Aspaqlaria Blog

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The Rambam, Knowledge and Akrasia

(Version 3.) In the previous entry, I wrote: “Rav SR Hirsch argues that the Rambam only failed to find the meaning to the details of the mitzvos because his assumption that mitzvos serve to either (a) teach true monotheism, (b) wean us away from idolatry, or (c) create a society which enables us in these pursuits is based on Aristotle’s...

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The Rambam’s Philosophy and Mesorah

The argument over whether the Rambam’s philosophy had a place in Jewish Thought didn’t end in 1306 when the Maimonidian Controversies (that began in his lifetime) died down. Even to this day, in many circles his Guide for the Perplexed and the first four chapters of the Mishneh Torah are not studied. (For similar reasons, in these communities, when Chovos...

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A Retrospective Implication of Bitachon

Saying that I have bitachon, trust that Hashem sets up the world I experience to maximize my opportunity for success, implies that I believe that all of my failures are due to my own decisions. So, if I am not succeeding, there are really only two possibilities. Either I am not carrying my own side of the partnership. In which...

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Two Kinds of Law, Teshuvah, and Par’oh’s Heart

We open the Shemoneh Esrei by referring to Hashem as “Hashem Elokeinu vEilokei avoseinu — Hashem, our G-d, and the G-d of our ancestors….” Three distinct ways of perceiving G-d are being given here: The tetragrammaton refers to the G-d Who “Will be – Is – Was” (taking the letters as a contraction), who is “the cause of existence” (taking...

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Pagans in Our Midst

נענה רבן גמליאל ואמר: “צְדָקָה תְרוֹמֵם גּוֹי…” (משלי יד:לד) — אלו ישראל. דכתיב (דברי הימים א יז:כא) “וּמִי כְּעַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל…” [וגו’] “…וְחֶסֶד לְאֻמִּים חַטָּאת”(משלי שם) — כל צדקה וחסד שעכו”ם עושין, חטא הוא להן. שאין עושין אלא להתיהר בו. וכל המתיהר נופל בגיהנם, שנאמר (משלי כא:כד), “זֵד יָהִיר לֵץ שְׁמוֹ עוֹשֶׂה בְּעֶבְרַת זָדוֹן.” ואין עברה אלא גיהנם שנאמר (צפניה א:טו),...

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Taamei haMitzvos

Until adultery became too commonplace (in the days of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai, shortly after the destruction of the Beis haMiqdash) a wife whose husband suspected her of having an affair could forbid her from secluding herself with that man. If they are caught in seclusion, she is brought to the Beis haMidqash where a kohein would write the relevent...

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Don’t Present Oneself as a Liar!

צריך שיהיו תפילין עליו בשעת ק”ש ותפלה. A man must have tefillin on at the time of reading Shema and prayer [Shemoneh Esrei]. – Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 25:4 בשעת ק”ש ותפלה: ר”ל לכל הפחות בשעת ק”ש ותפלה וכדלקמן בסימן ל”ז ס”ב ואמרינן בגמרא כל הקורא ק”ש בלי תפלין הרי הוא כאלו מעיד עדות שקר בעצמו ח”ו ופירשו בתוספות לפי...

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No rest for the weary…

(This post is a different treatment of the same themes as “Mas’ei — the Journey as a Name of G-d“.) וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן. And Yaaqov settled in the land of his fathers’ dwelling, in the land of Canaan. – Bereishis 37:1 (איוב ט) “אם שוט ימית פתאום…” אנטונינוס שאל את רבינו, אמר לו: מהו דכתיב: אם שוט...

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Yir’ah and its Middos

The story so far… Words are how we divide the space of ideas into more specific “countries”. Our choice of vocabulary therefore not only reflects our thoughts, but shape them. And more importantly, they change what parts of our experience we notice, remember, and reinforce in our memories. We can’t really work on our yir’as Shamayim if we continue dividing...

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Torah im Small Jugs

What is the role of the laws of business listed in Choshein Mishpat (the quarter of the Tur and Shulchan Aruch on financial matters)? One approach could be that working for income is a necessary evil. It’s Hashem’s punishment to Adam for eating the forbidden fruit — “with the sweat of the brow shall you eat bread” (Bereishis 3:19). However,...

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The Country of Yir’ah

The time it took me to write my previous post grew long, so I cut it down to being set-up material for this one just to get it out the door. Here was the summary with which I left things: 1- Words are how we divide the space of ideas into more specific “countries”. Our choice of vocabulary therefore not...

