I’m moving from “what’s wrong” to “what’s possible”.

Reading time: 6 minutes

Wrong-landscape

For the past year, I’ve been so struck by what’s not working for the frum community that that has become the focus of my writing. Without meaning to, I slowly drifted into writing exclusively about what’s wrong and what’s simply not working.

But that’s not what I want to be about!

You think the world needs another do-gooder with a blog who loves pointing out what’s not working?! Certainly, the frum community doesn’t need that.

So no more! From now on, this space is about what is possible for frum men and the community at large.

Some call conventional shlichus outreach. I suppose those people would call this inreach.

My intention is to be someone that explores how frum men can access being with life, as life is lived in day-to-day living, in a very powerful way. And sharing that journey and process with you.

More specifically, the intention of this space spreads into two dimensions.

Self and Soul

On the level of Self, i.e. as a Human Being, this space will be dedicated to looking into how human beings live life and what are accessible powerful mindsets and ways of being, that allow human beings to flourish, whatever flourish would look like for you IN REAL TIME.

This includes real-world, offline events, some of which have already begun (such as  monthly gathering of men in Crown Heights and a gathering in Lakewood).

On-line, the major focus on the level of Self will be tools and mindsets that work in real time, and give you access to being with life as it is and dealing with it very powerfully (see later for expectations you can have of this space and which, if unmet, are good grounds for telling me to go fly a kite).

You see, human beings deal with tremendous amounts of struggle. Have you ever seriously struggled with a relationship or a life situation?

Ahhh you have?

Good.

So you’re human. And the one thing we can be sure of is that many more struggles are headed your way. The only certainty in life is uncertainty. The only guarantee life makes is death. (And that’s awesome if you think long and hard about it.)

But the struggle, the suffering often comes from what chassidus calls the animal soul and what I call the brain.

The circumstance never generates the struggle by itself. Whatever circumstance you’re in, let me assure you there are other people in those circumstances as well and some of those people are not suffering.  Which means it’s a choice.

Frum men deal with a lot of extremely difficult and heavy responsibilities:

They deal with the normal stuff human beings struggle with.

Then, on the level of Self, they deal with large families and the mental, emotional and financial challenges that presents.

Money – nuff said.

Wife – how to have a happy, fulfilling relationship, dealing with attraction to other women, for many, dealing with pornography,

How to stay connected to purpose and meaning on a human level.

Then on top of all that, dealing with everything on the level of Soul:

How to keep Judaism alive and enlivening.

How to remain grateful and appreciative of God even when rent for next month seems impossible and you’re like my God, gimme a break!

How to give over Judaism to your kids

And on and on.

Here’s the deal though. If you will get anything out of this space, you will have to play with and take on the life-changing idea that the suffering, the limitations we place on ourselves, the loss of friends and family and connection and love and presence, all those things are on us.

They’re choices we make.

Every time we’re angry or sad, we chose that anger or sadness. It sure  as hell does not feel that way but there it is all the same. So if we’re the ones who took that on, we’re the ones who can actually get access to mastering that struggle and pain.

Ready for a slogan?

If you have 50% of the responsibility, you have 50% of the power. Once you take on that you’re fully responsible (not as a burden but as an opportunity) you gain tremendous power in your life.

On the level of Soul, i.e. as a Jewish Being, this space will be dedicated to giving you access to transforming the quality of your relationship with God and Judaism. Major themes I will focus on in this area is accountability, both for you and God (more on that in upcoming posts), and starting to experience Judaism as not just a system of rules but as an opportunity to have enlivening and truly profound relationship with the Unlimited One, based on what He has communicated works for him.

In upcoming posts, I will spell out with more detail the major themes I will be exploring on the level of Self and Soul.

But here are the expectations you can expect from this space.

This space will be exploring how to master the Self and start to use our heart and brain instead of having our brain and heart use us.

Nothing I write about or advocate is something that I have not used in my own life and validated experientially as a powerful and enlivening way of living. Much, maybe most of it, is influenced by my investment in chabad chassidus as well as various life experiences I’ve had that were transformational for me (i.e. produced lasting shifts and change, not temporary highs).

Let’s talk about the type of results you can expect to get out of engagement with this space:

You can expect to start waking up at times, actually, like in reality, as you naturally are upon awakening – excited to be alive.

You can expect to experience, like an actual EXPERIENCE, like simply the way life seems to you (not as some concept you are struggling to fit yourself into), to experience a sense of lightness and freedom in your life with whatever you are struggling with. Many of us live life like we’re in front of a firing squad, cringing and just waiting to hear that gunshot, see the world shrouded by a dark quickly creeping curtain of darkness.

Imagine having some space, my goodness, SPACE, to just be with whatever God is throwing at you.

You can expect to begin feeling like you’re an actual partner in your relationship with God, like you have an actual say, as if it were an actual relationship between you and the big Guy upstairs (without compromising halacha).

You can expect to feel like things that never seemed possible are suddenly appearing as doable, reachable and possible.

You can expect to begin seeing yourself, not as what you’re feeling emotionally or thinking in your brain, or even feeling in your body, but as Something beyond all that, something capable of not living life based on how you feel or think or desire. To begin to know yourself as a Self capable of generating almost anything possible.

If after sticking with me for a while, you’re not getting access to things like that, then please, please tell me and give me a good riddance!

Who am I to be making claims like that? I’m a nobody.

Really.

I’m not wise, I’m not old and saturated with life-experience, and I’m certainly not holy.

I’m simple a facilitator, someone who will hold you accountable and someone you can hold accountable as well (more on that in upcoming posts).

But here’s the REAL secret (might as well spill the beans now):

YOU WILL BE THE ONE CREATING ALL THIS CHANGE IN YOUR OWN LIVES NOT ME!

I have nothing, no power, no magic, no holiness (beyond, you know, the Godly Soul inside me).

I will simply be giving you some space to have some room from all the stuff that life throws at you, and when human beings have space, they get the power to shift whatever it is they need to shift to begin dealing with their “stuff” in a natural and intuitive way.

That reminds me, if you ever find me giving someone advice about a specific situation, please, please call me out publicly.

How comical. As if I could know more about what that person is dealing with than what they know themselves?!

No no no don’t make me laugh.

The only thing that I could possibly do for you is give you the context and space to deal with whatever you’re dealing with from a place of openness, aliveness and courage.

And even that, is not me, it’s you creating the change through playing with the tools laid out in this space.

Oh, by the way, nothing I write is true.

It’s all made up. Every. last. word.

The minute you think that I think or am proposing that what I’m saying is true you’ll do what human beings do in that situation.

You’ll begin checking with yourself, do I really think this is true? But what about that person and this person? What about factor X and Y? And doesn’t Science/Torah say that ….”

No, no friend, none of that please.

What I’m offering you is made up.

So stop checking if you agree with it.

Just take on to play with it in real-time in life and see what happens.

Posted in Foundational

RUN YOUR HEART – DON’T LET IT RUN YOU

Posted in Uncategorized

Freedom Isn’t Free

freedom

Posted in Uncategorized

The Problem With Jewish Academia

Sci_Am_Robot_vs_Human_Rationality

With the recent avalanche of biographies on the Lubavitcher Rebbe, claims of hagiography are not too far off.

Hagiography means that chassidim or adherents of any religion or leader cannot be trusted in what they write since they are, of course, “biased”.

While there may be some histories, studies and vignettes that fall into this, the vast majority of these claims are, in my opinion, overblown.

To understand this, lets focus on academics for a minute.

[Please take careful note that although this article will sound polemical in parts, my goal is not to bash Jewish academia. I think Jewish academia can be fascinatingly illuminating, and incredibly fruitful and productive. Scholars such as Haym Soloveichik, Menachem Elon, Jacob Katz and others come to mind. But Jewish academia only suffers, both in quality of scholarship and in reputation (see the case studies below) when it allows itself liberties and biases that render it dogmatic and committed to rationality to the point of irrationality. ]

 Are not academics biased, just as much if not more (as well will explore) than chassidim?

True, academics tend to not be card carrying members of any one religion or leader, but they are indeed card carrying members of Jewish academia, and this camp has its own set of ingrained assumptions that cannot be challenged and that lead its adherents (professors) to be biased in their writings.

How is Jewish academia biased? Let’s look at several factors and then some case studies to see how this plays out in real life.

