Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Election through the Torah's lens.

If we see Judaism as central to our lives, we see everything through the lens of Torah , a Torah that also espouses certain universal values relevant to all Humankind.. Hence, in this election season we ought to think of the following:
These universal values are defined by a sophisticated understanding of the Noahide laws as per the Rama (Teshuvah 10) and the Lubavitcher Rebbe 's many talks on this issue:
The Noahide laws demand
1. Belief in G-d
2. Not to Blaspheme (To believe G-d is just)
3. Not to murder - and we know that insulting someone publicly is equivalent to murder
4. Not to steal or be dishonest in any way, avoid paying our obligations etc.
5. Not to engage in forbidden relationships
6. Not to eat a limb from a living animal, which is seen as including any unnecessary destruction of any flora or fauna (eating is fine) or annihilating a species or damaging the environment in ways not needed for human sustainment
7. To have courts of justice which means also: A just and equitable society, giving charity yourself and having society ensure a social safety net ,not lying, keeping your promises, respecting the dignity of other human beings, respecting the elderly and those who do good deeds for society etc.
As Jews we have an obligation to push for these values in any society we live in. We must seek leaders and functionaries who violate these values the least.

The Election through the Torah's lens.

If we see Judaism as central to our lives, we see everything through the lens of Torah , a Torah that also espouses certain universal values relevant to all Humankind.. Hence, in this election season we ought to think of the following:
These universal values are defined by a sophisticated understanding of the Noahide laws as per the Rama (Teshuvah 10) and the Lubavitcher Rebbe 's many talks on this issue:
The Noahide laws demand
1. Belief in G-d
2. Not to Blaspheme (To believe G-d is just)
3. Not to murder - and we know that insulting someone publicly is equivalent to murder
4. Not to steal or be dishonest in any way, avoid paying our obligations etc.
5. Not to engage in forbidden relationships
6. Not to eat a limb from a living animal, which is seen as including any unnecessary destruction of any flora or fauna (eating is fine) or annihilating a species or damaging the environment in ways not needed for human sustainment
7. To have courts of justice which means also: A just and equitable society, giving charity yourself and having society ensure a social safety net ,not lying, keeping your promises, respecting the dignity of other human beings, respecting the elderly and those who do good deeds for society etc.
As Jews we have an obligation to push for these values in any society we live in. We must seek leaders and functionaries who violate these values the least.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Lag BaOmer and Ahavat Yisrael: Our son Moshe's Bar Mitzvah speech

