God vs The Multiverse

Click here for God vs The Multiverse: a rational argument for the Existence of One God who intelligently designed one universe.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pleasure from this World (Part 2: Approach)

In this post we explain the position of the Ri, as elucidated by R' Akiva Eiger. We begin by examining the gemara in Brachos 35a.
אלא סברא הוא אסור לו לאדם שיהנה מן העולם הזה בלא ברכה
The basis of ברכת הנהנין is rooted in logical reasoning (a svara) that it is prohibited to benefit from this world without a ברכה.

It seems clear that pure logical reasoning has a status like something De'oraysa (from the Torah).  In a sense, svaros are conceptually prior to the Torah (the Rabanan do not make them up).  In fact, the gemara often says "Why do I need a Passuk? It is a svara!" (See Bava Kamma 46b, for an example).  This is because the halachic system of 613 mitzvos is a synthesis between Divine decrees (g'zairus hakasuv) and compelling, legal and philosophical truths.  Therefore, a svara is accorded the same level of stringency that any other De'oraysa would have.

If so, what do we mean when we say that the Rabanan set up ברכת הנהנין?  It means that they took this Torah prohibition based in svara, and gave its מתיר (that which permits the food) a specific, definite form. Before they came along, the Torah prohibition could have been avoided by any recognition of God as the source of this food (a philosophical ברכה), irrespective of the particular form. The Rabanan, however, gave this מתיר a very specific form.  One can no longer give his own praise, but must follow the rigors of the laws of  ברכות.

Now we can understand R' Akiva Eiger's explanation of the Ri. Although the particular commandment of ברכת הנהנין is derabanan, it is merely the form of  removing the Torah prohibition generated by the svara. Thus, if a doubt arises as to whether one has fulfilled their obligation of ברכה, it must be treated as a safek de'oraysa, and he must therefore make a new bracha.

Based upon this explanation, how can we explain the position of the Rif?  How does he argue on this point?  How can we define the machlokes between the Ri and the Rif?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pleasure from this World (Part 1: The Facts)

Everyone knows the principle of safek derabanan lekula (when a doubt arises in a Rabbinic commandment or prohibition, one has a right to be lenient). A derivative principle is safek brachos lehakel, one can be lenient regarding a doubt arising about a ברכה, as ברכות are generally an institution of Rabbinic origin. 

Not so simple. Tosafos (לא לאתויי נהמא) in Brachos 12a takes up a case where there is a doubt whether a person is obligated to say another ברכה on a particular cup of beer or not.  Being that the Gemara is inconclusive, Tosafos discusses the resolution:
ופירש רב אלפס השתא דלא אפשיטא בעיין אזלינן לקולא ואפילו פתח בחמרא וסיים בשכרא יצא. ור"י הי' אומר לחומרא דצריך לברך פעם אחרת
The Rif holds that he can be lenient (and drink the cup without saying another ברכה), in line with the general principle of safek brachos lehakel.  For some reason, the Ri maintains that he must make a new ברכה. Why? R' Akiva Eiger (in gilion ha'shas) explains that we do not say safek brachos lehakel by ברכת הנהנין, a ברכה said before eating, because there is a prohibition to eat (have pleasure from this world) without a ברכה (Brachos 35a). Rather, the principle that we are lenient by ברכות, applies only to ברכות that are said before performing mitzvos, where one can fulfill his mitzvah even without a ברכה.

This explanation is difficult to understand. Why should it matter whether the ברכה is based upon a positive commandment or a negative prohibition? It is still a derabanan institution and should follow the principle of safek derabanan lekula, which applies by rabbinic prohibitions as well!

More generally, how can we understand the disagreement between the Rif and the Ri?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shy Guy (Part 5: Philosophy)

In this post, we examine some points from the interesting story of Dovid Ha'Melech and the Givonim. We use the gemara in yevamos 78b-79a and the Radak on Shmuel II 21:1 as our sources.

The gemara explains that Dovid asked Hashem why there was a famine. Hashem responded because (a) Shaul was never properly eulogized and (b) because Shaul killed the Givonim. The gemara asks that this seems to be both defending and condemning Shaul at the same time. The gemara explains, based upon a verse in Tzifania, that Hashem's punishment is often found together with His reward.

We can derive the following idea. Man's idea of justice is usually very simplistic - reward the good guy and punish the bad guy. (Perhaps, Shaul did not fit into their image of the storybook tzaddik, the good guy, and they therefore never properly eulogized him.) Hashem's justice is much deeper than this. It is not based upon a simple label of good guy and bad guy, but upon reward for good actions and character traits, and punishment for bad actions and character traits. Therefore, Shaul deserved both reward and punishment. He had sins that had to be punished and corrected, but at the same time had great characteristics which deserved a proper eulogy. Through this famine, Hashem brought both of these oversights to the nation's attention.

