Avodah Mailing List

Volume 14 : Number 034

Thursday, November 25 2004

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Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 16:54:47 -0500 (EST)
From: "Micha Berger" <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: Requesting this list to list machshava classics

R Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer wrote:
> Sorry. as RYBS, great as he may have been, refuses to incorporate Mussar
> and only the smallest smidgen of Chassidus and Kabbalah in his writings,
> he is inadmissible as a candidate for "the greatest ba'al machashava
> of [the] generation." To cite him as such is to misunderstand machashava. I
> suggest the writer consult the classic work "Perakim b'Machasheves
> Yisrael" by Rabbi Yisraeli and see how often RYBS is cited. V'ha'maskanah
> berurah.

Yes, that RYBS's machshavah is very different than that of yourself and R'
Yisra'eli's. I do not see much else. Even if you broaden your definition
to include proto-mussar (such as Hilchos Dei'os's discussion of "derekh
Hashem") and proto-chassidus, so as to avoid anachronism, you're still
excluding the thought of entire kehillos of O Jews from the concept. But
you'd still have to define what these earlier versions of these mesoros
are. How does Emunos veDei'os qualify?

By your definition, "19 Letters", which doesn't touch mussar and
only cites chassidus in a mention legenai, wouldn't be a work of
machshavah. Nor the ta'amei hamitzvos of the Ben Ish Hai.

I'd find such a categorization idiosyncratic. But as we're only discussing
terms, I can't label it "wrong".

If, as I thought you meant, you would exclude RYBS's work from the
ruberic "machshavah" because his questions are existential rather
than theological, I would have at least seen a viability of your
conclusion. (Although I still don't know if I'd agree.) RYBS discusses
the experience and impact of mitzvos. He doesn't really deal with the
questions of ba'alei machashahvah. As I took for granted in my earlier
post, I think this is a product of his Brisker heritage. It would be
somewhat excusable for a Brisker to look at the consequences of mitzvos
and the nature of halakhah, but certainly not to seek first principles
that would precede din.


Micha Berger                 Time flies...
micha@aishdas.org                    ... but you're the pilot.
http://www.aishdas.org                       - R' Zelig Pliskin
Fax: (270) 514-1507

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Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 15:21:31 -0500
From: "Zev Sero" <zev@sero.name>
Re: locusts

On Mon, 2004-11-22 at 13:47 -0500, IFriedman@wlrk.com wrote:
> As I understand it, there is an ancient, established Yemenite tradition
> regarding which species of locusts are kosher. Since Ashkenazi Jews
> don't appear to have any tradition on this subject (as opposed to a
> conflicting tradition), could an Ashkenazi rely on the Yemenite mesorah
> and start scooping up locusts in Eilat this morning for breakfast?

I've heard (i.e. unreliable rumour) that the Rav of Eilat has determined
that the locusts that showed up there are unfortunately not of the kosher
species, and are therefore an unalloyed makah.

Zev Sero

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Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 17:46:07 -0500 (EST)
From: "R Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer" <rygb@aishdas.org>
Re: Asking questions

Ari D. Kahn said:
> As for the definition that one need cite Mussur, chasidus and kabbala
> to be considered. But to be established as a baal machshava you need to
> be included in Rav Yisraeli's classic work. Clearly this is an arbitrary
> definintion. If it works for you - great.

You miss the point. If you look at the table of contents of Rabbi
Yisraeli's work, you will see what the great issues in machashava are.
They are overwhelmingly issues not addressed by RYBS, or at best

> The Rambam RASAG, the kuzari all clearly fall short because of the
> lack of the first criteria - not citing Mussur, chasidus and kabbala. I
> assume that Rav Yisraeli can save them as ballie machshava bdieved. Rav
> Yisraeli did not have access to the vast majority of the Rov's thought -
> so the number of citations is irrelevant.

Again, you miss the point. The Rambam, RSG et al brought all available
resources to their time to which they had access to bear - those they
agreed with and those they did not. For a latter source to ignore the
developments in the field unto his time is not excusable.