1.  Groupthink is the idea that when many people come together and share similar backgrounds, philosophical leanings and other traits, the result is a single minded paradigm that often goes unchallenged, at the expense of creativity, daring, and open-mindedness. The “Ladder Problem” is a problem within academia (all forms), in which basic assumptions that have been repeated for decades come to be accepted and go virtually unchallenged, escaping critical rigorous scrutiny and analysis. These two problems go hand in hand and influence each other.

While orthodox and religious institutions are highly de-centralized, academics tend to flock in groups, and often at a conference or other forums of thought, such as journals, there is an underlying assumption of what are acceptable parameters of exploration.

We can see this certain basic assumptions, such as “when religious people claim a leader or Rebbe has performed miracles, this testimony is unreliable and simply fanciful exaggerated devotion.”

A neutral observer would be open to the possibility that someone who many people claim can do miracles and have seen him do such miracles, can indeed perform miracles.

Of course, many Jewish academics have preconceived notions of their own faith and fellow Jews and this is where this ingrained rigidity comes from.

Additionally, many of the people who give testimony to miracles are people who ordinarily would be beyond reproach. People who suffered in Russian prison camps for years, even decades, people who considered every word they uttered before speaking it.

I’m particularly thinking of Reb Mendel Futerfas, a famous chabad chossid, who was in Siberia for 8 years because he refused to leave Russia until every other chossid made it out, a man of incredible moral fiber and integrity. He told over a miracle story that happened to him in Siberia where the Lubavitcher Rebbe somehow knew what he was thinking  while in NY.

Do we believe him? Again, the starting point, to be scientific, rational, and academic must be neutral, one of observation not of opinion. And yet, rarely will this be the case. Instead this testimony will be rejected out of hand as hagiography.

Or what if I told you that the I myself experienced a miracle with the Lubavitcher Rebbe at the tender age of 10 months, when the Rebbe removed my need for surgery a day before the operation?

Are we to discount this? Sure its possible that when the Rebbe adamantly told my mother to not ahead with the operation even though that very morning, the doctors confirmed the problem was there, he was being …?

Here we come to a great irony of so called rationalist Judaism, in which the true rational would accept this story as being faithfully conveyed, especially after speaking to me, my mother, and other people who were standing there; in fact there is videotape!

The true rational is open to any evidence laid out before him, but when rationality itself becomes a banner for opposing any supernatural or mystical phenomena without being open to conflicting accounts, it ceases being rationality and becomes irrational.

This is the stance of many Jewish academics. Basic assumption assumed, since it strikes them somehow as more scientific or rational, and then dogmatic rejection of conflicting evidence.

Another prime example of this is biblical briticism.

Much of biblical criticism is circular reasoning.

Assumption #1 – The bible was not written by God.

Premise #1 – Therefore it is subject to historical literary analysis.

Premise #2 – There are many contradictions and textual indicators that there were multiple authors.

Conclusion – The bible was written by many people over different time periods.

The neat rigidity here is faulty not just because the contradictions can be (and were by the Sages) read as codes embedded in the text for the purpose of rabbinic legal deduction, but more importantly because the literary analysis and historical placing of text only makes sense if humans wrote the bible. If God actually wrote the bible, than any contradictions or indications that various parts are too different to have been written by one author, are, not just illogical but incoherent.

God does not write as humans do and never gave His word to write as we do.

 A simple point, but of course, the starting point for Jewish academia is a fundamental rejection of this. My point is simply that this is just as dogmatic and irrational as any rabid religious fanatics’ assumptions.

The claim of lack of bias made by academia is laid bare as false when we understand that a total rejection of the possibility that the bible was written by God is the greatest bias one can possibly have within this field of study!

2. Another issue with Jewish academia and academia in general, is that one is forced to accept the conclusions of experts in a different field. So for example, many a bible critic accepts without question conclusions about the Talmud and Tannaim from other Jewish academics (even the secular leaning ax-to-grind school of Wissenshaft des Judentums) without thinking critically about the data. Thus we have the phenomenon of Talmudic professors leaning on bible studies professors and vice versa, leading to an unhealthy balance of findings on data that was not critically assessed by the professor.

3. Yet another issue with using the banner of ‘hagiography’ to invalidate writings by the religious is that very often a religious researcher is more qualified and expert in the field than the academic. Consider that hundreds upon hundreds of men study for decades the Talmud in an environment that does not countenance lazy thought, and spend all day immersed in this field.

The academic by contrast often has only spent 1-3 years of research on his study, and usually has many other responsibilities, which only allow him to spend maybe 3-4 hours a day on research.

 Of course, the advantage of the academic is that he has a methodological sophistication at his disposal that, the lifelong kolel student, does not.

But, we must be careful when academic thinking challenges tradition thought if only because traditional thinkers are often much more qualified and immersed in the field.

By way of example, imagine an enclave of Shakespeare fanatic fans in England, who bring their children up exclusively on Shakespeare texts, who study Shakespeare all their life. The way they study is by reading the text over and over, and they write commentaries, analysis and other findings that are the result of lifelong, all day, all consuming study of Shakespeare.

Now imagine a professor of literature comes up with a finding that contradicts a basic assumption of this enclave.  A neutral observer would be very hesitant to accept this study of the professor who simply cannot match the enclave in zeal, focus, time spent, and devotion to the text.

4. The publish-or-perish phenomenon is well known. The problem is that, especially in Jewish studies with its staggering amount of text and thought, a need for edgy innovative research (and done fast since a study that takes too long will end with the professor perishing) often results in shoddy scholarship or at the very least incomplete research.

See the case studies for examples of this.

5. Yet another issue is that when there is evidence that an idea or practice existed in Greek culture and Jewish culture, academics start off with the assumption that ancient Israel always was influenced by surrounding cultures instead of positing that ancient Israel influenced other cultures. Common examples of this are:

a. The similarities between Noah’s Flood Narrative in the Torah and the flood story in the Gilgamesh Epic automatically indicated that the Torah’s account was borrowing from and was designed in response to the Gilgamesh Epic.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s searing critique (Volume V of his Collected Writings) of Heinrich Graetz’s works of historical fiction passed off as academic biographies of Chazal is a great resource on this.

6. Something academics tend to not understand is that  to make statements and definitive conclusions about scholars and periods of Jewry is no a light matter for people who live their life based on these scholars and cultures.

 Jewish academics lose credibility when their research and conclusions are made flippantly on the basis of one or two variant sources at odds with normative traditional understanding (See case studies for more on this). This is bad for Jewish academia but its also bad for the Jewish people as a whole.

CASE STUDIES

CASE STUDY #1

Michael Rosen in his “The Quest for Authenticity” on Reb Simcha Bunim (Urim, 2008) makes the point quite clearly (pp. 305 and on).

Rosen begins with an overview:

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.15.05 PM.png

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.15.38 PM.png

 

Rosen brings a fantastic paper from Dynner pushing back against the axiomatic assumption amongst academics that Hasidism arose from a state of Jewish crisis:

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.20.42 PM.png

Dynner shows that some of the cities and people in which Hasidism most flourished were quite well off and well to do.

Another prime example (but easy target) is Mr. Thou himself, Buber.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.22.56 PM.png

 

[See http://lubavitch.com/news/article/2030577/Essay-The-Philosopher-The-Writer-and-The-Chasidic-Story.html where Buber subtly tweaks a chasidic story to add a more liberal and antinomian character to it. ]

Moshe Idel also points out the faulty assumptions of other academics:

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.25.06 PM.png

 

This is actually astonishingly common in studies of Talmudics, Rabbinics and Hasidism. Namely:

Phenomenon A occurred.

We know Event B also occurred.

Finding: They are correlated (many Jewish studies professors will also make claims of causation!).

With respect to the crisis-leading-to-hasidism, Rosen says:

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.27.28 PM.png

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.27.07 PM.png

 

Indeed.

And lastly:

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.34.51 PM.png

 

CASE STUDY #2

In the recent Hakira, there was a couple succinct lines from Daniel Klein about a pet peeve of mine: the Jewish academic notion that the 13 middot, rules for interpreting scripture were taken from the Greco-Roman culture.

Here is Klein:

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.42.33 PM.png

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.42.12 PM.png

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 11.41.43 PM.png

Even the great Saul Lieberman descends into a “most probably” that the Jews took legal principles from the Greeks. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the Tannaim taking methods of textual analysis from the Greeks, the Indians or the Chinese. But I do have a problem with this type of lazy almost inferior-like thinking.

