Aspaqlaria Blog

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Hashem and Morality

In his essay “Euthyphro”, Plato has Socrates ask a young student named Euthyphro, “Is what is righteous righteous because the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it is righteous?” The Jewish spin would be to ask: Is an act good because HQBH chose to make it a mitzvah, or did Hashem command us to do it...

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Introduction to Shaarei Yosher

I recently had the honor of translating the introduction to Rav Shimon Shkop‘s Shaarei Yosher. My love of this piece is only partly because Rav Shimon was the rebbe of my rebbe, Rav Dovid Lifshitz. In a few short pages, Rav Shimon defines holiness, gives the key to happiness and contentment, explains the path to chessed (lovingkindness), and the relationship...

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Birkhas Avos

This chart combines the ideas contained two earlier divrei Torah. The first is the idea of the Vilna Gaon that the first berakhah of the Amidah, Birkhas Avos, consists of iterations of variations on Moshe’s praise for Hashem – “HaKeil, HaGadol, HaGibbor VeHanorah.” See Mesukim MiDevash – Tetzaveh pp. 3-4. The second is the concept that the berakhah follows a...

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The Five Hardest Words

At Mussar Kallah V, R’ Ephraim Becker said something that really resonated with me. Of all the phrases in English that one could say — and mean what one says — which five words are hardest? R’ Becker offered the sentences: “I’m fine. How are you?” To say “I’m fine” and really mean it, one must have bitachon, belief that...

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Universalism

(Updated 12-Oct-2007: Added kaf zechus.) In today’s world, with the Orthodox community as tiny as it is, dealing with high costs of education and our own needs, our chessed tends to be focused on the helping others within our own communities. Another factor promoting our insularity is our need to self-define in order to survive. We are more likely to...

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The Butler’s Dilemma

A moral dilemma taken from the Dilbert Blog by newspaper cartoonist, Scott Adams: Let’s say you’re the butler to a billionaire who lives alone. The billionaire dies in his sleep. You know he owns a large piece of jewelry that no one else has seen, and you have access to it. If you steal the piece of jewelry, sell it,...

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Like the Laws of Pesach

חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹקֵינוּ אֶתְכֶם? וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמָר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן. The wise son of the Hagaddah asks, “What are the laws of testimony, the metarational laws, and the more intuitive laws which Hashem our G-d has commanded you?” The wise son already knows much about the...

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A Seder Thought

From this month’s Yashar (The Mussar Institute‘s newsletter), “How Mussar Affected My Life — Student Profile” by By Dorit Golan Cullen. (I wrote the majority of this entry in an email to The Mussar Institute’s list. It therefore was designed for people with less Jewish education but more commitment to a Mussar personal orientation than this blog’s usual target audience.)...

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This Year in Jerusalem

The first Satmerer Rebbe, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum, writes the following thought in Vayo’el Moshe. When Yaakov first meets Rachel, he is at a well with some shepherds, waiting for enough to come by to move the stone that protects the well. As she approaches, he asks the shepherds if all is well with his cousin Lavan, and they answer, “All...

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Pesach: Freedom from Preconceived Limitations

I appreciated this video from YU‘s Center for the Jewish Future. Something to think about: What does this notion of cheirus (freedom) say about the appropriate thoughts to have while cleaning the kitchen this Sunday? What does it say about matzah, about something which is a symbol of both poverty and oppression yet also of the possibility of a sudden...

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The Mishkan and its Utensils

The Gemara (Berakhos 55a) says that when Hashem told Moshe to appoint Betzalel to lead the building of the Mishkan, He first told Moshe to describe the building of the Mishkan itself, and then told him to describe each of the keilim (utensils) to be placed and used within it. However, when Moshe actually called Betzalel, he told Betzalel to...

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The Invisibility of Providence — How?

The fact is that Hashem hides His Presence from us. The question of why is an interesting one. Here I would like to look at part of the question of “How?” (I have no current plans for a part II, but I would be surprised if it never happens.) For example, Rav Dessler asserts the well-known formula like the amount...