> The rov does cite Gdolie Chassidus and Kabbalh, though I suspect he was
> less inclined to cite Balie musur. I would offer a different definition of
> machsava - someone who can articulate the non-halachik parts of chazal -
> someone who understands what chazal says between the lines. Someone who
> understands midrashim and aggaadata. This you will find in the Rov's
> writings and teachings.

I would not call that a Baal Machashava. I would call that a Choshev.
Once, however, we are on the topic, I am not aware that RYBS spent much
time or ink explaining aggados Chazal in a machashava'dik fashion. Where
are these biurim? I would like to see them.

> As far as the tradition of Rav Chaim please read what the Rov wrote,
> which he says he heard from his father in the name of Rav Chaim - there
> is nothing scandalous - read it. Rav Chaim says that as long as there
> was a contradiction Avraham did not question he proceeds toward the task
> at hand - the akaida (he implies that Avraham has emunah that a third
> verse would resolve the contradiction).

I find it incomprehensible to assume that RCS seriously meant to say
that if one finds a contradiction one should not attempt to resolve it.

Kol Tuv,
rygb@aishdas.org   www.aishdas.org/rygb

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Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 16:47:00 -0600
From: "Kohn, Shalom" <skohn@Sidley.com>
Asking questions

[Could we kindly refrain from using terminology specific to a single
kehillah? "The Rav" means different things to different people. In much
of Israel, RSZA is "haRav", for example. There are people to whom this
usage outside of that particular community sounds presumptuous, an implied
"our rav is *the*, as opposed to yours..." We try very hard to keep Avodah
a welcoming place for observant Jews of all derakhim.
[It's been occuring on this discussion too frequently for me to wait
for permission to edit on every post.
[Thank you. -mi]

R, Daniel Eidensohn cited the following, in apparent support of the general
theme of not asking questions to which there are no (apparent) answers:
> Halakhic Man by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik: [note 5 page 143]
>> 12), Abraham arose and asked: Yesterday You told me "For in Isaac shall
>> seed be called to thee" (Gen. 21: 12), and today You told me "Take now,
>> thy son, thine only son... and offer him there for a burnt-offering"....
>>                    I once heard from my father [R. Moses Soloveitchik]
>> in the name of our great master, R. Hayyim of Brisk [R. Soloveitchik's
>> paternal grandfather], that as long as the third harmonizing verse had
>> not yet been revealed, Abraham had no right to question God's word,
>> and for this reason he contained himself until the end of the epic. The
>> pangs of consciousness of the man of God and the towering and awesome
>> strength of his self-restraint shine forth here in a clear and pure light.

It seems to me, as expressed by the Rav, that the explanation of the episode
is thus: (a) until the third verse was said, Avraham was obliged to assume
that Hashem's second command superceded his prior promise, and thus could
not properly have questioned why Hashem had changed his mind or was being
inconsistent. Rather, Avraham was obliged to assume that Hashem know his
second command sounded like an absolute directive, and so, for Avraham
to search the command for possible ambiguities would have been an act of
disobedience. Once the third verse was said, however, Avraham understood
that it was a "katuv hashlishi" situation ("third harmonizing verse") --
because otherwise, what was the purpose of saying it -- so that the first
promise was NOT superceded, but needed to be reconciled. In essence,
Hashem's statement of the third verse is like His telling Avraham about
Sodom, or telling Moshe "haraf mimeni v'achalem k'rega," which both Avraham
and Moshe properly interpreted as an invitation to argue and/or plead. which
right they otherwise would not have had.

As I previously wrote, I would not extrapolate from this that asking
questions is prohibited, and agree with various other comments that the
tone and purpose of the question is the key.


Shalom L. Kohn
Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood LLP

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Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 14:58:56 -0800 (PST)
From: Harry Maryles <hmaryles@yahoo.com>
Re: Requesting this list to list machshava classics

Please define Machshava. AISI, there should only be one definition
but as I have been skimming the posts on this thread there seems to
be a controversy as to the definition. I think brefore any intelligent
discussion can take place, the defintion ought to be made clear.

