Elul On My Mind

Baruch HaShem the “summer vacation” isn’t quite over yet for our school children (or our American Yeshiva boys, who haven’t quite decided yet if they are still “school children”….) but the month of Elul is here. It waits for no one.

I have been extremely busy over the “bein ha’zmanim” what with trying to give quality time to my beloved wife (who is – with HaShem’s help! – finishing up the eighth summer of “Camp BeYahad”, (for more on this truly important camp please click on this link)), my wonderful children, all of the things around the house that need to be fixed and have been pushed off all year, some learning in preparation of the new zman, and lastly, the crowdfunding platform to prepare Core Emunah for publication and distribution by Feldheim, B’H. Oh, yeah. I also wrote a megillah.

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It’s been really busy and if there is anyone out there who enjoys the blog I’m sorry to have ignored you for so long. It’s your turn now.

For me, and I hope for many others here, Elul and the Yamim Norayim (the “Days of Awe”) that follow is a time during the year to stop and take note of what I did with my year and where I want to go during the coming year.

With HaShem’s help, having given me the lungs to be a blow-hard, and the voice to inspire, I have some big “jobs” that come up during this time of the year, and I am fearful that I am not worthy of them.

On Rosh HaShanna for many years now I have been the “Ba’al Tokeah” (the guy who “masters the Tekiyah” (blows the Shofar)) in my kehillah in the holy community of Beit Hilkiya. On Yom Kippur in the Yeshiva that I merit to teach in, Ohr David (www.ohrdavid.org), I am the “Ba’al Tefilla” (“master of prayer”) for most of the prayers of the day. I am representing many other people, yet I don’t really feel worthy of these exalted positions.

My question is: Who am I?

Who am I that I, little old lowly me, a ba’al teshuva, and not very good one at that?

Who am I that I should shoulder the responsibility on these great and holy days, to represent my communities and, indeed, the Jewish people in front of the Creator of All? Are there not people who are tzadikkim (holy, righteous men) who use their time more diligently? Who pray with more kavannah (intent and concentration)? Who do mitzvos with more intensity? Who are unblemished in the eyes of HKB”H?

Of course, there are! Yet for some reason, I was asked to do these jobs.

It is one of the most basic of all emunah beliefs that things don’t happen for nothing. It has been my hanhagah (practice) for many years now that I do not ever request to daven for the tzibbur (the public) or to give a derasha (sermon) in the beit ha’knesset (Shul). I see a clear correlation between my spiritual status and the times that I am asked to do these things.

Therefore, if HaShem sent these people to ask me to perform for them – it is a calling. It’s HaShem saying “it’s time to up your game, Shlomo.” It’s HaShem’s way of saying that even if right now I am not worthy of these lofty positions and responsibilities, I now have the time to prepare so that I can be.

Looking back, I can remember the time that I was young and ignorant of life, it’s ways, and the truth of HaShem and His Torah. I would look around during selichos in Elul, or during davening on Rosh HaShanna/Yom Kippur, and I would see the Rabbi’s davening. Tears would be pouring down their faces, and I would look quizzically at the machzor (the Days of Awe prayer book) and wonder what it was that we were saying that would cause grown men to cry? Most of the prayers on Rosh HaShanna aren’t even about our asking for forgiveness, yet here were the Rabbis crying away.

B”H, I have seen much personal improvement in my own prayers since then, but there is still so much more to prayer than I have achieved yet. I have only begun to scratch the surface. But today there is a depth and an intensity to the prayers that I pray during these holy days that I never knew when I was young. To think that in my ignorance I could have let it stay that way to this very day…

This year I hope to achieve an even greater connection to HaShem through Tefillah.

Looking back at my high school days, and the early days of my Yeshiva experience, I remember how I thought I was applying myself diligently…ish. I remember after my army service how I made a commitment to myself to learn harder – as hard as I could! And then I actually did it! I remember how difficult it was to learn as a young kollel man, the sacrifices that my wife and I made in order to be there. The commitment to goals that I had set for myself and their achievement. Looking back, I miss those days as an avrech. They were the best days of my learning life. Unfortunately, they were also very difficult for a number of reasons. B”H, my tzadekes wife and I have found ways to grow together and overcome most of those problems.

WH”h, as Bereshis comes around I will share with you some emunah ideas about marriage that I found very helpful.

In any case, as far as my own personal Torah growth is concerned I feel that I have been negligent this year, and I fully hope (wH”h) to make several changes and commitments to further my own personal Torah growth this year.

I don’t know about you, but everyone that I know, (myself included), is not getting any younger. Yet despite this, the demands on me and my time are only getting bigger. Yet I need to take care of myself, as well. The mitzvah of v’ahavta le’re’acha cah’mocha (Love your neighbor like yourself), concerning which there is a lot to say, but it’s not the time and place, also includes a mitzvah to love oneself, and to take care of oneself. After all, you can’t ask me to love someone else like myself if I don’t love myself, can you? This in addition to the issue of v’nishmartem me’od le’nafshoseychem (and you shall guard your soul (life force) diligently). I used to be in tip-top shape. Guess what? Not anymore! It’s time to change that.

Lastly, there are several issues that I have with my middos that I need to change.

The reason that I am writing all of this up as a blog is two-fold.

First, because I want to show that I am doing introspection and that I am making plans to make changes in the upcoming year to become an even better oved HaShem.

Second, because I fully expect people to come up to me over the course of the year and say “Rabbi Shlomo! How are your commitments coming along? Have you done any of them?” which should be an impetus for me to work on them so that I can say next year… that it’s finally time to work on my other problems!

Don’t worry! As long as you are still alive – there’s more room to improve!

I hope that this introspection and commitments will help me to be deserving of the responsibilities that were given to me, and to help me, my family, and all of you to have a Shanna Tova u’metukah, (a sweet and good year).

Have a great Elul, and use the time wisely… to gain awe!

Not only live — 40% There!

Sorry. Not false advertising. I’m just hoping that we reach this before I go to bed in 20 minutes.

I’m quickly posting (before going to bed) with news as to how proud I am of our Yeshiva Ohr David alumni and guys, who have really put so much effort and love into helping the Yeshiva towards its goal of raising a minimum of 600,000$ (We’re aiming for a million).

7 hours into the event it has been an awesome experience, reconnecting with our friends and alumni from yesteryear, and working with everyone side by side towards the goal of doing our part in helping Klal Yisroel. I posted the following in several groups. I believe in every word that here:

Help us to help others as we alumni were helped ourselves! With lots of sweat, effort, and tefillos we have begun our alumni/crowdfunding event. This is the yeshiva that I have been teaching at for 7 years. I am also an alumnus and a beneficiary of the goodwill and hishtadlus of the Rebbeim. For every student that goes to a regular American in Israel program, there are another 4 who can’t, because they cannot afford to do so. Ohr David has been there for so many students who couldn’t afford to come. Help us to help those who should be here, but cannot. For every student that comes to a yeshiva, there are many more that are thinking of leaving it all behind. With lots of love, hard work, and prayer many of our students and alumni are committed Jews today, even though they were on the way out. Help us to help our brothers and children. Help us give those Jews find there For every dollar given we get another 3 in matching. Please help us to help others build their future in Klal Yisroel.

We’re still live now for another 18 hours or so. Every bit helps. Please help us to help the future of as many young men as we can.

Tizku le mitzvos.

Who Is the Real Giver?

There is an interesting problem that we all tend to experience when it comes to the issue of giving, it’s called “IDOWANNU”. Have YOU ever felt it? It’s what one experiences when someone else approaches and either sticks out their hand, asking for money, or they approach you asking for your time and effort. I have felt this many times. My wonderful wife, however, doesn’t seem to suffer from it. She is the first to offer help to anyone. She is the first to offer her time. She is the first to offer financial aid, even if it’s not clear where the money will come from. But we are not even on the extremes of this issue. We are both somewhere in the middle. There are extremes as well. On the one extreme are the miserly people, who can’t give anything to anyone – not even themselves! On the other are those whose hearts bleed for everyone and they give away everything that they have. (See the Rambam Laws of De’os (outlooks) Chapter 1 for more on this)

All of these are emanations of the people that we are. It’s part nurture, part nature, but it is also tremendously affected by the efforts that I invest in my life as well. So ask yourself: do you, like me, suffer from IDONTWANNU, better known by its other name giveaphobia? (Still don’t know what it is? It’s “I don’t want to” smushed up, or a fear/apprehension to giving)

Well, I can’t offer you an instant solution, what I can offer is perspective. Of course it’s not my own perspective, rather it is that of our sages, ob”m. But it starts with the real question: who is really the giver here?

In truth, although this topic is more of an issue when it concerns someone who is from “outside of the family”, the reality is that it effects even our outlook on money towards our spouses and our children as well. Let’s let that sit for a moment while I relate to you the issue in this weeks Parsha that made me think about it.

The Torah teaches us (Bamidbar 5:9-10) the following:

וְכָל תְּרוּמָה לְכָל קָדְשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יַקְרִיבוּ לַכֹּהֵן לוֹ יִהְיֶה: וְאִישׁ אֶת קֳדָשָׁיו לוֹ יִהְיוּ אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן לַכֹּהֵן לוֹ יִהְיֶה:

And all of the terumah (offerings) of all of the sanctifications of the Children of Israel, which will be brought to the Cohen, it will be for him: And a man, his sanctified things, to him they shall be, that which he gives unto the Cohen will be unto him.

The verse is a litany of commandments concerning the giving of things that are sanctified: Terumah and Kodshim.

