Thursday, June 30, 2011

Aharon's Legacy

When one thinks about Aharon Hakohen the image of a priest comes to mind. The most important thing about Aharon was his role as Kohen Gadol. However, what WAS the role of the Kohen Gadol? Was his main purpose to be the connecting force between man and G-D? Or was there a different reason for the Kohen Gadol?

If we look at this week's Parsha I think we can understand what Aharon's true role was among the Jewish people. At the end of Chapter 20 of Bamidbar, we see that Aharon dies and leaves over his high priest garments to his son, Eleazar:

כח וַיַּפְשֵׁט מֹשֶׁה אֶת-אַהֲרֹן אֶת-בְּגָדָיו, וַיַּלְבֵּשׁ אֹתָם אֶת-אֶלְעָזָר בְּנוֹ, וַיָּמָת אַהֲרֹן שָׁם, בְּרֹאשׁ הָהָר; וַיֵּרֶד מֹשֶׁה וְאֶלְעָזָר, מִן-הָהָר. 28 And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount; and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount.

כט וַיִּרְאוּ, כָּל-הָעֵדָה, כִּי גָוַע, אַהֲרֹן; וַיִּבְכּוּ אֶת-אַהֲרֹן שְׁלֹשִׁים יוֹם, כֹּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל. {ס} 29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they wept for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel. {S}

However, at the beginning of Chapter 21 the Torah throws in a quick little story that is three verses long:

א וַיִּשְׁמַע הַכְּנַעֲנִי מֶלֶךְ-עֲרָד, יֹשֵׁב הַנֶּגֶב, כִּי בָּא יִשְׂרָאֵל, דֶּרֶךְ הָאֲתָרִים; וַיִּלָּחֶם, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיִּשְׁבְּ מִמֶּנּוּ, שֶׁבִי. 1 And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who dwelt in the South, heard tell that Israel came by the way of Atharim; and he fought against Israel, and took a captive.

ב וַיִּדַּר יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶדֶר לַיהוָה, וַיֹּאמַר: אִם-נָתֹן תִּתֵּן אֶת-הָעָם הַזֶּה, בְּיָדִי--וְהַחֲרַמְתִּי, אֶת-עָרֵיהֶם. 2 And Israel vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said: 'If Thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will destroy their cities.'

ג וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה בְּקוֹל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיִּתֵּן אֶת-הַכְּנַעֲנִי, וַיַּחֲרֵם אֶתְהֶם, וְאֶת-עָרֵיהֶם; וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם, חָרְמָה. {פ} 3 And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they destroyed them and their cities; and the name of the place was called Hormah. {P}

What is the point of this story? Did Arad really have a battle with Israel that ended with only a single captive? Also, why did the Jewish people vow that they would destroy Arad's cities if only G-D would let them defeat them? Why was this such an important fight for the Jewish people? According to Rashi this captive was not even a full fledged Jew, but a slavewoman.

Rashi tells us that the reason Arad attacked at this point was because he heard that Aharon had died and that the protective cloud over the Jewish people disappeared. Arad was not foolish enough to have a war with the Jewish people that would end in disaster for him and his people. He figured that the best course of action was to demoralize the Jewish people. How? Kidnap someone and hope the Jewish people lost their desire to protect each other.

Why would Arad have thought the Jewish people would not care about someone being kidnapped or just allow it to happen? Aharon had died and HE was the glue that held the Jewish people together.

