Monday, December 22, 2008

Greek Wisdom mp3 shiur

Here is a shiur I gave last night (the first night of Chanukah) at Darche Noam on "Greek Wisdom and Kaballah". I argue in favour of learning science (at a time which is not day and not night) in order to come to know G-d, and to come to love and fear Him. This is also the goal of learning kabbalah, which explains the Rema's comment in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 246:4 that 'Tiyul BePardes' means learning about nature.

I also mention an idea of Rav Tzadok HaCohen that kabbalah is the penimiyus and Greek Wisdom is the chitzoniyus, as well as discussing Acher (Elisha ben Avuyiha), and the wars between the Chashmonaim which led ultimately to the destruction of the Temple.

The mp3 audio shiur can be downloaded by clicking on this link:
Greek Wisdom and Kabbalah

Or listen to it online:




Here are (some of) the sources for the shiur:
pdf download

Midos 2:3
ב,ג לפנים ממנו, סורג גבוה עשרה טפחים. ושלוש עשרה פרצות היו בו, שפרצום מלכי יוון; וחזרו וגדרום, וגזרו כנגדן שלוש עשרה השתחוויות.

Sotah 49b
בפולמוס של טיטוס גזרו על עטרות כלות ושלא ילמד אדם את בנו יוונית... ת"ר כשצרו מלכי בית חשמונאי זה על זה היה הורקנוס מבחוץ ואריסטובלוס מבפנים בכל יום ויום היו משלשלין דינרים בקופה ומעלין להן תמידים היה שם זקן אחד שהיה מכיר בחכמת יוונית לעז להם בחכמת יוונית אמר להן כל זמן שעוסקים בעבודה אין נמסרין בידכם למחר שלשלו להם דינרים בקופה והעלו להם חזיר כיון שהגיע לחצי חומה נעץ צפרניו נזדעזעה א"י ארבע מאות פרסה אותה שעה אמרו ארור אדם שיגדל חזירים וארור אדם שילמד לבנו חכמת יוונית... איני והאמר רבי בא"י לשון סורסי למה אלא אי לשון הקודש אי לשון יוונית ואמר רב יוסף בבבל לשון ארמי למה אלא או לשון הקודש או לשון פרסי לשון יוונית לחוד וחכמת יוונית לחוד וחכמת יוונית מי אסירא והאמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל משום רשב"ג מאי דכתיב (איכה ג) עיני עוללה לנפשי מכל בנות עירי אלף ילדים היו בבית אבא חמש מאות למדו תורה וחמש מאות למדו חכמת יוונית ולא נשתייר מהן אלא אני כאן ובן אחי אבא בעסיא שאני של בית ר"ג דקרובין למלכות הוו
[Bava Kama 82b-83a]
[Shita Mekubetzes Bava Kama 82b]
[Magen Avos Tashbetz 2:19]

Menachos 99b
שאל בן דמה בן אחותו של ר' ישמעאל את ר' ישמעאל כגון אני שלמדתי כל התורה כולה מהו ללמוד חכמת יונית קרא עליו המקרא הזה לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה מפיך והגית בו יומם ולילה צא ובדוק שעה שאינה לא מן היום ולא מן הלילה ולמוד בה חכמת יונית

Rambam Perush Hamishnayos end of Sotah

'שהיו מכנים את הרמזים שבדבור וכן דברים שאינם כפשוטם אלא יש להן ענין נסתר, חכמה'.

Teshuvos HaRivash 45
אמנם, ספרי הטבע לא מן השם הוא זה. אבל ראוי לימנע מהם אם הם מתאמצים לעקור עקרי תורתינו הקדושה, ובפרט שני עמודי התווך אשר היא נכונה עליהם, שזהו: חידוש העולם, והשגחת השם יתברך בפרטי המין... ואנחנו מקבלי האמת דעתנו שהתורה שלנו שלמה שבאה אלינו במעמד הר סיני מפי הגבורה ובאמצעות אדון הנביאים ע"ה, היא למעלה מהכל וכל חקירתם אפס ותוהו לערכה...
ואין להביא ראיה מן הרמב"ם ז"ל כי הוא למד קודם לכן כל התורה כולה בשלמות, הלכות ואגדות תוספתא ספרא וספרי וכוליה תלמודא בבלי וירושלמי, כמו שנראה מספר משנה תורה. וכדי להשיב את האפיקורוס עשה ספר המורה, לסתור המופתים והראיות שהביא הפילוסוף...

Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 246:4


Hilchos Teshuva 10:6
י [ו] דבר ידוע וברור שאין אהבת הקדוש ברוך הוא נקשרת בליבו של אדם, עד שישגה בה תמיד כראוי ויעזוב כל שבעולם חוץ ממנה כמו שציווה ואמר "בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך" (דברים ו,ה; דברים י,יב; דברים ל,ו): אלא בדעה שיידעהו. ועל פי הדעה--על פי האהבה--אם מעט מעט, ואם הרבה הרבה.
יא לפיכך צריך האדם לייחד עצמו להבין ולהשכיל בחכמות ותבונות המודיעין לו את קונו כפי כוח שיש באדם להבין ולהשיג, כמו שביארנו בהלכות יסודי התורה.

Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 2:1-3
א האל הנכבד והנורא הזה--מצוה לאוהבו וליראה ממנו, שנאמר "ואהבת, את ה' אלוהיך" (דברים ו,ה; דברים יא,א) ונאמר "את ה' אלוהיך תירא" (דברים ו,יג; דברים י,כ). [ב] והיאך היא הדרך לאהבתו, ויראתו: בשעה שיתבונן האדם במעשיו וברואיו הנפלאים הגדולים, ויראה מהם חכמתו שאין לה ערך ולא קץ--מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאווה תאווה גדולה לידע השם הגדול, כמו שאמר דויד "צמאה נפשי, לאלוהים--לאל חי" (תהילים מב,ג).
ב וכשמחשב בדברים האלו עצמן, מיד הוא נרתע לאחוריו, ויירא ויפחד ויידע שהוא בריה קטנה שפלה אפלה, עומד בדעת קלה מעוטה לפני תמים דעות, כמו שאמר דויד "כי אראה שמיך . . . מה אנוש, כי תזכרנו" (תהילים ח,ד-ה).
ג ולפי הדברים האלו אני מבאר כללים גדולים ממעשה ריבון העולמים, כדי שיהיו פתח למבין לאהוב את השם, כמו שאמרו חכמים בעניין אהבה, שמתוך כך אתה מכיר את מי שאמר והיה העולם.

Moreh Nevuchim [Letter of the Author to his Pupil, R. Joseph Ibn Aknin.]
In the name of G-d, Lord of the Universe.
To R. Joseph (may God protect him!), son of R. Jehudah (may his repose be in Paradise!):--
My dear pupil, ever since you resolved to come to me, from a distant country, and to study under my direction, I thought highly of your thirst for knowledge, and your fondness for speculative pursuits, which found expression in your poems. I refer to the time when I received your writings in prose and verse from Alexandria. I was then not yet able to test your powers of apprehension, and I thought that your desire might possibly exceed your capacity. But when you had gone with me through a course of astronomy, after having completed the [other] elementary studies which are indispensable for the understanding of that science, I was still more gratified by the acuteness and the quickness of your apprehension. Observing your great fondness for mathematics, I let you study them more deeply, for I felt sure of your ultimate success. Afterwards, when I took you through a course of logic, I found that my great expectations of you were confirmed, and I considered you fit to receive from me an exposition of the esoteric ideas contained in the prophetic books, that you might understand them as they are understood by men of culture.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Avi's Bar Mitzvah speech

Well we are half way there. Tonight is Avi's 13th Hebrew birthday, making him a 'man' in Jewish law and eligible to wear a big black hat!

We had a maleve malka for his school class which was really nice. They are such nice kids, and the principal and class teacher are wonderful. Here is Avi's speech (complete with hat) - sorry it is in Hebrew. Hopefully we'll provide a translation soon.



And to show you how much fun everyone was having - here are the lads singing (and playing the tabuka). Watch out for Mo's drumming skills. And as always thanks to Shani for serving the food and making sure everything was running smoothly.



Next week (Parshas Vayeshev) Avi will lein in Ateret Nof (13 Brand Street Har Nof) and we are making a kiddush after Shul in the lobby of our building (28 Brand). If any of you readers are in the area please come by to eat some kugel!


May we share only simchas together.

