Category: Machashavah

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The Simplicity of the Shofar

(Hat tip to my daughter Shifra, who made this point the centerpiece of her speech at her bas mitzvah celebration.)Halachically, a shofar must be a simple instrument. If it has a crack or anything that might shape the note, it is invalid. A cow’s horn, which is layered and therefore not a shofar but a shefarferet, is not usable for...

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Hashgachah Peratis as a level of abstraction

Say you were a chip designer, and you wanted to know why this particular trace (wire) on some particular microprocessor chip went from 0 volts to 3 volts….The answer could be given at various levels of abstraction. 1- In quantum mechanical terms: We could speak of the doped gallium arsenide that the chip is made out of, valence levels, electrons,...

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War

I am not a political pundit, so I don’t have much to say about current events. But how can we not discuss this topic?The Hebrew for war is milchamah. The root of the word is /לחם/ (bread or food in general). The gemara notes this point in Sukkah 52a, when it , and just read the conjugation, we need to...

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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,...

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What is Judaism?

Since Mosheh received the Torah in the Sinai, the Torah has evolved. It evolved according to the rules set out in the Torah itself, but still, halakhah has grown, courts of greater number and wisdom have overruled the precedent of inferior courts, etc… As the famous story goes (Menachos 29b): When Mosheh ascended to the Heavens, he found Haqadosh barukh...

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Chidush and Shinui

Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka and Rabbi Elazar ben Chisma went to Peki’in to visit their rebbe, Rabbi Yehoshua. Rabbi Yehoshua asked them to repeat something they had learned in the beis medrash since their last encounter. They answered, “We are your students, and we drink of your waters.” Rabbi Yehoshua replied, “Ee efshar leveis hamedrash belo chidush — It is...

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The Rambam on Time During Creation

I thought readers might enjoy the following sources on the Rambam on Creation. The Rambam writes: The following point now claims our attention. The account of the six days of creation contains, in reference to the creation of man, the statement: “Male and female created he them” (i. 27), and concludes with the words: “Thus the heavens and the earth...

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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...

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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...

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Types of Halachic Rulings

The following taxonomy of kinds of halachic ruling was culled from the Rambam, Hilkhos Mamrim ch. 2, and includes thoughts learned at a shi’ur given by R’ Yonasan Sachs (of RIETS and the Agudath Israel of Passaic). (I posted an earlier version on soc.culture.jewish, and from there made it into the group’s FAQ. I later repeated it on Avodah, and...

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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...

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Vetaheir Libeinu

We say in the Amidah for Shabbos and Yom Tov, “Vetaheir libeinu le’avekha be’emes”, usually translated simply as “And purify our hearts to serve You in truth.””Vetaheir libeinu” provides an interesting contrast to “veyacheid levaveinu li’ahavah ulyir’ah es shemekha — and unify our hearts to love and be in awe of Your name”, said in the last berakhah before the...

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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...

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Mima’amaqim

Shir haMa’alos: Mima’amaqim qarasikha Hashem A song of ascents: From the depths, I call You, Hashem – Tehillim 120:1 I’ve written a number of essays about tragedy from the perspective of philosophy and theory. But there are times when it simply isn’t the right approach.What do you say to someone who is in the middle of facing profound tragedy? A...

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The power of speech

I had an epiphany during leining this past Shabbos (parashas Bereishis). Such things are notoriously difficult to convey, but I’ll try anyway.Usually, shmuessin on the subject of shemiras halashon revolve around showing how much power is in speech, how speach is a real “thing”, and has a challos (impact) the world.I realized something, though: It’s the exact reverse! It’s not...

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The Gift of Justice

In the past couple of weeks, I posted a number of essays showing that reward and punishment are the effects of the person’s action. First, that in order for history to progress toward the messianic age, good must reinforce and perpetuate itself, and evil must self-destroy. Then, we looked at sources that say that reward and punishment are consequences of...

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Of Empty Cups

In the past couple of weeks, I posted a number of essays about the causal nature of reward and punishment. In short, that sin causes a change in the self, which in turn causes punishment as the world proceeds along the path to Hashem’s desired final state for history. In Mesukim MiDevash for parashas Haazinu, I relate this thought to...

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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...