Aspaqlaria Blog

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A Second Covenant

“To enter into a beris, a covenant, with Hashem your G-d, and in His oath, which Hashem makes with You today.” (Devarim 29:11) The Ramban comments that the beris mentioned here is a new one made in Arvos Mo’av, in addition to the one made at Har Sinai. (The Rav has some Torah on this as well.)I would like to...

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Qedushas Beis HaKenesses

When a Jew talks during davening in a shul in America, A shul in Netzarim is set aflame. That’s the lesson I took from this Elul. The feelings generated from pictures of the fires and celebrations made me realize something. I care a lot more about the sanctity of a synagogue and all that it stands for than what I...

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The Thermodynamics of History (revised)

(This is the second in what I hope will be a series of posts be”H about whether reward and punishment are caused by the actions they address, or meted out by Hashem more directly. The first can be found here. This post has been significantly revised and expanded since its original form.)When you drop a drop of ink into a...

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Midrashei Halakhah

There are two kinds of medrash (which should technically be called “midrash” to be grammatically correct). Midrashei Aggada are non-halakhic statements, those of mussar, Jewish thought, Qabbalah, and the like. The thought is usually connected to the text through details added to the narrative, or other stories intended as metaphor (whether in addition to being historical or not).I want to...

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The Marksman

I wanted to share the following thought sent in today’s email from Rabbi Zvi Miller of The Salant Foundation. The Salant Foundation emails a mussar thought and a suggestion for implementing it daily (when permissable, of course). I do not fully understand how the Ben Ish Chai’s thesis works, but it provides a good think-piece. I’ll therefore hold my opinion...

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The Lishmah of Interpersonal Mitzvos

I recently noticed a paradox when it comes to mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro (interpersonal mitzvos). What is the purpose of such mitzvos? To develop feelings of love and caring toward others; to expand our natural focus on ourselves to include others. Does the lishmah (lit: for itself) mean doing the mitzvah for the sake of doing a mitzvah? If it...

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On Destroying Synagogues

The Israeli Government wanted to have the army destroy the synagogues of Azza, to spare us the shame, the Palestinian triumphalism and the chillul Hashem (not that the government would necessarily use that term) that greeted me upon checking the news this morning.However, the unanimous decision of Israel’s rabbis was that it is prohibited for a Jew to tear down...

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Menuchas haNefesh

Picture being in a box. A large box, plenty of room to walk around, but very much with a “boxy” feel. There is a pervasive smell of tar; the box itself is wood sealed with tar. There’s a constant background smell of animals and food as well. Your rocking, floating on the water. The lighting is poor, barely present, and...

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Appropriate and Inappropriate Kulos, Good Chumros and Bad

It is this rupture in the traditional religious sensibilities [caused by the Holocaust and the subsequent displacement in geographic location] that underlies much of the transformation of contemporary Orthodoxy. Zealous to continue traditional Judaism unimpaired, religious Jews seek to ground their new emerging spirituality less on a now unattainable intimacy with Him, than on an intimacy with His Will, avidly...

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Did you cry? II

(This isn’t my usual style or topic for this blog. But as it approaches the deadline, sitting here on Tish’ah beAv afternoon, it would be inhuman not to feel a need to share my thoughts on the subject.)The haftorah for Devarim also must awaken thoughts of current events. “Your country is laid waste, your cities are burned by fire, your...

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Did you cry?

This morning (Shabbos parashas Mas’ei) we read about the borders of Israel (ch. 34:1-12). We read that the southwest corner of Israel is to be Nachal Mitzrayim, Wadi el-Arish (R’ Saadia Gaon) or the Pelusium arm of the Nile (Rashi).Regardless of what you think about the correctness of pulling out of Azza, whether you feel it’s monumental insanity or as...

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Defining Anavah

(Copied from a “Der Alter” post of mine, but Der Alter seems defunct. I copied the time-stamp from there. -mi 1/16/2008) Is anavah really “humility”? The basic problem of understanding the difference between the Rambam Hil Dei’os ch 1 and ch 2 is not anavah, but ka’as (anger). With ka’as he explicitly invokes the middle path in ch. 1, and...

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Divine Timelessness II, Hebrew Tenses

I – Perfect and Imperfect Hebrew verb conjugation is usually taught by making the student memorize tables organized by tense and person. The tenses on those tables are past, present, future and imperative (avar, hoveh, asid and tzivui, respectively). However, it’s unclear if these are the primary tenses in biblical Hebrew. Rather, many translators — from traditional Teimanim to Genesius...

