An Aspiring Mekubal

The confessions of a Rabbi and would be mystic

Archive for the category “Daily Life”

Meet my newest son….

There is Judgement and there is a Judge

I saw this on the eve of municpal elections here in Israel and I thought it was great.   It is a great reminder about who really is in charge.

A Bit Off Topic…

This is a bit off topic(ok more than a bit) but well… it is informative and funny.

Kavvanot of the Huppah: Book Review

SiddurRav Benayahu Shmueli, Rosh Yeshiva Yeshivat HaMekubalim Nahar Shalom, on the auspicious occasion of his son’s wedding published the third edition of the volume of the Siddur HaRashash, the Kavvanot of the Huppah.  For various reasons I am anything but an impartial reviewer of the book, seeing as that I learn there and was part of the chevra that learned through the material with the Rav in order to put the sefer together.  However, I will try to give my fair assessment.

Really whether you love the siddur or not comes down to whether you like the shitta of Nahar Shalom, in their layout of siddurim.  In many ways I prefer that of the Hakhamei and Rabbanei Beit El, which Rav Hillel does a fine job of on those parts he releases.  This siddur, like the others that Rav Benayahu has done is primarily an edited version of the Siddur HaMudpas(Arom Tzovah), with minor changes to line up the the shitta of the Yireh and the Sadeh.   In other words if you liked his previous edition of this siddur, you will like this one.

Since this is the third edition let us discuss what has changed.   This siddur bears primarily the same dimensions as the previous two editions, though it is considerably thicker, more than 100 pages thicker to be exact.  It has a greatly expanded introduction(now 84 pages compared to the original 40).  The introduction explores the topics of Nisuin and the Sheva Berakhot from the Zohar, through the Kitvei HaAri and finally the introductions of the Rashash, Yire and Sadeh.  With copious explanatory notes found on the bottom of the page.  Whereas in the previous siddurim it was taken for granted that a person had a basic understanding of the topics at hand, in this edition it is not, and thus they are fully(more or less) explored and explained.

Also the Rav has added Birkhat HaMazon with the Kavvanot there.  A great edition, in my opinion, as it cuts down on the number of seforim I have to drag to a wedding/sheva berakhot with me.  The introductions to the Birkhat Hamazon are incredibly brief, so it is not a replacement for that sefer.  Here we primarily have only the Hakdamah of the Rashash, however the Rav does add a nice explanatory paragraph explaining that the Kavvanot of the Sheva Berkhot are also to be used as part of the Sheva Berakhot at the wedding meal, and the following days as well(under certain circumstances which he explains).

While still being a paperbound hardcover(as opposed to the leather bound versions that are becoming more common) the new edition has considerably more eye appeal than the previous editions.  Including a nice ribbon book mark so that when one has to flip back to the Sheva Berakhot after Birkhat HaMazon(he did not repeat them) one will be able to easily and quickly find their place.  Selling price direct from the Yeshiva is 50shekels, which at current exchange rates is approximately $14, plus shipping.

Dag Chazir update and Pesach Alert

pig fishI got some flack about my post regarding the Dag Chazir.  Apparently I confused the hog-carp(carpioscrofa) with another fish with similar properties namely the actual pig-fish.  Some of my readers pointed out to me that the latter’s proper classification is carpiosus.  While they both are from the same Genus there is apparently considerable variation in appearance between the two subspecies.  As you can see from the picture of the hog-fish it has dull grey and silver scales.  Whereas the the pig-fish has pinkish scales.

Pigfish2I have also been told that there is considerable difference in the texture and flavor of the two fish.  My apologies for the confusion.  Hebrew apparently doesn’t make a distinction and neither do any of the Rabbanim previously consulted.  However for accuracy sake I thought I would post this update.

In other news there is great reason from Purim like joy on Pesach this year.  Finally the Rabbanim have done it.  After years of needing to subsist on Arak and Slivovitz(plum brandy) this year you can lift your l’chaim in style with a premium single malt-scotch.  Now if that isn’t reason to bake some matza-meal hamantaschian I don’t know what is.

