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Volume 25: Number 358

Sun, 12 Oct 2008

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Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Message: 1
From: Micha Berger <mi...@aishdas.org>
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2008 13:59:54 -0400
Re: [Avodah] Free Will vs. Physics

On Fri, Sep 26, 2008 at 12:35:10PM +0000, kennethgmil...@juno.com wrote:
: R' Micha Berger asked:
:> The first problem is just defining Free Will. What is
:> something that is neither deterministic, reducing people
:> to robots, and not random like a set of dice? We're
:> claiming some middle ground. RMKoppel proves that there
:> are things that are neither describable in algorithms
: > nor random, but what kind of such "middle ground" do we
: > mean in this case? Can we narrow it down enough to know
: > what it is we're trying to prove?

: I think your problem (like in so many other physics questions) lies
: in your choice of the frame of reference. You're only looking at the
: physical world.

Then I really wasn't clear, or perhaps you were misled by the inherited
subject line.

There is nothing in my post about physics, or about whether free will is
possible. My intended topic was just to define the term.

: My approach to this problem is to consider the metaphysical world -- in
: which the neshama resides -- as part of this equation. The neshama makes
: a decision, and interfaces with the physical world via the brain...

I would say the neshamah is the beam of light, and the brain is where
the beam hits the "screen" of olam hazeh and matter.

: one looks only at the physical world, the brain activity *appears*
: to be random. (Random activity on a quantum level does not go against
: deterministic physics.) But in the larger picture, its not really random,
: because it was the causal result of a decision made in another part of
: the system.

Random activity on a quantum level DOES go against a deterministic
physics. Maybe one can say that it's statistically deterministic -- the
odds have to be met, but no one outcomes does.

To explain (hopefully): The law of large numbers means that if you
flip a coin enough times, you're much much more likely to get closer
to 50:50 heads vs tails than a more lopsided distribution. Therefore,
in the large scale, predictability is rarely violated. But it could be.

In fact, because the brain's neural network is basically a system for
magnifying small effects (the eye can see as few as 5 or 6 photons!),
that averaging may not apply. So, which of the coins end up heads can
have macroscopic consequences. IOW, quantum randomnes could change things
on the scale of human behavior.

But you would have to fit the soul-matter relationship into something
in which "half of the coins or so end up heads". It may only be random
to physics, but the probabilities aren't being defied. (Otherwise it
wouldn't look like that kind of random, and we would be defying physics.)

: My problem is not with the determinism of brain neurons, but with the
: determinism of the neshama's decision-making process.

: Consider this: A one-minute-old infant was not crying, and now
: starts to cry. This is not the result of any decision he made, but is
: a reflexive/instinctive reaction to certain influences. Now consider a
: 30-year-old, deciding to get out of bed. This is a very conscious choice,
: based on many varied factors. Somewhere between these two events lies
: the very first time he exercised his free will.

Not a problem according to REED. The nequdas habechirah is a battlefront
that emerges when two desires/goals are in conflict. It is not engaged
in every decision.

The infant could weel have bechirah chafshi in potentia, but since no
decision raises to the level of a conflict that draws conscious attention,
it isn't used in practice. It is only as notions of higher goals and
delayed gratification are taught to the infant that such decisions
come up.

Nothing changes in the structure of the baby's brain or soul aside from
learning, developing a nascent yeitzer hatov. That said, I wish to reask
the question in a different way. (In another 41 lines or so.)

On Fri, Sep 26, 2008 at 05:57:07PM -0400, Yitzhak Grossman wrote:
:> The first problem is just defining Free Will. What is something that is
:> neither deterministic, reducing people to robots, and not random like
:> a set of dice? We're claiming some middle ground. RMKoppel proves that
:> there are things that are neither describable in algorithms nor random,
: I think that you are conflating the concepts of 'algorithmic' and
: 'deterministic'.  Something can be noncomputable but perfectly
: deterministic, as Turing showed...

(Actually Turing didn't. What he showed was that there are problems that
aren't computable. He didn't prove there was a machine that could solve
them. Such a machine would be beyond algorithmic, but still deterministic
-- once we say it exists. But my problem is with determinism and
randomness, not really algorithm.)

You are right that I conflated two ideas, but keeping them separate
makes my problem worse. I am bothered by the wider claim, determinism,
not that the brain must be an algorithm. It may mean that RMK's notion
doesn't help me either.

Here's the basic dilemma, in hopefully clearer language.

Say a person is now deciding whether or not to steal a diamond.

If the person's decision is based entirely on a sum of the history of
things he experienced and the nature of his personality (both static and
in its propensities to evolve in various ways), then the soul is
deterministic. If so, his decision is entirely a product of things
beyond the person's control, and why should he be blamable for anything?

If the other element is that it's not fully caused by the outside, then
is free will simply randmoness? That still means a person can't be the
subject of blame or guilt.

Let's posit some internal cause as a third possibility. The person can
be blamed for straling the diamond because his decision was caused by
some factor, a taavah for wealth (or women, or...) not just external,
or initial causes, nor random causelessness. But then we must ask where
that taavah comes from. Wouldn't its origins be subject to the very
same question as the decision itself?

