Tiqanta Shabbos

This week I’d like to discuss three seemingly unrelated questions about the words of the tephillah:

  1. The focus of Shabbos Mussaf davening is the paragraph that begins “Tiqanta Shabbos…” What most readily jumps to the eye about the tephilla is that the 22 words it opens with are an anagram of the Hebrew alphabet in reverse. (“Tiqanta” starts with a tav, “Shabbos” with a shin, “ratzisa” — a reish, and so on.)While many tephillos are written with an alphabetic motif, it is far more rare for the alphabet to be presented in the reverse. What concept were the authors trying to express with this sequence?
  2. Yeshayah quotes Hashem, saying: “I am the first and I am the last; and besides me there is no god. And who is like Me…” (44:6) This same sentiment is found a number of times in tephillah. The pasuq is associated in the siddur with the similar declaration of G-d’s unity of the Shema. For example, in the paragraphs following the “short Shema” of Birkhos haShachar, as well as in the berakhah of ge’ulah [redemption] after the morning recitation of Shema “Emes Atah Hu rishon, ve’Atah Hu acharon — It is true that You are The First, and You are The Last…”The Kuzari makes a point of explaining that by “The First” and “The Last” we don’t mean that G-d has a beginning or an end. But this begs the question. First and last are terms that refer to a sequence. Something can be the first of a list, or the last in a collection. What is the list here? Of what is Hashem first and last?
  3. The Torah has two terms for “because”: “ki” (which also has 6 other translations, according to Rashi) and “lema’an“. These words also come up frequently in tephillah. We don’t expect Hebrew, since it was written by G-d, to have superfluous words. The two words must differ by connotation. But what is that difference?

Cause and Purpose

Aristotle lists four kinds of causes (Physics II:3). For example, consider a coffee table:

  • Material cause: What is it made out of? Wood, nails, glue, stain, varnish…
  • Formal cause: What is the form and function, the essence? It provides a place to put things down near the couch that is easy to reach when sitting on it. It therefore has a top, legs raising it to the desired level, it’s strong enough to hold a mug (remember to use a coaster!) or reading material.

These first two categories correspond to Aristotilian notions of Substance and Form, chomer vetzurah. The nature of the object being caused. The next two relate more to time.

  • Efficient cause: What produced it? This is what we usually think of when we speak of causality. The table exists because a carpenter converted the wood etc… into a coffee table.
  • Final cause: For what purpose, telos? The carpenter needed an income. The homeowner needed something to break up the space in her living room, to hold those nice pictorial books to give the room just the right look.

He therefore has two separate studies of events — causality (efficient causes; hereafter simply “cause”, matching common usage) and teleology (final causes). He believed that every event has a cause, an event that preceded it that forced it to happen, and a telos, an following event that was the purpose for this one.

Teleology is in disfavor today. Particularly in the era of Darwin, when life was seen to be the product of accident, the concept of telos was attacked, called a “fallacy” of the classical mind. For the Jew, however, there is no question. G-d created the universe, He did it for a purpose, and He insures that the purpose will be met. People have free will, and therefore act in order to place our plans into effect.
Everything has two reasons for happening: its cause and its purpose. This is provides us an answer to our last question. “Ki“, when used for because, introduces the cause. Therefor, in the Levitic song for Tuesday, we find “Let us greet Him with thanksgiving, with song let us shout for joy with Him. Ki — because G-d is a great L-rd…”

Lema’an” is associated with purpose. In the words of the Shema, “lema’an yirbu yemeichem, viymei bneichem — so that you will have many days, and your children have many days….”

Two Sequences
Aristotle was convinced the universe was infinitely old, and that it would last forever. Part of the reason for this belief is because of his concepts of “cause” and “telos”.

The cause of an event always happens before the event itself. For example, because the wind blew a leaf off the tree, it fell. First is the wind, then the falling. But every event has a cause. The wind too is an event, and it too has an earlier cause. We can keep on chasing earlier and earlier causes, and notice that the universe must have been older and older. This gives us a sequence of events, cause to effect, cause to effect…. In fact, Aristotle saw no end to this chain, and there for couldn’t believe the universe had a beginning.

The Rambam, in the Guide to The Perplexed (vol. 2, ch. 14), points out the flaw in this reasoning. He defines G-d as the First Cause.

We can now approach our second question. G-d is first of the sequence of causes. “Atah Hu rishon — You are The First [Cause].”

Aristotle has a similar argument that the universe could have no end. The purpose of an event, what the event should accomplish, comes after the event. The purpose for G-d providing wind to blow was that He wanted the rock to fall. Again, every purpose is also an event, and we have another sequence we can chase forever, in this case later and later in time.

This answers the second half of the question. G-d is The Last, The Culminating Purpose of all of creation. “All is called in My Name, and for My Glory I have Created it.” (Isa. 43:7)

The Day the is Completely Shabbos

In Birchas Hamazon, in the “harachaman” we add for Shabbos, the culmination of human history is called “Yom Shekulo Shabbos“, the day/time that is entirely Shabbos. Shabbos is called “mei’ein olam haba — the image of the World to Come”. This concept is also the subject of the Shemoneh Esrei for Shabbos Mincha.

Shabbos is not only testimony to creation, that Hashem is the First Cause. Shabbos is also intimately connected to, and preparation for, relating to G-d as the Culminating Purpose.

Rav Yaakov Emden connects the reverse alphabetical ordering of Tiqanta Shabbos with the concept of Mei’ein Olam Haba. We can suggest that this is the reason why. The sequence of letters in the alphabet are used to represent the sequence of events of history. The order of letters shows how we are viewing that sequence.

Normally, we can only see G-d’s hand in the world as First Cause. We look around and see “how great are your works, Hashem.” The alphabet of this world starts with alpha, the one-ness of G-d, and unfurls to the plurality of creation. Shabbos, however, we reverse the order — we start with the plurality of the universe, and end with the one-ness of G-d.

The zemirah says, “mei’ein olam haba, yom Shabbos menuchah — in the image of the World to Come, the day of Shabbos brings rest.” When we realize that everything that happens to us is for a purpose, everything is part of that pursuit of the Culminating Purpose, then we are at peace.

The Semitic Perspective

In honor of Chanukah, I thought I would finally post my ideas on the differences between the Yefetic and Semitic perspectives. Yefes, and his son Yavan are the progenitors of western thought. Yavan, the Ionians, are the first Greeks to establish academies of art and philosophy, paving the way for the more famous Athenians. We, on the other hand, are descendents of Sheim, and our forefathers spent years studying his thoughts. Last year, I explored one consequence of Yavan’s gift of aesthetic (“yaft E-lokim leYefes — G-d’s beauty is for Yefes”) vs. Sheim’s focus on core value (“…veyishkon be’ohalei Sheim — and He will ‘dwell’ in the homes of Sheim.”) Teaser: “I think this is a very telling statement about Western Culture. Politeness is about perfecting the surface. It doesn’t demand a change of the self, but putting up the appropriate front for others. … Judaism looks to create ba’alei chessed, people who relate to this world primarily in terms of its opportunities to give and share with others. Not to simply be polite and act inoffensively, which doesn’t quite work…”

Another difference can be seen by contrasting the style of Aristotle with that of Rav Yehudah haNasi. Aristotle catalogues. He divides a subject into subtopics, and those subtopics even further, until one is down to the individual fact. Greek thought was focused on reductionism. To understand a phenomenon, break it down into smaller pieces, and try to understand each piece. This is typical of the Yefetic perspective.(I’ll try to use “perspective” only to refer to these basic ways of thinking that underlie many worldviews and schools of thought. Pretty much any western thinker works within Yefetic perspective. The issue is one more fundamental even than the differences between Socrates and Derrida. Socrates forces his opponent to make a distinction and show him how neither side really works — thereby forcing him to Socrates’ conclusion. Derrida also presumes that objective truth must be reducible into simple yes/no questions — and since the world doesn’t fit that, he focuses on the role of texts and social construct in how we see the world.)

