Monthly Archives: June 2007

The Prophet Of Boro Park

‘From the day the Temple
was destroyed, prophecy was taken from the prophets and given over to
fools and to young children" [Bava Basra 12b]

Listen & Learn.

The Gerrer Rebbe on Textual Criticism

On Page 16, footnote 3 of R’Heshey Zelcer "A Guide to the Jerusalem Talmud: The Compilation and Composition of the Jerusalem Talmud, the Cultural, Economic and Political Conditions in the Land of Israel During Its Development" there is a fascinating anecdote recorded. It brings to my mind the Rambam’s dictum "accept the truth from whoever says it". I personally find this story quite inspiring, and as an example of the path we should follow.

I was telling a friend of mine, a hasid of Gur, about the recently published Synopsis li-Talmud ha-Yerushalmi, which contains the transcript of all available Yerushalmi manuscripts. He told me that he would be visiting R’Pinhus Meneham Altter the Grand Rabbi of Gur and he would like to present him with a copy as a gift. I expressed my astonishment that he would think it appropriate to offer the Rabbi of Gur these volumes which were recently published by non-Jews in Germany. He insisted that it would be appreciated and on his next trip to Israel he presented the gift. When he returned to the United States I asked my friend how the Rebbe reacted to the gift. He told me that the Rebbe accepted the gift and when he met the Rebbe a few days later the Rebbe told him that based on what he noticed in the text of manuscript, zekz kashes zenen mir farenfert gevarin, six difficulties I had with the Yerushalmi were resolved.

During a meeting with Prof Yaakov Sussman at Hebrew University he told me that with the blessings of the Rabbi of Gur, certain Hasidim who were working on the Yerushalmi would come to consult with him about the Yerushalmi. After a year of on-going contacts the Rebbe told them, you’ve accomplished what you set out to do, it is now time to stop any further contact.

For a contrasting view, see here for a discussion of the view of the Chazon Ish on this matter as well as the discussion on the Hirhurim comments section.

Working For A Living 6

Mishna Avot (2:2)

Rabban Gamliel, the son of R. Yehuda HaNassi, says: It is well to combine the Torah study with some worldly occupation, for the exertion that the both entail keeps sin out of ones mind”

Commentary of Rabbi Yosef Yaabetz

This mishna directly follows what [R. Yehuda HaNassi] said with regard to yiras Shomayim (fear of G-d), stating, “Contemplate…. For his son [Rabban Gamliel] saw fit to recommend worldy pursuit and work as the means to sustain ones fear of G-d. Even if the work is inferior and wretched, it is proper to hold on it, love it and be proud of it, since it is a found and root cause of yiras Shomayim – just as the head of Jewish royalty [King David] danced before G-d “like one of the boors,” showing concern only for honor of his Creator and not for his own. Our sages of blessed memory stated (Sotah 49b), “Since Rebbe (ie R Yehuda Hanassi_ passed away, humility and fear of sin have become extinct”. [The reason for this is that] during the days of Rebbe, the desire for Torah was so strong that it alone was sufficient to keep an individual from transgressing, in line with the verse (Prov 2:10-12) “When wisdom enters your heart … to rescue you from the way of evil…” However, after death, there was a need for something else, namely work [to keep [people from sinning]. It is for this reason that [Rabban Gamliel sated that “the exertion that they both entail keeps sin out of one’s mind”. (Above source for Eyes to See: R’ Yom Tov Schwarz)

(In All Your Ways, Know Him:
Two Modes of Serving God Harav Aharon Lichtenstein)

The final mishna in Menachot (13:11, 110a) points out that the same phrase, rei’ach nicho’ach (a sweet savor), is used with regard to sacrificial offerings of different value—cattle, birds and flour. From here it derives a principle: “Echad ha-marbeh ve-echad ha-mam’it, u-bilvad she-yekhaven adam et da’ato la-Shamayim—It matters not whether a person offers much or little, so long as he directs his heart to Heaven.” This mishna is quoted in a gemara which every person should learn and apply; it should be hung on the wall of every beit midrash:

A favorite saying of the Rabbis of Yavneh was: I am God’s creature and my fellow man (i.e. a non-scholar) is God’s creature. My work is in the town and his is in the field. I rise early for my work and he rises early for his work. Just as he does not presume to do my work, I do not presume to do his. Will you say, I do much and he does little? We have learnt: “It matters not whether a person does much or little, so long as he directs his heart to Heaven.” (Berakhot 17a)