 

CASE STUDY #3

Talya Fishman wrote a book on the Tosafists that won awards and was considered a serious book in Jewish Studies. It turns out she could not read Tosafot! Haym Soloveichik was so upset he wrote a thorough and brutal (yet respectful I thought) critique showcasing the utter lack of any expertise or even competency she has in this field of rabbinics and talmud. I literally felt embarrassed for her after reading Soloveitchik’s essay [http://haymsoloveitchik.org/downloads/ReplytoProfessorFishman-with-Sources.pdf].

“Let me not be misunderstood. There is splendid work going on in many Talmud

departments in American universities, and they can boast of eminent scholars. Need I mention the path‐breaking work of Yaakov Elman and his colleagues in the comparative use of Pahlavi (i.e., Middle Persian) texts in Talmudic studies? However, alongside these notable

accomplishments lies the well‐known‐‐though not publicly discussed‐‐fact that in no area of

Jewish academic studies is there so much unabashed illiteracy as in the field of Talmud.1

How did this come to pass? It could never have happened in Jewish history, philosophy or literature, for example. Jewish history is simply an area in the discipline of history. A good historian will sense shoddy historical writing even in a field in which he knows little. Three professors of American history can make as good an assessment of a work on Jewish history as they can of one on Latin America. The same holds true for almost all other areas of Jewish studies. There is, however, no discipline comparable to talmudics in the Western canon. Here, universities are flying blind.

They must rely upon the judgment of outsiders, in this case competent talmudists. Should a

truly unqualified person (and by that I do not mean simply a poor scholar) obtain, for whatever

reason, a post at a prestigious university, he takes on graduate students‐‐and if he is active and vigorous, many such students—who know no more than he does, and he systematically proceeds to shape them in his image. They in turn get posts, especially if the teacher works hard to place them. They write reviews of each other’s books and recommend each other’s pupils for positions. As unqualified people will scarcely hire people better qualified than themselves, the talented and competent soon encounter increasing difficulty in obtaining appointments. (Academic Talmud, after all, is not a large field.)

 

All of this happens beneath the radar of the quality‐control system of academia. The only control possible had to be provided by qualified Talmudists; they had to speak up and speak up early. For whatever reason, they didn’t do so in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Once the situation becomes entrenched, the mah yomru ha‐goyyim (‘what will the Gentiles say’) syndrome sets in. That is to say, do not expose a fundamental problem in Jewish studies for fear that this only‐recently‐recognized field will be academically delegitimized. The result is the current situation in academic Talmud, which is without parallel in other university disciplines.

….

However, when that community is wholly in the dark as to what is transpiring, those rules must be breached. Look at what happened in Talmud. A few reviews were, in fact, written in the 1960s and ‘70s pointing out the errors of the author and hinting at his ignorance. The criticisms were shrugged off, because people thought, ‘Oh well, everyone makes mistakes.’ They didn’t know that the errors were ones that a schoolboy would never have made. This couldn’t be stated openly because it was against the rules of the game. Look at the situation now. If these rules aren’t finally broken and the whistle blown, there will be little left in a decade.”

SO WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

Posted in Uncategorized

The Rebbe’s Theory on Rashi Studies

header-gemara

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchak, known as Rashi is considered to be one of the greatest biblical commentators and scholars. Besides running his own yeshiva[1], he penned two commentaries that have both become semi-canonical in Jewish texts; one on the bible of the Written Torah[2], the other on the seminal text of the Oral Torah, the Talmud. He is extremely ubiquitous[3], is considered an essential part of a chumash, and has been printed alongside the chumash since medieval times.

 

Rashi’s commentary can be seen as an important part of the burgeoning peshat movement, which flourished in the 11th and 12th centuries.

 

Yet, Rashi’s agenda, his methodology, is clouded in confusion. Although Rashi himself claims that lo basi ele lefaresh pshuot shel mikra[4] (I only come to explain the simple meaning of scripture), a quick perusal of the first verse of the Torah reveals that, quite contrary to his claim, Rashi is quoting midrashim and gemarot that engage in drush-like analysis and ?

 

In the first Rashi al ha-Torah, Rashi quotes at length an elaborate Talmudic discussion on where the Torah could have begun, and why it indeed begins with the narrative of creation. From a peshat perspective, there is no need for this.

 

In the second Rashi al ha-Torah, a midrash rabbah is quoted at length. Indeed, Rashi, after quoting the midrash rabbah says, im basa lefaresho kipeshuto, kach parsheu (if you want to interpret it in its simple explanation, this is how you should explain it)! If Rashi’s methodology is exclusively peshat, surely that is what he should have said and no more!

 

In the third Rashi al ha-Torah, Rashi explains the difference between elokim (representing divine judgment) and havaya (representing divine mercy), something that is seemingly superfluous and unnecessary from a peshat perspective.

 

If Rashi truly stuck to his claim (lo basi ele lefaresh peshuto shel mikra) we would expect to see Rashi’s comments on the first verse of the Torah looking something like this:

Bereishis bara elokim et hashamayim vi’et ha’aretz

Rashi: Bereishis – in the beginning of creation, the heavens and earth were created by God.”

 

In general, an analysis of Rashi raises the following questions:

 

1. Why does Rashi often choose one midrash over another?

 

2. Why does Rashi choose a midrash over a Gemara or vice versa?

 

3. Why does he explain a verse in ways that conflict with halakha[5]?

 

4. Why does Rashi sometimes comment ketargumo and cite to the Targum when it adds no further clarification?

For example, in Shemot 34:5, the verse says that vayikra bishem hashem. Rashi comments, metargaminan ukra bishma dah. Why? What does this add to resolving a tension in peshuto shel mikra[6]?

 

5. Does Rashi’s words align with his explanation in other places in his pirush, or does Rashi only focus on peshuto shel mikra for the verse in question without seeking an overarching harmonization of his commentary?

 

6. Does Rashi’s commentary fit with his commentary on Shas? Is it meant to?

 

7. Why does Rashi sometimes explain a verse in multiple ways?

 

8. Why does Rashi wait a full three chapters in Bereishis before telling us he is a parshan?

 

This is a problem that has struck many a commentator and scholar[7]. As a result, a spectrum of opinions has developed over the centuries.

 

Some[8] have taken the extreme position that Rashi in fact prefers midrash and drush over peshat! According to this position, the statements by Rashi attesting to his loyalty to peshat are only meant to apply exclusively to the verses he is commenting on. But in general, his methodology is to apply a derush-like lens to the verse.

 

Others[9] hold that Rashi only abandons the world of peshat when he has no choice[10].

 

Still others[11] prefer a middle approach: Rashi abandons peshat when he can, i.e. when there is a verse ripe for derush. Apparently this means when a verse is ambiguous, even though Rashi can stay entrenched within the borders of peshat, he moves into derush.

 

 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Theory

 

Beginning in 1965 (after his mother’s passing), the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, began a new style of sermons, what would come to be called Rashi sichot (Rashi talks). In these talks he articulated a radical understanding of Rashi. Based on his theory, he would eventually dissect over 800 comments of Rashi[12] in his public gatherings.

 

Put simply, the Rebbe fully subscribed to Rashi’s claim of lo basi lifaresh ele peshuto shel mikra[13]. Unlike others[14] who suggested that Rashi lived in a time where the distinction between peshat and derash had not been fully developed, and unlike others who…??

 

One of the points the Rebbe stressed in buttressing his theory for a complete subscription of Rashi’s claim is that we find instances where Rashi writes, “I do not know the explanation[15]“. And yet, on these very verses we find numerous midrashim that resolve the biblical tension[16]!

 

In fact, we find instances where Rashi explains something in his commentary on Shas and yet in his commentary al haTorah, says about that very issue,”I do not know”[17]!

 

Clearly then, Rashi’s claim is to be taken seriously, discrepancies and inconsistencies notwithstanding. The reason Rashi says “I don’t know” is because, if Rashi cannot explain a verse within the boundaries of peshat, Rashi prefers to tell the ben chamesh that there is a problem with the verse that he doesn’t know the answer to, rather than abandon his methodology and offer an explanation based on derush[18].

 

 

What defines peshat?

 

Before turning towards the endless places Rashi seems to deviate from strict peshat, and seeing how we might resolve these obvious contradictions to Rashi’s claim of being a strict parshan, it is worth defining what precisely the difference between peshat and derush is.

 

Chazal have made clear that ein mikra yotze midei peshuto[19] and yet, as the Ramban[20] points out, it does not say ein mikra ele peshuoto!

