Thursday, November 29, 2012

Interesting research

We've touched upon similar ideas presented in this article when discussing some of Reb Kalonymous Kalman's advice. Similarly, the author of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh mentions a very specific technique that seems to be in line with this research, among other Torah sources...

Bothered by Negative, Unwanted Thoughts? Just Throw Them Away - Association for Psychological Science

(please be advised that the findings appear to be preliminary)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Just Cause

I've been mulling over a new thought I saw this week in Ohr Gedalyahu, who quotes the Medrash Tanchuma that Yaakov's departure from the Holy Land was an aspect of exile (Yaakov's "taking" the birthright effectively severed Esav's spiritual life. One who cuts a life short - albeit unintentionally - must go into exile).

Within the context of this idea, Rav Schorr refers to the fact that the exile was essentially a decree from our forefather Avraham; at the bris bein habesarim it was established that Avraham's decendents would be exiles, wandering from country to country. Nevertheless, although a decree may be set for generations, in every generation there must be some sort of pretense to "warrant" the decree, no matter how tenuous. Case in point, the birthright in last week's parsha.

I'm not sure I understand this correctly. This idea of needing a "siba" as Rav Schorr puts it is intriguing; it seems like one of those many instances where God plays by "the rules" of our finite human intellect; we (humans) look for causality, and it would seem "unjust" for Him to visit upon one's progeny hardship apropos of nothing, so He finds something to hang it on.

But why? This cannot be the only reason (if it applies at all), because what happened to "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My way..."? The Holy One answers to no one, nor can anyone really question him. Is there a deeper insight in this concept of finding a pretense?

Any thoughts are appreciated.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Follow Up... the last post:

My father, he should live and be well, offered the following insight gleaned from the teachings of Rav Schwab and Rav Pam: the Torah is teaching us the ideal role of the shadchan in terms of how he (or she) should perceive himself and his role in the process of making the match. From the fact that Eliezer's name is not mentioned in the Parsha at all, we learn that vis-a-vis the prospective match, there can be no personal interest on the matchmaker's part at all. There must be an abnegation of sorts, with the matchmaker dedicated to the singular task of bringing this couple together without any ulterior motives (no matter how admirable). It is straight advocacy for the others, free of any self serving motive.

As to why he's alternately referred to as Eved and Ish, I still don't have any answer. My initial hypothesis that the distinction is when Eliezer exercises his autonomy (i.e. when he's carrying out the mission of Avraham, he is in his capacity of servant, and when he must make his own calls in the field, he becomes a Man) such as conversing with Lavan and Besuel fell through; first of all, the verses do not reflect that, and the  commentators make a point of asserting that especially when Eliezer used his own initiative it was in his role as a loyal servant.

After going through it again Shabbos morning, I realized that the Torah specifically calls Eliezer a "man" during his interactions with Rivka - even after Rivka announces his arrival (again calling him a "man") to her family, once he reveals his identity, the Torah reverts to his title of servant.

Perhaps we can suggest an answer that works on two levels: according to the simple meaning, maybe Rivka didn't recognize him as a servant, and innocently referred to him as a free individual - the Torah would reflect that assumption until the confusion is cleared when Eliezer introduces himself. On a deeper level, maybe we can say that the Torah is teaching us an additional quality of Rivka: that same chesed that she extended to Eliezer and his entourage in deed was also present in her attitude towards people. Despite the fact that Eliezer was a servant - in many places, likely considered a second-class citizen - she regarded him as a person, as a human being worthy of being treated as such. So long as she interacts with him, and accords him respect and dignity, he is a man. And Eliezer recognizes this, but still maintains that above all else, he is a loyal servant to Avraham.

As far as I know, this is totally my own, and if it's totally off, please let me know. If it is corroborated somewhere, also please let me know...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Looking for resources...

...about how the Torah does not mention Eliezer by name at all throughout this week's parsha. Also for any significance in terms of the alternating uses of "the Man" and "the Slave/Servant".

A matter of Time

An hour-long segment about time. Although it's not a Jewish program, there's a lot of rich material in this show to ponder, especially as we enter into Shabbos Kodesh...

This hour of Radiolab, we try our hand at unlocking the mysteries of time.
Jorge Luis Borges wrote, "Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire." And it’s still as close a definition as we have. We stretch and bend time, wrestle with its subjective nature, and wrap our minds around strategies to standardize it...stopping along the way at a 19th-century railroad station in Ohio, a track meet, and a Beethoven concert.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The value of modest speech.

There is something to be said about not saying some things. - Me

Two days ago I came across a gemara that I find pertinent in this day and age.

The gemara (TB Shabbos 33a) goes through several sins and their commensurate punishments. Regarding vulgar speech there is a statement that when someone goes to the trouble of explicitly stating the obvious (the gemara uses the example of a bride approaching the wedding canopy; everyone *knows* what follows, yet it is not a topic of conversation - no one points it out. But the one who makes a point of saying something...) it can overturn whatever positive reward he has accrued for the next seventy years.

This is such a timely message for our generation. We live in a world that is increasingly bolder - we tend to become impatient with euphemisms and "beating around the bush". "Just call a spade a spade!" "I have to tell it like it is," and so on. Our society believes that there is more merit to having full disclosure than expressing things in a demure fashion.

