Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Siyum Shas!

I have not posted in a LONG time.  Why not?  Life just not giving time.  As a Reverend for the community I have found myself spending more time involved in that than expected.  Then has been the studyign in Kollel half day while tryign to drive a business at the same time which has consumed even more time, especially as I refuse to let anything compromise the time I spend with my kids.  That time is sacrosanct, they need it, I need it, and work and studies get put aside to ensure that they are not compromised.

So I have not posted much, but I have continued on with Daf Yomi- and while I have fallen behind (I should be halfway through Sukkot now instead of just finishing off Yoma) I continue.  I started Daf Yomi when the cycle was in the middle of Yoma- I started from the beginning of Yoma, then skipped the end of end to do Sukkot with everyone else.  Now I am on the last Daf, an amud to go, a mere paragraph left and I find myself almost scared to just complete it.  It has been over 7 years, many times the parallels between what I was studying and my life a “coincedence” of cosmological proportions.  Sometimes happily, sometimes sadly. I was studying hilchos Aveilus when my grandmother died, Bava Kama when gettign a business going, kesubos during my divorce.

Since I always studied Daf Yomi by myself, using the “Dial A Daf” shiurim I purchased on DVD and loaded onto my iPhone, I generally did not do a Siyum at the end of each masechta.  When I reached the end of masechta Chullin, the Rosh Yeshivah insisted I do a siyum and I remember the faces of my boys as they sat there, amongst the bochrim, next tot he Rosh Yeshivah and my father, the mashgiach ruchani and other Rabbonim and looking looking proud.  They had been at their own siymim at school- in Grade one when they finished their first parsha, my older son when they finished Bereishis, but still I could see how much it meant to them to be there with their dad when he did a Siyum.

Now I stand that one paragraph away from finishing Shas and I look back at the journey, and look forward to the chazarah and repeatig it all over the next 7 years.  I have committed to doing a Siyum Shas, sent out the invitations and prepare for what comes next.  The last few lines beckon and I look forward to  Hadran Eiliechah masechta Yoma v’Talmud Bavli!

March 6, 2014 Posted by | Other Torah, Torah | , , , , | Leave a comment

Parshas Pinchas 5768

Parshas Pinchas starts off where last week’s parsha finished. Moses sends Pinchas and the rest of Bnei Yisrael to war against the Midianites. An interesting thought is brought on this the Talmud, Masechta Sotah. In discussing the role of the Kohen who led the nation to war, the issue of why Pinchas was chosen in this role is brought up.

There it is said that Pinchas was chosen because he was to lead the nation in war not just for what had happened at Baal Peor, but also, that as a descendant of Yosef (through his mother), it was as revenge for the sale of Yosef by the Midianites to the Egyptians. From the incident at Baal Peor is easily understood why Pinchas should be symbolic of that- it was through his actions that the anger of Hashem had been averted and the nation saved. His willingness to act correctly when such monumental and blatant sinning had left great men like Moses, Aharon, Elazar etc stunned into inaction showed how much he loved the Torah and Hashem. Indeed, it was for this action that he became a Kohen.

But why is Pinchas chosen to be symbolic of the revenge of Yosef? There were princes of Ephraim and Menasheh that could surely have fulfilled that role, and would have been more symbolic in that role since they were within the tribes that were Yosef’s descendants! Here we learn an important lesson- Pinchas burned with fire, with emotion. He felt things- for him Hashem and Judaism were living things, things that were intimate to him. He felt the indignation at the disobedience of Hashem as an intimate attack. So too with the sale of Yosef, for him it was not history, not an event two centuries in the past which had gone cold.

From Pinchas we see that Judasism is not dry, the Torah and Tanakh are not merely history books of what happened to our ancestors. It is not a matter of rote and learning, of merely studying what happened to others- Pinchas shows us that we need to feel that what happened to our ancestors should feel like it happened to us today. Every year we read in the Hagaddah the father’s reply to his sons. To the wise one- that if our ancestors would not have been redeemed, he would still be a slave in Egypt; to the wicked one that he would not have been worthy of being redeemed. Both these answers have a common theme- it is addressed to the sons and their current situation- they are told that they, too, would have been redeemed or left behind- the Exodus is relived because it is intimate to US, not just to our ancestors. Similarly on Shavuot we are told that we must act as if the Torah had been given to us, personally. That it is ours for eternity, always new, always freshly handed to each of us in a personal capacity; it was not just something that was given to our ancestors, but something that we must feel was given to us personally.

Pinchas teaches us this- he feels, he acts. For him an act against Hashem is something not to be borne; for him the wrong done to Yosef is felt as if it had just happened. Let us learn from Pinchas and feel the Torah is ours, new and to be guarded and loved as if it were given to us today.

As always, comments, suggestions and nit picking are welcomed!

NB: This was actually written by me for Parshas Pinchas. But it actually deals with a topic from Parshas Matos, with Rashi commenting on this subject in his commentary on Parshas Matos. So I am dithering on whether I keep it Parshas Pinchas or retitle it to Parshas Matos. Comments on that anyone?

July 17, 2008 Posted by | Parshah, Talmud, Torah | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No easy paths to spirituality

Nowadays we see a plethora of cults, new age movements, reinterpretation of old spirituality into new forms- all in the name of people seeking out spirituality.What is the driver behind all this?Why the search for meaning in everything but the traditional.

Strangely enough, everyone seems to think that this is new, that searching for easy answers to spirituality is something unique to our era.  But history shows us something different.  Why else do we see Bnei Ysirael falling into idolatary time and time again?  Simply put: worshiping idols was easy, an entrance into spirituality without the hard work and discipline required in Judaism.  Similarly, towards the end of the second Temple era there were a plethora of cults and sects looking for alternate answers to spirituality rather than looking at the hard work, study and discipline espoused by the Rabbis of the Sanhedrin (i.e. the Pharisees).  Whether it was early sects looking for a Messiah to be reborn after three days (as it seems was part of the doctrine of one of the sects at least a hundred years before the time of Jesus according to a recently found tablet) or aesthetes such as the Essenes or textual literalists like the Sadducees  they surely reflect nothing more than the search for spirituality outside the mainstream, just as we see it today!

So what is the answer?  Strangely enough I found this discussion in the Talmud (Sotah daf 40a):Rav Chisda bar Abba and Rav Abbahu both gave shiurim at the same time: Rav Abbahu taught on aggadata (allusionary stories, the meanings behind verses etc, Rav Chisda lectured on halacha.  Rav Abbahu’s lecture was filled to overflowing; Rav Chisda had very few attendees.  Afterwards, Rav Abbahu saw that Rav Chisda was upset at the poor attendance at his shiur.  Rav Abahu comforted him with the following parable: There are two sellers, one of precious stones, the other of smallware (pins/needles/ threads etc).  Many people frequent thee seller of smallware- the others items may be more precious, but most do not have the means to purchase them.  How was this analogous to their situation?  Rav Abbahu compared the teaching of agadata and spirituality to smallware- easily understood by everyone as it does not require deep logical analysis, knowledge of minutae and the intellectual capacity to follow difficult discourse, rather it is like a simple narrative .However, the Halachah of Rav Chisda, while of far more value and intrinsically worth more, is like the precious stones, few have the means to acquire it.

In this exchange we see the eternal quest for the easy path to spirituality.  People go for the simple narrative, the quick fix to feeling they are spiritual, rather than involving themselves in the difficult work of study and understanding needed to follow the whole package.

July 6, 2008 Posted by | Other Torah, Talmud, Torah | , , | 4 Comments