Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Parshat Tetzaveh - Aharon and Kiruv

This shiur is based on the writings of Rav Tzadok HaCohen.

This shiur is dedicated anonymously.

Parshat Tetzaveh is basically a listing of the various garments worn by the Cohanim and the Cohen Gadol.

Rav Tzadok asks three questions on Parshat Tetzaveh:
1. Why is Moshe's name missing from this parsha?
2. Why is the golden altar listed in this parsha, rather than in the previous parsha which dealt with all the other vessels of the Mishkan?
3. Why are there references to lighting the menorah at both the beginning and end of this parsha?

He explains that this is the parsha of Aharon. Aharon has the ability to bring out the Oral Torah in every Jew through his love for every Jew and his understanding of their soul and essence.

With this Rav Tzadok explains the unity of the parsha. He also connects it to the snake in the Garden of Eden, Amalek, and Eliyahu HaNavi on Mount Carmel.

I look forward to your comments.

Here is the audio shiur (and the pdf sheets to download if you want).

Parshat Tetzaveh - Aharon and Kiruv

(Right click and then 'download as')

Parshat Tetzaveh - Aharon and Kiruv

Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. I would love to continue giving a shiur to this group on a weekly basis, but to do that I would need some kind of sponsorship. If anyone is interested in sponsoring a shiur (either l'ilui nishmat someone, or just for no reason) please contact me.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dwarves on the Shoulders of Giants

The well known phrase "Dwarves on the Shoulders of Giants" is often attributed to Sir Isaac Newton who wrote in a letter in 1676
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants

To quote Hillel Levine

Rationalism and empiricism usurp the authority of traditional knowledge—this authority being based on the consensus that tradition preserves an accurate record of some past revelation.... The epistemological dimensions of this conflict between evolution and
emanation can be traced through the frequent citation of the aphorism, "Dwarfs on the Shoulders of Giants," giving visual representation to the conflict. In its ambiguity, the aphorism seeks to reconcile conceptions of cumulative knowledge and the progressive model of time with conceptions of knowledge based on the authority of tradition and the degenerative model of time. While affirming the superior capacity of the ancient giants and the
authoritativeness of their literary legacy, it allows for the discrepant truth claims and discoveries of the contemporary dwarfs by emphasizing their indebtedness to predecessors.

Thus a rationalist can resolve the authority of the past with the new ideas of the present using the concept of standing on the shoulders of those who came before. Every new idea is only possible because of the groundwork laid by earlier generations.

The concept is refered to by Rav Yaakov of Lisa in his introduction to Chavot Daat. He does not attribute it, but writes:

If you fine an attack on one of the [earlier] poskim, do not think that my intention is to attack. Because I know that compared to the earlier authors I am as like nothing. It is like the analogy that has been made, 'like a dwarf riding on a giant.' However the analogy is not clearly understood, because our eyesight is so weak that we are like chicks who have not yet opened their eyes. Someone who cannot see well thinks that things are the opposite of teh turth, and cannot see properly even when he is raised up high.

However Isaac Newton was not the first to coin this phrase. It appears in the introduction to Shibbolei HaLeket which predates Newton by 400 years! And he is saying it in the name of his teacher, Rav Yishaya di-Trani who lived from 1180-1250.

Yet the truth is that Rav Yishaya (who is more commonly known as Tosefot Rid) was not the first to coin the phrase. He attributes it to the non-Jewish scholars.

Like the great prince, Rav Yishaya of Trani zt"l answered someone when he asked him 'how can a person have the audacity to challenge the words of the earlier Gaonim?, whose minds are as open as the doorway of a hall?' He answered with an aphorism that he heard from the non Jewish scholars. When the philosophers asked the greatest of them and asked 'Do we not admit that the earlier generations were wiser and smarter than us? Yet we speak against them and challenge their words in many places, and the truth is with us. How can this be?' The philosopher answered by saying 'Who sees further? The dwarf or the giant? Surely the giant because his eyes are much higher than the eyes of the dwarf. But if the dwarf sits on the neck of the giant - then who sees further? Surely the dwarf, because now his eyes are higher than the eyes of the giant. Simiarly, we are dwarves riding on the neck of giants because we see their wisdom and delve deeper, and we learn from thier wisdom to discover everything that we say. Not because we are greater than they were.

Who is the philosopher who Tosefot Rid refers to? It turns out that the earliest use of the phrase 'dwarfs on the shoulders of giants' is from Bernard of Chartres, quoted by John of Salisbury.

So it turns out that the phrase which is used to justify the modern innovations in Jewish thought by connecting it to the earlier generations is itself borrowed from a non-Jewish source and has no connetion to Judaism or the earlier sources.

Apparently there is a whole book on the phrase "On the Shoulders of Giants." I have only seen the few pages available on google book view:

(Of course there is a different but similar concept in Chulin 7a which explains how there is any room for later generations to come up with new halachot. The phrase of the gemara is "my ancestors left me a place to define myself." This allows for novella, but does not connect them to the views of the earlier generations).

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bar Kochba Tartan?