Terumah refers to the relatively small portion of the crops that is given yearly to the Cohen. The Torah forbids a person to eat of any of the crops of his own field (called Tevel), and it is a truly severe issur until the terumah and the ma’aser is separated from it. The amount given as Trumah is less than a tenth, whereas the amount given for ma’aser is, as its name implies, one tenth of my crop. Clearly, the Torah is giving a commandment to actually give the terumah to the Cohen. So what does it mean when it ends and says lo yehiyeh, “it shall be for him”? Who, exactly, is “him”?

Kodashim, as well. Kodashim is a general term referring to things that are consecrated to HaShem. When the verse opens and says “And a man, his sanctified things, to him they shall be” obviously it’s not saying that he is their owner. They are not the property of “kodesh”, not him! (Our sages, ob”m (see Rashi) explain that this means that he is like their owner in that he gets to decide to which Cohen he will give them). But at the end of the verse as well it says again “a man who gives to the Cohen, it shall be for him”. What is the Torah trying to tell us by repeating “it shall be for him”?

Say our sages, ob”m, (see Rashi on verse 10) “There is a Midrash legend “And a man his kodashim shall be for him” he who holds on to his ma’asrot, in the end, his field will only produce a tenth of what it would usually make”.

The lesson is, say Chazal (=our sages, ob”m), that you are given too according to your giving.

Let me explain. This DOES NOT MEAN that if you give away everything that you have you will get back 100-fold, (although there IS nothing stopping HaShem from doing that…). This DOES mean that when we do the mitzvos as HaShem command us too – we are the real beneficiaries.

Chazal also say (Tractate Bava Battra on page 9 or 10) that the poor, once upon a time, would walk around and say to people “zaki bi”, which means “Get merits from me”.

They also say that (Midrash Rabba Ruth, 5:9)

More than that which the ba’al habayit (home owner) does for the poor man, the poor man does for the ba’al habayit.

The real emmuna outlook of giving both tzedakah (our monies) and chessed (our time and efforts) to others is not that “I am a loser”, nor even “I am now lacking as a result of doing this mitzvah”. Even if that is, to some degree what we feel.

The problem is that we “know” that HaShem runs the world, but we don’t always live on that level. Our goal in life is to be there though.

Now there is some blame to lay here. After all, we are the product of our parents, after all! As I mentioned previously, there is an issue called “nurture” which affects us on this issue, right Rabbi? SO, LET’S LAY THE BLAME AT THEIR FEET! Let’s find some comfort in blaming all of our life’s problems on our parents.

What do you gain from that?

You are what you are because of them, that’s true. But they are what they are from their parents, as well! And if you are going to go through life looking for who to blame, you might just as well skip over all of the middle-men and blame HaShem. After all, He is the one who put all of you in this situation, right?

While true – again – it misses the whole point. We are not given lives in this world in order to look for who to blame for life’s difficulties. We already wrote about this extensively in the 1, 2, 3, 4 blogs on the topic of “the meaning of life”. (With HaShem’s help this issue will be explained more fully in CE3, which I am presently working on). So instead of blaming, realize – that’s all part of the reason that you are here: to work on your shortcomings, especially in the realm of giving to others.

So, don’t blame. Recognize that you can’t change who and what you were up until today. But today you can make a difference!

But it starts with the lesson of this weeks Parsha. Who is it that is really doing the giving here? The answer: it’s not really you.

In this issue of giving it’s not you who is giving, rather you, the giver, are in actuality GETTING, and you’re getting WAY MORE THAN YOU GAVE. In reality, in the emmuna perspective of the mitzvah of giving, whenever you open up your purse-strings to give to another, you are really opening yourself up to receive tremendous beracha. As the Rambam writes in the Laws of Giving to the Needy (it’s late and I don’t remember where exactly) one never becomes poor from giving tzedakah properly.

The Gemara in Tractate Bava Battra 9 also teaches us:

ואמר רב יצחק: כל הנותן פרוטה לעני – מתברך בשש ברכות, והמפייסו בדברים – מתברך באחת עשרה ברכות: … ואמר רבי יצחק: מאי דכתיב משלי כא כא רודף צדקה וחסד ימצא חיים צדקה וכבוד? משום דרודף צדקה ימצא צדקה? אלא לומר לך: כל הרודף אחר צדקה – הקדוש ברוך הוא ממציא לו מעות ועושה בהן צדקה.

And Rav Yitzchak said, “Anyone who gives a peruta (small coin) to a poor man – is blessed with six blessings, and if he appeases him with words – he is blessed with eleven blessings.” … And Rabbi Yitzchak said “What (is the meaning of) that which is written, “He who runs after tzedakah and chessed will find life, tzedakah, and honor”? Because he runs after tzedakah he will find tzedakah? Rather this is to teach you: anyone who runs after tzedakah HKB”H will give him even more money with which he can do even more tzedakah.

Who is the real giver? It’s not you. But you have to give of “you” in order to really “get” it.

We are, in fact, put in this world to work on our giving, because it is one of the fundamental ways in which we can become godly ourselves. Do you want to be like G-d? Like HaShem? Then do what He does! And He is the giver par excellance! (For more on this topic review this blog on the meaning of life).

Again this topic is at the forefront of my mind now as I sit and write on the night before my Yeshiva’s crowdfunding event. I ask any and all of my readers to take part, to work on their giving and help my Yeshiva help others as it has helped me and so many other people. We have more to do, but we need your help to do it.

Baruch HaShem, since I wrote this our crowdfunding event was successful (i.e. we met our all-or-nothing goal), but the policy of the Yeshiva has always been that even boys of families who can’t afford it should be given a Yeshiva learning opportunity. Therefore anyone who can is urged to please give to our Yeshiva to help us to continue to help others. www.ohrdavid.org/donate thank you and tizku le mitzvos

 

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The Young Men of this year’s Yeshiva Ohr David

 

However, this topic is far from over. I have yet to explain how this applies to our family lives, as well. I also haven’t spoken about how a person is to know when to give, how much to give and to whom. However, this will have to wait until a different time as I’m now going to bed!

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On Three Things the World Stands…

It’s not really on-topic of the blog, but…

Shalom, all,

Although I usually try and add to the blog things that will give both meaning and purpose – the soul of emmuna – to you, there are at present two very real, very meaningful things that I am concerned with that are very close to me, and I would like to offer you the opportunity to share in them as well.

There are two projects that I am affiliated with in my personal and professional life, that are both an extension of who I am and which exemplify who I am striving to be personally. These two things are two of the worlds pillars (see Avos 1:2) Torah and Gemilut Chassadim.

I have the merit to teach Torah at the Yeshiva which put me “on the derech” of Torah, Yeshiva Ohr David in Jerusalem. This is a Yeshiva for boys from all walks of life, Yeshivish, Chassidish, Tziyoni (National Religious), Chabad and more. We cater to guys who both know how to learn (at least they think they do!) and those who are at the very beginning. We have Jews who are FFB’s (that’s Frum From Birth), BT’s (Ba’alei Teshuva, who began life without any real knowledge of Torah and Judaism), and even some GTZ’s, (that’s Gerei TZedek, converts). With HaShem’s help, with lot’s of the worlds third pillar (that’s Avodah (See Avos there), otherwise known as the dirty “four-letter word” (that’s W-O-R-K, did you think it was something else?), and with the alternative interpretation of Avodah which is Tefillah, prayer, we have been extremely successful with the boys. But we need to do more.

I, therefore, invite you to go to the following link to see a little bit about what the Yeshiva is: HERE then go to the Yeshiva website at www.ohrdavid.org and see a little bit more. Lastly go to https://www.ohrdavid.org/donate to help us by taking part in the kemach (see Avos 3:17) without which there cannot be any Torah for our boys of today, and those that have yet to come. The suggested amount is 18$ a month for 12 months.

 

The other significant project that I deal with is the summer camp that my wonderful wife has been making for the past 8 years. It’s called Camp BeYahad and it is life-changing!

As the father of a daughter with a physical handicap from birth we are quite aware of the difficulty that our daughter has and the hardships that it causes on their families. My blessed wife decided to do something that will, with HaShem’s help, to make a difference in the lives of not only our daughter but many of her friends as well. It is an inclusion camp, which means that while we are providing a summer experience for young women, we are also – at the same time – helping to educate our “standing” girls (i.e. girls without physical disabilities) to see beyond the limitations of our “sitting” girls, to see the person underneath who is just like them. It has been a real life-changer.

Please take a look at our facebook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/beyahad2018 and on the page watch our video, or look at it on youtube at: HERE. Lastly, tax-free donations (USA, Canada, and Israel) can be made here please chose the language and the currency accordingly.

After taking YOUR part in the first two “legs” of the world, Torah (Ohr David) and Gemilut Chassadim (Camp BeYahad) please take a few moments to add your Tefillah, (Avodah) for the successes of both of these ventures.

Tizku le mitzvos

The Chosen

As we stand before the holy Shabbos and in the second of the three days of “limitations” (hagba’lah) before the festival of Shavuot I wanted to share with you some thoughts and issues related to the upcoming chag.

We all know, even though the Torah never says this outright, that the festival of Shavuot is really about the witness event at Sinai. We refer to this colloquially as “the Festival of the Giving of the Torah”, but in reality, we are referring to the once-in-history event known as “the Revelation”.

The basis for the truth of the revelation is one of the many topics that I discuss in Core Emmuna 2 “G-d & Me”, which will be – with HaShem’s help – available for purchase soon.

On this day, some 3329 years ago, our entire people stood at the foot of the mountain “Sinai” and had the most unique experience that the world has ever seen. We, the entire people, “saw” and heard the words of The Living G-d as He spoke to us and forever changed our destiny relative to the rest of the world. At this point in time, we became “the chosen people”.