David

PS If you can't hear what he is saying and would like to follow along - here is the text (still in Hebrew I'm afraid):


שבוע טוב. קודם כל אני רוצה להודות לכל חברי מהכיתה שהגיעו לשמוח עמי את שמחת הבר מצוה וגם תודה רבה לרב יהודה שליט"א ולרב גוטליב שליט"א שעשו את כל המאמצים להגיע לבר מצוה שלי. ובמיוחד אני רוצה להודות מקרב ליבי לאמי ולאבי ולסבתי ולסבי שעשו את כל המאמצים לעשות את הבר מצוה בצורה הטובה ביותר (והשמחה) והכיפית ביותר. ותודה רבה לר' יהונתן מור שהשקיע הרבה ללמד אותי את קריאת התורה וההפטרה. וגם תודה רבה לכל מי שלא נמצא כאן אבל עזר עם ההכנות.

עכשיו ברשותכם אני אגיד כמה מלים.

בפרשת וישב שאני אקרא שבת הבאה ,אם ירצה ה', מדובר על מכירת יוסף. כולם חושבים שמכירת יוסף זה דבר (שלילי) רע מאוד. אחרי שהאבות הגיעו לשיא של עבודת השם עכשיו חזרנו לסיפור של קין והבל ורוצים להרוג את אחיהם. לא רק שבסוף מכרו את אחיהם הקטן וגרמו הרבה צרות לו ולאביהם, אלא שע"י מכירתו התגלגלו הדברים ובסוף ירדנו לגלות מצרים. בגלל מכירת יוסף ישבנו במצרים כמה מאות שנים והיינו עבדים לפרעה.

אבל במבט אחר מכירת יוסף היה מוכרח והיה קיום של הבטחתו של הקב"ה לאברהם אבינו. בברית בין הבתרים בפרשת לך לך הקב"ה הבטיח לאברהם שיהיו לו בנים וינחלו את ארץ ישראל ויבנו בית המקדש. וכתוב שם: "ידוע תדע כי גר יהיה זרעך בארץ לא להם ועבדום וענו אותם ארבע מאות שנה". ואח"כ "ואוציא אותם משם ברכוש גדול ...”. לכן אם מסתכלים במכירת יוסף בעינים של התוכנית של הקב"ה רואים שזה היה בסופו של דבר לטובתם של בנ"י.

ויעקב הבין את זה ורמז לזה כששלח את יוסף לאחיו. כתוב וישלחו מעמק חברון. רש"י שם מקשה "והלא חברון בהר" ומתרץ ששלח אותו לקיים עצה עמוקה של אותו צדיק שנקבר בחברון. כלומר כששלח יעקב את יוסף אל אחיו הוא התחיל את תהליך הגאולה והקמת ההבטחה שהבטיח הקב"ה לאברהם אבינו.

ר' צדוק הכהן כותב בצדקת הצדיק שמצוה ראשונה שאדם מקיים בהיותו בן י"ג שנה זה קריאת שמע של ערבית.
המצוה של קריאת שמע היא ליחד שמו של הקב"ה. זאת אומרת שחייבים אנו לדעת שכל מה שנעשה בעולם הוא תוכנית של הקב"ה. אפ' כשצרות באים עלינו חייבים אנו לדעת שהכל לטובה. וזה מזכיר לנו את ר' עקיבא שמסר את נפשו כשהיה קורא קריאת שמע. וכל החיים שלו חכה ואמר מתי יבוא מצוה זו של מסירות נפש לידי ואקיימנו. תמיד אמר על כל דבר שקרה לו "כל מה דעביד רחמנא לטבא עביד" – כל מה שעושה הקב"ה הוא עושה לטובה.

ודוקא מתחילים בקריאת שמע של ערבית – זמן של חושך כשקשה מאוד לראות את האמת ואיך כל דבר הוא לטובה. חושך מסמל את הגלות והחושך הרוחני שבו אנחנו נמצאים עכשיו. וזה מצוה ראשונה שאני התחייבתי בה הלילה.

כתוב במדרש רבה על פרשתינו: “שבטים היו עסוקין במכירתו של יוסף, ויוסף היה עסוק בשקו ובתעניתו... ויהודה היה עסוק ליקח לו אשה. והקב"ה היה עוסק בבריאת אורו של מלך המשיח".

כל מה שחשבו השבטים, ויוסף, ויהודה הכל היה תהליך להביא את משיח. וגם היום אנחנו חייבים לדעת ולראות שכל מה שקורה בעולם ולנו הכל הוא חלק מהתהליך של תוכנית הקב"ה להביא את המשיח. ויהי רצון שנזכה כולנו לראות את ביאת המשיח ואת בנין ירושלים במהרה בימינו אמן.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Livni speaks like Kahane!

Only yesterday Tzippi Livni, head of Kadima, was chastising Likud for electing Feiglin to the number 20 slot on their electoral roll. Apparently were the 'right wing' of Likud to become the ruling party there would be no further hope for peace (because apparently she thinks that the 'centrist/left wing' government of which she is part have brought peace - though she did say the day before that the situation in Gaza is intolerable and cannot stay like that - so presumably it isn't the kind of peace where they stop firing missiles or anything like that)!

Yet today, changing her mind like the weather, she is espousing views normally associated with the late Rabbi Meir Kahane (and his current incarnation of Moshe Feiglin). Here is a quote from the Jerusalem Post:

Kadima leader Tzipi Livni on Thursday said that Israeli Arabs should leave Israel for a Palestinian state once such a state is established.

"My solution for maintaining a Jewish and democratic state of Israel is to have two nation-states with certain concessions and with clear red lines," Livni said. "And among other things I will also be able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel, those whom we call Israeli Arabs, and tell them, 'your national solution lies elsewhere.'"


So now she wants to make peace by declaring war and to transfer all the Israeli Arabs to the future Palestine. Make any sense? Not to me. I suppose if she espouses every possible opinion she thinks that everyone will vote for her. Right??

Good new - elections coming up in a couple of months. Bad news - nothing will change as a result of the elections. But I suppose at least we don't have to deal with the problems they have in Illinois! Imagine having a corrupt politician as the leader of the State (or country). Hmmmmm

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Ben Franklin and Cheshbon HaNefesh

I saw on the news the other day that Joe Satriani (one of my all time favourite musicians) is suing Coldplay for ripping off his song "If I could fly". Apparently Coldplay's song "Viva La Vida". I'm no expert, but listen to this and make up your own mind:



Over Shabbos we were discussing the sources of mussar (specifically whether the 12 step program is a legitimate Jewish approach. I claim that it makes no difference whether it is 'Jewish'. If it works (and is not Christian - which it doesn't have to be) then Jews may (and should) use it. Mussar doesn't have to be 'Jewish'). To demonstrate this I mentioned that the mussar sefer 'Cheshbon HaNefesh' is taken largely from Ben Franklin's autobiography.

After Shabbos I wanted to check up on this (since my guests were a bit incredulous). I found reference to the similarity between Benjamin Franklin's work and that attributed to Rabbi Mendel of Satanov (and translated by Shraga Silverstein: Published by Feldheim), but nobody actually explained fully. So I did some research.

Bear in mind that Cheshbon HaNefesh was a staple of the mussar movement. Rav Yisroel Salanter was instrumental in getting it published in Vilna in 1844. The three basic texts that R' Yisroel wanted people to learn were Chovos HaLevavos, Mesilas Yesharim and Cheshbon HaNefesh.

The basic concept is to take 13 chapters of mussar literature that deal with 13 different character traits. each person should prepare material relevant to his own negative traits. Then each chapter shoudl be summarised in a short statement or sentence. Then each of these should be condensed into a single code word. Each week one focusses on one of the thirteen traits, while reviewing the other 12 at the end of each day. In the course of a year a person will review each trait 4 times.

One should make a chart with the 13 traits in the margin and the days of the week across the top, and mark down for each day how well one succeeded in perfecting this trait.

Here is what Benjamin Franklin wrote to his son over 100 years earlier. Judge for yourself if the similarities are coincidental.

(By the way - just to clarify - I think Cheshbon HaNefesh is a great sefer, and highly recommend it. All I am trying to say is that there are many paths to self perfection, and one does not need to search for an 'authentic' Jewish approach if there is another one which works. I know this apparently contradicts the Talmud which says that the Torah is the only antidote to the Yetzer Hora (as quoted by Mesilas Yesharim), on the other hand each generation may need different tools and forms of mussar than previous generations. - Even Rav Dessler quotes from James Joyce - it can't be all bad).

So here is a (long) quote from Ben Franklin's autobiography. Skip the Christian references if they offend you.