 

Some scholars have tended to define peshat as the ‘study of scripture in its literary and historical context’[21].

 

Saadia Gaon proposes that peshat cannot be opposed by rabbinic tradition[22].

 

The Rebbe proposed a simple definition of peshat, based on the mishna, ben chamesh lemikra (“when a child turns five we begin teaching him Torah”) and presumably also based on the notion that Torah is meant to be comprehensible to the tools of common sense logic and regular human parlance (dibra torah bilashon binei adam[23]).

 

If a five year old is the student introduced to the Torah for the first time, then Rashi’s comments must be addressed to the level of peshat that a five year old comprehends. This means that Rashi cannot raise a problem with the verse that a five year old would not understand (due to an undeveloped brain) or would not raise (due to a total lack of other Torah sources such as Gemara, Halacha, or other later verses). Conversely, Rashi expects his student, the proverbial five year old, to have difficulty with a verse that is contradicted, even by implication, from a prior verse in a prior section.

 

This means that when the Torah speaks about the ocean, for example, the ben chamesh has no problems with this word or concept being used since he is familiar with the notion of a large body of water (either through experience or as received via stories, folklore, and interaction with other humans).

 

Yet, when the Torah says, tohu vavohu, because a five year old has no experience or familiarity with what this is, and neither do his parents, he will have difficulty with these words and thus Rashi, the guardian of the world of peshat, must address himself to this five year old if he is to keep to his self-proclaimed purpose[24].

 

A ben chamesh will also not raise an issue based on anything beyond the verses he has learnt so far. For example, Rashi commenting on the Torah’s statement that Yitzchak’s fields’ yielded produce one hundredfold[25], says that the hundred was based on Yitzchak’s initial appraisal of how much the field could produce naturally. Rashi then adds: veraboseinu amru omed ze le’maasrot haya.

 

What peshat inspired tension could have moved Rashi to add this derush-like statement from the midrash rabba[26]?

 

The Maharal, Sifsei Chachamim, and Mizrachi[27] all posit that the tension is based on the midrash rabba’s question (Rashi only cited the answer). Namely, the principle of ein habracha shoreh bidavar hamishkal[28]. Yet such an analysis is rejected out of hand by the Rebbe for the simple reason that the ben chamesh never learnt midrash rabba, does not know of the principle ein habracha shoreh bidavar hamishkal and thus, would not be troubled by Yitzchak’s measuring of his fields’ yield capacity[29].

 

 

Silence

 

Anytime Rashi is silent, even in places where there is an obvious problem with the text (to the extent that all the commentators discuss it), this means that Rashi either thinks the problem can be resolved by the simple logic of the ben chamesh or via a previous verse or Rashi that the ben chamesh already learnt[30].

 

 

Non-alignment with Shas and Halacha

 

Because Rashi has so rigidly defined his purpose and has one specific agenda, Rashi cannot be expected to fit his commentary of peshat addressed to the ben chamesh, with his commentary elsewhere in Tanach or in Shas.

 

Neither does Rashi feel the need to explain the peshat in a way that conforms to the halacha[31]. Every possible consideration falls before Rashi’s all encompassing drive to present the verse in an understandable and simple way to the ben chamesh.

 

In his quest for pure peshat, Rashi becomes almost Karaite-like[32] in his rejection of midrash as the authoritative interpretation of the bible. Of course, in all else, Rashi stands in start contrast to the Karaites as Rashi often uses derush and rabbinic teachings to interpret the text. But, Rashi’s usage of midrash is solely on peshat’s terms[33].

 

 

Rashi’s usage of Midrashim

 

If Rashi indeed only has peshat on his mind why does he so often quote from rabbinic sources that seem beyond the pale of peshat, particularly midrashim?

 

The Rebbe contends that each and every midrash brought by Rashi is used purely to service a problem with the peshat[34].

 

Indeed, even when Rashi admits that the verse seems beyond the world of peshat[35] he still struggles to integrate the extra-peshat rabbinic sources with a simple reading of the verse[36].

 

 

Interaction with other commentators

 

The Rebbe often dealt with Rashi’s other commentators, the most common ones being:  Bartenura, Mizrachi Sefer Zikaron, Gur Aryeh, Levush Ha’orah, Divrei David, Dikdukei Rashi, Maskil le-David, Devek Tov, Bier Mayim Chayim, Tzeidah la-Derech, Sifsei Chachamim, Bier Yitzchak, and Nimukei Shmuel.

 

Many principles the Rebbe relied on in analyzing Rashi were taken from these commentators.

 

 

Rigorousness and Precision

 

The Rebbe demanded precision to any difficulty in analyzing Rashi and was not satisfied by good answers that contained slight discrepancies[37]. For example, on the verse, veshinantam levaneicha[38] Rashi comments that the son being referenced here is in fact a student: levaneicha-elu hatalmidim. Matzinu bekol makom she’hatalmidim keruyim banim.

 

What could possibly be wrong with baneicha from a peshat perspective that Rashi has to reinterpret it as referring to students?

 

The Rebbe[39] cites the Sifsei Chachamim who answers that, being that the Torah already spoke about teaching one’s sons five verses earlier (6:2), it must be that baneicha here refers to students.

 

This answer he Rebbe rejects out of hand for the simple reason that the prior verse is speaking about the son’s obligation while our verse is speaking about the father’s obligation to teach Torah. Another difference is that the earlier verse speaks about keeping the mitzvot (as the end of the verse states: lishmor…) whereas our verse speaks of the obligation for Torah study.

 

The Rebbe then suggests that perhaps there is a textual error and the printer inserted the wrong prior verse the Sifsei Chachamim was referring to.

 

Instead of Devarim 6:2, it should be Devarim 4:9, rak hishamer lecha…vehodatem levaneicha ulivnei vaneicha. This too is discarded because Rashi interprets (in 4:10) that verse’s mandate as being about the thunderous voice (kolot velapidim) at har sinai, and not learning Torah. Therefore there is no repetition as Rashi should have accepted baneicha as being simply sons.

 

To be thorough, the Rebbe is quick to add that, although the Chachamim accepted this mandate for the entire Torah[40] (and thus there would be repitition later in our original verse of 6:7), the peshat of the verse is referencing har sinai.

 

Total and utter precision is demanded in the analysis of Rashi; a few stray hairs out of place and the entire structure is abandoned. In articulating this vision, the Rebbe seems to have placed omnisignificance[41] in the text of Rashi; what midrashim purportedly do to the bible itself[42].

 

even deducing Rashi’s intent from extra letters

 

from the koteret

 

from naming the man deamar

 

from…

 

Ambiguous words

 

Rashi, the Rebbe claimed, only explains words when they are not understood simply from the context. An example that will serve our purposes is the word pilegesh, which Rashi does not comment on the first time it appears in vayera[43], apparently feeling that the word is understood simply. Yet, upon its second showing in chayei sara[44], Rashi here feels the need to explain what a pilegesh is, saying nashim bekesuvah, pilagshim belo kesuvah?!

 

Rather, Rashi in vayera relies on the fact that pilegesh commonly means a second class wife, i.e. a maidservant who is wed to her master. Therefore no explanation is called for. However, in chayei sara, the word pilegesh is referring to hagar, whom the ben chamesh knows is no longer a maidservant since Rashi told him so five verses earlier[45]. Therefore the previous association to pilegesh no longer works and thus Rashi needs to explain that pilgesh does not just mean a maidservant, but can also mean a marriage without a kesuva[46].

 

Another example[47] is in shimini, where the Torah lists the kosher and non-kosher birds. Among Rashi’s commentary are birds where he is silent, offering no explanation what type of bird this is as he does for the others. Rashi’s silence, the Rebbe proposed[48], is to be construed as a sign that these birds are commonly known to the ben chamesh[49] [50] [51].

 

 

Kemashmao

 

If Rashi only comments in places where the peshat is not understood, why do we find instances where Rashi says, kemashmao (as it sounds, i.e. the literal basic meaning of the word)?

 

The Rebbe’s resolution of this[52] was that in these places, the ben chamesh would not have interpreted the word simply due to other factors such as tone and context of the previous verses that would have pushed him to understand the word aliterally. Therefore Rashi says, kemashmao, gently guiding the ben chamesh back to a simple understanding of the verse, contextual factors notwithstanding.

 

 

Usage of Targum

 

The only other commentary on the Torah that has achieved the level of ubiquity as Rashi has been the Targum Onkelos[53] [54].