Dag Chazir

pig fishAn interesting mix of extreme over fishing combined with a sudden and seemingly inexplicable population explosion amongst the fish, scientifically classified as Cyprinus  carpioscrofa(know colloquially as the hog-carp or the pig-fish) has become a major halakhic quandary for poskim.  Namely what is the Din regarding this most unusual, and until recently extremely rare fish.

Rav Chumramacher was very insistent that there is no way possible that this fish could at all or ever be considered kosher.  “Just look at it,” he said, “it has the face of a P-I-G.  No heiligh yid can eat something that looks like a P-I-G it would be unconscienable.”  His colleage Rav Storricheshtein also wanted to point out that we have no mesora of eating this fish.  “There is simply no mesora for it in all of our history, none at all, we cannot simply start eating new fish without a valid mesora that it is kosher.”

When asked about the fishes obvious kosher simanin(fins and scales).  Rav Storricheshtein said, “The infamous P-I-G aslo has various kosher simanim, but is banned from the Torah.  Who is to say that same is not with this fish.  And all the more, what if it tastes like P-O-R-K Chas V’Shalom Rachmana L’tzlan.

Meanwhile Rav Vorsichtig had more measured comments, “The fish, while odd to look it, definitely has simanim of being kosher>”  However don’t warm up the frying pans just yet.  Rav Vorsichtig went on to say, “We really need to look into this.  It all smells a bit fishy to be honest.  There is a possibility that this was someone’s science experiement, some sort of illicit and illegal genetic engineering project.  At which point the Gedolim will have to decide if it violates the halakhos of K’laim(forbidden mixtures).”

So it appears that only time will tell.  Perhaps by next year we can have pickled pigs(fish) ears to add to our Purim Menus.

Happy Purim!!!

The above is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to actual people, whether alive or niftar is purely coincidental.

Dishonesty in Debate

Fact CheckRabbi Daniel Eidensohn has been kind enough to host several post from me regarding the validity of Kabbalah.  Overall the entire discussion has turned into a huge debate, with those of us who are more traditionally minded saying that Kabbalah is a valid tradition within Judaism, and the other side saying that Kabbalah is paganism and those who have subscribed to it through the ages were all closet pagans(l’havdil).  No, I am not sure that they realize the number of Gedolim and Tzadikim from our history they are casting aspersions upon, but that is a different story.

As the debate unfolded one thing became sadly clear.  The anti-Kabbalah crowd had absolutely no problem resorting to dishonesty in order to attempt to make their points.  Which in and of itself says a great deal about the whole debate.  Let me give a few brief examples.  First a Rivash(without sourcing) was quoted:

“I have also informed you that my teacher Harav Rabbi Peretz Hakkohen never at all used to speak or think of those Sephiroth. I also heard from his mouth that Harav Rabbi Shimshon of Chinon (the author of Sefer HaKerithuth), who was greater than all others of his generation used to say: I pray with the intent of this child, i.e., in rejection of the opinion of the kabbalists, who pray sometimes to one Sefirah and sometimes to another Sefirah, according to the subject of the prayer … And all this is a very bizarre thing in the eyes of those who are not kabbalists as they are, and they (i.e., the non-kabbalists) consider this a belief in dualism (i.e., belief in two or more deities). I once heard one of the philosophical (i.e., non-kabbalistic) persons denigrate the kabbalists by saying: “The Christians believe in trinity, (i.e., the union of three), and the kabbalists believe in the union of ten [Sephiroth].”

Sounds pretty bad right.  It would seem the Rivash is coming down pretty hard on Kabbalah here.  Unfortunately not only is a bad translation, it is a partial translation that leaves off the Rivash refuting this very statement.  A fuller translation done by Rav Eidensohn himself four years ago can be found here it captures, in an unbiased way, what the Rivash was really trying to say, namely that Kabbalah was not for everyone.  The Hebrew original for those who can read Hebrew is found here.