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See but not Seen

The best day of my life — my rebirthday, so to speak — was when I found I had no head… I had for several months been absorbed in the question: what am I? The fact that I happened to be walking in the Himalayas at the time probably had little to do with it; though in that country unusual...

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The Psychological Model of Orechos Tzaddiqim

(First paragraph edited on July 16 in response to R’ Seth Kadish’s comments. -mi)The following is culled from the introduction to Orchos Tzaddiqim. Orchos Tzaddiqim, was written anonymously some time between 1306 and 1400 CE. It was written in Hebrew, but first printed in Yiddish. The earliest copies still existing are Hebrew, with great disparity in the versions of the...

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Hashem and Logic

Can G-d make a square-circle, or a thing which is both red and not-red, or a rock so heavy even He can’t lift it? In other words, must G-d obey the laws of logic?This question is more serious than it seems. In Principia Mathematica, Bertrand Russell derives all of mathematics from the roots of symbolic logic. This means that if...

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Conflict Resolution

The first miracle disproving the claims of Korach and his followers was when the earth opened up and swallowed them, and fire came and killed the 250 men who tried to offer incense instead of the kohanim. (Bamidbar 16:31-35) Now one would think that’s pretty definitive, and things would end there. However, how did the masses react? “The whole congregation...

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Tzitzis, Advance and Retreat

There are two descriptions of the mitzvah of tzitzis. First, from parashas Shelach (and Qeri’as Shema): … [T]hey should make for themselves tzitzis on the corners of their garments (bigdeihem) throughout their generations, and that they put on the tzitzis of each corner a thread of blue wool (techeiles). And it shall for you tzitzis, and you will see it...

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Modern Orthodoxy, Chareidism, and Mussar

Thinking about it, I don’t think the whole Torah uMadah (TuM) vs. Torah im Derekh Eretz (TIDE) vs. “Torah Only” distinctions which have become the borders between our communities are really compatible with Mussar. To simplify, let’s phrase the difference between Modern Orthodoxy and Chareidim as basically whether (1) chol is an opportunity whose risks must be mitigated or (2)...

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Charitzus – Decisiveness

The Cheshbon haNefesh opens his discussion of charitzus (decisiveness) by contrasting the human condition to that of a bird. If a bird is caught in a trap once or twice, it will reflexively avoid things that look like traps. The key term is “reflexively”. There is no conscious decision process. Everything very Pavlovian. A dog, he continues, operates similarly. A...

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Different Parts of the Same Body

We can draw a theme from parashas Bamidbar through the beginning of Beha’alosekha.In Beha’alosekha, Moshe and Aharon count the Jewish People “according to their families, by their father’s household” (1:2), divided by sheivet. Sheivet is defined patrilineally. Membership in the Jewish People as a whole is matrilineal, though. Why? We also find this asymetry in a law mentioned later in...

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Attributes of G-d

When we describe an attribute of G-d, we can’t mean “attribute” in the normal sense. If we said that G-d has properties that are not His essence, we would be saying He is divisible. Therefore, the Rambam takes these “attributes” to be one of two things: 1- descriptions of how G-d relates to man, or 2- descriptions of what He...

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Ki Arumim Heim

“And the snake was [more] arum than all the animals of the field…” (Bereishis 3:1)In this pasuq, “arum” is variously translated. JPS has “subtle”. Others have “sly”, “cunning”, and the like. In Iyov (5:12), Elifaz describes Hashem as One Who “annuls the thoughts of arumim”. In these contexts, it would appear that being an “arum” is no compliment. But in...

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A History of Mussar, part II

The Ramchal and the Gra The Ramchal lived in the early 18th century, primarily in Italy, but he moved to Akko shortly before his passing. He was primarily a qabbalist, although he also wrote Derekh Hashem, a philosophical work that does not overtly rely on his qabbalah. In Derekh Hashem the Ramchal describes the purpose of our time in this...

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A History of Mussar, part I

The Dawn of Mussar Why is Avraham our first forefather? It can’t be his independent discovery of Hashem as Creator and Lawgiver, as Sheim and Ever already established such a tradition. In fact, Yitzchaq and Yaaqov each went to the school established by Sheim and Ever rather than relying on their parental tradition!The difference is that Noach and his children...