As opposed to the way Rav Yehudah haNasi redacted the first mishnah. The beginning of the mishnah could have said that the time for evening shema is from sunset until 1/3 the night. But instead it uses referents involving kehunah, taharah and ashmores. This is not to confuse the issue, but because from the Semitic perspective the key to understanding one mitzvah is from its connections to everything else.

Yefes is reductionist, believing the world can be understood as the sum of its smallest pieces. Sheim is holistic, looking at the interconnections between those pieces, and the pieces only gaining meaning from the relationships in which they partake.

This is not only true statically, but also over the course of time. We get used to identifying “the cause” of something. Why did he hurt his foot? Because a can fell on it. Why did the can fall? Because someone else accidentally kicked it. And so on… However, it’s equally true that he hurt his foot because even though he usually wears iron toed hiking boot, he chose not to wear them that that day.

I would instead suggest that every event is like “the perfect storm”, every one has combinations of factors that come to a head at the same point. If we accept this proposal, then belief in modern science or even Newton’s deterministic physics does not rule out the existence of other perfectly valid causes. Saying that something happened because of a segulah, or nature, or mazal, or free will does not rule out that it’s happening because of the others — and Divine Providence.

Also, it means that identifying one cause of some tragedy does not mean that one is denying other causes. And not every cause need to be a source of blame, saying that the party is one of those “at fault” for what happened. Our being gathered in Eastern Europe in such density had much to do with the magnitude of the holocaust. But we weren’t at fault for being there.

(Even look at the difference between Western and Eastern idolatry: Semitic idolatry is not about polytheistic people-gods, reducing godhood to an easily understandable super-powerful “person” like Zeus. It’s about notions that seem to us far blurrier. Buddha nature in which everything is godly, but just isn’t aware of it. Hinduism’s single Divine that has 3.3 million expressions called “gods”. One fact, many perspectives. Is it avodah zarah or isn’t it? The cases in the gemara become difficult to apply. Christianity started on this road when it adopted trinitarianism, but at some point the church got too Westernized to be able to attempt to still retain it. Until you get to Tertullian, who insists that he believed it because it’s absurd [which in Latin primarily means self-contradictory].)

There is also a likelihood this issue played a role in the Maimonidian Controversy. For all his ties to mesorah, the Rambam’s project was from what we identified as a Yefetic perspective. Unlike the mishnah, his Mishneh Torah categories, divides and subdivides in Aristotilian style, with some connections overlaid, and far more often simply left implied.

While there is a historic debate whether there are 13 principles or three, I really don’t know what difference this makes except in semantics. Furthermore, according to the qabbalists there is no such thing a foundation principle in the Torah because every aspect of the Torah is a foundation principle without distinction one part from another…

Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 2:356; tr. R’ Daniel Eidensohn

The Rambam tried to establish basics, from which everything flows. The Chasam Sofer presents the opposing qabbalistic camp, in which any Torah idea can be seen as an equally place to start exploring a complex network of truths. The issue was never articulated, but perhaps because “perspective” is something so primary that it’s difficult to establish a common dialogue across its borders.

Des Cartes famously said, “Cogito ergo sum — I think therefore I am.” A true skeptic can’t be sure of much. Even “1 + 1 = 2″ might be a delusion caused by insanity or a malevelent deity. The only thing one can be sure of is that there is an “I” doing the thinking, being sure. He then tried to prove the existence of other things, including G-d, with just this one given.

But even the Cogito is subject to this distinction. Are we individuals who interact, or only defined as individuals by the set of interactions we have with others? Moshe Rabbeinu lacked his full prophetic gift from the time of the Golden Calf until the rise of the next generation. The Or haChaim explains that this is because “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh” (Shevu’os 39a), which is usually translated “All Jews are guarantors one for another”. That’s consistent with another version of the quote, which ends “lazeh” (for this). However, “ba-”, in, implies a different meaning of the word “areivim”, mixture. All Jews are mixed, one into the other. Moshe’s soul did not stand alone, it is connected and overlaps those of the rest of the nation. When they lowered themselves with the calf, Moshe’s soul was diminished.

Even the “I” is not reductionist, but defined by its connections.

From this relation-based orientation comes a second distinction, a basically different approach to logic.The West never formalized the notion of reality having gray areas. For example, the question of whether a ball is red gets fuzzy around the edges of the notion of red. Add just an invisible tincture of blue, and it’s still red. Keep on adding blue, and at some point it’s clearly purple. But at some point in the middle, it’s “sort of red”. Classical logic has no way to describe that “sort of”.Since Aristotle’s day, western logic has had two basic rules:
The Law of Contradiction: Something can never be both true and false. From this law, we have the reductio ad absurdum; we can assume something is true if denying it leads to a contradiction.
The Law of Excluded Middle: Something is either true or false, not neither.
These seem so self-evident to us, one wonders how other positions could exist. However, had we grown up in the Far East, we wouldn’t be so Yefetic.

In a perspective that focuses on connections, there is no isolated fact. Therefore, many things Yefes would consider a single yes/no question are complex, shaded, and nuanced to Sheim. R’ Meir Levin uses this idea as a basis for understanding derashos. He suggests that the role of qal vachomer, gezeirah shavah, heqesh, kelal uperat, are to establish for us relationships. This is why they play a role that sevarah, which is more compatible with western logic, does not.

This subtlety beyond all-or-nothing of the Semitic perspective is also the reason for a number of other things:

1- There are many opinions which understand “eilu va’eilu, “These and those are the Words of the Living G-d, but the law is like Beis Hillel” to mean that both sides of a halachic debate are literally and fully true. See earlier essays about eilu va’eilu.

2- When someone wants to formally make a tenai, a conditional (e.g. This divorce is valid if… Or: I promise this calf as a qorban if…), ideally he must make it in both the positive and the negative. “… if I do not return, and it is not valid if I do.” Because we allow for antinomy and for middle values between yes and no, saying the condition in the positive form need not imply its truth in the negative.

This has consequence in the Yiddish practice of avoiding ayin hara by phrasing compliments in the negative. However, “He’s not stupid” doesn’t actually mean “He’s smart.” He could be average, a middle ground. If they actually were considered identical, would the circumlocution avoid ayin hara?

3- The logic of deciding uncertainty in halachic situations.

I think that to understand halakhah’s notion of logical connectives, equivalents to the boolean notions of “this AND this are true”, “this OR this is true”, “this is NOT true”, etc… one should explore the concept of sefeiq sefeiqa, how to resolve cases with multiple doubts, when there are two unknowns in the circumstance we need to rule upon. We seem to have 5 logical states:
mutar: permitted, including mi’uta demi’uta, a “minority of a minority, ie negligable chance of prohibition
mi’ut: minority, of significant size
safeiq: doubt
rov: majority, and
assur: prohibited, including ruba deruba, an overwhelming majority).

There are debated questions. “Mi’ut bemaqom safeiq”, does a minority chance on one doubt and more even second doubt combine to make a majority. “Sefeiq sefeiqa de’eina mis-hapeches”, a second doubt that only exists if you consider the other one first. E.g. a doubt whether wheat sprouted after Pesach in light of one about whether it was planted before Pesach. If the answer to the second question is “no”, then obviously so is the first. These are debates about the nature of our connectives. Does “mi’ut OR safeiq” equal rov or safeiq?

Not that these states exist in all situations. In cases of qavu’ah, where doubt arose after a ruling was once made, any doubt is like “half vs half”. It seems to be boolean, ie the classical true / false, and therefore if we can’t establish one or the other we can’t procede.