At length he took for his text that verse of the fourth chapter of Philippians, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report, if there be any virtue, or any praise, think on these things." And I imagin'd, in a sermon on such a text, we could not miss of having some morality. But he confin'd himself to five points only, as meant by the apostle, viz.: 1. Keeping holy the Sabbath day. 2. Being diligent in reading the holy Scriptures. 3. Attending duly the publick worship. 4. Partaking of the Sacrament. 5. Paying a due respect to God's ministers. These might be all good things; but, as they were not the kind of good things that I expected from that text, I despaired of ever meeting with them from any other, was disgusted, and attended his preaching no more. I had some years before compos'd a little Liturgy, or form of prayer, for my own private use (viz., in 1728), entitled, Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion. I return'd to the use of this, and went no more to the public assemblies. My conduct might be blameable, but I leave it, without attempting further to excuse it; my present purpose being to relate facts, and not to make apologies for them.

It was about this time I conceiv'd the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish'd to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I bad imagined. While my care was employ'd in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct. For this purpose I therefore contrived the following method.

In the various enumerations of the moral virtues I had met with in my reading, I found the catalogue more or less numerous, as different writers included more or fewer ideas under the same name. Temperance, for example, was by some confined to eating and drinking, while by others it was extended to mean the moderating every other pleasure, appetite, inclination, or passion, bodily or mental, even to our avarice and ambition. I propos'd to myself, for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names, with fewer ideas annex'd to each, than a few names with more ideas; and I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr'd to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express'd the extent I gave to its meaning.

These names of virtues, with their precepts, were

1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.

11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judg'd it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time; and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone thro' the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arrang'd them with that view, as they stand above. Temperance first, as it tends to procure that coolness and clearness of head, which is so necessary where constant vigilance was to be kept up, and guard maintained against the unremitting attraction of ancient habits, and the force of perpetual temptations. This being acquir'd and establish'd, Silence would be more easy; and my desire being to gain knowledge at the same time that I improv'd in virtue, and considering that in conversation it was obtain'd rather by the use of the ears than of the tongue, and therefore wishing to break a habit I was getting into of prattling, punning, and joking, which only made me acceptable to trifling company, I gave Silence the second place. This and the next, Order, I expected would allow me more time for attending to my project and my studies. Resolution, once become habitual, would keep me firm in my endeavors to obtain all the subsequent virtues; Frugality and Industry freeing me from my remaining debt, and producing affluence and independence, would make more easy the practice of Sincerity and Justice, etc., etc. Conceiving then, that, agreeably to the advice of Pythagoras in his Golden Verses, daily examination would be necessary, I contrived the following method for conducting that examination.

I made a little book, in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues. I rul'd each page with red ink, so as to have seven columns, one for each day of the week, marking each column with a letter for the day. I cross'd these columns with thirteen red lines, marking the beginning of each line with the first letter of one of the virtues, on which line, and in its proper column, I might mark, by a little black spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day.

...
I determined to give a week's strict attention to each of the virtues successively. Thus, in the first week, my great guard was to avoid every the least offence against Temperance, leaving the other virtues to their ordinary chance, only marking every evening the faults of the day. Thus, if in the first week I could keep my first line, marked T, clear of spots, I suppos'd the habit of that virtue so much strengthen'd and its opposite weaken'd, that I might venture extending my attention to include the next, and for the following week keep both lines clear of spots. Proceeding thus to the last, I could go thro' a course compleat in thirteen weeks, and four courses in a year. And like him who, having a garden to weed, does not attempt to eradicate all the bad herbs at once, which would exceed his reach and his strength, but works on one of the beds at a time, and, having accomplish'd the first, proceeds to a second, so I should have, I hoped, the encouraging pleasure of seeing on my pages the progress I made in virtue, by clearing successively my lines of their spots, till in the end, by a number of courses, I should he happy in viewing a clean book, after a thirteen weeks' daily examination.

This my little book had for its motto these lines from Addison's Cato:

"Here will I hold. If there's a power above us (And that there is all nature cries aloud Thro' all her works), He must delight in virtue; And that which he delights in must be happy."

Another from Cicero,

"O vitae Philosophia dux! O virtutum indagatrix expultrixque vitiorum! Unus dies, bene et ex praeceptis tuis actus, peccanti immortalitati est anteponendus."

Another from the Proverbs of Solomon, speaking of wisdom or virtue:

"Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." iii. 16, 17.

And conceiving God to be the fountain of wisdom, I thought it right and necessary to solicit his assistance for obtaining it; to this end I formed the following little prayer, which was prefix'd to my tables of examination, for daily use.

"O powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. strengthen my resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continual favors to me."

I used also sometimes a little prayer which I took from Thomson's Poems, viz.:

"Father of light and life, thou Good Supreme! O teach me what is good; teach me Thyself! Save me from folly, vanity, and vice, From every low pursuit; and fill my soul With knowledge, conscious peace, and virtue pure; Sacred, substantial, never-fading bliss!"

The precept of Order requiring that every part of my business should have its allotted time, one page in my little book contain'd the following scheme of employment for the twenty-four hours of a natural day:bliss!"

THE MORNING.

Question. What good shall I do this day?

{5}
{6}
{7}
{8}

Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness! Contrive day's business, and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study, and breakfast.

{9}
{10}
{11}

Work

NOON.

{12}
{1}
{2}

Read, or overlook my accounts, and dine.

{3}
{4}
{5}

Work

EVENING.

Question. What good have I done today?

{6}

Put things in their places.

{7}
{8}

Supper. Music or diversion, or conversation.

{9}
{10}
{11}
{12}

Examination of the day.

NIGHT.

{1}
{2}
{3}
{4}

Sleep.

I enter'd upon the execution of this plan for self-examination, and continu'd it with occasional intermissions for some time. I was surpris'd to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined; but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish. To avoid the trouble of renewing now and then my little book, which, by scraping out the marks on the paper of old faults to make room for new ones in a new course, became full of holes, I transferr'd my tables and precepts to the ivory leaves of a memorandum book, on which the lines were drawn with red ink, that made a durable stain, and on those lines I mark'd my faults with a black-lead pencil, which marks I could easily wipe out with a wet sponge. After a while I went thro' one course only in a year, and afterward only one in several years, till at length I omitted them entirely, being employ'd in voyages and business abroad, with a multiplicity of affairs that interfered; but I always carried my little book with me.

My scheme of ORDER gave me the most trouble; and I found that, tho' it might be practicable where a man's business was such as to leave him the disposition of his time, that of a journeyman printer, for instance, it was not possible to be exactly observed by a master, who must mix with the world, and often receive people of business at their own hours. Order, too, with regard to places for things, papers, etc., I found extreamly difficult to acquire. I had not been early accustomed to it, and, having an exceeding good memory, I was not so sensible of the inconvenience attending want of method. This article, therefore, cost me so much painful attention, and my faults in it vexed me so much, and I made so little progress in amendment, and had such frequent relapses, that I was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect, like the man who, in buying an ax of a smith, my neighbour, desired to have the whole of its surface as bright as the edge. The smith consented to grind it bright for him if he would turn the wheel; he turn'd, while the smith press'd the broad face of the ax hard and heavily on the stone, which made the turning of it very fatiguing. The man came every now and then from the wheel to see how the work went on, and at length would take his ax as it was, without farther grinding. "No," said the smith, "turn on, turn on; we shall have it bright by-and-by; as yet, it is only speckled." "Yes," said the man, "but I think I like a speckled ax best." And I believe this may have been the case with many, who, having, for want of some such means as I employ'd, found the difficulty of obtaining good and breaking bad habits in other points of vice and virtue, have given up the struggle, and concluded that "a speckled ax was best"; for something, that pretended to be reason, was every now and then suggesting to me that such extream nicety as I exacted of myself might be a kind of foppery in morals, which, if it were known, would make me ridiculous; that a perfect character might be attended with the inconvenience of being envied and hated; and that a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance.

In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it. But, on the whole, tho' I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it; as those who aim at perfect writing by imitating the engraved copies, tho' they never reach the wish'd-for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by the endeavor, and is tolerable while it continues fair and legible.

It may be well my posterity should be informed that to this little artifice, with the blessing of God, their ancestor ow'd the constant felicity of his life, down to his 79th year, in which this is written. What reverses may attend the remainder is in the hand of Providence; but, if they arrive, the reflection on past happiness enjoy'd ought to help his bearing them with more resignation. To Temperance he ascribes his long-continued health, and what is still left to him of a good constitution; to Industry and Frugality, the early easiness of his circumstances and acquisition of his fortune, with all that knowledge that enabled him to be a useful citizen, and obtained for him some degree of reputation among the learned; to Sincerity and Justice, the confidence of his country, and the honorable employs it conferred upon him; and to the joint influence of the whole mass of the virtues, even in the imperfect state he was able to acquire them, all that evenness of temper, and that cheerfulness in conversation, which makes his company still sought for, and agreeable even to his younger acquaintance. I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.