However, our sages, ob”m, tell us that this once-in-history event was not private, and we didn’t get it because HaShem offered it to us in secret. Just the opposite is true! He offered it to EVERYONE, but we were the only ones that accepted it. Listen to the words of our sages in the Midrash (Sifri on Devarim (Deuteronomy) 32:2

וַיֹּאמַר ה’ מִסִּינַי בָּא וְזָרַח מִשֵּׂעִיר לָמוֹ הוֹפִיעַ מֵהַר פָּארָן וְאָתָה מֵרִבְבֹת קֹדֶשׁ מִימִינוֹ אשדת [אֵשׁ דָּת] לָמוֹ.

And it says “HaShem from Sinai came, and rose-up from Se’ir to them, He appeared from the Mount of Para’an, and with Him of the tens of thousands of holy ones (angels), from His right hand a fiery Writ was given to us.

ד”א ויאמר ה’ מסיני בא – כשנגלה המקום ליתן תורה לישראל לא על ישראל בלבד הוא נגלה, אלא על כל האומות: בתחילה הלך אצל בני עשו ואמר להם: מקבלים אתם את התורה? אמרו לו: מה כתוב בה? אמר להם לא תרצח. אמרו: רבש”ע, כל עצמו של אותו אביהם רוצח הוא, שנ’ והידים ידי עשו, ועל כך הבטיחו אביו, שנאמר בראשית כז על חרבך תחיה. הלך לו אצל בני עמון ומואב ואמר להם: מקבלים אתם את התורה? אמרו לו מה כתוב בו? אמר להם לא תנאף. אמרו לפניו: רבש”ע, עצמה של ערוה להם היא, שנ’ ותהרן שתי בנות לוט מאביהם. הלך ומצא בני ישמעאל, אמר להם: מקבלים אתם את התורה? אמרו לו מה כתוב בה? אמר להם לא תגנוב. אמרו לפניו: רבש”ע, כל עצמו אביהם לסטים היה, שנא’ והוא יהיה פרא אדם, לא היתה אומה באומות שלא הלך ודבר, ודפק על פתחם מה ירצו ויקבלו את התורה, וכן הוא אומר תהלים קכח יודוך ה’ כל מלכי ארץ כי שמעו אמרי פיך. יכול שמעו וקיבלו? ת”ל יחזקאל לג ואתם לא תעשו, ואומר מיכה ה ועשיתי באף ובחימה נקם את הגוי אשר לא שמעו, אלא אפילו שבע מצות שקיבלו עליהם בני נח לא יכלו לעמוד בהם, עד שפרקום ונתנום לישראל. משל לאחד ששילח את חמורו ואת כלבו לגורן, והטעינו לחמורו לתך ולכלבו ג’ סאים, והיה החמור מהלך והכלב מלחית. פרק ממנו סאה ונתנו על החמור, וכן שני וכן שלישי. אף כן ישראל קבלו את התורה בפירושיה ובדקדוקיה, אף אותם ז’ מצות שקיבלו עליהם בני נח לא יכלו לעמוד בהם, עד שפרקום ונתנום לישראל. לכך נאמר ויאמר ה’ מסיני בא.

Another thing: “And it says HaShem came from Sinai” – When The “Place” (a euphemism for HaShem) appeared to give the Torah to Israel, not only to Israel alone did He appear (and intend to give it), but rather unto all of the nations of the world: First He went to the children of Esav (Esau) and He said to them “Do you accept My Torah?” They said unto Him “What is written in it?” He responded, “Don’t murder.” They said “Master of the world! Our father’s basic essence was all about murder, as the verse states “and the hands are the hands of Esav”, and concerning this our father was promised, as it says, “on your sword you shall live.” He (then left them and) went over to the children of Ammon and Moav, and said to them “Do you accept My Torah?” They asked, “What’s written in it?” He said to them “Don’t do incest.” They said unto Him “Master of the world! The entire essence of licentiousness is ours, as the verse says, “and the two daughters of Lot became pregnant from their father.” He then went to children of Yishmael and asked them “Do you accept My Torah?” They said to Him “What is written in it?” He answered, “Do not steal.” They said in front of Him “Master of the world! The entire essence of our father was a thief, as the verse states “and he shall be a wild man (pe’re adam).” There was no nation (in the entire world) to whom He didn’t go and speak with, and he knocked on their doors and asked them what they wanted (i.e. if they want to) accept His Torah, for thus does it say (Psalms Tehillim) “The kings of the land will all admit to You that they heard the words of Your mouth”. Could it be that they heard, and they accepted? For this the Teacher (Talmud= That which teaches us, i.e. the Torah) says (Ezekiel Yechezkel) “and you shall not do”, and it also says (Micha) “and I shall do with rage and with anger, in vengeance of the nations who did not listen[1]”. Even the seven mitzvos that the sons of Noah accepted upon themselves they “couldn’t” keep them and they, therefore, removed them and gave them to Israel. … Therefore it (the verse) says “HaShem came from Sinai”.

I have learned this Midrash many times, and every time that I read it I always ask myself a very simple question: What is the Midrash coming to teach me?

From a cursory reading, it would appear that the real problem here was that HaShem was just a terrible door-to-door salesman! He should have taken a very basic business course, (business 101) and they would have explained to Him that if someone offers you a chance to explain/show them the value of your product you show them how nice and friendly it is, how it is helpful to them in their daily lives and show them that it is a NEED, and then they go and buy it!

So basically, this says that despite the fact that HaShem was a terrible salesman, and therefore all of the other people of the world refused it, only the children of Israel were gullible enough to take it! Is that right?

Of course, that’s not it.

The words of our sages are very deep indeed. Let’s preface with a parable:

Let’s say that two people show up at your door wanting to give you something. One is an absolute stranger and the other is your father/mother (assuming that you have a healthy, loving relationship with them, of course). Both of them appear at your door and they both offer you a book that they have written. Do you think that just by the very fact that it’s your loved one who is offering the book that you are more likely to accept it? Of course, you would! What if it was your friend? What if it was your spouse (again, assuming that you have a happy, loving relationship)?

Well, if you opened the door and HaShem was “standing” there the experience would be infinitely deeper. You would experience an all-encompassing love that goes beyond any-and-all that you ever experienced in your lifetime. There would be a sense of benevolence and goodness that you would feel enveloping you like you have not known ever. And if this being would say to you “Would you accept the gift of my Torah?” – what would be your response? Mine would be a resounding “YES!”

But if I ask, “What’s written in it?” would I, or could I be blamed?

The answer is “ABSOLUTELY”

Why is this? Because if you meet the source of all good and love and He offers you a gift and you ask Him “What’s it about?” there is only one thing that is bothering you: does it “fit” me as I am now? Would I have to change to fit it?

To this, the answer is a resounding “Yes, it DOESN’T fit you as you are. You are going to have to WORK and MAKE CHANGES in order to fit it”. That is what all of the nations of the world meant when they asked, “What’s written in it?” and that is why HaShem, who is in no way lacking for wisdom of any sort, didn’t try to “sell it” to them in a muchi-puchi type of way, utilizing basic sales-skills.

The Torah is not meant to fit you… unless you make yourself over in His image, in which case it fits you like a glove.

That’s what the greatness of Chag Matan Torateynu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah) is all about.

On this day 3329 years ago, we were given the instructions and the mandate of how to become a holy and godly people, if we make ourselves over in His image. We chose to be “the Chosen People”, and it is a badge that we wear with pride, but it isn’t about being a “superior” race at all. It’s about how, without the Torah, we would have been – to quote Rav Yosef, in Tractate Pesachim – “Just another Yosef (Joe) in the shuk (open-air market)”.

Do you want to be godly? Holy? Learn Torah, and let it show you the way to make yourself over in His image.

Good Shabbos and Good Yom Tov to all!

 

[1] The word “shema” in Hebrew has two basic interpretations to hear and to listen. There is a clear difference between the two, as although many of my students hear what I say, many times they don’t really listen, and they, therefore, fail to comprehend.

How to be Jewish, Scientific, and Proud – Part 3

As we have seen in the previous blogs there is a serious amount of confusion concerning the actual facts of the issues that are under discussion and how we are supposed to address them. Indeed, what is, and what is not the actual data that confronts us in all of the issues is NOT the issue.  THE REAL ISSUE is the interpretation that I make based on the data. There is no actual observational data that points conclusively towards the “scientific” conclusions that are presented as being totally substantiated and truthful. The question, as always, is which of the interpretations makes more sense.

The same holds true of any discipline that is not observing the events but rather is trying to unravel them after the fact. As is true of the parable, so too is the reality. The more distant and complex the event, the more difficult and complex the attempt at unraveling the reality. That’s all it boils down to. So, the question that we have to ask is which of the interpretations makes more sense? Which has more going for it? Think on this very, very deeply. (Also, if you haven’t read the previous blogs – I would suggest doing so).

 

A prime example of when the Torah and science come to a head: the “evolution” of human languages. The following is an excerpt of an article that can be found at the following link. It states as follows:

Most linguistics scholars today agree that many of the world’s modern languages share a common forebear. Indeed, this notion lines up perfectly with the sudden appearance of behaviorally modern humans, as they are referred to by geneticists and archaeologists, some 50,000 years ago. Where experts disagree, however, is how language has developed since then.

