26 December 2006

Wonder of Wonder - Miracle of miracles

There's somewhat of a discussion happening now in one of my prior posts. I find the believers don't really listen to the thrust of my arguments, or at least it seems that way to me. My basic contention is that the Torah does not seem divine, the miracles therein are farfetched and that there are many kashias on JO. Sure, each individual question, but I say the burden of proof has shifted to them. The only fallback they have at that point is the Kuzari & the mesorah, neither of which is rock solid.

I keep on stressing that our belief systems are too easily manipulated and can't easily be trusted.

Her's an example of what's wrong.

Every now and then, I visit a relative. In his shul, as in many shuls, they have some divrei Torah sheets hanging around. In this shul, it's kept to a minimum and the quality is pretty good.

One of them I particulary like is a publication called "Torah Tavlin". They have different sections, the first being Divrei Torah in Lashon Kodesh followed by Divrei Torah in English. One of the English sections is a weekly series entitled "Maaseh Avos - Siman L'bonim." Events that ocurred to our ancestors are premonitions of events that occur to us (Loosely translated). Usually it's a contemporary or recent story of Hashgocha Prutis that has some tie-in to the weekly Parsha.

This goes back to Parshas Chayei Sarah and is in reference to Kefitsas Haderech that occurred to Eleizer the trusty servant of Avraham Avinu.

Here goes:

"Every Erev Yom Tov, the Kalever Rebbe, R'Yitchok Aizek Taub ZT"L, would disappear for many hours; no one knew where he went. One year on Erev Sukkos, the Rosh Hakohol (community president) of Kalev, R' Yankel Fisch, was determined to discover the tzaddik's secret. While the rebbe was occupied, R' Yankel hid himself in the wagon, where he remained undiscovered until the Rebbe was well on his journey. When R' Yankel revealed himself, the Rebbe became visibly distressed. He exclaimed, "what can I do with you now?". He made the stowaway promise not to ask any questions; not of himself nor of anyone else.

Soon they arrived at a city which R' Yankel did not recognize. The Rebbe abrubtly stoppped the wagon near a Mikveh and instructed his passenger to wait while he immersed himself there.

R' Yankel waited in the wagon until he was overcome by curiosity and impatience. Forgetting the tzaddik's warning, he hopped off the wagon and began questioning the people nearby. "Excuse me," he asked the first man he saw, "but where am I?"

"You don't know where you are? Where do you think you are?"

"Well I was just in Kalev (Hungary) a few hours ago.

"Kalev? Well you must be mad, how can you get from Kalev to Tzefas in a few hours?"

"Tzefas?!" cried R' Yanke, you must be crazy..

The argument intensified and in the heat of the debate, R' Yankel forgot to get back in the wagon before the Rebbe reappeared. To his dismay, he arrived as the Rebbe's wagon was pulling away. Here he was now, stranded in a town of crazy people who thought they were in Tzefas. He had no choice but to ask someone to take him in for the Sukkos holiday.

At some point during the Yom Tov, R' Yankel finally realized that he really was in Tzefas and he understood that the Kalaver rebbe, using the Holy name of Hashem for Kefitsas Haderech, came there every Yom Tov to immerse himself in the Mikvah of the Arizal. He also realized that due to his lack of resources, he was compelled to remain in Tzefas until the Rebbe would return the following Yom Tov.

Meanwhile back in Kalev, the Fisch family was frantic about R' Yanke's sudden disappearance and turned to the Kalaver Rebbe for advice. He assured them there was no need for concern, promising that R' Yankel would return by Erev Pesach.

Six months later, R' Yankel was delighted to see the tzaddik's wagon arriving at the Arizal's mikveh on Erev Pesach. This time he made sure not to miss his ride back home. The Rebbe extracted a promise from R' Yankel not to reveal the incident in his lifetime; it was only revealed after the Rebbe's passing."

Note the story supplies the exact identities of the participants, which gives it every illusion of being a clearly verified story that is to be taken at 100% face value.

There is absolutely no indication that the story is in any way different than the rest of the Torah M'sinai that is in the publication.

Need I say more?

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    21 December 2006


    Now I know why I can't lose those twenty pounds!

    It's my Microbes.

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    15 December 2006

    Fits like a glove

    I just don't get it - Third in a series of God knows how many.

    Maybe you heard this one before but that's not the point. Read on.