It will be remark'd that, tho' my scheme was not wholly without religion, there was in it no mark of any of the distingishing tenets of any particular sect. I had purposely avoided them; for, being fully persuaded of the utility and excellency of my method, and that it might be serviceable to people in all religions, and intending some time or other to publish it, I would not have any thing in it that should prejudice any one, of any sect, against it. I purposed writing a little comment on each virtue, in which I would have shown the advantages of possessing it, and the mischiefs attending its opposite vice; and I should have called my book THE ART OF VIRTUE, because it would have shown the means and manner of obtaining virtue, which would have distinguished it from the mere exhortation to be good, that does not instruct and indicate the means, but is like the apostle's man of verbal charity, who only without showing to the naked and hungry how or where they might get clothes or victuals, exhorted them to be fed and clothed. -- James ii. 15, 16.

But it so happened that my intention of writing and publishing this comment was never fulfilled. I did, indeed, from time to time, put down short hints of the sentiments, reasonings, etc., to be made use of in it, some of which I have still by me; but the necessary close attention to private business in the earlier part of thy life, and public business since, have occasioned my postponing it; for, it being connected in my mind with a great and extensive project, that required the whole man to execute, and which an unforeseen succession of employs prevented my attending to, it has hitherto remain'd unfinish'd.

In this piece it was my design to explain and enforce this doctrine, that vicious actions are not hurtful because they are forbidden, but forbidden because they are hurtful, the nature of man alone considered; that it was, therefore, every one's interest to be virtuous who wish'd to be happy even in this world; and I should, from this circumstance (there being always in the world a number of rich merchants, nobility, states, and princes, who have need of honest instruments for the management of their affairs, and such being so rare), have endeavored to convince young persons that no qualities were so likely to make a poor man's fortune as those of probity and integrity.

My list of virtues contain'd at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride show'd itself frequently in conversation; that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing, and rather insolent, of which he convinc'd me by mentioning several instances; I determined endeavouring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my list) giving an extensive meaning to the word.

I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it. I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbid myself, agreeably to the old laws of our Junto, the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fix'd opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so; or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I deny'd myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appear'd or seem'd to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I engag'd in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I propos'd my opinions procur'd them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevail'd with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.

And this mode, which I at first put on with some violence to natural inclination, became at length so easy, and so habitual to me, that perhaps for these fifty years past no one has ever heard a dogmatical expression escape me. And to this habit (after my character of integrity) I think it principally owing that I had early so much weight with my fellow-citizens when I proposed new institutions, or alterations in the old, and so much influence in public councils when I became a member; for I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally carried my points

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.

[Thus far written at Passy, 1741.]


(Taken from chapter 8 of the online version of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Oh Nuts time again

Last year I ran this advertisement for 'Oh Nuts' and they've asked me to run it again. Order now in time for Chanukah.

Enjoy! Just click on the links below.

And have a great Chanukah!

Hanukkah Gifts


This Chanukah, treat your guests with Hanukkah
candy
thank your host with a Hanukkah gift Basekts and delight your kids with Chanukah Gelt. all from Oh! Nuts. As the leading source for kosher candy, chocolates, nuts and gifts, Oh! Nuts is fully stocked with all your Chanukah party and Chanukah
gift needs.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Some old photos

Avi's bar mitzvah is in a couple of weeks (I can't believe he is so old - and that means I am even older!)

So to celebrate, here are a couple of photos that I just found (thanks Daniel) of Avi in Edinburgh - looking at the penguins in the zoo, and another of him having a drink. There is also a photo of the picture that Daniel and Jemma made for us to welcome us back to the country after a visit in Israel. - Yes, the blue baby was once Avi!






I also found this picture (actually my wife found it on facebook) of me and Rabbi Dovid Cohen at a Burns supper. I am so embarrassed... by the big glasses I'm wearing - it used to be the fashion about 100 years ago! (oh, and don't worry, the kilts are shatnez free! - but don't ask what's in the sporran!)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Avi's Tefillin

Avi's Bar Mitzvah is in a month - which is both exciting and scary! So yesterday he put on tefillin for the first time.

Here are some photos of him wearing his tallis and tefillin!
(and one of Shani playing guitar, and Ariella watching excitedly)





Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Amichai Yosef Sedley

Here are a couple of video clips of the bris of my newest nephew - Amichai Yosef Sedley (Michael and Debbie's latest addition to the clan). The bris was today in Chashmonaim (which is next to Modi'in, and unlike Modi'in actually has purpose built Shuls with simcha halls).

It is (municipal) election day here in Israel, so I was half expecting them to name him 'Barak' or 'McCain' (or even Nir Porush). But instead they named him Yosef after our grandfather, and Amichai because of G-d's promise to Avraham Avinu (but I think because of Od Yosef Chai).

Anyway it was also a bit of a New Zealander reunion, and I took part of the video - Yitzchak Triester took the part of the video that I was in.

So here are the clips:



video




video

Monday, November 10, 2008

Using a spider drawing to pay the bills

What with the current economic recession, and the elections, and the general state of life in Israel - this is some well deserved comic relief and furthermore provides potential to solve your economic problems: (It is actually one of the funniest things I've seen all year. A guy trying to pay his bills with a drawing of a spider! I wish I'd thought of it. I've no idea if it is true, but it doesn't really matter - a spider drawing is still a spider drawing!)


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Heart and Soul

I gave a shiur today on what the word 'heart' means in the Torah, Rishonim and Acharonim. This is not a medical shiur (obviously) but a discussion of the changing meanings of the metaphor of heart.

The ancient Greeks also disagreed as to the meaning of the heart, and even in the earliest uses in the English language we find at least two different (opposite) uses.

This is a very important shiur because it defines how we should be serving G-d. Does He want our emotions and feelings, or our minds and intellects?

We say 'Rachmana Liba Bai' (G-d wants our heart), but without knowing what 'heart' means we cannot serve G-d properly.

At the very least it will give you a better understanding of p'shat in the Talmud and in K'rias Shema when you say 'b'chol levavecha'

The audio is here:
Heart and Soul mp3 audio download

and the pdf of the sources is here:
Heart and Soul pdf download

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Two new Books

Baruch Hashem this is an exciting week. Two new books coming out which I was involved with.

Just in time for Yom Kippur - a new translation from TorahLab of Eleh Ezkera: The Midrash of the Ten Martyrs. It is three different versions of the midrash which describes the story of the Ten Martyrs which we read on Yom Kippur as part of the Mussaf prayer. This is the original midrash which the prayer is based upon.



Translated and annotated by me, with a foreword by Rabbi Yaacov Haber, it is published by torahlab and is available directly from them by clicking on this link

We had lots of problems with the spelling of the name of the midrash. Who would have thought that there are so many ways of spelling Eleh Ezkera? We ended up with proofs which had Eleh Ezkerah, Eleh Ezkara, Eilah Ezkera just on the cover (not to mention many other spellings inside the book). Hopefully we have corrected them all now.

A very different project (my afternoon 'gig') is the hashkafa circle - a kollel which focusses on learning Jewish philosophy and history. We have just published the second edition of our journal Reshimu, which has articles from all the kollel members, and which I wrote for, but also did the editing, typesetting and layout. It is available through Lulu. It is also available as a free pdf download from our website www.hashkafacircle.com. Also on the website are video and audio shiurim from Rabbi Triebitz on 'The History and Development of the Talmud' and 'Moreh Nevuchim on Negative Theology'.

Friday, August 22, 2008

New kitchen

OK, I'm hot and exhausted but feeling very proud of myself for having actually accomplished something this morning. I have spent the last 2 hours putting in two shelves. I took a couple of pieces of wood that I found near the dumpster, sawed them (with a small hand saw) to the right size (well, almost the right size, by the third time it was right). One shelf was inside a cupboard, so I just had to put in those little nails with the plastic hats to hold the shelf up (I hate those hats - they never want to go in when and where I want them to). The other shelf was to hold our meaty oven (and by meaty I'm not making a comment about its size, but rather referring to the kind of food we hope to make inside it). So I had to put brackets on the shelf and on the wall. Once I'd put the brackets on the shelf, I had to take them off and put them on again, because I realised that I had the wrong side facing out, then had to redrill the holes in the wall. But finally it is up, and so far the oven hasn't fallen off (I hope it doesn't do so on Shabbat, because that will create all sorts of muktze problems). I tried putting one of my kids on the shelf to see if it was strong enough (I wouldn't want to have the oven drop now would I? - actually I'm joking. I didn't really put my children on the shelf. That would be cruel. I had them hold the wood while I was sawing it instead. NO, I'm still just kidding. I love my kids really).