For more on this point, see this draft appendix as well as this devar Torah for parashas Shofetim. In these essays, particularly the second (and much shorter) one, I tie the use of multivalent logic on the idea that halakhah addresses the world as experienced rather than the world as it may exist objectively. Therefore, a ruling could be on an experienced reality of “unknown”. However, once the matter is qavu’ah, reality was once determined, and therefore the question has a boolean resolution.

However, in response to Rabbi Levin’s writings on Semitic vs Yefetic worldviews, I came up with this second theory, that we do not strive individuate facts, and therefore the whole concept of subject-predicate doesn’t map very well. But they are far from mutually exclusive. The Semitic worldview better describes the human condition. This is why Kant assumed that anything real must be free of paradox, and that since he could construct paradoxes about time and space, they must be perceptions imposed by the human mind onto reality, rather than actually “out there”. Or why everyone is used to a single event creating conflicting emotions. And used to seeing something that is “sort of red”, or a person who is “kind of tall”.

(Loosely related is the question whether logic is inherent in Truth, and therefore of G-d’s essence, or a created notion that Hashem can therefore violate at will. See the entry “Hashem and Logic“.)

Just now, in our lifetimes, this gap may be closing. Quantum Mechanics seems to require a logic in which something can be both up and down in a kind of combination called a “superposition of states”. And uncertainty is being modeled in numerous ways, from Fuzzy Logic to Bayesian probability, all of which involve states between “yes” and “no”. In Martin Gardner’s book on multivalent logics (logical systems that have values other than true or false), he shows that a system based on “true / false / neither” and one based on “true / false / both” produce identical definitions for AND and OR. In other words, the law of contradiction isn’t a given in any multivalent logic.Also, there is a growing science of emergent properties, involving notions like Chaos Theory. Models for networking have been built that work whether one is discussing the interactions of particles down on the quantum level, chemicals in a living cell, the neurons in the brain, people in an organization, or links between web sites. We are first now learning how to model connections rather than just the items being connected.But until these ideas leave academia and become the bedrock of how we view the world, we’re still tied to the Yefetic perspective.

Ikkarei Emunah

The Rambam lists his ikkarim in his introduction to the chapter “Cheileq” in Tr. Sanhedrin. The mishnah states “All of Israel has a portion in the World to Come except…” The Rambam is addressing the question of who is “Yisrael” in this mishnah, which beliefs keep one from their guaranteed portion in the World to Come. (See also Hilkhos Teshuvah ch. 3.)The Ikkarim isn’t. R’ Yosef Albo has three ikkarim from which he derives 8 shorashim (roots). Shorashim are just as mandatory beliefs as ikkarim. However, ikkarim are the postulates, shorashim their theorems. He also derives many anafim (branches), beliefs that are not defining features of Judaism.In fact, R’ Albo points out that all “revealed” religions share the three ikkarim. It’s the shorashim that distinguish Judaism from them. He is seeking the minimal list of primary principles that from which you can reason your way to a complete belief system. They both use the same word “ikkarim”, but to mean different things: necessary belief vs postulate.I thought it would be interesting to line up the Rambam’s ikkarim with those of the Seifer ha’Ikkarim. One point of strong similarity is that in Hilkhos Teshuvah 3, the Rambam defines three types of heretic. I would argue that this is an aspect of the same notion.

  • Ikkar 1- Hashem exists (Rambam ikkar 1) – H”T 3:7 denial makes one a min
    • Shoresh 1.1- Divine Unity (Rambam ikkar 2)
    • Shoresh 1.2- That He has no body (Rambam ikkar 3)
    • Shoresh 1.3- That He is beyond the concept of time (Rambam ikkar 4)
    • Shoresh 1.4- That He is perfect (Rambam ikkarim 2 and 5, see below)
  • Ikkar 2- Revelation
    • Shoresh 2.1- Accepting the nevi’im (Rambam ikkar 6)
    • Shoresh 2.2- Moshe Rabbeinu’s uniqueness (Rambam ikkar 7)
    • Shoresh 2.3- The binding nature of the Torah (Rambam ikkarim 8 and 9)
  • Ikkar 3- Divine Justice (Rambam ikkarim 10 and 11)
    • Shoresh 3.1- Resurrection of the dead (Rambam ikkar 13)

Even further, looking at Rambam’s Hilkhos Teshuvah ch. 3, he lists three kinds of heretic who loses their place in the world to come. Halakhah 7 (15 in Qafeh’s ed.) defines a min exactly in terms of those articles of faith listed above as corresponding to ikkar 1 and its shorashim.

Similarly, the Rambam’s definition of apiqoreis (3.8) includes his ikkarim that address the same issues as R’ Yosef Albo’s 2nd ikkar and its shorashim — the nature of revelation.

However, defying the Torah (shoresh 2.3) is considered a form of kefirah, as would be denying notions of justice or an afterlife (2:6). This is a different line, therefore, between what the Ikkarim calls the ikkarim of Revelation and Justice. Implicitly, the Rambam is saying that informing the people of the law has more to do with G-d’
So their entire debate, once stripped of terminology differences, is on two points:

1- According to the Ikkarim, belief in mashiach (the Rambam’s 12th ikkar) is an anaf, a branch on the Tree of Life, but not necessary for its survival. So, the Rambam declares a person who doesn’t believe in mashiach a heretic and has no place in the World to Come (Teshuvah 3:6), the Ikkarim does not.

2- R’ Albo’s fourth shoresh from his first ikkar is that Hashem is uniquely perfect. The Ikkarim does include the worthiness of Hashem as a focus of worship as part of His uniqueness. I can not tell is this is part of the shoresh, or an anaf of it. (Which would be prohibited, but as idolatry, not heresy.)

Hashem’s uniqueness is part of the Rambam’s second ikkar about His Unity — He is both indivisible and unlike everything else. The Rambam’s fifth ikkar is that no one but Hashem is worthy of prayer, specifically making it about not having no other point of worship. So unlike my inability to determine if the Ikkarim makes this a central belief, the Rambam is clear on this point.

Just tonight I saw a third list of ikkarim, this time also in the Rambam’s sense of the word. The mishnah in Avos (3:15 or in some editions 3:11) gives a different list of people who have no portion in the World to Come.

Rabbi Elazar haModa’i (from Modi’in) said, “Someone who desecrates sacred objects, or who disgraces the festivals, or who pales the face of his peer [by embarrassing him] in public, or who annuls the covenant of our father Avraham a”h, or one who interprets the Torah not according to halakhah — even if he has Torah and good deeds, he has no portion in the World to Come.

The Tif’eres Yisrael (ad loc) explains that each action is demonstrative of a lack of belief in a critical belief. He uses the term apiqoreis to refer to such unbelievers.

The first is someone who denies the existence of G-d. He has no reason to acknowledge sanctity.

The second believes in G-d, but believes that the world is eternal. That reality emanates from an impersonal deity and therefore is coeternal with him. (In short, Platonism.) Such a person denies both creation and G-d’s “Hand” in history, and therefore Shabbos and the holidays are meaningless to him.

The third heretic believes in G-d, who created the world and runs it, but denies the human soul. He believes that the mind is merely the mechanics of the brain and people are thus not different in kind to animals. He has no reason to value human dignity, and therefore nothing stands in the way of his embarrassing others.

The fourth believes in souls, but not the convenant with Avraham. An attitude represented by the one who tries to alter himself to hide the beris milah of that covenant.

The last category is the person who believe in all of the above, but not that the covenant includes the Oral Torah. Therefore, like a Fundamentalist or a Qaraite, he would be lead to concluding that any of his own conclusions drawn from the text are as valid as any other, with no mesoretic process relaying proper and improper derivations.

This last list doesn’t correspond to either of the others. But the most notable difference in content is that it doesn’t include any eschatology — it doesn’t require belief in judgment in an afterlife, nor of mashiach and the resurrection of the dead. This is a very different trend than the one I wrote of in an earlier essay:

I would argue that HQBH created the world with a tachlis, a purpose, He placed each of us in it with a tachlis, and what is righteous is righteous because it is in accordance with furthering that tachlis. …
This means that of the Rambam’s ikkarei emunah, perhaps the last three are the most critical. Without an eschatology, without a final state, we have no way of defining which acts advance us to that goal, and which are ra, shattering that which was already built.

