Saturday, 29 October 2016

Parsha: Noah, "Community and Individual; Ayn Rand and RSR Hirsch"

When is egotism a legitimate expression of moral indignation and when is it just conceit, arrogance and unholy defiance?

Although RSR Hirsch highly praises community elsewhere, I understood how this same community could be evil when reading his observations on Dor Haflagah. Migdal Bavel, though the paradigm of a peaceful co-operative community, set itself up in defiance of the Divine. Foreshadowing both Fascism and Communism, it sought to sacrifice the individual on the altar of the greater whole.

This suppression of the individual rightfully sparks the ego's rebellion  Why rightfully? When it suppresses the individual, any collective without sanction of the Almighty is inherently evil.

No wonder Ayn Rand flew from Godless Bolshevism. Her nature impelled her to rebel. Given the frightening parallels between Migdal Bavel and the Stalinistic 5-Year plans, her flight was well-justified! (Whether her alternative passes muster is another matter.)

R. Hirsch emphasizes that the praiseworthy community and culture is the one built around preserving and perpetuating Torah Tradition. He himself led a paradigmatic community in Frankfort when he broke with the local Heterodox Community there. It remains, although in reduced numbers, in Washington Heights. B"H, it is not the sole community based upon Torah Values.

Any community whose mission is "Hirschian" in nature deserves the deference of the individual. On the other hand, any community designing to compete against G-d deserves the defiance of the repressed individual soul.  The gray area today, dear reader, is the society that is neither culturally devoted to G-d nor out to defeat G-d. This apathy leaves us a conundrum.

Take for example, the United States circa WWII. There was no question of a society and culture which opposed Marxist Atheism in favour of a common non-denominational service to the Al-Mighty and compassion for mankind. This society had the common focus of G-d only in the most general terms, eschewing barriers between sects.

Now that Secularism is replacing this non-denominational common-denominator service to the Creator, this society is slipping off of its pedestal, teetering ever so closely to a Godless tilt, Heaven Forbid. It remains to be seen if we can restore a society that supports a common Deity in a compassionate and mutually supportive fashion as we did over sixty years ago.

Should we veer too far away, individuals will arise and break away to form tiny independent communities re-dedicated to the ideals and traditions that once made us a truly "Great Society". A new Austritt Gemeinder will have to appear to preserve a Torah life-style amid the deterioration of what was once the ideal, just as Avraham ho'Ivri crossed over to oppose the Dor Haflagah in his own day.


B'nei Elokim - Machloqet RaSHbY and Zohar

There is a dispute on B'reisheet 6:2 re: the definition of "B'nei Elohim".
Are they angels?
children of the "judges"?

[Note Onkelos has a third read - viz. children of the "powerful"]

It turns out that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai comes out on both sides of the dispute!

First, See Torah Temimah on B'reisheet 6:2 Ot 2

The TT quotes Yoma 66b re: "Azazeil" etc. and the Rashi on that passage, which favours the first defintion, and then TT says it is "mashma m'forash b'Zohar"

However, B'reisheet Rabba on THIS Passuq quotes RaSHbY that
«B'nei Elohim elu b'nei dayyana» and that RaSHbY would curse anyone who would say they were angels [B'nei Elohaya]

This contradiction is noted by the TT himself.

The TT supports the read of the Talmud and Zohar from Avot d'Rabbi Nathan ch. 31 that mentions a grave sin was a LACK of judges during that era.

This conclusion may be somewhat disputed by Onkelos' definition above that they were neither children of Judges nor angels, but children of the "mighty"


Parsha: Noah, "Cappara vs. Teshuva"

first published October 10, 2015

Parshat Noah, 6:15 S.V. "v'chafarta", R.S.R. Hirsch, New edition p. 182

The basic meaning of CPR is a protective or restrictive covering. In a sense, then, Copher means "Cover". Cappara is a covering.

V'al kol pesha-im techashe b'ahava...

In other words, to pray for Cappara is to pray that one's sins - or that the negative impact of these sins - will be covered up.

Teshuva is "returning to the state before sin". It is a retroactive process. Teshuva is the undoing of a sin.

Here is a mashal: A man gains weight and as a result his blood pressure rises.

Cappara would be to take blood pressure medication. The man is shielded from the deleterious effects of his weight, even though he is still heavy.

Doing Teshuva would involve the man's dieting and exercising, losing the weight and reducing the hypertension. In other words, restoring his body back to the healthy way it was before the weight gain altered its body chemistry.

Of course, Teshuva is a more complete process. A thorough Teshuva might take years.

Yom Kippur is more of a quick fix.  Perhaps it's necessary to take the palliative of Cappara before the cure of Teshuva is available.