It had been my understanding that Machshava was a sort of Mussar based
philosophy of Judaism. Is this not the case?


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Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 00:01:59 +0100
From: Minden <phminden@arcor.de>
Re: Requesting this list to list machshava classics

Has anyone mentioned R. Dr. Isaac Breuer yet? Fascinating and deep, as
I'm sure many of you know. Or would you consider him more a philosopher
than a baal machshove?

ELPh Minden

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Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 18:12:04 -0500
From: Zeliglaw@aol.com
Re: Knowing and Believing

See also Al HaTeshuvah in which RYBS devotes much analysis to the
distinction between knowing and believing in HaShem.

Steve Brizel

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Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 18:30:29 -0500 (EST)
From: "Jonathan Baker" <jjbaker@panix.com>
Hearing Aids

From: "Schoemann, Danny (Danny)** CTR **" <schoemann@lucent.com>
> Interestingly enough - according to one of his biographies (HaMoar
> haGadol, by his nephew YM Stern, pg 59)- this is one of RSZA's earliest
> tshuvos. Supposedly when he was a teenager his mother became hard of
> hearing, and he went about saving his pocket-money to buy her a hearing
> aid, and then investigating the halachos relevant to Shabbes, megila,
> etc. and her hearing aid.

I wonder what sort it was? There were some based on telephone technology,
table-top sized, around 1900, but vacuum-tube models didn't come out until
much later, the 1920s or 1930s, and still would have been rather heavy.
Also, he wouldn't have been a "teenager" given that he was born in 1900.

I don't think there was anything other than carbon-microphone models
back then, which depend on tiny sparks being created among the carbon
particles. There wouldn't have been a volume control, as we have on
modern hearing aids. Volume was changed by having a bigger or smaller
microphone, according to various sites on "hearing aid history".

Do his teshuvos reflect the kind of technology being used?

   - jon baker    jjbaker@panix.com     <http://www.panix.com/~jjbaker> -

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Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 19:05:27 -0500
From: "" <hlampel@thejnet.com>
Torah and science

zlochoia@bellatlantic.net (R. Yitzchok Zlochower) posted on Nov 14, 2004:
> The great antiquity of the earth
> is attested to by various independent lines of evidence. ... The idea that
> "natural law" that we observe in this era did not apply for the first
> 6 days (although the sun rose and set in the same 24 hour cycle since
> the 4th day), or that the earth preceded the heavenly bodies is a large
> mouthful to swallow.

Zvi Lampel responded (Mon, 15 Nov 2004):
> If you have been following the discussion in Avodah, you must know that
> this idea is held by Rambam and others very strongly, and was used to
> debunk the "obvious fact" that the world is eternal--even though it
> certainly looks/looked that way.

R. Meir Shinnar writes:
> While I am aware that some hold this idea, I don't think it is the rambam
> - and would like evidence to the contrary. Nor am I aware of any other
> major rishon who would hold explicitly that the world was created in such
> a fashion that applying our reason would lead to wrong conclusions in
> any area - and would like explicit citations. This is not moreh nevuchim
> 101 - not even 401 - and I think is actually against the more nevuchim -
> even if it today quite common. It isn't that the rambam thinks that the
> purpose of the rocks is to tell us the age - but that we can rely on
> any deduction our reason reaches from them..

What I said is precisely the position of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim,
Part II, chapters 17 and 30. I would love to transcribe his magnificent
words and post them, but it will take some time. Meanwhile, please look
up these two wonderful citations.

Zvi Lampel

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Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 11:22:30 +0200
From: Ari Zivotofsky <zivotoa@mail.biu.ac.il>
Re: locusts

IFriedman@wlrk.com wrote:
>As I understand it, there is an ancient, established Yemenite tradition
>regarding which species of locusts are kosher. Since Ashkenazi Jews
>don't appear to have any tradition on this subject (as opposed to a
>conflicting tradition), could an Ashkenazi rely on the Yemenite mesorah
>and start scooping up locusts in Eilat this morning for breakfast?