BH
5727. 1967. 49 years ago the Land of Israel and her people stood alone facing Arab armies far larger and better equipped than Israel’s, armies ready to attack at any moment. This was a time of great danger. Fear entered the hearts of all Jews everywhere. Like this year, 5776 -  5727 was a year of Hakhel – gathering: 
In ancient Israel, every seventh year was a Shemitah ("sabbatical") year. At the onset of the eighth year, on the second day of the holiday of Sukkot, sixteen days into the new year, all gathered in the Holy Temple for a dose of inspiration to tide them over for the next six years of wordly endeavors.
This event was known as Hakhel, "assemble!" It was the only event that required the attendance of every Jew, women, men and children, reminding us of the historic moment when our nation stood at Mount Sinai, when every member of our nation was present when G‑d lovingly gave us the Torah.
Once the entire nation had gathered, the king, situated on a specially constructed platform in the Temple's courtyard, was handed the Torah scroll that Moses himself had written, which he read to all those present.
The biblical mitzvah of Hakhel is only in effect when all the Jewish people reside in the Holy Land. Nevertheless, the Lubavitcher Rebbe repeatedly encouraged all Jews to utilize this special year to assemble– men, women and children – and encourage each other to increase in Torah observance and study, and create an environment of closeness to G‑d.
Lag BaOmer of 1967 fell out on a Sunday, in which case, the Rebbe always called for a giant Lag BaOmer parade. Children and adults from all over the Northeast gathered on Eastern Parkway, where the Rebbe, standing in front of 770 addressed all present and to those beyond in communities worldwide by landline telephone, cellphones and the internet being decades in the future.
 But first a little bit about a holiday that has only been widely observed for a short time - about 500 years. For the Jewish people, that’s just yesterday.
 A Gut Yom Tov. I have the Zechus, the merit of having been born on Lag Be’omer. Everything happens by specific Divine Providence, and the fact that I have now become a fully responsible member of the Jewish people on this day obliges me to explore this Yom -Tov, an exploration I am privileged to share with you.
First the basics: Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the Omer count—this year, May 26, 2016—is a festive day on the Jewish. It is celebrated with outings, bonfires, and other joyous events. Many visit the resting place (in Meron, northern Israel) of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the anniversary of whose passing is on this day. It is in Meron that my “Upshernish” took place. This is the first haircut, at age 3, marking the beginning of formal Jewish education of a boy.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in the second century of the common era, was the first to teach a large circle the mystical ideas of the Torah known as the “Kabbalah,”. Kabbalah is an essential part of the “Torah Shebaal Peh” the Oral Law, whose core themes were given by G-d to Moses. RashBi as he is known by his acronym is the author of the basic work of Kabbalah, the Zohar. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his disciples to mark the date as “the day of my joy.”
The Chassidic masters explain that the final day of a righteous person’s earthly life marks the point at which “all his deeds, teachings and work” achieve their final perfection and the greatest power to impact our lives, going forward -forever. So each Lag BaOmer, we celebrate Rabbi Shimon’s life and the revelation of the inner soul of Torah, a life that continues to elevate us today.
Lag BaOmer also commemorates another joyous event. The Talmud relates that in the weeks between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot, a plague raged amongst the disciples of the great sage Rabbi Akiva, “because they did not act respectfully towards each other.” These weeks are therefore observed as a period of mourning, with various joyous activities prohibited by law and custom. On Lag BaOmer the deaths ceased. Thus, Lag BaOmer also carries the theme of the obligation to love and respect one’s fellow (ahavat yisrael).
The celebration of Lag BaOmer became much more widespread by the Arizal’s encouraging thre observance of this holiday whose depths he revealed. The Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchok Luria, further developed the accessibility of the Kabbalah – the inner dimension of the Torah,making it accessible to more and more of the Jewish people.
On that Lag BaOmer, almost 5 decades ago, the Rebbe made the point that the disaster striking the students of Rabbi Akiva ended on this day. Why? Because they finally had learned to have respect and unconditional love, Ahavat Yisrael - for each other. The cause of the trouble gone, the trouble ended. Elsewhere, the Rebbe explains that the students had genuine Ahavat Yisrael for each other. Nevertheless there was a flaw in this love: Since each was sure they truly understood their master’s teachings of the Torah, they felt compelled to correct their fellow’s erroneous thinking and behavior, and to enlighten them as to the true meaning of their master’s words. For the same reason, they found themselves incapable of expressing respect for each other’s views since they honestly believed that the others’ understanding was lacking and incorrect.
The greater a person is, the higher are the standards by which he is judged; in the words of our sages, “With the righteous, G‑d is exacting to a hairsbreadth.” Thus, a shortcoming that for people of our level would be considered a minor failing, had a devastating effect upon the disciples of Rabbi Akiva.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who was a surviving disciple of Rabbi Akiva reached a higher understanding of the meaning of unity and love. He understood that Hashem created many souls with many paths, and that unity is not about all seeing matters the same way, but recognizing the common source from which all flows. The Kabbalah and Chassidus explain that light can be expressed in many colors, yet, be the same essential energy radiating from the same source. Light expresses itself in many ways without compromising its single nature. So too, with Hashem who is the source of each of our souls. We celebrate Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, because his approach is the cure for the trouble that preceded Lag BaOmer.
At the parade of 5727, the Rebbe called for all the Jewish people in the spirit of “Hakhel” to gather together in unity, irrespective of all superficial differences. We do share a common soul, therefore, all differences between Jews are superficial.  
To explain this idea, we turn to Tractate Sanhedrin page 39A –Daf Lamed Tes amud alef as explained by the foundational text of Chabad Chassidus, the Tanya. There, in Chapter 35 it states: “Clearly, any such diffusion of the light of the Shechinah, that is the revelation of the light of the blessed En Sof, cannot be termed a change in Hashem, G‑d forbid, nor manyness. Witness the passage in Sanhedrin, where a heretic said to Rabban Gamliel: "You say that on every assembly of ten Jews the Shechinah rests. How many Divine Presences have you, then?" And he replied to him with an example of the light of the sun which enters through many windows.... “
The Rebbe went on at this Lag BaOmer, to explain that this was the way by which we can strengthen all the Jewish people, including those in the Land of Israel. He then said the following words: “G‑d is guarding Israel and…the people of Israel will emerge from the current situation with remarkable success.”
This was followed by the launching of the Tefillin Campaign, one that goes on to this day -asking each and every Jewish man over 13 to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tefillin – starting with at least once. In the Maamar I just gave over, the power of Tefilin was extensively discussed, and uniting through this Mitzvah was and is a great source of strength to the Jewish people.
The Jewish people worldwide and especially in the Land of Israel today, face great challenges. As it was Forty-Nine years ago it can be today. We need to stop waiting for our fellow Jews to start seeing things exactly as we do, and simply think, feel and act with love and respect for each other, as our common being demands.

