Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rambam-How to Teach Maaseh Merkavah and Maaseh Breishis- Yisodei hatorah perek 4 halacha 11

The Rambam continues his discussion of the differences between Maaseh Merkavah and Maaseh Breishis (Metaphysics and Physics). He says,

ומה בין ענין מעשה מרכבה לענין מעשה בראשית. שענין מעשה מרכבה אפילו לאחד אין דורשים בו אא"כ היה חכם ומבין מדעתו מוסרין לו ראשי הפרקים. וענין מעשה בראשית מלמדין אותו ליחיד אע"פ שאינו מבין אותו מדעתו ומודיעים אותו כל מה שיכול לידע מדברים אלו. ולמה אין מלמדין אותו לרבים. לפי שאין כל אדם יש לו דעת רחבה להשיג פירוש וביאור כל הדברים על בוריין

"What is the difference between the subject of Maaseh Merkavah and the subject of Maaseh Breishis. The subject of Maaseh Merkavah is not allowed to be expounded unless the person is wise and about to undertand through his own knowledge and then, only the basic principles are allowed to be told over. The subject of Maaseh Breishis can be taught one-on-one even though the person can not understand it on their own and it can be made known to this person as much as possible. However, why can't (Maaseh Merkava) be taught to the masses? This is because not every man is equipped with a broad mind to attain the correct understanding of this subject."

The laws of teaching Maaseh Merkavah and Maaseh Breishis can tell us a great deal about their subject matter. The fact that Maaseh merkavah can only be taught to a wise person that can understand the subject matter on his own and the specifics of the subject matter are not allowed to be passed on is very telling. Maaseh Merkavah must contain information that is so complex and difficult to understand that the Rabbis were worried that it could easily be misunderstood. Not only must they have been afraid of this misunderstanding, but also the outcome of this misunderstanding. Therefore, only someone who can figure the subject matter out on their own is allowed to even be told the general ideas found within this category of subjects. This is Metaphysics. Metaphysics is concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world. In Judaism, this subject is very abstract and has to do with G-D and spirituality. This is why Maaseh Merkavah can not be taught to just anyone, because it has to do with very abstract ideas and some of them are unrelated to the physical world.

Maaseh Breishis is different. It is allowed to be taught to a single disciple no matter who they are. This is because all of Maaseh Breishis is related to the physical world and is practical to a certain degree. However, it is not allowed to be taught to a group in case some people in the group try to interpret the subject matter themselves. It is a difficult subject and it lends itself to misinterpretation. If people learned it in a group then they will come to misunderstand the subject and believe in improper ideas.

These are the reasons why Maaseh Breishis can be taught to anyone, but Maaseh Merkavah must be withheld from the general public. Maaseh Merkavah, even with a proper teacher is so abstract and difficult that not just anyone can learn it. A person who learns this subject, when they are unprepared, is likely to have many problems with the ideas contained within it. However, Maaseh Breishis can be taught to anyone with the proper teacher.

What Makes Tisha Biav Such a Unique Fast Day?

What exactly is it that we are fasting for on Tisha Biav? It is treated more strictly than any other fast day and has many of the same laws as Yom Kippur, but why is this so?

The Gemorah in Taanis (26B) tells us that there were five tragic events that happened on Tisha Biav. The decree that the Jewish people should wander in the desert and not enter the land was given, The first and second Bais Hamikdashes were destroyed, the city of Beitar was destroyed, and Jerusalem was completely demolished.

These seem like very tragic events, but there can be several questions asked here. 1)Once we entered the land why would we still mourn the fact that our forefathers couldn't enter the land 40 years ago? 2)On the same note, why would we mourn for the first Bais Hamikdash? If we rebuilt the Bais Hamikdash and are mourning over the second Bais Hamikdash, there is no reason to mourn over the first, it was rebuilt. 3)Why are we mourning over a specific city that was destroyed that is not Jerusalem? So many other cities were destroyed and we do not mourn over their destruction. Also, there were many cities that were massacred by Romans, what makes Beitar so unique? 4)Finally, hasn't Jerusalem been rebuilt? Why are we mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem if we own it and have rebuilt it, except for the Bais Hamikdash which we already mourn?

It seems like what we are truly mourning over is potential that is wasted. All five tragedies are cases where Jews have a great potential, but waste it. What we are really mourning over is the fact that we had such great opportunities, but because of our own flaws, we were not able to seize them when we had the chance.

The first occurrence of a wasted opportunity was by the spies in the desert. G-D was ready to give us the land, but because 10 of the spies spoke lashon hora and we listened to it we were forced to wander 40 years in the desert. That was 40 years that could have been spent in Israel worshiping G-D and fulfilling all of the commandments in the Torah. However, because of the sin of the spies we ended up losing Miriam, Aharon, and Moshe before entering the land and we were not able to fulfill all of the commandments in the Torah, since they were not applicable yet.

The next two examples of wasted opportunity were the destruction of the two Bais Hamikdashes. Both of these were destroyed because the Jewish people were violating many commandments. It was because of the neglect of the Torah and commandments that G-D removed His house from being among us. Had we realized how special this house was, before it was too late, then we would still have His house instead of the Dome of the Rock in its place.

The last two tragedies mentioned in the Gemorah are the destruction of the city Beitar and the destruction of Jerusalem. These two events coincided with each other. Both of these tragedies are dependent upon the story of Bar Kochba (Bar Kosiba). Before going into the Bar Kochba story, the background of what was occurring at that time must be given. In the year 130 CE a new emperor, Hadrian, was appointed. He had promised the Jews that he would rebuild Jerusalem for them as a gift. Unfortunately, something happened and he decided that he would build Aelia Capitolina and never allow Jews to enter the city. To build this city Hadrian had the already destroyed city completely razed, including the temple mount area. As if this wasn't enough provocation, he then banned circumcision. In 132 when the Jewish people could no longer take the persecution and the injustice, they rebelled with their leader Bar Kochba.

At first Bar Kochba followed the advice of Rebbe Akiva and his victories were seen as signs that he was the Moshiach (redeemer). Rebbe Akiva himself said that he thought Bar Kochba was the Moshiach. Bar Kochba's success lasted for about 2 and a half years. Unfortunately, something happened and Bar Kochba no longer listened to the advice of Rebbe Akiva. He even made an alliance with the Samaritans! This was, of course, against the advice of Rebbe Akiva. After these events Rabbi Akiva realized that Bar Kochba was not the Moshiach and shortly thereafter in 135 CE Bar Kochba lost Jerusalem and a few months later his stronghold of Beitar was destroyed.

These are the events that we mourn on Tisha Biav, events that show a national waste of opportunity. If the nation did not listen to the Meraglim, they would have gone straight to Israel. If the nation would not have been sinning then the Bais Hamikdashes would not have been destroyed. If the nation would have done real repentance then the Bar Kochba rebellion would have been successful. These are all national failures that lead to national consequences. That is why we are remembering these tragedies, because they show us as a nation that wasted opportunity. These tragedies could have been avoided if we would have just seized the moment and overcome our evil inclinations. This is the lesson we must never forget and this is why Tisha Biav is so important.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Devarim- Taking Mussar

In the beginning of Devarim Moshe recounts many things that happened to the Jews in the desert and where they traveled. Rashi tells us (1:1) that Moshe was recounting all the places where the Jewish people angered G-D. Later, Rashi makes a comment on the place called Chatzeiros. He says, "He said to them, 'You should have learned a lesson from what happened to Miriam at Chatzeiros (Bamidbar 12:1-13) because of the slander she spoke, and nevertheless you spoke against G-D (This is referring to when the spies declared the Cannanites more powerful than G-D. Bamidbar 13:31 see Rashi there).'" The only problem with this explanation is that it seems to say that Chatzeiros is a rebuke for the sin of the spies, however, Moshe already said Paran which referred to the sin of the spies. Why then does Rashi tell us that there were two mentions of the sin of the spies, one sin referred to by Paran and the other referred to by Chatzeiros?

The Maharal tells us the answer to this complication. He tells us that an evil deed is a sin. However, if a person is warned not to commit a sin and then they commit that sin, the act of ignoring the warning is a sin in and of itself on top of the original sin. The spies here commited two sins. 1) The fact that the spies went and spoke lashon hora about G-D (actually Motzei shame ra) and 2) They witnessed the punishment of Miriam for speaking loshon hora and they ignored this warning.