The Rabbis of Yavneh say that one should have a sense of the worth not only of people who sit in a beit midrash, but also of those who are “in the field,” engaged in building society, culture, economy, country, government—any of the various walks of life whose development is essential if the world of “le-ovdah u-leshomrah” is to be sustained. This is a very clear and direct critique of the kind of condescension towards balebatim (people in non- Torah professions) which unfortunately one sometimes encounters in yeshiva circles. Sometimes, yeshiva students tend to regard themselves as the salt of the earth, while considering other people to be of secondary value. This kind of arrogance has no place in a beit midrash and must be shunned by any ben-Torah. A ben-Torah must believe that Torah is important, but that people engaged in other walks of life are also part of God’s world, and are fulfilling their mission of “le-ovdah u-leshomrah” within that world. He is doing his work and I am doing my work, but what is important is the quality, intensity and scope of a person’s dedication to Heaven. Whatever a person does can be geared ultimately to fostering his relationship with God.

Does this mean that therefore it is irrelevant whether a person is marbeh or mam’it, as long as he directs his heart to Heaven? Surely not! Surely not if we are talking about avodat Hashem generally, and certainly not if we are talking about talmud Torah. Rather, this phrase means that even if a person finds himself in circumstances where he needs to be mam’it—after all, God did not create the world as one tremendous kollel—he should attempt to serve God in whatever he is doing, and others should value his efforts. But to the extent that a person can be a marbeh, of course he is supposed to be a marbeh!

The Man Behind Artscroll

The man behind Artscroll, Rabbi Nosson Scherman, is interviewed by the Jewish Press (Online Version). Interesting questions asked in the interview include "Why no mention of Chabad or Rav Kook", "Do Artscroll white wash the Gedolim", etc. I felt the questions were all answered fairly, even if one does not agree with the answers given.

We all owe a great deal of gratitude to the phenomenal accomplishments of the Artscroll company and I for one pray for much success in their endeavors. There is what to critique, as with everything, but I really feel their achievements far outweigh their flaws. Enjoy the article!


Another interview with R’ Nosson Scherman can be found here [Hat Tip To R’Steve Brizel from the Areivim Email List]

Rambam On Incorporeality

There is a rather interesting comment in Prof Marc Shapiros “The Limits of Orthodox Theology” on page 68 regarding the concept of incorporeality in Judaism. The comment is rather tongue in cheek in my opinion, but in essence raises a very important question regarding tradition, interpretation of texts and the process of education. It brings to mind Hillels dictum in Pirkei Avot (2:3) ‘Do not make a statement that cannot be easily understood on the ground that it will be understood eventually’. I look forward to your comments. [Bold Text is Mine]

One who believes that God is corporeal by definition denies God’s unity and is even worse than some types of idolater. It is irrelevant whether or not this mistaken belief is unintentional.

Having said this, Maimonides must explain why the Torah used corporeal expressions to refer to God. His answer is striking. Since the masses needed to be instructed in God’s existence but could not conceive of the existence of an incorporeal God, it was necessary for them to be led to this belief in a progressive fashion. First they were taught of the existence of one corporeal God, which was an improvement to believing in many corporeal gods or having no belief. Only following this were they taught about God’s incorporeality. (Maimonides does not tell us if this process was accomplished quickly or took a number of generations). As Howard Kreisel has noted: ‘It follows from Maimonides’ remarks that the Torah deliberately misleads the people in the matter of the corporeality of God… The Torah no choice but to compromise with reality in order to educate the people effectively’

Here we are not dealing with the a population that understood the Bible in a corporeal sense rather than turning to the wise men for guidance. Rather, and this what is so significant, it was the Torah which originally intended the masses to accept God’s corporeality. In other words, it is not merely that the Torah ‘misleeds the people’, but rather the Torah that taught them a heretical doctrine. Of course, it must be emphasized that for an ancient Israelite to believe in God’s corporeality was actually an improvement over his earlier state when he had no belief in God. Only when the ancients advanced beyond this state would they be able to understand that the anthropomorphic expressions in the Torah are to be understood figuratively. If one of the ancients died without having rejected a corporeal conception of God, he would suffer the consequences of his heresy, namely, denial of a share in the world to come. Once again, it must be noted that the spiritual consequences of heresy are not to be viewed as a punishment but rather as a necessary outcome of the world’s metaphysical structure. An incorporeal conception of God is a basic necessity for intellectual perfection at all times and places.