We had to replace our kitchen because the old one was rotting and leaking and the sinks fell out. Luckily some friends moved into an apartment and replaced the kitchen there, so we took the old kitchen cabinets. And someone else gave us a stainless steel double sink (but that's another kashrus question, which deserves its own blog). So all we had to pay for were the counters (which are not cheap) and the guy who put it in. All in all it was less than 6000 shekel. Not bad at all (it is only about 5999 more than we can afford - but what is money between friends).

Now my wife is inspecting my handiwork ... and ... she likes it! YAY!

OK kids, my work here is done. Up up and away!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Some suggestions for the 2nd JBlogging Convention

OK, I suppose I was a bit too harsh in my assessment of the JBlogging convention because I've had many more hits than usual and been mentioned by DovBear! Must be bad. The truth is that if I'd just read his liveblogging of the event it would have been much better. He cut Bibi down to a paragraph (which was more than he deserved, in my HUMBLE opinion).

Also, after reflecting for a day, I don't think any of the first three speakers were bad. They just weren't sure what they were supposed to be saying. There was no clear remit. Was it supposed to be about them? about everyone else? about Israel? etc.

So, instead of being negative I'll make some suggestions for next year's convention.

* Work out what the purpose of the conference is beforehand. Promoting Israel is fine, I have no problem with that, but give me something that will improve my blog (because blogging is always about me) to make it worth the trip.

* NO POLITICIANS! (Even though in all likelihood next year will also be an election year!) Talk about blogging and talk about Israel. Don't make it into a party political platform - PLEASE!

* Remember the vegetarians! How much meat can people eat? How about some sticky buns instead! (I know it will ruin the pun, because you can't have 'sticky bun and greet', but think of a new joke for next year)

* Try to encourage the speakers to prepare what they are going to say before they stand up to speak (especially the ones who you are flying in from the States in business class!)

* Let people submit questions beforehand to guide the discussion and the direction of the evening.

* Let the panel discussions just be panel discussions, instead of 4 short speeches.

* Bring in people who can talk about the latest in the computer/blogging/software/ world that will improve the technical quality of the blogs (as well as just telling us what to write about Israel)

* NO POLITICIANS (Just in case they missed it the first time)

* Have a live band. I would have stayed if Angus Young and AC-DC were going to close the show.

* Try to raffle of something that doesn't rhyme with 'raffle'. It sounds silly (not funny, just silly)

* and finally - since I obviously know everything best, because I have a blog and am going to change the world - give me the starring role! ;)


(that last line was definitely a joke. It is much more fun to sit in the back row than to talk to the cameras)

Research says: Large families aren't so bad

Cassandra Jardine has written an article for the Daily Telegraph about the advantages of having lots of children. She makes a lot of good points, showing the many advantages of large families, and some of the disadvantages (many of which only apply in Britain - higher taxes, or Australia - carbon tax!)

The funny (to me) thing is that a large family means five children. Now I hear you say that five is quite a lot. But I am one of six kids, and five would be small, not big. I have five kids, and it doesn't feel like a big family (though sometimes they are quite a handful - especially now during the holidays).

My chevrusa is one of only 4 boys, but between him and his 3 brothers, his mother now has 41 grandchildren (11, 11, 13 and 7). Those sound to me like big families.

The main assumptions of those against larger families are that bigger houses cost more (learn to sqash!), more children cost more money (don't send them to a private school), and it is selfish because the world is overcrowded (doesn't apply to Jews - we have 6,000,000 to catch up - and anyway I don't buy that arguement).

Apparently having five children now is "a public declaration of a huge income, limitless energy and a selfish disregard for the future of the planet, to boot". I feel rich, even though i have no money, but I'm not so sure about the limitless energy one (I never seem to have any!).

And the best line in the article:
Each throw of the genetic dice is a new adventure, a fascinating individual, another sometimes tiresome, usually loveable bundle of strengths and weaknesses.


USUALLY LOVABLE! Hear that kids??

When I tell people that I have five children, they tend to say: "Lucky you." Roughly translated, that means: "What a show-off." A generation back, large families were generally attributed to rejection of contraception; nowadays, they are considered to be a public declaration of a huge income, limitless energy and a selfish disregard for the future of the planet, to boot.

None of the above is true in my case, but I'm always rather feeble in putting the case for large families any more coherently than to say that I enjoy having lots of children, however expensive and tiring they can be.

Each throw of the genetic dice is a new adventure, a fascinating individual, another sometimes tiresome, usually loveable bundle of strengths and weaknesses. I didn't plan to have so many; I just couldn't bear to stop.

The point about big families is that they are more than the sum of their parts - they are a microcosm of society in which the members battle for attention and the best seat in the car.

The squabbles are endless, and often intense, but at the end of the day (literally) everyone has to get on with one another, because they have to share the television remote control. As such, I've always believed that large families are not just a selfish pleasure but beneficial for the country, even the world - but, until now, I've been short of ammunition for arguing my case.

I'm grateful, therefore, to Sky News presenter Colin Brazier, who has spent the past five years assembling evidence that supports the idea that larger families are A Good Thing. "We are so often told about the disadvantages of large families that we have lost sight of the hidden advantages," he says.

His mission began one day at the start of the Iraq war when, while embedded with the United States army, he heard a radio report claiming that the cost of bringing up a child had risen to £180,000.

At the time he didn't have the five children that he has now, but he was already aware that it was bunkum to suggest that it costs as much as the price of a family house to raise each child. By sharing bedrooms, baths and toys, he could see that each additional child in a large family worked out cheaper to raise than a child in a small family.

Nor did he feel it was fair to calculate that each child adds an additional 750 tons of carbon dioxide to the environment. "What about economies of scale?" he thought.

"A four-person household uses half as much electricity, per capita, as a home for one. The people who are messing up the planet are the single people living alone in swanky apartments. Someone needs to rebut these nonsensical stories."

Since then he has not just gathered arguments for the defence, he has gone on the attack. Having condensed his research into an article for the think tank Civitas, he may need to don his flak jacket again, because the anti-natalists who advocate the benefits of a small family may not like what he has to say.

Nor may the Government. In France, parents with three or more children are given medals for their procreative valour. In Britain, we are penalised by higher taxes on people carriers and will soon have to pay through the nose for rubbish collections and water use.

Private schools don't offer discounts for bulk buying, while state schools are abandoning sibling policies, so parents can't assume that they won't have to hurtle around to several schools each morning.

The result of such measures, combined with the constant scare stories about the cost of children, is that 90,000 people have fallen into a baby gap: they would like to have more children but don't dare because they can't afford a larger house or bigger car.

With the British birthrate currently standing at 1.7 per woman - well below replacement level - Brazier argues that there's no need for such restraint. It doesn't matter if you can't afford a large house.

Children who share bedrooms are physically healthier than those who don't, because their immune systems are toughened up by catching minor illnesses from one another in their early years. If they are a bit cramped and have to endure being told they can't always have the new trainers or toy they want, that's good for them.

Having several siblings is also a pointer to future mental health. Scions of large families stand a good chance of making a success of their marriages, because they are used to sharing.

There is also safety in numbers from the pressure of ambitious, fussing parents whose tendency to hover like helicopters over their children's heads contributes, according to a recent Unicef survey, to British children being the most miserable in the developed world.

I'm as keen as the next mother for my children to be world-beaters, but with several children to compare I'm more realistic about their talents and don't have either the time or the resources to apply the mental thumbscrews. Mostly, I'm happy to settle for the children being whoever they happen to be, so long as they help with the washing-up.

Chores are an issue in larger families. The very rich can employ armies of cleaners to pick up after their broods, but the rest of us rely on the children to look after themselves. With a little benign neglect they are forced to learn to clean, cook, fix things for themselves and babysit one another. They may grumble, but these are more useful life skills than playing the violin.

Not that children from large families underperform educationally, as used to be thought.

The theory was that parents with lots of children stop reading to them and park them in front of the television, but a survey of 22,000 French school-leavers found that academic performance improved with additional siblings so long as one parent was "an educated professional". Knowledge and studious habits trickle down the family.