Then, inasmuch as
דברי הצדיק חיים וקיימים לעד “The Words of the Righteous Are Alive and Current as Ever” we shall again see that: “G‑d is guarding Israel and…the people of Israel will emerge from the current situation with remarkable success.”
From these partial, temporary salvations we hope and pray that Hashem will bring us to a full salvation – the Final Redemption, with the return of the all the Jewish People to the Complete Land of Israel, the rebuilding of an Everlasting Beit Mikdash – the Temple, on the Har Habayit, and an era of absolute felicity for all of Humankind.  In the words of the Rambam - Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (one of the Moshes I am named for)

In that era, there will be neither famine or war, envy or competition for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know God.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Veracity or Virtue?


Veracity or Virtue?
Is honesty always the best policy?
Can falsehood ever be a G-dly path?

Truth is considered a primary moral virtue in many ethical systems. The Torah places great value on Truth in many places and ways. The Torah also permits significant deviations from truth as a matter of practice. Does this represent a conflict of the pragmatic and the ideal to which we surrender the ideal? Alternatively, perhaps, is there a unified theory extant to resolve these contradictions?



“The Seal of the Blessed Holy One is Truth”. This oft-quoted statement is found in several places by Chazal . “Honesty is always the best policy” is a folk truism. Michel Montaigne  (the 17th century French essayist) writes in his Essays “That as the only thing that bonds people together is words falsehood strikes at the heart of any connection among Humans”.

The Ohr Hachayim, in his first piece of commentary on Beraishit, points out that the account of creation allows several fundamental errors to arise if we are not familiar with the subtleties of the meaning of the first word of the Torah “Beraishit”.  All matter and energy in the universe were created simultaneously as a “beginning”.

 If one does not consider this, all the rest of the story of creation which talks about the unfolding of detail could be taken to mean that the stuff of the universe was pre-existing. This is a profound heresy from a Judaic point of view. The Ohr Hachayim says that in spite of the danger of confusion, the Torah had to be written in this way because a true account must be given. It would seem then, that in the spirit of Imatatio Dei, we would need to take great pains and make great sacrifices for the truth, just as G-d does. This is my conclusion, not the Ohr Hachayim’s.

Of course, there exits the endless debate among moral philosophers, in theory, and in our own personal experience as to whether there are any virtues that are of absolute and immutable value.

In our case, from a Judaic perspective, does Truth “trump” all other moral values? Are there any situations that demand or even permit the use of falsehood?

If we look within the parameters of Halacha, Jewish Law, for the concretization of this idea, we indeed find situations in which falsehood is accepted behavior and sometimes an ideal behavior.

In Tractate Ketubot, we find an argument between Bet Shamai and Bet Hillel concerning what should be said about a bride. Bet Shamai rules that one may say nothing that is not true in praise.

Bet Hillel makes a “Lake Woebegone” ruling - we must say that every bride is beautiful and graceful. The Talmud extends this to someone who asks you an opinion about a purchase you have made, that where there is no option of return, you should praise it even if it was a poor deal.

In Tractate Bava Metziah, the Talmud rules that one may dissemble about questions that would reveal details of one’s intimate life, ones financial resources (to avoid jealousy or crime) and the present locus of ones studies (to avoid being drawn into answering questions that the scholar may not feel fully prepared for).