The gemara then asks the question which stands out to any reader of this story. How can Shaul's offspring be punished for Shaul's sin? The verse in Devarim 24:16 says "A father shall not be put to death for (the sin of) his son, and a son shall not be put to death for (the sin of) his father. Rather, a man dies for his own sin."  The gemara answers "better to uproot one letter from the Torah and not to desecrate Hashem's name in public."

In a similar line of reasoning, the gemara asks about the fact that the executed offspring of Shaul were not immediately buried, but were left out for people to see. But the Torah prohibits leaving a corpse unburied overnight? The gemara answers "better to uproot one letter from the Torah and to sanctify Hashem's name." The gemara explains that people would see the corpses and appreciate the Torah's unbelievable commitment to justice exhibited by punishing royalty for an offense to lowly converts. In fact, the gemara says that 150,000 people converted based upon this spectacle.

This gemara is very troublesome. How can we compromise on justice and on human dignity for the sake of preventing a chillul Hashem and making a kidush Hashem? How can we just push aside "one letter" in the Torah? Additionally, isn't punishing an innocent son for the sin of his father also a chillul Hashem?

Based upon the Radak we explain as follows. There is a seemingly contradictory verse (Shemos 34:7) regarding Hashem's justice, "He exacts for the sin of fathers on their sons..." Chazal explain that this verse is only when the children hold on to their father's bad path. Thus, we must conclude that Shaul's offspring identified with Shaul's sin and never dissociated themselves from it. They were therefore subject to his punishment, based upon this verse. If so, why does the gemara says we are "pushing aside one letter of the Torah"?

Ordinarily, such justice is reserved for Hashem to "evaluate" and mete out - it is mentioned in Hashem's 13 "attributes". Human judges are enjoined with the other principle of justice - "a father shall not be killed for his son...a man is killed for his own sin" - which is possible for man to evaluate. However, in this case Hashem instructed David to carry out the Divine justice on the offspring of Shaul in order to prevent the chillul Hashem which would result from Shaul's sin going uncorrected and unavenged. The one letter of the Torah being pushed aside refers to the hora'as sha'ah (temporary halachic ruling) conveyed by Hashem to David to bypass the ordinary halachic principle for the sake of the greater objective of the Torah, kidush Hashem.

We explain the unburied corpses in a similar manner. The prohibition against leaving a corpse unburied is because it is a chillul Hashem, as man is made "in God's form" (see Devarim 21:23 with Rashi). In this instance, the kidush Hashem of exhibiting the utmost degree of absolute justice, irrespective of social status, outweighed the chillul involved in not burying Shaul's offspring. In general, man cannot make such determinations, as he is bound by the Torah's prohibition against leaving a corpse unburied. However, since the famine did not stop after they were killed, David interpreted it as Divine message that the sin had not been fully corrected and therefore he gave a hora'as sha'ah to allow them to not be buried - "better to push aside one letter in the Torah and to cause a kidush Hashem." The kidush Hashem that resulted from demonstrating the extent and unbiased nature of Divine justice, as well as the extent of the Torah's sensitivity to a convert, is what caused 150,000 nonjews to convert.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Shy Guy (Part 4: Svara)

We would like to explain the statement of  אין הביישן למד, that a shy person can not learn, by taking it at face value.  Although בושה is a good character trait of the Jewish nation, and is on the middle path, it gets in the way of learning Torah. It must be overcome in order to truly learn.  The student who gives in to בושה in his learning is criticized.


The student described in the Rambam is the slowest among his peers to understand a given idea.  Everyone else comprehends the idea after one or two times, yet he still doesn't understand and has to ask again.  It is only natural for the student to resist asking, not wanting to look stupid in front of his peers.  Certainly, he is obligated to overcome that resistance in order to learn Torah.


But there is another way that בושה is brought into the situation.  The student is slowing down the rest of the class that has already comprehended the matter.  He is asking that everyone wait for him to understand.  It might take him many times before he understands, yet he is obligated to keep asking.


The further learning of the other students is being held up for one person.  In all other situations this would be inappropriate.  If this were a physics class, we would tell the one student that we can't hold up the learning of the entire class for him.  We cannot sacrifice the group for one individual.  The group would rightfully look disparagingly at an individual student who kept placing his own interests before the group.  The student, assuming he had a proper character, would feel ashamed and would promptly desist from asking further questions, and thereby be unable to learn physics.