This idea teaches us a very important lesson, the importance of accepting mussar (rebuke or lessons). The fact that Moshe thought it was important to point out that the spies had not taken mussar from what happened to Miriam is very telling of the importance of learning a lesson. If someone is so arrogant that they can not take rebuke from anyone or if they see someone sin and do not learn from that, that arrogance is a sin in and of itself. Moshe is teaching us a valuable idea, do not ignore the world around you or else it will come to haunt you in the future. Just like the spies were considered to have sinned for not taking mussar from what happened to Miriam, so too anyone who ignores the lessons around them will be committing a sin.

I think this week, where some very religious people were put in jail for money laundering, can teach us a very valuable lesson. If we are not able to take mussar from this terrible desecration of G-D's name, then we will not only be commiting a desecration of G-D's name in the future, but a further sin will be commited of not taking mussar from the lessons that are right in front of our faces.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How to Acquire Wisdom

In Mishlei (13:10) the verse says, "Only by willfulness is strife fomented; but wisdom is with those who take counsel."

The Vilna Goan tells us that "Only by willfulness is strife fomented" is referring to someone who is unwilling to budge from the understanding that they achieve through their own learning. Someone who specifically needs to always be right is a person that is always causing strife, because they are never willing to hear the other opinions involved. On the other hand the phrase "But wisdom is with those who take counsel" means that the true way to acquire knowledge is to take advice from everyone. A person must listen to every opinion with an open mind, in Torah learning, before coming to a final conclusion. This is what the Mishna in Pirkei Avos (4:1) means when it says, "Who is wise? Someone who learns from every person." The Vilna Goan tells us that true wisdom is found by those people who are always asking for other people's advice.

The Meiri on this mishna in avos tells us that in order for a person to truly learn they need to approach the subject they are learning without haughtiness and assumed authority. For example, a person should never say to themselves, "How can I learn anything from so and so." A person should view every person as having something to offer them and then they will truly be able to learn and acquire wisdom.

However, the Meiri brings up a Gemorah that seemingly says the opposite of this teaching. In Chullin (18B) there is a discussion about what Rav and Shmuel said about a certain type of animal slaughter and whether it was kosher. Rav Yosef comes and says what he heard was the teaching of Rav and Shmuel on the subject. However, the Gemorah goes on to tell us that Rav Zeira ate meat that would be unkosher according to Rav Yosef's understanding of Rav and Shmuel. When this was pointed out to Rav Zeira he said, "Who says Rav and Shmuel says this? Yosef the son of Chiya?!?! He learns from anyone." When Rav Yosef heard what Rav Zeira said he was very upset and he exclaimed, "Did I learn this teaching from just anyone?! I learned it from Rav Yehuda!" This Gemorah seems to be saying that one should not learn from anyone, but only recognized scholars. How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction?

The Meiri tells us that it is possible to say that in specific areas there are always people that one should turn to for answers. For example, if there is a talmud of a Rabbi, that talmud most likely knows what his Rebbe said better than some random guy. That is the point of the Gemorah, that in a specific area there are some people better to listen to than others.

The Mishna in avos, says the Meiri, is different. The Mishna in avos is giving a general rule for how to find a person that is an expert in a certain area. A person needs to be willing to listen to all people because an expert might be found in the most uncommon of places. For instance, who would have thought that a boy that went to a modern orthodox high school in Skokie, Illinois would become Rav Nosson Tzi Finkel? The point of this Mishna is to teach us not to judge a book by its cover, rather we must learn from everyone. This will allow us to find all the wisdom that is available.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Is "Everything" Really In the Torah?

Many religious Jews are always taught that everything, all knowledge that exists and will exist, can be found in the Torah. However, we have to ask ourselves, "Whose opinion is this and where does this idea come from?"

In Pirkei Avos the following mishna exists (This mishna is listed differently in different pirkei avos. It is found at the end of the fifth chapter, but the mishna can be anywhere from 19-26). "Ben Bag Bag says, Turn to it, and turn to it again, for everything is in it. Pore over it, grow old and gray over it. Do not budge from it. You can have no better guide for living than it.'" (translation is from the book of legends from Judaica classic library)

Ben Bag Bag seems to be the source of this idea that everything can be found in the Torah. However, is he actually saying that all knowledge that exists or will exist can be found in the Torah? Perhaps, the idea of "everything can be found in it" refers to something else, something a little more specific? Maybe the last words of his quotation "You can have no better guide for living than it" can shed some light on what he is really trying to say.

In relation to this Mishna, most people have heard of the following Medrash Rabba (Genesis 1:1). It says, "R. Hoshaia Rabbah began his discourse with the verse 'Then I was by Him as a nursling (amon)' (Prov. 8:30). The word amon may be read umman, meaning "overall design"--I was in the mind of the Holy One, says the Torah, like the overall design in the mind of a craftsman. In the way of the world, when a king of flesh and blood builds a palace, he builds it not according to his own whim, but according to the idea of an architect. Moreover, the architect does not build it out of his own head; he has [a design]--plans and diagrams to know how to lay out the chambers and where to put in wicket doors. Even so the Holy One looked into the Torah as He created the world."

This Medrash seemingly tells us that G-D had the Torah before He created the physical world and that He used the Torah to create the physical world. On a simple level it seems that since G-D used the Torah to create the entire world that everything in the physical world (physics, biology, etc) should be able to be found in the Torah. However, this Medrash might not be as simple as it appears. Perhaps the Medrash is coming to teach us about the goal of creation and not just some simplistic reading that the Torah was an actual blueprint for all of creation.

I think that once we understand this Medrash in the proper way then we will be able to understand what Ben Bag Bag is trying to tell us. The Medrash is pointing out to us that G-D created the physical world with a specific purpose and that purpose can be found in the Torah. Therefore, once we understand the purpose of creation then we can understand the true meaning of the Torah. So what is the purpose of creation?

If we look at some verses in Tanach a proper understanding of this Medrash can be attained. In Mishlei (3:19) it says, "G-D founded the earth on wisdom." Then in Psalms (111:10) it says, "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-D." The Eitz Yosef and the Anaf Yosef on the first Medrash in Medrash Tanchuma tell us that the Torah is referred to as "the beginning." This means that the only way for one to acquire wisdom is to fear G-D and the only way to fear G-D is to learn the Torah. Therefore, "G-D looked into the Torah and created the world" means that He saw that the only way man could acquire wisdom in this world was to couple all of his (man's) learning with a fear of G-D. The Gra in the beginning of Mishlei tells us this as well. Only once a person has a fear of G-D can they acquire any type of knowledge. They can learn as much as they want, but until they have a fear of G-D all of their learning, in any subject, is worthless. This is because without a proper foundation nothing is stable. Learing anything without having a fear of G-D is like building a castle on quicksand, it takes a lot of work, but in the end there is nothing.

I think the idea that attaining knowledge is contingent on a fear of G-D needs to be explained. It seems to me that the only way one can truly know something is true is by having a belief in G-D. For example, no archeologist can ever be 100% certain that something happened in the past. They can make logical assumptions based on fractured pieces of evidence that they put together, but they can never really KNOW. However, a belief in G-D allows the believer to know that something is true. I can know that certain things are true because I believe in a G-D that controls the world or that set up nature in a certain way. However, why should someone who does not believe in G-D think that nature will remain constant? What is causing that person to think that nature works indefinitely? Therefore, a person that does not believe in G-D can never truly know something. Without G-D there are no objective truths.

This leads us to the purpose of creation. The purpose of creation, according to this Medrash, would then be for man to acquire wisdom. This goes beautifully with the Rambam and Ralbag's understanding of the immortality of the human soul. What part of a man is considered to live eternally? The Rambam and Ralbag both tell us that it is the acquired intellect of a person that lives eternally and will experience heaven. If this is true, then it must be that the goal of G-D's creation was man and his ability to acquire heaven.

Now we can explain the idea that Ben Bag Bag brings down. What does it mean that everything is found in the Torah? It does not literally mean that all wisdom is found in the Torah, but something much more basic. Everything that will lead you on the proper path to acquiring a fear of G-D is found in the Torah. This can also be seen from the last words that Ben Bag Bag says, "You can have no better GUIDE for living than it." It is impossible to live properly without a fear of G-D. Without a fear of G-D there is no wisdom to be acquired and your life will end up without meaning. However, with a fear of G-D, all wisdom is attainable and furthermore, heaven WILL be acquired.

*********(Later Addition to show I didn't make this up myself)
This is exactly what the Meiri says on this Mishna in Avos. The Meiri says,

"(Ben Bag Bag) is giving a warning that it is not enough to just have a crude reading of the Torah, rather it needs to be read over and over, meaning many times. If one reads it over and over then a person will be able to answer any doubts they had in their heart with it (the Torah). This is the idea of "Everything is in it."