Rav Dessler on Reality and Perception

Time — its existence is only within our perception. Creation is far more profound than our ability to grasp and far greater than that which is represented in our physical universe. Consequently, “creation” transcends any limitations of time. The concept of something being “beyond the limitations of time” cannot be fully grasped by the human intellect. Thus when considering “beyond the limitations of time”, it is projected into our minds as endless periods of time. And thus it seems to scientists as if the world evolved over millions of years.Question: If so, why then does the Torah establish the description of creation in terms of six days? The Torah wanted to teach us that the existence of all things is only in proportion to the spiritual content it possesses. Something that contains much materialism and little spirituality – its value and true existence is small because the existence of everything [is determined solely] according to the measure of its spiritual content. (And this is the meaning of the verse “[for] a thousand years in your eyes are as yesterday which passed…” The smallest component of time to us would be the “passing”, in our memories, of the experiences of one day in the past, and thus the terminology “which passed”.)

And according to what we have mentioned, the fact that the universe appears to scientists to be millions of years old, the reason is that every object which is empirically observable to us on a superficial level, actually alludes, on a more profound level, to a deeper more qualitative aspect, that is, an aspect relating to the fundamental nature of creation and its spiritual purpose. Thus, what appears as differentiated stages in the chain of superficial cause and effect processes, is essentially nothing but spiritual aspects and levels in the fundamental nature of creation, except that it seems like this to one with a materialistic perspective, the entire cause and effect experience is simply a superficial shell which encompasses these fundamental and essential aspects of creation.

- Rav EE Dessler, “Zeman veHishtalshelus”, Michtav MeiEliyahu vol IV, pp 113 (tr. R’ Simcha Coffer)

Rabbi Coffer uses this quote as the basis of a proof that Rav Dessler believed in a young universe, with the apparent age an artifact of the limitation of the scientific perspective. (See the above link.)

The translation itself, above, omitting his bracketed insertions and copious comments, seems pretty clearly otherwise. Rav Dessler asks and answers why the Torah uses a terminology of 6 days. This question is only meaningful if the notion of six days is no more valid than any other.

Rather, Michtav mei’Eliyahu promotes the idea that the flow of time and duration of time are concepts that don’t have their usual meaning with respect to the creation period. Therefore, the scientist projects his perception and his meaning on the problem. Which is not wrong, they’re simply human projections onto the incomprehensible. In other words, 13.7 billion years is not the wrong answer, nor is six days. They are each right, in their way. This is the same conclusion one reaches (although R’ Coffer obviously didn’t), looking at Michtav MeiEliyahu vol. 22 pp 150-154. See my earlier entry “Rav Dessler’s Approach to Creation“.

Another case where Rav Dessler (Mm”E vol. pp 304-312) focuses on the role of perception in defining reality is his elaboration of the Maharal’s understanding (Gevuros Hashem, 2nd introduction) of nisim (miracles). See my essay at Mesukim MiDevash for Beshalach, pp 1-2:

The Maharal … writes that rather than being an exception to the rule, nissim follow their own rules. Indeed, miracles occur all the time, but on their own plane of reality. This is why Yehoshua requests “shemesh beGiv’on dom – the sun should stand still in Giv’on.” (Yehoshua 10:13) The sun stopped for the Jews in Giv’on, who were on a plane where miracles operate, but not for anyone else. Literally two different realities were simultaneously experienced. Not two different perceptions of the same event, but two conflicting things were real, depending upon which world one occupied.

Most of us live within a world in which the laws we call “teva” apply. R’ Chanina ben Dosa, however, lived in a world where the laws of neis applied. In this world, oil and vinegar are equally flammable…. Rav Eliyahu Dessler elaborates on this principle. Mekubalim speak of four olamos, each of a higher level than the previous: asiyah (action), yetzirah (formation), beri’ah (creation) and atzilus (emanation)….

People have two sources of information that they consider absolute. The first is their senses – sight, sound, and so on. The second is their self-awareness. The senses bring us information about the physical world. Self awareness brings us concepts like truth, freedom and oppression. Someone mired in the desires of the senses lives in the physical world. He focuses his attention on it, just as everyone focuses on that which is important to them. “Every tailor notices and looks at the clothing of the people in the street; and similarly every shoemaker, shoes…” The man of the senses therefore perceives it as more objective and more absolute than the world of the self…. This is olam ha’asiyah.

However, one can rise above that to the olam ha’yetzirah. This is not merely another level, but another world with its own laws, laws that do not conflict with free will. Those who focus on this world have no question that free will exists. To them, it is the ideals of this world that are more objective and absolute, and the senses, more subjective. Rav Dessler explains that this is how nissim can impact one person’s senses and not another’s. Yetzirah is the Maharal’s plane of nissim, and as the Maharal noted different people will perceive the miraculous differently, or not at all. And so the sea split in olam hayetzirah, but not in olam ha’asiyah.

According to Rav Dessler, someone who truly sees the world in terms of justice and kindness, freedom or oppression, to the extent that those laws are more objective and more absolute than gravity, conservation of energy, or electromagnetic force, then those laws actually do drive their reality. Such a person would live in a world of neis rather than teva.

(In a different essay, Rav Dessler relates neis to the person’s emunah. One can’t be influenced by the presence of miracles. Therefore, miracles only occur to those whose faith is already unshakable without them. The two perspectives are identical: One discusses the causal connection between rising up to olam hayetzirah and experiencing miracles, the other discusses how the connection is just.)

In both his discussion of time and of the laws of nature, Rav Dessler seems to be taking a consistent position, something along the lines of philosophers like Kant or Ernts Mach (an opinion shared by Einstein). Reality is at least as much the order we project on the world as the world “out there” itself. Mach uses this idea to explain why the universe is so sensible. We can explain natural law through science and math as we structures them because we’re actually studying the order we impose on the universe, not the absract thing “out there”. If reality is a product of both the external reality and what we impose on it, then consistency is not necessarily a given, particularly consistency between observers.

Ernst Mach’s description:

The goal which [science] has set itself is the simplest and most economical abstract expression of facts.
When the human mind, with its limited powers, attempts to mirror in itself the rich life of the world, of which it itself is only a small part, and which it can never hope to exhaust, it has every reason for proceeding economically.
In reality, the law always contains less than the fact itself, because it does not reproduce the fact as a whole but only in that aspect of it which is important for us, the rest being intentionally or from necessity omitted.
In mentally separating a body from the changeable environment in which it moves, what we really do is to extricate a group of sensations on which our thoughts are fastened and which is of relatively greater stability than the others, from the stream of all our sensations.
Suppose we were to attribute to nature the property of producing like effects in like circumstances; just these like circumstances we should not know how to find. Nature exists once only. Our schematic mental imitation alone produces like events.

- “The Economical Nature of Physical Inquiry”, excepted by J. Kockelmans. Philosophy of science: the historical background. New York: The Free Press, 1968

If we aceppt the idea that people of sufficiently different spiritual statures have different mental schema, then yes — miracles and even the definition of time, would depend on the individual.

In that Mesukim, I mentioned the following possibility:

Perhaps this approach leads to the conclusion that the biblical archeologists’ enterprise is doomed to failure. The archeologist lives and explores the world of teva. But the nissim recorded in Tanach did not occur within the world of teva, perhaps we should not expect to see evidence of them there.

Perhaps the inability to find archeological evidence of the flood or the tower of Bavel is akin to Rav Dessler’s description of the time of creation: “[I]t seems like this to one with a materialistic perspective, the entire cause and effect experience is simply a superficial shell which encompasses these fundamental and essential aspects of creation.” And perhaps if we had more meritorious archeologists, ones who glimpse into olam hayetzirah, they would find such evidence. (But would be unable to share it with the rest of us.)