"The rabbis are still more emphatic in their praise of Aaron's virtues. Thus Hillel, who in Herod's time saw before him mainly a degenerate class of priests, selfish and quarrelsome, held Aaron of old up as a mirror, saying: "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace; love your fellow creatures and draw them nigh unto the Law!" (Abot, i. 12). This is further illustrated by the tradition preserved in Abot deR. N. xii. Sanh. 6b, and elsewhere, according to which Aaron was an ideal priest of the people, far more beloved for his kindly ways than was Moses. While Moses was stern and uncompromising, brooking no wrong, Aaron went about as peacemaker, reconciling man and wife when he saw them estranged, or a man with his neighbor when they quarreled, and winning evil-doers back into the right way by his friendly intercourse. The mourning of the people at Aaron's death was greater, therefore, than at that of Moses; for whereas, when Aaron died the whole house of Israel wept, including the women (Num. xx. 29),"
(Read more:

He was the peacemaker, he was the one that kept the nation together with love. Without Aharon, Arad was hoping, that the Jews would fall apart and not care for one another.

This was a huge mistake. The Jewish people not only stayed together because of the lesson's learned from Aharon about loving each other, but they even cared about a slavewoman. They would not be demoralized, rather they would use this aggression against them to completely conquer Arad and his kingdom.

This is the point of the Kohen Gadol, to be the glue that keeps the nation together. This is, probably, why the Kohen Gadol is held "responsible" when someone is killed by accident. The Kohen Gadol should have imparted a greater concern for others in the man that killed by accident. Aharon's lesson to the Jewish people is simple: Care for your fellow and stay united.

This teaching of Aharon has been strong in the Jewish community for centuries. How many times have we heard of Jews saving other Jews from harm. Jews in Spain redeeming Jews that were captured and sold. Jews airlifting other Jews out of Africa to bring them back to Israel. This is the most important trait that has been engraved in the Jewish people, caring for one another. Without Aharon's legacy the Jewish people would have truly fallen apart without the unity between different groups of Jews when it was truly needed.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Forced Religion In Israel

I have always been against forcing anyone to follow the Jewish religion. I think it is counterproductive and leads to enmity for the religion. Obviously, I think that Israel should be a Jewish state run by Jews and represent Jewish values, but I am opposed to forcing the religion on anyone in any way. The food should be kosher, the day off should be shabbos, but we should not force people to keep shabbos, or to keep kosher. That is not only pointless, but it is dangerous.

This attitude, of forcing religion on irreligious people is why there is such a divide between the religious and the secular people in Israel. The Rabbinate tries to control the marriages and the life styles of the secular people in certain ways (at least this is how the secularists see it). Also, they appear to force the secularists (to some extent) to pay for their Yeshivot and their religious lifestyle. Many refuse to serve in the army and this leads to contempt for the religious by the secularists. I don't think the secularists treat the religious any better, but they don't force their way of life on the religious. ( I could be wrong about the extent of the actual push to force religion on the secularists by the Rabbinate, but from what I read in the newspapers and hear from my secular relatives, this seems to be what is going on. Also, see this article

This is, surprisingly, not just my opinion, but the opinion of a very great man, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. From the book "Thinking Aloud" (Pg. 141-143)
"I am the one who opposes fully- I have said this at conventions- the whole business of legislating religion in Eretz Yisroel. To me it is ridiculous, it will obtain the reverse effect. You cannot make a Jew pious or observant by having a police force. You can ask many questions, I know. Many questions. It is not here the time, in general, to discuss halachic sanctions. Halacha knows of sanctions, and I have a theory about it, but it is not my job to discuss it now. But, to me, Mizrachi is committing the most terrible historical mistake. We should instead devote all our energies to an educational campaign, to display the beauty of yahadus (Judaism), to show people that we have a comprehensive philosophy, and make them come out of their free will to the fold. Legislating through parliament-- I cannot see it. It will never be as effective as an attempt to educate people.

I cannot see a rabbanut (Rabbinate) which is part of government. A few months ago they approached me about Chief Rabbinate, and I said 'No gentlemenn, I cannot become a part of the government.' A rabbi is sometimes opposed to government. If the rabbi's authority is constituted by legislation, the whole rabbinic dignity is gone."