There are several references in various Midrashim to Aaron the High Priest using subterfuge to bring peace between aggrieved parties. Cleverly, he would tell each one that the other was saying “I would love to make things up with X, but fear rejection of my overtures” thereby causing both to meet halfway and seek reconciliation

Any lie that brings peace such as responding to a request for information about a derogatory comment made by A about B –one may deny to B A’s statements.
In discussing these issues in his Code (O.C. 155), Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi makes a distinction between dissembling about the past, which is permitted to bring peace and making a false promise about the future, which is forbidden under all circumstances, even to bring peace.

The only exception to this would be to save a life (though the text does not discuss this here, we have proof for this premise from other sources).

What concepts underlie these disparate rulings?

There is an intriguing question raised by a very famous statement in chapter six of Pirkei Avot “All that the Blessed Holy One created was created for His Kavod”. Kavod is commonly translated as glory but actually means radiant, an experience that creates appreciation of the source of that experience. We honor our parents (the Torah uses “Kavod” for this precept) because we experience the “radiation” of the fact that we owe them our very being. We honor the scholars of Torah because we experience the shining forth of the G-dly knowledge we need and appreciate this.

Therefore, the idea that all creation exists for the “Kavod” of G-d means that we find in everything G-d’s presence in a positive manner that excites our appreciation.
Everything means not just objects, but also any emotional, mental, possibility or spiritual reality in the Cosmos.

Since human violence and falsehood, for example, exist in both reality and potentiality, there must be a way in which we express these qualities as positive expressions of G-dliness.

The fundamental challenge of the aforementioned premise is the difficulty of conceiving a positive and affirmative use of a negation. Falsehood is a negation of reality- it is the obfuscation of Truth. However, a double negative is a positive. If we use a negation to negate another negation we have revealed the positive.
Here is a parable to illuminate this idea. The atmosphere distorts the light from distant stars reaching the Earth. In order for an earthbound telescope to see the stars clearly, we create (mechanically by manipulating the optics, or by distorting the digital output of the image) a distortion that distorts the distorted light back to its pristine deep-space image. We attain clarity by the “double negative”.

This principle applies in our personal struggles that emerge from the free will discussed earlier. We must use those qualities that conceal our G-dly nature to break the concealment in others and ourselves. “The Tree is chopped down by an axe handle made of it” as the Midrash states in several places. Negativity exists to challenge us to find G-d on our own. We use the same negation that caused us to lose sight of G-d to find G-dliness.

There is no permissible falsehood, only restorative distortion. The sum of the equation must be truth.

Let us look at each case in the light of this concept:

The Bride:
 In truth if we saw the essence of every human being, the creative power of G-d that sustains them, we would only see beauty in every human body. This is no less an extension of G-d’s essence than the Soul, just more concealed, as discussed extensively in Likutei Sichot in numerous loci.

Because we have false assumptions about beauty based on the concealment of the G-dly, we need to protect the bride with a statement that is untrue only from a false perspective. Distort the distortion afforded by the crudity of society’s premises and you have revelatory truth. Falsehood correctly used reveals ultimate truth which is the Seal of G-d. It is no longer falsehood.

Privacy and Scholarly pursuit:

G-d created boundaries in the world to focus our energies. The intimate revealed is the precious spilled into the gutter. A scholar forced to answer unprepared can simply give a false answer. We are protecting the proper order of things from inevitable distortion by the use of a countervailing distortion.

Aaron and the Enemies: We only hate each other because we fail to see our common oneness, the unitary source in G-d’s being. Deep down, our selves yearn to be reunited with each other. Aaron’s falsehood removes concealment and reveals the more profound truth, that they indeed seek reconciliation. We have distorted the atmosphere of hate and removed its distortion thereby restoring the “Seal” of G-d’s presence.

Hiding Slander: Speech was created to reveal G-dliness and bring people together. If we allow slander to perpetuate, we create a false outcome. The result is that people are driven apart. The lie allows the disruptive force to die, thereby curing one negation with another.

Peace and False promises
Here the proof of our assertion emerges. Peace is G-dly as it expresses the indivisibility that hallmarks that which reflects G-d. To overcome threats to peace, a denial of G-d’s oneness, we may use the falsehood to conceal and negate this choice. This is an expression of Kavod; a falsehood that fills the purpose of allowing the Divine to be revealed. This is the purpose, the positive, and Kavod purpose of falsehood.