The Meiri is telling us that when Ben Bag Bag says that "Everything is in it" he is telling us that we can answer up any questions that we have with the validity of the Torah. We don't need to look at other religions or science to figure out the truth of the Torah, we just need to really understand the Torah and what it is coming to teach. Since it comes to teach a fear of G-D this means that we will be able to truly believe in G-D and have a fear of G-D once we understand the Torah in all of its glory. Now, once you understand the Torah and you have acquire this fear of G-D, you are ready to acquire true knowledge.

The Medrash and Ben Bag Bag do not mean to say that one can learn to become a doctor through the Torah. However, they are teaching us that in order to acquire real knowledge that will lead a person to the proper path, the path to heaven, then a person needs a fear of G-D.

See Rav Josh Waxman's post that deals with this issue as well:
parshablog: Should one study secular subjects, independently of Torah?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rambam-Difference Between Maaseh Merkava and Maaseh Breishis-Yisodei Hatorah perek 4 halacha 10

The Rambam here introduces us into the next subject that he will be talking about. First, he just wants to point out the differences between the two subjects of "Maaseh Merkava" and "Maaseh Bereishis." He says,

כל הדברים האלו שדברנו בענין זה כמר מדלי הם ודברים עמוקים הם. אבל אינם כענין עומק פרק ראשון ושני. וביאור כל אלו הדברים שבפרק שלישי ורביעי הוא הנקרא מעשה בראשית. וכך צוו החכמים הראשונים שאין דורשין בדברים האלו ברבים אלא לאדם אחד מודיעין דברים אלו ומלמדין אותו

"All of these things that we have spoken about on this subject are like a drop of water in a bucket and they are very deep. However, they are not as deep as the first two perakim. The subjects that are in the third and fourth perek are known as 'Maaseh breishis' (Acts of Creation). So too the original wise ones commanded us not to explain these subjects in public, rather they should be made known to a single person and taught to him."

The difference that Rambam points out between Maaseh Breishis and Maaseh Merkava is that Maaseh Breishis deals with things that are in the physical world. It talks about the elements of the world, decomposition and physical creation. Basically, Maaseh Breishis can be defined, according to the Rambam, as physics. However, Maaseh Merkava is that which relates to G-D. This deals with G-D's negative attributes and how man connects to Him. Also, the knowledge of the different angels and how they relate to the world are both Maaseh Merkava subjects. This is why the Rambam tells us that the subjects of the first two perakim are deeper and more complex subjects, because metaphysics is harder to understand than physics. Physics deal with the natural world, so man can eventually understand it on his own level. However, metaphysics deals with the connection between man and G-D. The Rambam himself points out that even Moshe never fully comprehended G-D or His characteristics. It is only through understanding what G-D is not, according to the Rambam, that we can have some type of semblance of what G-D is.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Does the Rambam Think Believing in Creation Ex Aliquo (Creation of the World From a Primordial Matter) Makes You a Heretic?

I was learning through some of the Rambam's Hilchos Teshuva and something caught my attention. In perek 3 halacha 7 of Hilchos Teshuva the Rambam lists five types of people that are considered heretics. He says,

"There are five types of people that are called heretics: One who says that there is no G-D and there is no guide (for the world); One who says there is a guide (for the world), but there are two or more; One who says that there is one G-D, but He has a physical body and an image; Also, one who says that He (G-D) is not the only first one and former of everything; Also, one who worships another 'G-D' in order that it act as an intermediary between this man and the Lord of the world. All five of these people are heretics."

It would seem from this statement in the Rambam, that anyone who says that G-D is not the only first one and former of everything, that he believes that anyone who believes in creation Ex Aliquo is a heretic. Creation Ex Aliquo is the belief that there was a primordial matter that had no shape or form that G-D used to create everything. This idea was first brought forth by the Greek philosopher Plato.

The Raavad here says that the Rambam is talking about the philosopher in the following Medrash Rabbah (1:9). The Medrash says,

"A certain philosopher asked Raban Gamliel, 'Your G-D is indeed a great former, but he found good materials which assisted Him, tohu, vohu, darkness, wind, water and the deep. Rabban Gamliel replied, May your spirit blow away! With regards to all of them it is written that they were created." The rest of the Medrash goes into the different verses throughout Tanach that prove all of these six things were created.

The commentator on the Rambam that most clearly points out that he thinks the Rambam is saying that believing in creation Ex Aliquo makes one a heretic is the Lechem Mishna on this Rambam. He explicitly says that if someone believes in creation Ex Aquila then they are in the Rambam's category of a heretic.

However, I saw in the sefer likutim in the back of the Rambam Frankel, in the name of the Rada, that the Rambam clearly states (The Guide for the Perplexed 2:25) that if one found a proof for creation Ex Aliquo that it could be read into the pasukim. The Rada seems to think that the Rambam and Raavad are arguing here and not agreeing like the Lechem Mishna says. The Raavad would call a person that believes in creation Ex Aliquo a heretic, but the Rambam would not. He is referring to something else when he says, "Also, one who says that He (G-D) is not the only first one and former of everything."

Indeed, the Rambam does say that creation Ex Aliquo, Plato's view, is a possibility if one wants to believe in Judaism. He even says in The Guide for the Perplexed(2:25),

"If, however, we accepted the Eternity of the Universe in accordance with the second of the theories which we have expounded above (ch. xxiii.), and assumed, with Plato, that the heavens are likewise transient, we should not be in opposition to the fundamental principles of our religion; this theory would not imply the rejection of miracles, but, on the contrary, would admit them as possible. The Scriptural text might have been explained accordingly, and many expressions might have been found in the Bible and in other writings that would confirm and support this theory."

By the Rambam's own admission, if a person believes in Plato's idea of creation, Ex Aliquo, then they are not rejecting the fundamental principles of the religion. So why would the Rambam call this man a heretic? If the Lechem Mishna is right, what is the Rambam saying?

In light of this I think we can correctly understand the Rambam in the following way. The Rambam is saying that someone who believes in Aristotle's philosophy, that the world has always existed in its current state, would be considered a heretic. In fact, the Rambam even says in The Guide for the Perplexed(2:25),

"If we were to accept the Eternity of the Universe as taught by Aristotle, that everything in the Universe is the result of fixed laws, that Nature does not change, and that there is nothing supernatural, we should necessarily be in opposition to the foundation of our religion, we should disbelieve all miracles and signs, and certainly reject all hopes and fears derived from Scripture, unless the miracles are also explained figuratively. The Allegorists amongst the Mohammedans have done this, and have thereby arrived at absurd conclusions."

This seems like a reasonable understanding of the Rambam since Aristotle believed in a single G-D that is not physical. However, Aristotle believes that the universe is eternal and that there was no creation. The Rambam believes that if someone denies creation then they are a heretic. However, a person can believe in creation Ex Nihilo or creation Ex Aliquo. This seems to be the correct understanding of the Rambam.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Different Branches of Orthodox Judaism

In orthodox Judaism there are several different branches. There are the Litvaks, Chassidim, the moderns, the centrists, the left wingers, and countless others. The strangest part about all of this seems to be the extremes. Why is it that the extremes believe that the rest of the orthodox Jews are not valid? If you don't follow every single chumra, even the one made up by my rabbi last week, then you are a kofer. What? How does that make sense? Also, on the other side, Judaism was meant to make people respect one another so if you follow the stricter rulings than you are being ignorant. What?

How can it be that one sect of Judaism has so many conflicting ideas? How can it be that one sect that defines itself by a strict adherence to halacha can deviate so widely? Some people might want to say that left wing orthodoxy does not follow halacha. This is incorrect, as much as some would love you to think it. Sure, there are people in the group that do not follow halacha, but that doesn't mean the group as a whole should not be considered orthodox. I would counter and say that there are many Ultra orthodox people that do not follow halacha, however, they don't follow different halachas than those people found in left wing orthodoxy. In the end of the day, no group can be defined by its individual members, rather the group must be defined by its ideologies.

Left wing orthodoxy tries to adapt the Torah to be completely congruent with modern morals and acceptable behavior. Ultra orthodoxy does the exact opposite. They require a strict adherence to how life was 200 years ago. Notice how I say 200 years ago and not 2000. Then there are the centrist orthodox that believe there should be a balance of somewhere in between. Centrists believe that, although Judaism is meant to adapt with the times, there is not supposed to be a complete congruence with modern culture.

In general, what I have observed, there seems to be the following differences between left wing orthodoxy, right wing orthodoxy and centrist orthodoxy.