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Terumah – The Legs of the Aron

In describing the design of the aron, the Torah says: וְיָצַ֣קְתָּ לּ֗וֹ אַרְבַּע֙ טַבְּעֹ֣ת זָהָ֔ב וְנָ֣תַתָּ֔ה עַ֖ל אַרְבַּ֣ע פַּֽעֲמֹתָ֑יו וּשְׁתֵּ֣י טַבָּעֹ֗ת עַל־צַלְעוֹ֙ הָֽאֶחָ֔ת וּשְׁתֵּי֙ טַבָּעֹ֔ת עַל־צַלְע֖וֹ הַשֵּׁנִֽית׃ And you should cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four pa’amos; and two rings shall be on its one side, and two rings on its other side....

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The 29th of Shevat

Today is the 80th Yahrzeit of R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkelzt”l, the Alter of Slabodka. The Alter’s school of mussar focused on gadlus ha’adam – the greatness of man. Anavah (modesty) needs to be distinguished from having a poor self image. A person who thinks he is worthless will not try to accomplish much, since he doesn’t think there is much...

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The 25th of Shevat

[This is an expansion on an earlier yahrzeitz’s post.] Today is the 25th of Shevat, the 124th yartzeit of Rabbi Yisrael Ben Ze’ev Wolf Lipkin of Salant. Rav Yisrael’s best-known work, his Iggeres haMussar is available on line in English (translated by R’ Zvi Miller as part of Or Yisrael) and in a bilingual edition (by R’ Menachem G. Glenn,...

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THE KING AND I

The following by Rabbi Avi Shafran was sent to my email box by Am Echad Resources. The point made, the dignity of man regardless of whether he is a wealthy member of our community, or an African American homeless man living on the streets, is one that needs hearing. Anyone who frequents the streets of lower Manhattan has seen him....

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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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I have a dream… part II

This morning I read an article I printed off Time Magazine‘s web site that relates to a similar topic as my previous entry. The author addressed the impact of imagination or recollection on the brain, not the soul. But given my position that the form of the brain is the “shadow” cast by the soul, different manifestations of the same...

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“I have a dream…”

I mentioned twice recently the connection between dimyon (imagination and the ability to recreate experiences) and desire, and the number of rishonim and acharonim who therefore associate it with the yeitzer hara, as in the sense of “and you will not veer after your hearts or after your eyes, which you often stray after”. (See this entry on the role...

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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...

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The Devastating Power of Leitznus

President Ford a”h‘s passing brought something into sharp focus for me. Here is how the OU remembers Mr. Gerald R. Ford: The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish Umbrella organization mourns the death of former President Gerald R. Ford. Mr. Ford, our country’s 38th president, took office amid tremendous internal divisions domestically and complex,...

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Why do we light the new candle first?

My son (4th grade) had a class Chanukah party, for which he was aked to prepare a devar Torah. A short vertl, a question and answer to fit in less than a minute. My son wanted to know why we light the Chanukah menorah starting from the left candle and working your way to the right. Usually mitzvos start on...

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Shiluach haQen

This entry is a continuation of the previous one. I – Shilu’ach haQein האומר על קן צפור יגיעו רחמיך ועל טוב יזכר שמך מודים מודים משתקין אותו: One who prays, “Upon the birds nest your mercy extends[, so too may you have mercy upon us]” … we silence him. – Mishnah Berakhos 5:3 (33b) פליגי בה תרי אמוראי במערבא רבי...

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Ruach Memalela

I – Ru’ach Memalela Here’s the creation of man, as described in the Torah. וַיִּיצֶר יְ-הוָה אֱ-לֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם, עָפָר מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו, נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים; וַיְהִי הָאָדָם, לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה. Hashem G-d formed man, dust of the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils a living spiritual-soul; and man became a living life-soul. – Bereishis 2:7 וּבְרָא יְ-יָ אֱ-לֹהִים יָת אָדָם, עַפְרָא...