However, a false promise would be the creation of a new reality in the future. It is not distorting a distorted image back to reality. It is creating a new, unbalanced distortion in anticipation of a conflict. Since the sum of a false promise is – falsehood +0 = falsehood (we are creating a new falsehood and there is no countervailing distortion to justify it, hence the present situation is one of falsehood and distortion)  we may not create a new concealment of G-dliness to avoid a future problem.

We need to find ways to ensure that the wrong choice and exercise of free will that creates the future problem never happens, always seeking righteousness first. As King David says in Psalms  “With the Pure be Pure and with the Crooked- Twisted”. We may only twist back the bent, not create negativity in anticipation of future evil.

However, this only introduces the problem. There are obviously times where it is theologically correct to dissemble, as a hiding of truth reveals a deeper truth.
The extensive discussions on bribery in Judaic Ethical literature from the Torah through the Talmud up to our own times point out that any time we have a bias in favor of an individual created by kinship or receiving benefit from that person our minds are not capable of being objective any longer.

That being the case, there is no person we are more biased to than our own selves. This creates a huge problem in practically applying our earlier thesis. It is not always so simple to define where the deepest veracity resides. Since it is always easier (at first) to tell an easy falsehood, rather than a painful truth, we are bribed by our psyches to convince ourselves that a convenient lie is for a greater truth.

This is the problem in general with translating elegant concepts of Judaic thought into practical everyday behavior.
Since truth is so fundamental to Judaism, we need a practical litmus test, so we never engage in a falsehood that is indeed a falsehood. I would like to focus on another aspect of the “laws of Lying” shared by all the cases:

We permitted to lie (unless we are dealing with severe danger TO LIFE LIMB AND PROPERTY) only for the sake of others. In the case of our own needs, we are far too likely to misjudge in our own favor, as we are inexorably biased against the uncomfortable when dealing with ourselves. So, let us go trough our cases once again:

The Bride: Clearly we are protecting an other in this case

Privacy and Scholarly pursuit: Here we are protecting a spouse the first case, as all intimate details involve two people and the Jewish people from mispronounced Halachic decisions on the other hand – as being forced to rule on a subject the scholar is studying before he/she is ready could cause a hasty and untrue answer.

Aaron and the Enemies: Aaron used this method as a disinterested third party, not as a party in any of these issues

Hiding Slander: Stopping slander protects the whole community from fragmentation.
False Promises as indicated in the Shulchan Aruch Harav  (O.C. 155) are dealing with promises made by me to help myself. Indeed, The Talmud writes that if A is choking B in the street because he is angry that a debt is not being paid and C offers to pay to stop the assault, C has no subsequent liability to pay. Though this is not meant by C to be false, the result is the same by fiat of law.

I believe the following summation  represents a solid ethical foundation on which to govern one’s use of dissimilitude.
The restoring of Truth in the larger context by corrective distortion is permitted- if…
The use of distortion is for a case in which there is no personal gain, direct emotional benefit to oneself.

All of the above, though addressing the practicalities of our subject and its deeper spiritual and Judaic implications leave us with an interesting problem: Why indeed? Granted that we should restore the truth in the broader sense by selective dissimulation, why is the cosmos set up in such a way to demand this process?

Could not a world have been created in which we can get through life by simply telling the truth? After all, truth is clearly virtuous and needs no complex agonizing over?

To understand this we need to understand that falsehood only exists in the context of truth. We can conceal a truth by a falsehood, but we cannot tell a falsehood about an issue which has no countervailing truth.

The definition of Falsehood is negation- it isn’t the truth of the matter, the matter being already established.

This is the entire nature of creation, which is a combination of the revelation of G-d’s creative power and the concealment of that power in such a way that we can establish san in dependent identity of self.

 The concealment is necessary if we are to have meaning and choice as individuals. Individuation and free choice are the essential characteristics of Judaism –the each one of us independently choose to discover the G- dly nature of existence in our own experience.

This concealment is a real expression of G-ds being no less than the revelation as they equally contribute to G-d’s p\purposes in Creation. We experience the concealment as falsehood as we cannot perceive G-d, whom we know to be a reality that should, by rights, be perceived. We fail to realize that that perceived absence is in itself an expression of G-d’s essence, too. In order to remind ourselves of this reality G-d puts us in places we are forced to use concealment and falsehood as tools for allowing G-d’s presence through, to illuminate as earlier in the parable of the Telescope.

