Thursday, June 29, 2017

equally worthy

"The foremost distinguishing characteristic bestowed upon
man is his Divine image, his tzelem Elohim, which denotes
particular qualitative endowments, such as a moral sense, free
will, and intellect. Man partakes of these attributes within
human limitations, while God's representation of these qualities
is absolute. Maimonides embodied man's likeness to God pri-
marily in terms of his intellect (Guide 1: 1). This Divine gift was
given to both men and women. "And God created man with His
image. In the image of God, He created him; male and female
He created them" (Gen. 1:27).7 In their spiritual natures, they
were equally worthy."

R. Joseph Soloveitchik
(Man of Faith in the Modern World, p. 84).

“The Chumash in Bereishis says that when God created man בצלם אלקים ברא אתם . Man and woman were created in the Image of God. Equality was taken for granted. If two personae were created in the image of God, you cannot say one is superior to the other.” (The Rav Thinking Aloud on the Parsha, Sefer Bamidbar, pp. 142-3)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It deifies no man

The Torah does not seek to portray our great men as perfectly ideal figures; it deifies no man. It says of no one: “Here you have the ideal; in this man the Divine assumes human form!” It does not set before us the life of any one person as the model from which we might learn what is good and right, what we must do and what we must refrain from doing. When the Torah wishes to put before us a model to emulate, it does not present a man, who is born of dust. Rather, God presents Himself as the model, saying: “Look upon Me! Emulate Me! Walk in My ways!” We are never to say: “This must be good and right, because so-and-so did it.” The Torah is not an “anthology of good deeds.” It relates events not because they are necessarily worthy of emulation, but because they took place. The Torah does not hide from us the faults, errors, and weaknesses of our great men, and this is precisely what gives its stories credibility. The knowledge given us of their faults and weaknesses does not detract from the stature of our great men; on the contrary, it adds to their stature and makes their life stories even more instructive. Had they been portrayed to us as shining models of perfection, flawless and unblemished, we would have assumed that they had been endowed with a higher nature, not given to us to attain. Had they been portrayed free of passions and inner conflicts, their virtues would have seemed to us as merely the consequence of their loftier nature, not acquired by personal merit, and certainly no model we could ever hope to emulate.

Rav S. R. Hirsch (Bereishis 12: 10-13)

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Mishnah - A Reading

Dorothy lived in Kansas a wind destroyed four came seeking home the rabbis say wisdom

This is how the Gemara might tell the story of the Wizard of Oz. This is not to say that the Gemara is a bad story teller but that it is not a story teller in the way we are used to. It is a notebook written in short hand. The rabbi is supposed to tell the full tale. The Gemara just reminds him of the barest elements of the story.

The Mishnah is even more succinct. Here's how it might describe the USA's constitutional system:

Three groups. One enacts, one judges, one wages war.

Is there more to the subject? I think there's a little more to say about a political-legal system that came to dominate the planet earth.

Let us not forget what we often forget that the Oral Torah was not supposed to be written down, so when the danger of losing it all due to exile necessitated redaction, the redaction was kept to a minimum. The Talmud is not a textbook. In our era of computer based publishing, it's pretty darn easy to put many words on a page, much easier even than in the movable type era, where is was incomparably easier than in the era of monks writing in long hand, which was easier still than in Mishnaic times where paper was a commodity. We are used to books spelling out every detail of a message. This is not how most Torah commentary was written over the centuries.

This means that a shiur cannot consist merely of reading from a text. However, that is exactly what some shiurim have become, particularly regular shiurim. Sometimes, you get the photocopy of sources which the speaker uses to patch together a lesson of some kind. That he reads the sources too quickly without telling you where to find them on the page is a separate problem of our problematic approach to Hebrew instruction. I have discussed that elsewhere. But the regular shiur, the kind we experience most of the time, is oftentimes a reading. Whether it be Daf HaYomi, Mishnah, Mishneh Berurah, Duties of the Heart, or Tanya, the "maggid shiur" just reads without offering much in the way of background, explanation, or insights.