Last week I was speaking with my father about the similarities between the Scots and the Jews. Both seem to make a disproportionate contribution to politics and business throughout the world (though we were speaking mainly about Britain and New Zealand).

Then I was at a wedding later in the week and I heard something very interesting. I am not sure if it is true, but it may be. And if anyone can verify it, or send me to some sources I would appreciate it.

As you may know, Scotland is in the midst of a bid for independence from the rest of Britain. There will be a referendum in 2014 where the population will decide whether to stick with the rest of the island, or go it alone.

Why are the Scots not part of England, like all the other counties which were once separate and independent kingdoms? The answer is (I think) "Hadrian's Wall". Hadrian's Wall once stretched across the top of England (today many parts are still standing, but not all of it) to keep the Scots out of the rest of Britain. As the name suggests, it was built in the time of the Emperor Hadrian, who succeeded in conquering the rest of mainland Britain. It was this wall that allowed Scotland to remain an independent and separate country until the Treaty of Union in 1707

Why did Hadrian instruct his soldiers to build a wall, instead of continuing north to vanquish the entire country? (And here is the chidush) - Because of the Bar Kochba revolt in Israel.

Hadrian realised that he needed his troops and his best general back in the Middle East, and not in the furthest corner of Europe.

The Bar Kochba rebellion took the Romans by surprise. Hadrian called his general Sextus Julius Severus from Britain, and troops were brought from as far as the Danube. The size of the Roman army amassed against the rebels was much larger than that commanded by Titus sixty years earlier. Roman losses were very heavy - XXII Deiotariana was disbanded after serious losses. In addition, some argue that Legio IX Hispana disbandment in the mid 2nd century could also have been a result of this war.

Now, according to Wikipedia that are many theories as to why Hadrian constructed the wall, and its construction precedes the outbreak of the Bar Kochba rebellion. But it is still possible that the ongoing rebellion in Palestine was a major reason why the wall was constructed.

Reasons for the construction of the wall vary, and the exact explanation has never been recorded. However, a number of theories have been presented by historians, primarily centering around an expression of Roman power and Hadrian's policy of defense before expansion. For example, on his accession to the throne in 117, Hadrian had been experiencing rebellion in Roman Britain and from the peoples of various conquered lands across the Empire, including Egypt, Palestine, Libya, Mauretania.[5] These troubles may have had a hand in Hadrian's plan to construct the wall, and his construction of limes in other areas of the Empire, but to what extent is unknown.

So the reason that Scotland wants to become independent, and the reason they wear kilts, play bagpipes and eat haggis (rather than trousers, cricket and 'fish and chips') may be because of Bar Kochba and the rebellion in Palestine.

Kind of neat to think that ultimately the Jews can be blamed for that one too!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rain Boots

Last week half of the country went on strike, which meant that we had no weather. Now the strike is finished and Baruch Hashem it is raining here, and in honour of the rain and the weather here are two clips about rain boots. In the original version, by the Big Yin (Billy Connolly) he sings about Wellies (short for Wellington Boots - which is what they call them in Britain)

In the version I grew up with in New Zealand (where we call them 'gumboots') it was Fred Dagg who said "Kick it in the guts Trev"

The only difference is that the politicians are different, as are the accents. Enjoy.

On an entirely different note, if you are interested in purchasing any of my (and Hashkafa Circle) books on Lulu you can now get a 30% discount by using this coupon code: FEBRUARYCART305GBP

Or you could get Reshimu (though that is available as a free pdf download from

Mishpatim - Naaseh veNishma

This shiur is also based on the writings of Rav Tzadok HaCohen.

May this shiur be a Refuah Shleima for Shiri bat Gila.

Mishpatim contains not only many of the civil laws which guide us as a nation, but also the continuation of Maamad Har Sinai and the Giving of the Torah. At the end of the parsha the Jewish people utter the famous words "Naaseh veNishma" ("We Will Do and We Will Listen"). The Talmud praises them for giving precedence to action over understanding, comparing it to an apple tree that produces fruit before leaves.

(Tosefot notes that 'apple' in this context means 'etrog' - this allows me a digression to speak about the etrog as the fruit of the Garden of Eden and whether there was any cross-fertilisation of ideas between the 'Golden Apple' which is the etrog, and the 'Golden Apple of Discord' which brought strife to the world and ultimately led to the Trojan War.)

Rav Tzadok discusses whether action is more important than understanding (which he calls 'chochma' or 'freec choice') or the other way round. It turns out that both are true - one is in the realm of 'action' and the other in the realm of 'chochma/bechira'

This is very similar to an idea of Rav Dessler in Strive for Truth, though Rav Dessler frames it in terms of psychology and predeterminism.

I look forward to your comments.

Here is the audio shiur (and the pdf sheets to download if you want).

Parshat Mishpatim - Naaseh veNishma

(Right click and then 'download as')

Parshat Mishpatim - Naaseh veNishma

Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. I would love to continue giving a shiur to this group on a weekly basis, but to do that I would need some kind of sponsorship. If anyone is interested in sponsoring a shiur (either l'ilui nishmat someone, or just for no reason) please contact me.