This affects relationships as well: "get it out, or it will fester inside you!" While I certainly advocate clear communication, it has to be done properly; just saying things as they pop into one's head is a way to ensure that the chasm widens.

I had a professor in undergraduate who made a point of using profanity (the "seven deadly words", and then some) in class, because it "said it best".

This is one of the things that I believe has contributed to the dumbing down of the media. I have witnessed an increasing usage of lowbrow language in formerly respectable magazines, as a younger generation of "journalists" have entered the fray. It gets worse with online media - and the biggest tragedy to me is the tremendous amount of "culturally Jewish" content that puts out coarse, disgusting (and poorly written) material out into cyberspace. It doesn't make you look hip or advant-garde, only inarticulate and immature.

But this blog is about positivity and increasing light, so I will try and do my part to produce worthy reading...

Also, an earlier daf of gemara has me singing one of my favorite songs:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rebbe Shlomo on the Satmar Rav

Lest you think that I forgot it was also (actually, first) Rebbe Shlomo's yahrtzeit week...

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan on Shema

An audio posted to YouTube with an excerpt from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's Jewish Meditation.

Embedding was disabled, so you'll have to follow the link to hear it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach OBM

I've been saving this for today, the 16th of Mar Cheshvan, Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach's yahrtzeit. I read it this year in Song of Teshuvah by Rav Moshe Weinberger:

There was a Chassidic Jew in Bnei Brak who had lost everything during WWII and was spiritually broken. One day he came to pour his heart out to Rav Menachem Man Shach, who was not at all Chassidic, but who understood full well the pain of a broken Chassidic heart.This Jew told what had happened to him and said, “I cannot even pray anymore.”Rav Shach said, “What Chassidic group do you belong to?”The man told him, and Rav Shach began to hum a niggun, a tune, from that group. The Chassid closed his eyes and hummed the niggun together with Rav Shach, until he started to cry. 
Rav Shach said, “For a Chassid, it’s not enough to sing a niggun. We have to dance.” So Rav Shach stood up and danced with this Jew for a long time.Afterwards this Jew could pray again. Rav Shach did not give him a theological explanation about where God was during the Holocaust. 
He knew that this niggun was still inside that Jew, hidden underneath the pile of ashes from Auschwitz.
A lot of people presume to know the mind of this gadol, not to mention that they seek to question his status of a gadol to begin with. I cannot honestly say that I understand him, and there are many things that I do not understand about his positions on many issues.

 But one comment that his son Dr. Ephraim Shach made about finally realizing that Rav Shach's entire worldview was through the prism of Torah sheds some light:

"חזרתי לדבר איתו אחרי שנה, אבל להבין את הצד שלו הבנתי רק ב-71', כשאבא שכב בבית החולים תל-השומר. גילו אצלו סרטן והוא עמד בפני ניתוח. פתאום הוא אמר לי שהוא רוצה שאקח אותו חזרה הביתה, כי אין לו בבית החולים אפשרות ללמוד כמו בבית. אז הבנתי שאין מה לעשות – לימוד תורה קודם אצלו לכול, גם  לבריאות שלו                                                                                                                                 
I started speaking to him again a year after [Mother's death], but I only understood his position in '71, when Father was hospitalized in Tel HaShomer. He was diagnosed with cancer, waiting to be operated on. Suddenly he told me he wanted me to take him home, because he couldn't learn in the hospital the way he could at home. Then I understood that there was nothing to do - learning Torah came before everything for him, even his own health.
 Many might shake their heads in a mixture of astonishment and incredulity; how can we possibly relate to that level of commitment? Some might even criticize that single-minded dedication to one element - after all, doesn't it say v'chai bahem, that we are meant to live by the Torah which includes taking care of ourselves?

Perhaps the answer is "yes" - certainly for us down here dealing with all of our nisyonot. Perhaps one can say that this might have been Rav Shach's nisayon. Perhaps, but I don't think we can say one way or another, and we should look at his life as an example of what our lives could look like if we strove to have that same level of dedication. At the end of the day, the stories of his "meshugass" (I shudder at phrasing it that way, but it's for the sake of making a point) in contrast to our own craziness...? I know which one I would prefer to have.

There is a lot more to say about this topic and the general problem I see with our (and I include myself in this) hubris in assuming that we're on any similar level with certain individuals. That we have the gall to say "I disagree with Rav _______" on a given subject that we maybe have some familiarity with, and certainly not the specific details or cheshbonot involved in a specific discussion is a sign of real unprecedented chutzpah.

I believe that one source of this problem is the proliferation of media that enables everybody to espouse his unsolicited opinion on any topic under the sun*. This use to happen in the mikvah and at kiddush clubs and around the water cooler on a regular basis; it's not a new phenomenon that one fellow who has the right amount of charisma, bluster, and confidence can hold forth on any subject to his rapt audience, of course. But now it has become global and more vocal, and these people find reinforcement among like-minded individuals, so it becomes a self-perpetuating problem to a dangerously larger degree.

Sorry about the rant, but a comment from last year's post set this off.

* yes, I caught the irony. It goes without saying that I am guilty as charged, I think.