 

 

Variant Manuscripts

 

No autograph manuscripts exist of Rashi’s commentary[55] but

 

 

Rashi’s French Additions

 

To be sure[56],

 

Bibliography:

Rashi Anniversary Volume, Amercian Academy for Jewish Research Texts and Studies I, ed. Harold Louis Ginsberg (NY : Amer. Acad. for Jewish Research).

 

Sarah Kamin, “Rashi’s Exegetical Categorization with Respect to the Distinction between Peshat and Derash”, Immaneul 11 (1980) 16-32.

 

Avraham Grossman, “Ms Leipzig 1 and Rashi’s Commentary on the Torah”, Tarbitz 61 (1991-92), 305-15.

 

See J.M. Weiser, “Translation as Interpretation: Rashi’s Use of French in his Commentary to the Torah”, Tradition 29 (1995), 30-42 (31).

 

Robert Harris, “Jewish Biblical Exegesis From Its Beginnings To The Twelfth Century”, The New Cambridge History of the Bible, Richard Marsden and E. Ann Matter eds., 596-615.

 

See J.L. Kugel, Traditions of the Bible. A Guide to the Bible as it Was at the Start of the Common Era (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp. 14-19. Kugel first used this term in The Idea of Biblical Poetry. Parrallelism and its History (New Haven, CT, and London:Yale University Press, 1981), pp. 103-4.

 

See M. Polliack, Karaite Judaism. A Guide to its History and Literary Sources (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2003)

 

D. Frank, Search Scripture Well. Karaite Exegetes and the Origins of the Jewish Bible Commentart in the Islamic East (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2004).

 

Saadya’s Commentary on Genesis, ed. M. Zucker (New York: JTS, 1984), pp. 5, 167-78.

 



[1] Claims that he was a part-time scholar don’t hold up to scrutiny. See Mayer I. Gruber, Rashi’s Commentary on Psalms, (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 18-19.

[2] Indeed the first book ever printed in Hebrew, in Rome circa 1470-1472, was Rashi’s commentary (without the biblical text). See Jonathan Kearney, As Its Targum Has It: On Some of Rashi’s Uses of the Targumim in His Commentary on the Torah, …

[3] Even attaining a popular sentiment amongst laymen not commonly found with other rishonim. See, e.g., Elie Wiesel, Rashi: A Potrait, Jewish Encounters (New York: Nextbook/Schocken, 2009), x: “I think of Rashi and I feel overwhelmed by a strange nostalgia: my reaction appears to be both intellectual and emotional…Ever since childhood, he has accompanied me with his insights and charm. Ever since my first Bible lessons in the heder, I have turned to Rashi in order to grasp the meaning of a verse or word that seemed obscure… He is my first destination. My first aid…a veiled reference from him, like a smile, and everything lights up and becomes clearer…his passion for delving into a text in order to find a hidden meaning passed on by generation can move, interest an enrich all those whose life is governed by learning.”

[4] Rashi to Bereishit 3:8, 3:24; 4:8; 6:3, et al.

[5]

[6] See Torat Menachem, Hisvaaduyot, Volume Two, page 1487.

[7] A search for “darko shel rashi” on Otzar Hachochma returns hundreds of results, most of them asking ‘halo darkso shel rashi lefaresh peshuto shel mikra, ve’lama….”

[8] See Sefer Zikaron (by Rabbi Yosef Kimchi, father of the Radak) to Shmot 13:17.

[9] See Maskil le-David’s introduction to his commentary.

[10] Perhaps Rashi’s grandson, Rashbam falls into this school. Rashbam testifies that his grandfather, nasan lev lefaresh peshuto shel mikra.

[11] See Mizrachi (quoted in Maskil le-David’s introduction).

[12] Roughly 16 Rashi’s on each parasha.

[13] Bring from chelek 5 page 1 fn 2.

[14] See Sarah Kamin, “Rashi’s Exegetical Categorization with Respect to the Distinction between Peshat and Derash”, Immaneul 11 (1980) 16-32.

[15] Rashi states this 11 times: Bereishit 35:13; Shmot 25:29; 26:24; 27:10; Vayikra 8:11; 10:15; 13:4; Bamidbar 21:11; 26:13; 26:16; Devarim 33:24. Rashi states a similar proposition lo yadati pirusho but then proposes a theory a further 9 times:

Bereishit 30:11; 32:15; 43:11; Shemot 24:13; 25:21; 27:19; 28:4; Vayikra 14:14; Devarim 18:2.

[16] For an argument that many of these midrashim themselves are rooted in literal, contextual, or philological exegesis (thus mitigating internally the extra-peshat nature of Rashi’s usage of them), see Isaac Gottlieb, “Midrash as Biblical Philology, JQR n.s. 75 (1984) 134-61.

[17] See Shemot 22:28 compared to Rashi in Temura 4a s.v. zu.

[18] See L.S. 5:1.

[19] See Shabbas 63a and Yevamot 11b.

[20] See his comments on Rambam’s shorashim, shorash two.

[21] See Robert Harris, “Jewish Biblical Exegesis From Its Beginnings To The Twelfth Century”, The New Cambridge History of the Bible, Richard Marsden and E. Ann Matter eds., 596.

[22] See Saadya’s Commentary on Genesis, ed. M. Zucker (New York: JTS, 1984), pp. 5, 167-78.

[23] Brachot 31b.

[24] See Rashi to Bereishit 1:2.

[25] Rashi to Bereishit 26:12

[26] Toldot 4:6

[27] Ad. loc.

[28] See Taanit 8b

[29] See L.S. 5:121 and on for a resolution of this al pi peshat.

[30] Any proposal that Rashi relies on a different commentator must be discarded because when Rashi relies on other commentators he says so explicitly: ketargumo pirusho. See Rashi to Bereishit 4:7 and L.S. 5:107 fn. 17.

[31] See Rashi to: Shemot 20:18 and the Ramban and Mizrachi ad. loc.; Shemot 24:8 and Ramban and Mizrachi ad. loc.; Bamidbar 9:10 and Ramban and Mizrachi ad. loc.; Bamidbar 12:9 and Mizrachi ad. loc.

[32] See M. Polliack, Karaite Judaism. A Guide to its History and Literary Sources (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2003) and D. Frank, Search Scripture Well. Karaite Exegetes and the Origins of the Jewish Bible Commentart in the Islamic East (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2004).

[34] Insert rebbe’s foonote 2 to L.S. 5:1.

[35] Ein hamikra omer ele dirshuni

[36] See L.S. 5:1 fn. 1

[37] This was part of the Rebbe’s overall derech halimmud. See my upcoming book, “Unification and Precision – An overview of the Rebbe’s scholarship”.

[38] Devarim 6:7

[39] L.S. 9:33 footnote 2.

[40] See Shulchan Aruch Harav, Hilchot Talmud Torah 2:4.

[41] See J.L. Kugel, Traditions of the Bible. A Guide to the Bible as it Was at the Start of the Common Era (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp. 14-19. Kugel first used this term in The Idea of Biblical Poetry. Parrallelism and its History (New Haven, CT, and London:Yale University Press, 1981), pp. 103-4.

[42] See Elman’s article on this.

[43] Bereishit 22:24

[44] Bereishit 25:6

[45] Rashi to Bereishit 25:1

[46] This, explains the Rebbe, is also the reason that a single woman is referred to in the plural, pilagshim, since there were two stages of Hagar’s marraige to Avraham. See L.S. 5:231-232 fn. 26,27,32.

[47] For more examples of the Rebbe’s theory at work in this setting see L.S. 17:117 and 157.

[48] See L.S. 7:58 fn 17,18.

[49] Alternatively, some of these birds are not found in society (see Chullin 63a), thus explaining what type of bird they are will not help the ben chamesh.

[50] Who by vayikra, we might safely presume is a ban shesh, or ben sheva.

[51] See L.S. ibid. p. 59 for an explanation al pi peshat why Rashi alternately switches between giving the french translation of the bird and describing the birds’ traits.

[52] See L.S. 23:114

[53] Today, one cannot find a chumash without either Rashi or the Targum.

[54] A halachic equivalence exists as well: one who replaces the Targum with Rashi fulfills the obligation of shenayim mikra ve’echad targum.

[55]  See Jonathan Kearney, Rashi’s Use of the Targumim, …

[56] See J.M. Weiser, “Translation as Interpretation: Rashi’s Use of French in his Commentary to the Torah”, Tradition 29 (1995), 30-42 (31).

