Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Yom Kippur 2023

I'm pleased to report that I had an excellent Yom Kippur. Here are the details:

Start: 8:00 AM
Finish: 3:00 PM
Break: 90 minutes
Neillah: Ended late
Break Fast: Cake, then soup, followed by pasta

Quality of the music: better than ever.
Quality of the introspection was not bad but MYOB
Quality of the Koren: Amazing. Burn your Artscrolls, and don't look back!

Big discovery: There was a hot shot German philosopher named Franz Rosenzweig who decided at the age of 27 to convert to Christianity. This wasn't a big deal, because he had never been much of a Jew. But he wanted to be a Jew before converting. He didn't want to convert as a pagan, but as a Jew. So he went to Yom Kippur 1913 and came out a changed man, dropping the idea of converting.

I went down the rabbit hole last night trying to find out what exactly happened, but no one seems to know. The smarter sources say he never told anyone, while the dumber ones say it was a "mystical experience." Either way, he went on to commit himself to Judaism (not sure exactly how far he went observance-wise) before dying at the age of 42 of ALS.

So... make of that what you will.

But along the way, he wrote "Star of Redemption," which some smart people online call a masterpiece. I have started to investigate it, and I'm not deep into it yet, but it seems fascinating so far.

Your turn?

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Jack: Why do bad things happen to good people? People who learn and do chesed should be healthy, wealthy, with wonderful things. Why do some suffer?

Jill: Your premise is wrong. Where does it say anywhere that people who do chesed will be rich? And who says being rich is a reward?  Being rich can frequently lead you to sin, or cause you to suffer. 

Moreover, no one every promised that good people would be rich. According to our sages, the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah, not money. 

Another thing: Most human suffering is caused by natural forces. Natural forces don't single out evil people. I mean does it say anywhere that gravity stops working for people who do chesed? If a righteous person and a sinner jump out of a 10th story window they get the same result. Natural forces are impartial and treat righteous and evil people identically These forces - including things that make you sick, like chemical reactions and biological processes - do not differentiate between the righteous and evil people.

Jack: It's a common human desire for evil to be punished. While free will plays a role, people yearn for Hashem to dispense justice in this world. It's a somewhat human desire, even if it isn't explicitly supported by religious texts.

Jill: People are morons. It's never ever worked like that. People are always saying, "I don't get it. Why isn't that nice person rich?" Maybe people should finally catch on and realize their whole premise is faulty. They mistakenly believe that performing mitzvos should yield material rewards and valuable prizes. However, that notion is fundamentally flawed. Mitzvos shape your character and enable you to perceive the adversities of the world in one of three ways A) impartial, i.e., something caused by natural forces that aren't singling you out, B) caused by men exercising their free will, or C) something you caused yourself via your own bad choices.

Friday, September 01, 2023

The Moral Lens of Interpretation: Understanding Chazal's Approach to Interpretation

Observation: The Torah stipulates capital punishment for a child displaying gluttony and disobedience to parents. However, Chazal, in their interpretation, adopted an exceptionally hyper-literal reading of the text – a method they applied in few other situations – in order to render the directive nearly impossible to execute.

Question: What prompted them to do this?

Answer: According to their own sense of morality it was unacceptable to kill children for trivial crimes. So they re-read the verse.

However, I do not think they viewed their reinterpretation of the Torah as a case of their moral judgment superseding God's divine wisdom.

I assume they held a fundamental belief in God's inherent goodness. When they encountered passages in the Torah that appeared morally questionable, they didn't question God's morality; rather, they assumed they must be misunderstanding the text.

In their view, their reinterpretations and glosses on the Torah weren't an act of correcting God, but rather an attempt to uncover what they believed was the true, moral essence of the text.

They saw their role as interpreters, striving to align the Torah with their own moral standards.

So, it wasn't a matter of saying, "This law is immoral, let's change it," but rather, "At first glance, this law may seem immoral, but how could the Torah be immoral? Let's uncover its deeper, morally sound meaning through interpretation."

Halivai Rabbis of today did this, too.