Your facts are correct and you have phrased the question exactly as I
phrased it to several poskim.
Most did not relate to the formulation of the question and gave a wide
variety of reasons.
In summary, most Yemenites said an ashkenazi can eat, most sephardim
and Ashkenazim said no, but for a multiplicity of reasons, and some,
including some prominent ones, said yes.

[Email #2. -mi]

Shaya Potter wrote:
>I believe we had this discussion a while ago (perhaps in regards to the
>Zebu). I think someone brought down that the traditions are transferable
>(according to the Rambam?), so it depends on if the yemenites have a
>tradition to eat them, while we don't have that tradition (would seem
>to imply that it's transferable) as opposed to us having a tradition
>NOT to eat them (and hence would be neged the yemenite tradition).

Again, your formulation is the way I had had formulated it.

[Email #3. -mi]

Zev Sero wrote:
>I've heard (i.e. unreliable rumour) that the Rav of Eilat has determined
>that the locusts that showed up there are unfortunately not of the kosher
>species, and are therefore an unalloyed makah.

Unfortunately, this has been a spreading rumor.
I think he simply said ashkenazim should not eat.
but there is NO question that this is the species for which there is
a mesorah.
I know many who have checked, and I too, though less expert, also checked.

As the one of the organizers of the conference and the one who spoke
about chagavim, permit me to make a few points.
None of the chagavim escaped - one that Greenspan had in his pocket,
temporarily escaped. But all were accounted for and none entered the
US ecosystem.

The Yemenite was totally upfront. He has indeed eaten that species and
would again.

[Email #4. -mi]

Gil Winokur wrote:
>Chagavim were a topic of discussion at this years OU conference on the
>Mesorah of birds and animals. An OU Daf Hakashrus which addresses
>the issues of mesorah transfer (with citations) can be found at
>Several possibilities were discussed regarding the transfer of mesorah
>of chagavim from the Yemenite community to others, including the opinion
>that a non-Yemenite may eat chagavim, provided he is in Yemen anomgst
>members of the community.

As I posted earlier, there are as many opinions as to if, and if not,
why not, an Ashkenazi may eat chagavim as there are poskim. The OU came
out against. But that is not a surprise. They also forbad ashkenazim
from relying on other mesorahs for birds, a chumrah not endorsed by many
poskim of previous generations.

Ari Zivotofsky

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Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 10:40:52 +0200
From: Daniel Eidensohn <yadmoshe@012.net.il>
Re: Asking questions

R Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer wrote:
>I find it incomprehensible to assume that RCS seriously meant to say
>that if one finds a contradiction one should not attempt to resolve it.

I just spoke to Rav Shurkin about the issue. He said the vort of Reb
Chaim is cited all over the place and there is no question as to its
validity. When I asked him how this relates to asking questions in
general he said "It is only in regards to questioning G-d e.g., reward
and punishment, tzadik v'rah lo. It is not a general pronouncement about
asking questions." He noted that in his second volume dealing with Rav
Soloveitchik - he cites a statement that - concerning the tzibor the
issue of questioning is different than for an individual. Therefore Moshe
questioned the suffering of the Jews and we have Eicha. Avraham and Aaron
were not to ask questions - even though they obviously were upset. Thus
it is not an issue of being stupid but of controlling one's thoughts.

In summary the derasha only applies to questioning G-d. It is not limited
to the Torah but applies to life in general. There is a distinction
between the problems of an individual and that of the tzibor. It is also
not a din concerning intelligence but rather what is expressed and how
it is expressed.

Daniel Eidensohn

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Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 09:08:58 -0500
From: "Yosef Gavriel & Shoshanah M. Bechhofer" <ygb@aishdas.org>
Re: Requesting this list to list machshava classics

At 06:01 PM 11/23/2004, [R ELPh Minden] wrote:
>Has anyone mentioned R. Dr. Isaac Breuer yet? Fascinating and deep, as
>I'm sure many of you know. Or would you consider him more a philosopher
>than a baal machshove?

