Hashem Tzevakot is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His garden of joy. He hoped justice, but behold, oppression; for tzedakah, but behold, a cry for help.
Woe to those who join house to house; they add field to field, as if they alone dwell in the midst of the land! In my hearing Hashem Tzevakot said, “Truly, many houses shall be desolate, great and beautiful ones, without inhabitant...
Woe to those who rise early in the morning, only to begin their quest for liquor; who continue until late at night, till wine inflames them! The harp and the strings, the tambourine and flute, and wine are in their feasts but they do not observe the operations of the Lord, nor consider His handiwork. This is why my people have gone into captivity, for lack of knowledge; their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst... People shall be brought down, each man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled. Hashem Tzevakot shall be uplifted in judgment, the Holy God shall be sanctified by righteousness. Then the lambs shall graze in normal fashion, from the devastated places of the fat the true natives shall eat.

(The translation is my own, a correction of, based upon the mefarshim). 

Next post, summary and questions.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Post Tisha B'av discussion #3: Modern Day Movements

Mrs Adler
This is not a new thought but seems even clearer in the light of our discussions.  Both Chasidus as an 'organized' movement revolving around messianism and mysticism, and the more liberal movements which reject the divinity of Torah are the result of imperfect attempts to bring Judaism into the modern world.  In both cases there is a rejection of the perceived status quo as being insufficiently persuasive in light of 'modern' rational thought, archeology, science, 'Biblical Criticism', or whatever system is thought to be most ascendant at that moment.  Both extremes want to salvage what they consider to be the essence of Judaism.  But Chasidus reverts to mysticism, more of a Christian approach that since none of this is really rational anyway, it can only be believed using a system that is essentially emotional and non-rational.  The more liberal movements similarly reject the possibility that Torah is rational and can stand up to modern scrutiny.  But their answer is to only keep those things that seem to make sense to them.

My Answer
What you are saying is exactly the opinion of the Rav, in his 5 lectures. In the lecture, the Rav points out that it is an absolute fundamental that the Torah, as a Wisdom from the Creator, be applicable in all times and places.

The Rav goes so far as to state that this notion is the 14th Ikkar, adding one to the 13 of the Rambam. Another approach is to say that the idea is intrinsic to the 9th Ikar that the Torah is immutable and will never be changed or replaced.

In either event, the denial of this Ikar, on the left by Reform and the right by the "new ghetto" is a Kefirah in the Ikkar and is the source of untold misery.

With a proper refocusing of Modern Orthodoxy on Yesodei Hatorah and a rational view of Mitzvot as taught by Rambam, we can move  past this difficult phase of our Emancipation.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Post Tisha B'av discussion #2

Mrs Adler 
To what degree do you think that the objections of Israeli Jews toward Orthodoxy are found in adherents of the more liberal Jewish movements in America?  I could see some of your analysis (about typical Israelis who believe in G-d but cannot deal with the 'magic' that they see as part of Orthodoxy and thus reject Orthodoxy) applying to some American Jews.  It is not a perfect fit because there are some American Jews who actually could buy the magic but do not want to be burdened with the lifestyle - but it seems to me that serious adherents of some of the liberal movements have fled Orthodoxy because of what they see as an anti-rational, anti-historical, anti-reality perspective.
My Response
I agree with you, the issue is really more of a post emancipation issue than an Israeli issue. After all these generations we are still struggling to deal with the fact that the secure walls of the ghetto have fallen down.