1) Left wing orthodoxy seems to say, there is such a thing as halacha, but we can push the boundaries as far as they can go. This has most recently been shown through the whole Maharat issue. Left wing orthodoxy seems to be saying that women can be Rabbis and you can not show me any place in the Shulchan Orech that says otherwise. The idea of minhagim seems to be unimportant to an extent and forget about classical ideals. It seems like they believe that modern morals, acceptance of everyone and equality should be the dominating ideas in Judaism. However, what seems to de-legitimize this approach in the eyes of those outside this branch of orthodox Judaism is that some of its followers are not strict adherers to halacha. For example, there are some that do not follow all of the rules of kashrus, taharas hamishpacha or shabbos. Some will value other things before halacha and the Torah. The biggest characteristic that I have seen in this branch is that very few people ask the Rav halachic questions. Apparently they all know the Shulchan Orech by heart.

2)Ultra Orthodoxy seems to be the exact opposite in certain ways, but very similar in others. Ultra Orthodoxy refuses to accept any modern morals. They do not think all things should be equal. They think that there should be a strict adherence to halacha, but that if their Rabbi says something and you don't follow him then you are digressing from the real mesorah. I have met many Ultra orthodox Jews that consider me to be eating non-kosher when I use chalav stam. There are many other examples, but why go into it? Unfortunately, Some of them do not follow halacha either. They all keep shabbos, taharas hamishpacha and kashrus, but when it comes to treating other people civil, there are some that do not follow halacha. For example, the protests that have been going on in Israel are just ridiculous. I am not even going to get into the Neturei Karta brand of "Judaism" Yemach Shemam. The most telling part of the Ultra Orthodox community is the clothes they feel obligated to wear and that they ask their Rav about everything, even when to get a job or move houses.

3)The Centrist Orthodox, where is their place in all of this? They hold onto traditional values, but also incorporate modern values into their lives. I mean, they believe in equality, but also hold onto tradition. This allows them to keep halacha without compromising. They learn Torah, study secular studies and get jobs. They have Rebbeim that are competent and are compassionate. They do not desire to change Judaism, but can adapt it in order for it to interact with the modern world. When people have questions, that is ok and a logical answer is searched for. They ask halachic questions, but they believe that everyone should be able to make some decisions by themselves.

I think these descriptions accurately describe the differences between the varying branches of orthodox Judaism. If you disagree or agree let me know why or why not. Any additions are welcome.

Mattos- Selfishness of the Tribes of Gad and Reuven

In this week's parsha of Mattos-Masei we have the infamous story of the 2 tribes, Reuben and Gad, request to stay on the other side of the river and not enter the land of Israel. This raises the questions of "was this request proper?" Did they really have a right to ask for this? Why did they in fact think that they were entitled to this land on the other side of the river? And if this was an inappropriate request, what was their punishment?

In order to answer these questions we must first understand what Bnei Gad and Reuben were thinking. The pasuk says (Bamidbar 32:1), “Umikneh rav haya livnei Reuben vilivnei Gad atzum miod” (The children of Reuben and the children of Gad had abundant livestock). There is a clear reason here why the pasuk is telling us that Bnei Gad and Reuben had abundant livestock before we are told of their request. Seemingly, because they had a lot of possessions this caused them to think that they could ask to not come and participate in battle alongside with their brethren. This introductory pasuk is showing us the selfishness of Bnei Gad and Reuben. Like a little child that is satisfied with his own portion, Bnei Gad and Reuben decided that they were happy with what they had and since they were happy they did not care about the needs of the other tribes.

The Midrash (Tanchuma 5; Yalkut Shemoni 32; Bamidbar Rabbah parsha 22 siman 7)comes to teach us why they were mistaken with their idea to stay behind and be satiated with their possessions. The Midrash says that there are three gifts that G-D gives to people in this world; Chachma, Gevurah, and Osher (Wisdom, Strength and Richness). And the Midrash tells us that people who have these things only acquire them since G-D has given it to them as a gift, but if they are undeserving of that gift G-D will take that gift away from them.

There are three examples of people who had these gifts and lost them because of their undeserving behavior. The one who lost his wisdom because he acted inappropriately was Achitofel, one of King David’s advisers. He joined the side of Avshalom to rebel against David since he thought it would bring him much fame and glory. Achitofel lost his wisdom because he used it to help Avshalom in rebellion against the king. Shimshon (Samson) was a mighty warrior, but he lusted after what he saw with his eyes, aka women, so because of his sin his might was removed from him along with his eyes. And the final person was Korach. He had more money than everyone, but since he used it to rebel against Moshe and Aharon it was taken from him, along with his life. So we can see from these instances that people who use their gifts inappropriately are bound to lose them.

This idea holds true by Gad and Reuben as well. They were satisfied with their own wealth and did not care about anyone but themselves. They wanted to stay on the other side of the Jordan River and allow the rest of the Jews to fight without them. Because of their selfishness they were ultimately punished and exiled before everyone else. As the pasuk in divrei hayamim 1(Perek 5) says, “Vayiglaim laReuben vilagadi vilachatzi shavet menasheh” (Reuben, Gad and half of the Shavet of Menasheh were exiled).

So we can learn from this parsha the virtue of selflessness. Selfishness is what brought down these tribes so don’t let it get you too. One must always realize the source of everything, G-D. If a person is able to focus on this then they will never be selfish. Once a person realizes that everything is from G-D then they will not assume that they received it by themselves. With this in mind, it is impossible to be selfish.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Maharal- How One Removes Themselves From The World to Come

While researching a little bit about what "Sefarim Chitzonim" means in the Gemorah on Sanhedrin 100B I came across a great explanation by the Maharal in the 15th perek of Tiferes Yisroel. Also, I was shocked at what I found Rav Moshe Shapiro, the Rav of Rabbi Hartman (he wrote the notes in the newest Maharals), says. First let us hear what the Maharal says.

In order to understand the Maharal's ideas, we must first translate part of the first mishna in perek hachelek of Sanhedrin. It says,

"Every member of Israel has a portion in the World to Come, as it is written 'For your nation has all righteous people forever they will inherit the land. They are the shoots of My saplings, My handiwork to glorify (Me).' (However,)these are the people that do not have a share in the world to come: Someone who says that the revival of the dead is not from the Torah; Someone who says the Torah is not from Heaven; and one who is an Apikores. Rabbi Akiva says, even someone who reads from 'Sefarim Chitzonim' and someone who recites verses of the Torah over wounds in order to heal them."

I am not going to go into what an Apikores is, however, I want to discuss what the Maharal says about Rabbi Akiva's additions to this Mishna. The Maharal says,

"Rebbe Akiva was trying to point out that it is not only these first three people, that completely remove themselves from having the ability to enter the world to come, that do not enter the world to come, but even someone who veers to the right or left of the path to the world to come. This that Rebbe Akiva said that 'Even one that reads from Sefarim Chitzonim or recites a verse over his wound loses his portion' is because Sefarim Chitzonim remove a person from the truthful Torah, that the Torah teaches the true and proper path. However, these Sefarim Chitzonim teach worthless ideas. These worthless ideas remove a person from the world to come, specifically from the world of intelligence, completely. This is because when a person reads from these Sefarim Chitzonim, that are full of worthlessness, this removes a person from the path to the world to come. Therefore, (if a person removes himself or herself from the path to the world to come) they will not receive the world to come."

The Maharal is telling us some basic principles. The first three types of people that are mentioned in the Mishna, the denier of the revival of the dead, the denier that Torah is from heaven and the Apikores are all people that completely remove themselves from having the ability to enter the world to come. Therefore, since they have removed themselves from having the ability to enter the world to come, they will be unable to enter the world to come. Why it is that these three people remove themselves from having the ability to enter the world to come is spoken about by the Maharal earlier in this perek.

With this in mind we can now venture forth and discuss why someone who does not remove themselves completely from having the ability to enter the world to come will still be unable to enter the world to come. According to Rebbe Akiva, the Maharal says that these two types of people, the reader of Sefarim Chitzonim and the reciter of verses over wounds, do not completely remove themselves from having the ability to enter the world to come. However, they do not follow the path that will lead them to the world to come. Therefore, since they do not follow the path that will lead them to the world to come, they will not enter the world to come.

The idea the Maharal is pointing out here is that Rebbe Akiva is of the opinion that Jews need to earn the world to come, whereas the Tanna of the Mishna seems to say only that Jews can lose their world to come. A person who removes himself, or herself from having the ability to enter the world to come is a person that knowingly rejects the existence of the world to come. That is why The denier of the revival of the dead, the denier of the Torah being from heaven and the Apikores are rejected from the world to come, because they deny the existence of the world to come. Therefore, if you deny the existence of the world to come, you no longer have the ability to enter the world to come.