This is not really a new perspective of the scientific community. It’s been around for a very long time. The first time that I heard this was when I was a much younger man, learning in a teacher’s certification program that had guidelines from the Ministry of Education here in Israel. The teacher was a very nice, very well-educated person with a kippah on his head. The topics that Dr. X (he had three degrees in linguistics, (does that make him a teacher to the third degree? A third-degree teacher?)) was teaching classes on general linguistics and grammar, known fondly to all Hebrew students as dikduk. “We now know conclusively,” Dr. X said, “based on all sorts of investigative techniques utilized by the university, that there once was a commonly known universal language spoken by all humans”. The room heard this quietly. I had what to say, but I didn’t feel it my place to make an issue of it if the people in the room who were older than me, and more learned, didn’t. After class, I went over to him and asked him the following question. “Dr. X,” I said “you clearly are a well-educated individual and well versed in both modern and Biblical Hebrew. So, I have a question to ask you concerning the “amazing” conclusions that were arrived at concerning the initial universal language.” “Please,” he said, “what is your question?” “Professor,” I said “as a religious man I would have assumed that you would have been highly astounded at the conclusion. After all,” I said, “wasting the universities monies on things that are well known, documented fact, should be scorned at all costs so that the monies could go towards more productive things.” “What are you talking about, young man?” he said to me. “Why, Professor X,” I said, “the Torah says this very thing EXPLICITLY in the book of Genesis, chapter 11 verse 1, where it says, concerning the generations of Noach (Noah) after the flood:

And the nation (that grew from the generations of Noah) were of one lip (safah (שפה) =language, in Hebrew) and were of one inclination (devarim achadim, (דברים אחדים), “of one thing/thinking”).

“Not only that,” I continued saying, “I can even tell you which language it was.” “Really?” he said. “Which one was it?” he asked. “It was Hebrew, of course!” I answered. “And where do you know this from?” he asked. “Our sages, ob”m, tell us this explicitly,” I said. “It’s in the Midrash Rabbah on that verse that says “שפה אחת, לשון הקודש” which means that when the Torah says they were “of one language” it refers to the Holy Tongue”. “Not only that,” I continued “the entire story of how humanity came to speak other languages is right there! In the same chapter!” (A really cheap copy of Genesis can probably be purchased for about 10 bucks too! Much cheaper than any university study…)

As a proof to this, it should be noted that there are vestiges of the Hebrew language that can be found in practically all languages. I have experienced this in English many times and have been told this by friends who speak other languages too. For example, the word “wine” in English takes its basic pronunciation from the Hebrew word ya’yin (יין). Or the word “fruit”, which comes from the French, who pronounce it frui or fruee which is phonetically like the Hebrew word peri or fri, spelled פרי. For an interesting article on the topic look here also here (which I found now while searching for “English words with Hebrew root” and says much of what I said here as well).

But this is not the real crux of the issue.

Everything that I have said on this blog and in the previous two is “pooh-poohed” by the university establishment. Why? Because it doesn’t follow the scientific god… I mean “dogma”[1] based on the “scientific method”. I have already explained how this method, concerning the creation sciences, is ineffective and unproductive in blog 1 on this topic. But I don’t have a Ph.D., so I guess I can’t be right? Or is it BECAUSE I don’t have one that I can speak my mind?

Let’s talk about this issue for a while.

When it comes to the teachings and the goings-on in universities, and peer-reviewed publications today it is assumed that they are offering an unbiased, objective, “scientific” opinion on the topic. Whatever the topic may be. The question is: is that true? Are universities hot-beds of free-thinking, unbiased individuals, or is there a reason to hold suspect the conclusions at which they arrive? Let’s consider this for a moment.

 

  1. Make-up the game and make-up its rules, and you will always win!

In the first blog of this series I already spoke about the fact that the data will always be looked at with a priori thinking. It doesn’t matter which “team” you play for. “Yes” to G-d or “No” to G-d, either way, is a priori. If you REALLY want to be “objective” you have to ask yourself only “which explanation makes more sense in the interpretation of the observable data?”

I also discussed the absurdity of the “I can’t see G-d” claim and its selective usage in the sciences. All of this back in blog 1. Look here for more info. Or read my book for the entire argument.

However, to say that the only proper way of approaching the data is by using the scientific method, despite the fact that none of the interpretations of the data have any observable, measurable, repeatable (henceforth “OM”R”) phenomena to back them up (again, look in blogs 1 and 2), is to say the following. “Let’s play a game! In this game, there is a ‘winner’ and there is a ‘loser’. Here are the rules …” and you then proceed to define the terms of the “game” in the following manner. “There are only two rules. Rule number 1 – I am always the winner. If you think that this is not the case, then rule number two applies. Rule number 2: Rule number 1 is always correct!” How many times do you think that the person who made up the game and its rules will lose? (No answer necessary…)

This is one of the problems of applying the scientific method to the creation sciences. Since the basic rules of the “game” are #1 a “falsifiable hypothesis/theory” and #2 it must be testable, (the same as saying that the hypothesis should allow for making assumptions that are testable), then guess what? You’ve already won the game before you have even begun!

Since “G-d” is neither falsifiable or testable then you have already precluded Him from the study! Is there no wonder why most people who have been indoctrinated by these “rules” all come to similar conclusions? Of course, there isn’t! Of course, there is a very clear theological reason behind this, why G-d isn’t falsifiable or testable. (For more on this read my blogs on the meaning of life 1, 2, 3, and 4)

 

  1. Do I tote the line… or pay the price?

When it comes to the topic a really serious question is – how can you possibly assume that on certain issues the “learned opinions” are unbiased? Consider the following. If you have just spent many, many years of your life in first getting your Bachelors degree, added several more for your Masters and your Masters dissertation, and finally added the piece de resistance by adding even more years in gaining your Doctorate then, if your doctorate is not in the sciences, and in many cases even if it is, in all likelihood there is only one place that you plan on using it: in a university. Then guess what? You’ve got what to lose if you don’t tout the line!

This is kind of the same logic that goes into questioning whether or not the drug trials provided by the drug industry, or the studies in the benefits of cow’s milk in humans that are funded by the milk industry, are trustworthy.

The Torah (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 16:19) tells us in no uncertain terms the following concerning judges:

…And do not take shochad (a bribe), for a shochad shall blind the eyes of the intelligent and will falsify the words of the righteous.

Our sages, ob”m, tell us in Tractate Ketubot that this is true even if the bribe that is accepted is accepted with the stipulation “find the truth”.

In halacha (the Torah’s law in application) a witness who has what to lose concerning a thing is not a “kosher” witness. He is called a nogeyah b’davar, which means we assume he is affected by self-interest. Why would this not be the case concerning any and every discipline that is affected by the theory of evolution and all of it’s “there is no G-d” ilk?

But not only IS THERE a price, there are many who have paid it (I put in the link for educational purposes only. It’s not an endorsement), knowingly and unknowingly. I am not going to say that this isn’t an issue that goes in both directions. There have been religious and secular universities that have done the same thing. However, there is a rather large basic distinction between the two places. If you are a religious institution teaching the sciences then it is more understandable that you would want a religious interpretation given to the information or, at the very least, no mention of the secular view (which doesn’t add or subtract from the science of the phenomena that actually IS OM”R). After all, they are espousing that in not teaching the secular view they are avoiding giving you a “go to hell, free” card.

However, if you are a university that promotes “free speech” and “free thinking” and YOU don’t teach the religious view, only the secular one, then you are kind of … what’s the word? Hypocritical? If you don’t teach it because it isn’t “scientific” or “falsifiable”, then just call it like it is! It’s not your religion! (See point 1 here for clarification) Ok! Now I understand you more!

 

  1. Just how “peer-reviewed” is it?

Peer-reviewed articles are a great thing. Let’s start with that. When we are dealing with the sciences of OM”R phenomena, which anyone can actually test and either find true or false – nothing better! But, as I have already shown in blog 1, and a little more in blog 2 on the topic, this is NOT TRUE concerning the creation sciences. However, its truth concerning OM”R phenomena is the basis upon which it is assumed to be true for creation sciences as well. Which, of course, brings us back to the dictum of our sages, ob”m, that “a lie without any truth will not stand”.

Having said that, there are a few points that need to be made about peer-reviewed articles on creation sciences:

  • How good are the peers at reviewing? Our sage, ob”m, tell us that “a man cannot see his own blemishes” (אין אדם רואה נגעי עצמו) in this regard peer-review seems like a good thing. But it doesn’t mean that anyone that ISN’T YOU actually can see them either. One of the problems with the texts of the scientific articles is that they bore you to tears even if you do understand them. I find that most people just skim them and move on. More on this in a moment in point 4.
  • However, there is another statement of our sages “a man cannot free himself from prison” (אין אדם מתיר עצמו מבית האסורים) which is true not only of himself but of others as well. This is even truer if we would consider that there are two types of people in prison: those who were “thrown in” and those that were “born” there. A person who was thrown in has what to compare to, he knows there is a whole other world “outside”. For a person who was “born there”, however, his whole world is in the prison! The reason for this is that a person has been indoctrinated from a very early age he may not be able to recognize that he is in a prison, called “his very own mind”!
  • One could counter that the same holds true of a person born into a religious family. He also cannot see outside of his own “world”, as he was born to it. While this is true of much of the world – it is not true of the Torah. Even though there is a commandment תמים תהיה עם ה’ א-לקיך, (Be wholehearted with HaShem, your G-d) this does NOT mean “be naive”. The Torah itself says to check out the basic fundaments of Emmuna (read Core Emmuna 1 and, with HaShem’s help, in the near future Core Emmuna 2) and many of our holy Rishonim, (Sages from the middle-ages period), the Rambam, Ramban, and many of the Rishonim of Sephardic origin and the Geonim say this includes the sciences as well. Even the Rabbi’s of Ashkenazic origin who said to avoid them did so because of the fear of being led astray by charlatans and liars (which happened then and still continues to happen until this day). During the Pesach festival, the central theme of the Seder, outside of the Exodus story, is “ask a question”. But we don’t ask questions for the sake of questioning. We ask in order to deepen our depth of understanding about the reality of life, of which the Holy Torah is a very deep, very real part. We ask because we are intrigued. There is nothing in the sciences that contradict the Torah. There may be some things that I don’t understand. There may be things that don’t jive with my world-view. But there is no threat to the Torah’s truth from the data that has been revealed. Just the opposite! In most instances, it is my knowledge of the Torah that deepens my understanding of the data and the picture that emerges from it!
  • Is the experiment eminently “reviewable”? In many instances, the “peers” who review the information have neither the time, the equipment, the funding, or the desire to actually do anything more than read the article. If that is true then the dictum written by the Rambam in his famous letter (either iggeret hashemad or iggeret Teyman, I forget which) that “it is man’s nature to believe anything that is in written form” holds true. “If he can print it – it must be right” is what most people will think for a very long time. Who knows when, or even if, it will actually be reviewed?
  • The truth is that “print or perish” is a truism. There is a significant amount of pressure to publish in order to substantiate the need for the continued existence of your division/faculty/department – you name it!