This would mean the problem understanding the mabul is not a contradiction between the Torah and the empirical data, but an inconsistency inherent in different peoples’ version of the empirical world.

I realize that people with more rationalist, positivist, empiricist bents would find this resolution dissatisfying. And those without such inclinations would be unlikely to be bothered by the question. But it’s an interesting thought either way.

Rav Dessler On Reality and Perception, part II

(This post is an erratum and addendum to points made in “Rav Dessler On Reality and Perception“.)1: A correction. I wrote that in order to experience miracles, one must lift themselves into a world where moral law is more absolute than physical law. This is only partly true. Alternatively, Hashem can push the person into that world — as need requires. This is how the Egyptians experienced the miraculous turning of water into blood. It was obviously not a merit that allowed them to experience a non-natural punishment. Rav Dessler concludes chapter 3 of our essay, “All perceptions of olam ha’asiyah are not absolute at all, but are relative to the needs of the topic.” (p 310)Whether the difference is one of merit or of need (which in turn is usually caused by merit), the thesis stands: There is no reason to assume that just because the people of that generation experienced a flood, people of our era must find evidence of that flood.

2: The relationship between perception and reality is the subject of the next paragraphs, the first two of chapter 4: “We find that we learn according to this that our perception is itself the reality of the world for us. … This perspective seems strange to us, but it is only because we live in olam ha’asiyah and see the physical as literally (mamash) absolute…” (Note: The Hebrew actually borrows the word “absolute” throughout the essay.)

This is pretty clearly a phenomenologist position. (Phenomenology: A philosophy based on the intuitive experience of phenomena, and on the premise that reality consists of objects and events as consciously perceived by human beings.)

3: Rav Dessler himself extends the inability to experience miracles with the inability to experience their legacy. This is why we compute the molad from a point in the creation year, without accounting for the month that took fewer days because one of them was extended when the sun stood still for Yehoshua.

Roads and Cities

(This is a second angle on the same topic as my earlier Semitic Perspective post, as well as Mesukim MiDevash for parashas Behar.)Do roads exist to connect cities, or do cities exist to serve the roads? We naturally assume the former, that roads are built to allow people and goods to travel from one center to another.

However, historically speaking, it’s usually the reverse. Medina, in Saudi Arabia, grew from the crossroads of trading routes. Canaan was at the crossroads of three continents, and its very name comes from the word for “traders”. This is why the Israel of Na”kh was so often crossed by the soldiers of Assyria and Egypt, en route to the other to battle. And being at a traffic center placed us in the ideal situation to influence world thought. Because of the centrality of shipping, New York, Baltimore and Boston all grew around their harbors, and many European cities are on rivers — London, Paris, Budapest, Frankfurt, etc…

This is illustrative of a basic issue of perception, one which may not be the most central to Judaism, is perhaps most fundamental. It shapes the framework in which Jewish tradition looks at the world and frames its questions and answers.

Western Thought is based around the notion of “things”, devarim in the biblical sense — davar as object, dibrah as statement or idea. These are primary, and the relationships between them are seen as a consequence of the essence of those objects.

Our Mesorah seems to pretty clearly be based on the idea that “cities are defined by their roads”, in other words, that the essence of an object is in the roles it plays. And therefore, the word “boneh” means both “is building” and “builder”. While someone is building, he is a builder. The difference between a present tense verbs and active participles (a builder, a fisher, a watcher, a guard, a guide, etc..) is not meaningful from this perspective. (See also part II of the entry on tenses in Hebrew.)

Morally, Western Civilization places rights more central than duties. “Live and let live.” As long as no one else is harmed, an action should not be prohibited.

Jewish morality is founded on the opposite principle. As I wrote earlier:

Moshe Rabbeinu lacked his full prophetic gift from the time of the Golden Calf until the rise of the next generation. The Or haChaim explains that this is because “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh” (Shevu’os 39a), which is usually translated “All Jews are guarantors one for another”. That’s consistent with another version of the quote, which ends “lazeh” (for this). However, “ba-”, in, implies a different meaning of the word “areivim”, mixture. All Jews are mixed, one into the other. Moshe’s soul did not stand alone, it is connected and overlaps those of the rest of the nation. When they lowered themselves with the calf, Moshe’s soul was diminished.

(The “bazeh” version is found in the Ein Yaaqov, which in general is considered more accurate than the Vilna edition of Shas.)

The notion of “areivim zeh bazeh”, or even “zeh lazeh”, is diametrically opposed to the west’s “live and let live”. We are not asked to respect the individuality of others; instead our attention is called to our need to relate to them. Giving someone space is appropriate in many situations, but not if it means one could stop self-destructive behavior but doesn’t.

A person is defined by the relationships he maintains. As I wrote on Pesach, those relationships are generally grouped by the internal one he has with himself, the one we maintains with G-d, and his relationship with other people — Torah, Avodah and Gemillus Chassadim. The ideals of Da’as, Rachamim and Tif’eres are the essence of the ideal self because they are the ideals of each of those relationships.

Chayei Sarah – Kibbush and Chizuq

1. Buying Ma’aras haMachpeilah

It is interesting to note that Judaism’s holiest sites were not conquered but bought. Parashas Chayei Sarah opens with Avraham purchasing the Ma’aras haMakhpeilah and the fields around it. Later, Yaakov buys the city of Shechem from Canaanite princes, the sons of Chamor (Bereishis 33:19). Similarly, Shemuel II concludes with David haMelekh purchasing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from Aravnah the Jebusite.

R. Yoseph Ber Soloveitchikzt”l, explained the meaning of qinyan, acquisition, in a speech given to the student body of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in the Spring of 1985. He noted that the root of the word qinyan is /קנה/, to manufacture. (It is also used in lesaqein, to repair.) This is because of the origin of the concept of commerce. Originally people owned what they made, the animals they raised, the plants they planted. The need for people to acquire things they were not personally able to make, lead to trading, barter, and eventually money. Purchasing uses the same root, because purchasing is a surrogate for manufacturing things yourself. I manufacture this, or provide this service, convert it into money, and exchange that effort for someone else’s manufacture or effort in providing that.

Once something is bought you have therefore also acquired its entire history. The person who sold it to you has effectively declared that “all I have done to increase its value was as a surrogate for you doing it yourself.”

2. Kibbush vs Chazaqah

R. Aharon Soloveitchikzt”l (Logic of the Mind, Logic of the Heart) writes of two kinds of acquisition. The first is “chazaqah”, holding. It comes from Hashem’s commandment to Adam “to guard the garden and keep it”. (Bereishis 2:13) This is the gift of reaching unto things through cultivation, work and dedication.

The other kind of acquisition R. Aharon calls “kibbush”, grasping. This kind of activity comes from Hashem’s other imperative to Adam, “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth vekhivshuhah — and subdue it”. (Bereishis 1:28)

In approaching the Benei Cheis, Avraham describes himself as “geir vetoshav anokhi imakhem — I am a stranger and a resident amongst you”. Avraham lived in two worlds, in the spiritual as well as the physical. He was amongst the Benei Cheis, but also apart from them. This gave Avraham two tools: chazaqah and kibbush.

The Western World is based on “might makes right”, “kochi veotzem yadi asa li es hachayil hazeh – my might, and the strength of my hand won me this battle”. The spirit of the West is “the hand of Eisav— the spirit of kibbush. Avraham didn’t feel the need to enforce his will with power, it was okay for him to be a geir.

Without kibbush society would not progress. We would have no new science or engineering, no new territory, evil would not be vanquished. But kibbush must have limits. While Hashem did command “vekhivshuhah”, He certainly wanted man to rise above the level of warring tribesmen.