There is not much else to say. The Jewish religion should not be forced upon anyone. Any type of force from the religion detracts from it more than it serves it. It hurts the credibility and the draw of the religion. Hopeful people will realize this and instead of rioting about parking lots being open on shabbos and instead of yelling about anyone who believes evolution to be true is a kofer, maybe we should be focusing on more important things. Maybe the great minds of the generation should lift their heads up from the Gemara and think real hard about why the vast majority of Jews are not religious and how we can influence them to want to become religious.

Observance of the Jewish religion, at least before the Moshiach comes, must be from love and free will. No one can compell anyone else to observe the commandments. In the notes on page 142 of "Thinking Aloud" Rabbi Holzer says, "The only time halacha seems to set up real coercion is in cases of social services and care for the community. For instance, Beis Din (Religious courts) would be kofeh (force) to collect charity (see Rambam Matanos aniyim 7:10)... The few attempts of certain kings and leaders to coercively uphold morality, as in the time of Yoshiyahu, seem to have been completely ineffective. Yoshiyahu was in fact killed because the nation was not reformed as he believed them to be."

Friday, June 24, 2011

How Could Dasan and Aviram Deny that G-D Spoke to Moshe?

Something about this week's Parsha really bothered me. We always learn that the reason the Jewish people's claim to fame (G-D gave us the Torah) is that the entire nation heard G-D speak. This is seen in the Parsha of Yisro. However, this week we have Dasan and Aviram denying the fact that G-D spoke to Moshe. How is this possible? Weren't they witness to Har Sinai? To see this phenomena yourself just check out this week's Parsha (Bamidbar 16:12-15):
יב  וַיִּשְׁלַח מֹשֶׁה, לִקְרֹא לְדָתָן וְלַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב; וַיֹּאמְרוּ, לֹא נַעֲלֶה.12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; and they said: 'We will not come up;
יג  הַמְעַט, כִּי הֶעֱלִיתָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ, לַהֲמִיתֵנוּ, בַּמִּדְבָּר:  כִּי-תִשְׂתָּרֵר עָלֵינוּ, גַּם-הִשְׂתָּרֵר.13 is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, but thou must needs make thyself also a prince over us?
יד  אַף לֹא אֶל-אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ, הֲבִיאֹתָנוּ, וַתִּתֶּן-לָנוּ, נַחֲלַת שָׂדֶה וָכָרֶם; הַעֵינֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים הָהֵם, תְּנַקֵּר--לֹא נַעֲלֶה.14 Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards; wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up.'
טו  וַיִּחַר לְמֹשֶׁה, מְאֹד, וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-יְהוָה, אַל-תֵּפֶן אֶל-מִנְחָתָם; לֹא חֲמוֹר אֶחָד מֵהֶם, נָשָׂאתִי, וְלֹא הֲרֵעֹתִי, אֶת-אַחַד מֵהֶם.15 And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the LORD: 'Respect not Thou their offering; I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.'
Also, later on we see straight out the Dasan and Aviram did not believe Moshe was sent by G-D (Ibid:28):
כח  וַיֹּאמֶר, מֹשֶׁה, בְּזֹאת תֵּדְעוּן, כִּי-יְהוָה שְׁלָחַנִי לַעֲשׂוֹת אֵת כָּל-הַמַּעֲשִׂים הָאֵלֶּה:  כִּי-לֹא, מִלִּבִּי.28 And Moses said: 'Hereby ye shall know that the LORD hath sent me to do all these works, and that I have not done them of mine own mind.
Dasan and Aviram saw that G-D had chosen Moshe and that G-D was the one that took them out of Egypt. Why, then, do they blame Moshe for taking them out of Egypt and not bringing them to Israel? How can they accuse Moshe of doing anything without G-D? Are they, literally, insane? Did they really require that G-D kill them in order that they and everyone else would know that G-D spoke to Moshe and everything that is happening is from G-D? That seems very silly.