 

  1. “I’m trustworthy! Why? Because I just told you!”

Lastly is the issue of “I’m a doctor, so trust me”. While this is true in any endeavor, all human interaction requires that there should be trust between those who are interacting, this is as true in the sciences as it is in the business world, it should not be true when it comes to the creation sciences for all of the above reasons and those of the previous two blogs.

In the realm of creation sciences, it is substantiated guesswork. A guess, even if it is educated, is still only that – a guess!

In addition, if you learn to read the articles, blogs, papers, books, and whatnot critically you will always note the following: in REALLY BIG PRINT is the title of the article which makes a very clear, very one-sided, conclusive statement. It also always contains amazing artwork and graphics. Afterward, within the body of the article, that’s when the doubts all come out.

The reason for this? Because it is the nature of man to remember the sensational (i.e. the headline and graphics), not the words. But invariably in the article itself, the entire statement is almost always marginalized. “It’s not really all that clear, but…” “according to one formulation of the formula/theory/equation, this could be the result”.

Keep your eyes AND YOUR “EARS” OPEN when reading any sensationalism.

 

Having said all of the above, it should become clear that there is a reason to suspect the “scientific” interpretation of data. This does not mean that the religious interpretation is not also, similarly, suspect. But it also doesn’t take into account the entire program of Jewish religious education, which, as we mentioned previously, promotes questioning, promotes analytical thinking, and promotes trying to see things with fresh eyes, untainted by previous interpretations are given in the matter. But only if you can substantiate it! You have to bring solid proof. Anyone that has ever learned the Jewish Talmud can see this. Anyone who has participated in an iyun (deep thought) shiur (lesson) of Gemara can attest that that is the way that we are educated to be. There is a reason why the world says concerning us “Two Jews – three opinions!”

This is what it all boils down to: of the observable data, according to which interpretation does it make the most sense? Hands down, it’s the G-d one.

“Well, Rabbi” someone is surely thinking, “most of the world disagrees with you on this, and THEY SAY that the interpretation of the data is NOT like you!”

To that I only have one thing to say: I’m a son of Abraham the Ivri. This name “ha’Ivri”, meaning “from the other side” was given to Abraham and worn with pride. It signifies the fact that the entire world “stood against” Abraham theologically and ideologically, and yet he didn’t care about that. Life’s not about being in the majority. Life is about following the truth even if it puts you in the minority. Even if the entire “minority” is just you.

Therefore, as the data concerning the creation sciences is never definitive and it is open to interpretation which is in-sync with the classic understanding of the Torah and our sages ob”m, then why should I choose to follow the more popular opinion? What do I gain from it? Especially in light of the fact that the Torah’s explanation allows me more clarity concerning the observable phenomena? Why would I want to choose falsehood over truth? Why would I want to live a real life in a virtual reality lie? I would rather live a real life in the real world with real meaning!

As one of the attributes of HaShem is Emmet, truth, why would I want to be anywhere else?

[1] Are you familiar with the joke that goes “What is a dyslexic, agnostic, insomniac? A guy who stays up all night wondering about the existence of DOG”

אמנם זה באנגלית, אבל יתורגם, בע”ה, לעברית בקרוב

How to Be Jewish, Scientific, and Proud – Part 2

In the previous blog we began approaching the issue of how to get a proper Jewish/Religious worldview concerning the issue of science vs. emunah. The basic issue being how can I be a believing Jew in a world of science. Most specifically, what am I to do if the science seems to be in conflict with the Tradition? Who has more authority? Am I to believe the words of our sages, ob”m, even in the face of empirical evidence? Does faith fly in the face of fact?

In my book, Core Emunah vol. 1 “Hello? G-d?” I address this issue specifically and expound upon what “Jewish faith” is and how it differs from the “faith” espoused by every other religion in the world. I have built off of this even further in Core Emunah vol. 2 “G-d & Me” which will, with HaShem’s help, be available in the very near future.

This issue is addressed specifically by some of our greatest minds. While there are those who say that we are to believe even in the face of the facts, the Rambam (in Moreh Nevuchim 53) and Rav Sa’adia Gaon (in his book Emunot v’Deyot) say otherwise. In their opinion if the facts are, indeed, indisputable, then there is room to reconsider a statement of our sages, ob”m. However, even they would never say this concerning the written Torah.

After years of studying the issues, I can say with absolute certainty that there is no such thing as a statement of our sages that contradicts the science. Just the opposite is true! The Torah is all about living one’s life according to life’s and realities most basic truths, and science is the search after the reality of life. There is, therefore, no way that they can be in conflict. They will only always work together to allow us for greater understanding. However, that doesn’t mean that there are no scientific opinions that are in contradiction with the statements of our sages. There are also many statements of our sages that are misunderstood or taken at face value without any context.  As that is the case, the questions that we must ask ourselves when it comes to conflicts between the two realities are:

  1. Is there a reading of the words of our sages, ob”m, that is congruent with the scientific opinion? If yes, great. If no, and in truth, even if yes, there is always the question of whether or not it is worthwhile or even correct to reinterpret the issue based on today’s science. (Due to the other questions)
  2. Is it possible to interpret the data in a way that is not in conflict with the view of our sages? If there is another interpretation of the data, even if it is not the majority opinion, then why should we assume that our sages, ob”m, were wrong?
  3. Even if there isn’t another interpretation, is the data open to interpretation? Yes? Then it’s not conclusive or undisputable!

As I mentioned in the previous blog (#1) there is no clear, observable, measurable, (repeatable) data that is in conflict between the Torah’s statements and the observations. There are, however, conflicts between the Torah’s interpretation of the observations and those posited by science. Let’s take a look at several examples of this.

 

  1. The Fossil Record

As I mentioned in blog 1 on this topic the oldest of all of the proofs brought for evolutionary theory is the fossil record. As it is possible to create, via comparative anatomy, a “train” of change from one form of animal to another it is, therefore, thought that this is conclusive evidence of the truth of evolution. It isn’t.

This is not only true because of the reason I stated in blog 1, there are many reasons why this is positively incorrect. Let me list a few:

  1. Although interesting and imaginative, this can be used to explain animals with similar anatomical features. For example, a famous evolutionary “tree” is made connecting the hippos with the manatees and with the whales because they all share similar anatomical features. Of course, this is speculation based on the anatomy. Could it be right? Yes. Does that mean it is? No. It’s only a solid “maybe”.
  2. However, it does not explain phenomena such as feathers which “remain one of evolutions great mysteries” (do a search, you’ll find ample sources). Despite the claims of evolutionists concerning the very old example of Archaeopteryx, the truth is that all of the claims made are only “nice”. Is it a bird with some reptilian features, or is it a dinosaur with bird feathers? For years it was touted as THE example of a “middle-of-the-road” creature, or a “missing link”, except that it isn’t. Other than claims there is no really satisfying evidence to say that conclusively, unless one considers a Ph.D. claiming this as conclusive proof. (If you do, I feel sorry for you. History has shown many examples of this being wrong). The only real reason why this was said was because the fossil record was even more incomplete than it was today. It was assumed that there were no “modern”-type birds alive during the dinosaur’s period. But then Xiaotingia zhengi was discovered and that fell on the wayside.
  3. The claim that “the evolutionary changes from one generation to the next are so small that there is no way you would ever notice them”, which translates as “There is no such thing as an X-Men fish, lizard or whatnot” is also “nice”. It makes sense if you are talking about why we see no evidence of macroevolution today. It also fits nicely with the observable phenomenon called “microevolution” (which I already took apart in blog 1). Great! So, it’s right, right? No. Sorry Charlie! It’s also only just a “maybe”. You see, the fossil record is still full of gaps, and even though “under my nose” I won’t notice them, I should when the artifacts of history are laid out in front of me, demonstrating the morphing from animal to animal and from creature to creature. But it doesn’t.
  4. The “batting average” of anthropology and paleontology concerning every creature ever presented as a “missing link” that has ever been found is zero. Look up “coelacanth” if you want proof of this. The lungfish and the duck-billed platypus have existed since the times of the dinosaurs, and beyond, and have seemingly never shown up in a way that would present itself as “appropriate” on the evolutionary tree. But that doesn’t stop this from being claimed anyway.
  5. Much of the examples of the “evolutionary morphing” from creature to creature doesn’t withstand the archeological records themselves, as they don’t actually “appear” in the order in which they are presented to us in the change from creature to creature. But that’s ok. Everyone admits that there are still tremendous “gaps” in the fossil record. But there ARE reasons for that, after all!
  6. Reason 1: fossilization itself. Here we get to the most fun of all of the explanations. Why ARE THERE holes in the fossil record? Well that’s so simple! It’s because “fossilization is an iffy process” and “we are lucky to have any fossils at all”. As I stated in blog 1, while this is true that the process is iffy and difficult, the rule of “a lie without a modicum of truth won’t stand” is also true. If there are holes in the fossil record, this is the observable truth, then say “there are holes in the fossil record”. To give this as an explanation when it is convenient is, while nice and logical, still only a “maybe”. What is the actual evidence?
  7. Reason 2: evolution with a “bang”. While forever evolution has been touted as a very long, very gradual process, that hasn’t prevented people from asserting that there is “punctuated equilibrium”, which means that it can actually happen very quickly. This is akin to what I said in blog 1 concerning the issue of epigenetics. The observable data shows that life is inherently adaptable and will adapt very quickly based solely on changes in the environment, big and small. Uncontrolled, random phenomena cannot logically account for this. That doesn’t mean that it cannot, and is not claimed, (it is), but again what is the “value” of this claim? Maybe. Nothing more.