 In truth all of physical life is ht up in this process. Our physical actions are false –we eat to not to eat but to extract the G-dly energy within the food that sustains us./ We have an Evil inclination, not follow it but to negate it. WE attaint the sublime state of Shabbat by not doing what we are perfectly capable of. These are all concealments or negations of what is and force us to Find G-d in negation.

However in finding Good in Negation we are faced with the challenge of making sure that we are not crossing a line into pure negation. In the context of Truth, this bright line is immediacy.

If you cannot see an immediate “deeper truth” e.g. making peace now but seek to improve an image for future peacemaking –you have crossed that line. Where there is no clear immediate purpose to falsehood as outlined in Halachah we may never lie. We may not protect ourselves from owning up to a wrongdoing by untruth (as opposed to talking about a personal innocuous item) Comfort of our psyche is not a “greater truth”. Where we benefit form the negation we can simply never know of there is good lying within it.

I’ll conclude by with a simple maxim “if it feels good (to lie) don’t. We must experience profound pain in dissembling. There is a “greater good” in a root canal but if still hurts.

Truth hurts, and the deeper the truth lies, the more it hurts to extract it.
Is it worth it? That’s what we are here for.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Tuition Crisis in Jewish Day School Education

There has been a lot of discussion about the unbearable -to-many cost of Jewish day school education. It seems to me that the only way forward are very large contributions to the system as a whole - perhaps as an endowment - by the very wealthy in the Jewish community.
Many are uncomfortable with the idea of the Jewish future being funded by a few plutocrats.
Besides the fact that Jewish tradition articulates the idea that the only reason some of us are entrusted by Providence with large amounts of money, is to be able to make a significant difference in the world with it.
There are several reasons why this seems to be the only way out of this problem in the USA. Indeed the whole cost of education crisis is an exclusively North American problem.
You will note very little complaining on this score coming from the UK, Australia, and the Continent. This is because there is significant government aid in varying degrees to many Jewish schools - not all but there are always good Judaic schooling options for much lower cost in all these places.
The problem lies in the fact that in the USA, there are three factors at work that tell me that there is no other way.
1) The top decile possesses half the wealth or more , and the lions share of that, belongs to the top centile. Hence, most funds not needed by those who own them for day-to-day living are sitting there, and that's where you have to get them, as Willie Sutton said about banks...
The only other way forward is if the federal, state and local taxation systems are used as in #2,3 below.
2) The stubborn opposition (including by most Jews) to a tuition voucher system assisting those who don't use the Public school system to help lessen its burdens, and frankly it's basic fairness.
3) The unfounded and ridiculous way the First Amendment has been interpreted by the courts. There is no logical reason why secular education, technology upgrades, special services, partial cost of physical plant, snow removal etc, at parochial schools should not be subsidized by the government. The First really only prohibits the involvement of government in religious education per se.
So, to ensure Jewish continuity in North America (Not sure about how Canada is doing on this score -I know more about Europe), It"ll have to be 1, 2, or 3. I see 1 as most likely because the most entrenched opposition to tuition vouchers or State aid to parochial schools is in those states with the most Jews.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A little bit less perplexed #1

This is the first of an occasional series on Maimonides' Guide to the Perplexed for those who find it, well, perplexing.

My goal is not to wade into all manner of dense scholarly arguments, but to provide interesting and accessible insights from this very important work of Judaic learning.

So, I'm labeling these posts "A little bit less perplexed". It is not a systematic presentation, but sort of "a taste of".

 I will begin by posting a link to a brief overview of the book and its impact by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mangel: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/107784/jewish/Philosopher-and-Mystic.htm.

  A few apologies: The Guide was written in Arabic, which I don't read, so I'm relying on several Hebrew translations (Ibn Tibbon, Kapach, Schwartz) and the English one by Shlomo Pines. I'm hoping comparing multiple translations will help get me to the heart of the various matters. There are also many variant texts from different manuscripts.

 Secondly, inasmuch as I'm restating things in my own words please do correct me if you think I've deviated from Maimonides' meaning. Please post all comments on the blog, where I will do my best to engage.

 Thirdly, my primary focus is on Maimonides' approach to issues in Judaism rather than his approach to issues of Aristotelian thought so I don't intend to dwell on that vector more than necessary.

 Fourth, I will clearly mark them as such - but where articles address a topic so much better than I can, I'll post those.