This predicament would have confused me greatly before medical school. However, there were two things that I learned while in medical school. One was from politics and the other was from actual psychology. However, both ideas led to a single point: People believe what they want to believe. It is true, Dasan and Aviram were at Mt. Sinai, they knew that G-D spoke with Moshe and that everything that Moshe did was from G-D (or at least in accordance with G-D's wishes). Still, they had such a warped mentality that they refused to believe that everything Moshe did was from G-D. Dasan and Aviram hated Moshe, they were they ones (the Midrash tells us) that caused Moshe to flee Egypt (they were the two Jews that were fighting in the Beginning of Shemos and said "Are you going to kill us like you killed the Egyptian). Therefore, Dasan and Aviram could never fully allow themselves to believe that Moshe was the ultimate messenger from G-D.

This mentality is seen throughout the world. Every person's bias pushes them towards certain mentalities. There is a reason why 40% of Americans will always vote Republican and 40% will always vote Democrat. They believe the other side is evil and their side is good. Obviously, this is a warped (to some degree) view of reality and some ideas of one side are good and some ideas of the other side are good, but no one will ever admit that except the people in the middle.

There are other examples, especially of the bloggers that are what I call Anti-Slifkinites, that are so bias one way that they refuse to admit to absolute truths. For example, there are obviously Rishonim and achronim that explain the Rambam held the world was not created in six literal days (from All translations are from Rav Eidensohn I believe):

The 9th question concerns that which is mentioned in the Moreh Nevuchim. Rambam notes that time can not exist without the movement of the celestial spheres and the the sun and moon. However this raises the question as how there could be time before the fourth day when the celestial spheres and sun were created? The Rambam answered this question by asserting that in fact the spheres and the sun were created on the first day. Thus time existed for the first 3 days in the same manner as it existed on the subsequent days. He explained that in fact everything — both the Heavens and the Earth — were created on the first day. The Rambam cited Chazal that the word “es” indicated that the creation on the first day included everything associated with the Heavens as well as everything associated with the Earth. He also cited the gemora (Chulin 60a) that everything that was created was created in its final form. He also cited another statement of Chazal that the Heavens and Earth were created simultaneously. Thus the Rambam believed that the work of Creation happened all on one day and was not divided amongst six days. He claimed that in a single moment of creation everything came into existence. He explained that the reason for the Torah stating that there were six days of Creation was to indicate the different levels of created beings according to their natural hierarchy. Thus the Rambam does not understand the word day to be a temporal day and he doesn’t read Bereishis to be describing the chronological sequence of creation…. This is the view of the Rambam which he considered as one of the major secrets of the Creation. In fact he tried hard to conceal this view as can be seen in his words in Moreh Nevuchim (2:30). In spite of his efforts the Ralbag, Navorni and the other commentators to Moreh Nevuchim uncovered his secret and made it known to the whole world…. However, despite the Rambam’s greatness in Torah and the apparent support from Chazal, this view of the Rambam is demonstratably false….

The Abarbanel is clear in question 5 that the Rambam certainly held of creation yeish mei’ayin (ex nihilo), that he was not totally declaring creation an allegory — only the notion of a progression of events over the 6 days of time:

Behold you see that the opinion of the Rav [ie the Rambam -mi] was not that all of the story of creation was an allegory, but only a small part of it. All that is mentioned regarding the activity of the six days, from the creation of the heavens and the earth, and all of the phenomena, and the creation of Adam and his wife, up until “vayechulu” [the first Shabbos -mi], have no allegory whatsoever for everything was literal to him [the Rambam]. Therefore you will see that in this very chapter, no. 30 in the second section, in all which the Rav has explicated regarding the activity of the six days, he did not make an allegory or a hint at all. Rather, he did the exact opposite, for he made a concerted effort to support the doctrine of creation ex nihilo and accepted all of the verses literally…

Shem Tov (Moreh ad loc):
Just as G-d is an absolute unity, His actions are also unified and from His organization came out the sequence of Creation. At the start — time was created simultaneously with the rest of Creation. It is incorrect to say that Creation began at the start of time. Consequently creation consisted of entities that were separate and distinct and prioritized — which is not a reflection of G-d Who is an absolute unity. Their prioritization is the result of their nature as to what their purpose and causal relationship is in combining and interacting with other things. Therefore it only in describing their level in reality that we say Day One, Day Two — but not that they were created in this sequence. Thus the Rambam’s explanation rejects the literal meaning of the Torah verses. He asserts that everything was created simultaneously. It is only as a reflection as to their purpose and importance does the Torah say first second and third and the rest of the days.