So, after all of the above, what are we left with?

Well, Rabbi, what about all of the various hominids that paleontologists have found? What about them? The answer? Elementary, my dear Watson! 2 points to consider:

  1. Fragmentary evidence

When one considers the actual amount of evidence presented as a “middle of the road” between man and monkey (pick whichever one you want as the “monkey”. It really doesn’t matter), while totally ignoring that the batting average of anthropology and paleontology is 0 when it comes to creatures that they never actually met, the whole issue becomes funny. The sheer absurdity of the issue was captured for all eternity by the hilarious comic artist Don Martin

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  1. Do our Sages, tell us anything of relevance?

Of course, they do! I’m not talking about modern sources here, but rather the Midrash itself, which is around 1700 years old according to all opinions, writes in Bereshis Rabbah 23:6 as follows

אַרְבָּעָה דְּבָרִים נִשְׁתַּנּוּ בִּימֵי אֱנוֹשׁ בֶּן שֵׁת, הֶהָרִים נַעֲשׂוּ טְרָשִׁים, וְהִתְחִיל הַמֵּת מַרְחִישׁ, וְנַעֲשׂוּ פְּנֵיהֶם כְּקוֹפוֹת, וְנַעֲשׂוּ חֻלִּין לַמַּזִּיקִין.

Which translates “There were four things that changed during the days of Enosh, son of Shet. The mountains became terraces (terashim in Biblical Hebrew), and the dead began to squirm (?) AND THEIR FACES BECAME AS THOSE OF MONKEYS and they became as unconsecrated for the demons”.

So, you found some humans with monkey faces? Great! You’ve just proven our sages to have been correct.

 

  1. Age of the Universe and Other Old Things

Dr. Gerald Schroeder, Ph.D. who took the time to read my book and gave it a “haskomah” (approbation) has written many books on this topic. “Genesis and the Big Bang”, “The Science of God” and others. In it he explains how the science and the Torah work together in order to explain how to “make peace” between scientific opinion of today and the Torah of yesteryear. However, I disagree with his conclusions and re-explain the observable phenomena in by book Core Emunah vol. 1. The reason that I do this is twofold.

  • I don’t agree with the basic scientific premises upon which the measurements of the universe were made. There are several reasons to do this. Here are just a few:
  1. They are not made based on observable, measurable, repeatable (om”r) phenomena. Rather they are assumptions that are made based on some om”r phenomena. That doesn’t make them true. Let me rephrase this for greater clarity. There are “half-life” phenomena that do meet the basic om”r standard. That is true. (And any lie that has no truth…) However, there are many, many statements that are made concerning half-life measurements that have only infinitesimal om”r data. In fact, the basic premise upon which they are made is flawed because it assumes that the phenomena can be placed on an x-y chart and basically will follow a straight-line gradient. This goes against practically all observable experimentation in a lab. When did you ever make an x-y chart that follows a straight-line gradient? It ALWAYS follows a curve of some sort! Could it be? Yes. Must it be? Most certainly NO.
  2. The Uncertainty Principle flies in the face of all forms of radioactive dating. It’s most basic tenet being that there is “some” amount of uncertainty concerning the radioactive decay. Of course, to simplify the math many assumptions are made, for otherwise… many a physicist would be out of a job! The assumptions made based on the uncertainty principle are done so that the math is defined to a certain area of “uncertainty”, however the “area” itself is way-open for interpretation and calculation[1].
  3. The age of the universe is constantly in flux. Sometimes up, sometimes down. But generally upwards. This shows a significant amount of “uncertainty” in the entire “principle”. If we have to recalculate the science to fit the Torah, or, worse yet, if we have to keep recalculating the Torah to fit the science – then what? We’re back to the question of whose opinion is more open to interpretation.
  4. There are many, many more reasons. Not the time and place as the above suffice.

 

  • The simple understanding of our sages, ob”m, are not to be read as he has read them.

To know the way to correctly interpret the words of our sages, ob”m, look in my book (that is what I wrote it for, after all).

 

  1. Sayings of our sages with no context

There are many that point to statements of our sages as statements of pure nonsense from a scientific viewpoint. The problem is, many times (all the time?) that they are read without any thought of context at all. Here are some examples:

  1. Statements about the creation.

Our sages, ob”m, tell us that one of the great secrets of the Torah is called Ma’aseh Bereishis, the creation. (See Rambam Laws of the Foundations of the Torah chapter 4:10) they are not meant to be taught to just anyone, only to a very select group of students only. Yet for some reason all of the teachings of our sages that are explicit in the Talmud and the Midrash are taken at face value, even though these were public teachings. What happened to “a select group of students only”?

The answer is that the Talmud’s teachings are said to the public and are therefore NOT the actual mysteries of the creation by and large. Although there are many places where the secrets do leak out.

To the “man on the ground” it doesn’t actually matter what goes on in the heavens. The only question is his own interpretation of what he views from the earth. If the description fits – that’s just fine! It doesn’t matter if it’s not “astronomically correct”.

Having said that there is a lot of abject truth in the words of our sages concerning a significant amount of the observable, known phenomena, and much of which is still not understood by science. For example: where did all of the water come from? Where is the moon from and why does it have such weird properties? And many other issues.

2. Stories and parables

There are, indeed, secrets to the Torah that are only meant to be understood by the select few. As Clark Kent has surely taught us, if you want to hide a big secret – do so in plain sight! (How he continues to do this in the age of facial recognition software…?) Anyone who is not really searching for depth will look at the story and go “that’s nice.” Anyone looking for depth but lacking in the tools necessary for the investigation will say “this is silly” or “this makes no sense.” But someone with the drive for truth and the tools to boot – he’ll figure it out.

 

May HaShem help us all to recognize the Torah’s truth and utilize all of our G-d given senses to internalize this issue fully!

More issues in upcoming blogs.

[1] A nice article on the topic can be found at http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/0026-1394/52/3/S51

אמנם זה באנגלית, אבל יתורגם, בע”ה, לעברית בקרוב

How to be Jewish, Scientific, and Proud (Not suffer from guilt over arguing on the science) – Part 1.

Over the past few weeks, I have tried to give my “two-cents” in the context of certain topics relating to Torah and science. While I do not hold myself to be an expert in the fields, I am not unlearned nor am I illogical in my thinking (at least I try really hard not to be). After a lot of back and forth, I realized that the problem is not so much that people are incapable of listening to the logic of an argument. It’s just that they don’t recognize what are the actual underlying issues of the argument, nor do they know what does or does not constitute proof in these issues.

It’s time to clear the playing field.

At its essence, there is one thing that everyone is trying to do in the field of science and that is to make sense of the observable phenomena. That’s it. It all boils down to that.

However, once we have arrived at that conclusion, the question then is what are the criteria that we should use to decipher the observable phenomena? This is where all of the fun-and-games begin. The reason for this is because of what can only be called “scientific dogma”, otherwise known as “the scientific method”. It is based on this that any argument is then termed as either “scientific” or “pseudo-science”, and therefore not “scientific”. However, it presupposes that it defines the only way of “truly” being able to look at information in an objective way. Which is false.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like science and even the scientific method. I have no real problem with them. What I do have a problem with is its usage in the areas of scientific endeavor that can only be called “Creation sciences”. Let’s start.

The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. (Wikipedia “Scientific Method”)

When we are talking about utilizing scientific methodology for the scrutiny of modern phenomena, which utilize the most basic criteria of all scientific data, that is information that is observable, measurable and repeatable, then the methodology does not present a problem, but rather a framework in which information can be posited, shared, and tested in a productive manner. The problem begins when we are applying the same principals to things that cannot actually be observed, nor clearly tested, and that in all likelihood are in no way repeatable, which is the realm of all creation sciences. Then what?

Well, we are told that the same principles can be applied, because you can still utilize the observable phenomena in order to make predictions that are testable. Therefore, the scientific method is still a valid tool. Except that it isn’t. What it comes down to in the area of the creation sciences is what is the data in front of you and how valid are the interpretations given to the data? How much of them are fact, and how much is fiction? How much of them are really testable, and how much is actually just “pooh-poohed” and considered fact even though the actual facts are lacking? This is the real crux of the issue.

So, with that under our belt, let’s begin to take a look at the topic of evolution. One of my favorites.

First things first: A priori thinking.