A choshev - one of my favorite - but not necessarily a ba'al machashavah.

[Email #2. -mi]

At 05:58 PM 11/23/2004, RHM wrote:
>Please define Machshava. AISI, there should only be one definition...
>It had been my understanding that Machshava was a sort of Mussar based
>philosophy of Judaism. Is this not the case?


It is the involvement in analysis and explication of issues including:
    Emunah (all 13 Ikkarim)
    Darchei Avodah
    Taamei HaMitzvos
    The Role of Am Yisroel
    Torah and Science
    Ahavas Hashem
    Yiras Shomayim
    Jewish Society
    Galus and Geulah
    Aggados Chazal
    Tachlis HaBeriah
    Hashem and History


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Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 10:57:52 -0500 (EST)
From: "Sholom Simon" <sholom@aishdas.org>
Elokai N'tzor - dikduk

A question from a friend of mine:

In the individual coda to the amida, Elokai N'tzor, there appears the
phrase "uv'mitzvotecha tirdof nafshi." A simple translation of this might
be, "may my spirit pursue Your commandments." However, I'm curious about
the use of the preposition "b-" after the verb "r-d-f." The biblical
concordance shows that, when the Bible refers to the object of pursuit, it
either uses the preposition "ahar" (or "aharei") (e.g. Ex. 14:4), or it
does not use any preposition (e.g. Lev. 26:7, 8). There is no instance in
the Bible of "b-" introducing the object of pursuit. When "b" is used
after "r-d-f," it indicates the location of the pursuit (Josh. 8:24 --
"bamidbar asher r'dafum bo" -- the wilderness where they pursued them) or
perhaps the manner of the pursuit (Ps. 83:16 -- "tir'd'fem basa'arecha" --
pursue them in/with Your storm).

Does anyone know of any rabbinic usage of "r-d-f" followed by "b-"
where the noun following the "b-" is the object of the pursuit (other
than the Elokai N'tzor passage itself, which is in tractate Brachot?

Sholom Simon

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Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 01:14:33 -0500
From: Isaac A Zlochower <zlochoia@bellatlantic.net>
Torah and science

R. Yitzchok Zlochower wrote:
>> Another reader seems to feel that treating the 6 days of creation as 6 of
>> the more recent eras in the very ancient history of the world is contrary
>> to the Rambam in his Moreh (citation, please). 

From: "Jonathan Ostroff" <jonathan@yorku.ca>
> Please quote the reader's words as we need to be precise when
> discussing this Rambam. You may want to look at past archives including
> <http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol13/v13n102.shtml#09>

>> What of it? Why would we
>> need to conform to the ideas about nature of *any* of the classical
>> sources?

> Perhaps I misunderstand RYZ, but it seems to me that this type of
> remark belongs more on talk.origins than Avodah. Do "classic sources"
> include the written and oral Torah as transmitted to us by Chazal? The
> gemora in Chulin (5a) says that one who desecrates Shabbat denies
> the whole Torah for he says false testimony against the fact that G-d
> created the world in six days and rested on the 7th. The shechita of
> such a renegade is neveilah and his edus is possul. Here we have
> fundamental halacha and mitzvah dependent on a fact of nature.

Yes, more precision is needed from all the participants. I did not
asterisk "any" in the last full line cited above. You chose to highlight
the word - not I. Those who have read my postings over the years
know that I do not deliberately try to create unnecessary controversy.
However, since you did read the implication of my phrasing, I am obliged
to elaborate.