I think this is the question RAM is asking, in a very different form.
Not a question about the decision itself, but about where the shift
from: a conflict of desires/goals the baby was either
    (1) wired for or
    (2) forced into by experience plus wiring
to: a conflict including a desire the person can be held accountable
for having?


Micha Berger             When memories exceed dreams,
mi...@aishdas.org        The end is near.
http://www.aishdas.org                   - Rav Moshe Sherer
Fax: (270) 514-1507

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Message: 2
From: "Joshua Meisner" <jmeis...@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2008 09:49:35 -0400
Re: [Avodah] The Tochacha of Vayelech

On Wed, Oct 8, 2008 at 4:26 PM, kennethgmil...@juno.com <
kennethgmil...@juno.com> wrote:

> My guess is that - especially if the Shira refers to the whole Torah - then
> perhaps it is telling us that learning Torah will bring us back to Hashem.

That's exactly what Pesichta Eicha Rabbah 2 says, although it learns it from
a different passuk:

"R' Huna and R' Yirmiyah say in the name of R' Chiya bar Abba:  It is
written (Yirmiyah 16:11), '...and they have abandoned Me and they have not
kept My Torah.'  Would that they would have abandoned Me but kept my Torah,
as through their engagement in it, the light in it would have turned them
back to good."

* *Immediately following is a statement of R' Huna re: mitoch she-lo lishma
ba lishma, which differs from the parallel statement of Rav Yehuda amar Rav
that's quoted all over Shas (Pesachim 50b, et.al.) by the latter's inclusion
of mitzvos.

Joshua Meisner
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Message: 3
From: Arie Folger <afol...@aishdas.org>
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2008 16:08:07 +0200
Re: [Avodah] The Tochacha of Vayelech

RAM wrote:
> We should write the Shira, and teach it and learn it, and it will be a
> witness for us. And then, even when we eat, and are sated, and got fat, the
> Shira will testify for us.
> What's going on? Beside the original mitzvah to write the Shira in the
> first part of Devarim 31:19, the Shira is mentioned another three times in
> the following pesukim. Something significant is being talked about, and
> somehow, I'm missing the point.
> My guess is that - especially if the Shira refers to the whole Torah - then
> perhaps it is telling us that learning Torah will bring us back to Hashem.
> But somehow I think there's something more going on. And if the Shira is
> Haazinu, then I'm totally lost.

That tokhekhah testifies to the enternity of our covenant, and also utilizes 
the fact that discovering the past can prompt one to mend his ways. When we 
become distant, this text will remind us that the covenant is eternal and 
there is a way back. It also will startle us to see how accurate the Torah 
anticipated our later states of being.

Kind of like one pshat in what was discovered by the Kohanim in the days of 
Yoshiyahu: Moshe's sefer Torah was found open on the text of Devarim 28:36 
("HaShem will bring thee, and thy king whom thou shalt set over thee, unto a 
nation that thou hast not known, thou nor thy fathers; and there shalt thou 
serve other gods [of] wood and stone.").

Arie Folger

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Message: 4
From: "herb basser" <bass...@queensu.ca>
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2008 15:05:56 -0400
Re: [Avodah] davening to melachim

    I took special note in Neila that we beseech midas harachamim-- and
    decided from its wording that here midas harachamim was a seperate
    being from HKBH-- so I skipped that particular part of the piyyut--
    anyone else bothered by it? made me wonder if the whole piyyut of 13
    midos also construed them as separate from HKBH. it occurred to me that
    the midrashim and targumim that translate what happened in the cleft of
    the rock was that hashem's angels came to moshe-- maybe kol tuvi=the
    midos as melachim.	
    Zvi basser

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Message: 5
From: Cantor Wolberg <cantorwolb...@cox.net>
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2008 15:13:50 -0400
[Avodah] Died before his time

R' Micha wrote: I never got this, since a person is judged upon  
petirah for olam haba.
> What does having a fate sealed in olam haba between YK and death mean?

It also says that the wicked will die. Therefore, the only sense it  
makes in some instances is that it would refer to olam haba.
Why? Because EVERYBODY dies. Does that mean that the year they die,  
they were wicked?
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Message: 6
From: "Meir Rabi" <meir...@optusnet.com.au>
Date: Sat, 11 Oct 2008 20:52:03 +1100
[Avodah] Appeasing with Three Friends

Has anyone ever heard of or participated in the process of appeasing someone
by employing the strategy of the sinner bringing friends to assist in
placating the victim? This is mentioned in the ShO 606 and RaMBaM Teshuvah
Perek 2.
[Meir Rabi] 

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Message: 7
From: "Eli Turkel" <elitur...@gmail.com>
Date: Sat, 11 Oct 2008 18:48:06 +0200
[Avodah] rain on succot

The weather forecast in Israel for the next several days is rain
in various parts of the country. According to the gemara this is a
sign of a curse