However, a person that reads Sefarim Chitzonim or recites verses from the Torah over wounds to heal them do not deny the existence of the world to come. This is where the argument between Rebbe Akiva and the Tanna of the Mishna comes into play. The Tanna of the Mishna believes that all Jews automatically enter the world to come, no work is required. Therefore, even someone who wastes their time with falsehoods, like the Sefarim Chitzonim, can still enter the world to come. Rebbe Akiva rejects this idea. He is of the opinion that even though every Jew has a portion in the world to come, they must earn it. Therefore, if they waste their time on flasehoods, they will not enter the world to come since they have not earned it.

The Maharal continues and explains why it is that someone who recites a verse over a wound has no share in the world to come. He says,

"By a person that recites a verse over a wound, he or she is using the Torah for something that is the opposite of the Torah, since he or she is using the Torah as medicine for the body. It is the opposite use since the Torah is abstract (spiritual, intelligence) and this person is using it for something physical. This person is removing the grandeur of the Torah that is abstract (spiritual, intelligence) since he or she is using it for physicality which is the opposite of the Torah. We have already said that the Torah itself is the world to come, like is known to the ones who understand and the wise ones, therefore, when a person veers away from the abstract (spiritual, intelligence) Torah, that is the world to come, then he or she will lose their entrance into the world to come. These two things, reading from Sefarim Chitzonim and reciting a verse over a wound are the two ways of veering away from the Torah either right or left. This is because one who reads Sefarim Chitzonim does not consider the Torah of any value, for if this person considered the Torah of any value they would not waste their time with these books that are full of nothingness and worthlessness. However, one who recites verses from the Torah over his or her wounds does the exact opposite of this. This verse reciter values the Torah, however, this person thinks that the Torah should even be used as medicine to heal wounds."

The two ways to veer from the path to enter the world to come are 1)to not value the Torah enough and 2)to think that the Torah has application even to physical matters such as healing a wound. However, what are the real problems that are divulged through this understanding? Rabbi Hartman quotes an idea he heard from Rav Moshe Shapiro. He says,

"Here we are dealing with the disgraces of adding or subtracting. Someone who reads Seforim Chitzonim does not give enough credence to the Torah, therefore there is the disgrace of subtracting (value from the Torah). However, when someone recites a verse from the Torah over a wound he or she thinks the Torah can do everything, even things pertaining to physicality. This is the disgrace of adding to the (value of the Torah). Veering to the right or left means disgracing the Torah by either adding (right) or subtracting (left)."

The lesson here is that we have to understand the place of the Torah. Adding or subtracting to the use of the Torah takes away from the value of the Torah. To say something like, "the Torah can heal a wound" is absolutely ridiculous and diminishes the value of the Torah. However, saying that there is no value to the Torah is wrong as well. What is important is to find the balance and realize the place for the Torah. Therefore, one can enter the world to come through the Torah.

As a side point, it seems like we are saying that Sefarim Chitzonim are books that are read instead of the Torah according to the Maharal. However, Philosophy, Science, Mathematics, and any other type of book that helps one understand the Torah seems like it would be fine. The only problem is a book that will lead one to discount the Torah. Perhaps this means that one who reads books that bring a person to reject the Torah has no share in the world to come according to the Maharal.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Maharal On How to Find the Truth

In the Maharal's Sefer Tiferes Yisroel (perek 16) he discusses how to ascertain proofs as to why it must be that the Torah is from heaven. These proofs are not empirical, but they follow a logical approach to the matter. His opening remarks resemble his sentiments that have been shown in previous posts about philosophers. He says,

"There are men that posses examining hearts that only follow their own wisdom, these are the wise men of the nations that are called philosophers. They want to use their wisdom to figure out the truth of how the world and its nature works. However, their understanding is far (from the truth) they do not know or understand (the truth) since they are searching in the dark. For if they are going to figure out (the truth), they first need to admit to this basic principle, that the Torah is from heaven. Then they will move out from the shadows and the darkness (and in to the light). This core idea that the Torah is from heaven removes a mans dirty and disgusting clothes (metaphor for incorrect ideas) and purifies his thoughts. Once this happens he or she will be able to be certain about their decisive proof that the Torah must be from heaven. "

The Maharal is not discounting the philosophers wisdom in any way, In fact, he refers to these people as wise men from the nations. The point of the Maharal is much deeper than mere knowledge. His point is that man can never know the truth without first setting up basic principles. Just like man can not figure out physics without first understanding the force of gravity, so too man can not understand the true nature of the world without first realizing that the Torah and the wisdom contained within it comes from heaven.

The idea here is that man without a guiding set of principles will not be able to find out the truth. Think of it in this sense, if man is put on earth without any guidance, how does he then figure out reality? How does man invent mathematics, art, language and all the other subjects? This leads us to believe that there is a higher being that all knowledge stems forth from. Therefore, once we realize that the Torah is from heaven, it is possible for the guiding principles of the Torah to be expounded upon by philosophers. Man's own knowledge is unable to figure out the truth without guidance, but with a basic principle that guides man's knowledge, then man is able to figure out all truths that exist in the world.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Rambam-What Part of a Man Lives Forever- Yisodei Hatorah perek 4 halacha 9

The Rambam tells us which part of a person it is that lives forever. He says,

אין צורת הנפש הזאת מחוברת מן היסודות כדי שתפרד להם. ואינה מכח הנשמה עד שתהא צריכה לנשמה כמו שהנשמה צריכה לגוף. אלא מאת ה' מן השמים היא. לפיכך כשיפרד הגולם שהוא מחובר מן היסודות ותאבד הנשמה מפני שאינה מצויה אלא עם הגוף וצריכה לגוף בכל מעשיה לא תכרת הצורה הזאת. לפי שאינה צריכה לנשמה במעשיה. אלא יודעת ומשגת הדעות הפרודות מן הגולמים ויודעת בורא הכל ועומדת לעולם ולעולמי עולמים. הוא שאמר שלמה בחכמתו וישוב העפר על הארץ כשהיה והרוח תשוב אל האלהים אשר נתנה: 

"This form of the soul is not made up of the elements and therefore it does not break down into them. Also, the form of the soul does not have a spiritual force in the sense that it does not have the same needs as a spiritual force, like the spiritual force requires a physical body. This (form of the soul) comes from G-D from heaven. Therefore, when the physical body , that is made from the elements, breaks down and the spiritual force is lost, since it is not found to exist without a physical body (since it needs a physical body) for all of its actions, this form of the soul is not cut off since it does not need the spiritual force for it to work. In fact, it knows and attains knowledge that is separate from the physical body and it knows the creator of everything and it exists forever. It is the subject that King Shlomo refers to with his wisdom when he says(Ecclesiastes 12:7), 'And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to G-D who gave it.'"

The Rambam is pointing out the difference between the spiritual force of a man and the actual soul of a man. The force that a man has to be able to walk, run and basically do all of his actions comes from a spiritual force that is connected to his physical body. This spiritual force is lost when the body of a man dies. However, the soul of a man lives forever. This soul is made up of the knowledge that a man acquires while he is alive. This is what the philosophers refer to as the acquired intellect.

This is why it is so important to learn as much as possible while still alive. The part of a man that lives forever only consists of that which he or she acquires in this world. Therefore, one who learns more and gains more knowledge has more of a world to come based on the knowledge that he or she has acquired. One must always keep this in mind and be careful not to waste their time. Through knowledge man lives forever.

Four Views on The Kuzari Principle of Faith

The Kuzari principle of faith is the basic answer any Jew will give when questioned as to why they believe in G-D. The answer goes like this: The Bible says that there were 600,000 male Jews at Mount Sinai (roughly 2.5 million people) that saw and heard G-D's revelation directly. This occurrence has been handed down orally and through the Bible. This causes a Jew to believe in the veracity of the Jewish religion because if G-D spoke to the Jews and told them He was G-D then He must be G-D. Also, it was a national revelation, this means that every single Jew heard it and, therefore, they all kept the commandments and the religion. It would take another national revelation to change the religion and the belief system and this is why the Jewish people have never accepted Christianity or Islam, because they believe in private revelations to Jesus and Mohammad respectively.

On the surface this proof seems pretty good. There is a historical event where G-D revealed himself to the Jews and told them to follow the Jewish religion. Logically, all Jews should follow this religion since they have an oral tradition and a written tradition that tells them that this event occurred. Just like we know George Washington lived, so too we know that G-D talked to the Jews.

However, is this the only proof that one really requires to believe in Judaism? Doesn't it seem a bit flimsy? In truth, there are several different answers to this question. 1) I trust my ancestors and I don't think they would lie so this is all the proof I need. I believe in the validity of the Bible and the oral tradition, end of story. 2) Well, it does seem a little flimsy, but since I believe there must be a G-D Judaism makes the most sense as a religion. 3)There are no triangulating sources or scientific proofs for this event and therefore I do not believe in it. 4) This event is false, the archeological evidence proves that it never happened.