Everyone would love to assume that they are reviewing the data presented without a priori presumptions (i.e. without looking at the data with preconceived notions). This is inherently false. At the core of it all, the most basic question of all life, and the lens through which all of the information is viewed is the issue of “Is there a G-d or not?” I did write a book on the topic which goes through the available fields of endeavor in order to provide the reader with a logically, philosophically, and scientifically valid argument for the existence of G-d. If you want all of the sources and the full spectrum of the issue, according to my opinion then that is the only place that you can get it. Therefore, anyone entering into the issues is going to start from an a priori position. Either you will begin with the premise that there is G-d, or you will begin with the premise that there is not. Based on either of these a priori positions you will then interpret the information in front of you. It follows, therefore, that as neither of these positions is scientifically testable in any shape, way, or form (which is theologically explainable, for more on this see my blogs on the meaning of life)  that from the get-go you enter the fray warped.

So, what would be considered a good criterion? What could be considered proof? The answer: ask yourself which of these positions is more logical? Which is more consistent with the data? Which is based more on the facts of the data as opposed to the interpretation of it or fictions created based upon it?

In a nutshell: which claim makes more sense!

When it comes to the realm of logical arguments – Chazal ruled! We have forever been “The People of The Book”, with good reason! Let’s look at some arguments posited against the “G-d” interpretation of the data and their logical validity.

 

  1. “I can’t see G-d, therefore He is not”Chimpanzee with Hand Over Eyes

In so many of the basic interpretations of the information in the varying sciences, we find that “the processes can be described by means of observation only, with no apparent intervention of a Divine source”. This is a fancy way of saying “I don’t see G-d anywhere”.

Is this consistent with the observations? Yes, it is. Is it, therefore, a good criterion or proof of anything? No. It most certainly is not. The reason for this is what our sages, ob”m, teach us when they say Lo matzinu – einah ra’ayah, (Eiduyot 2:2) which means “To say ‘I have not found’ is not proof”. There are very solid logical reasons for this. Let me list a few:

  1. You are blind. This doesn’t mean that you are actually blind, but if you don’t have the right apparatus, or if you are far-sighted, or if it is just beyond your range of vision – you won’t see it. An example of this would be the cytoskeleton of the cell, which is a relatively recent discovery based off of new imaging technology.
  2. You are looking in the wrong place. Know the joke about the guy who was seen looking for something under the streetlight? When he was asked what he was looking for he said some money that he lost around the corner. “So, why are you looking over here?” he was asked. To which he replied, “The lighting is better here.”
  3. You don’t know what it is you are looking for or what it is supposed to look like. If that’s the case it could be right in front of your face, but you don’t realize it. A classic example of this is the supposedly “scientific” lack of being able to find the soul. This, despite the fact that in a living being there is ample evidence of lots of bio-electricity. This is the only thing that truly differs from a living being and a non-living one, yet there is no way to account for its existence nor its lack. It just is. Is this explainable by a soul? Of course, it is! For more on this topic – see Core Emunah vol. 2 “G-d & Me” (with HaShem’s help it will be available soon).

However, the bigger problem with this claim is not only that it is inconsistent, but it is also hypocritical. For if this is a valid scientific claim, then whenever we are talking about things that cannot be seen the claim should similarly remain invalid. Yet there are so many things that are “found” in the scientific literature for which there is no evidence, and yet they are claimed despite not being visible. Examples abound dark energy, quarks, 11 dimensions and more! Either visibility is a criterion, or it is not.

 

  1. Comparative anatomy and Comparative genome sequencing

Both of these are presented as THE BASIS for all macro-evolution. The thinking goes like this: if they share similar anatomy, and we can build a sequence of skeletons which could show a logical progression from one species form into an entirely new one, therefore it is clear that that is what happened. Or: if we have found “eyes” (or any other appendages) of varying degrees of complexity, and when they are lined up next to one another they can demonstrate the development of said appendage. Or: if, based on genome sequencing, we can demonstrate the similarity between one species and another, and build a logical progression of development on the genomic level, therefore this demonstrates the truth of the proposal.

To this our sages, ob”m, say vechi mipnei she’anu medamin na’aseh ma’aseh, (Gittin 19a) which means “just because we can compare things to each other, therefore we should act on our conclusions?”

What this means is that although there is some logic to the comparison, this does not constitute enough evidence upon which we can act (conclusively). The reasoning behind this is simple: even though there is what to compare, and there is a similarity, this is not actionable. To utilize Richard Dawkins own analogy (from his book The Greatest Show on Earth) against him: if one would see the butler holding a gun in his hand, with a sinister grin on his face going into the library, we then hear a gunshot and enter the room to see the butler holding the smoking gun in his hand, is it therefore logical to conclude that he did it? Yes, it is. Is it beyond the shadow of a doubt? No, it is not. Why? Because you didn’t see him pull the trigger. It could be that the man shot himself and the butler then picked up the smoking gun. Even though the comparison is amazing, at the end of the day the progression is only an assumption based on comparative whatever. It is an imaginary line of progression unless we have actually witnessed it. Of course, according to evolutionary theory, we cannot see it because it takes far too long for these changes to occur that they should be observable in the lab. Could it be? Yes. But in the realm of logic and “proof’ that is only a “maybe”, nothing more.

The same holds true in the realm of gene sequencing. To use Dawkin’s analogy against him here, too, as the DNA in his opinion is NOT a blueprint (most disagree with this, however) then the only real evidence of what the thing is can be discovered by what it actually looks like upon completion. Ergo, if it is demonstratable that an actual human being has many intrinsic differences between him and a simian – then one must conclude that they are also clearly dissimilar on the genomic level as well. They only seem similar in the sequencing. (However, in truth even on a sequencing level they are still significantly different despite all claims to the contrary).

Obviously, there is much more to say on this topic, (and I do in Core Emunah vol. 1 “Hello? G-d?”) but as far as addressing the basic logic of the argument – that sums it up in a nutshell.

 

  1. Microevolution and Mutation

There are hundreds, if not thousands, (tens of thousands?) of examples brought as the basis of microevolution and it is based on them that microevolution is considered by most to be fact. However, upon scrutiny, EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE FOLLOWS THE SAME PREMISE, AND THEREFORE SUFFER FROM THE SAME BASIC FLAW. To understand this let’s bring today’s world’s most famous example: antibiotic resistance.

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The observable part of this issue begins with genomic variance among species. For example, there are many types of dogs, even though they all share the same basic genome and can breed with each other. This holds true in the realm of bacteria as well. Even among bacteria of the same type, there are different variations of bacteria.

When antibodies are introduced into the bloodstream they are supposed to “attack” the bacteria and destroy them. However, due to the variance among bacteria, there are those bacteria that are not affected by the antibodies. As they are the only bacteria left in the aftermath of the antibiotics, they become the “dominant” species and the new strains of bacteria that are then left multiply and become the dominant members of the species.

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The rule that our sages, ob”m, teach us that is applicable here is “Any words of sheker (a lie) in which there is no emmet (truth) in its beginning will not stand at its end” (Rashi on Bamidbar 13:27). This means that a statement which is inherently false will always be seen as false. The only type of falsehood that lasts is one that has some truth to it.

The flaw in the above argument is based exactly on this premise. The reason is as follows: Why is there a genomic variation in the first place? Ask any scientist of the evolutionary persuasion and he will answer “mutation”. Let’s ask ourselves: Do mutations occur? Of course, they do! This is a known fact. There are two sources of mutation: damage from harmful agents, such as radioactivity, and copy-errors in DNA reproduction. Pictures and stories abound of all sorts of mutations. It is also an observable phenomenon in the lab. OK. So, this is true.

However, if we ask ourselves: Is ALL variation based on mutations? To answer “yes” is inherently false. The real answer is “I don’t know”. However, every single example of microevolution, which is supposed to be the demonstration of “mutation in action causing variation” is based on the initial premise that the initial variation was due to mutation.  This is a classic case of circular logic. You cannot prove the mechanics of mutation by assuming that all variation is due to mutation. Even though “selection” (the above process) and “genetic drift” (chance) are also cited as sources of variation within a genome, they are not actual causes of the initial variation. Rather, they are cited as forces that control the success or failure of the variation within the genome. Horizontal (or lateral) gene transfer, although a possible source for variation within single-celled organisms, has not been observed and should not occur within the animal kingdom due to the difference in the process of reproduction. (Single-celled organisms multiply by fully reproducing their own DNA, whereas in the animal kingdom it’s more of a genetic crap-shoot, where part of the genomic material is from the father and some from the mother). In addition, after all of the observation of horizontal gene-transfer, there is still no evidence of a macroevolutionary change as a result. The bacteria remain bacteria (they didn’t begin to mate with each other), and the organisms remained basically the same organisms. To say that this is the only source of variation would also be false as well, as is evidenced by the relatively new field of Epigenetics. (More on this in a moment).

To sum up this point. Is there observable data of variation within the different species? Yes, there is. Is it possible that mutation is the source? Yes. Is it certain? No. Is it possible that DNA transference of some sort is the source of variation among the species? Yes. Is it certain? No. If that’s the case then we are looking at just another “maybe”.

If that’s the case, then none of the above prove the case of microevolution. It does make a case for something affecting the “popularity” of a certain variation within a certain species. Can I make a case that the reason for this is “selection”? Yes. Can I prove it? No. The same data can make a case for shabdallazula, as well. A rose, by any other name, is still a rose. Regardless of the name I give it, this remains just an observable fact, that after the introduction of X only species Y remains. The explanation is just as valid if I call it “selection” or if I call it “G-d” as both fit the observable phenomena.

 

  1. Variation and Species

All of the observable data boils down to this issue only. There are different species of whatever in the world and there is variation within the species themselves. That’s it. That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. It is towards this that the field of epigenetics was developed.

Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene function that do not involve changes in the DNA sequence. … Epigenetics most often denotes changes in a chromosome that affect gene activity and expression, but can also be used to describe any heritable phenotypic change that does not derive from a modification of the genome, such as prions. Such effects on cellular and physiological phenotypic traits may result from external or environmental factors, or be part of normal developmental program. The standard definition of epigenetics requires these alterations to be heritable (Wikipedia Epigenetics)

Epigenetics was made a field of study when it was noted that changes within the environment seemed to cause changes within the genome. Meaning that there is a significant amount of observable phenomena of changes occurring within the genome due to variations in the environment. (Search for “stickleback fish” if you want examples). There is no change in the DNA noted, only a “change in the expression of genes” meaning that some genes that are normally “on” are switched “off” whereas others, that are usually “off” are switched “on”. The question, of course, isn’t if it happens, it does, but rather why?

Sciences answer? If you can’t explain the phenomena – give it a name! The minute you name it everyone else thinks you know what you are talking about! What? YOU don’t KNOW about shabdallazula? What planet are YOU from? Once you have a name, then build a legend about it and describe the phenomena and everyone will assume you know what you are talking about.

However, at its heart, the real issue is do I now understand WHY this happened? Do I offer an explanation to the observable phenomena other than a general description of what happens? No. There is no real explanation as to why these phenomena happen within the context of epigenetics. It’s just a name and the molecular description of what occurs. This means that all we really know is that there is an environmental change and there are genomic changes that occur.

This is where we hit the heart of the matter. According to scientific dogma, based purely off of evolutionary theory, your DNA is comprised of two parts: you, and junk. That’s it.

junk-dnaBecause of that thinking, this phenomenon is not really explainable, only describable. Why should the environment affect your junk? Why should your “junk” affect you? However, this is a truly silly assumption. Why do we assume there is junk? Two reasons. 1) Because we don’t see it used in coding; and 2) because we assume we know what it should be for (we don’t) and as it is not fulfilling that function, ergo it is junk. We also assume that there are vestigial limbs for the same reason.

The problem with this is manifold, and as I have explained at length in my book with sources, I, therefore, won’t reiterate it here. I will just make a few points:

  1. No one really knows what the entire DNA is saying, nor can we, due to its tremendous size and capacity.
  2. Despite all of the years and man-hours of study we are still only just beginning, in many ways, to understand the microbiological functions of the cells and the DNA. The Human Genome Project totally changed our understanding of how genes worked. Before the project, it was assumed that whoever had the largest genome “won” (=was the most complex). Afterward, we discovered that the human genome works in an entirely different manner than that of almost (all?) every other creature, plant, or thing on the planet.
  3. The “junk” is consistently reproduced, despite the fact that cell reproduction seems to be extremely efficient and conforms to the “conservation of energy” standards of not reproducing unnecessary information, which would be a waste of its very limited resources.
  4. The more investigation that we do into the “junk”, the more we see that it has function and purpose.

Ergo: There is no junk in DNA. What this means is that the DNA and its genes are programmed to respond to environmental and other stimuli, affecting man on the genomic level. The gene expression is affected “epigenetically”, but it is because outside stimuli “tell” the genes what and how to express them. It is for this reason that there is no observable change within the genome, only changes in gene “expression”.

value-in-junk-dna

Don’t take my word for it. Our sages, ob”m, tell this to us quite clearly in Tractate Shabbos 31a, which states (not verbatim):

One day, someone wagered that he could make him get angry. The bet was 400 pieces of gold. It was just before Shabbat and Hillel the Elder was preparing for its arrival. The man, therefore, rushed to Hillel’s home and cried, “Hillel the Elder! Where’s Hillel the Elder?” At the time, Hillel was washing himself, and so he interrupted his preparations, wrapped himself in his clothes, and went to the one who was calling him. “What do you want, my son?” he asked.

“I have a question to ask you.”

“Ask me then.”

“Why are the heads of Babylonians so round?”

And Hillel the Elder, himself Babylonian, answered him with a smile. “You have asked a profound question, my son, and I will answer you. It is because they have bad midwives that don’t know how, when a baby is born, to give the head a good shape.”

The man didn’t reply. Later, he again asked Hillel a question: “Why are the people of Tadmor terutot (slanted eyes, Rashi)?”

“Because they live in a sandy country (and the sand gets in their eyes),” Hillel the Elder replied.

After a certain time, the man came back and asked, “Why do Africans have such wide feet?”

With inexhaustible patience, Hillel the Elder answered: “Because they live in marshy land.”

The explanation that Hillel the Elder gives the questioner is that the changes in the genome are due to environmental phenomena. This fits the observable data. Meaning that all life is clearly capable of adaptation. To say that this is the result of random mutation is illogical, as there is an extreme unlikelihood that an uncontrolled mutational, (or otherwise), change within the genome will allow for the adaptation to the situation based on the circumstances of the phenomena. Yet it happens all of the time. If that is true, coupled with the fact that parts of the DNA that we assumed were “junk” are suddenly discovered to have a function, this is evidence of pre-existing programming in the DNA to “deal with” the environmental changes. This is evidence of non-randomness. To deal with specific phenomena requires specification which is the opposite of randomness. Ergo: it is programmed. It is based on intelligence, not uncontrolled, random chance (or “genetic drift”, if you so prefer).

To say that this could be the result of “aliens”, which many scientists have, (for example Nobel prize laureate Francis Krik) is illogical for two reasons. 1) Because it just begs the question. Where did the aliens get their intelligence and their existence from? 2) Because in the realm of logical evidence “aliens” is also just a “maybe”. We have no concrete evidence of the existence of aliens. Based on the same logic you can just say “G-d” as well.

However, if the above statement is true and the genomic changes are caused by external environmental phenomena, turning on and off genes as a result, then it cannot be said based on the a priori assumption that the genome is NOT made by G-d. If the adaptive behavior is chosen in response to the environment then it is “chosen”, not accidental. “Selection” is just a fancy name for nothing. There is no more reason to choose “selection” over “shabdallazula”, which is just a nonsense word describing nothing.

Of course, observation of the physical world, although it is the source for many a man’s belief in G-d, is not the only reason that man believes in G-d. Oh, no! There are just SO MANY reasons that a person should believe in G-d! (With HaShem’s help, a significant amount of them are brought in Core Emunah vol. 2 “G-d & Me”, which will be available soon). However, even within the context of the above argument, there is already a lot of room to make an argument for G-d. With HaShem’s help, we will explore further sides to this issue within the context of a different blog.

Pessach kasher v’Sameach all!

אמנם זה באנגלית, אבל יתורגם, בע”ה, לעברית בקרוב

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall…

There was an interesting hea’arah that I had when learning through the words of Chazal on last week’s Parsha, Parshas Va’Yakhel. The Torah teaches us there that among the donations given for the sake of building the Mishkan were something called Marot Tzova’ot (The mirrors of tzovaot) which were made out of bronze, (Shemos 38:8) which were ultimately used to make the kiyor, (the fountain from which the kohanim would wash their hands).

The Midrash and Rashi (ad loc.) tell us that when Moshe Rabbenu received these mirrors – he was upset and wanted to refuse them. Why you ask? It is because the mirrors are used for the sake of the yetzer ha’ra, (the evil inclination). HaShem, however, thought differently. To Him, they were among the greatest of all donations, because it was via these mirrors that the children of Israel became a multitude. How so? It’s because the women of Israel, after a hard days work, would bring food and water to their exhausted husbands. After eating the women would take out these mirrors and look in them along with their husbands. “I’m more beautiful than you” the women would say, arousing the desire of the exhausted males who would then be intimate with their wives, which resulted in the multitudes of children born in Egypt.

Now, looked at on face-value it’s a nice story. On a deeper level, however, there is so much that we need to learn from this.

The most obvious of issues relates to something that Shlomo HaMelech writes in Mishlei (Proverbs) 14:1 “The wisdom of women builds her house, whereas a foolish woman with her own hands she will destroy it”. These women were careful to consider and understand both the needs and the desires of her two partners in life, (i.e. her husband and HaShem). They took an active roll in ensuring the integrity and the intimacy of their relationship. However, as that is not the topic I would like to speak of here, (a topic for another time and place. WH”h, in Core Emmuna book 4 this will be discussed), I will, therefore, get back on target.

Are mirrors a good thing, or a bad thing?

From the Midrash it would seem that both are possible, so what was the difference between the two cases? Are they intrinsically bad, or intrinsically good? The issue, it seems, really is dependent upon WHY YOU ARE LOOKING IN IT? Are you looking in it to see YOU, or are you looking in it for the sake of others?

From the Midrash, and from the Talmud at the end of the first chapter of Tractate Nedarrim, it would seem clear that when you look in the mirror to see yourself, and to admire yourself – then they are terrible! They are the gateway to many very severe problems.

However, if the purpose of looking in the mirror is for the sake of OTHERS, then a mirror can be a thing of holiness.

Am I looking in the mirror in order to admire myself? Then it’s REALLY BAD.

But am I looking in the mirror in order to ensure that my spouse finds me attractive (and I mean specifically my spouse)  then it’s a good thing. [As an aside: I know there is a machlokes among modern poskim whether or not it is permissible for a man to beautify himself in the mirror or not. I am making the assertion based on those who hold it to be permissible, for that is the minhag ha’olam today]. Am I looking in the mirror to make sure that my appearance shouldn’t cast a negative spin on those who learn Torah? Then it’s a good thing. In fact, the Torah and the Halacha require of me to do so, (see Rambam Hilchos Talmud Torah).

The reason for this is because life itself is really not ABOUT ME! It’s about what I can do for others. It’s about what I am here for, not the skills and the gifts that I was given to do so with. More on this, wH”h, in Core Emmuna vol. 3!

 

So, why do YOU look in the mirror?

 

In any case, food for thought. Unfortunately, as it is erev Shabbos I have to run! A gut Shabbos to all!

 

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