R’David Guttmann wrote a very thoughtful comment in response to the above post. I have therefore included it in its entirety below. Not sure about the last line though “Shabbat Shalom and I hope you have a tylenol at hand to treat the headache.” [Care to explain R’David…?]

Rambam in MN 1:35 reads as follows: That God is incorporeal, that He cannot be compared with His creatures, that He is not subject to external influence; these are things which must be explained to every one according to his capacity, and they must be taught by way of tradition to children and women, to the stupid and ignorant, as they are taught that God is One, that He is eternal, and that He alone is to be worshipped. …When persons have received this doctrine, and have been trained in this belief, and are in consequence at a loss to reconcile it with the writings of the Prophets, the meaning of the latter must be made clear and explained to them by pointing out the homonymity and the figurative application of certain terms discussed in this part of the work. Their belief in the unity of God and in the words of the Prophets will then be a true and perfect belief.

Torah is not teaching falsehoods God forbid. It is by contrasting what one has to believe with what is written one realizes that the written word must be interpreted. That is because:

"The Torah speaks according to the language of man," that is to say, expressions, which can easily be comprehended and understood by all, are applied to the Creator. Hence the description of God by attributes implying corporeality, in order to express His existence: because the multitude of people do not easily conceive existence unless in connection with a body, and that which is not a body nor connected with a body has for them no existence. (MN 1:26).

However when we talk about concepts:

There may thus be a man who after having earnestly devoted many years to the pursuit of one science, and to the true understanding of its principles, till he is fully convinced of its truths, has obtained as the sole result of this study the conviction that a certain quality must be negatived in reference to God, and the capacity of demonstrating that it is impossible to apply it to Him. (1:59)

In other words the process is to first learn that God is incorporeal and when confronted with the written text that says otherwise, one realizes that it is so that existence can be instilled. Being the word of God cannot lie he discovers

My Random Act Of Kindness For The Day

It is about 12:00 at night. I was just reading my blogs as usual, you know catching up on the latest posts. I have been a little bit on the bored side recently. I haven’t mentioned it till now, but I am no longer working at Get Me On Media, long story, but yeah got retrenched so currently unemployed.

I went to a dinner the other night and one of the guys was talking about how important acts of kindness are. You know one of those feel good, be nice drashot. The guy who wasn’t a talmid chacham by any means, seemed genuinely sincere in his convictions about this point and “words from the heart, enter the heart”.

So tonight I decided to act on that advice. As you already know, Hirhurim, is one of my all time favorite blogs that I read prolifically. I have been reading every single day for the last 2-3 years. In fact Hirhurim, was one of my ‘inspirations’ for getting started in blogging in the first place. I thought to myself after reading through the latest post on Hirhurim, “Man, blogging takes a lot of work. To write intelligent posts, respond to comments, etc, it is work that is often really unappreciated, it is solely a labour of love. Here I am every day getting quality Torah education and insight dealing with all the complexities of life, for FREE. What thanks does the blogger get, nothing”.

So what did I do? Well, I decided to call up R’Gil Student. Yup, looked up his number on the internet, called him up and told R’Gil Student how much I enjoy his blog, how much I appreciate his work, that I have learned so much from him and that I really hope he goes from strength to strength in all his endeavors. He was really appreciative, said thank you very much, how it made his day and that was that. I know it was bit "random", but I got idea after hearing Rabbi Rakefet in one of his shiurim read out a letter to his class from a talmid who wrote to him thanking him for all his shiurim on tape he listened to over the years. Rabbi Rakefet was over the moon over that letter.

Now what is the moral of the story. No, I am not suggesting we all call up R’Gil Student. What I am suggesting is that practically if we all make an endeavor to do one extra nice thing for someone it a) makes the world a better place b) is a mitzvah c) makes them feel good and d) makes you feel good.

So I will end off this post with a salute to R’Gil Student and to all the other bloggers and commentators out there who contribute daily to our entertainment and our education. I publicly thank you all for all your hard work. Even though I don’t comment every time, I and thousands more are still reading. Keep up the great work. I also encourage all of you to do an extra random act of kindness today, and help make this world a better place.