Aqeidas Yitzchaq (Bereishis sha’ar 3):
The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim gives the reason for Torah saying that there were days in the Beginning by citing the gemora in Chullin(60a). There it states that the products of Creation were all created complete. In other words all of creations was created at the first instant of creation in their final perfect form. Thus he says that the Creation description is not describing the chronological sequence of events but the days are simply serving to indicate distinctions in their levels and to inform of of the hierarchy of Nature. This was a major esoteric doctrine of the Rambam concerning Creation as those who are understanding can discern from Moreh Nevuchim 2:30) which is devoted to this issue. However the Ralbag publicized it in detail and expounded it thoroughly….

Ralbag (Milchemes Hashem book IV, II8):
You already know from the preceding that the generation of the universe by God occurred in no time, since [its generation] was from nothing to something. Thus, our Rabbis maintain that the heavens and’ the earth were created simultaneously. As it is said in the Chapter [called] “One Does Not Interpret”: “Both were created as one. For it is said, ‘Yea, Mine hand hath laid the foundation of the earth, and My right. hand hath spread out the heavens; When I call unto them they stand up together. “‘ It is therefore evident that the description of creation as being completed in six days is not to be construed as [implying] that the first day preceded the second, for example, by one [whole] day [i.e., twenty four hours]. Rather, they said, this is in order to show the priority amongst various created things. For example, the movers of the heavenly bodies are causally and by nature prior to the heavenly bodies, whereas the latter are causally and by nature prior to the elements and to that which is generated from them. Now, the elements are prior to that which is generated from them according material priority, and the compounds of the elements are also [related] to each other by this kind of priority.For example the plant is prior to the animal; and similarly the imperfect animal is prior to the perfect animal. In the same way, an aquatic animal is prior to a flying animal, and the latter is prior to a walking [i.e., terrestrial] animal while the latter is prior to the rational [animal, i.e., man]. For an aquatic animal produces an imperfect egg, whereas the bird produces a perfect egg; the walking animal, however, produces a living animal in its own body. For this reason Aristotle says in The Book, of Animals that the bird is more perfect than the aquatic animal and the walking animal more perfect than the bird. And there is no doubt that man is the most perfect animal amongst the walking animals.

Alschich (Bereishis 1:1):
Bereshit Rabbah 1 comments on the repeated use of the word “es”, i.e. “es hashamayim”. The first “es” is supposed to include the solar system, whereas the second “es” is a reference to all the vegetation on earth. This sounds perplexing, seeing that vegetation is specifically reported as having been created on the third day, and the galaxies are reported as having been created on the fourth day; so how could they have been included by the words “es” at the very beginning? The answer is that the author of the Midrash did not want foolish people to think that what we know as a time-frame was indispensable for the development of the physical universe from its inception to its completion. We must not be allowed to think that G-d required six days to accomplish what He did. This is one reason why G-d did not say in the Ten Commandments that He created the universe in six days The words used are “six days,” as distinct from in six days, etc. 20,11) The idea conveyed in that verse is that G-d created these six day simultaneously with creating heaven and earth. The Midrash goes on to tell us that the word “es” in that verse is to alert us to the fact that heaven already contained all the elements for the galaxies, etc., and that “earth” already contained beneath the surface all the elements of vegetation, etc. These elements became revealed only at a later stage during the creative process.