Let's address each of these issues and how the four different types of people would address the Kuzari principle.

1)This person seems like the basic Jew. There is a simple faith and they don't want to rock the boat. They believe in G-D and do not care what anyone else has to say on the matter. In truth, what causes a person like this to believe is that they were raised in a Jewish home and were told that these ideas are true or they just don't think about the questions. There is nothing wrong with that, but what if they had been raised in a different religion?

2)This is a very broad idea. What first must be understood is why does this person believe G-D exists and then why does he believe that Judaism is the most logical religion? There can be several reasons why a person could believe in G-D. One could be the big bang theory as it exists now seems to indicate that there was a starting point of our universe. This seems to indicate that there must have been some entity that started it. Also, the complexity at which living organisms exist in the universe seem to tell us that there is some kind of intelligent creator. To say all of these things are random is like saying a monkey could write any one of Shakespear's plays randomly, or better, it could throw paint against a wall and create the Mona Lisa (This is an exaggeration, I know how gradual natural selection in the theory of evolution brings the randomness down, but it is still random). Also, if everything is random we still need to account for where everything came from. These ideas seem to point to a creator. However, why does Judaism seem to be the most logical religion? This now points us in the direction of the Kuzari argument. Just considering the major three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, we can answer this question. Christianity and Islam both claim that the revelation at Sinai happened for the Jews. It is part of the Koran (in Sura 2 I believe) and it is part of Christianity's belief. That means that both of these religions think G-D spoke to the Jewish people and made a covenant with them. The Jews were the original chosen people according to both of these religions. All of the Jewish nation saw G-D and heard Him say that they were the chosen people, keep the Jewish religion. However, according to both Islam and Christianity, G-D came to one man and said, "I, the Lord, have changed my mind, let's make up a new religion." That does not seem so logical. If G-D created a religion by telling everyone in that religion, doesn't it seem logical that, to change that same religion, He would tell everyone the new plan? It is similar to the CEO of Honda saying that they were going to make the Insight. Later, a car mechanic comes along and tells everyone that they should stop making the insight and focus on a car that is like the Ford Excursion. Would anyone listen to this mechanic?

3) This question seems very reasonable, how can we verify the Bible? Why should anyone believe that it speaks the truth? Just like Judaism, Islam and Christianity are not compatible with one another and therefore at least two are false, why should anyone believe in any of them? This is the weak atheism claim. There is no proof of G-D's existence so there is no reason for anyone to believe in Him. Just because we don't know where the first atom came from, or how complex organisms came into being does not mean there is a G-D, it simply means we do not know. Unless you can prove that this revelation happened, there is no reason to believe it is not made up. However, it is possible that it happened, we just don't know.

4)This is the strong atheism answer. All religions are false, G-D does not exist. There is evidence that proves there is no G-D. The revelation at Sinai is an impossibility because of the archeological evidence. The archeological evidence shows that there was no mass exodus from Egypt and that other stories in the Bible are false. Therefore, since all monotheistic religions are based on these ideas, all of them are false. Also, since evolution is a fact, and it is random, there is no need for G-D. Although, I can not tell you where the first atom came from, this does not mean there is any possibility that G-D exists.

In my opinion, the first and fourth answers seem to be a bit hasty. The first answer relies too heavily on sources that could have possibly been falsified. This answer relies on one or two sources that are not strong proofs. The main reason that this person believes is most probably because they were raised thinking it or they like the religion and the values it contains, but they did not dig too deeply into solid proofs. However, the fourth opinion is also a bit rash. This relies too heavily on archeological evidence or lack there of. If G-D does exist then there would not need to be archeological evidence for the exodus. G-D supported them through miracles, how do miracles fit into archeology? Furthermore, who says that absence of evidence is the same as evidence of absence? Also, believing that complex organisms occurred through complete randomness seems a bit far fetched. It is a possibility, but how can we call it a certainty when the odds are so unlikely? The main problem with both of these positions is that they contain certainty without compelling evidence.

The second and third answers seem to be a little bit more honest. Neither is absolutely certain of their position, but through their research have come to basic conclusions. Each one admits to their bias and says what pushes them closer to one ideology as apposed to the other. The third answer, weak atheism, needs absolute proof before they are willing to believe in G-D. The second answer, belief in G-D through probable logic, admits that there is no absolute proof, but that it seems logical that a G-D does exist.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Maharal Explains How Miracles Can Occur

In this previous post, the Maharal discusses why it is that miracles can happen in the physical world. Here, he continues.

"Just like there is an order and laws for the natural world so too there is an order to miracles. This is because miracles are in the world through the connection that exists between the physical world and the spiritual world. This connection has an order that it follows and this is why miracles only last for a short time and are not eternal. This is why when we talk about G-D giving the maan to the Jewish people it does not violate the order of existence. Just like it is proper that the world follows nature and its physics, so too it is proper that, for the Jewish people that are connected to the spiritual world, there occurs miracles with an order.

There is an order for miracles that comes from G-D and there is never anything contained within miracles that change G-D's creation. This is because everything has an order that was given to it from G-D. This is the mistake that the philosophers made since they do not know about this idea. If they knew about this idea then they would be able to answer up all their questions even according to their own beliefs that the world follows the order that G-D created for it. Just like this idea, that the world was created with an order that was created by G-D, so too miracles have an order that was created by G-D and this does not lead to a change in the order of the world. This is because just like there is an intelligent order to nature, so too there is an intelligent order to things that are not found within nature.

The miracles, that are not found within nature, do not cause a change at all. Just like it is proper that things should exist in the world through natural forces, so too it is proper that things should exist in the world trough spiritual forces. If this is true, then that means that things that are natural and things that are unnatural are one subject. However, since things that are not natural are not understood they are said to be outside of the order of the world. This is not true at all, rather just like nature has a natural force guiding it so too unnatural things have a supernatural (spiritual) force guided them."

The Maharal seems to be explaining a very rational approach to mysticism. Just like science has shown that there are forces that can be explained through physics so too there are forces that can be explained through spirituality. The principle that is being worked with here is that just like the forces that are natural have an order that is always true like gravity and the like, so too the spiritual powers have an order that is always true. This allows for miracles to occur, but prevents change in the world.

The Maharal believes that the reason the rationalists do not believe in miracles is because a miracles dictates that there must be a change in the world. If a supernatural event happens, like water changing into blood, then that means the natural order of the world is changed. Therefore, according to the rationalists that the Maharal is speaking about, it is impossible for miracles to occur because it is impossible that the natural order of the world be changed.

The idea that a change in the natural order of the world is impossible is very logical. Even the Maharal agrees that this is an impossibility. Otherwise, there would be no such thing as nature and we would never be able to rely on the consistency of the world. However, if spiritual forces exist with their own nature, then miracles could occur without changing the natural order of the world. The way I understand the Maharal is in the following manner: a man cannot fly through natural forces, however, if a spiritual force came along then the man could fly. There is still gravity pulling the man down, however, there is a spiritual force that lifts him up. This would not destroy the nature of the world because the spiritual force is only temporary and fleeting and it only occurs when the spiritual order dictates that at this moment this man should fly. Also, miracles can only occur for the Jewish people because they are the connection, according to the Maharal, between the spiritual world and the physical world.

The Maharal is pointing out a misunderstanding. The philosophers believed that in order for miracles to occur nature must be changed. They also believed that nature never changes and therefore that means that miracles are impossible. However, the Maharal tells us that miracles can occur without changing nature. The misunderstanding here is that the philosophers don't realize that there are two types of forces; spiritual and physical. The actions of the spiritual forces do not negate the physical forces, but rather they work in harmony with each other. In light of this, miracles can be understood. Miracles do not change nature, they work through different forces other than nature. Also, the only way they can work is through the Jewish people since they are the people that connect the spiritual world to the physical world.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Ramban Explains Creation

The Ramban explains the creation of the world in a very unique way. It seems to be very innovative and intriguing. In his sefer Toras Hashem Temima in perek 7 siman 37 He says,

"When the Torah says (Genesis 1:1) 'In the beginning, G-D created the heavens and the earth.' The word 'in the beginning' means 'at first' like onkelos explains 'at the beginning' and not a word that means close to the beginning, but rather actually the first thing done. The verse is telling us that in the beginning, G-D, who is the creator of all forces, created the heavens and earth. This means that He created these things from absolute nothingness. The thing that was created was a small object that was as small as a seed of mustard, this was the heavens and everything in it. There was also another small dot that was created and this contained the earth and all that is contained in it. This is the primordial matter for the heavens and the primordial matter for the earth."