But this is not physics.  We can tell the slowest student that physics is not for him.  We can not tell any individual that Torah is not for him.  Torah is a basic need for the Jewish mind's survival.  The Rambam says that the student responds to his Rebbe, תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך ודעתי קצרה, "it is Torah, and I need to learn, and my mind is narrow."  If the slowest student stops asking after everyone else understands, he will end up never learning anything.  That is why the Rambam adds: שאם נתבייש מדבר זה נמצא נכנס ויוצא לבית המדרש והוא אינו למד כלום


The slowest student cannot follow the middle path of בושה when learning Torah.  The obligation to learn is incumbent upon him too.  The need to learn is his as much as it is theirs.  The entire group's learning might suffer quantitatively, but the halacha does not allow us to sacrifice one individual's soul for the benefit of the many.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Shy Guy (Part 3: Approach)

In order to understand בושה and its relevance to the גבעונים , we notice that there are two different reasons an action can be improper.  An action could intrinsically be wrong (i.e. it is cruel), or it could also be wrong because of its effects.  Taking revenge, besides for being intrinsically wrong, has devastating social consequences.  Revenge often fosters a vicious cycle of further vengeance in response.  Because of its anti-social nature, society as a whole looks down upon those who take their full measure of revenge as the גבעונים did.


The sense that one's society is looking shamefully upon him, that they have done something wrong and improper, is felt as בושה.  Needless to say, feelings of shame are not pleasant, and most individuals do their utmost to avoid them.  This is an effective mechanism for fostering behaviors in individuals that are conducive to a harmonious society.  (For those more psychoanalytically inclined:  the superego, in its capacity as an internalization of society's values, punishes the ego with a sense of shame in order to promote behaviors beneficial to society.)


Even if the גבעונים were cruel and ungrateful, a sense of בושה should have stopped them from making such a brazen-faced request.  People with psychological dispositions along the middle path (appropriate בושה) would have been too ashamed to have acted so contrary to social norms, especially when the norm is a rational principle designed to foster a flourishing, harmonious society.  In reference to the obligation to forgive and forget, as opposed to bearing a grudge and taking revenge, the Rambam says:
ימחה הדבר מלבו ולא יטרנו. שכל זמן שהוא נוטר את הדבר וזוכרו שמא יבא לנקום. לפיכך הקפידה תורה על הנטירה עד שימחה העון מלבו ולא יזכרנו כלל. וזו היא הדעה הנכונה שאפשר שיתקיים בה יישוב הארץ ומשאם ומתנם של בני אדם זה עם זה
The fact that they made this request is indicative of a fundamental lack of בושה.


Contrary to the גבעונים, the trait of בושה is found among Jews and it is an integral part of maintaining our society. It also helps us avoid sin. Besides for the inner resistance against sin, there is a social stigma of sin. The Jew cares about society's negative judgments, and this concern can help him win his inner battle against sin.  This trait is something the גבעונים lacked, and as such, they are described as not being truly part of  בני ישראל.


Based upon this understanding of בושה, how can we explain the Rambam's statement that a ביישן cannot learn Torah  (אין הביישן למד)This seems to go against the fact that בושה is a fundamental character trait of Jews.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Shy Guy (Part 2: Methodology)

In order to resolve this seeming contradiction, we must have a clear idea of what בושה is. Then we can try to understand if and when it is appropriate. When analyzing a character trait, it often helps to examine its extreme forms (see Rambam Hilchos Daos Chapter 1).  The appropriate trait that we are generally commanded in, is the middle path between two extremes.  Comprehension of the extreme forms of a trait enables the mind to see a way in between them.  The middle way is not exactly a compromise of the two extremes, yet the path is illuminated by a study of them.

When the Rambam praises the trait of בושה as it is typified in the Jewish nation, he does it by contrasting it with its improper extreme of עזות פנים, brazenness, which was exemplified by the גבעונים.  That being the case, let us closely examine עזות פנים as it appears in the story of the גבעונים and the sons of Shaul, found in Shmuel II Chapter 21.  (It is a truly fascinating story that brings with it many questions that lie outside the scope of this piece.)

There was a famine in the land, and David was told by Hashem that it was because of what the House of Shaul had done to the גבעונים.  When David asked the גבעונים how he could appease them, they responded by requesting vengeance through the death of the sons of Shaul.  This is described by the Rambam as being cruel, ungrateful, and having עזות פנים.