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Awe and Fear

In a relatively recent post (“Confrontation and Babel“) I invoked a quote from R’ J.B. Soloveitchik’s Confrontation to highlight the linkage between language and worldview, and thus between language and religion. Rabbi Soloveitchik writes: The great encounter between God and man is a wholly personal private affair incomprehensible to the outsider – even to a brother of the same faith...

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The Avos Kept the Torah

There is a 3 way dispute on Yuma 28b about whether the avos kept all of halakhah, or just those mitzvos already given: Rav: The avos kept the entire Torah R’ Ashi: … even the rabbinic enactments! R Shimi bar Chiya: Avraham only kept the 7 mitzvos benei Noach and beris Milah. (If we’re talking all three avos, presumably the...

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Teaching Non-Jews Their Torah

In my previous post I discussed the basic problems with effective interfaith dialog. All of which may be unimportant if Judaism is a prosletizing religion. Not in the sense that anyone would suggest that Jews are obligated to convert all people to Judaism. But if there is an obligation to bring all humans to conform to the 7 mitzvos benei Noach then perhaps...

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Confrontation and Babel

וַיְהִי כָל-הָאָרֶץ שָׂפָה אֶחָת, וּדְבָרִים אֲחָדִים. And the whole earth was of one speech and of one set of ideas. – Bereishis 11:1 I blogged in the past about the difference between thinking in Biblical Hebrew tenses and in the tenses one finds in most contemporary languages and how the Holy Language does not distinguish between “he is a builder”...

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Rebooting on Sukkos

I discussed the following medrashim in more detail in Mesukim MiDevash for parashas Pinechas and in earlier blog posts “The Origins of Imperfection” and “Simchas Beis haSho’eivah“. In this post, I want to look at how each step in the progression I outlined before is addressed by the mitzvos of Sukkos. Enlarging the theme of what I said about Simchas...

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Mother’s Day and Teshuvah Week

We don’t feel a need to observe Mother’s Day, because the mitzvah of kibud av va’eim means that every day is Mother’s Day. – Rabbi Shpitzer, my 5th grade rebbe This sentiment is far from uniquely Rabbi Shpitzer’s — but he was my first rebbe from the chareidi world, and so the first person to give me this explanation. Twenty five...

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To Be or Not To Be

ת”ר: שתי שנים ומחצה נחלקו ב”ש וב”ה. הללו אומרים, “נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא, יותר משנברא.” והללו אומרים, “נוח לו לאדם שנברא, יותר משלא נברא.” נמנו וגמרו, “נוח לו לאדם שלא נברא, יותר משנברא.” עכשיו שנברא, יפשפש במעשיו. ואמרי לה: ימשמש במעשיו. Our Rabbis repeated: For two and a half years, Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel were divided. These were...

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Thoughts about Teshuvah

“Aspaqlaria: Aseres Yemei Teshuvah” (49 pages) is a collection of essays adapted from those that appeared here on the subjects of teshuvah, shofar, vidui, and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. It is in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format, ready for printing.

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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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Don’t Forget Daf Alef!

A thought that I had amidst all the talk about the start of Daf Yomi Cycle #13… But first: Mazal Tov to all the mesaymim! There has been much talk lately about one of AishDas’s central themes: seeing the forest for the trees. Eg the Spring 2012 issue of Klal Perspectives, and R’ Dr Gidon Rothstein’s recently published seifer, “We’re...

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Today’s Daas Torah

Here’s a theory that I developed recently [when this was posted in its first, much shorter, version on 26-Nov-04]… The gemara uses the term “da’as Torah” in a sense totally different than today’s usage. It appears once, in Chullin 90b, to ask whether a cited opinion on a halachic matter was from sources, which it calls “da’as Torah“, or whether...

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No Answers

Why do bad things happen? אמר אביי לא חרבה ירושלים אלא בשביל שחללו בה את השבת… אמר ר’ אבהו לא חרבה ירושלים אלא בשביל שביטלו ק”ש שחרית וערבית… אמר רב המנונא לא חרבה ירושלים אלא בשביל שביטלו בה תינוקות של בית רבן… אמר עולא לא חרבה ירושלים אלא מפני שלא היה להם בושת פנים זה מזה… אמר ר’ יצחק לא...

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Clear the Air Week

לא חרבה ירושלים, אלא בשביל שלא הוכיח זה את זה. Yerushalayim was only destroyed because they didn’t give tokhachah to [usually translated: rebuke] one another. – Shabbos 119b Not the sin we usually associate with the destruction of the Beis HaMiqdash. More often quoted is: מקדש ראשון מפני מה חרב מפני ג’ דברים שהיו בו ע”ז וגלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים…...