The Ramban's first point here is very deep. He is telling us that there is no physicality before this act of G-D. G-D existed before space, time and any type of matter. However, the first thing that happened was the creation of the heavens and earth. G-D created the Earth as well as the heavens (outer space). This seems to be going according to Aristotelian physics that says the Earth is made up of different matter than space. It also tells us that just like G-D is not bound within our Earthly world, he is not contained within outer space either. This is probably why we are able to comprehend what is in space, because we share basic rules with it, but we are still unable to understand G-D's existence.

The Ramban also tells us that G-D is the creator of all forces. I think that this reveals that, according to the Ramban, G-D created all the forces that govern the universe, spiritual and physical, at this time. The physics of the material world, be it space or Earth, have existed ever since the beginning of any existence outside of G-D.

The fact that the Ramban says that G-D created a primordial matter for the heavens and another primordial matter for the earth is remarkable. Also, the fact that he says that these primordial matters were the size of mustard seeds and that they contained everything that was to be in the heavens and the earth shows how scientific the Ramban was. His position is that G-D used these tiny spheres of material, heavenly material and earthly material, to then create everything that was to exist in the heavenly world (outer space) and the earthly world. What does that remind you of? Sounds like a similar scientific approach similar to the big bang and evolution to me. If not directly, it at least leaves the possibility of an evolution of material that uses science and physics to explain the creation of the two worlds.

However, it is also interesting to note that even though the Ramban used science and held it in a high regard, he also believed in mystical ideas. In this regard he disagreed with the Rambam vehemently. He felt that soothsayers and magicians had real powers. Why was this so? Well, since there was no scientific proof of magic being impossible I think we can explain this in the following manner. The Rambam chose not to believe in magic. He did not see it so he felt it was not probable. However, the Ramban was open to the possibility of magic, why wouldn't he, the Torah seems to say that magic did exist. If G-D has special powers that He shares with prophets then it is possible that He allowed wicked people to tap into those same powers. I think this is most likely why the Ramban believed in magic.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Judaism's Real Goals; Morals Not Science

When one thinks about Judaism as a religion what comes to mind? Torah, Mitzvos, an unhindered allegiance to the rabbis? These are all details that are found within Orthodox Judaism today, but what is the real essence of Judaism. In its formation, what did G-D truly intend for the Jewish religion to be? Did G-D want everyone to think the same, wear the same clothes and show intolerance for plurality? I think the the basic tenants of Judaism are completely different than what most people think nowadays.

After reading the book written by Rabbi Dr Leo Adler, The Biblical View of Man and some of the Ralbag's book The Wars of The Lord, I think I have figured out what Judaism was meant to be. It was never meant to be a religion of conformity in thought, rather it was just supposed to be a religion of conformity in certain actions.

What do I mean and what is the difference. What is the significance of action versus thought? Well, the truth is that there is a world of a difference between conformity of action versus thought. If everyone was meant to think alike then there is no such thing as the individual. No one would ever question anything. There is no way to put meaning behind actions if there are no individual thoughts behind those actions. This is also why there is a law that one must do a mitzva lishma, for the sake of the mitzva. However, conformity in actions just means that everyone treats each other with respect and that everyone connects to G-D. This does allow for individualism. Questions can be asked and unique ideas can be pursued. This is Judaism, treat others how you would want to be treated and believe/connect to G-D, but do it in your own way. As long as a Jew is within the parameters of the laws laid out by G-D, he or she is not doing anything against the religion. That means that a man or woman can become a philosopher and try to develop ideas of how the universe was created or how did man end up on this planet. Scientific ideas are not inherently evil and can help a person get close to G-D. If these ideas are used to get close to G-D or treat others with respect then they are actually an enhanced form of Judaism. However, if these ideas do detract from a person's ability to perform a mitzva then there is a problem. However, this is the free choice that exists in Judaism, the freedom to make the wrong conclusions.

This is what I think is the point of the Bible. G-D gave us the Torah in order that we know how to treat each other and how to connect to Him. There was no other inherent purpose. The stories in Breishis and other places are there to teach us lessons of how to interact with each other and how to view G-D. The other part of the Torah, the commandments, are simply there to tell us what actions will bring us to, ultimately, connect with G-D. In essence, the Torah is a moral compass of how we are to act, not think, but act. The Torah does not tell us what Pi is or what the gravitational pull of a black hole is, but rather the Torah focuses on man and how he or she should act.

You know what this means? It means that, like the Rambam and Ralbag teach us, reason and science can teach us the physical realities of the world that the Torah does not discuss. Someone who thinks that they can derive science from the Torah without any other source, like logic or empirical evidence, is just a fool. For example, if someone thinks that they understand the creation of the world in a scientific way based on the Torah, they are foolish. The Torah is not describing the creation in a scientific way, therefore, it is impossible to derive science from the Torah in this matter.

Anyone that would allow themselves to be driven off the path of Judaism based on science does not clearly understand the relationship between science and the Torah. The Torah will never contradict science, therefore, if it appears that the Torah is contradicting science, something is wrong. Either the person interpreting the Torah is wrong, or the person interpreting the science is wrong. This is not my opinion, but the opinion of the Rambam and the opinion of the Ralbag. The reason for this position is that no one really understands the deep meanings of the Torah, therefore, when something becomes clear through science, the Torah must be explained according to this new clarified idea.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Rambam-What is The Soul- Yisodei Hatorah perek 4 halacha 8

After the Rambam discusses that there is no soul without a physical entity and there is no physical entity without a soul he now discusses the soul of a man. He says,

נפש כל בשר היא צורתו שנתן לו האל והדעת היתרה המצויה בנפשו של אדם היא צורת האדם השלם בדעתו. ועל צורה זו נאמר בתורה נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו כלומר שתהיה לו צורה היודעת ומשגת הדעות שאין להם גולם כמו המלאכים שהם צורה בלא גולם עד שידמה להן. ואינו אומר על צורה זו הניכרת לעינים שהיא הפה והחוטם והלסתות ושאר רושם הגוף שזו תואר שמה. ואינה הנפש המצויה לכל נפש חיה שבה אוכל ושותה ומוליד ומרגיש ומהרהר. אלא הדעה שהיא צורת הנפש ובצורת הנפש הכתוב מדבר בצלמנו כדמותנו. ופעמים רבות תקרא זאת הצורה נפש ורוח. ולפיכך צריך להזהר בשמותן שלא יטעה אדם בהן. וכל שם ושם ילמד מענינו: 

"The soul of every living thing is the form that G-D gave it. The extra knowledge that is found within the soul of a man is the complete form that is given to a man (it is considered complete) because of man's knowledge. It is because of this form (the extra knowledge) that the Torah says, 'Let us make man in our image and our likeness.' This means that there is a knowledgeable form that can attain knowledge that does not have a physical shape so much so that it is similar to them (the heavenly beings). You should not say about this form that it is recognizable to the eyes that it has a mouth, nose, jaw and other features of the body, that these features are called the image. Also, it is not the soul that is found in every animal that eat, drink, reproduce, feel, and think, rather the knowledge is the form of the soul and it is the form of the soul that the Torah is speaking about (when it says in our image and our likeness). Many times this is referred to as the form of the soul and the wind (or breath). Therefore, one needs to be careful with the names in order not to make a mistake and every name needs to be learned within its subject content."

The Rambam chooses to describe man in a very unique way. He does not say that man is special because of his ability to speak. He says that man's soul was given the special ability of attaining knowledge. Every other being that was granted a soul does not have the ability of gaining knowledge. This is what differentiates man from all other beasts. All creatures are given the abilities to eat, drink reproduce and so on, however, only man is given the special spiritual capability to know and attain the same level as the heavenly creatures. This is why the Torah says that man is made "in our image and our likeness." The Tzura, the soul of the man is similar to the angels and this allows him to attain the same understanding as the heavenly creatures.