Sunday, 23 October 2016

Parsha: Breishit, "Breishit and Religulous"

The pattern of Creation in Breishit starts from the most simple creation (grass), and ends with the most complex (woman :-). This seems parallel to Darwin's hypothesis.  I also find 'dinosaurs' in "taninim g'dolim." So, without working too hard on apologetics, the Humash narrative and broadly accepted scientific hypothesis seem comparable.
"But to argue against the evolutionary process completely on the basis of the literal meaning of the bible is to argue..."
-  Rabbi David Willig
Furthermore, Rabbi Willig suggests taking Torah seriously, but not literally.  Although you need some flexibility in order to ignore dogmatists on both sides of the debate, his approach may be quite informative.

We know from the Torah text that it makes no sense to assume that first four days of creation actually lasted twenty-four hours. The sun and moon were created on the fourth day, while plants were created on the third.  A fundamental reading of the text cannot really match what passes for a fundamental read anyway. Again, not apologetics, just a simple analysis of the text.

Were I teaching a "Martian," I would say that both Darwin wrote from a technical perspective, while the Torah approaches the same sequence from a more spiritual and poetic perspective- yet both were describing the same events (more or less). So it's primarily a gap in style, not a difference in substance.

Even my 9th grade science teacher - a secular Jew - taught us classic evolution and allowed for the possibility that God was pulling the strings. As far as I know, I think most of us students were quite comfortable with that perspective. None of us felt that it threatened our faith in Humash


Parsha: B'reishit, "First Rashi"

The Rashi on the first pasuq of the Torah is striking. There, Rashi quotes R' Yitzhak, mentioning another possible beginning to the Torah. Instead of B'reishit, R' Yitzchak suggests  "hachodesh hazzeh" (Shmot: 12:2).

Q:  Why should the Torah start at Parshat Hachodesh and not Be'reishit? What's so special about it?
A: There are several approaches. For instance, this was the first Mitzvah given to all Israel

Along those lines, the main significance is that this starts off the Mechilta. Since the earliest strand of Torah sheb'al Peh begins with this passuq,  it would be natural to start Torah shebichtav [Miqra] at that same point.



Is Darwin Kosher?

Originally published 7/8/07, 10:45 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
A Tradition's Evolution: 
Is Darwin Kosher? - Wall Street Journal 
In a recent discussion with some of my chevra , we concluded that TRUE science and TRUE religion - since all of the above emanate from the same God - cannot be in any conflict.

However, in the human realm, we don't really understand the ultimate truths of science yet, as we probably do not really understand Torah or God - except on a superficial level. One day, there will live a Rambam and an Einstein all wrapped up in the same person who will get to the bottom of both realms. He will discover that when you really comprehend both Torah and science, their only conflict is semantic.

I believe it was R. Sa'adya Gaon who first posited that mitzvoth will gradually become more and more rational over time, and we will then grasp their meaning.

Here is an example: Most meforshim interpret "Taninim Gedolim" as sea monsters or whales... This is loosely based on RSR Hirsch on Parshat Vo'eira. He asserts, basing himself on the Haftorah, that we can interpret "Tanim" as crocodile and "Taninim g'dolim" as great lizards - Dinosaurs. A little bit of archaeology,  some flexlible etymology, and you can point to dinosaurs within the Torah.

What is definitively true of the Torah well before Darwin is that it describes a creation proceeding from the simple and progressing to the complex. Thus we see the confluence of Torah and Mada as an evolving process. - pun most intended -


B'reisheet - "B'etzev Teil'dee Banim"

Originally published 10/19/09, 3:09 pm.
B'reishit 3:16 - B'etzev Teil'dee Banim...

Itzavon in modern Hebrew can mean "depression"

Could this Passuq refer to Post-Partum depression?
So as to render this phrase, "With [or in] "depression" shalt thou bear children..."


Parsha: Breisheet, "She'amar l'Olam Dai! & Darwin"

HKBH completed creation by saying DAI (DIE?).  Thus creative activity ceased.
- RSR Hirsch, B'reisheet 2:1.

It seems a certain Creative Force reined during the six Days of Creation, until S-D-Y [the Almighty] terminated it.  Yet it would appear that Creativity and even Evolution continues! So what, precisely, has stopped?

Here is a possible case of terminated creativity. As far as I know,  no human has personally witnessed a species morph into a more evolved species. No one sees mice becoming rabbits or deer. (Microbes may be an exception.) Yet adaptation has been observed within a species...

My big "kasha" on Darwin has long been this: How did Darwin understand adaptation to apply regarding evolving from one species to another? This is, as far as I know, unknown!

Now, with RSR Hirsch's assistance, I can approach a reconciliation.