The author doesn’t stop there.  He goes on:

Zohar: Genesis 22

“When coming to the world of separation which is the world of separated things, the builder said to the master of the edifice: Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. The master of the edifice said: ‘Indeed it would be good to make him, but he is destined to sin before you, for he is a foolish son,’ as it is written (Proverbs 10:1): A wise son maketh glad a father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother. Whereupon she (Imma) said: “Since his sin relates to Imma, and not to Abba, I want to create him in my image,” as it is written: And God created man in His image; but Abba did not want to participate in man’s creation. At the time that man sinned what is written: and for your transgression was your mother sent away (Isaiah 50:1). The king (Abba) said to Imma: “Did I not say to you that he is destined to sin?” At that time he (Abba) drove him (man) away, and he drove away Imma with him.”

The portion of Zohar quoted above “Let us make” surely was said of two beings, and goes on to explain that Imma said to Abba “Let us make man”, and she did as she wished and created man without the agreement of Abba. This is the heretical view that there are multiple divinities, and each does as he/she wishes. Zohar includes additional corruptions stemming from it’s author’s inability to extricate himself from a physical understanding of God, the source of all idolatry. Zohar’s author rejects Maimonides clear explanation in his 13 Principles, that God is not comparable to His creations.

Again this would be pretty damning, if this piece of Zohar were to be taken literally.  However he excludes the first few lines of the paragraph that this was taken from which start with פתח ואמר משל He opened and said a Mashal.  A mashal is by definition a metaphor or a fable.  When we read Aesop’s fables we do not believe that one day a Tortoise and a Hare laid bets on a race, or that a scorpion had a conversation with a turtle and convinced the innocent turtle to carry it across a river.  Now, I understand that at times it is hard to know when and if the Zohar is speaking in a Mashal.  However, when it explicitly says so, to take it litterally is not reading it accurately, and to portray a literal meaning as it’s very intent is simple dishonesty.

Defending the Zohar (aka Really I am back…)

ZoharI know for many of you my readers it may seem like I came back just to disappear again.  Well I didn’t exactly disappear.  I just guest posted on the Daat Torah Blog, and that blew up in my face in a totally unexpected way.  It was supposed to be a really introductory post intended to lead to a small amount of intellectual discussion, which would then lead to another post with more of said discussion.  What I got, neither I nor the blow owner expected.

Of the 100+ and counting comments, only 8 are actually on the topic we set out to discuss.  Instead it became a firestorm attacking Kabbalah in general and the Zohar in specific.  Now let me clarify something.  I am a Rabbi, and an aspiring mekubal(I figure as long as my Rav refuses to be called a mekubal I definitely am not one), I am not an apologist.

It dawned on me as this thing heated up, that I really don’t know how to defend the Zohar.  I mean I have always taken it for granted that it was what it claimed to be, just like the Torah.  I have never seen a convincing argument to the contrary.  Sure in college I was a skeptic, about all of Judaism.  However, once I got over my objections to Judaism, I simply accepted that Judaism has to say as truth.

One of the commenters said that I simply need to put aside “the strong feeling that HaShem wouldn’t let all of the Tzadikim for the past 600yrs to be wrong.”  But that’s just the thing, I can’t put that aside.  Putting that aside makes no sense.  If Hashem does not guide our sages, and they could all(aside from one, possibly two) be wrong about this, then one must ask what else are the wrong about?

When you really think about it, what area of Jewish life has not be influenced, and heavily, by the Zohar?  Our liturgy, our halakha, everything has the fingerprint of the Zohar on it.  If you say that the Zohar is a blasphemous text(l’havdil) where does that leave us with as far as Mesorah or Halakha?  That is just the start of the questions and problems such a thing would cause.  So I have been defending the Zohar.  If you have a spare moment pop over and jump in.

It’s Been a While

Its-Been-A-WhileNo I haven’t abandoned my blog.  I have just been unable to access it.  On the return trip from the US this fall, my computer sustained some fairly serious damage.  It had to go into the shop.  What a story that is.