Posted in Uncategorized

How Frum People Can Stop Trying To Fix Other Frum People

fixpeople

 

Some people wonder what it means to be accepting, especially in a frum community. Don’t we have standards and beliefs that we need to defend and maintain in our community?

Here is my take: To me, it simply means not walking around trying to fix people. I simply don’t try to fix people, I’ve been focused on stopping to do that. I think moving away from religion for a minute will help clarify this.

Here’s a real life example: Last night, I came home and after speaking to my wife asked her if she paid our library fines that I had asked her to do and that we really need to do so that it doesn’t affect our credit.

She told me that she went to the library but that no one was able to help her pay at their new electronic kiosks and that Lev was going crazy and pulling all the books of the shelves (he does this at home A LOT).

Right away, I tried to fix the situation and to fix her in a sense. I said, “Well, why couldn’t you just wait till someone could help you? Maybe you could have given Lev a bottle, and maybe do that next time? I know it’s hard for you but we really need to do this and I’m in school all day and get back only after the library closes and WE REALLY NEED TO DO THIS!”

That didn’t go over so well. I went outside and reflected on this exchange as I often do when things don’t go as I planned, in order to learn from it.

Here is what I discovered: I was trying to fix her, my own wife! Wow. Isn’t that crazy? I wasn’t listening at all. I was only listening to get my turn to talk to point out HOW MUCH THIS NEEDS TO BE DONE and why can’t she just do this one thing …blah blah blah….

Instead I came back and said, “Ok tell me again what happened, and this time I’m actually listening.” And I discovered that my wife had had a bit of a tough day, had spent an hour in the library trying to do this, even though she has work and school deadlines coming up, then had gone to a Jewish store to buy Lev shoes where the customer service was epicly bad, legendarily so.

And I thought, wow there is so much going on here. And I was just present and available to her, to see her as she is, not as I want her to be.

And that is acceptance to me. You know something, it’s so crazy how we behave sometimes. I go to shul without a kappote sometimes and without a tallis sometimes (for various reasons) on Shabbas. And so many people will see me in shul shabbas morning learning, and try to fix me, either by giving me a wierd vibe, look or even saying something in a half joking way. They are totally not present to me, they are trying to fix me and correct me, set me on the right path. And it is so unreal, so inauthentic, so lacking in any sort of genuine camaraderie.

Maybe they think they can really fix me, maybe they feel a religious obligation to fix me, maybe they think they’re just helping me overcome what they see as apathy or laziness and its not a big deal, maybe they feel like by fixing me they can feel better about themselves, maybe its easier to fix others than it is to fix yourselves – but one thing I know: IT HAS TO GO.

There is a place to help others overcome obstacles in their life. I personally have almost never seen it happen in a authentic healthy way, the rare exceptions are a few farbrengens I was privileged to take part in with shofar graduates who really REALLY did not think that my doing things wrongly makes ME wrong in any way. They truly saw me as I am without any need to fix or correct me. Instead they heard me say what I was struggling with, and offered me ideas and experiences from their life that resonate to what I was going through. And just that raw authenticity of sharing where they struggle with this and what they’ve done was incredibly transformative. And by the by, they shared of themselves with literally no idea or expectation that it would help me, nor did they think they knew something I didn’t, nor did they think they had mastered this.

The irony is that if frum people stopped trying to fix other frum people, there would be much less need to fix anyone!

Have a great shabbas you all 

Posted in Uncategorized

Chumash Videos For Your Kids (And Maybe For You Too)

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 7.41.27 PM

 

Last summer, I was exploring different types of online education for Jewish kids. As part of that exploration, I created Khan-Academy-style videos on Chumash – website here.

Although I am not involved in this anymore, I am still always thinking about how to create a system of Jewish day school that actually is functional and affordable so if you have kids, please show them these videos and get their feedback .

That is all :)

Chapter 1 of Shemos Overview – here.

Chapter 1 of Shemos, verses 1 through 10 – here.

Chapter 1 of Shemos, verses 10 through 13 – here.

Chapter 1 of Shemos, verses 13 to the end of the chapter – here.

New words in Chapter 1 of Shemos – here.

P.S. If you find my pace a bit slow, that’s because I had 10 year olds in mind. However, with the wonders of YouTube, you can just click on 2x speed, and my pace will become as if I were speaking to an adult!

P.P.S. Here is a video I made describing the vision of this project – here.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

You Want A Piece Of Me? Well, I’m A Piece Of God!

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 6.41.56 PM

Why is it important that my soul is a piece of God (Godness) and not merely godliness?

The answer is that I would then be defined by my bad actions, at least temporarily.

Godliness is an expression of God. Therefore if my soul was godliness it would not be able to exist or assert itself when I’m acting in ways that do not express God. When I do a sin, my soul would flee and be absent since it stems from a reality of open connection to God (godliness) and cannot exist in a place of opposition to God.

Precisely because my soul comes from God Himself and is Godness, can I do sinful actions and remain constantly connected to God and therefore never lose my core identity of goodness and beauty. God can exist even in darkness, even in places and actions that oppose him. Since to God, darkness and light, evil and good are equally close and far from him.

Tanya asks why there is any hierarchy if we all have the same depth of soul?

The answer is that indeed there is no real hierarchy of value or importance. What then is a leader, a Rebbe?

A Rebbe is Berry Schwartz. Berry Schwartz as he would be if Berry Schwartz was actively living and expressing in every moment the deepest core level of his soul. A Rebbe is a Yechida in motion.

The Rebbe Rayatz was in Warsaw when it was being bombed by the Germans. He took shelter in a basement with hundreds of other Jews. All of a sudden, BOOM! A bomb fell on the house next door. All the people cried out together, “Shema Yisroel” with intense devotion.

The Rebbe remarked later that at that moment all the people’s souls were expressing themselves on a level of essence (yechida) and therefore he was the same as everyone else.

This is quite ironic.

Non-Hasidim perceive no existential (i.e. it is a diff in degree not in kind) gap between their leaders and themselves but don’t believe in the equality of core identity among Jews (though that is changing). Hassidim, contrarily, do believe in the equality of core identity but also perceive an existential gap between themselves and their Rebbe.

Why would I honor a Torah scholar more than a water carrier or a stock trader? They’re both equally vital to God, the world and the purpose of existence. They both have a mission to do on this world.

To claim that by learning Torah, I become more valuable or significant is a decidedly non-Hasidic notion based on the idea that actions define our worth since there is no essential core identity called a Godly soul.

Posted in Uncategorized

Robin Williams Didn’t Choose To Kill Himself If You Say He Didn’t

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 8.37.04 PM

Honest Disclosure: I feel strongly about this and am letting my feelings come in to my head. Therefore there is a very good chance I won’t really listen to what you say. Instead, while I’m reading your response or comment, I’ll probably be thinking all the while how to respond and reaffirm my position. But please don’t let that stop you writing to me; my commitment to you is to not allow this natural tendency to stop me from listening to you as hard as I can.

 

The statements we tell ourselves about ourselves have power.

Our words are more powerful than we imagine.

Our words can call forth new realities and possibilities.

Jewish essentialism [a.k.a. as chassidus] states this with conviction and force.

When we tell someone they are wise or smart, we literally call forth in them a new possibility of wisdom or intelligence.

Literally.

This is so shocking I need to repeat it.

The words we call other people actually shape them and bring out the quality we are calling them by.

This is why G-d is called by ten names or qualities before he created the World [what are known as the hidden sefirot, the sefirot genuzot] even though he was simple and undefined before he assumed he role of Creator. Because in order to bring about the quality of creative power [the 1rst sefirah of chochma] He needed to be called by this name so that he can bring forth His creative power.

Hey, if it works on G-d it can work on us.

Science has weighed in as well with the famous IQ experiment also known as the Pygmalion effect.

The idea was to figure out what would happen if teachers were told that certain kids in their class were destined to succeed.

He chose from every class several children totally at random. There was nothing at all to distinguish these kids from the other kids, but he told their teachers that the test predicted the kids were on the verge of an intense intellectual bloom. As he followed the children over the next two years, Rosenthal discovered that the teachers’ expectations of these kids really did affect the students. “If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ,” he says.

This is such a powerful game changer once you really really get this and discover it in a vivid experiential way.