The remark about not being required to accept ideas about the natural
world from classical sources does belong on this forum, despite your
objection. Such notions have been debated repeatedly on this forum.
There are exceptions. Even the more liberal amongst us accept that
the natural world and its laws had a Creator and Author, and that the
miraculous events explicitly mentioned in the torah did, indeed, occur.
 I would argue further that the sequence of creation events related in
Genesis I reflects physical reality - but not in the literal sense
of the words. The evident meaning of the 6 creation days are six 24
hour periods followed by a shabbat day. That is the way the torah
was understood for millenia, and I certainly have no intention or
desire to possibly lower the importance of the shabbat day and weaken
its observance. When I write of creation eras and a shabbat era,
that relates to an esoteric type teaching which is aimed at making the
torah more credible and vital for those who understand and accept the
scientific evidence for the great antiquity of the earth. Those who
do not understand such evidence or who can not accept such deviation
from tradition should feel free to disregard my comments on the matter.
As an example of the hidden meanings that have scientific credibility,
consider the magisterial opening sentence of the torah which serves
as the brief introduction to the chapter. "Bereishit bara Elokim et
hashamayim v'et ha'aretz". The traditional translation (KJV) " In the
beginning, G-D created heaven and earth" is a near-literal rendition
that preserves the power and spirit of the words (in contrast to some
newer translations). Giving this verse a modern flavor and resolving
some outstanding questions, I would translate/interpret it as "In the
beggining (of time), the aspect of G-D as the source of the energy
and laws governing creation was revealed, together with space (shamayim
from sham - in plural) and moving matter (eretz from rutz)". The second
verse can be read as a brief graphic description of the ruination of the
existing order by an enormous asteroidal impact that the earth suffered
65 million years ago. The subsequent events occuring in eras of varying
duration then lead in stages to the "modern" world which now featured
a human couple with whom the Creator communicated. Paranthetically,
the evidence for the age of the earth and the universe can be found on
the internet at <www.talkorigins.org> and more briefly at the USGS site
under the Google heading "age of the earth". You will note that much
of the evidence is rather removed from issues of a possibly far greater
speed of light early in creation that Jonathan has focussed on and
 which I hope to disprove in a subsequent post..

Concerning RJO's comment that Chazal in T.B. Chulin 5a have declared that
one who says false testimony (and denies the whole torah by publically
desecrating the shabbat) against the fact that G-D created the world
in 6 days and rested on the 7th is a renegade whose shechitah and court
testimony is invalid. He concludes that we have here a fundamental
halacha dependent on a fact of nature. That type of phrasing may occur
elsewhere in halacha. It does not occur in Chulin 5a or in Eruvin 69b.
There the phrasing is limited to the idea that publically and knowingly
desecrating the shabbat is tantamount to denial of the entire torah.
I don't believe that anyone participating on this list will question that
conclusion. Asserting that creation really occurred in 6 eras rather
than 6 days - despite the use of the term "days" both in the creation
narrative and in the rationale given in the torah for observing the 7th
day as a day of cessation from purposeful work is not a rebellious stance.
It is an assertion that there is a hidden meaning to the word that it is
now appropriate to reveal. A rather different glimpse of the ancient
world and the flexible meaning of the word, yom, is given by the tehillim
chapter that we say every shabbat, "A prayer by Moshe, the man of G-D.
Lord, You have been a refuge for us through the generations, before
mountains were born and eath and habitation were formed. From one world
to the next, Your are Lord....For a thousand years are in Your Eyes like
yesterday that passed and like a watch in the night".

Yitzchok Zlochower

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Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 14:12:43 -0500
From: "Yosef Gavriel & Shoshanah M. Bechhofer" <ygb@aishdas.org>
Re: Asking questions

At 03:40 AM 11/24/2004, [R Daniel Eidensohn] wrote:
>I just spoke to Rav Shurkin about the issue. He said the vort of Reb
>Chaim is cited all over the place and there is no question as to its
>validity. When I asked him how this relates to asking questions in
>general he said "It is only in regards to questioning G-d e.g., reward
>and punishment, tzadik v'rah lo. It is not a general pronouncement about
>asking questions."...
>In summary the derasha only applies to questioning G-d. It is not limited
>to the Torah but applies to life in general. There is a distinction
>between the problems of an individual and that of the tzibor. It is also
>not a din concerning intelligence but rather what is expressed and how
>it is expressed.