The other is the gift of cultivation, of work and dedication and of reaching unto things and people through love, consideration, and guidance (“chazaqah”). We can attain great heights through kibbush, but we can’t just constantly be looking to go further and to extend, we have to also develop what we have.

R. Aharon finds in this distinction the source of the gender differences in halakhah. Males have a tendency toward uncontrolled kibbush, while women are more focused on chazaqah. This places women on a higher spiritual plane than men. When a woman says “she’asani kirtzono — for He has made me according to His Will”, it is implied that men are further from that Will than she is. Women’s innate qualities as the last created creature (Rabbi Soloveichik words this as “the crown of Creation”), are already aimed at the fulfillment of G-d’s ultimate desire for mankind. The reason for the extra mitzvos and extra ritual placed on males is to reign in that uncontrolled kibbush.

What is that “ultimate desire for mankind”?

3. The two Batei Miqdash

R. Chaim Soloveitchik holds that there is a distinct difference between the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel that came with the first commonwealth and that of the second.

The first Temple did not create a permanent qedushah (holiness). The reason given is “that which was acquired through conquering is lost through conquering. The First Commonwealth built on land acquired in the wars of the days of Yehoshua and the Shoftim (Judges), was itself conquered.

The Second Commonwealth was “merely” an immigration of a group of Jews who decided to live in the land as Jews. It is predicated on the mitzvos done there, the education of children raised there. That kind of sanctity can not be undone. “Qidshah lisha’atah viqidshah le’asid lavo – it was sanctified for its time and sanctified for all time to come”. Even today, Har Habayis (the Temple Mount) has the sanctity of the Temple.

R. Aharon understands his grandfather’s words in the light of this distinction. The first commonwealth was founded on kibbush. It therefore had an inherently inferior qedushah. The second commonwealth was built by chazaqah. When Hashem tells Zecharia, “Not by force and not by might but by My spirit”, He is saying that the second Temple should be build on chazaqah, not kibbush, to lead to a permanent sanctification. “Neqeivah tesoveiv gever.”

Rav Aharon Soloveitchik notes Chanukah’s connection to Sukkos. According to Seifer haMakabiim, on the first Chanukah people who had just missed being oleh regel, going up to the beis hamiqdash, with their esrog and lulav, did so then at their first opportunity. Beis Shammai taught that one should light 8 lights the first night of Chanukah, 7 the second, learning from the 70 bulls offered for the mussaf on Sukkos, which also declined in number each day: 14 the first day, 13 the second, etc… Rav Yosi bar Avin or R’ Yosi bar Zevida explains that Beis Shammai are emphasizing the link between Chanukah and Sukkos. (We follow Beis Hillel, and teach that the ideal is to increase as the holiday progresses. They do not deny the connection; but rather Beis Hillel asserts an overriding halachic principle — that we increase in holiness over time.)

The concept of being a geir vetoshav is at the center of the similarity between the two holidays. Sukkos is a time when the toshav leaves his home to experience geirus in the Sukkah. Chanukah is also about the ger’s Chazaqah, the rededication of the second Beis haMiqdash. Not about winning the war – the war wouldn’t be over for years – but about being able to live in Israel as Jews, with access to the beis hamiqdash.

4. Qinyan as Chazakah

We go from looking at Rav Aharon’s elaboration of his grandfather’s concept to using his brother’s, R. Yoseph Ber’s insight to extend R. Aharon’s concept of chazaqah to things acquired by commerce as well. To buy something is to exchange a token of the chazaqah you have put into something else, and trade it for chazaqah on this object.

By combining these ideas, we understand why Chevron, Har haBayis and Shechem were bought. Buying is a means of chazaqah. It is inherently holier than if our claim were based on military victory.

The same idea can be used to understand why the gemara in Qiddushin (2a) asserts that the form of marriage is identical to that of a qinyan. This idea is proven from a gezeirah shavah (a comparison of terms) between the phrase “ki yiqach ish ishah — when a man takes a woman” (Devarim 22:13), and Avraham’s offer to Efron “nasati keseph hasadeh, kach mimeni — I have placed money for the field, take it from me” (23:13). In both cases the expression of “qichah — taking” is used.

(The halakhah is not teaching that women are ch”v bought and sold like chattel. You don’t need a gentile slave’s consent in order to buy him. Purchasing’s two parties are owner and buyer, not buyer and item bought. The fact that the wedding can not occur against her will shows that it isn’t a purchase. Second, the laws of ona’ah – overcharging and underpaying – would apply, and the value of the ring would need to be within 1/6th of the bride’s value.)

In the case of Chevron, Avraham was acquiring the entire field — from the beginning of time until the end. By making marriage assume the qinyan format we are acknowledging that the bride and groom were literally made for each other, and hopefully will remain together until the end of time. By using the form of chazaqah, the marriage, qiddushin, is on a higher plane. Like the ma’aras hamachpeilah, like the second Beis haMiqdash, the qiddushin thereby has the possibility of being an eternal holiness.

5. Gevurah and its Resolution

In Avos 4:1, Ben Zomah says “Who is a gibor, a warrior, one who is koveish his yeitzer, his inclination [toward evil]”. This is a proper use of kibbush, to vanquish evil, to change it into a tool for serving Hashem. It is interesting to note that the one who uses kibbush is called a “gibor”, from the same root as a word for man in the sense of specifically male as used in our pasuq in Zechariah – “gever”.

We find the term gibor in a prophecy about the messianic age. “How much longer will you stray, back-slidden daughter, and remain hidden and withdrawn? For Hashem has created something new on the earth, neqeivah tisoveiv gever — woman shall encircle man.” (Yirmiah 31:20-22)

We can attain great heights through kibbush, but we can’t succeed in establishing a Paradise on earth unless we couple it with chazaqah. At the end of history, the Jewish people, the fallen daughter, the ger vetoshav, will return to Hashem. The principle missing in this galus, the balance of kibbush and chazaqah, will be restored. As man realizes that he is a spiritual being, thereby being freed from needing to be overly focused on the gibor’s battle against the yeizer. The neqeivah, the feminine side, chazaqah, will be restored to its rightful role.

In the time of the Messiah, there will be no pursuit of kibbush, rather everyone will pursue the gift of chazaqah. So women’s Divine endowment and her mandate to be true to that endowment is consonant with humanity’s spiritual and moral goals in the Messianic Era.

A Broad Life

A recurring concept in Rav Hutner’s writings on Shavu’os (Pachad Yitzchaq, no.s 5, 13, 40) is the idea that talmud Torah isn’t limited to sitting in front of a book.

Why do we only make birkhas haTorah once a day? Tosafos explain (Berakhos 11b) “she’eino miya’eish mida’ato, shekol sha’ah chayav lilmod — because it is never lost from his thought, because at all times he is obligated to learn.” Rav Hutner adds that Tosafos don’t just mean that because the obligation is constant. Rather, part of learning Torah is “lilmod al menas la’asos — learning in order to do”. Thus, a life lived according to the Torah is not a break in talmud Torah, but part of the fulfillment of the obligation.

He uses the same idea to explain what would seem like two extra words in the Rambam (Talmud Torah 13). If someone is in the middle of learning, and a mitzvah arises. If the mitzvah can be done by someone else, the person should not stop his learning. However, if it can not, either because no one around is capable, or because the mitzvah is incombent on this particular individual, then he should stop — “veyachazor lelimudo — and he should return to his study.” Why does the Rambam need to tell us that he should return to studying?

How the person acts when the mitzvah is complete tells us something about how he did the mitzvah. Stopping one’s learning is only permitted because it is lilmod al menas la’asos. If the mitzvah is being done as part of a life-long commitment to Torah, then of course the person would return to his study as soon as he is able.

The halakhah is that if someone forgot to say birkhas haTorah and said Ahavah Rabbah before Shema, he needn’t say birkhas haTorah. Ahavah Rabbah qualifies as a birkhas haTorah. How? The berakhah refers not only to learning Torah, but also to fulfilling mitzvos?