Yesterday I got up late and missed my morning run. Usually this would really get me down and make me feel lazy or out of control which often leads to me thinking I’m a lazy person, unwilling to do the hard work. Well, you can see where this is going. Starting the day thinking, or even fighting not to think (!) that I’m lazy literally makes me lazy that day. Or it makes me very driven from an unhealthy place, a place of neediness, a place of having to prove that I’m really not lazy. Either way I rob myself of the real power and energy and creativity I can bring to my day.

But then, something amazing happened. I decided to really not go there. To really allow for the fact that I missed my run and woke up late and that that’s all there is to it. I’m not lazy, I’m not unwilling to do the hard work. All that actually happened is that I got up 90 minutes past when I set my alarm. So all that baggage that would have run my day vanished; was gone. I simply decided that I wasn’t lazy, that I didn’t need to prove my work ethic to anyone. And just like that, my day took on a whole new vibrancy and I went out into the world as a me, without anything else riding on my shoulders. And amazing things happened.

But here’s the thing. You really can’t fake it. You’ve got to really commit to your word, to the story you tell yourself about yourself.

So now you have a choice. Right now; this very moment is pulsating with incredible potential and possibility.

You can close the tab you’re reading this article on and continue being how ya be.

Or you can call yourself and relate to yourself as a powerful unstoppable holy beautiful and wise person, a force of nature, a force to be reckoned with.

And all you need to access this is to fully embrace this identity and call it forth from yourself by the power of your word and mind.

There is always choice. We can argue all day about whether mental illness takes away our choice or not. But the real conversation is whether you and I have choice or not. Anything else is a smokescreen.

Choose how you want to feel and feel it.

Choose how you want to be and be it.

Ve’idach pirusha hie, the rest is commentary.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Your Struggles Are Beautiful To God

elephant_Uphill_struggle

Overview

This maamer explores the idea that the opposite of one’s objective is often essential to achieving their desired goal. For example to create order one must experience chaos or to achieve success one must undergo failure and setback. It then analyzes if the setback is not just necessary and essential but perhaps even greater than the end goal. While this sounds somewhat abstract, bear with me and the concept will evolve into a comprehensible tangible idea.  Over the course of the maamer the meaning and purpose of the physical world will thread its way into the discussion until it assumes a central role in the analysis.

The maamer zeroes in on this concept in three narratives. The first is an existential narrative of perceiving this inversion in the very process of creation. The second is a biblical narrative and pinpoints this idea in the story of Korach’s rebellion. The third narrative is the everyman’s story and sees this theme as a constant and daily struggle in one’s service of G-d.

This post which is part one is somewhat lengthy due to the complexity of the concepts being discussed. However for those of you that want just a quick glimpse into the concept, I suggest reading chapters’ two and three. 

 

CHAPTER ONE

Setting the scene

Our analysis starts with an exposition on the story of Korach’s rebellion. The first verse in the story of Korach (Numbers/Bamidbar 16:1) states “and Korach took [the leaders of the nation to help his cause] “. On this verse the Targum Onkelos comments “ ve’ispaleg korach” – “and Korach took”. This is puzzling since every place in the Torah that it says the word “vayikach” which means “and he took” the Targum writes “ve’nasiv”. Yet here the Targum is using a new word.

On this the Noam Elimelech cryptically comments, “The new word that Targum uses ‘ve’ispaleg’ is referencing the heavens that separated between the upper waters and the lower waters”. A little background knowledge is in order. On the second day of creation it states (Genesis/Bereishit 1:6) that G-d created a “rakia” or firmament, heaven etc. that separated between the higher and the lower waters.

This statement is begging for explanation. How does the word “ve’ispaleg” connote the acts of G-d taken on the second day of creation and what is the conceptual connection between the separation of the waters and the word “ve’ispaleg”?

The Tzemach Tzedek clarifies that the Noam Elimelech is hinting to the Zohar (1rst volume, 17a) that sees the separation of the waters as the dispute and division between the left and the right i.e. between Chessed and Gevurah. The Zohar then states further “and this division of the waters is also the dispute between Korach and Ahron”. This suggests a commonality between the division of the waters and the division of Korach, namely, that both were predicated upon the division between Chessed and Gevurah.

[Just briefly for those of you that need a quick Chessed and Gevurah primer- here are some stream-of-consciousness words for each, in order of increasing abstraction.

Chessed = generosity, giving, expansiveness, openness, revelation, G-d’s infinite capacity

Gevurah = strictness, withholding, constriction, closed, concealment, G-d’s finite capacity]

After the smoke clears what we have is a 3 step progression:

1.       The Targum uses a new word for translating the word “vayikach”.

2.       The Noam Elimelech explains that this is because the Targum is attributing a correlation between Korach’s act of rebellion and the division of the waters on the second day. What this connection is remains unclear.

3.       The Tzemach Tzedek then comes and explains that the connection is one of commonality of purpose. That is to say, both the division of the waters and the division of Korach were predicated upon strengthening the tension between the two Sefirot of Chessed and Gevurah.

Generally the existential tension between Chessed and Gevurah is viewed as one of degrees. Meaning the proponents and advocates of Chessed and Gevurah are seeking dominance for their Sefirah. For example, Hillel and Shammai’s arguments are always seen as the fight between a Chessed lobby and a Gevurah lobby. As such the fight is holy and healthy, what Pirkei Avot calls a dispute for the sake of heaven.

However by Korach we find a unique phenomenon. Korach wasn’t stirring up division because he wanted to promote a Gevurah agenda. Instead he simply wanted to create divisiveness. We can see this from the statement of our Sages (Sanhedrin 110a) “whoever seeks to create argument and dispute/machloket infringes upon a biblical prohibition as it says (Numbers/Bamidbar 17:5) ‘thou shalt not be like Korach and his followers’”. From this, that anyone who willfully and actively seeks out divisiveness is likened to Korach, notwithstanding what type of divisiveness he is seeking to create, shows that Korach is viewed as the fundamental father of discord, no matter what form that discord takes.

Yet here we come upon an intellectual inconsistency. According to our tradition (Tanchuma on Korach chapter 5, Bamidbar Rabbah chapter 8, Rashi 16:7) Korach was a genius of a man and extremely nuanced in his spiritual awareness, not to mention one of the leaders of the Jewish nation. How is it then that he promoted such a bizarre take on Judaism and actually thought that this is the optimal path in serving G-d? To promote Gevurah is understandable since there are numerous reasons for maintaining that Gevurah should be of primary focus as opposed to Chessed. But to assert that one should lobby for Gevurah to take precedence simply to create divisiveness is a bizarre and wholly irrational approach to serving G-d.

CHAPTER TWO

The existential narrative

To understand this we must delve further into the second day of creation, namely the division of the waters. Chassidus views this act as expressing vast existential themes in the grand scheme of creation. In other words, the separation of the higher and lower waters is really the separation of the higher and lower realms of reality. More specifically the demarcation of the physical realm as a place separate and void of spiritual clarity.

What was the divine intent in creating this categorical divide? The plan was that by casting the lower waters into the earthly realm, i.e. by creating the physical realm and its spectrum of sensory delights, eventually the lower waters/the physical realm will become uplifted and reach new heights that even the higher waters/realms will never attain.

How does this work? Why would one create a new low in order to attain an unprecedented high? Logically it doesn’t compute and seems to be an inverted scheme.

The answer is that the upper realms are in a state of complacency and from complacency it is impossible to ascend. Precisely by creating the lower realms can there be a situation in which Man can ultimately reach even higher than the heavens. This is because our world is a spiritual desert which stimulates a strong yearning to transcend back to the spiritual worlds. This yearning is the catalyst for Man to never rest in his quest for divine consciousness. [As the Tikkunei Zohar describes it “the lower waters are constantly crying in agony and declaring ‘we want to be in front of the king’”]

This is why on the second day of creation when the division of the waters/realms took place it does not say “and G-d saw that it was good” as it states on the other days of creation. This is because the act of the separation itself is not “good”, it is not an end unto itself and is not realizing a divine calling. This is further amplified by the fact that on the second day there were no continents, i.e. there was not even the potential for Man to live on the planet. Therefore there was no one to refine and reveal the purpose of the division. Only on the third day when the continents were spread over the waters and Man had place to live, does the Torah say twice ”and it was good”. Once for the work of Tuesday and once for the work of Monday since once Man comes onto the scene the divine intent in creating the division can be realized and thus “is good”.

CHAPTER THREE

The biblical narrative

By the same logic we can explain what Korach’s game plan was. Korach was coming from the perspective that the lower realms were separated and created for the value inherent in the physical realm per se.