The ghetto walls provided a secure home which screened the reality that people were keeping a traditional form of halachic activity without very much scrutiny of the Philosophical basis of that activity. As the ghetto walls have come down, we are paying a very severe price for continuing that unreflective approach to Judaism in all communities all over the globe.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Post Tisha B'av discussion

Mrs Adler's questions

So to apply this to the American political system - the danger of identifying as a 'Democrat' or a 'Republican' is that you might fall prey to the belief that any man-made system has all the answers, forgetting the limits of human control, and forgetting G-d and thus potentially forfeiting the opportunity to really find the correct path by applying true wisdom principles.  That would be true of any 'knee-jerk' emotional reaction to a political problem.
But even so - could one by accident be following the 'better' of existing paths, even though the process of getting there is not ideal?  Perhaps you follow a political ideoligy because that is what most Jews do, or it is what your parents did.  Is it not still possible that it might be the more sensible path even though you have not adopted it due to true examination of its principles.  
And where does patriotism fit into this?  Surely there is a role for that somewhere.  America is not perfect because it is the product of human endeavor - but it is so far superior to so many places.  What is the place for hakorat hatov here?  
I also have a lot of questions as to how we should approach Eretz Yisrael as American Jews.  So many Jews assume that there is an inherent kedushah to the land which I assume might be part of the more dangerous aspect of religious Zionism.  What do you think about that?
My Response
 Yes, the idea of Geula includes having a healthy skepticism toward all nationalism. Healthy skepticism does not mean that we deny the unique accomplishments of the USA however. The founding principles of our country are a historic accomplishment and should be treasured as such. We should moderate our appreciation however, with an expectation that the USA, like any human system, will still have limitations Geula via the Torah is the ultimate solution to.

A very important basis of growth that Ralbag points to in Kohelet is opening one's mind to other approaches. Republican's would do well to seek out the weakness in their approach that democrats are stronger in. The reverse is certainly true as well. This is the hallmark of the true leader, finding the common ground that enriches all approaches and removes their extreme limiting character.
There are certainly better and worse non Jewish approaches, as there are better and worse Jewish ones. One may indeed fall on better and worse approaches by accident. The son of Avraham, Yitzchak, was in a vastly better situation than any of the sons of Haman. To truly grow however, one must use free choice in moving beyond ones first education, whatever the source of that education might have been, even Yitzchak and Avraham Avinu.

 The better the principles of the country one is in, the more one should appreciate that country. One has a duty to work together with fellow citizens to bring out the best in our country in all matters that relate to our shared wellbeing. In matters of Religion however, we strongly endorse the separation of church and state and are against Missionary activity of any kind, Jewish or non Jewish.


If we properly define Kedusha, there is no problem with saying their is an intrinsic Kedusha to Israel. The problem arises when we view Kedusha as a mystical force, rather than a category of existing things. Kedusha refers to an entity that is distinct from others in some important way. We say Kiddush on Shabbos to distinguish its unique character as a time. Israel is unique as the designated place of redemption where the principles of Torah will ultimately be expressed in a truly free human civilization.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Chametz Umatza

In exploring Hilchot Chametz Umatza, one is immediately struck by the uniqueness of Issur achilat Chametz in the domain of maachalot assurot. In maachalot assurot generally, achilat issur follows from a consistent concept of food enjoyment. Halacha views food enjoyment as occurring in one of two ways.

1. A single food as in the case of eating a significant amount of non kosher steak or a pork chop by themselves. Clearly the person has enjoyed a non kosher food and has violated the prohibition of eating a maachal assur.

2. Eating a food as a part of a dish. According to halacha it is not necessary to eat a food in isolation to have a non kosher experience. As long as it constitutes a significant proportion of a dish, Halacha views each ingredient as a distinct eating experience in its own right. The concentration an ingredient needs to have to be considered substantial is a “kezayit bichdei achilat peras” enough to have consumed an olive’s worth of the ingredient within a few minutes worth of eating the overall dish.

If one eats ham and eggs and there is enough ham to have eaten a “kezayit bichdei achilat peras” one is considered as actually eating two distinct foods simultaneously. One is considered to have had eaten ham as well as having eaten an egg. This kind of simulataneous activity is considered a full fledged prohibition of eating a maachal assur.