And that it is cited all over the place proves, exactly, what? That it has 
been said over many times, right? Not more than that.

The language of the purported quotation is clear and unambiguous, and that 
is why it is unbelievable. And R' Shurkin, kevodo b'mekomo munach, is 
simply spinning. It is against explicit Chazals and Rishonim and is a 
simply unacceptable except as sichas chullin.


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Date: Thu, 25 Nov 2004 18:09:21 EST
From: T613K@aol.com
Three angels real or a vision?

In a message dated 10/30/2004:

T613K@aol.com  wrote:

>>*[BTW I was reading the parsha today and don't see how  the whole story of 
the angels could have been just a vision Avraham  had, beginning to end.]*<< 

And then R' Zev Sero wrote:

>>And yet,  it *has* to have at least started as a vision, because it's an
explicit  passuk that Hashem only appears to ordinary nevi'im (as opposed
to Moshe)  in dreams and visions.  And once you start out with it as a
vision,  it's not clear to me where you can point a finger and say that
at this  point Avraham woke up, and the rest of the story took place in
physical  space.<<

Always a  little behind, I just came on this piece of old mail that I never 
responded  to.  It's about Parshas VaYera, but I don't want to wait until this 
parsha  rolls around against next year, because I'm afraid I'll forget about 
it by  then.  

The first pasuk of the parsha--"VaYera elav Hashem"--is the whole  vision.  
The pasuk doesn't say what Hashem appeared to Avraham for, but  Rashi says it 
was for bikur cholim.  

The very next pasuk--where Avraham looks up and sees the three men--is the  
beginning of an actual sequence of events, not a vision.  There is simply  no 
other point at which it is possible to say, "Up to here it was a vision--from  
here on, it really happened."  You can't say the animals were slaughtered  in 
a vision but eaten in reality, or that Sarah kneaded dough in a vision but  
laughed at the prophecy in reality, or that she never laughed at all except in  
Avraham's vision!  How fair would that be, to blame your wife for something  
she did in a dream you had about her?!  You can't say the whole visit to  
Avraham was a vision but the destruction of Sodom was real.  Etc.

You are left with one legitimate question, but Rashi has foreseen it, and  
provided two possible answers.  

Sorry for digression, but I have to set up your one possible  question:  

pasuk 1:  Hashem appeared to Avraham [prophetic vision; Avraham in  state of 
altered consciousness, perhaps asleep]

pasuk 2:  Avraham sees three men and runs towards them, and bows to  them  
[reality:  he must now be awake and alert]

pasuk 3:  Avraham says, "Hashem, please don't pass by (or pass from  the 
presence of) Your servant"--i.e., "Please let me take care of my guests but  I 
still want the rest of this nevuah/vision/Divine visit just as soon as I'm  
finished with them."  [must be altered consciousness/sleep again]

There is where your legitimate question arises.  You might say,  what, 
Avraham is asleep, then briefly awake while he runs to his guests, then  suddenly 
asleep again, and then in the fourth pasuk, suddenly awake again as he  tends to 
his guests?!

So Rashi answers, A.  He's not saying "Hashem, don't pass by"--he's  saying 
to the apparent leader of the three men, "My lord, please don't pass by,  stay 
here a while and be my guest."

or, B.  He's speaking to Hashem but the pesukim are not in order--ein  mukdam 
ume'uchar--and the actual order was, he saw the angels [presumably while  not 
fully conscious], asked Hashem to please stick around, THEN ran to the  men.  

Rashi certainly seems to be assuming that the events were real, not part of  
a vision.  And he has anticipated your possible objections.

 -Toby  Katz

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Date: Thu, 25 Nov 2004 15:30:49 -0500
From: "" <hlampel@thejnet.com>
Re: Torah and Allegory

In the following citation from Moreh Nevuchim (II:25), I would like to call attention to the last parameters (emphasized in my copy) the Rambam sets for interpreting scripture allegorically. The Rambam rejects interpretations that “imply denial and nullification of all the peshutay haTorah, which no enlightened person doubts are meant k’fi ha-peshutim ha-heim.” I don’t think anyone in the “Torah and Allegory” discussions has mentioned this condition so far, although I realize exercising this condition would be quite subjective. Nevertheless,  I think it is worthwhile to note the understanding that there are indeed peshutay haTorah that "no enlightened person should doubt are meant k’pshuto." And the context of the Rambam is not just the mitzvos, but the narratives.