For baal habatim attending an hour a week class, it's survivable, even though not edifying. For children in school it's soul murder. The boredom is crushing. The kids - boys in particular - go 8-5 in a crowded barren classroom listening to a reading of cryptic material. Some rebbes don't explain. It's almost as if doing anything but reading straight text is considered "goyish." when really reading straight from a text without adding anything is goyish. But mostly it's just ignorance.

Many rebbes today are not educators. Some are warm people but that doesn't make them interesting, doesn't mean they know how to teach. Teachers have to get into the minds of students. They need technique. Oftentimes, the best teachers were not the best at their subjects. Thus, they developed tricks for acquiring the material. The gifted student is often the worst teacher. A teacher, like anyone in any profession, needs skill.

This involves more than warmth and even caring. I think many of the more well meaning people in Jewish education or rabbinics have gone a little bananas with personal warmth, stories, and song. I once spent a Shabbos with a family that does kiruv at an elite university. I was shocked to see this very well meaning nice guy fail to share with the students any Torah at his Shabbos table. His whole angle was warmth, singing, and showing off his children in an attempt to advertise the joys of family life - as if non-frum people cannot have family life. Is he really going to compete with the world of secular entertainment with a few zmiros? What he needed to do was say something meaningful before these very bright and intellectually included college students.

Perhaps because Torah Jews, particularly the children, are a captive audience, some schools don't make an effort to be engaging. After all, you have no choice but to attend the school and they can always threaten you with gehennom, that catch all for religious motivation. The focus, particularly in Israel, seems to be more on gaining admission to school, ie the family winning over the school, rather than the school winning over the family or the student. Also, there is an assumption today, an arrogant one, that the yeshiva world conquered Reform, is sitting pretty, and can wow anyone with the magic of Torah. By magic of Torah I don't mean the magic of true Torah thought, but anything connected to Torah. A cold reading of a cryptic text will do. Just open the book and the magic just flies off the page. This is magical thinking and results in part from excessively mystical understandings of the effects of limud Torah.

What is the connection to Torah Im Derech Eretz? Just look at Rav Hirsch's writings, he makes ideas come alive. He doesn't just recite pasukim. The German approach is to focus on the world that we actually live in, not mysterious higher worlds. As Rav Hirsch wrote:
God's Law does not deal with things that are supernatural or not of this world; instead, it includes every aspect of a full life which can be lived here below. Therefore these laws are עדות, the testimony of God's truths for all our earthy relationships, and hence they are עדות, because they crown all our earthy affairs with the ornament of human nobility which find favor in the eyes of God. The prerequisite for the true fulfillment of God's laws is knowledge, as thorough as possible, of all the realities of human affairs on earth. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on Tehillim 119:99)
I fear that the contemporary focus on the kabbalistic effects of limud Torah have produced an other worldly approach to it. This combined with our forgetting that the Oral Torah is Oral even when printed in books has resulted in some very poor educational practices, not by everyone obviously, but by too many.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sivan 24

Rav Hirsch was born on this day in 1808.

"God has dispersed Yisrael among the nations as עבד and שפחה, as "servant" and "handmaiden," to labor on behalf of God's great work on behalf of mankind. Yisrael is called "a servant" to indicate the arduous labor inherent in its outward position vis-à-vis the nations, and "a handmaiden" to denote the joyous fulfillment of its life's task within the sphere of its own homes, families and communities. For the proper discharge of both these tasks Yisrael needs extraordinary spiritual and moral talents and energy; and it is for these faculties that Yisrael looks up to God its God even as a "servant" and a "handmaiden" would look up to their Master." (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on Tehillim 123, 2)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Criticism of German Orthodoxy

I never hold back when I see criticism of German Orthodoxy from any reliable source. From the book the Transformation, criticism of GO for bringing Zionism into the Agudah.

page 34:

page 35


page 36:


page: 38 

So the book goes on to say that with an imitation of style in place the Agudah took on other Mizrachi attitudes such immigration to the Holy Land not out of sheer desire to live in there but as part of an in-gathering of exiles, an idea promoted by Mizrachi in its package of notions that the modern secular state is part of the redemption. I can testify that I have observed this notion in the words and actions of many yeshivish people. However, one can see from Rav Hirsch's many comments on the subject of the Torah and the land, that land without Torah is pointless and dangerous, that there's no nation without Torah and no redemption with Moshiach or teshuvah.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Reclaiming the term צבא

"From twenty years old and upward, each one who goes forth into communal service in Yisrael." Bamidbar 1:3

"The term צבא in Scripture does not necessarily, or even primarily, denote an army, or service in an armed "host." In Numbers 4:3,  כל בא לצבא לעשות מלאכה באהל מועד ["each one who comes to communal service to do (sacred) work in the Tent of Appointed Meeting"]; ibid., Verse 23 'לצבא צבא לעבוד וגו ["who comes to perform communal service, to minister..."], and also elsewhere in Scripture, it refers to the service performed by the Levites in the Tabernacle. Verses 24 and 14 in Chapter 8, too, prove that צבא denotes any group of individuals united for communal service under the orders of a higher authority, or the service to be performed by such individuals. In the present verse, too, צבא need not necessarily have the connotation of armed service. Rather, it would denote anyone under obligation to come forth from his private life and perform communal services whenever this is needed; hence, anyone on whom the community can rely upon to attend to its interests...."

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on Bamidbar 1:3, The Chumash, Judaica Press, Translation by Gertrude Hirschler

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Jewish Virtual Library on Adass Jeshurun

"Adass Jeshurun, Adas Jisroal was originally the breakaway minority of Orthodox congregations in Germany in the mid-19th century. These congregations dissociated themselves on religious grounds from the unitary congregations established by state law in which the majority tended toward Reform Judaism.

"The main aim of this branch was to safeguard strict adherence to Jewish law. The Hebrew terms Adass (or Adat, Adath) Jeshurun and Adass Jisroel, meaning "congregation of Jeshurun" and "congregation of Israel," were chosen by these congregations to express their conviction that, even if in the minority, they were the "true Israel." The names were cherished for their socioreligious connotations by Orthodox groups in the West where Reform Judaism was widespread.

continue reading Jewish Virtual Library on Adass Jeshurun

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Health through Torah Living

As Mishlei (Proverbs 3:17) tells us about the Torah, “Its ways are ways of pleasantness.” And while the Torah commands us to proactively protect our health through natural means (“Guard yourself exceedingly - Deuteronomy 4:9-10), we recognize that Torah living itself is the best guardian of our physical health. Its observance brings about spiritual and physical pleasantness.

What follows here is a very small sampling of Torah teachings that address the correspondence between spiritual and physical health. They serve as a reminder that all of our necessary labors in the way of health and safety are but a histadalus (reasonable effort) and that our welfare resides ultimately in the Almighty’s loving-kindness and our pursuit of spiritual health through Torah living.

Our bitachon (trust) in Hashem is a prime guardian of physical health in part due to the peace of mind it gives us. Rav Avigdor Miller z’l spoke often about the toxic effects of worry and stress and the benefits of simple living. He interpreted literally the Mishnah (Avos 1:7) “I have found nothing better for the body than silence.” Silence can refer to the absence of worrisome and neurotic self-talk in our own heads, talk which induces sickness in many a person. Such silence is good for the body, ie. good for preserving health.

Sampling of Torah on the Connection Between Physical and Spiritual Health

Guard yourself and guard your soul very much. (Deuteronomy 4:9-10)

R. Judah son of R. Hiyya remarked: Come and see how the dispensation of mortals is not like that of the Holy One, blessed be He. In the dispensation of mortals, when a man administers a drug to a fellow it may be beneficial to one limb but injurious to another, but with the Holy One, blessed be He, it is not so. He gave a Torah to Israel and it is a drug of life for all his body, as it is said: And healing to all his flesh. (Eruvin 54a*)

R. Joshua b. Levi stated: If a man is on a journey and has no company let him, occupy himself with the study of the Torah, since it is said in Scripture: For they shall be a chaplet of grace. If he feels pains in his head, let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: For they shall be a chaplet of grace unto thy head. If he feels pains in his throat let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: And chains about thy neck. If he feels pains in his bowels, let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: It shall be a healing to thy navel. If he feels pain in his bones, let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: And marrow to thy bones. If he feels pain in all his body, let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: And healing to all his flesh. (Eruvin 54a*)

Resh Lakish has said: The Holy One, blessed be He, does not smite Israel unless He has created for them a healing beforehand, as it says. “When I have healed Israel, then is the iniquity of Ephraim uncovered.” (Megillah 13b*)

The sages said in the name of Rav: it is forbidden to live in a city where there is no physician. (Jerusalem Talmud Kiddushin 4:12)

R Yose son of R. Bun said: it is forbidden to live in a city that does not have a vegetable garden. (Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 4:12)

R Eleazar said: honor your physician even before you need him. (Jerusalem Talmud Taanis 3:6)

The best of physicians go to Gehennom. (Kiddushin 82a) Some commentators take this to mean that the best physicians attribute their success purely to their own abilities and fail to connect the true source of healing and medical knowledge to Hashem. This arrogance leads to their spiritual fall.

When a man suffers pain, he should visit a physician. (Baba Kama 46b)

Three things sap a man’s strength: worry, travel, and sin. (Gittin 70a)

Heal us Hashem and we will be healed. Save us and we will be saved for you are our praise. Grant complete healing for all our afflictions because you are the Almighty King, Who is a faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are You Hashem, Healer of the sick of His nation Israel. (Shemoni Esrei, Siddur)

Physical health and well-being are part of the path to God, for it is impossible to understand or have any knowledge of the Creator when one is ill. Therefore one must avoid anything that may harm the body and one must develop healthful habits. (Rambam, Hilchos De'os 4:1)

Worrying that some particular thing should come about in this world is very improper….Such is not found in men with trust in Hashem. Worry hurts the heart and brings sickness to the body…. (Orchos HaTzadickim, Shaar HaDaagah, in Sefer Mitzvos HaBitachon 38)

Sorrow breaks, sadness unnerves, mourning consumes man; but cheerfulness of heart and joyful vivacity exalt, revive and strengthen man, and endow him with inner strength victoriously to brave the most crushing blows of external violence. (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Judaism Eternal, Vol. II, pp. 146-147)

Because to the Jew everything is religion, because the most painful change in his fortunes can but mean a new religious duty for him, and because he is ever passing from one religious experience to another, even the sorrows of life have lost their sting for him. He is beset by only one worry: the fear lest he fail to realize his duty in any situation in which he may find himself. This duty once recognized, he is serene and happy, and carries out with zest the duty which God demands of him. He is not disheartened because his powers are so insufficient, his understanding so limited, his scope so restricted. He stands where his God has placed him; the limits of his powers have been drawn by God. He stands at His service, delivers his work into His hands. His duty done, his daily task fulfilled, he is happy and content. The completion of his work is in any case in the hands of God. (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Judaism Eternal, Vol. II, pp. 149-150)

That is what makes Jewish life so full of happiness: “Shomer mitzvah lo yada davar rah - “He who keeps the commandments shall endure no evil thing.” (Ecclesiastes 8,5) He who conceives of his entire life as a Commandment knows no unhappiness and no evil. The word of God is unto him as the miraculous tree that sweetens the bitterest spring, as the miraculous staff that draws the water of life from the hardest rock, as the holy oil the dedicates and hallows all common, everyday things. (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Judaism Eternal, Vol. II, p. 149)

Do not say: If jealousy and lust and inordinate ambition and various other evils which are the product of living together in the world take man from his true task, I therefore wish to choose the exact opposite – namely, to renounce every bodily pleasure, flee from marriage, comfort and amenity and live a monk-like life. Even if you go upon that way, you are a sinner. Avoid only that which the law forbids. Use that which is permitted wisely for the strengthening and preservation of your body, so that it remains an efficient instrument for the fulfilling of your life’s mission. If you indulge in pleasure in this way, then your physical activities also become a service of God. But if your body is to remain a healthy instrument, avoid everything that might destroy it, and take up everything into your way of life which brings it health and strength. (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, 429)

The home is a prime source of disease. The family is one of the greatest sources of illness. Most heart attacks are occasioned not by a troublesome employee or customer or a business competitor, but by an altercation in the home. Anger, envy, anxiety, discouragement, resentment, hatred and sorrow bring actual physical suffering and serious illness….Most domestic difficulties are a result of the failure to follow the words: ‘I have found nothing better for the body than silence.’ (Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Career of Happiness, p.78)

The mother must frequently ask herself: What kind of home do I have? Is it a place that develops unhappy attitudes, resulting in sickness of the body and sickness of the soul, personal maladjustment, sadness, complaining and irritability? Or is it a sanctuary of cheerfulness, of liking everyone, where recrimination and useless nagging are never heard? (Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Career of Happiness, p.78)

Whatever is said of the wise mother is also true of the wise father, and even the wise child. (Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Career of Happiness, p. 67)

*Translation from Soncino Talmud

Suggested Reading on the Topics of Peace of Mind Through Balanced Torah Living and Health

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch
Judaism Eternal, Volume 2, Chapter IV: Jewish Serenity (pp. 145-154)
Horeb, 429, 459, 460, 428, 429

Rav Avigdor Miller
Career of Happiness, pp. 101-108
The Path of Life
Rejoice O’ Youth, 851-891
Rav Miller Speaks

Monday, June 12, 2017

Not the land

It was not the land that Moses had been commanded to proclaim to his people at the outset of his mission as מורשה, as the inheritance they were to preserve (Ex. 6,8). The Law, to be translated into full reality upon that soil, was to be the true מורשה, the one true, everlasting inheritance, the one true center around which the nation and its leaders were to gather as one united community. Herein lay the goal and the destiny, the character and the significance of the people.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch "The Kehillah," Collected Writings, Vol. VI, p. 62

Sunday, June 11, 2017

1908 Samson Raphael Hirsch – Jubilaums-Nummer Rare Publication

This item is for sale on Ebay. It appears to be a centennial publication in honor of Rav Hirsch's birth. Here are some of the photos from the Ebay ad. It includes this list of Hirsch's publications in German:

Jubilaums-Nummer means Anniversary number.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

we must study the customs of the Jewish People

"Chazal state that Minhag Shel Yisrael Torah Hu, “The customs of the Jewish People are Torah.” Most understand this statement as teaching that we must abide by the customs of our people, just as we must abide by the Torah. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited by Rav Hershel Schachter) explains that it means that we must study the customs of the Jewish People with the same rigor as we study the texts of the Torah. Rav Soloveitchik devoted much time in his Shiurim analyzing the basis of various customs because authentic customs have a basis in the Torah."  Rabbi Howard Jachter

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Rav Breuer on Vocational Choice

On the importance of choosing a field that suits one's nature. This article is so important. Rav Breuer really understood the common man. No wonder he was such a great community leader.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Eliyahu Munk, translator par excellence

Eliyahu Munk was born in Frankfurt and studied at the Realschule, the Yeshiva of R' Joseph Breuer, and at Gateshead. He later moved to Canada where he worked as a teacher and a businessman. He moved to Jerusalem in 1978. He has translated an impressive number of classic texts including the Akeidas Yitzchok, the Toras Moshe of the Alsich, the Alsich's commentary on Psalms, the Shnei Luchos HaBris, the Or Hachayim, and the Rabbeinyu Bachyha's massive commentary on Chumash.

Image result for eliyahu munkImage result for eliyahu munk