ג  כיצד הוא ממשו, כגון שהיה מן החלב כזית בכל שלוש ביצים מן התערובת.  אם אכל מן הגריסין האלו כשלוש ביצים--הואיל ויש בהן כזית מן החלב, לוקה:  שהרי טעם טעם האיסור, וממשו.

If one eats less than a “kezayit bichdei achilat peras” one is considered to have eaten a dish which contains a non kosher flavoring. This is not considered a distinct eating experience of a non kosher food and is not prohibited from the Torah.

In the case of Chametz, we find an exception to this rule. The uniqueness of Chametz expresses itself in two distinct if somewhat related ways.

ו  אין חייבין כרת, אלא על אכילת עצמו של חמץ.  אבל עירוב חמץ כגון כותח הבבלי ושיכר המדי, וכל הדומה להן מדברים שהחמץ מעורב בהן--אם אכלן בפסח, לוקה ואין בו כרת:  שנאמר "כל מחמצת, לא תאכלו

1. In order to violate issur chametz one must eat chametz itself, in isolation without any other food in a dish. Clearly this is unlike any other maachal assur.  In other maachalot assurot, eating a dish containing a non kosher ingredient is considered mamashut, a food experience of actual non kosher food, so long as it is of the size of “kezayit bichdei achilat peras”.

2. There is a separate issur of eating chametz in a dish form. There is no counterpart to this in maachalot assurot, one has either eaten a prohibited food, or one has not.
What is more, this prohibition of eating chametz in a dish form requires a measure of “kezayit bichdei achilat peras” the exact measure usually considered to be mamashut, a distinct eating experience of non kosher food in its own right.

How are we to understand this unique formulation of Issur Chametz?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Shabbat and self discovery

In the previous post we explored the two fundamental motivations of toelet and taaung. It is in our nature to begin acting on the basis of taanug, sensory entertainment for its own sake. With experience, we tend toward toelet, a function based calculus of action. It is critical to note that Toelet includes sensory based entertainment in it, just not for its own sake. The wise person seeks entertainment as a part of a broad-based quest for functionality and well being.

How broad based this quest will be, depends upon the level of self discovery of the individual. It is for this very reason that the Ralbag’s perush al- Hatorah centers on the gleaning of toelet from the torah story. It is precisely the quest into self discovery, helping man attain ever more profound insights into his own functionality, that the Torah is intended to promote. 

We left off with the question of a “starting point”- where does the quest for self discovery begin? What is the critical first step in transitioning from taanug to toelet?

The simple answer to this question is- Shabbat. Abstaining from melacha once a week is the key to beginning the path of self discovery and therefore, it lies at the foundation of the Taryag system.Why is this so? As the great Philosophers said, the first step in knowledge, is knowing one’s own self.

יראת ה ראשית דעת חכמה ומוסר אוילים בזו
 Awe of Hashem is the beginning of knowledge, while arrogant fools have contempt for wisdom and self discovery

The great obstacle to knowing ones own self, lies in pretending that what I myself am, is obvious, even self evident. It is precisely this phenomenon of false self evidence, which blocks the entire enterprise of self discovery.

 "דרך אויל ישר בעיניו, ושומע לעצה - חכם" משלי יב טו

The way of the arrogant fool seems right in his own eyes, but he who listens to advice is wise.

It is this self evidence that causes our preoccupation with means rather than ends. Exploration of ends presupposes an exploration of the self as an organism, an examination of what we are and what our functions are. In essence we must come to realise that man as an organism, is part of the great Craft of Creation and is therefore an object of discovery. Here again Einstein presents the point very well.