WE do not flee from the idea that the world always existed merely on the basis of the  scriptural texts indicating that the world was created. For such passages are no more numerous than those indicating that God is a corporeal being. Nor are the gates of interpretation closed before us...

For two reasons, however, we have not done so, and have not accepted the Eternity of the Universe. First, the Incorporeality of God has been demonstrated
by proof, and so those passages in the Bible, which in their literal sense
contain statements that can be refuted by proof, must and can be
interpreted otherwise. But the Eternity of the Universe has not

Secondly, our belief in the Incorporeality of God is NOT CONTRARY TO
ANY OF THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF OUR RELIGION, and it is NOT CONTRARY TO THE WORDS OF ANY PROPHET. ...On the contrary, Scripture itself teaches the Incorporeality of God. ...

If we were to accept the Eternity of the Universe as taught by Aristotle--that everything in the Universe is the result of fixed laws, that Nature does not change, and that there is nothing supernatural--we would necessarily be in opposition to the foundation of our religion, we should disbelieve all miracles
and signs, and certainly reject all hopes and fears derived from
Scripture, unless the miracles are also explained figuratively. The
Allegorists amongst the Mohammedans have done this, and have thereby arrived at absurd conclusions.

If, however, we accepted the Eternity of the Universe in accordance with... Plato--that the heavens are likewise transient--we would not be in opposition to the fundamental principles of our religion. This theory would not imply the rejection of miracles, but, on the contrary, would admit them as possible. The Scriptural text might have been explained accordingly, and many expressions
might have been found in the Bible and in other writings that
would confirm and support this theory. But there is no necessity
for this expedient, so long as the theory has not been proved. As
there is no proof sufficient to convince us, this theory [of Plato] need not be
taken into consideration, nor the other one [of Aristotle]. We take the text of the Bible plainly, and say that it teaches us a truth which we cannot
prove. And [historic traditions of]the miracles we possess are evidence for the correctness of our view.

Accepting the Creation, we find that miracles are possible, that
Revelation is possible, and that every difficulty in this question is
removed. We might be asked, Why has God inspired a certain
person and not another? Why has He revealed the Law to one
particular nation, and at one particular time? Why has He
commanded this, and forbidden that? Why has He shown through
a prophet certain particular miracles? What is the object of these
laws? And why has He not made the commandments and the
prohibitions part of our nature, if it was His object that we should
live in accordance with them? We answer to all these questions:
He willed it so; or, His wisdom decided so. Just as He created the
world in the form it has, when he wanted to, without our knowing why His will or His wisdom decided upon that peculiar form, and upon that peculiar time, so we do not know why His will or wisdom determined any of the things mentioned in the preceding questions.

But if we assume that the Universe has the present form as the result of necessity, there would be occasion for the above questions. And these could only be answered in an OBJECTIONABLE WAY, IMPLYING DENIAL AND NULLIFICATION OF ALL THE PESHUTAY HATORAH, WHICH NO ENLIGHTENED PERSON DOUBTS ARE MEANT K’FI HA-PESHUTIM HA-HEIM.

Owing to the absence of all proof, we reject the theory of the Eternity of the Universe: and it is for this very reason that the noblest minds spent and will spend their days in research. For were the Creation demonstrated by proof-- even if only according to the Platonic hypothesis-- all the overhasty/incoherent claims philosophers make against us would become void. If, on the other hand, Aristotle had a proof for his theory, the whole teaching of Scripture would have to be rejected, and we should be forced to other opinions. I have thus shown that all depends on this question. Note it.

[End of citation from Moreh Nevuchim]

Zvi Lampel

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