When HKBH made the world during the six days, such evolution from one species to the next, or its equivalent, may have indeed reigned upon the earth.  As such, when Hashem created a certain species,  He may have done so in such a way as to evolve X into species Y and Z, etc. This pattern is coded into the original Creation Process's "DNA".

Conceivably, Darwin may have detected a legacy of that process or its equivalent. However, once S-D-Y said "DIE", this aspect of the creative process was terminated and what had already been made - and was also making - became fixed, locked. No new species would ever emerge.

Still, a remnant, a legacy of the original creativity and adaption remains, but the species have been fixed and limited - as perhaps other aspects of Creation. Therefore, since Vayachulu, the Original Creative process was terminated. Only its shadow remains



Parsha: B'reishit, "Vaychula, Vaychal"

Here is an exchange on the Leining Google Group
* * * * *

I posed this question given: B'reisheet 2:1,2.
  • Vaychulu TARGUM v'ishtachlalu
  • Vaychal TARGUM v'sheitzei
Why did Onkelos change the verb?


  • "And the heavens and the earth are completed, and all their host;"(Bereishit: 2:1)
  • "and God completeth by the seventh day His work which He hath made, and ceaseth by the seventh day from all His work which He hath made." (Bereishit: 2:2)

As you can see, the same verb is used, albeit in passive and active voices.

FREE Online Youngs Literal Translation. Genesis Chapter 2:1-25.

As to the reason for the Targum's change of meaning, there is an old sefer on Onkelos named Patshegen (viewable at who explains that if "vaichulu" merely meant "completed" rather than shichlul (which he equates with the Hebrew "tikkun"), then the second pasuk would be adding nothing to the first: if the work was completed, then of course HKBH completed it. Thus, the first is interpreted as meaning perfected, while the second means completed.
- Meir



B'reishit: Pru uRvu & Yishuv ha'Olam

This idea is extrapolated from Hirsch Humash Breishis 1:28, New edition pm 46, S.V. "Umil'u"

It seems bepashtus that the mitzva of pru urvu is about populating the world by reproducing more humans than what were there before. This does not mean merely replacing, but adding on through increasing the numbers.
While women are technically exempt from this mitzva, their participation is essential nonetheless. Lasheves yetzarah also implies a quasi obligation upon women to participate in this goal.
Now let's step back and ask: what about those [men and women] who unfortunately are not birthing children due to various circumstances and limitations? What should the childless Jew do?
Approaching this from a communal focus - instead of from an individual focus - the resolution seems also "pashtus". Men and women who are not blessed with offspring can assist others in this noble endeavor.

The last mitzva in the Torah -  kesivas Sefer Torah - is assigned to the individual. Yet, it is rarely accomplished by the individual anymore. It usually takes a a sofer, and often it "takes a village."
So too, with bringing up the next generation. The physical parents are analogous to the sofer, and so there is room for more participation. Several tasks that can be parceled out to the community at large include:
• Assisting the new parents by providing meals or "baby-sitting" relief.
• Medical and Nursing Assistance.
• Training or Coaching "new parents."
• Training children in Talmud Torah or in parnassah.
• Participating in synagogue youth work, such as minyanim, etc.
• Giving rides when necessary for parents or children - such as to the doctor or shopping.
• Playing surrogate "grandparents" when the children have none handy.
Anyway, the list goes on. The point of this exercise is to afford an opportunity for the community to adopt this mitzva so that all may be a part of yishuv olam. So those that cannot do for themselves can still enable others in this essential Mitzva.

A childless woman, "Tzipporah," has dedicated her life to teaching children in a Jewish Day School. In addition, as an aunt, she helps her nieces and nephews by playing the role of "surrogate grandmother". Thus both her personal and professional life participate in participating in or enabling the mitzva of Yishuv Olam.


Parshah: Breishit, "Na'aseh Adam"

There are many interesting interpretations and apologetics of the First Person Plural in the case of "Na'aseh Adam." (Breishit: 1:26)

Notzrim allege a multi-faceted Divinity, [Heaven Forbid! L'havdil]. RSR Hirsch counters this interpretation, reading "Naaseh" as a royal We. Rashi favours Hashem u'veit Dino - due to HIS Humility.

I have a simple reading.  Hashem created Adam as the sum of all that went before. Adam contained components of every step of creation. Adam is therefore part Light, water, earth, reptile, bird, beast etc. - as well as heavenly and angelic.

Hashem is "quarterbacking" or exhorting the entire "team" of creatures to pull together to make Adam Harishon.   Hashem partnered with all of his previous creations, Heavenly and Earthly, to make Adam. Na'aseh is addressed to all creatures.