Category: Psyche

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Materialism Addiction

I was asked the following question, and I was happy with how the reply came out. I just received permission to post the exchange, minus identifying information. Question: I learn in yeshiva kollel in Yerushalayim,  and I was bothered by something that I don’t find anyone speaks about or I can ask to help. Every Rosh haShana we want to...

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Why the Altar?

It makes a lot of sense that the first mitzvos the Torah teaches after the Aseres haDiberos would be the interpersonal mitzvos of parashas Mishpatim. And many rabbis have given sermons on this point. The only problem is — they aren’t. There is this brief interlude between the description of the national revelation and Mishpatim (20:18-22): יח וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כֹּה תֹאמַר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:...

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An Altar of Earth

We just looked at the section on the mizbeiach as being more about the role of the religious rite in a life of Torah. We don’t offer qorbanos — or daven, or shake lulav and esrog or… —  to rertreat from the world and find solace with G-d, but as part of our engagement with the world, a life-long process of self-refinement. There are...

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Pesach, Matzah, Maror

AishDas’s motto is lifted from the motto of HaOlim, founded by Dr. Nathan Birnbaum which existed from the 1910s through the 1930s, ending with the decimation of European Jewry. “Da’as, Rachamim, Tif’eres” — Knowledge of G-d coming from an intimate relationship with Him, mercy toward others, and harmony of mind and emotion. The idea is an understanding of the three...

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Why the Middle Matzah?

So, I was asked in the middle of the second seder: Why do we break the middle matzah for Yachatz? Is there some significance to it being the middle matzah? Here was my off-the-cuff answer, I wonder if it has any truth: This thought leverages ideas I developed in two earlier posts Bilvavi part I, and part II. Then, I was...

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Narcissistic Spirituality

I was at a Mussar conference once, and Rabbi Dr. Meir Levin asked me about the programming. He asked, roughly, “When did Mussar shift from being about giving to others to being about working on my own middos?” In general, this kind of self-focus is an error that is all too easy in many spiritual paths. Rabbi Shem Tov ibn...

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Hoshin Plan

At one point in my career I was working at a bank that took on a large initiative to formalize its processes. Everything done within the bank had to follow procedures, with the requisite paperwork completed, and every procedure had to conform to a standard called “Six Sigma“. Part of Six Sigma is an idea called Hoshin Kanri, or in...

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Da’as Rachamim Tif’eres

You might have noticed on the AishDas home page the motto “Da’as, Rachamim, Tif’eres” and wondered what it meant. It was something lifted from Dr Nathan Birnbaum’s organization “HaOlim”. (Note to the skimmer: Please do me the favor of at least skipping down to the conclusion of this post. You’ll get the final explanation, without the sources.) I recently found...

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Mixed Emotions

A long while ago I wrote (in “A use for every middah“): The Rambam (Hilkhos Dei’os 1:4) describes the ideal balance of middos as being the shevil hazahav, the golden mean. He writes (tr. Immanuel O’Levy), “The way of the upright is [to adopt] the intermediate characteristic of each and every temperament that people have. This is the characteristic that...

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Tevel is Called Holy

The Mishnah in Maaser Sheini 5:4 discusses the obligation to be finished with all maaser by the Pesach after the third and sixth years of the shemittah cycle. The mishnah describes messages sent to remind people to remove the maaser from their crops, so that can give it out or destroy it before the deadline. The Yerushalmi (31b) opens the...

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Holiness and Carrying the Yoke with the Other

(The following is based on a class I gave on Shabbat at Mussar Kallah IX, and is the further development of a number of ideas R’ Gil Student and I wrote for Mesuqim MiDevash.) The question of holiness is central to the title phrase of the sedra of Qedoshim. “Qedoshim tihyu hi Qadosh Ani – Be qadosh [holy, sacred] for...

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Mind, Perception, and Metaphysics

We developed a metaphysics based on the Rambam’s notion of the chain of forms or intellects (they are identical), called “mal’akhim” (angels), that bridge the gap from the Creator down to physical reality (part 1, part 2, part 3). Along the way we used the Leshem, a mequbal who considered himself bearer of the Vilna Gaon’s legacy, to draw strong...