Here we can see a crucial idea found within the Rambam, what is the soul. The soul of a man, as understood by Rambam, is solely his ability to attain knowledge. It is not some mystical being that combines with man, but rather just man's ability to attain knowledge like the angels. This is what the purpose of man is, to attain as much knowledge as possible. The more knowledge a man acquires the more important his soul becomes. This can explain why the Rambam believes learning is important. However, unlike many of his fellow Rabbis, the Rambam thought that all knowledge helps improve one's soul. Just like learning Gemorah and Tanach improves one's soul, so too knowledge of physics and metaphysics improves one's soul. This is a very innovative idea since it tells us that all knowledge is important and not just Torah proper. In fact, as David Guttman points out , science and metaphysics, according to the Rambam, are Torah.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What is the Place of Religion and Science

In Seymour Feldman's introduction to the Ralbag's magnum opus The Wars of the Lord he discusses the difference between religion and science. He also deals with the thoughts of the Ralbag and his synthesis of science and religion. He says,

"Religion is concerned with matters other than science. It is the latter's province and duty to discover truths about the universe. It is religion's business to teach us how to live in this universe. Only the most arrogant of the scientists pretend to do the latter; only the misguided and zealous of the religionists attempt to do the former. This was the truce that Spinoza tried to effect in the seventeenth century. There are still many who reject this kind of religious irenicism. Some do so in the fervid, indeed fanatical belief that their religion contains all the truth, that philosophy and science are wholly irrelevant in the important areas and questions of life;others perhaps a dwindling minority, still believe that philosophy does have an important, indeed crucial role to play in religion, that religion cannot be divorced from reason. For these Gersonides is a guide."

It is important for us to realize the place of religion. The Torah is not written as a book of science, rather it is supposed to be a guide for life. This can be seen through the stories that are told throughout genesis, that teach us valuable lessons, and the 613 mitzvos that help to guide us in the proper actions. Anyone that tries to learn scientific truths based solely on the Torah will be led to great errors.

Science on the other hand is the pursuit of the truth of the physical universe. However, science can not tell us anything about how a person is supposed to act. These scientists would be basing their theories of how a person is supposed to behave on nothing. There is nothing that can be found in the physical universe that can correctly guide a person in the proper actions. Morals can not be found through science, anyone who tries this will err.

Ralbag's theories do not try to impose religion on science or science on religion. His ideas harmonize these two concepts and put them into their proper places. He shows us how science can teach us the truth about the physical world and also how religion can teach us to behave and what to value. These ideas do not conflict in any way, rather they bring harmony to the world. Science can help us realize the beauty in the world which will help us appreciate religion in a deeper and broader way.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Shafan and Arneves- What are They and Do They Chew Their Cud?

In Leviticus (11:1-6) It discusses what land animals are kosher and which not kosher even if they have at least one sign of kashrus. It says,

א וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן, לֵאמֹר אֲלֵהֶם. 1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them:

ב דַּבְּרוּ אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר: זֹאת הַחַיָּה אֲשֶׁר תֹּאכְלוּ, מִכָּל-הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר עַל-הָאָרֶץ. 2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: These are the living things which ye may eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.

ג כֹּל מַפְרֶסֶת פַּרְסָה, וְשֹׁסַעַת שֶׁסַע פְּרָסֹת, מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה, בַּבְּהֵמָה--אֹתָהּ, תֹּאכֵלוּ. 3 Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is wholly cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that may ye eat.

ד אַךְ אֶת-זֶה, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ, מִמַּעֲלֵי הַגֵּרָה, וּמִמַּפְרִסֵי הַפַּרְסָה: אֶת-הַגָּמָל כִּי-מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא, וּפַרְסָה אֵינֶנּוּ מַפְרִיס--טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶם. 4 Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that only chew the cud, or of them that only part the hoof: the camel, because he cheweth the cud but parteth not the hoof, he is unclean unto you.

ה וְאֶת-הַשָּׁפָן, כִּי-מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא, וּפַרְסָה, לֹא יַפְרִיס; טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶם. 5 And the shafan, because he cheweth the cud but parteth not the hoof, he is unclean unto you.

ו וְאֶת-הָאַרְנֶבֶת, כִּי-מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה הִוא, וּפַרְסָה, לֹא הִפְרִיסָה; טְמֵאָה הִוא, לָכֶם. 6 And the Arneves, because she cheweth the cud but parteth not the hoof, she is unclean unto you.

ז וְאֶת-הַחֲזִיר כִּי-מַפְרִיס פַּרְסָה הוּא, וְשֹׁסַע שֶׁסַע פַּרְסָה, וְהוּא, גֵּרָה לֹא-יִגָּר; טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶם. 7 And the swine, because he parteth the hoof, and is cloven-footed, but cheweth not the cud, he is unclean unto you.

Most commentators translate Shafan as the hyrax and the Arneves as the hare. However, there are several disagreements on this idea. When deciding how to understand what these creatures actually are there are several factors to consider. First, we must understand what the words Maaleh Geirah mean. Second, we must decide whether these animals, the hyrax and the hare, can fit into the definition of Maaleh Geirah that we conclude with. Finally, if they can not fit, we must consider the alternative understandings of the Hebrew words Shafan and Arneves.

Maaleh Geirah, what does it mean?

1)Rashi says that it means to bring up and vomit the food from its insides and it returns the food to its mouth. He says that Geirah refers to the food that is regurgitated to the mouth aka cud.

2)Onkelos renders the word Geira as dissolved food.

3)Ibn Ezra says that it refers to the action of returning food through the throat.

All three of these understandings seem to point to one conclusion. They all seem to say that the animal must chew its cud. Whether you hold the word Geira refers to an adverb, like Ibn Ezra, or a noun, like Rashi, it all seems to mean chew the cud. Also, the most compelling evidence that exists for how to describe Maaleh Geirah is to see how a camel digests food. The Gamal, or camel, chews its cud and the phrase Maaleh Geirah is used to describe the gamal, shafan and arneves' digestive characteristics. However, it could also be understood as chew the food that is brought from the stomach back into the mouth since this would also accurately describe a camel. We will discuss the difference shortly.

Now that we have defined Maaleh Geirah, can the hyrax and the hare fit into this understanding?

Here is a quote for a basic understanding of the Hyrax's digestive system from this website.

"Unlike the even-toed ungulates and some of the macropods, hyraxes do not chew cud to help extract nutrients from coarse, low-grade leaves and grasses. They do, however, have complex, multi-chambered stomachs which allow symbiotic bacteria to break down tough plant materials, and their overall ability to digest fiber is similar to that of the ungulates."

Although Hyraxes are able to digest food just as well as animals that do chew their cud, they perform no such action that can be described as chewing their cud. Also, they create no item that can even be considered cud. So whether we go according to Rashi and Onkeles that say Geirah refers to the ball of cud, or Ibn Ezra that says Geirah refers to the adverb of bring up the food there is no way to describe the Shafan as being Maaleh Geirah. This means that there must be another animal that the Torah meant when it said the word Shafan.

However, the Arneves is another story. This is classically translated as the Hare. Is this correct? Let us take a look at the Hares digestive system.

A basic understanding of the special digestion of the hare can be found on this website. "Cecotropes (also 'caecotrophes') also known as 'night feces', are the product of the cecum, a part of the digestive system, in mammals of the order lagomorpha, which includes two families: Leporidae (hares and rabbits), and Ochotonidae (pikas). Cecotropes are passed through the intestines and subsequently re-ingested for added nutrients in a process known as 'caecotrophy', 'caecophagy' 'pseudo-rumination', 'refection', or 'coprophagy.' Re-ingestion is also practiced by a few species of rodent (such as the capybara and guinea pig), a marsupial and a primate.

The process by which cecotropes are produced is called 'hindgut fermentation.' Food passes through the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, where nutrients are absorbed, and then into the colon. Through reverse peristalsis, the food is forced back into the cecum where it is broken down into simple sugars (i.e. monosaccharides) by bacterial fermentation. The cecotrope then passes through the colon, the anus, and is consumed by the animal. The process occurs 4 to 8 hours after eating. This type of re-ingestion to obtain more nutrients is similar to the chewing of cud in cattle."

Now we come to the second understanding of Maaleh Geirah, chew the food that is brought from the stomach back into the mouth. This is a good understanding since it accurately describes the camel's act of rumination. It will also describe the hares act of Cecotrope. This "night feces" can be described as cud in every aspect. The hare creates specific types of feces that would be described as Geirah according to Rashi and Onkeles. Even according to Ibn Ezra we could say that the hare's act of returning the dissolved food to its mouth from its anus could be the act of Maaleh Geirah. Therefore, we can say that the hare is the correct understanding of the word Arneves.

Still, we need to understand what is the Shafan's true translation. Perhaps the Pika, the cousin of the Rabbit, is the real Shafan. It has the same digestion habits as the hare. Therefore, it could be described as being Maaleh Geirah just like a hare. Also, as described on this website, "Pikas are native to cold climates, mostly in Asia, North America and parts of eastern Europe. Most species live on rocky mountain sides, where there are numerous crevices to shelter in, although some also construct crude burrows." This shows that the Pika fits with the descriptions of the Shafan. It is small, weak and lives in the mountains.