Younger children get less parental help with their homework, but their older siblings act as teachers and the younger ones learn to work on their own. It would be nice if it were so. Children from large families are also less likely to be members of the awkward squad at school: having had their rough edges worn down by sibling squabbles, they tend to be co-operative in the classroom.

One non-economic, non-ecological reason why parents limit themselves to small families these days is that they like the idea of having the time to be best friends with their mini-mes. In large families relationships between siblings become more important than those with their parents, who are too busy keeping the show on the road to go on endless one-to-one shopping or football trips.

This, too, brings bonuses: not only do children in large families have more siblings among whom to find soul-mates but there is always someone to give advice or act as whistle-blower if they are doing something dodgy.

Taking the emphasis off the parent/child relationship also means that twentysomethings from big families are less likely to join the growing hordes who live at home, behaving like ''kidults" well past the age when they should be taking responsibility for themselves.

They are also better at being parents themselves - and less likely to need Supernanny's advice - because they have more experience of seeing how it's done.

What's missing in this country, Brazier concludes, is a lobby to uphold the manifold benefits and interests of the large families. If he wants to start one, he can count me in. Why size really matters

Pros

• Children from larger families get into fewer fights, and are better at making and keeping friends.

• Through having siblings, children learn empathy, team playing, gratification deferment, time-management and how to resolve disputes.

• Children with several siblings have lower rates of asthma, eczema and hay fever. They make fewer visits to the doctor and have a reduced risk of leukaemia, cancer and diabetes.

• Older siblings prevent younger ones being bullied.

• In larger families play is less closely supervised. Children learn to take risks, which will make them better employees and employers.

• Children in large families learn to cook, use the washing machine and to iron.

• In larger families there is more emphasis on thrift.

• Those who grow up with siblings are better at getting on with the opposite sex and have fewer divorces.

Cons

• Developers are building so few larger homes that a third bedroom can add a fifth to the price of a house, and a fourth two thirds.

• Since 1988 the tax and benefits system has left larger families living on average incomes worse off.

• Converting a loft or basement means higher council tax bills.

• Family tickets for many attractions are limited to two children.

• Car tax on larger cars may soon be followed by dearer parking.

• Many swimming pools allow an adult to supervise only two children.

• In Australia there are proposals for a carbon tax on parents with more than two children.

inside the monkey suit - Jblogger convention

There is a principle in halacha that people don't lie about something which can easily be proven false.

Which is why I don't understand the guys who found Bigfoot. What were they thinking? Perhaps nobody will notice it is a rubber monkey suit?
Quite honestly I couldn't care less if there is a bigfoot or not, but how dumb can Americans be to think they could convince anyone with a rubber suit and some possum dna?

Which brings me to my main subject...

I was at the JBloggers conference last night. Ok, there was probably no possum dna there, but the rest was the same (apart from the rubber monkey suit).

I'm not sure what I was expecting. I was hoping to learn tips for blogging, ways to increase readership, ideas for blogs, software etc. - and of course some free food!

It was so disappointing!! To be fair I left after Bibi (May I call you Prime Minister on Miluim) Netanyahu finished boring me silly with his tripe. So perhaps the evening improved. I had to leave because my brain had turned into blancmange and I couldn't take any more.

It was packed with people, but I found myself embarrassed to say I was a blogger. I was tempted to grab a press sticker and hide in the back.

The first speaker began with a d'var Torah about the importance of humility. To a room full of people who were only interested in self-promotion! (Come on, be honest. Which blogger doesn't dream of a mass readership and changing the world? Everyone is in it to some extent for the ego trip. Yes, even me!)

To see and hear people who write so brilliantly, but really didn't have anything to say when facing a room full of people was sad and actually quite pathetic. There was no clear agenda, no proper discussion, no difficult questions, and no content. I learnt more from 5 minutes browsing the web than I did from 2 hours last night.

And why did they invite Bibi? I know why he wants the publicity - it is election year after all. But to watch the women primp and preen as he walked in (a quick application of lipstick - with him there is always a chance). Then he waffled on (not the waffle iron they were raffling - or the raffle iron they were waffling) for almost an hour about such interesting topics as the CERN particle accelerator and a course in Jewish history. He was asked the most benign questions (can I sign up for your party? Do you think blogging will change the world) by a fawning audience who cheered his every word! I thought bloggers were supposed to be independent thinkers. Apparently most of them just want to find a party line to tow! (although apparently kumah picked up on that and mentioned it in his talk later in the evening).

If I would have gone to a Star Trek convention it would have been equally geeky and probably just as boring - but at least there would have been some fun costumes!

The only funny line of the night was when Bibi tried to begin his speech with wit, by making fun of Jewlicious's name. Bibi said (imagine dark chocolate voice) 'Jewlicious?' To which David Abitbol replied 'Netanyahu?'

Unfortunately for me, the intelligent, witty and bright bloggers I read on the web were for the most part revealed as an empty monkey suit. They should have kept the conference in the freezer with Bigfoot.

(Though if they have the second JBloggers Conference next year, some of those who attend will have a chance to leave the bedroom for a second time!)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hilchot Berachot

For the past three summers I have given shiurim at Midreshet Rachel v'Chaya on the subject of Berachot.

During the rest of the year I teach Hilchot Shabbat (which is fairly straight forward) and Hilchot Kashrut (which is much more difficult). But always the most difficult subject is Berachot.

There are many reasons why it is the most difficult subject -

* Everyone has to say brachot - even children, so sometimes people never progress past a children's understanding of the laws

* Modern food is not as simple as food in the time of the Talmud or Shulchan Aruch. It is not always easy to know what the main ingredients are - let alone which is the main and which is secondary

* Eating habits have changed. People don't base their meals around bread necessarily nowadays (and certainly don't eat everything with bread)

* Unlike some other areas of halacha, you can't assume that someone religious knows the laws of brachot, so you can't just copy what everyone else does

* Some laws depend on kavana. Two people could eat the same food at the same time yet make different brachot

* Many foods have no clear psak halacha as to what bracha to say (e.g. rice, rice cakes, certain breakfast cereals etc.)

* In addition one must have kavana when saying brachot - often we forget to have kavana while reciting brachot!

So, even though brachot is perhaps one of the most important areas of halacha, it is not usually learned in depth and has been relegated to rote.

And I have to teach all of this to the beginner level in 9 or 10 classes! An impossible task!

Here are my source sheets. Some people have found them very helpful. Don't use them for p'sak halacha - always ask your local Orthodox Rabbi (or e-mail me if you can't find an LOR). And please tell me of any mistakes you find (there are probably many).

OK, here are the sheets:

Hilchot Berachot

Monday, August 11, 2008

Devarim - tochecha

I gave a shiur this past Shabbos on the concept of tochecha - rebuke, reproach, admonishment - whatever you want to call it. The source sheets are here:

Devarim shiur

Isn't it odd that on Tisha B'Av one of the signs of mourning is that we are not allowed to greet each other. Unfortunately some of my neighbours are always in mourning, because it is very rare to get a spontaneous greeting around these parts. I'm sure other parts of the country (or the world) are better - but what's with saying hello?

Anyway, in addition to the sources (which are kind of neat because there is a story about Jesus - everyone loves Jesus stories) I also quoted the laws of tochecha, which are mainly to be found in Orech Chaim 608 and the Mishna Brura there.

One of the most important things is that tochecha can only be given out of love. If you don't love someone, don't bother telling them if they are doing something wrong - it won't count as a mitzvah for you, and they'll probably just end up hating you for it, which will give them another sin.

Love people. A lot. Care about them. Once you care about them you can also care about their spiritual wellbeing.

It is human nature to not enjoy being told off for doing something wrong. Learn to accept tochecha, even if it is given by the wrong person in the wrong way for the wrong reason.

Don't give tochecha that won't be listened to. It will only make things worse. Do give tochecha if it will be listened to (and in a way that will be heard) - it is one of the 248 positive mitzvot!

The Pele Yoetz (on his entry about tochecha) writes that people make the mistake of thinking that only the Rabbis have to give tochecha. He explains that it is even more important for the average person like you and I to give tochecha. There are two reasons for this. We know better what our friends are up to - when they are in front of the Rabbi perhaps they behave differently.

And more importantly - if the Rabbi gives tochecha it is easy for people to ignore. 'That is only for Rabbis' they think to themselves, 'not common people'. If someone like you or I give tochecha the person realises that it applies to them just like everyone else. (back when I was a Shul Rabbi I knew the sermon was successful when someone came to me and said 'What a great sermon! And every word of it applied to the person sitting next to me! - he didn't know that he was also one of the people I was speaking to!)