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of piece of mind.
The New Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice (Princeton University Press, 2005: ISBN 0691120749), p. 206

When we think about it, what we are, in essence, is a mind operating through a body. Abstention from melacha on Shabat involves an insight into our identity as human beings. Specifically, we abstain from overindulgence in melacha precisely because to work 24/7 precludes our mission as minds. To be sure a mind, will act rationally in its practical affairs. It will use wise plans to conquer the material world, to the degree that it can be conquered. But a wise person will also note, that securing material resources is of little benefit, if it becomes an end in its own right.  A life  mission founded on pursuit of conquest of the world, for its own sake, condemns man to a life of frustration and failure. Instead, we must do melacha, in proper measure, to live the life of mind as an ultimate end.

  ששת ימים תעבד ועשית כל מלאכתך. ויום השביעי שבת ליהוה אלהיך לא תעשה כל מלאכה
 Six days you shall labor, and do all your craft, but the seventh day is a Sabbath dedicated to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any craft

As Einstein says:

“The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms-it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.
Albert Einstein, The World as I See It, Secaucus, New Jersy: The Citadel Press, 1999, p. 5.

Shabbat initiates man into this experience of mind, Einstein is speaking of. As such it is indeed at the foundation of the Dibrot and therefore of taryag Mitzvot. In the next post we will explore the Halachic significance of “self discovery”.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Toelet vs Taanug

In the previous post, I noted that Ralbag emphasizes a purposeful approach to life. This emphasis expresses itself in Ralbag's approach to mitzvot, which are founded on the notion of “toelet”, aiding man in his proper pursuit of benefit. This commitment to toelet underlies the distinction between abstaining vs not doing of melacha. Clearly, abstaining from melacha involves a shift to a superior focus rather than merely an absence of melacha behavior. What remains to be understood is the nature of this superior focus saught through abstention. What is this superior focus pursued on Shabbat?

To answer this, it is critical to note that Shabbat is one of the 10 dibrot, a mitzva that has a special role in the purposeful life. For Ralbag, the 10 dibrot are the archetypes of the purposeful life, collectively articulating the essential elements of Toelet for the Taryag system as a whole. Each and every one of the mitzvot, in some way, builds upon the life mission of toelet articulated in skeleton form in the 10 dibrot. Given his view of Dibrot, it is clear that Ralbag's understanding of Shvita memalacha lies at the very heart of the pursuit of toelet underlying the Mitzva system. As a dibrah, Shevita mimelacha is clearly fundamental to the pursuit of toelet. To understand Shabat then, presupposes insight into the role of “toelet” in human action generally.

Toelet is best understood in contrast with its alternative- Taanug. Taanug is the basis of action of the unreflective person whose motivation is limited to pursuit of pleasure alone. A wise person acts on the basis of Toelet - the richer sense of opportunity afforded by reflection. One who is motivated by Toelet has a much wider sense of functionality that includes sensory pleasure in proper measure among other human needs.

To understand this distinction, it is instructive to consider the case of the dieter. Clearly the overeater's over indulgence in food, is not simply ignorance in the area of calorie intake. One could provide the overweight person with a clear diet and still find them overeating on a regular basis. Overeating results from attraction to perceived benefits following from food pleasure, rather than a mere ignorance of calorie counts. In its extreme taanug form, the perceived benefit from food pleasure can be all encompassing. Lacking a realm of human function beyond the sensory, the pleasure of eating is called upon to compensate, leading to overeating. eating becomes the basis of comfort and celebration distraction and self reward. To succeed, the overeater must gain insight into the underlying fact that his notion of benefit is limited to taanug and learn to seek toelet.

The successful dieter therefore is not one with superior “will power”. Rather, the successful dieter must gain an insight into himself as an organism, come to appreciate his opportunities in the world at a deeper, richer level. This recognition of the possibility of a richer life of toelet is liberating. Toelet removes the act of eating from the framework of pleasure alone and opens up the possibility of considering it in a much broader sense of a broad based sense of human functionality.

Ralbag teaches that this process of insight allowing for the shift from sensory pleasure to the possibility of functionality is fundamental to human development generally. It is not only “eating” that can be limited by the pursuit of sensory entertainment for its own sake. Every human act begins as sensory entertainment, from eating and drinking to sexuality from play to art.