Again Rav Hutner explains that other mitzvos are not a break from talmud Torah, but rather are a fulfillment of lilmod al menas la’asos.

Last, he invokes the same idea to explain the words of Reish Laqish (Menachos 99). Commenting on the verse “asher shibarta — which you have broken”, Reish Laqish says that Hashem is praising Moshe for breaking them. And this is used to demonstrate the idea that “pe’amim shebitulo zu hi qiyumo — there are times that [Torah's] nullification is its fulfillment”. Fulfilling the Torah’s ways is part of talmud Torah, even when that meant destroying the very Torah itself.

So far we discussed the concept of mitzvos, but Rav Hutner’s tendency toward breadth goes much further than that.

In Rav Hutner’s Igeros (pg. 84), he answers a student who felt like he was split, living a double life — a life of Torah and a secular life centered a career. Rav Hutner answered with a metaphor: If a person has a home, and in addition he takes a room in a hotel, he is living a double life. But if the person has a home that has two rooms, he is not living a double life, he is living a broad life.

By placing it all only one roof, there is a broad unity, not a split.

(This sentiment is strongly aligned with that of Rav Hirsch’s Torah im Derekh Eretz. But an analysis of the different ways different acharonim modeled this relationship is for another time.)

In Pachad Yitzchaq, Pesach (#69), Rav Hutner comments on the opening verse of “Shir haShirim asher liShlomo — A song of songs, which is Solomon’s”. Why is Shir haShirim called “of Shelomo’s” in a way that his other works, Mishlei and Qoheles, are not?

Rav Hutner describes the greatness of Shelomo’s generation was that it went beyond the usual celebratory event, the victory of good over evil that we find David praising in song. Rather, in Shelomo’s day there was also a victory of the secular by the holy. There was no truely secular, because everything served the holy.

This is a recurring thought in Rav Hutner’s thought — the role of “reshus” (the permissable, as opposed to the prohibited or the mandatory) and how does one sanctify it.

There are two ways to do so. The first is by using reshus to accomplish things that allow you to accomplish more qedushah. (This thought is also found in the introduction to Alei Shur, as a way to live a fully sacred life.)

The other is to see the secular world as a metaphor for the deeper truth. “Bekhol derakhakha da’eihu — know Him in all your ways.” Sleep could be simply a creature comfort, it could be a way to rest for a day of holy activities, and it could also be a metaphor through which we can understand the concept of techiyas hameisim (resurrection of the dead). This connection is made by E-lokai, neshamah shanasata bi. Upon waking up, we remember that Hashem will restore that soul after death.
Shir haShirim uses romantic love in this way, giving it as a way to understand the love between Hashem and His creation. Thus, it is more fully representative of the accomplishments of Shelomo’s time than his other works.

A life of Torah must include reshus, placing one’s second room under the same roof. Without which even the mitzvah of talmud Torah is itself incomplete. And that is why that student’s pursuit of a career did not necessitate his making a second birkhas haTorah.

Returning back to his letter to the student who felt like he lived a double life, Rav Hutner explains this using a powerful statement from Chazal. “Whoever lengthens the ‘echad‘ [of Shema], they lengthen for him his days.” This statement isn’t only true of how one says Shema, but is therefore also true of living the meaning of those words. Rav Hutner tells this student who is now a professional not to consider his career a distraction. Quite the contrary! Someone who lives a Torah life, and does so as broadly as possible, has the berakhah of earning a long life.
A very powerful message to take from Shavu’os.

Angels and Idols

What exactly was the sin involved in the making of the Eigel haZahav, the Golden Calf?

Rashi (Ex 32:1 “asher yeilekhu“, “asher he’elanu“) says it was actual idolatry.

The Kuzari (1:97) says it was a representation to be used as a conduit between man and G-d. A Moses replacement. Not so much a violation against the second and third of the Rambam’s articles of faith (Divine Uniqueness and Divine Incorporeality), but a violation of the fifth — that we are not to worship anything in the role of middleman between G-d and ourselves.
The distinction between the two may boil down to choosing which phrase in the Torah is the primary motivation given by the Jews.

The people saw that Moshe was late to come down from the mountain; the people ganged up on Aharon, and they said to him: “Arise, make us a god who shall go before us; for as for this man Moshe who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what happened to him.”

- Shemos 32:1

Rashi comments on the words “a god who shall go before us”, and the Kuzari writes about their worrying about Moshe’s non-return.
I could make a historical argument for the Kuzari’s position. In Egyptian mythology, the minor deity that purportedly pulled the cart of prayers up to heaven and blessings down to mankind was Apis, a bull (or man with a bull head). Oxen were towing animals in their society. In Egypt, Apis was the courier of prayers to the other gods, and of blessings to man. It is quite plausible that they thought that without Moshe, they needed a new conduit to G-d, and therefore turned to Apis.

Apis’s holiday was on the 15th of the 8th month. There were two temples at the far sides of Egypt, Memphis and Heliopolis, that had representations of Apis, golden bulls, in front of them.

Yerav’am, when he founded the Malkhus Yisrael, needed to establish a new religion that would free them from being tied to Yehudah and the Temple in Yerushalayim. Among his changes were that he shifted Sukkos from the seventh month to the eighth, and he built temples in Beis-El and Dan with bulls in front of them. It would seem that a pretty conscious imitation of Apis worship was still around.

Thus, the notion that the golden calf was a product of the same mentality, and thus an attempt to replace Moses would explain why they chose the animal they did. The connection between Yerav’am’s religion and the eigel is made explicitly by Tanakh. Yerav’am’s language on consecrating his bulls even parallels that of the Jews when the eigel was completed:

And he [Aharon] received it [the gold] from their hands, and shaped it with a graving tool, and made it a molten calf; and they said: “These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

- Ibid. v. 4

The king [Yirav’am took counsel, and made two golden calves; and he said unto them: ‘You have gone up to Yerushalaim too much, here are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

- Melakhim I 12:28

Lehavdil, the keruvim on the aron, that the golden calf as well as the Northern Kingdom’s bulls are the product of a false understanding of the keruv concept.

The keruvim had the faces of children, either one boy and one girl or two boys, and a pair of long bird-like wings that arced over the ark. We do not know what else — if anything — they had. Could have been just a pair of busts, heads with wings and nothing else; or perhaps an entire body. When the Jews got along with each other, they faced each other. When they did not, the keruvim turned away from each other. This would only be seen by the Kohein Gadol on Yom Kippur and by soldiers who saw the ark during war. I assume, therefore, that it served as a call to repentance on Yom Kippur or when preparing for battle.

These are different than the keruv as discussed in Bereishis, who guards the entrance to Eden while holding a sword of revolving fire.

It is also different than the keruv as implied by Yechezqeil. In 1:10, the angels called chayos (Living Beings) present at the Divine Chariot are described as having four faces: that of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. However, in 10:15 we’re told that a chayah is a keruv, in the two visions he them saw identically (10:22) and the keruv has the faces of a keruv, a man, a lion and an eagle. The face of the keruv replaces that of the ox. This implies that a keruv is an ox-like thing, that being the corresponding face. (Even though “chayos” has a more common meaning of “wild animal” to the exclusion of “beheimos”, domesticated ones like oxen. Then again, people aren’t chayos either, and one of the faces of the chayah is human.)

The Chaldeans worshiped a god called Kirub, who was a bull with a human face. So the linguistics point to this interpretation as well. (It also supports Maimonides’ assumption that idolatry began with the worship of G-d’s “entourage” as a way to honor Him.)

I would therefore suggest that this middleman god is a single thread of pagan thought — be it Apis, Kirub, the eigel, or bulls at Malkhus Yisrael. They are a misunderstanding of the notion of keruvim.