We sent the computer off to be repaired.  No problem they said, just take two weeks they said.  After 6weeks still nothing.  The problem?  They were waiting on the delivery of a part.  At least that is what they said until the end of the seventh week.  Then finally we got to speak with a manager, not someone just claiming to be a manager.  Then we found out that the actual problem was that they had unpaid tariff’s.  In other words they were getting no deliveries, and hadn’t for over six weeks because they had failed to pay their bills.

Not to worry they said, it will be done soon.  When pressed for how long(after all it had been 7weeks), the manager said, “Well there are 400 customers in the queue before you.”  I have no idea how many were in the queue after me, but it baffles my American born mind that there could be 400 customers who hadn’t be serviced in at least 6 weeks before someone stopped to think that there might be a problem.

Anyway the puter is back now and so am I more or less.  My sofer table is piled high with orders… So I can’t promise to back to near daily blogging, but I am going to try to get two or three out a week, as well as returning to posting Divrei Torah from Rav Hillel and Rav Morgenshtern.

A Humbling Moment…

On my recent trip to the United States, one of the things I did was attempt to fix a sefer Torah for a Beit Knesset.  The scroll they wanted me to fix, in all honesty, was pretty much hopeless.  It was Mashuach, meaning that the klaf had been painted with whitewash, something that was common about a hundred years ago, but which(aside from being halakhically problematic) was really bad for the sefer Torah.

However, in the midst of making some minor repairs so that it could be safely transported later for real repair work(if they deem it cost effective), the president of the Synagogue asked me to to take a look at another sefer Torah, which they thought was “worse”.  They pulled out this sefer Torah and immediately I knew I was dealing with something else entirely.  First about half the seems had to be resown because time had so degredated the gid that it was literally just crumbling away.

As I looked at the scroll, I started turning to certain parts, the President asked me why, I told him I needed to check something.  The Synagogue’s history of the scroll, basically ended with the arrival of the community to the US about 150yrs ago.  They knew that it came with them, but beyond that… they really didn’t know.  What I found was that I was dealing with a Sefer Torah that was over 500yrs old.  You can tell by certain letters and such, that were commonly written a certain way back then, but which had ceased before the start of the period of the Achronim.

So I commenced the repair work.  Heart pounding, hands(initially) shaking.  Nearly weeping, at what I was actually doing.  Here was a piece of history, whose story was mostly lost to the sands of time, whose initial creator was lost to the sands of time.  It was the very embodiment of the chain of generations, much like the Torah which was received at Sinai has come down to us in this generation, and many of those who were instrumental in passing it on, there names and their deeds are simply lost to history, the same was true with this scroll.

For over five hundred years this scroll had been passed from generation to generation of this community.  It probably fled with them from city to city escaping persecutions.  It definitely came with them across the seas, and across the continental United States escaping persecution.  To arrive there, before me, slightly battered and in need of some tender loving care, but otherwise completely intact.  Needing only to be renewed once again, just like the Torah needs be renewed in our hearts every year and in every generation.

After six or seven hours, of not speaking except to direct those that were there to help me to do something or another, I had come to the very end, where the gid had rotted away and the sefer had fall from it’s Eitz(stick).  I prepared the needle and the gid and called the President over to make the first of the final stitches.  He looked at me tentatively and asked, “So were you able to make it kosher?”  I blinked, and said, “Kosher?  Dear friend, it is mehudar.”    An interesting aspect of Sephardi halakha(see introduction to Yeriat Shlomo Vol 2) is that we do not question the hiddur of a previous generations Sefer Torah, even if the shapes of the letters have changed over the generations.

So I said come put in your stitch, and join in the chain of the generations.  It was a humbling moment.  With proper care that Sefer Torah will probably last another 200-300yrs, long after me and the President are forgotten.  But with that sefer Torah, our contribution will also survive.

[NOTE: The above image is illustrative only.  For security reasons I do not publish pictures of Sifrei Torah of my clients without their express permission.  Especially older sifrei Torah which are by nature priceless and irreplaceable.]

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