Always make sure that you are actually right before you give someone tochecha. Maybe it is you who have been doing things wrong all these years.

There is an important piece written by Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky in Emes L'Yaakov on Shulchan Aruch. In explaining the laws of Tisha B'Av he begins by pointing out that there were traditionally two different customs about whether to wear clean clothes on Shabbat Chazon or not. The Jews of Vilna would wear clean clothes, others wouldn't. Both are correct.

He goes on to explain the importance of knowing the difference between a Torah halacha, a Rabbinic halacha, a fence and a minhag. It is not enough to copy what your parents (or friends) do - even if they are completely righteous and do everything correctly. Because if you only copy them without understanding why you are doing it you will come to transgress many sins.

If you don't know the difference between what is your custom and what is halacha you will see others doing things differently than you. You will come to think of them as sinners - thereby transgressing many Torah prohibitions. You may even come to hate them for what you perceive as an infringement, when in fact they are following their minhagim and are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

I gave an analogy (though this is not in R' Yaakov). If you don't rely on heter mechira for Shmita that is fine. But if you think that someone who does is any less of a good Jew than you - you do not love your neighbour as yourself. That person is following the ruling of his or her Rabbi, and the ruling of many great Rabbis of previous generations. It may not be for you, but that doesn't mean they are doing something wrong. (If you choose not to eat in their home that is your own decision to be discussed with your Rabbi. There are different views on that. But if you are going to turn down an invitation do it with love, not to make machlokes!)

The Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of causeless hatred. It was also destroyed (according to the Gemara in Shabbos 54b-55a) because people didn't give each other tochecha. Look at the source sheet and you will see how difficult it is to give tochecha. But work on loving someone first, then they will thank you when you help them improve their relationship with G-d!

(one final point - even if you do give tochecha in the nicest possible way and the person still doesn't listen to you - that doesn't make them a wilful sinner. The Chazon Ish in Yoreh Deah 2:28 says that since nobody nowadays really knows how to give tochecha, nobody can be called a wilful sinner. Without adequate tochecha they are still considered an accidental sinner.)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Langton's Ant and the confines of Halacha



I'm not sure what the message from this is, but this is really neat. It is a thing called Langton's Ant, which is a computer program with only a couple of simple rules. The 'ant' (a colored square) is placed on an infinite grid of white or black squares. The ant moves according to the following rules: If it is standing on a white square it turns left, and if it is standing on a black sqare it turns right. When it leaves the square that square changes colour.

These are very simple rules (the 'two mitzvot of Langton's Ant') and so we would expect the ant to have a very simple life. Yet have a look at this website (click the RUN button) and watch what happens. You have to leave it going for a couple of minutes (the first 10,000 or so steps), to see something very interesting.

http://www.math.ubc.ca/~cass/www/ant/ant.html

Have a look and see what you think. Try it again - the same thing happens.

I wonder how this impacts the discussion of G-d's foreknowledge and free choice.

(If you can't be bothered watching for a couple of minutes I'll spoil the surprise. This is what happens. It starts of making a simple pattern. Then it goes totally chaotic. Finally it settles into a pattern which repeats every 104 steps, building a highway leading off into the infinite. If you run it again the same thing happens, but the highway goes off into a different direction. My brain isn't big enough to understand how this makes any sense!)

Good thing we have 613 mitzvos, to give us some more variation than this poor ant.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Free kids activities in Jerusalem

OK - two posts in two days is a bit too much to begin with right - but anyway...

As everyone (in the northern hemisphere) knows it is now the summer holidays. Fun times will be had by all - or else!

I have been trying to think of places to take my kids, or things to do with them that are fun, age appropriate (which is hard when the ages range between 12 and 1) and most importantly - free (or at least very cheap - vacation becomes expensive you know!)

This week we went to the Israel museum. It was really excellent! Usually we go to the science museum, because that is supposed to be child friendly, but it is not cheap, and too crowded and too complicated for the kids (usually). The Israel museum was really great. Everyone had something to see or do, it was unusual, exciting and most of all - free (for kids for the month of August - adults cost 42 shekel unless you pay with leumi card in which case you get a 21 shekel discount!)

Obviously they have the Dead Sea Scrolls there, which everyone knows about. Now they also have the model of the Second Temple (which used to be in the Holyland hotel) which is great preparation for Tisha B'av. There are so many other things there as well, plus they have special activities for children during the summer.

That was a day well spent (and my son went back the next day for more).

Another free thing, though not 'fun' (but appropriate for Tisha B'Av) is Yad Vashem. It is only for children over 10, and not a great laugh (obviously) but as you know it is really important to educate ourselves and our children about the holocaust.

Today my kids will check out the Old City and the tunnel tours. Apparently they are free as well (though I'm not convinced of that).

But what will we do next week? Any ideas? Please leave comments with your suggestions for kids activities for the summer.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

JBlogger Convention

As you have probably noticed by now I haven't blogged in a long time. I always wondered how people could have a blog for many months or years and then just give up. I won't mention names, but we all know several bloggers who have disappeared from our rss feeds. Blogging used to give me such a buzz (though I'm not sure why) that I couldn't understand just giving it up.

Now it seems that I have done just that. At least temporarily. I still have many things that I want to write - not a week goes by that I don't say to myself 'I should blog about that', but somehow it never gets written. I don't have the time, but I never did, so that can't be the reason. I'm doing more writing in other places, so perhaps I don't feel the same need for self expression - I'm really not sure.

Anyway, I'm going to try and start again now to write a bit. The motivation is the First International Jewish Bloggers Convention – which should be exciting. Here - have a look at the badge: (I can't get it to display in the body of the blog, but you can see it on the sidebar if you scroll down slightly)

It is hosted by Nefesh B’Nefesh, and Powered by WebAds, so I can feel like a Zionist at the same time. (I never got one of their free flights - I made Aliya long before they were around, so I may as well enjoy their convention instead).

The theme of the convention is “Taking JBlogging to the Next Level”. And it is just round the corner from where I live (and begins at 5 in the afternoon, which is basically after work - just have to remember to daven mincha early) so it should be a lot of fun.

There will be great speakers (well, I know them as great writers, I hope they can speak) and tips on how to improve the blogs - and of course, most important, free food!

So I hope to see you all there. And hopefully that will inspire me to continue with the blogging.

Until next time ...

(BTW - For those of you who don't live around the corner and can't attend in person you can sign up to watch it live via the internet - pretty neat huh!)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Progressive Action Alliance

An anti Israel group in Texas have started something called '
Freeway Blogging
'. Instead of writing about why Israel is evil they have gone back the old fashioned way holding posters.

Freeway blogging means they stand on a highway overpass during rush hour and hold signs saying, among other things, "Israel Out of the Middle East" and "Palestinian Blood on Jewish Hands". These messages are not only anti-Zionist, but racist and anti-semitic as well.

If it is any consolation they are not only against Israel but also against the President and vice-President of the USA (it seems we are in good company). It seems more like a Pensioners Trip to Wimbledon (without the tennis, obviously) than any well reasoned, or sensible protest. For them Wednesdays is not about American Idol, but about "Israel out of Palestine, Stop Israeli Cruelty, No war with Iran". Apart from being stupid, it really doesn't sound like much fun if you ask me.

The good and clever people at
The Progressive Action Alliance
are confronting the challenge head on by trying to keep them off the web.

They have created an excellent and informative website
Progressive Action Alliance Houston
which explains that Israel has a right to exist and is not an appartheid state.

They have also sponsored bloggers (like me) to write about the good work that they do, and to provide links to them. They want to make sure that their web presence is much stronger than that of the loonies, and that they show up first on any google search.

Good luck to the Progressive Action Alliance (the ones on our side - not the pensioners with the signs). May they merit to revert the evil decree and show the world what a wonderful country Israel is.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Great review of Sefiros

And some criticism.

From Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein on Crosscurrents

It is very exciting to have such a wonderful review.

I would also like to take the chance to respond to his critism of the book. He writes:

I hope I am not being picky by pointing out one area that I would have treated differently. The book refers to sefiros, in part, as “a mystical revelation of G-d’s ‘character’….They show us different aspects of G-d’s personality as we perceive Him in the world.” It quite properly encloses the word “character” in quotes (although not the word “personality”), and goes on to caution that we can never use any “physical terms because He is completely beyond human comprehension. Words like ‘kindness’ or ‘strict justice’ are meaningless when applied to an eternal, unchanging Creator.” It tells the reader that sefiros are “not descriptions of G-d Himself, but are themselves part of His creation.”