We can understand how this is cruel, and also ungrateful for the past kindness shown to them. But how is brazen-faced an appropriate description of their character?  What would it mean for them to have had בושה in that situation? Being that this doesn't really seem like בושה, it indicates that we do not fully understand what בושה is. Thus, pursuing this line of thought may be a clue to understanding בושה and thereby answering our original question.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Shy Guy (Part 1: Facts)

The Rambam In Hilchos Talmud Torah 4:4-5 says:
 לא יאמר התלמיד הבנתי והוא לא הבין אלא חוזר ושואל אפילו כמה פעמים. ואם כעס עליו רבו ורגז יאמר לו רבי תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך ודעתי קצרה.  לא יהיה התלמיד בוש מחביריו שלמדו מפעם ראשונה או שניה והוא לא למד אלא אחר כמה פעמים. שאם נתבייש מדבר זה נמצא נכנס ויוצא לבית המדרש והוא אינו למד כלום. לפיכך אמרו חכמים הראשונים אין הביישן למד
A student has to ask questions until he understands. A student should not be ashamed of his peers who understand faster than him; thereby inhibiting him from asking questions.  This is essential to the learning process.  If the shy student doesn't ask questions when he doesn't understand and (it seems to him that) everyone else does, he ends up not learning anything.  That is why Chazal say a shy person does not learn (אין הביישן למד).  It would seem from this Rambam that בושה, or shame, is a bad characteristic.

However, the Rambam in Hilchos Issurei Beiya 19:17 says:
וכן כל מי שיש בו עזות פנים או אכזריות ושונא את הבריות ואינו גומל להם חסד חוששין לו ביותר שמא גבעוני הוא. שסימני ישראל האומה הקדושה ביישנין רחמנים וגומלי חסדים. ובגבעונים הוא אומר והגבעונים לא מבני ישראל המה לפי שהעיזו פניהם ולא נתפייסו ולא רחמו על בני שאול ולא גמלו לישראל חסד למחול לבני מלכם והם עשו עמהם חסד והחיום בתחלה
The hallmark characteristics of someone from the holy nation ישראל is that they are shameful (ביישנין), merciful, and kind.  In fact, if someone isn't shameful, but is brazen faced (עזות פנים), you have serious suspicions that he is not from the main lineage of ישראל, but is rather from a גבעוני lineage.  It would seem from this Rambam that בושה is a good characteristic.


How would you resolve this apparent contradiction in the Rambam?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Wisdom & Understanding

The 5 links below are for parts of a 48 minutes shiur (click here to listen as one continuous recording instead of parts) given by RAZ on the distinction between wisdom and understand, in particular relating to learning through the medium of the internet.  We have been grappling with the issue of how one can best learn from the Blogoshiur, and the following discussion is a part of our answer.  The reason we have broken the audio shiur into multiple parts is the same reason we break the different Blogoshiur pieces into separate posts, and will be implicitly explained in the shiur itself.  The original intent was for there to be a part two which was later canceled.  However, we felt that the further points lacked clarity, and all the key concepts were mentioned in the first shiur.

1) Click here for 5 min recording based on Rashi in Shemos 31:3
בחכמה: מה שאדם שומע מאחרים ולמד.  ובתבונה: מבין דבר מלבו, מתוך דברים שלמד
2) Click here for 13 min recording based on Rashi in the first pasuk in Vayikra:
יכול אף להפסקות היתה קריאה תלמוד לומר וידבר, לדבור היתה קריאה ולא להפסקות. ומה היו הפסקות משמשות ליתן ריוח למשה להתבונן בין פרשה לפרשה ובין ענין לענין קל וחומר להדיוט הלומד מן ההדיוט
3)  Click here for 9 min recording based on Rashi in Sanhedrin 35a:
ליבא דאינשי אינשי. ליבא דאינשי לא כתבי ואף על גב שזכור לו ליסוד הטעם נשכח מלבו ישובו לטעמו ואין יכול ליישבו לתת טעם הגון כבראשונה
4) Click here for 5 min recording based on Rashi in Kidushin 32b:
ובתורתו יהגהכי אם בתורת ה' חפצו ובתורתו יהגה בתחילה היא נקראת תורת השם ומשלמדה וגרסה היא נקראת תורתו
5)  Click here for 16 min recording that applies the aforementioned ideas to learning through the medium of the internet in general, and implicitly conveys our conception of how we believe the Blogoshiur is best learnt and understood.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lepers and the Dead (Part 6: Philosophy)

The last Rambam in ספר טהרה explains that halachik טומאה contains allusions to the philosophical טומאה of the mind (corrupt thoughts and character traits).  In the last Rambam in טומאת צרעת, he gives an example of such allusions in the case of צרעת. We would like to explain how some of the unique laws of the מצורע (that he must leave the camp and that he transmits טומאה via his מושב) are in line with these philosophical allusions.