Insight into the functionality of human behavior is not a one time event. The release of the self from a habitual taanug orientation, does not give way to a fully formed sense of toelet- no exploration works in this way. What insight opens up is the possibility of growth in the toelet concept, there are many many stages in this process. As such, true success depends on an education that challenges man to seek ever more profound formulations of functionality. But where does this recognition of toelet begin? It is here that the notion of dibrot and Shabbat enter the picture. The next post will explore this extension of the notion of the toelet concept.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Non doing vs Abstaining

The previous post explored the core significance of a preliminary understanding of an end to appreciate the nature of a Mitzva as a means to that desired end. Ralbag illustrates this principle clearly in Mitvat Issur Melacha through his careful distinction between not doing vs abstaining
 At first glance, the distinction between not doing craft and abstaining from craft seems semantic and trivial. Isn't not doing the same thing as abstaining? From a behavioral point of view, this is a good point. With Ralbag's emphasis on Toelet, meaning and benefit however, the distinction rings true.

To merely not do something is to practice arbitrary self denial and is to be condemned to failure. The overeater tries to not eat, the drinker tries to not drink, both rarely if ever succeed. To abstain is to have a superior purpose for the sake of which one chooses to avoid overindulgence in an enticing pleasurable activity. The successful dieter's non eating supports a health oriented lifestyle that justifies some loss of eating pleasure.

The principle applies with equal force to Issur Melacha. To attempt to simply not do melacha on Shabat is to engage in a futile battle of will, one that will succumb to the allure of weekend entertainment or 24/7 workstyles. To abstain from melacha is to refrain from melacha , precisely because one is aware of the superior benefit opened up by redirecting energy away from overindulgence in the material domain for the sake of involvement in superior domain of mind. Ralbag develops this idea in Toelet #10 and 11.

In Toelet 11 the Halachic aspect of Issur melacha alone is explored, therefore the Mitzva is formulated at the behavioral level in isolation-- to not do craft on the Shabbat. This behavioral aspect is the focus of the Lo Taaseh as it is presented in the pasuk “You shall not do any Craft". Lest the modern reader slip into the error of thinking that mitzvot can be understood at the behavioral level alone, Ralbag emphasises the need to review the toelet from the previous Toelet- #10.

התועלת הי״א היא במצוות. והוא מה שהזהירנו מעשות כל מלאכה ביום השבת. שנאמר ״לא תעשה כל מלאכה” וכבר בארנו התועלת המגיע מזאת המצוה במה שקדם
The 11th Toelet is in Mitzvot, this being that we are prohibited from doing all craft on the Shabbat day- as it says “You shall not do any Craft”. We have already explained the toelet which comes from this Mitzva in the previous section.

In Toelet 10 the end pursued by this non doing is explored via the aseh of Shevita-to abstain from craft on the seventh day. This abstention is rooted in the pasuk “six days shall you work and accomplish all your craft but the seventh day shall be a Shabbath dedicated to Hashem your God”.

התועלת העשירי הוא במצוות. והוא מה שצוה לשבות ממלאכה ביום השבת. שנאמר ״ששת ימים תעבד ועשית כל מלאכתך ויום השביעי שבתלה׳ אלהיך וגו,״. והנה התועלת בזאת המצוה הוא בדעות ובמדות.
The tenth benefit is in Mitzvot this being that we are commanded to abstain from melacha on the Shabbat day as it says "six days shall you work and accomplish all your craft but the seventh day shall be a  Shabbath dedicated to Hashem your God". The benefit from this Mitzva is in theoretical ideas and practical affairs.

Clearly it is our insight into the toelet, benefit and meaning, of Shabbat in theoretical ideas and practical affairs that justifies abstaining from the allure of preoccupation with melacha alone.
But what is this insight that transforms Issur Melacha from a futile non doing into a productive abstention from overindulgence?