This is based on the well-known Kabbalistic fact that the source-levels of the earthly realm far surpass the source-levels of the spiritual reality. As such Korach subscribed to the idea that the lower waters/realms should not be yearning to transcend their reality since on the contrary to uplift them-selves to a spiritual plane would only detract from the deep divine power inherent in physicality.

Therefore he was able to come to the view that concealment and separation (tzimtzum and Gevurah) should be the primary focus and not revelation and unification (gilui and hisklalelus). This is because the physical realm can only come about from a concealment of G-d’s truth. The evolution of the earthly realm came about via separation and division of level after level eventually reaching an existential plateau in which there is room for the divisiveness of the physical reality. That is why Korach eventually came to a place in which he viewed discord/machloket as a goal to be realized unto itself and not just a means to an end.

How was Korach wrong? It is an undisputed fact that the earthly reality contains source-levels of divinity that far surpass any spiritual construct. It is also an undisputed fact that only from Gevurah and concealment can the physical realm be created. Does it not follow then that Gevurah should be promoted as a value per se?

There is a tremendous difference between the physical and the spiritual in terms of how revealed their divine qualities are. The spiritual is openly divine. It is full of G-d’s spirit and reflects His sublime existence. True it might be inferior at its source-level to the source of the physical, but that is precisely the point. The physical’s source-level is not readily apparent and cannot be accessed or engaged with. Whereas the spiritual wears its identity on its sleeve, the physical is an opaque and earthly entity that on the surface is far lower than even the most nether point of the spiritual worlds. It is only that at its source there is a connection to G-dliness that make the apex of the spiritual cosmos look like child’s play. But this source-level is not apparent. In order to reveal and elicit this powerful source-level of the physical there first must be a negation of the value of the physical. That is to say the physical must first yearn to transcend to the spiritual and only once the physical is seen as inferior to the spiritual and merely as a tool to be used for a divine end, can there then be a realization of the latent superiority of the physical.

All this will only be fully actualized in the times of Moshiach. Then there will be an understanding that concealment is deeply connected to lofty levels of the divine and that separation and division are worthy and valuable divine tools per se. But for now while the qualities of the physical, concealment and divisiveness are only in latent form and not revealed the proper perspective of them is that they are necessary tools in realizing and creating the physical realm but not values in and of them-selves.

CHAPTER FOUR

The everyman’s story

In the spiritual-religious Jew’s life there are two ever present conflicting priorities. The first is the desire and need to immerse oneself in learning Torah and performing Mitzvot, essentially the search and quest for meaning and real significance in one’s life. The other is the need to be involved in this world and its particulars. Starting from making a living and providing for one’s family all the way down to picking up the dry cleaning for the wife. These two needs are very different and often create tension and imbalances in the psyche as one is forced to juggle the two. It is a delicate dance to balance them both and the pitfalls are many. Often one will be confronted with a situation in which they will have to choose either depth and meaning or pragmatic and necessary trivialities.

But there is a third way. This is the path in which even the practical small things in life become avenues of connection to a higher purpose. This is called be’chol derachecha dey’ayhu or “ Know Him in all your ways”. That is to say that one is enjoined to connect to G-d in all they do and not just in Torah and Mitzvot. This means that picking up the dry cleaning is ideally an event in your life that has some value and significance and is not just another item on the to-do list. How is this possible? What possible depth can the small practicalities in life add to the spiritually conscious individual? The answer is that one who is exclusively engaged in meaning and connection to G-d is to some extent living in a bubble. They only have half the story. They are not really living and working in this world and by its rules. They are studying Torah all day but they don’t have any real connection to this world and its content.

Precisely by immersing oneself in this world and living a normal and pragmatic life, working and providing for the family, taking care of bills, going to social events and simchas, spending time with family, and even picking up the groceries, through all this one is afforded the opportunity of connection to G-d and forging a bond with him even within the mundane. Of course one must have the proper perspective and attitude and one must be doing all these practicalities in the way and manner that G-d outlined and wants. But if  one does indeed comport himself in the trivialities of this world as a G-d fearing and spiritually sensitive individual then one gains a fresh and valuable new layer to their spiritual conciousness, namely knowing and perceiving G-d even within this world. Ultimately, Chassidus says, one sees G-d in being involved with this world in a much more tangible and direct way then studying holy books all day. This is because in the books it can always remain a beautiful theory etc. but through seeing the divine providence in the world and how G-d directs the infinite complexities inherent in the system of reality that we have, one literally “sees” the divine.

Here however we run into a dangerous zone. If one sees being involved in this world as a value unto itself and actively seeks the meaning that can be gained through interaction with the physical reality then ultimately one might fall and become ensnared in the physical and material reality losing any spiritual sensitivity and awareness they once had. Therefore we find this inversion again in which one is enjoined to always yearn for the meaning and depth in studying G-dliness and bonding with the divine notwithstanding any advantages to be gained from interaction with this world. Yet on the other hand one is not supposed to shun the world but rather is supposed to involve himself and even see it as another way of knowing the divine. So we have this cognitive pendulum swinging back and forth in which we are supposed to embrace this world for its contribution to knowing G-d yet always yearn for the more revealed path of connecting to G-d inherent in Torah and Mitzvot. And the test to see where one is holding is to ascertain to what extent he is willingly involved in this world. If one is truly seeking the revealed connection to G-d then one will only engage in this world as much as is necessary to provide for their family and run a successful life but not more. The second work is done, for example, the healthy and spiritually enlightened individual will immediately revert to seeking Torah and Mitzvot.

CHAPTER FIVE

“Smooth Servitude”

We find a blend of two seemingly opposing elements in the existential narrative. If one subscribes to the primacy of Chesed i.e. the normative understanding that spirituality and revealed divinity are superior to physicality and concealment, then why separate the lower waters/realms in the first place?

If however one subscribes to the radical idea that physicality can be and is (albeit in a latent form) superior to open G-dliness, then one should separate the lower waters/realms for the value of the corporeal reality per se? Instead we find a kind of lack of intellectual commitment to either side. G-d separated the lower waters/realms because there is something precious and powerful that they contain that the spiritual doesn’t. Yet once G-d created the corporeal He kind of retracts and says that the purpose of the physical is to transcend to the spiritual and the transcendental?

As well in the biblical and everyday narratives, we find this paradox. Korach is seen as promoting something essentially valuable and true just that it was premature. And the Jew is supposed to feel purpose and value in the practicalities of life and even to realize that it adds a depth to his bond with G-d.  Yet right after that realization he is supposed to only yearn for the direct connection of Torah/Mitzvot? Where is the consistency and coherency to such an approach? Furthermore is it even feasible and reasonable to demand this constant ping pong of awareness and focus?

Indeed from a normative and personal point of view it is impossible to constantly fluctuate this way. Yet from a place of bittul and humility before G-d it can be done. This is because when one is learning Torah because it is enjoyable, or because it makes them feel good and spiritual, or even because it’s a value to them, then at the end of the day they are learning Torah for themselves. If that is the case then it’s hard to switch modes and immerse themself in something else that G-d wants. The same thing is with any other objective in the world. Imagine one is giving a power point presentation at a business meeting and is getting into it. It’s something they’re knowledgeable and have a passion about. If the C.E.O. walks in and says “we need you to go do something else right now for the company. It’s urgent.” If they were personally invested in the presentation then it will be a letdown that they got cut off right when they were in the thick of it. But if their whole investment in the presentation was purely to promote the success of the company then if the company needs something else from them that is more vital- they’re there.

The same thing holds true with serving G-d. If one is serving G-d from a place of humility and surrender then whatever He needs from them at this moment becomes their objective and priority without any hesitation. Even if the moment before they were immensely enjoying themselves carrying out a different divine objective. This is because the base of their commitment is to G-d exclusively, without regard for personal advancement etc.

Therefore one can embrace the practicalities of life and even find some divine fulfillment in them yet at the same time not seek it out. Since their whole investment is fulfilling the divine will and that is the divine will. To not perceive the divine meaning in the small things as a value unto itself.

Similarly with the value of the physical world. Since one’s commitment is G-d based, therefore they can know and appreciate the superiority of the physical and the meaning that a life on this physical world contains. And yet at the same time not pursue it as a value unto itself since the divine will is that that type of agenda be relegated to the times of Moshiach.

Posted in Uncategorized
follow us in feedly

Tip Jar
This is an indie blog that takes many hours a week to publish. If you're feeling generous, please help keep the conversation going and consider even a small donation