The Rambam in טומאת צרעת says that צרעת was not a natural affliction.  Rather, it was a miraculous affliction only for the Jewish nation, for the sin of speaking לשון הרע (slander, gossip, etc). 

As a person spoke more and more לשון הרע, the affliction of צרעת would spread.  It would start with the walls of his house.  If he didn't stop speaking לשון הרע, it spread to his furniture.  After that, to his clothes.
אם חזר בו יטהרו ואם עמד ברשעו עד שישרפו משתנה עורו ויצטרע ויהיה מובדל ומפורסם לבדו עד שלא יתעסק בשיחת הרשעים שהוא הליצנות ולשון הרע
Finally, if in spite of all these afflictions he still couldn't stop, it spread to his skin and he became a leper, an outcast from society and was thereby prevented from further evil speech.  He was sent out from מחנה ישראל.  The Rambam explains that the reason he is distanced further than every other person who is טמא is because the leper transmits טומאה when he enters a house.  No other living person who is טמא does that; only a מת.

Why does the leper have this distinction? We suggest that the reason is because the leper, the one who is addicted to לשון הרע, contaminates his environment.  He creates divisiveness and thereby destroys the moral fabric of the society which harbors him.  He must be cast out of מחנה ישראל.  (Rashi on Vayikra 10:14 identifies the very purity of the camp with this law.  He states that holy things can only be eaten in מחנה ישראל which is טהור from having lepers in it.)


The idea that the leper, through his malicious speech, destroys social relations and is therefore sent out of the camp, is expressed in a gemara Eiruchin 16b:
מה נשתנה מצורע שאמרה תורה בדד ישב מחוץ למחנה מושבו הוא הבדיל בין איש לאשתו בין איש לרעהו לפיכך אמרה תורה בדד ישב
We now extend this idea to explain the leper's uniqueness of transmitting טומאה to his מושב, his place of dwelling.  It is not only society as a whole that suffers from those who speak לשון הרע.  The leper morally corrupts those individuals who come into contact with him; philosophically poisoning those who sit down and converse with him.  A person who speaks לשון הרע contaminates those who are in his מושב through social contact.

It is for this reason, the Rambam says, that it is fitting for someone who wants to follow a proper path to distance himself from their מושב and from speaking with them, so that he does not get trapped in their web of  evil and foolishness.
לפיכך ראוי למי שרוצה לכוין אורחותיו להתרחק מישיבתן ומלדבר עמהן כדי שלא יתפס אדם ברשת רשעים וסכלותם
In summation, the halachik טומאה of the leper extends to his מושב.  Likewise, the philosophical טומאה of someone who speaks לשון הרע extends to those who sit down to hang out with him.  Halachikly, a leper must be cast out of our society. Philosophically, the same is true with those who speak לשון הרע.  The only remedy for him is to dwell in isolation,  "בדד ישב מחוץ למחנה מושבו".

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Lepers and the Dead (Part 5: Support)

We think that the following gemara and Rashi help to support and clarify the previous idea on how טומאת אהל works by צרעת in contrast to מת.  We won't be going into it in depth.


The gemara in Berachos 25a brings down Rava's position, who says that when feces passes within 8 feet of person he is not allowed to recite shema even though the feces did not stop.  However, Rava does agree that צרעת does need to stop under the tree in order to transmit טומאה because צרעת is transmitted based upon a קביעות.
ורבא אמר לך התם בקביעותא תליא מילתא דכתיב בדד ישב מחוץ למחנה מושבו הכא והיה מחניך קדוש אמר רחמנא והא ליכא
Rashi there explains that the case is only by צרעת and not by מת, because by a מת the טומאה would be transmitted even without stopping under the tree. Either way it is his אהל. 
הטמא עומד תחת האילן. ולא בנושא את המת קאי דמת לא שנא עומד ול"ש יושב ול"ש הולך אהל הוא וגבי מצורע קתני לה בת"כ דגלי ביה רחמנא ישיבה דכתיב בדד ישב מחוץ למחנה מושבו
The critical verse about צרעת is בדד ישב מחוץ למחנה מושבו.  The leper must dwell alone.  His dwelling place is outside the camp. The identity of the place as his dwelling only emerges if he has a קביעות there. 

In the next post, we will try propose a philosophical understanding of טומאת אהל by צרעת based on the last Rambam in טומאת צרעת and the above verse of  בדד ישב מחוץ למחנה מושבו.