    Shloimeh went to Pinchas the tailor to be fitted for a new suit of clothes. After Pinchas altered the suit, he stood in front of the mirror to check the fit. At first glance he noticed that the suit jacket's right arm sleeve was way too short, and too much of his wrist was showing. "Say, R' Pinchas," Shloime said, "this sleeve looks a little short. Would you please lengthen it?". "The sleeve is not too short," replied the tailor. "Your arm is too long... Just pull your arm back a few inches and you will see that the sleeve fits perfectly." Shloimeh withdrew his arm a bit, and the sleeve was matched with his wrist. But this movement rumpled the upper portion of the jacket."Now the nape of the collar is several inches above my neck," he protested. "There's nothing wrong with the collar," Pinchas insisted. "Your neck is too low. Lift the back of your neck and the jacket will fit well." Shloimeh raised his neck a few inches, and sure enough the collar rounded it where it was supposed to. But now there was another problem: the bottom of the jacket rested high above his seat. "Now my whole rear end is sticking out!" Shloimeh complained. "No problem," Pinchas returned. "Just lift up your rear end so it fits under the jacket." Again Shloimeh meekly complied, which left his body in a very contorted posture. But Pinchas had convinced him that the problem was not with the suit, but him. So he paid the tailor for the suit and walked out of the shop in a most awkward position, struggling to keep all parts of the suit in their right places.

    On the street he encountered two men walking in the opposite direction. After they passed, one man turned to the other and commented, "That poor man is really crippled!" "He sure is," the other replied. "But that suit looks fabulous on him. He must have a great tailor."

    When I was a yunger mahn learning in Yeshiva, I thought wow, how great Torah is. Layer upon layer, built on the Torah created an unbreakable chain. Chumash, Medrash, Mishna, Gemorah, Geonim, Rishonim, etc. I marveled at the long rows of sefarim.

    And I felt it was amazing it all fit together so well. All this wonderful wisdom wrapped up, there for the picking. I would never master most of if but it was all there. And the fact that this was built up generation upon generation was a testament to it's being divinely inspired. After all, this ancient wisdom was still relevant and being studied and still growing. But now I find the sad truth to be that much of the complexity truly is man-made because it's not a cohesive system that can stand on it's own. Sure, I still get this great geshmack when I untangle a puzzle, a stirah that just sitting there under 3 layers of Tosfos. But that doesn't make it true. It just means you had the seichel to create another artifical distinction between two facts. A distinction that most likely had nothing to do with the original authors intention.

    I can't begin to estimate how many lines of Talmud, Rishonim, Shaalos & Teshuvos, etc and it is all a colossal & magnificent work.

    Lately I have begun to compare it to other man made scholarly works.

    It is stated that the new version of Windows, VISTA, has 50,000,000 lines of code.

    Sure, an Operating System may be loaded with defects, but assuming the OS stayed around for hundreds of years, I'm reasonably certain most of the defects would get fixed. And sometimes, the fix is a poor patch. But it is acknowledged to be a defect. (I know, some vendors will claim it's a feature not a bug). But even in thirty years from now, if a defect is discovered, the original code is not treated as Torah M'sinai. It's analyzed and determined to be in error and an attempt is made to correct it.

    Yet in the Yam Shel Talmud, everything from prior generations is considered sacred and untouchable. So complicated threads of logic are woven to explain something that may be a typo or simply a mistake.

    Sayings such as Ikkar Chassar Min Hasefer and Eilu V'eilu Divrei Elokim Chaim somehow seem to ring hollow.

    So the next time you marvel at the complexity of the Talmud and related literature, ask yourself this:

    Which human creation would you prefer to power the engines of your airplane, a thoroughly tested Operating System or Gemara, Rashi & Tosfos?

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    10 December 2006

    Harsh Words

    The Baal Habuste started calling me names. She called me an Apikores.

    Actually her exact words were "I have my own little Apikores".

    But she meant it playfully. So end of that story, for now.

    Yet still there's something about those words, Koifer, Skeptic, Agnostic, Apikores & Heretic.

    Contrast those words with: Believer, Maamin, Yirai Shomaim, Eved Hashem, divine. They sound much more pleasing.

    I find the Skeptic words all extremely harsh. What is it about them? Is it the "K" sound? Are these cases of Onomatopoeia ?
    (Check here for another definition of Onomatopoeia .

    The word "Atheist" is not as bad, but I still internally wince at that word. Is it the "TH" in that word?

    I'm reasonably certain that my linguistic preferences are the result of my former prejudices, but maybe not. Maybe there is something to those words.

    Any linguists out there? Kylopod, you still around?

    Anyhow, I think we skeptics need a new word that represents us; Daniel Dennet proposed the term "Bright". It's not bad, but I heard someone recently disparage that term. I'm not sure what his reason was, but I don't find myself any brighter than believers so I can't say I disagree with him.

    I thought I'd come up with my own new term. "Thoughtful". After all that's really what separates us. We have given thought to the world around us while trying to disregard a-priori preconceived notions.

    What say you?

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    05 December 2006

    Everyone wants Moshiach

    I had a long week, so here's a

    Guest post from Happywithhislot.