Yerav’am’s sin therefore carries an echo of Korach’s. The medrash tells us that Korach brought Moshe a garment entirely made of techeiles (blue wool) and asked whether it needed tzitzis. When Moshe replied that it did, Korach scoffed. If the whole garment being blue is insufficient, what difference would one thread make? Korach tried to declare the whole world holy and thereby leave nothing sacred.

Yerav’am took the two keruvim and placed them at opposite sides of his country. The Divine Presence would appear in a pillar of smoke from between the keruvim in the Mishkan and Beis haMiqdash. Now, Yerav’am declares, that holiness is everywhere.

There were two utensils in the first Beis haMidash that had images on them — the aron had keruvim and the legs to the laver that Shelomo made. Both share a law — they were not made of a separate piece welded on. The keruvim had to be of the same gold, part of the lid of the aron; not welded, but of the same piece. Thus making it clear that they were secondary to the Torah and not worship-worthy gods in their own right.

As the Rambam explains the birth of idolatry:

“In the days of Enosh, the people fell into gross error, and the counsel of the wise men of the generation became foolish. Enosh himself was among those who erred. Their error was as follows: “Since God”, they said, “created these stars and spheres to guide the world, set them on high and allotted unto them honor, and since they are ministers who minister before Him, they deserve to be praised and glorified, and honor should be rendered them; and it is the will of God, blessed be He, that men should aggrandise and honor those whom He aggrandised and honored – just as a king desires that respect should be shown to the officers who stand before Him, and thus honor is shown to the king.” When this idea arose in their minds, they began to erect temples to the stars, offered up sacrifices to them, praised and glorified them in speech, and prostrated themselves before them – their purpose, according to their perverse notions, being to obtain the Creator’s favor. This was the root of idolatry, and this was what the idolators, who knew its fundamentals, said….

- Laws of Idolatry 1:1

Synthesis and Dialectic

Rav Shimon Gershon Rosenbergzt”l passed away. He was more commonly known as Rav Shagar, a nickname he picked up when a friend starting calling him by the initials on the corner of his tallis. Rav Shagar was Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Siach Yitzhak, staunchly Religious Zionist, with a mystical, spiritualist bent. Rav Shagar was 57 years old when he lost the battle against pancreatic cancer.

In looking for a thought of his to write, I found the following quote in Haaretz (11 Jan 2005):

One can say that it is a difference that can already be found in Rabbi Kook compared to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. Rabbi Kook presents the goal as being harmony among all the various values, whereas Rabbi Nachman viewed contradictions as a source of religious ecstasy. When you try to live simultaneously in all the worlds, there is a danger that you will end up living simplistically and superficially, or that you will try to force harmony. I identify with harmony as a goal, but in the real world, one must learn to live with contradictions. From this respect, one of the original sins of the religious-Zionists was their enslavement to the vision of Ben-Gurion’s ‘melting pot.’ Instead of creating a uniform prayer service, each community should have been allowed to foster its own identity, and what they would all share would be the very feeling of Jewish brotherhood.

To Rav Kook, the concept of unity is fundamental. Everything flows from Hashem Echad, and therefore all distinctions are, at the deepest level, illusory. The “secular” Zionist is in reality doing sacred work. In fact, the notion of secular can be defined as that in which we can not perceive the underlying sanctity — even though it’s no less there. Rav Nachman doesn’t write from the perspective of ultimate realities. Given that we are human beings living under a condition of tzimtzum (a “constriction” of [the perceptability of] Divine Presence), we do face contradictions. It is in how we face them that provides us with challenge and growth experiences.

Rav Shagar suggests that one can divide their statements in terms of context — Rav Kook discussing the ultimate goal and Rav Nachman describing how to live through the reality that we are always “only” trying to get there. Therefore one can fully believe both, but it would be Rav Nachman’s perspective that is more useful in defining a lifestyle.

This reminded me of a thought about one of the differences between Rav Hirsch’s “Torah im Derekh Eretz” (TIDE) and Rav JB Soloveitchik’s notion of Modern Orthodoxy, which YU dubbed “Torah uMadda” (TuM). I am tempted to apply the same observation, about differences in context, here.

Rav Hirsch sought synthesis. To him, the ideal person was one who was ennobled by Torah and refined by high culture (Derekh Eretz). My favorite formulation of the TIDE position is that of the Seridei Eish:

The Torah, according to Rav Hirsch, is the force that gives form. Form, to Aristotle’s thought, means a thing’s essential nature in distinction to the substance from which it is embodied. Derekh Eretz is merely the matter on which Torah works.

- Essay in “Shimshon Rephael Hirsch: Mishnaso Vishitaso”

TIDE is a lifestyle that is wholly Torah and wholly derekh eretz, in that the Torah is what gives form and function to a cultured life, and culture is the substance to which one applies Torah.

Rabbi JB Soloveitchik, on the other hand, spoke in terms of unresolvable dialectics. In an earlier blog entry I noted his use of contrasting archetypes of cognitive man vs. homo religiosus (in Halachic Man), Adam I vs. Adam II (in the Lonely Man of Faith), the community of destiny and the community of fate (Community, Qol Dodi Dofeiq, the SCA responsum), etc..

This is also true in his formulation of TuM. (Despite Rabbi Lamm’s frequent use of the word “synthesis” in describing TuM, I do not believe that this meaning of the word “synthesis” was R’ Soloveitchik’s goal.) One of his few talks on TuM is commonly referred to as “Ramatayim Tzofim” — two peaks from which to look out over the landscape, using a phrase from Shemu’el I 1:1. Man is torn between two peaks, which stand distinct. And in fact, it is the free will that emerges from choosing between these alternatives that is man’s “image of G-d”, our entire calling.

In true neo-Kantian fashion, Rav Soloveitchik argues that human nature is characterized by antinomies, equally true but conflicting models of reality. They present philosophical tensions. Halakhah gives us the tools to navigate these conflicts of values, but they are not to be resolved.

Notice that here too, Rav Hirsch speaks in terms of theory, defining the ideal human being as one living a life that is entirely Torah and yet composed of Derekh Eretz, whereas Rav Soloveitchik describes the reality, and living with the conflicts that we actually confront. The ideal may be one of unity, but life is a process of reaching for an ideal; not actually ever getting there. Thus, the two perspectives need not be taken as contradicting.

(At least, not on this point. TIDE and TuM differ in other ways. A topic for another entry.)

Rather, one must know when to use each perspective. I think that seeking unity where there is none is no less fraught with danger on this front than in Rav Shagar’s original case. The TIDE seminary did not succeed at producing its own leadership; the Torah study in such a school was always lighter than that of the full-time Torah study of the Lithuanian yeshiva. It also failed to produce secular education of the quality of Germany’s universities.

Many complain about some of the material taught at Yeshiva University; classes that include Greek mythology, or teachers that espouse heresy. However, Rabbi Soloveitchik (according to vol. II of R’ Rakeffet’s book) lauded YU’s independence, running a full yeshiva and a full university totally unconnected from each other but under the same roof. In Lander College, the rashei yeshiva have veto power over what is taught in the university. The YU experience allows a student to deal with the confrontation of the two unadulterated worlds in a safe context, rather than provide a fused experience that will provide less preparation for living according to the Torah in the “real” world. To my mind, Rav Soloveitchik’s perspective is more appropriate. The only question is whether there is sufficient rebbe-student connection for the exposure to the more questionable parts of the secular world to truly be safe. A pragmatic problem. But if this side issue were addressed, I would conclude that we do live in a world of dialectic, not synthesis, and that is what a school must prepare its students to face. We need to learn harmonious coexistence, and realize life is a never ending struggle for a unification only achieved at history’s culmination.

Note that without the resolution of that pragmatic problem, though, YU runs the risk of presenting students with questions they are ill prepared to answer. Dialectic is a way to live, but we can’t focus on it as though it were also the goal toward which we are striving — or else we run the risk of winning the battle by losing the war.