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.