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Form and InFORMation

So far (part 1, part 2, part 3) we discussed the Rambam’s notion of the chain of forms/intellects from the Creator down to physical reality , in comparison to the Qabbalah’s metaphor of a beam of Light. In particular, the Leshem writes that the Light shines from one world to the next which is what makes what serves as substance...

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Infinity and Thought

A little transfinite math as a prelude to the main point: Georg Cantor divided the concept of infinity into a number of subtypes. The number of integers (whole numbers) he called אo (read: alef-null). (Legend has it that he was tired of overloading meanings to Greek letters, and since he was Jewish, he chose alef.) Any infinite set that can...

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Reason and the Tripartite Soul

This post will draw from ideas found in two earlier ones. So, I’ll open with a repetition of some points. Reason (from Ru’ach Memalela): By my own experience, conscious thought happens two ways: the internal monologue we call a “stream of consciousness”, and by setting up thought-experiments to run through. For example, there are two ways to think through the...

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A Castle in the Air

(A continuation of my two Bilvavi posts [part 1, part 2]. The basic notion is the Maharal’s, that there are three aspects of the human soul, each living in a different universe: heaven, earth and the world between the person’s ears. And that each universe and therefore the corresponding aspect exists in order to enable three different relationships: between man...

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Bilvavi, part II

To summarize part I: I opened by raising the question why such a significant portion of the book of Shemos is dedicated to the building of the mishkan. The rest of the post didn’t seem to address that question, but instead developed a structural model of the human soul, based on the Maharal’s understanding of Avos 1:2 combined with the...

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Bilvavi, part I

בלבבי משכן אבנה להדר כבודו, ובמשכן מזבח אקים לקרני הודו, ולנר תמיד אקח לי את אש העקידה, ולקרבן אקריב לו את נפשי היחידה. In my heart I will build a mishkan to the magnificence of His honor, In this mishkan I will establish an altar to the pride of His glory, For an eternal lamp I will take for myself...

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Three Desires

In the last entry, I quoted part of Even Sheleimah, 2:1, by the Vilna Gaon. The full paragraph reads: The sum of all evil middos are ka’as[1] (anger), ta’avah (desire), and ga’avah[2] (egotism), which are “haqin’ah vehata’avah vehakavod — jealousy, desire and honor”.[3] Each includes two [parts]. Of ka’as: ra (evil) and mirma (duplicity). Ra is revealed, and mirmah is...

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Types of Thought: Dictionary

A while back, last time I had a chance to complete a blog entry, I promised a dictionary of terms for thought. When writing it up, I noticed I had MUCH more to say on da’as / dei’ah / yedi’ah than the other topics. In any case, here is the result. Da’as: According to the Rambam, yedi’ah is at the...

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Types of Thought: Gender Differences, part II

In the previous post we spoke of gender difference in terms of extending society’s reach vs developing what we have – R’ Aharon Soloveitchik’s “kibush vs yishuv” (as discussed in this devar Torah for parashas Chayei Sarah), and R’ SR Hirsch’s outside vs inside. (And Dear Abby’s goal vs process.) And in the post before that we started discussing the...

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Types of Thought: Progressions

The first of the requests of the Shemoneh Esrei is Birchas haDa’as, the blessing on understanding. We first state “Atah chonein le’adam da’as – You grant humanity understanding, umelameid le’enosh binah – and teach man comprehension.” What is da’as that is chonein, granted freely, whereas binah is taught, and therefore requires that the student participate by learning it? And why...

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Neither Random nor Predetermined

Free Will is difficult to define. We’re saying that people make choices that are neither predetermined by outside causes, and yet non-random. Moshe Koppel, in his book “Metahalakhah” proves that such a domain exists, but without showing us what that domain might contain. A random sequence is one whose next element is not predictable given the sequence’s history so far....

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Dialectics

As developed in the past, I believe that man’s dialectic nature is inherent in the purpose for which we were created. “It is the nature of good to have someone to whom to be good.” With these words the Ramchal explains Hashem’s purpose for creating man (Derech Hashem 1:2:1, see also Rav Saadia Ga’on, Emunos veDei’os). The human being can...

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Yeitzer haRa

(This entry draws heavily from one posted a couple of weeks ago.) I – Defining the Term What is the Yeitzer haRa? The simplest translation is the inclination to do evil. But people do not inherently know what is evil and what is not. The tinoq shenishba, the child who was taken captive and raised by bandits or a person...