I’m not sure how to understand that last sentence. Many will take it to mean, I believe, that sefiros don’t accurately describe G-d. Instead, they are approximations
of Him, using inexact, tentative human language which we understand to be a concession to our limitations. If this is true, however, then they do not have to be part of His creation. They are just labels and handles, and not part of anything.


Perhaps the last sentence was not written clearly (though having reread it many times I think it was), but it certainly does not mean what Rabbi Adlerstein thinks. Sefiros are not approximations or limited by human language. On the contrary, sefiros are defined by human language because they are how we perceive G-d in the world. They can be defined and examined minutely (as we have done in the book to a certain extent). Furthermore, in a sense (the kivayachol sense) they do describe G-d accurately. For the kabbalists (and certainly for the chasidim) the descriptions of G-d in this world are precise and accurate.

However, any words or language (or concepts or sefiros) only describe G-d as we perceive him from within the world. This is clear from the very beginning of the Etz Chaim where the Arizal tries to explain why G-d created the world (the Ramchal begins Derech Hashem in the same way). This question can only be answered from a post creation, human, viewpoint. It is clear that G-d exists outside of anything in the world, and there is nothing we can say about him at all. The only thing we have his the name (Hashem - the four letter name of G-d) which somehow describes His essence. Every other name of G-d is a description in human terms of how G-d relates to the world.

The Rambam (in Moreh Nevuchim) writes that we cannot ascribe any positive description to G-d. The kabbalists (and chasidim) do exactly the opposite and describe G-d, and His actions, in detail. R' Tzadok (in Machsheves Charutz and other places) explicitly argues on this point of the Rambam.

The Leshem (in Biurim p. 4 from memory) reconciles the two opinions by explaining that the Rambam is speaking before tzimtzum and the Arizal is speaking of G-d after the tzimtztum. Thus we are speaking about G-d, while knowing that this is only G-d 'as we can understand Him'.

There are very real differences between Rambam's understanding of G-d and the post-Arizal understanding. The most obvious question is when standing in prayer, who am I addressing?

Rabbi Adlerstein continues:

Rabbi Haber’s formulation contains an ironic element that altogether too many people do not notice. Using the word “personality” in reference to Hashem is double inaccurate. First, for the reason he notes himself. Second, because within the word “personality” is the word “person,” which HKBH decidedly isn’t.


Although G-d isn't a person, the Torah definitely describes Him in human terms. Descriptions of G-d's arm, hand, legs, mouth etc. describe G-d as a person. The sefiros describe the personality of that person. Of course, most people understand that both the Torah and the sefiros are talking in metaphorical language. Furthermore, it is the kabbalists who give meaning to these human terms and give precise meanings to these metaphors.

I very much thank Rabbi Adlerstien for his review, and definitly agree with his concluding paragraph:

I hope Rabbi Haber will forgive me for my obsessiveness. It has nothing to do with his fine work. I am increasingly concerned by the lack of theological sophistication in many people I meet. (Could it be related to the narrowing of scope of what people learn, with classical seforim like Moreh Nevuchim and Kuzari shunted to the side by even many serious Torah students?) Too often, I hear (and I have asked friends and mentors who concur) people speak about HKBH as if He were Superman with no vulnerability to Kryptonite. They use human language in regard to Him without appending the word kevayachol/ (as if it were) as people used to do. It gets worse. They make assumptions and predictions about His behavior on the basis of what is “logical” – as if we had any grasp at all of Divine logic (kevayachol!) There are recurring phrases I hear: “Hashem would never treat a person in such a manner; Hashem wouldn’t disappoint a person who did X; of course He would not say ‘No’ to a person who did Y; He wouldn’t produce anything positive through people like that.” I will be much relieved if readers all tell me that I am the only person who hears these things, and there is nothing to worry about!


We raise our children to think of G-d as a person, but instead of outgrowing such childishness, it is reinforced with every Jewish periodical and book which talks of hashgacha pratis miracles and such like. There are very few people who try to learn Moreh Nevuchim, and even fewer who understand it. Hashkafa has been replaced with short stories and pithy sayings. Unfortunately changing that attitude will take a lot more than one book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Where's the bananas?

CNN are reporting on the Israeli safari park that has gone kosher for Pesach. It is really just an excuse to show orangutans eating matzah.


video

(If you can't see the video you can watch it here)

Now that you mention it I think I've been to a couple of seders like this before.

I suppose the Orangs don't have to worry about the custom of not eating matzah for 30 days before Pesach!

What I'm waiting for is the follow up clip of them drinking the four cups of wine and singing Ma Nishtana. That would be worth watching!

Friday, March 07, 2008

May we merit to turn sadness into happiness

I know that everyone says this, but I feel that I have been so busy for the past few weeks, that I haven't had time for anything extra. I keep meaning to blog, composing blogs in my head, but never committing them to cyberspace.

I have learned a lot of new skills. I have had to typeset and publish the journal for my afternoon kollel (The Hashkafa Circle). It is available through Lulu (in case you were wondering).

I have created (or am in the process of creating) a website for the aforementioned kollel, which will primarily host video shiurim from Rabbi Meir Triebitz. You can see what I've done so far (but there is a lot more coming, both in terms of design and content-wise) at www.hashkafacircle.com. And it is amazing how much time I have spend doing the little that you see there now (including videoing, transfering, converting, uploading etc. etc. etc.)

I have been working with Rabbi Haber on a book about Sefiras HaOmer (and the spiritual journey of Midas HaYom) which obviously has to be in the stores before Pesach. We are at the final stages now, but things keep getting more and more pressured. The good news is that I think it is an excellent book! Hopefully you will all enjoy it to (and buy lots of copies).

But I had to take time today to blog - even though I don't think the house will be cleaned for Shabbos as a result - because of two things: the tragedy of the shooting last night in Merkaz HaRav, and because today is R' Yaakov Kaminetzky's yarzheit.

I still don't know how to cope with the news about last night. It is closish to where we live, and a place that I go to frequently. I also just looked at the list of names and realised that one of those killed was the son of friends of ours from Efrat!

Last week Professor Yisrael Auman spoke at the Shapell's Maleva Malka. He didn't tell this story, but a friend of mind confirmed the details with him.

Professor Auman had a son, Shlomo, who was killed in battle during the Lebanon war in 1982. Rabbi Gustman came to pay a Shiva call (Professor Auman was a talmid of Rav Gustman).

Rav Gustman entered and asked to sit next to Professor Auman, who said, "Rabbi, I so appreciate your coming to the cemetery, but now is time for you to return to your Yeshiva."

Rav Gustman spoke, first in Yiddish and then in Hebrew, so that all those assembled would understand:

"I am sure that you don't know this, but I had a son named Meir. He was a beautiful child. He was taken from my arms and executed. I escaped. I later bartered my child's shoes so that we would have food, but I was never able to eat the food -- I gave it away to others. My Meir is a kadosh -- he is holy -- he and all the six million who perished are holy."

Rav Gustman then added: "I will tell you what is transpiring now in the World of Truth in Gan Eden -- in Heaven. My Meir is welcoming your Shlomo into the minyan and is saying to him 'I died because I am a Jew -- but I wasn't able to save anyone else. But you -- Shlomo, you died defending the Jewish People and the Land of Israel.' My Meir is a kadosh, he is holy -- but your Shlomo is a Shaliach Zibbur -- a Cantor in that holy, heavenly minyan."

Rav Gustman continued: "I never had the opportunity to sit shiva for my Meir; let me sit here with you just a little longer."

Professor Aumann replied, "I thought I could never be comforted, but Rebbi, you have comforted me."


(I took the story from Aish.com, but it is exactly as Professor Auman related it).

These eight boys, who all died al kiddush Hashem, while learning Torah, are surely in a special place in Heaven right now.

But we have to try our best to ensure this doesn't ever happen again. We have to feel the pain of the parents and relatives, chevrusas and Rabbeim. We have ignored the suffering of the people in Sdereot and other parts of the country. Now the message is coming closer to home. We have to wake up, examine our actions and do teshuva.

May all their souls be bound in the bonds of eternal life, and may G-d comfort all the mourners among the other mourners for Zion and Yerushalayim.

Today is also the Yarzheit of R' Yaakov. Even though I never had the privelege of meeting him, I have merited to learn from many of his grandchildren, and feel a very close connection to his Torah and midos through them. There is so much that could be said, but I have run out of words.

May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life, and may he be a meilitz yosher for all of klal yisrael.

This is the month of ve-nahafoch hu. May the sadness be transformed into simcha. Like the Jews in Shushan and around the world, may we see the downfall of all modern day Hamans and may we merit to see the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash very soon.