    A recent conversation with my 7 yr old daughter.

    d - daughter
    h - happywithhislot

    d: singing "everyone wants moshiach, everyone wants, everyone wants moshiach, bchol yom sheyavo....."

    h: so what's moshiach?

    d: moshiach? moshiach is when everyone dead will come back alive and there will be no bad people and we will all be happy

    h: really? Why will we be happy?

    d: because we will learn torah all day

    h: will learning torah all day make you happy?

    d: well I don't really want to learn all day, we will also get to watch TV,.

    h: do you think you can watch TV when moshiach comes?

    d: well we can watch TV on our days off.

    h: hmmmm...

    This conversation got me wondering. What's in it for women when moshiach comes. According to the charedim they cant learn torah anyway. Whets going to keep them busy?

    Anyway, its interesting. My daughter doesn't really believe that learning torah all day is going to be fun. That was a very honest assessment. When us adults think (thought) of Moshiach, do (did) we really believe that learning all day will make us happy?

    Of course, you've heard this all before, its this very fact that people point to when complaining about our life in golus. Many of us are so happy in Golus. Even those who aren't, cant imagine that learning Torah all day is prize enough.

    Now this becomes especially true when you have Rabbi Wachsman announcing at the Agudah Convention on Blogs that we cant even begin to understand the Chasam Sofer, let alone Rashi or Moshe Rabbenu.

    So we will be stuck with the current crop of mostly mediocre maggidei shiur. That sounds like HELL to me. Maybe it is. Maybe Hell is having to listen to your worst rebbi give shiur, over and over again.

    Talking about the Agudah Convention on Blogs and the undermining of Torah Leadership. Its not the first time the Internet has been attacked. A common refrain you hear in the Jewish periodicals is the "dangers of the Internet".

    My rabbi spoke about women who delude themselves when their husband spends time on the computer getting the "west coast scores". of course, what is being discussed is the dangers of the shmutz that is on the Internet.

    I found this interesting because typically, if you tell someone about something that he shouldn't do, the instinct is to at least take a peek.

    So why the big uproar over the shmutz on the Internet?

    Then another genie got out of the bottle. The Agudah was accused of covering up molestation crimes, they couldn't just ignore it. They devoted a convention to the topic of blogs that undermine the authority of the Torah Leaders.

    Yet they aren't talking about the biggest danger, the danger to Torah itself. Why?

    I think the answer is because if they did, and their brainwashed bochrum or baal habatim saw this tumah, their eyes and minds would forever be tarnished. Of course Im talking about the skeptic blogs.

    The danger is not the evidence these skeptic blogs present. Its the attitude.
    The attitude that you can think for yourself. So they attack blogs that undermine the authority of torah leadership. They cant tolerate people thinking for themselves.

    I know, there are yeshivish lurkers out there saying, look how full of himself he is. An attitude I must say is typical. You see, the yeshiva world doesn't equip their bochrim with facts. There aren't any facts, so how could they equip them with it. But you need to give the bochrim something. So they give them shtuchs. And boy do those shtuchs feel good. Nothing like a good shtuch to ignore the facts. Better the bochrim be told tall tales of the Medrash than critical thinking skills.

    Orthoprax recently made the point that our yeshiva system teaches our bochrim to be smug about their religion, without the tools to make serious arguments of logic. I believe the yeshiva/charedi world is coasting. They got the power, they name the Gedolim, so they don't need to really work it anymore.

    Anyway, my Rav notes how woman don't know what their husbands are really doing on the Internet. And I've heard from fellow bloggers who looked for ways to avoid their wives finding out the real activity they do on the Internet. And I'm jealous.

    My wife sees me blogging and commenting all the time. She has yet to ask me what am I doing. Now granted, She is busy. But I would like a little suspicion.
    So I came out and asked her, why don't you ask me what I'm doing?
    The answer? She doesn't care. Should She? I told her yes. She said leave me alone, I'm busy.

    Well I will have my revenge, my darling wife, just wait till Moshiach comes. You will be bored as hell.

    Everyone wants Moshiach, Everyone wants, Everyone Wants Moshiach, Bchol Yom Sheyavo....!

    *note that there are shittos that hold clothing will grow on tree when moshiach comes. Obviously that means we wont be working, so I think its fair to say we will be learning all day.

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    01 December 2006

    Beans on the Table - Part II

    Continued from here.

    I guess I had been somewhat misreading my wife's signal and I should have known better. When she says XYZ she means XYZ and not XYZZ.

    Recently we had spent more time than usual discussing religion, probably because I'm often directing the conversation in that direction. And I heard what I wanted to hear. My wife nor I recall the exact words I used to break it to her, it was that difficult. She knew right away that I was serious and she was just shell shocked. Take it from me - lack of Emunas Chachomim is not lack of Emuna. Cynicism is not skepticism. They may be related but they are totally different.