1. Succot is very late in the fall this year, does that make a difference?

In general I have always been bothered by the gemara in Taanait which
gives dates
when to start the rain prayers and fasts based on the Jewish calendat
when obviously
the rains depend on the secular calendar

2. The Kinneret is at it lowest level in recorded history. Any rains
are welcome to fill
the water reservoirs. Many people are thrilled at an early start of
the rain season.
How can it be a curse? True depending on details it may affect sitting
in the succah
but the water situation here is desperate with the water level
approaching the black line after
already having passed all red lines

Eli Turkel

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Message: 8
From: Cantor Wolberg <cantorwolb...@cox.net>
Date: Sat, 11 Oct 2008 19:22:40 -0400
[Avodah] Excerpted from the New York Jewish Times

Using gematria, Yehuda Aryeh Leib (author of Sefat Emet, "The Language  
of Truth)," and Rebbe of Gora Kalwaria in Poland, near Warsaw, often  
reminded his chassidim that the numerical value of lulav was 68, the  
same as chayim, which means ?life.?

It was this strong association with life that Jewish weddings  
traditionally had an abundance of hadassim-style leaves on the chuppa,  
and why fathers would give their sons a myrtle plant headgear wreath  
to wear at their wedding.

But it is the esrog that evokes the greatest emotion and attracts the  
most intense scrutiny. To quote Ibn  
:                                                                                                                                      "There 
  exists no tree-fruit more beautiful than the esrog."

I personally discovered the following:                  

Esrog (spelled without a vov) equals 604 which equals the gematria of
"Etz Chayim and Shalom together." So the play on words of Etz Chayim
which offers Shalom equals the numerical value of Esrog. And Esrog
(spelled with a vov) equals 610. If you take the esrog (610) and add
to its numerical value the additional THREE species (hadasim, aravot,
and lulav), you get 613, the total number of mitzvot in the Torah.

On Yom Kippur we shake ourselves into the awesomeness of the day.   
Four days later, we shake the four species in praise of God.

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Message: 9
From: T6...@aol.com
Date: Sat, 11 Oct 2008 22:35:38 EDT
Re: [Avodah] Yelulei Yalil

From: Micha Berger _micha@aishdas.org_ (mailto:mi...@aishdas.org) 

>>However,  the sound of the gemara's word "yelulei", echoed in the Rambam
(Shofar 3:2)  "hayelala shemeyalelan hanashim be'eis shemeyavevin", made
me wonder if  "yevavah" really means sobbing, or inarticulate voicing
in  general.

When a Middle Eastern ululates, crying a high pitched  "lalalalalala",
it's a sound of joy. (If the woman in question is the Eim  Sisera of the
100 qolos, maybe she is happy her son died a hero, a shahid.)  Ululate is
an onomatopoeia (a word that sounds like its meaning), so could  "yelilah".

And so, the machloqes isn't only technical, how do we fulfil  "yom
teru'ah yihyeh lahem" but also be about the basic nature of shofar  --
is it a sad sound, or a happy one?<<

The women ululate at funerals, too.  The sobbing sound can be a  sound of joy 
or of grief.  If you've ever heard the inarticulate sounds  made by some 
woman who just won a big prize on *The Price is Right* you would  know that, 
unless you could see her face, you would not know if she was sobbing  from joy or 
from sorrow.
There's no opinion I ever heard that Sisra's mother was crying for  joy.  She 
was definitely crying with grief, believing that her son had been  defeated 
in battle and was dead, but her handmaidens "comforted" her by  suggesting that 
maybe Sisra was late because he was busy looting and raping  Jewish women 
with his men.  It tells you what kind of a person she was  that the thought of 
her son engaged in killing and rapine would  comfort her and dry her tears.  
As for the sound of a shofar, it obviously has a lot of different  meanings 
and purposes.  It can be sorrowful, joyful, a sound of alarm, a  sound of war, 
a sound of triumph.  In a way it's like a musical instrument  -- like a 
trumpet -- that likewise can express many emotions.

--Toby  Katz

**************New MapQuest Local shows what's happening at your destination.  
Dining, Movies, Events, News & more. Try it out 
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Message: 10
From: "Rich, Joel" <JR...@sibson.com>
Date: Sat, 11 Oct 2008 23:51:45 -0400
[Avodah] Talmudic Process Question

The gemara in horiyot 6a discusses the issue as to the source of a
ruling by R' Papa that "ein mita ltzibbur" by karbanot. 

In the back and forth, the gemara posits that one comparison is no good
because the case at hand deals with the beginning of bayit sheni and no
one who had sinned at the time of bayit rishon could have still been
alive then.  The gemara then rejects that assertion based on Ezra 3:12
which famously records the crying of the zkenim (who remembered the
bayit rishhon ) at the consecration of bayit sheni.

Question: What was the gemara's hava amina to posit an assumption  that
CLEARLY wasn't true? (the usual answer I give is that there was
something to be learned or differentiated by the assumption - but I'm
stumped here)

Joel Rich
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