Rav JB Soloveitchik (unpublished lectures on Bereishis, #7):
Indeed, one of the most annoying scientific facts which the religious man encounters is the problem of evolution and creation. However, this is not the real problem. What actually is irreconcilable is the concept of man as the bearer of a divine image and the idea of man as an intelligent animal in science. Evolution and creation can be reconciled merely by saying that six days is not absolutely so, but is indefinite and may be longer. Maimonides spoke of Creation in terms of phases and the Kabbalah in terms of sefiros, the time of which may be indefinite. However, our conflict is man as a unique being and man as a friend of the animal. Science can never explain how being came into being, for it is out of the realm of science, while the Bible is concerned with the problem of ex nihilo. Aristotle could not accept evolution because he believed in the eternity of forms.

However, even with these obvious sources, there are people that deny this obvious truth (I am not going to name names, but it is someone on a certain anti-slifkinite website that is not talked about later in this post). The lesson we have to take away from this idea is that we should never be so closed minded that we use our bias to deny simple and obvious truths. We shouldn't accept anything and everything, but we should realize when someone has a valid point, it is a valid point that we should not ridicule and debase. We can disagree, but we must disagree like civilized people. Creating a blog strictly to oppose anything and everything someone says, even when it has merit, is at best disgusting and at worst a chillul Hashem.

The worst example of this is how some Arabs deny the holocaust. That is absurd and it is obvious that the holocaust occurred and was a terrible event, but these crazy people will deny it strictly because of their bias. Bias is useful sometimes, but it can be very dangerous. We must all be careful with our bias and make sure that it does not blind us from the truth.

The most damaging, in my opinion, case of bias I have seen comes from the comments here

"Obtaining enough training and experience in order to earn enough to just tread water financially can take years." (Someone said this and FKM responded in the following way)

"Baloney. Anybody with a personality can sell insurance and earn a good living very quickly. Anybody with a good gemara kup can be a lawyer and catch-up very quickly. Anybody with good hands and a natural technological curiosity can be a good technician with minimum training taking apart and re-assembling computers. Anybody good in math can become an accountant or go into banking. Anybody with an entrepreneurial spirit can start up his own business and make his own niche in a global marketplace.
I've seen all this happen in the Chareidi sector. It takes a lot of thinking out of the four-year institutional enrollment box, but its done all the time."

Anyone can earn a good living very quickly???? What the heck is this guy talking about? I guess no one is having a hard time making a living. Oh wait, THAT is baloney! There are so many falsities in the statements here that I can't even imagine how he thinks the world works.

Of course there are a few people that can get lucky and make money quickly, but that is faaaaar from the norm. Again, this is bias at its worst. Obviously people should have faith that Hashem will provide in times of need, but to state that anyone can make a GOOD living quickly is just not living in reality.

This is like Dasan and Aviram, they were not living in reality. They saw G-D speak on Mt. Sinai and they saw that Moshe was the one that G-D spoke through. Their bias got in the way of their perception of reality and that was the real problem.

I'm Back (hopefully for a long time)

This past Monday I took the USMLE step 1 and yesterday (thursday) I took the COMLEX (That is, I took the MD boards and the DO boards). I have to say that I am relieved they are over and I hope I did well. Now I have a week off before I start my rotations. I am hoping that, in the future, I will be able to share some of my experiences in the various different hospitals I attend.

There are so many topics that I would like to talk about in the upcoming week that I hope I have enough time to thoroughly engage all of them. This is my aspiration, but we will have to wait and see how much time I really have because I have to get things ready for a baby.

I am starting my 3rd year rotations off at a place called Miami Children's Hospital. It is known as one of the best children's hospitals in Florida. I am excited but also worried. I am worried because I don't know how I am going to feel about seeing very sickly and dying kids, so that worries me. However, I feel privileged to be able to rotate at such a fantastic hospital where my training will be, undoubtedly, top tier.

Ok, have a good shabbos everyone. Maybe later today I will post something on the Parsha if I have a little time after I fulfill all my obligations around the house that I have been neglecting for the past 5 weeks.