So:
In the  "Opening" or "Introduction": Maimonides defines the Guide as having several goals:

 The first being to define the true meaning of various nouns and verbs found in the Scripture. A correct. non-superficial understanding of these words leads a person to a correct understanding of the Torah.

He argues here that perceived contradictions between reason -(as Maimonides defines it, an understanding of philosophy) and the seeming plain meaning of the Torah can be resolved by understanding what the words and terms from Tanach (or the Sages, for that matter) in question truly mean.

 A very powerful idea articulated here is that reason and Torah cannot contradict. As we shall see, this does not mean that reason itself cannot show us that which we cannot know -but that a fundamental contradiction between the two systems: Divine revelation (Torah) and Reason (philosophy) cannot possibly exist.

 In this vein he describes a second purpose to the Guide, which is to demonstrate that the contradiction of Reason with various accounts in Scripture can be solved by understanding that many of these accounts are actually written in the first case as metaphors.

 Since the Guide was written, the realm of Reason has vastly expanded.. This actually gives the basic approach of the Guide even more room to work with than when it was originally composed.

I hope G-d willing, to share some of these "updates in the spirit of the Guide" as this project continues.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Some thoughts on the death of an arch-terrorist

For all of us who were old enough to understand what those terrible towering billows of smoke drifting from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn, visible from as far away as Connecticut, and worldwide electronically meant on 9/11, the death of Osama bin Laden cannot but strike a chord in that place in our hearts that seek to see revealed justice in this world.

After all one of the basic tenets of the Noahide the universal law of humanity is - “Shofech dam hadam beadam damo yishafeych” He who spills the blood of man, his blood shall be spilled”.
Yet we understand that this is not out of a Divine concession to a desire for revenge, vengeful feelings are unworthy of human being (kedoshim).

Rather we grasp that there is no place in the world for a person who does not respect the image of G-d that is each one of us. The murderer all the more so the cold blooded ideological murderer says: “I decide the value of a human being”. This is a more direct denial of g-d than even Idol worship, which simply sees G-d as too big to be involved with the world so he appointed “vice presidents” to run the day to day and it is to these sub-Gods to whom idolaters originally prayed – not denying G-d’s ultimate existence

For the murderer who does not holds human life in awe, this is because he rejects the idea that we are created in G-d’s image, that G-d assigns value to each one of us. He rejects the reflection of G-d because he denies G-d anything else that to be mirror of his own ego. He seeks to replace G-d –his G-d however fervently he worships him, is an image of himself –he worships himself -–hence all who are not in his image –he seeks to kill or values not their lives.

This is a worse idolatry than any ancient pantheon because it places a man of flesh and blood in the place of G-d. Only when his mortality is exposed –e.g. his death is his pretension of being G- d eradicated.

But there is more to this - as the Baal Shem Tov taught us that in all we hear or see we must see a positive lesson in our relationship to G-d. What is the positive message from all of this?

Ultimately, think of all the effort by so many people in various armed forces and think-tanks etc. went into performing this act of justice- the act of negating evil. How much money, how much technology, how much human ingenuity to fulfill this task that has been urgent for a decade?

Imagine now if we understand that at the root of all this trouble lies a world unaware of the universal code the Noahide Law that G-d gave all humanity –preserving its diversity in its very generality, yet demanding above all one thing: absolute respect of the right of each individual to live the life G-d gave them in peace and with the ability to make the world a place of goodness and kindness, as the Rebbe was often to say in referencing the Noahide laws. But to quote Maimonides (Teshuva 9): “for when a person is occupied in this world with sickness, war, and hunger, he cannot involve himself with either wisdom or mitzvoth”

Let us try to devote the same massive effort and brain power to take away hunger and disease, to teach and demand (in peaceful ways), that all people accept the Divine image of every other

Then we will have taken the very evil we have today eradicated and turned the power and ability the response has evoked to truly good and harmonious uses. We can then move towards that time when Isaiah writes - “nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

However it is in particular our –the Jewish peoples task - to evoke this - be the catalysts that inspire this new focus – and as anyone who studied chemistry knows - a little catalyst goes a long way -we must provide the impetus for the world to do this as the earlier verse states:
Isaiah 2:3. And many peoples shall go, and they shall say, "Come, let us go up to the Lord's mount, to the house of the God of Jacob, and let Him teach us of His ways, and we will go in His paths," for out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem….