Friday, February 27, 2015

Parshas Zachor - Why Were There Nazis? - Haman's Grandchildren In Yeshiva - Never Reject - Fix Amalek - Exciting News

From an email that is circulating...
Shallooom sweeetest friends!!!!!!
First and foremost a HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my father. I am not at liberty to tell you his age but since I am 43 that means that he is at least 57 [assuming he got married after his bar mitzva]. May he enjoy many more years of good health, happiness and nachas from his children. To my mind - he is the GREATEST! I owe him everything. The only person on par with him is my beloved mother to whom I similarly owe EVERYTHING. May Hashem grant my parents many years of good health and peace of mind. May they dance at all of their grandchildrens' weddings. AMEN!! 
A huuuuuuge mazel tov to my beloved friend R' Ephraim Gervis and his holy wife on the birth of Yehudit Chana. May she be a Light unto the world and follow in the path of her illustrious parents and forebearers.
A huuuuuge mazel tov to my beloved friend HaRav Ha-chossid R' Dovid'l Weinberg on the birth of his son. May he and his rebbetzin derive much nachas and simcha from their future great Chassidic Rebbe.
A huuuuuge mazel tov to my beloved friend Rabbi Baruch Freedman on his engagement to Linda Rosenfeld. May the two of them build a holy home filled with simcha and kedusha. It was quite a wait but, ultimately, well worth it.
A huuuge mazel tov to R' and Mrs. Mordechai Shapiro on the birth of their son. May he grow up to beautifully sing the praises of Hashem like his father and give his parents much joy always!
A huuuuge mazel tov to my most beloved friend Jeremy Wernick on his engagement to Amanda Goldman. May they be zocheh to build a home filled with love and chesed. I am sure they will [if you know them you know what I mean].....
This dvar Torah is dedicated to the zchus of Shaindy Chana bas Malka. May Hashem bestow upon her holy soul much blessing. May she receive EVERYTHING she desires li-tova ulivracha very soon.
Also in the zchus of my beloved friend R' Chaim Schreck Shlita. He is the truest ben torah in every sense of the word. May Hashem bless him and his family with limitless shefa bracha.
And last but not least - my beloved friend Moshe Yehuda ben Pesha Dina for ONLY GOOD THINGS. I love him so much and hope that all of his hearts desires are speedily fulfilled li-tova.

I thank those blessed souls who are helping me devote myself to learning and teaching Torah to the world. Their kindness is heart warming and literally life-giving.
This week we read parshas Zachor and the mitzva to remember Amalek. We are a people whose job is to CONSTANTLY remember. Zachor means [gramatically] - always remember [הווה מתמשך]. Amalek is the epitome of evil. Amalek is the "final solution" of Haman [a descendent of Amalek] and also that of the Nazis ימח שמם וזכרם. As they say in the playgrounds "Dat's baaaaaad, maaan!" Where did Amalek begin? What is the ROOT CAUSE of Amalek?
The gemara in Sanhedrin [99b] tells us: There was a lady named Timna. She was a gentile princess who yearned to join the Jewish people but was rejected by both Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov as being an unworthy convert. She was not flustered and chose to became a concubine to Eliphaz the son of Eisav. She somehow wanted to connect to the Jewish people, if not as a convert then at least as a concubine to someone with Jewish roots.
Nu - from that union came someone named Amalek. The worst possible "klippah" [impure spiritual husk] imaginable. The gemara says [see the commentary of the Yad Ramah there] that from here we learn a valuable lesson - DON'T TURN PEOPLE AWAY. While the Avos had ample reason to reject her [see the Maharal and others] but still - the results were catastrophic. The ROOT CAUSE of Amalek [and later Nazis etc.] is REJECTING ANOTHER PERSON.
That may explain the gemara [gittin 57b] that the great grandchildren of Haman learned Torah in Bnei Brak [I actually think they had a little too much influence, based on what happened there recently - השם ירחם]. Everyone wonders: The law is that we may not accept converts from Amalek, so how did they convert? The commentaries sweat quite a bit to find a heter for them. Maybe the Rabbis felt that the tikkun for the rejection of Timna was accepting the descendants of Haman so they found a heter and converted them. Find every way to accept and welcome another person who wants to come close.
This may also explain the Pasuk in the megilla ורבים מעמי הארץ מתיהדים - Many of the goyim converted and they were accepted, even though their motivations may not have been the purest, as it says כי נפל פחד יהודים עליהם - they were flat out scared. Still - try never to reject anybody.  
If one shouldn't reject a Timna, who was found unworthy by Avraham who was mekarev tens of thousands [Rambam Avoda Zara 1/3] - then what about a Jew?! How important is it to be mekarev Jews, no matter who they are. We can start with our children, showing much love and showering them with positive attention and branch out to other relatives, co-workers etc. That is fixing the blemish of Amalek at the source.
[Based on Seuda Shlishit Tetzave 5770 - Mori Vi-rabbi the Tolna Rebbe Shlita]

A beautiful shabbos filled with a lot of kiruv to all Jews with אהבה אחווה שלום ורעות.
Bi-ahava rabba,
PS - Check out the exciting news  - - share the news with interested parties. I LOVE parties!:-)
PPS - This is mekarev me -

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Wife With Alzheimers

From the Parsha Sheet - Rosh Yehudi:

My friend told me a story about an 80 year old man who came to a doctor's office for a treatment. He requested that they perform the treatment as quickly as possible because he is in a hurry.

During the treatment the nurse asked: "Where are you hurrying off to? Do you have an important doctor's appointment?"
"No, I am eating with my wife in the hospital?"
"What is wrong with her?"
"She has had Alzheimer's for a few years already."
"And if you are a little late, will she worry?"
"No, she does not understand what is happening to her. For the last five years she does not recognize anyone, not even me."
"And you visit her every morning even though she does not know who you are?" – the nurse said surprisingly.
"She does not know who I am," the man said smiling, "But I know who she is and who she was."

New Articles

I recently started a new feature on my other blog called "Rav Kook Yomi". The idea is to quote a passage of the Rav in order to extract us a little from the mud in which we are mired and connect to an elevated soul - thereby connecting to our own elevated souls. I am not willing to commit the time to explain what the Rav writes [and frankly I don't always understand myself] but it is with a tefilla that Hashem will enable me to spread the Rav's teachings with my own spin and commentary. In the meantime I devote my time to other Torah pursuits.

You are welcome to join me in my journey....

This weeks article on Parshas Tetzave....

Preventing Crime

This area is guarded by a sign of the security company.

Monday, February 23, 2015

We Got Married For This?

R' Aviner:

- "Shalom, dear Chaim, I've waited so long to eat dinner together."
- "It's not important, Rina, I could have eaten alone. You don't have to wait for me."
- "But, Chaim, I want to eat together with you. Why were you late?"
- "I was at a shiur. It's important."
- "And I'm not important?"
- "Of course you are important. But one also needs to add wisdom. If one doesn't add wisdom, he is like an animal."
- "So, I'm an animal?"
- "Don't be insulted, Rina. That is not what I meant to say. Okay, let's eat."
- "Why are you eating so fast, Chaim?"
- "…"
- "You don't like it. I worked hard to make something you like!"
- "I like it all…"
- "But why are you rushing?"
- "I have an important meeting."
- "For what?"
- "For the benefit of the community."
- "And I am not part of the community?"
- "Why are you insulted? You are certainly a part."
- "To you, I am only a part?"
- "Rina. I am in a rush. Shalom."
- "We got married for this?"

The Alei Shor


Some words in memory of the great Mussar teacher Rav Shlomo Volbe ztz"l who passed away a number of years ago.

Born in Berlin shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, Rav Wolbe’s early education was in Berlin, in the Frankfurt Yeshiva, and then in Rav Botchko’s yeshiva in Montreux, Switzerland. In the 1930’s, he decided to attend Yeshiva in Eastern Europe, spending several years in Mir, Poland, where he became a close talmid of the mashgiach Rav Yerucham Levovitz, and, after Rav Yerucham’s passing, of Rav Chatzkal Levenstein, his successor. Throughout Rav Wolbe’s life, he viewed himself as a talmid muvhak, a disciple, of Rav Yerucham, and as a transmitter of the mussar tradition that traces back to Rav Yisroel Salanter.


When the Soviet armies overran the town of Mir in the opening weeks of World War II, the Yeshiva fled to Lithuania. Rav Wolbe, who was a German national, was forced to separate from the Yeshiva and spent the war years in neutral Sweden. While in Sweden, Rav Wolbe lectured to the local Jewish population, in essence creating what was possibly the first kiruv rechokim program in the modern world. He and Rav Wolf Jacobson, the local Rav, became the Swedish contacts for the Vaad Hatzalah and also created a seminary for young women who had survived the inferno of Europe, usually without any surviving family members. During this period of his life, Rav Wolbe authored hashkafah seforim in both Swedish and German for outreach purposes.

After the war, Rav Wolbe moved to Petach Tikvah, Eretz Yisroel, where he married his rebbitzen, tichyi, who is a daughter of Rav Avraham Grodzinsky, Hy”d, the last mashgiach of Slobodka. Through his rebbitzen, Rav Wolbe was a nephew of HaRav Yaakov Kaminetzky, zt”l, and a brother-in-law of HaRav Chayim Kreiswurth, zt”l.


In 5708\1948, Rav Wolbe joined Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, shlit”a, in opening the Yeshivah Gedolah of Be’er Yaakov. Rav Shapiro became the Rosh Yeshiva, and Rav Wolbe, mashgiach, a position he held for over 35 years. Later, he served as mashgiach in the Lakewood Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel and he opened Yeshivas Givat Shaul. Rav Wolbe gave “mussar shmoozen,” “vaadin” (more informal lectures, usually to smaller groups), and lectures in many yeshivos and other public and private forums. He also created batei mussar, where he delivered shmoozen and vaadin to long-standing talmidim, seasoned talmidei chachomim who developed into great gedolim and mussar experts themselves.

Rav Wolbe published the substance of many of his lectures in several seforim on a wide variety of topics. In each volume, he wrote a forward explaining the purpose for that particular sefer and the place and context where he had delivered the original lectures, shmoozen, or vaadin. His name does not appear in any of his seforim.


Rav Wolbe himself points out a key component to much of his teaching: “One must learn how to approach a statement of Chazal – to study the depths of its pshat and to experience it until the hidden light of Chazal’s statement illuminates you” (Alei Shur, pg. 9).
What did he mean? This sounds a bit like confusing rhetoric.

Often, the simple meaning of Chazal’s statement is unclear. Yet, if we review the statement over and over, suddenly we realize a deeper and truer understanding of what Chazal meant. At this point, the meaning of the statement illuminates us –whereas before, it had eluded us.


Rav Wolbe published his first Hebrew work, Alei Shur, to provide today’s Yeshiva student with a basic guide to assist him to become a ben Torah. This book, which the author spent thirteen years writing and revising, clarifies the basic areas to concentrate working on in order for a person to ascend to higher levels in his personal service of Hashem. It swiftly became a classic and is a standard studied text.

Alei Shur defines a yeshiva as a place where one learns to live, not just to learn (pg. 31). Based on sources in Chazal, Rav Wolbe contends that learning Torah with bad midos such as hate, competition, or jealousy, is not considered learning Torah. Learning Torah must assist in the development of one’s midos, or it is without value.

In the same context, Rav Wolbe quotes the Rambam who notes that the word “chaver” carries two different meanings. It means a close friend, but it also means a talmid chacham (see Rambam, Peirush HaMishnayos, D’mai 2:3). This is because talmidei chachamim become the only true close friends, since their bond to others is based on their essence as giving people. Thus, someone intensely involved in learning Torah will be extremely careful that all interactions he has with people are pleasant.


Rav Wolbe points out the following anomalous problem that sometimes afflicts Torah Jews. Many people observe mitzvos because of habit – that is how they grew up – but not because they enjoy observing the mitzvos. If you ask them, “Why do you keep mitzvos?” their true answer is, “Because that’s how I was brought up.”

Rav Wolbe notes that this answer is equivalent to asking someone, “Why are you eating lunch?”, and he answers, “Because that’s how I was educated.” This answer is obviously ridiculous. We eat because we are hungry.

Similarly, we should be observing mitzvos because we are hungry for these mitzvos. Therefore, we should perform mitzvos with enthusiasm, because we enjoy them (Alei Shur, Pg. 51).


Rav Wolbe felt a yeshiva bachur must develop expertise in four basic areas aside from the regular Gemara curriculum of the Yeshiva.

1. He must know the halacha that affects him. In Rav Wolbe’s interpretation, this means he should learn all of Mishnah Berurah.

2. He should know Chumash with Rashi and Ramban. This forms the basis for one’s hashkafah on Yiddishkeit.

3. He should know Pirkei Avos, with the commentary of Rabbeinu Yonah. Chazal gave us Mesechta Avos as a basic primer in midos, and Rabbeinu Yonah’s commentary on Avos is the best method for internalizing this primer.

4. He should be conversant in Mesilas Yesharim, which Rav Wolbe calls “the dictionary for midos.”
Rav Wolbe contends that one who devotes a small amount of his Yeshiva learning to each of these pursuits consistently will complete all four projects within four years.

This assumes, of course, that the person is highly organized. Rav Wolbe believed strongly in being structured. In his own words, “The greater the person is, the more organized is his life” (Alei Shur, Pg. 68).


In the Second Chapter of Alei Shur, Rav Wolbe discusses the importance of tefillah to a human being. “The ability to pray defines a human being. Animals also wage war, construct homes, and live social lives. But only mankind can relate to the Ribono shel Olam and daven” (Alei Shur, Pg. 27). Thus, someone who does not pray properly does not perform any daily activities different from an animal. Only one devoted to tefillah demonstrates the uniqueness of the human being.
“Each davening performed with understanding is a qualitatively different experience and has its own unique feeling and quality. It is indeed impossible that two tefillos should be identical — even though the words are identical. One can compare this to riding a train watching a beautiful landscape. Although the scenery may appear the same, the experience is different from moment to moment. At each moment, one sees the scenery from a different perspective.

Similarly, someone davening should constantly see himself and his relationship with Hashem from a different perspective — just as the traveler is looking at the scenery with a different, fresh perspective.”


Alei Shur even addresses the emotional ups and downs of the typical yeshiva bachur.

Chapter 6 consists of a correspondence with a yeshiva bachur going through a difficult time, where he sees no success in his learning — he is not remembering what he learned, nor is he focusing enough to understand the shiur or the sugya.

Rav Wolbe points out that a person goes through cycles. There are times when one is not learning well, and one’s davening and midos also suffer. Rav Wolbe notes that the source of this difficulty is usually to be found in comparing oneself to others and coming up short. Instead, acknowledging one’s skills and qualities, and recognizing one’s shortcomings helps one realize that comparing one’s share in learning and avodas Hashem to another’s is counterproductive. Although I may not remember a sugya as well as others do — if I need to review it many times to retain it, I will have a much greater kinyan on the information than do those who absorb the information quickly. (Apparently, Rav Wolbe wrote thousands of such chizuk letters during his lifetime!)

Rav Wolbe focused on his talmidim’s needs, both individually and as a group. He directed his topic and the intensity of his delivery to his audience. One talmid related that he returned to Yeshiva Be’er Yaakov many years after he had studied there in the ‘50s and noted that Rav Wolbe’s shmooze was less intense. When he asked the mashgiach about this, Rav Wolbe answered: “You belong to a different generation. The generation born before the war received shmoozen that were very intensive experiences. Today’s generation cannot tolerate this type of shmooze.”

Yet, when Rav Wolbe published the second volume of “Alei Shur,” thirty years after the first, he notes that the style of the second volume is more intense — since the audience for these shmoozen were his older, more seasoned talmidim. Thus, there is a vast difference between Volume 1 of Alei Shur, which is general hadracha for a ben Torah, and volume 2, which reflects the result of “workshop vaadin” for developing elevated midos.

A talmid once asked Rav Wolbe how long it takes to prepare a shmooze. He answered: “It takes five years to learn how to give a schmooze, five years to learn how to give a vaad, and five years to learn how to talk to someone.”

This was indeed another facet to Rav Wolbe’s personality – the ability to empathize with the suffering of another. Someone bringing him a problem could see the intensity and anguish on his face as he identified with the questioner’s difficulty. Recently, someone related that he was unable to discuss a personal matter with Rav Wolbe because of the latter’s weak condition, and instead discussed the matter with one of Rav Wolbe’s talmidim. He described how he witnessed the same intensity and anguish on the talmid’s face that he was familiar with seeing on Rav Wolbe’s. Thus, Rav Wolbe has successfully trained a new generation of leaders of mussar for Klal Yisroel.


Among his many works, Rav Wolbe authored two very important guidebooks, one which is now used everywhere to teach chassanim how to be good husbands, and the other, “Zeriya Ubinyan Bechinuch,” on the Torah’s fundamentals of childrearing. In both instances, the purpose of publishing the sefarim is to spread the principles that he taught to a larger audience.
Rav Wolbe noted that sometimes people think they are giving their children proper chinuch, but in reality just the opposite is happening.

He provides the following examples:

Insisting that a child remain at the Shabbos table when he is too young. In this instance, although the parents feel that this is important for the child’s chinuch, it is totally counter-productive to force a child to do what he is not ready for. The expectations for a child must always be appropriate to his age.

Parents who grew up in impoverished homes often raise their children by spoiling them- to “make up” for their own impoverished origins. However, this is counterproductive for the child’s needs.
Often parents say, or imply, that their child should achieve what the parents accomplished, or what the parents aspired to accomplish – even when this may not be within the child’s capabilities or inclinations. The parents may want their son to be a Rosh Yeshiva or at least to be involved in full-time learning, but the child’s personality is more appropriate to being an elementary school rebbe, an outreach professional, or a frum businessman!

The result is that the child never learns to serve Hashem in his own unique way. He is being forced to be what he cannot be, and therefore will not be successful at it — while at the same time, he is being hampered from developing to his own greatest potential. In the end, he ends up becoming a non-success.

Timing is everything in child-rearing. One should neither start too early nor wait until too late. Also, there must be a tremendous balance between too much involvement in the child’s growth and too little.

Rav Wolbe was opposed to hitting children, both by parents and by mechanchim. He had his own original way of explaining the passage from Mishlei “Chosech shivto soneh bno,” “One who withholds the rod, hates his child.” To fully appreciate Rav Wolbe’s explanation of this passage and his approach, I refer you to read what he writes himself. (The book is available in English translation.)


Possibly the most unusual of Rav Wolbe’s writings are his books “Bein Sheishes Le’asor,” and “Ohr LaShav” which are based on lectures he gave to non-observant audiences after the Six Day War.
During the Six Day War a new teshuvah movement began, as many secular people recognized the miracle of the war. Rav Wolbe asked a shaylah from Rav Chatzkal Levenstein, who was at the time the mashgiach in Yeshivas Ponevitz, whether he should become involved in outreach in addition to his other responsibilities. Rav Chatzkal ruled that whoever is capable of being involved in kiruv rechokim is obligated to do so, and that Rav Wolbe should be involved to the extent that it did not disturb his responsibilities in the yeshiva.

As a result, Rav Wolbe gave lectures on the basics of Jewish belief at army bases, in secular Kibbutzim, and to academic audiences. Rav Wolbe began his first lecture with these words, “You invited me to tell you about Judaism, and why the religious parties often create problems for the general public.” (Bear in mind that non-observant audiences in Israel are, unfortunately, often hostile to Torah and observant Jews.) Another lecture began, “Many ask, is it possible to change halacha to accommodate the modern world, and how can a modern world be run according to halacha?”
Notice that he was unafraid to deal with controversy and felt that he could convince his hostile audience of the beauty of Torah. As a well-known mechanech once told me “I doubt that there is a baal teshuvah today who is not influenced by his teachings.”

In these lectures, Rav Wolbe blended halacha and hashkafah in such a way that someone who was totally non-observant would be drawn to the beauty of Yiddishkeit, while, at the same time, someone halachically committed would suddenly gain new insights into his observance of mitzvos. A secondary purpose in publishing these lectures was to teach frum people how they could influence others and be mekareiv rechokim.

Rav Wolbe’s scientific knowledge of the world shows through in these lectures, as well as the importance he placed on being able to communicate the beauty of Torah in a sophisticated way. Indeed, a talmid told me that he once gave a vaad in the Yeshiva on the correct way to write a letter!


Personally, I have found one of Rav Wolbe’s smaller seforim to be even more powerful. A few years ago, he published a volume entitled “Pirkei Kinyan Daas,” “Chapters on Acquiring Daas.” (I have intentionally not translated the word “daas,” because I think translating it here defeats the purpose of Rav Wolbe’s work.) This book is based on seventeen lectures (shmoozen) given over a period of 40 years.

Rav Wolbe notes the following:

To grow as a Torah Jew, a person must have daas.

Most individuals do not have a natural sense of daas and need to be taught. Our generation is particularly short on daas. This can be demonstrated by the following:

1. The rampant problem today of lack of self-confidence, which he contends is a modern phenomenon.

2. People being frozen into indecision by their “feelings.”

3. Accepting certain realities that we should endeavor to change, while at the same time attempting to change things that we should accept.

4. Overreaction to frustration.

5. Lack of marital stability.

What is daas and how does one achieve it? This is the subject of the sefer, which is a “must read.” But then, all of Rav Wolbe’s writings are “Must Reads!”

Much of Rav Wolbe’s thought was never published, and we hope to see further dissemination of his machshava in the near future, so his works can impact a wider audience. Tehei Nafsho Tzerura Bitzror HaChayim. May he be a meilitz Yosher for Klal Yisroel, a People he truly loved, collectively and individually.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Laws Of Ownership For Children

New Shiur

Ktores and Shemen Hamishcha - enlightening.
You tell me if this is how YOU learned....
 If you did then you are my Rebbi!!!

Reflections On Our Mortality - And Immortality [With A Bit About Immorality]

לזכות אהובי רבי ברוך בן משה לברכה והצלחה בכל מעשה ידיו
ולרפואת אברהם זלמן בן ברכה בתוך שח"י

Last night the son of a friend tragically died, leaving a young wife, numerous children and little to no money. I am not collecting for the family - my experience has been that it is no simple task to get people to contribute, even to widows and orphans. I have numerous friends with millions upon millions of dollars but even getting 18 dollars is, for me, a Herculean task. That has been my experience after over 20 years of being a gabbai tzdaka. I am sure that others have much more success than I do and hope to learn their secret. I find that it is specifically the poor who are more likely to give than the wealthy. Nu - I must assume that everybody gives at least 10-20 percent of their earnings and I just get to them too late. Am Yisrael is holy. No question about it.

I would like to give the widow and orphans what I have but I really don't think they want my overdraft, they have their own problems....

So why am I telling you this if not to shnorr a few dollars?

[NOTE: This is MUSSAR. If you are not in the category of אוהב את התוכחות-  One who loves rebuke, one of the 48 ways to acquire Torah and the sina qua non of personal growth, please read no further...:-)]

Because EVERY DAY is the best day to remember that we don't live forever. That means...

1] Tell everybody you can that you love them - tomorrow may chas vi-shalom be too late.

2] Do tshuva today because it may chas vi-shalom be your last. [Full disclosure - I lifted that one right out of the gemara...]

3] Learn a lot of Torah - that is what our neshamos are going to be doing for eternity. The more we learn here the more we will enjoy there. It is best not to learn for olam ha-ba. Or because it is interesting. Or because it adds meaning and structure to your life. Or because it makes you smarter. Or because it makes you deeper. Or to impress people. Or for any other reason other that the fact that when you learn you cleave to Hashem and for that we live. That is called תורה לשמה.

4] Go easy on the Facebook etc. etc. etc. Every second is a gift and if not used well - it is gone forever.

5] Think about forever. This world is very temporal. Don't blow your problems out of proportion. This world is way overrated.

6] Be filled with simcha. זה היום עשה השם - If you know that today is a very special gift from Hashem, then נגילה ונשמחה בו -  You will be so filled with joy. [Rav Avraham Weinfeld ztz"l - he survived the holocaust and understood the value of life...]

7] Invest your money in funds that guarantee HUUUUUGE dividends. That means - give away as much as you can. All you TAKE with you is what you GIVE away. ויקחו לי תרומה - When you GIVE, you are really taking. ויקחו. Whatever you keep - you ultimately lose. And give with simcha. It is a zchus.

8] Think about your eulogies. What are people going to say about you? How do you want to be remembered? "Phil 'Pinchas' Tyvehstein, oyyyy, he was such a big Phillies fan. Like, he never, missed a pitch, much less a game. He was mamesh mamesh moiser nefesh to attend every home game in person. And gambling. Boy did he love Vegas. And you shoulda seen the guy eat. He could down four steaks - no problem. And drink. It took a whole bottle and a half of bourbon to even get him tipsy. And at work he was an animal. He would do anything - legal or illegal, moral or immoral to earn a buck. But he loved money and that was his passion [unless the Phillies were playing]. He will be happily missed by his long suffering ex-wife and estranged children. His mistress will now say Kaddish."

We all have a little Phil Tyvehstein in us. OK - maybe you don't but I do. [Watching a movie that features prutzos  - as most do - is halachically compared to taking a mistress. Same category of prohibition. Ignoring one's children when they need you because of other "responsibilities" also is a form of estrangement. Lying or cheating in any way is immoral. Who never lies or "cuts corners" in business? "It's the government, why should I give them my hard earned money." והדברים ידועים].

9] Be bi-simcha because a mitzva done with simcha can't be compared to a mitzva done without.

10] Be bi-simcha even though you heard about a tragedy. It came from a Loving G-d.

11] Think about how his widows and orphans feel. Step out of your small world of self-interests and enter the world of another human being. It is to the soul like a good diet and exercise are for the body. The healthiest.

12] Add you own ideas to the list...

Friday, February 20, 2015

New Article

Every daf of Ksubos is so full of gems. Infinite. Here are some thoughts on a few words of tosfos from todays daf.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Terse Definition Of Emunah

What is Emunah?
If you understand Emunah properly you realize that we have the capacity to believe in Hashem because he believes in us and gives us the ability to follow him. Emunah is a Divine gift which emantes from Above. Emunah is dveykus - clinging to Hashem. If we are not clinging - we are not believing. Connecting is double-sided. We can only connect with Him if he connects to us.
[Based on the Maharal in a number of places and requires more explanation which will come bli neder:-).]
We have a mitzva of Emunah every second of every day so it is mamesh mamesh inyanei d'yoma:-):-).


Monday, February 16, 2015

2 Levels Of Communication

Two levels of human communication - what people really think and what they actually say.

All too often there is a tremendous contrast....

Today I received such an email:-).

At the end of the day, the only option is to love people [and ourselves] with all of their faults.

New Article On Teruma

Maharal on the greatness of Torah, selling a shul, the issur of hasaras ha-badim and other gems.

The Missing Link

Here is the link to part 3.
I thank D.R. for sending it to me:-).

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Purim Around The Corner! Get Ready....

Rav Moshe Tzvi from the Rebbe Shlita.

Ad di-lo yada - Part 1!

Part 2!

Part 4!

[I don't know where part 3 went...:-)]

Amalek and low self esteem.

True Predictions

Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottleib

We have two conclusions from the last two chapters. (1) To act responsibly we must seek the truth and use our best estimate of the truth as our basis for action. Action on the basis of pragmatic considerations without regard to truth are irresponsible. Similarly, waiting for absolute proof before acting is irresponsible. (2) The exact weight of evidence required to mandate action cannot be stated precisely (and is even somewhat controversial). What we need show is that there is enough evidence to meet whatever standard is used in making responsible decisions. The appeal is to consistency: If you stick to your usual standards and act responsibly, then you must live according to the Torah.
Now we will begin a review of the evidence. I will start with two cautionary remarks. First, when I present evidence, the significance of the evidence is that it makes it probable that the Torah being true. To respond that it is still conceivable that the Torah is false is quite correct, but irrelevant. The goal is not to remove every conceivable alternative, it is to present the Judaism as a more probable alternative. Second, we are now gathering evidence. To gather evidence means no one piece of evidence need carry the case by itself. This is similar to a courtroom procedure. If you want to convict a murderer, just finding his fingerprints at the scene of the crime isn't enough, just finding a weapon similar to the one that caused the murder in his house is not enough, just having a motivation is not enough, just his having been seen at the place of the murder at the time of the murder is not enough. But, when you put them all together, it can be enough. So, again, it will not be relevant to respond that "This piece of evidence is not enough to justify believing that the Torah is true." Of course it isn't. No one piece of evidence is enough. It is all the evidence together which is enough. We won't begin to sum up all the evidence until the last chapter. The point, then, is for each piece of evidence to be seen as relevant, to see that the most likely explanation of the evidence is that the Torah is true.

In Deuteronomy 28-30 there is a prediction of what will happen to the Jewish people if they don't live up to the standards of the Torah. It predicts conquest accompanied by wanton slaughter of the population: men, woman, children, old, young, and so on. It predicts an exile resulting in world-wide scatter, and that during this period of world-wide scatter, Jews will have no independent government. One result of the exile is that some Jews will be brought back by boat to Egypt to be sold as slaves, and they will not be purchased. Nevertheless, the Jewish people will survive, will never completely be destroyed, and will ultimately return to the land of Israel. It also predicts that the conqueror will speak a language that the Jewish people don't understand.  Now as we said in chapter II, what is crucial about this prediction is that it should be a unique prediction, namely, a prediction no one else can explain. Because if it is a prediction that other people can explain, it no longer functions as a crucial experiment. It no longer distinguishes between what you are claiming and what others can claim. So, let's ask ourselves about each of the details in this prediction, whether their coming true could have been explained by a sociological analysis of the times, or by a competing ideology - or whether it is something that someone could explain only from the Jewish point of view.8 [Of course, if someone should agree with our prediction from our sources, then his making that prediction cannot count for him against us! If Christians and Moslems accept Deuteronomy 28-30 and predict that the Jews will be exiled as a result of their failure to live up to the Torah, when that prediction comes true it does not give Christianity and Islam positive evidence against Judaism, since we all agree on that prediction.] Now, let's see which of the details of this prediction could have been explained by an observer with a point of view other than that of the Torah. The prediction of conquest is not very difficult. Everybody gets conquered sooner or later. There was a prediction of total destruction: a decimation of the population and exile. That was rare in the ancient world. It happened, but it was rare because the purpose of conquest was economic. Typically it was a question of acquiring colonies and taxing them. You can't tax people if you slaughter the population and exile them. Now, I'm not talking about theft. Of course you want to take all the gold and silver, gems, fine linen and so on. You may take the young, fine, strong men off as slaves. You may want to take the good looking, young woman for sexual purposes. But, you don't wantonly slaughter the rest of the population because there is no point in destroying your tax base! During their 300 years of rule, the Romans did this only to Carthage and the Jews. So, the prediction of the wanton slaughter of the population and exile were predictions that could not be anticipated to really occur because they were not the normal procedure in the ancient world. Now, let's take the prediction that the conqueror will speak a language that you don't understand. Why should I think that? Neighboring countries typically understood one another's languages. There was enough commerce and travel for each to be familiar with the language of the other. Couldn't we have been conquered by a neighbor? Alternatively, couldn't we be conquered by a country that spoke an "international language?" Many Jews understood Greek. Greek was in those days similar to what English is today. Business contracts, trade and diplomacy were conducted in Greek. Had any Greek speaking nation conquered and exiled us, this prediction would have been false. But the Romans conquered us and they spoke Latin. Latin was a language with which Jews were not familiar. If a nation is going to be exiled, who says that it will end up all over the world? Why should that be an automatic consequence of exile? Not everyone who was exiled from their countries ended up with identifiable communities all over the world. Even when the Babylonians exiled us 500 years earlier, we didn't end up all over the world. The vast majority of the population was taken off to Babylon, a large group went to Alexandria in Egypt, but there were many places in the world without identifiable groups of Jews. If they were going to end up in exile, how could one predict with confidence that some of them will be taken back to Egypt in boats to be sold, and that there will not be anybody there to buy them? Why should one think that? It is true that there was a slave trade flourishing and that there were known slave routes, but who is to say that it would definitely happen?

If you are going to predict exile scattered all over the world, how can you be sure that at no point will any Jewish society form an independent government in some portion of the earth's surface? Don't forget, we are talking about two thousand years ago. Two thousand years ago the world wasn't organized with maps and boundary lines so that every square millimeter of the earth's surface belongs to one nation or another, and sometimes to two or three. On the contrary, there were vast areas of the earth's surface that were unclaimed, unsettled, and simply wild; for example, parts of Russia, North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Central Africa. Who is to say that Jewish exiles would not form an independent society in one of these places?   Now that means that for each of these predictions, if I don't have a Jewish perspective, and I look at it neutrally, or I look at it as a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a Taoist, a Confucianist, or as an atheist, I would expect them not to occur, and I would not be able to explain them if they did occur. If I were to assign probabilities to each of these detailed predictions from any of those non-Jewish points of view, the probabilities would be very low. Total destruction and exile, let's say that this occurred in 10% of all ancient wars. Then a non-Jewish observer would give it a probability of 1/10. How often did the conqueror speak an unknown language? We don't know. Neighbors did fight, and the languages of great empires were widely known. Let's say generously that it happened a quarter of the time giving us a probability of 1/4. Being scattered all over the world as a result of exile, as far as I know, didn't happen at all. Strictly I suppose the probability should be zero! But let's be generous and give it a probability of 1/10. To take a nation that is scattered all over the world and thus be unable to organize itself into an independent society, again, I don't know what the probability of that would be, so I'll give it a probability of 1/4. To survive under these conditions and return to one's land has never happened in the history of the world - strictly speaking we should give it a probability of zero! But let's be generous and say 1/10. Now, when you have predictions for a sequence of events, and each event has a probability, and you want to know the probability of them all coming true, you multiply the probabilities. So, we multiply 1/10 * 1/4 * 1/10 * 1/4 * 1/10 and we come out with a probability of 1/16000. This is a very small number. That is the confidence that a neutral observer would have in this prediction. What is the likelihood that a prediction like this would come true? One chance in every sixteen thousand tries. Given the evidence the observer had to go on, there is no way for him to explain why it came true. But, it happened. That being the case, this is what I called earlier a unique prediction. It is a prediction whose truth no one else can explain. Had anyone seen the prediction before it happened, the response should have been that this is fantasy. Therefore, when it comes true, it contributes to the truth of Judaism. It is a relevant piece of evidence. [Four technical remarks. (1) Many details from Deuteronomy 28 have been omitted. There are two reasons: either the language in which they are expressed is poetical and cannot be precisely defined (and thus we cannot prove that the text means specifically what in fact happened), or they are predictions which are very likely to happen in the context of destruction and exile, so that they would not significantly lower the probability. (2) Some of the probabilities above are conditional - world-wide scatter given exile; no independence given world-wide scatter; survival and return given scatter. Only if they are understood this way is it appropriate to multiply them to get the probability of all the events occurring. My numbers are meant as (overly generous) estimates of these probabilities. (3) The probabilities are for the predictions coming true; they are not for the predictions having been made. We can easily think of reasons why someone would want to make a frightening prediction, but we would be very surprised if what was predicted occurred. (4) Since there are many nations, perhaps it is not surprising if one of them suffered the predictions of Deut. 28. Why then do we regard it as surprising that it happened to us? Because we predicted that it would happen to us, and it did. ]  Consider this parallel. Suppose we set 1000 coins flipping and predict that one of them will show ten heads in a row. That would not be surprising. But if we pick a particular coin and predict that it will show ten heads in a row, then the fact that there are other coins flipping is irrelevant - the odds against this coin are still 1024 to one. Now could it have come true by accident? Yes, it could have. I freely grant that because we are not playing Descartes. We are not interested in a mere a possibility. We are interested in a possibility for which there is more evidence. Anything can happen by chance, but the likelihood of this happening by chance is one in sixteen thousand. What this indicates is that whoever wrote this had access to a source of information beyond the natural. What that source was and how to describe it we don't know so far. We are only drawing minimal inference from the events. That seems to me to be what the evidence indicates.
Finally, I will repeat again that I am not trying to prove that Judaism is true based on this one prediction. One true prediction rarely proves that a theory is true. I'm merely pointing out that this is relevant evidence. The full justification will come later when we take all the evidence together. But this is certainly a piece of objective evidence which ought to interest us. It ought to show us that the quest of the realist to find a truth which can be justified is not a quest in vain.

Ohr Somayach Institutions

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why We Act In The Ways We Do - Saving Eyal, Gilad And Naftali

Social scientists spend a lot of time trying to figure out why people act in the ways they do. Their conclusion is that it has little to do with logic. People, despite what they may think, are not logical beings. We all have the capacity to be logical but we all too often don't use that faculty and instead are motivated by many other factors.

Our Baalei Mussar reached the same conclusion long ago. We are motivated by emotion, by our experiences, by what we see around us, by our innate nature, by our concern for public approval, etc. etc. but not [or very slightly] by logic.

Let me give you a f'rinstence. Let us imagine that Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, who were kidnapped and brutally murdered had been instead held hostage by the animals. After days of prayers on their behalf by Am Yisrael, they sent out word that for the small sum of 50 million American Dollars [44.0955993 million Euros:-)] they would free the boys, unharmed and unscathed.

How long would it take for the Jewish people to come up with the cash? Less than 5 minutes. 10 huge gvirim would happily give 5 million and the boys would come home וליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר. [Acutally - I suspect that we could find many gvirim who would want the honor of paying for the whole thing. We are a holy nation...]

Now take these same 10 gvirim. They are sitting in a shteibel in Boro Park and a beggar who is making his rounds approaches each one with a note signed by a big Rov testifying to the fact that he has no money for his basic expenses such as food and medical bills. The Rav of the shteibel who knows that this person is really in need gives three dollars. Others give smaller or larger donations. Except for the gvirim. They don't give even one nickel. WHY NOT?? They have millions and millions. They will not feel it at all if they give a dollar. Or ten. Or even a thousand. That day at work they are going to earn many times that. So why can't they give the poor guy SOMETHING. Nebuch, nebuch. To save the three boys they would give 5 mil. in a second while here they won't even part with 5 bucks to help save this persons family from starving and to pay for medication.

In Yiddish they say ah vunder. A mind boggling, mystifying wonder.

The answer is that when the boys were kidnapped it tugged at their heartstrings and the level of empathy was running EXTREMELY high. When the "shnorrer" walks around the shul there is no empathy, just annoyance. Hence, no donation. Does it make SENSE? No. If saving a life is important, then all lives are important to save - not just people with whom you empathize.

Now let us change the scene a bit. The man walks in with his disabled, blind child in a wheelchair. Ahhh - here the gvirim can't take it and hand him 50's or even 100 dollar bills. Why? Because they are pained by the sight and the only way to feel a little better is to give. But wait!! Even when they didn't see the child - they read about him in the letter written by the big rabbi testifying to the fact that this man needs money for medical expenses. True - but if they don't see it with their own eyes, they aren't moved enough to act.

I was thinking about this recently after I was at a wedding and as per the custom in Israel, poor people circled the hall begging for donations. I watched as people who have millions of dollars consistently didn't give them anything [some didn't even give them the dignity of looking at them - maybe out of shame?]. I observed one of these people, a huge baal tzdaka, and asked myself - WAIT! This guy donates BUILDINGS, so why can't he spare a dollar or two. And if there are ten of these collecters - then ten dollars. No big deal for him but for them - breakfast! But not a penny.

Logically I believe that I am correct, but people don't act based on logic - notwithstanding their claims to the contrary.

My point is NOT that wealthy people don't give tzedaka - of course they do. My point is that how much people give, to whom they give etc. etc. is often based on supra rational [or - irrational] motivations. A human being must strive to have his brain rule over his heart. He must make a rational decision at to what is right and wrong and act accordingly - regardless of his feelings. This applies not only to giving but to all areas of our lives. I just chose this example because I am in "the parsha" of people not giving and trying to understand why....

I have a lot more analysis that maybe I will share in future posts but I wanted to provide people with "food for thought".

Love and blessings:-).

Belief And Action - Criteria For Successful Decision Making

Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottleib:

The Torah presents itself as a system with a variety of virtues: It is beautiful, inspiring, challenging, moral, profound, sensitizing, et cetera; and it is also true. Here I am going to deal only with truth. All the rest is correct, but I'm not going to deal with that. The responsibility to investigate truth is one by which we are bound. Here I am going to try to fulfill that responsibility.
First of all, when I talk about the Torah being true, I am limiting myself to the descriptive parts of the Torah, that is to say, the portion of the Torah which describes facts: This is how the world came into being; these historical events took place including perhaps miraculous historical events, prophecy, revelation, wars, famines, migrations; this is the nature of the human being; this is the nature of the soul; these are the predictions for the future, e.g. the coming of the Messiah, what happens after death; these are the forces that affect human history; this is the way in which G-d interacts with man and so on. These are all statements which are presented as descriptions of facts. Our question will be: What reasons are there to accept them as being true? However, experience has taught me that to start an investigation into the truth of Judaism is fruitless without agreeing first on our standards for evaluating such reasons. If I present considerations, evidence, arguments, and justifications, and we don't agree upon the standards by which those arguments should be evaluated, we end up arguing at cross purposes to one another. What standards should we have for evaluating the evidence? There is a standard due to Descartes that is subject to much discussion, a standard for knowing anything. Descartes said that to know something means to be able to refute absolutely any conceivable alternative. If I claim that I know A, to substantiate my claim to know A I have to be able to defeat any alternative absolutely. So that if I claim to know A, you can defeat my claim to know A if you can propose another alternative B. B needs only to be possible. If I can't eliminate B, and eliminate it absolutely, then I should withdraw my claim to know A. That is the Cartesian standard. Now, I am going to reject that standard and I'm going to reject it on two grounds. This will be very important because all of us have to a certain extent absorbed the Cartesian standard almost as a matter of instinct.

When someone claims to know something and offers an argument to support his claim, the natural response is to try to defeat it based on the Cartesian standard. ("But isn't it still possible that something else is true?") So, it is important for us to agree at the outset that we are rejecting the Cartesian standard. The first reason for rejecting the Cartesian standard is that if you really live by that standard, you don't know anything! Any claim to knowledge can be defeated by using the strict Cartesian standard. Descartes himself worried about this. How do you know that you are not dreaming at the present moment? What could you do to prove to yourself, absolutely, that you are not dreaming right now? Pinch yourself? Couldn't you pinch yourself in a dream? Could you prove to yourself that in three minutes you won't wake up and find yourself in the twenty-first century saying to yourself: "Ah, that's what I get for reading historical books. I dreamt myself back one hundred years to some crazy place with inadequate air conditioning," and so on. Now according to the Cartesian standard you don't know that you are awake because here is an alternative, a conceivable alternative, that you are really sleeping. You cannot eliminate it absolutely and therefore you do not know that you are awake.

[Of course, Descartes thought he could prove that (most of the time) we are really not sleeping. But today no one credits his proof - we cannot prove that we are not sleeping.]

Bertrand Russell's example was to ask whether you know that the Universe is really more than five minutes old. Five minutes old. So you say, well of course I remember what happened to me yesterday. But, the suggestion is that you came into existence five minutes ago with those memories programmed into your brain. So you say: "Well look, I have a tape of the concert of the Grateful Dead, and this is a forty-five minute tape, so there must have been at least a forty-five minute concert from which it was taped." The answer is that the world came into existence five minutes ago with the tape and its magnetic impressions already on it. "But look, there are partially decayed deposits of Uranium, and next to the Uranium itself are the standard decay products in the normal proportions." Again, the suggestion is that this happened five minutes ago with the decay products placed next to the Uranium with the correct proportions. So, here is a conceivable alternative. You think the universe is millions, or billions of years old. The conceivable alternative that the universe is only five minutes old, having come into existence with all those features which you think are evidence of greater age. You can't eliminate it absolutely. So, according to Descartes then, you don't know that the universe is more than five minutes old! You can go on with just about everything that you believe, and if you have a good enough imagination, you can think up some alternative which you can't eliminate absolutely, and you can defeat every claim to knowledge. So, the Cartesian standard to knowledge is fruitless. It is hopeless. It deprives us of everything that we think we know. Since Descartes started this game, for the last 350 years people have been trying to think up a different standard, a different criterion for knowledge. There is no accepted answer to Descartes except the judgment that he is surely wrong, and that we will someday find an acceptable standard. That is one reason for rejecting the Cartesian standard of knowledge.

[Some will wonder about Descartes suggestion that "I think, therefore I am" is absolute knowledge. But even this has its critics. Why does Descartes assume the subject-predicate form of the thinking process? When we say "It is raining" we don't have a candidate in mind for the "it"! Just as "It is raining" means "There is raining going on", maybe "I think" means "There is thinking going on". Then the inference to the existence of a thing called "I" is without foundation. Even mathematics and logic have their critics. It seems nothing is absolutely established.]


There is another reason for rejecting Descartes which applies more specifically to Judaism. Whatever is the case in making up our minds about theoretical knowledge, when we come to making practical choices, we have a quite different standard for making those decisions in a responsible fashion. We don't wait for absolute certainty before we act. The standard we employ in making responsible decisions is high probability vis-a-vis alternatives. If I have to decide what to do, and I know that what I do depends on my circumstances - i.e., what the facts are - and I don't know the facts for sure, I use the information I have to determine which of the alternatives is most probable and then I act on it. If I do so I have acted responsibly, and if I don't do so I have acted irresponsibly.

[This assumes that other things are equal - in particular, the values of the outcomes on the various possible alternatives must be equal. My point is only that the lack of certainty does not reduce us to arbitrary decisions.]

This is true for all of my decisions: what profession to master, where to live, whom to marry, what to do with my spare cash, how to handle my health and so forth. In all cases, for myself, and especially when I owe you something, you expect me to act responsibly with respect to the obligation that I have to you. That is the standard up to which I am held. I cannot plead that I didn't have a Cartesian proof and that is why I didn't act. So, for example, I borrow your car, and you tell me: "Listen, you can use the car, but you should know that the brakes might have a problem. So, if you hear a squeak or something, take it to the garage and have it fixed before you have an accident." Then you go off for a month's trip. You come back and you notice that sitting in front of your house is what once was your car. Now it looks like an accordion - folded. So you ask me what happened, and I say: "Well, I had an accident - the brakes slipped." You say to me: "But, I warned you. I told you that the brakes might be weak. Did they squeak?" I reply: "Yes, they did squeak." You ask me: "Well, did you take them in to be fixed?" I reply: "No, I didn't take them in to be fixed." You ask me: "Why not?" and I tell you: "Well, it was still possible that the squeak didn't mean that the brakes were weak. It was possible that the squeak was caused by a loose spring or something else. I didn't have any proof that it was the brakes." I don't think that you would be amused! Even if I didn't have any proof, the probability was that it was the brakes. After all, you told me that they were probably weak, and we know that weak brakes squeak. Given the information that I had, the alternative with the greatest probability was that it was the brakes. I certainly should have taken it in to get it fixed! When I have a decision to make, the responsible way to make the decision is on the basis of the highest probability of truth vis-a-vis alternatives.

Now, the key point here is that Judaism is both a matter of theoretics (Is there a G-d?, Did He reveal himself at Sinai?, Did He create the world in such and such a fashion?, What is the nature of the soul?) and a matter of decision. Judaism is in part a matter of how one chooses to live. Soon it will be the Sabbath. You will have to decide whether to light up a cigarette. During the week you will have to decide whether to have a cheeseburger. These are life decisions. The criterion for making a life decision responsibly is to make the decision on the basis of high probability of truth vis-a-vis alternatives. A person who waits for the Cartesian standard to be fulfilled, a person who waits for an absolute refutation of all possible alternatives, is a person who is not behaving responsibly. Imagine a doctor. You go to the doctor with a terrible pain in your lower right abdomen. The doctor says: "Is this appendicitis or isn't it appendicitis? Look, it could be an attack of nerves. It could be an ulcer. It could be psychosomatic. It could be all sorts of things. Do I have any proof that it's appendicitis? I don't have any proof. It could be all sorts of things." Meanwhile, the person dies of a ruptured appendix. What would you say? You would say that he is irresponsible. You don't wait for any proof if you have high probability of the truth vis-a-vis the alternatives. That is what determines responsible action.   So, whatever is the case with respect to theoretics, we are people living our lives and making decisions. In particular, we have to make decisions about Judaism. If so, those decisions need to be made on the basis of high probability of truth vis-a-vis alternatives, and therefore that is going to be our standard.

When I argue that Judaism is true, or argue that some particular aspect of Judaism is true, I feel I have fulfilled my responsibility if I have argued that it has the highest probability of truth vis-a-vis alternatives. For example, I will be arguing in favor of a certain proposition A, and I will present my evidence and someone will say: "I see your evidence, but isn't it still conceivable that A is still false, even in light of the evidence?" My answer will be: "Yes, it is conceivable. We are not trying to defeat every conceivable alternative. We are only trying to defeat other alternatives which are more probable than A. It is not enough to defeat A by thinking up something conceivable. That is too easy and is not to the point. What someone has to think up is a competitor to A which has more positive evidence in its favor than A does. That is much more difficult." Here is another way of seeing this point. Suppose someone takes the position of a skeptic. (Some say that this is what Socrates did.) "I really don't know what the truth is. But you say that you do know. Well I am prepared to listen. Tell me what you think the truth is, and why you think it is the truth. I am prepared to be convinced if you can prove it. I am not going to accept what you believe just because you believe it - there are too many different beliefs for that. But if you can prove it, I will agree." So you present your evidence, your proof, and his response is: "That doesn't really prove it because something else still could be true." Now what is wrong with the skeptic? What is wrong is that he puts all the burden of proof on you. What we need to do is be skeptical of his skepticism! If I present some positive evidence that my belief is true, it is not enough for him to merely point out that it might still be false: he has to present positive evidence that it is false. The mere fact that it might be false is not enough for him to reject it. His absolute skepticism - his demand for absolute proof - is unjustified and unreasonable. The reason that it is unjustified is that we are looking for evidence which justifies action. We should ask the skeptic: "All right - we gave positive evidence of truth. If you had to act, would that evidence suffice? Sure, what we believe could still be false. But the evidence is strong enough to require us to act as if it were true. And if you did not act this way, you would be acting irresponsibly. That is enough for us."

[If all we have is greater probability than alternatives, does this justify absolute belief? What of the principles of Jewish belief which state: "I believe with a perfect faith that..."? Here we are suffering from a mistranslation: ma'amin and emuna in Hebrew do not mean faith but rather faithfulness - living faithfully to an idea or principle. Proof texts: Genesis 15:6; Exodus 19:9; Numbers 14:11, 20:12; Deut. 28:66; Psalms 116:10, 119:66; Job 4:18, 15:15, among others. When there is enough evidence to justify the decision to act, then we should act with perfect faithfulness. Once the evidence favors surgery, the operation should be carried out without compromise. Jewish belief demands complete faithfulness to principles for which we have adequate evidence of truth.]

One natural response to this argument goes as follows: A person says: "Look, if I claimed to believe in G-d you could ask me how I know; namely, what evidence I have, what proof I have, what kind of justifications I have. If I claim to be an Atheist, you could also ask me how I know; namely, how do I know there is no G-d, what kind of proof do I have, what kind of evidence do I have? But, I don't claim anything. I don't claim to know that there is a G-d, and I don't claim to know that there is not a G-d. I am an Agnostic. As an Agnostic, I freely admit my ignorance. Together with Socrates, I claim that I don't know. Surely you cannot ask me to justify that! What should I justify, not knowing something? I simply don't know. I am at least honest enough to admit that I don't know. How can you ask me to make justifications, proofs and arguments when I'm simply confessing my ignorance?"

That observation is a mistake, or perhaps I should say that it is misleading. It is true that intellectually, in terms of belief, there are three possible positions with respect to any particular assertion. I can either believe A, I can disbelieve A, or I can be in doubt over A and neither believe it nor disbelieve it. But for action there are only two positions. You either act as if A were true or you act as if A were false. There is no middle position.  Maybe you can say with respect to the revelation at Sinai: "I don't know, maybe G-d did command us to keep the Sabbath and maybe He did not. I really haven't made up my mind." But the next Sabbath you will either smoke the cigarette or not. There is no third middle ground that you will neither smoke it nor not smoke it. You either commit yourself to keeping the Sabbath laws or you do not. There is no escape from making a choice. Now, with respect to that choice, you can be asked to justify yourself. Because it is a choice, the justification must be based on the highest probability vis-a-vis alternatives.  

This means that the actions of the agnostic will belie his claimed intellectual neutrality. To take a simple example, let's say there is an unsubstantiated rumor that the water supply of Jerusalem is contaminated with typhus. Now, it is only a rumor, but rumors like that don't surface every day. You ask someone what he thinks about this rumor, and he says: "Well, I really don't know, I am an agnostic. I don't know whether it is true or false. After all, I don't know who started or spread the rumor. It hasn't been substantiated." As he is telling you this he goes over to the sink, draws himself a glass of water out of the tap and drinks it down. Now, he may say that he hasn't made up his mind, but the truth is that he must have made up his mind or he wouldn't have drunk the water! Your actions commit you to one position or the other position vis-a-vis the proposition even if you say that you are intellectually neutral. Most people use agnosticism simply as a dodge. It is very rare to meet an agnostic who takes precautions. The agnostic eats his cheeseburger on Yom Kippur (the Jewish day of judgment in which the Jewish people are required to fast) while at the beach without a thought. His agnosticism is simply a way to protect himself against criticism. "You are asking me to justify myself and I don't make any claims and therefore I am free to eat the cheeseburger." It is not quite that simple.   If you really don't know whether Judaism is true or false, that ought to show itself in some kind of positive behavior. Perhaps taking some precautions, or perhaps mounting a serious investigation, and in the meantime, during the investigation, maybe playing it safe by not eating the cheeseburger. It is very rare to find an agnostic who does this, which means that either the agnosticism is just a pose, or it is the result of a real intellectual confusion. The person thinks: "Since I am an Agnostic, therefore I do not have to do anything." That is not correct as you see from any example where a person would be an agnostic about something that made a difference. If you were an Agnostic about the poisoned water, you would not drink it! For the same reason, it would seem that if one really were a true Agnostic, he would logically have to live his life religiously. That is, he would have to live as if it were true as a precaution against the enormous loss if it is true and he does not live it.


One last point. Some people are disturbed by a false distinction. They say: "Look, if it's a matter of limited importance where to invest my money, which profession to train in, or perhaps even whom to marry, these are all limited decisions. They are decisions that can be reversed. I can invest $10,000 in AT&T, and if I lose it, it's not the end of my life. Hopefully I'll make more money in my lifetime. If I train for a profession and it turns out that there is an oversupply, I can train for another profession or move to a country where the profession is needed. If I marry someone and it is a mistake, I can get a divorce and marry someone else. If it is a limited decision, a decision of limited importance, then maybe I should make it on the sole basis of high probability vis-a-vis alternatives. But, you are asking me to make a decision about my whole life. This is my whole life, it changes everything that I do, my values, my conduct, and so on. Surely for a decision like that I ought to have more than just high relative probability. For that I ought to have a solid proof, or at least something that is very high in probability. Shouldn't I have higher standards when it comes to my whole life?" 

I think that this is a mistake, for three reasons. First, even the decision to lead a religious life-style is reversible. Some people experiment and then decide it is not for them. So that difference between this decision and others is not true. Second, living a religious life does not entail changing everything else. Religious people have families, professions, vacations, computers, etc. etc. Of course, some activities are changed, and priorities are different. But then every decision in life brings some changes. There may be a quantitative difference here - religious living has comparatively many changes. But it is not enough of a difference to justify a completely different criterion for making the decision. The third reason is this: Even if the stakes are enormous, if they are balanced between the two alternatives, then we still use highest probability to make our decision. The mere size of the stakes does not change how we make the decision. You can see this from the following example. Let's suppose you go to the doctor and he does a checkup of your physical condition. He says that there are symptoms here of two possible diseases. You definitely have one of the two diseases, but it is not clear which one you have. It might be A or B. If you have either disease you will need surgery. If you don't have any surgery, you will be dead in two months. If you have disease A then you need surgery A'. If you have disease B then you need surgery B'. If you get the wrong surgery (say you have disease A and they do surgery B') then you will also die in two months. So, we have a real dilemma here. Should we do any surgery, and if so, which? Now let's suppose that given the symptoms, and comparing the symptoms with other people who have had the diseases, it turns out that for people in your circumstance there is a 52% chance that you have disease A and a 48% chance that you have disease B. That is only a four percent difference. That doesn't amount to any proof that the surgery is best, or which surgery to do. Would you say "Ah, well, I don't have any proof that surgery is right for me, so therefore I won't take it." I doubt it! All the evidence tells you that without any surgery you will be dead in two months! Would you say: "But I don't know which surgery to do - I don't have a proof which is best?" If the statistics show that surgery A' gives you a four percent edge on survival, then the four percent edge, which is all that is available to you under the circumstances, is worth grabbing. Here, the fact that it is survival, that it's my whole life, and that it is not just a question of relative inconveniences does not change the criterion of choice at all. The criterion of choice is: How can I get a higher probability of survival? The relative probability is only four percent and that doesn't matter. I want that extra four percent probability! Sometimes I put it this way. Suppose that you're hanging over a cliff, and that you're holding on to a branch of a tree waiting to be rescued, but it is not quite clear that the branch will hold you indefinitely. It is creaking, and there is another branch that you could switch to without risk of falling, but it is not clear to you that the other branch is stronger. Suppose that you know something about trees and you estimate that the probability of the second branch being stronger is maybe three percent greater than the probability of the strength of the branch you are holding onto. Do you say: "Well, it's my life. Since it's my life, I want proof that it is stronger. I don't make moves with my life unless I have proof that it is better." Of course not. You have a three percent increase on the probability of surviving on the second branch. YOU MOVE! You purchase a three percent increase in your probability of survival. So, the fact that the stakes are large, in this case the largest possible, survival, doesn't change the criterion of choice at all. The criterion of choice is always the same - higher probability of truth vis-a-vis the alternatives.

[Of course, the alternatives and their consequences need to be carefully specified for the analogy to work. I am describing both alternatives - living a religious life and living a secular life - as offering infinite consequences. This will be true if each defines values which are infinitely valuable. Then deciding how to live will be deciding how to fulfill the real values. So the analogy works like this: right surgery/right branch gets life, wrong surgery/wrong branch gets death; living according to the truth gets infinite good, living according to the opposite gets infinite bad. In this case it is correct to go with the alternative with the better evidence even it is only a little better. Sometimes it is objected that the analogy fails because I have left out the relative costs of the two alternatives. Presumably switching branches costs nothing, and the costs of the surgery are not mentioned. What if it costs $100, or $10,000, or $1,000,000 to switch branches, or to have surgery A' in stead of B': surely there is some price at which the added few per cent probability of survival would not be worth the cost? In the case of the Torah, if the evidence for truth is not very strong, then perhaps the cost of a religious life-style should be a factor in the decision. This objection admits two replies. First, the decision to sacrifice the few per cent advantage may reflect a finite value for one's life! People risk their lives for all sorts of trivial reasons! Second, it is not clear that the religious life-style has an extra cost. If we take the statistics of violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, divorce, suicide, illiteracy, etc., it seems that the religious life-style may be a bargain!]


So, we will be looking for a sufficiently high probability of truth vis-a-vis alternatives. Now, the specific strategy that we are going to use in verifying the Torah has two facets that I want to explain to you. First, some parts of the descriptive portion of the Torah can be investigated directly, e.g. statements about historical events. Some of them are predictions that were made about times which have already past and so can be investigated at present. On the other hand, some of the portions of the descriptive content of the Torah cannot be investigated directly: what happens to the soul after death; all predictions still to be fulfilled in the future, for example, there will be a Messiah one day, haven't occurred yet. Those that can be investigated directly, we will investigate. What about the ones that cannot be investigated directly?   The answer here is as follows. We have a single coordinated body of information. Whenever you have a coordinated body of information, some of which you can test directly and some of which you cannot test directly, if the portion that can be tested directly tests true, then that gives credibility to the rest. You do not artificially select, and say: "That which I have tested I believe. The rest of it I haven't tested, so I have no reason to accept it." On the contrary, if the portion that can be tested tests true, then it lends credibility to the rest.

This is true in any area of life. So, for example, in science, any theory has an infinity of consequences. You never test any reasonable proportion of that infinity! We don't say: "Well, Einstein predicted that when light pass the sun, it will be slightly warped. We tested it on fourteen occasions and so we know that on those fourteen occasions the light rays bent. What about the rest of the time when we were not looking? Oh, then I don't have any reason to believe anything because I didn't test at any of those times." What we say is that the portion which we tested is an indication of the reliability of the rest. Similarly with respect to an encyclopedia, or a newspaper, or any other source of information: when they tell you things that you directly test, and they test true, that gives them a certain credibility. You then extend that credibility to the rest. Suppose someone says: "I don't believe anything unless I test it myself. I don't trust anybody else's opinion, and I don't trust anybody else's research. I only believe what I saw myself." He will believe next to nothing about the world. I usually ask such a person if he knows who his parents are. How do you know? Have you done a DNA test? Probably not. It is pretty expensive and pretty rare. You probably trust them because they told you. But, they could be lying. You didn't fingerprint of your mother when you came out! So how do you know that it is your mother? It is because she told you so many things and usually she is credible. It is still conceivable that you were adopted, but it is very unlikely, and that is good enough for you. What about the past in general? You can't go back and observe the revolutionary war. You trust it because people wrote books about it. There are maps. There are letters. There are artifacts. That is to say that you trust someone else's observations, someone else's reports. Do you know that there is such a place as China? How do you know? You were not ever in China (most of you anyway). Do you know the boiling point of Mercury? How do you know? You read it in a book, that is to say you trust the author of the book, the scientist who performed the experiment. We are always accepting the statements of other people. We don't do it blindly. We know that some people lie. We also know that some people are competent in certain areas and incompetent it other areas, and we may accept their statements in one area and reject then in other areas. We are selective with respect to what we believe. But we must extend general credibility to a source on the basis of testing some of the assertions of that source. If you don't do that, you will know next to nothing. That is how we make our decisions in any other area of life. If I have to decide what to eat, what profession to go into, or where to live, that is how I make those decisions. Now a person who makes decisions in every other area of life on this basis, and when it comes to religion says, "Oh no, for religion I have different standards. Here I want a much more strict accounting. I want an independent proof of every assertion," such a person is playing fast and loose. Such a person uses one standard with respect to every other decision, but with respect to this decision, he is using a different standard. That is special pleading: he is trying to protect himself against the conclusion. I am only asking that a person use the same standards with respect to religion that he uses with respect to other decisions.


The second aspect of this strategy for verifying the Torah is this. Let's suppose that you have an area of life, and that you think that in this area you know how to explain the phenomena that you observe. It could be the behavior of billiard balls on a billiard table, certain types of chemical reactions, pictures of particles scattered in a cloud chamber, the behavior of missiles and so on. You have what looks to you to be a catalog of all the relevant causal agents for that realm. Then you come across a new phenomenon which seems to belong to the same realm, and for which your catalog of agents is insufficient. I don't just mean that you haven't figured out yet how to explain the new phenomenon. I mean that you have an argument which shows that your causal agents cannot explain it. What do you do under those circumstances?   I'll give you an example. In the early 1920's, there was an investigation of the structure of the atom. There was a period when people thought that the nucleus was composed solely of protons. Now protons are positively charged, and the law of electrostatics is that like charges repel. The question was, how come all those protons are sitting buddy-buddy in the nucleus? Why aren't they repelling each other all over creation? Now, at that time, the only two non-dynamic forces that were in the catalog of science were electromagnetics and gravity. Electromagnetic forces are pulling them apart. Could gravity be holding them together? That is impossible because gravity is order of magnitudes weaker than electromagnetic forces . The standard example is this. You have a bar magnet, you hold it over an iron nail, and as you get closer and closer to the nail, suddenly the nail will jump up to the bar magnet. Now you can look at this as a tug of war. On the one hand you have the bar magnet pulling it up. On the other hand, you have the whole earth pulling it down, and the bar magnet wins very easily. That gives you an idea of how much more powerful electromagnetic forces are than gravity. So, why are the protons sitting together in the nucleus? The answer is the only thing it could be. There must be another force. The nuclear force. We have to expand our catalog of forces because the forces we have in it cannot possibly explain this phenomena. We must have missed some other causal agency which is responsible for this phenomenon. That is how we operate in all of life. It doesn't have to be something as sophisticated as nuclear physics. For example, someone was murdered. I checked the butler, I checked the driver, and I checked the delivery man. They all have air tight alibis. What do I conclude? It must be somebody else. These people couldn't have done it. I'll have to go look for somebody else. Now, we have a similar structure.

We are going to take a look at Jewish history. In particular, we are going to look at unique features of Jewish history, features which separate Jewish history from the history of all the other nations. I mean this in a strong sense. Of course, everybody's history is different from everyone else's; otherwise it wouldn't be theirs, it would be someone else's! I mean that Jewish history has features which are different from the features which all other nations histories share. There are certain characteristics which all other nations have in common, and Jewish history is distinguished from them in those respects.

Now, if I look at history and that is what I find, I have to ask myself for a causal agency which can explain it.  Let me make this vivid for you. Imagine a Martian visiting Earth and being introduced to all the flora and fauna, and in particular being introduced to mankind, and studying the history of various civilizations and forming certain regularities. Maybe they won't be very profound, deep, or theoretical, but still: this is the way nations react to famine, to war, to peace, to success, to failure, to cultural achievement, to cultural stagnation, to empire, to dissolution of empire and so on. Now, the Martian investigates the Chinese, the Romans, the Nigerians, the Eskimos, the Incas and so on. Imagine that he has done that for every culture and civilization except for the Jews and he has formulated his rules for how human beings respond to various life circumstances. Then he comes to investigate Jewish history. Now, in broad terms there are two possibilities here. Either he will say, "Oh yes, more of the same. What happened to the Jews in the fifteenth century is similar to what happened to the Incas in the tenth century. What happened to the Jews in the nineteenth century is similar to what happened to the Chinese in the fourth century. You can see parallels. Things are pretty much the same." Then you would expect Jewish history to be explained by the same forces, the same powers, and the same causes that explain everyone else's history. That is one possibility.

The other possibility is that the Martian will say, "This is absolutely unique. It contradicts all my expectations. It doesn't fit into the patterns of other nations and civilizations. It is something brand new." I am going to argue that it is brand new - that an honest Martian's perspective would lead to the conclusion that Jewish history is unlike any other nation's history with respect to the way in which they are all alike. If so, what must the Martian conclude? The Martian must conclude that there is something unique that is producing this unique historical record. The kinds of causes that led to the rise, development, and fall of other civilizations, all of which have patterns in common, are not responsible for the development of the Jewish civilization because it is unique in these respects. So that, he will have to add to his catalog agencies, some new agency X. Now by looking carefully at the particular unique aspects of Jewish history, he can infer certain characteristics that X must possess to be capable of producing these unique phenomena.


Let me just illustrate for you how a portion of the argument will go. I am not presenting the argument, I am not defending the argument, I am simply illustrating the methodology. I will take much longer to present the details in a much more comprehensive fashion later. Look at the survival of the Jewish people over the last 2000 years. I will argue that it is unique. No nation underwent that kind of historical and cultural pressure and survived. There is nothing remotely approximating what they experienced. Since it is unique, then some agency is responsible for it. That is the X that is being added to the catalog of historical agents.   What must this X be like? Well, what did it do? For one thing, it maintained the existence of a civilization under conditions that should have lead to its disappearance. What must such a force be like? It must have some sort of considerable energy or power at its disposal. This is not a small effect. This is maintaining a civilization involving millions of people over thousands of years. Secondly, this power must have some considerable intelligence at its disposal. It is maintaining a civilization! It is maintaining a complex pattern of human behavior, human belief, certain values, a certain literature, a certain world view and so on. Third, this power must also be interested, in particular, in this specific civilization. After all, it is only this civilization that this power causes to survive.

So, from this unique effect - that is to say, the existence of a civilization in conditions under which other civilizations have disintegrated - you can infer certain that such a force must have a certain amount of power, intelligence, and a commitment to the Jewish way of life. Otherwise it would not explain the existence of this civilization. Now those are descriptions of G-d. That is how you can take a unique factor of Jewish history, explain it by postulating a force that is responsible for it, and then infer from the unique phenomena some minimal characteristics of that force and arrive at evidence for G-d's existence.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mizmor Li-todah!

It is beyond freezing outside.


A Pain In The Side

Little Benji was in Hebrew school and was learning all about how God created everything, including humans. He was especially interested when his teacher got to the bit about how Eve was created out of one of Adam's ribs. Later that day, Benjy's mother noticed him lying down as though he were ill. So she said to him. "Benjy, darling, what's the matter with you?"

Benjy replied, "I have a pain in my side, Mommy. I think I'm going to have a wife."

Kick Me

Reporters CNN Journalist Christianne Amanpour and Former CBS Journalist Dan Rather, and an Israeli sergeant were all captured by terrorists in Iraq. The leader of the terrorists told them that he would grant them each one last request before they were beheaded.

Dan Rather said, "Well, I'm a Texan, so I'd like one last bowlful of hot spicy chili." The leader nodded to an underling who left and returned with the chili. Rather ate it all and said, "Now I can die content."

Christianne Amanpour said, "I'm a reporter to the end. I want to take out my tape recorder and describe the scene here and what's about to happen. Maybe someday someone will hear it and know that I was on the job till the end." The leader directed an aide to hand over the tape recorder and Amanpour dictated some comments. She then said, "Now I can die happy."

The leader turned and said, "And now, Mr. Israeli tough guy, what is your final wish?"

"Kick me," said the soldier.

"What?" asked the leader? "Will you mock us in your last hour?"

"No, I'm not kidding. I want you to kick me," insisted the Israeli.

So the leader shoved him into the open and kicked him.

The soldier went sprawling, but rolled to his knees, pulled a 9 mm pistol from under his flack jacket, and shot the leader dead. In the resulting confusion, he jumped to his knapsack, pulled out his carbine and sprayed the terrorists with gunfire. In a flash, all terrorists were either dead or fleeing for their lives.

As the soldier was untying Rather and Amanpour, they asked him, "Why didn't you just shoot them in the beginning? Why did you ask them to kick you first?"

"What?" replied the Israeli, "And have you two schnooks report that I was the aggressor?!"

Listen And Live

I couldn't have said it better myself. Especially the part about texting during shiur.

This I also couldn't have said better because I said it as well as I could....

Is Every Shul The Same?

The difference between a shul in Teaneck and a shul in Tel Aviv.

Standing Up For Parents

Dedicated to my father whom I love to stand up for....

We believe in the great significance of upstanding Jews’ common practices and in looking for halachic justification for them. However, there has to be a good fit between sources/logic and the practices.

The gemara (Kiddushin 31b) gives examples of kibbud (honoring) for parents and of mora (awe). While standing is not on either list, it is evident from gemarot that it is expected (see Beit Yosef, Yoreh Deah 240). This is logical considering the mitzva from the Torah (Yayikra 19:32) to stand before old people and scholars (Kiddushin 32b).

R. Yannai (ibid. 33b) says that a talmid chacham is not permitted to stand for his rebbe more than once in the morning and in the evening to avoid giving to him more honor than to Hashem. The Rif does not cite this ruling, and the Rosh (Kiddushin 1:56) explains (and agrees) that the gemara’s subsequent discussion indicates that his idea is rejected. The Rambam (Talmud Torah 6:8) does accept R. Yannai. The Shulchan Aruch (and, therefore, Sephardim- see Yalkut Yosef, Kibbud Av 4:8) rules like the Rif/Rosh.

The Rama (YD 242:16) accepts R. Yannai, but not according to its simple reading; one is not obligated more than twice a day, but he may do more (see Darchei Moshe YD 242:11; Semag, Aseh 13). Most Acharonim (see Chayei Adam 67:7; Shevet Halevi II:111; Yalkut Yosef ibid.) assume that the exemption applies to parents also. The Aruch Hashulchan (YD 240:24) suggests that the obligation to stand for one’s parent may exceed that toward his rebbe.
It is difficult to demonstrate how the Rama’s opinion would justify the common practice of laxity about standing up for parents. After all, do people think about whether they already stood for their parent that day? The Rama can still help, depending on the following chakira about his opinion. Must one stand at the first opportunity of the day, after which there is an exemption, or should there just be a mode of behavior in which he is expected to stand roughly once in the morning and once at night? This might depend on if standing is part of the positive kibbud, making the exact timing less crucial, or the more negative mora, in which case without an exemption, remaining seated is an aveira (Yalkut Yosef ibid. is unsure to which category it applies). This, of course, helps only if the child stands with some regularity, which is not always be the case.

Another minimizing opinion found in the Aruch Hashulchan (ibid.) is that standing only applies when a parent comes in from outside the house, not when he moves from place to place in the home.

The most plausible explanation for the practice of laxity is the idea that a parent can be mochel (waive rights to) kibbud (Kiddushin 32a). (Regarding being mochel requirements of mora, see Living the Halachic Process III, G-4.) In our times, parents do not usually expect their children to stand up in their honor and often do not find it to even be positive. If that is the case in a specific household, then the child is indeed not required to stand.

Let us clarify a few things. Even after their mechila, it is a mitzva to stand for parents (Pitchei Teshuva, YD 240:16). Some say that one has to make some gesture of respectful acknowledgement (see Kiddushin 32b). If the reason parents are mochel starts from the children (i.e., the parents are so used to their not standing that they no longer demand or expect), this is not a good thing. Therefore, it is, in most cases, better for children (of all ages) who try to do things properly to stand for their parents more than is presently common.

[Machon Eretz Chemdah]