    It turns out that my wife has no doubts about basic tenets of Orthodox Judaism. She's no pushover; she won't believe bubbe maises from rebbes 100 years ago and does not generally believe in rebbes and mekubalim. The splitting of the sea, Mattan Torah and all the miracles of the past are exactly that. They occurred in a far away time when miracles did happen and Jews really were holier then now. And "then" is not now. And OJ is what God expects of us. Maybe OJ is not exactly the same now as then, and we don't know details about Gan Eden, Moshiach, but it's all basically true.

    At first it seemed to me like it was going to be a non-event. There was almost no reaction, I guess that's the meaning of shell shocked. "But what do you believe?" she asked. I was not prepared to get into that discussion at this point.

    She is very concerned and worried. She wants to know what it means.

    I say it doesn't mean anything. I've been this way for 8 years and I'm still the same me. Just my beliefs have changed. I go to shul, daven. She is well aware of this, she sees me running to shul and going to shiurim. She is confused. I don't know where this next question comes from but she asked me "do you keep Kosher?". I said "of course".

    As a way of assuring her I also say I have no plans of leaving or anything like that. It's just something I can no longer keep to myself.

    She is relieved and she tells me she loves me even though she does not understand what's going on. We talk some more, lots more.

    She says she is happy I did not tell her eight years ago. There's no way she could have handled it then. Twenty five years ago, I'd have been out the door.

    "I'm not the only one like this", I said. "You mean M___________"? she asked. I said no, I don't know anyone personally. "There are people on the web, lot's of them." And then it clicked. "All that time, you spend on the computer?" I said yes. She laughs and says she is relieved I'm not surfing for porn.

    My wife spends very little time on the computer, Every now and then I handhold her while she shops at her favorite mail order place. But that's it. She has never even seen a blog, she just heard the word.

    I forge ahead, "I have a blog".

    "What? You're the ringleader?"

    I'm laughing now, "Not quite, a blog is nothing, just some nobody posting what's on their mind and other people responding"

    But there are lots of people like me. Hundreds, maybe thousands.

    "Do you want to see the blog?". a look of worry comes over her face.

    "Not now. I mean tonight, after Shabbos."

    Once again she is relieved. "Well, I don't know what you mean".

    I tell her how it happened, how a regular guy like me can just change his mind. I didn't go looking for it, it just happened because of books that I read.

    "Well, why can't you just read another book that will explain it differently"

    I try to explain that it wasn't a book that I read directly about Yiddishkeit that disproves it. Just science & History. We go through some of the basic stuff you hear on Blogs. How I just see things from a different perspective.

    And then comes the expected. "There must be someone you can speak to".

    "Not really."

    "Why not?"

    "Because no one really knows for sure".

    She acknowledges this. She realizes that religion is faith and there are no proofs.

    At this point I want to get it all out in the open. I press on with something else. My wife knows about Hella Winston because we talked about her book recently, a book that she took out of the library for me. She also knows that I attended an event recently that Hella chaired. My wife also knew that I wanted to volunteer for Footsteps. But she did not know that I ever had any direct contact with Hella.

    I press ahead telling her that I met Hella Winston for lunch. At this point my wife starts crying while I re-assure her that it just happened two days ago and I had no choice but to keep it from her, until now. She is once again relieved.

    We talk for a long time.

    Motsoei Shabbos I show her my blog. My latest post at that time is a humorous one - 10 reasons why I hate weddings. Lucky for me. It breaks the ice. She says she never knew I wrote so well. But then I show her some other posts and she is not amused.

    But she does take it well.

    She has a great sense of humor and uses humor to deflect some of her hurt.

    She is very understanding.


    It's now a week later - We have survived.

    I can't help feel that I let my wife down but this is life. I am in a much better frame of mind. I don't need to go sneaking around on the phone when I call Footsteps or spend time on the computer.

    My wife feels she now has something new to daven for.

    I know I have traded in my own piece of mind at her expense. I can think of the analogy of someone confessing an affair to a spouse but this is different. An affair can be over and done with and someone can put it behind them (I only imagine this, I have no first hand experience). But skepticism does not go away. It was literally tearing me apart and it is better that she found out thru me directly and not some other way..

    Of course life is never simple. Now there is a new challenge. How to explain my skepticism in a way that will not affect her faith.

    My wife's advice to other skeptics out there is to think long and hard before confiding in your spouse.

    In general I am confident we will do well. I have reclaimed my best friend


    On a personal note, I'd like to thank all of you who wished me well in the prior post and via Email. It was much appreciated.


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