Monthly Archives: October 2017

The Female Aspect of Adam

from the Oheiv Yisrael by Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel

The Female Aspect of Adam
Adam originally included both male and female.

And the Lord G‑d caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept, and He took one of his sides, and closed the flesh in its place…[And He made it into a woman] and brought her to the man. (Gen. 2:21)

It is known that Adam was the epitome of all creation, the handiwork of G‑d Himself. He included all holiness and all the souls of Israel. The entire side of holiness was connected to him and included in him.

Also, Adam originally included both male and female, since he was created with the two [connected] bodies.Everything in the world must contain the concept of both male and female…

Everything in the world must contain the concept of both male and female. This is especially true in serving G‑d, where the male and female elements correspond respectively to “remember” and “keep” [referring to Shabbat].

The essence of the male and female elements respectively is the concept of giving and receiving. Thus, for example, a person can attain great attachment, holiness, and purity of thought. Such a person then gives spiritual delight to the supernal Lights, universes, and attributes. This is the concept of the male element.

At the same time, however, this person receives spiritual sustenance from the supernal universes. This is the concept of his female element. All Israel also partake of this female element when this sustenance is transmitted to them, providing them with everything they need. From it they receive “children, life and food”, and the like.The Male and Female essences come together to once again give birth through the transmission of love to the world…

The concept on high that bestows spiritual sustenance is the Male Essence. The spiritual flux becomes the semen, and the Male and Female essences come together to once again give birth through the transmission of love to the world. Besides its immediate effect, each deed also affects future generations. The deed is then aroused, giving birth to another spiritual flux at that future date [such as on anniversaries].

It is thus written, “And He took one of his sides”; this means that the side and concept of femininity was taken from Adam. He then “closed the flesh in its place”; G‑d put in its place a concept of the physical. According to this concept, the tzadikhas the power to accept the supernal flux and transmit all kinds of good from on high to the lower world. He can even transmit this to the physical.

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Posted by on October 10, 2017 in Uncategorized


The Philosophy of the Snake

Bereishit(Genesis 1:1-6:8)

The Philosophy of the Snake

The central part of this parsha involves the story of Adam and Chavah’s brief stay in Gan Eden. God gave them permission to eat all the fruits in the garden, except for the fruit of the eitz hada’as tov va’ra (tree of knowledge of good and evil). The snake came to Chavah and persuaded her to eat of the forbidden fruit. The Torah provides us with the exact conversation:

The woman said to the snake, “We may eat from the fruit of the trees in the garden. But God has told us that we may not eat nor touch the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, lest we die.” The snake said to the woman, “You will surely not die.” (Bereishis 3:2–4)

You will surely not die — he shoved her until she touched the tree, then said to her, “Just as you didn’t die from touching it, so too, you won’t die by eating from it.” (Rashi loc. cit.)

The snake’s logic appears flawed. Chavah was pushed against the tree by the snake, and no adverse consequence resulted. The snake claimed that this proved that eating the fruit of her own volition would also not have a bad outcome. But the touching was unavoidable; the eating would be deliberate. How can they be compared? The following principle should surely apply:

The Torah exempts from punishment those who act under duress. (Nedarim 27a)

There is another problem. God had promised Adam and Chavah that if they ate from the fruit, on the day that you eat from it, you will surely die. (Bereishis 2:17)

How could the snake know (or claim to Chavah) that death would not ensue from eating the fruit? Perhaps only that day Chavah would die from touching the tree. After all, the “day” mentioned by the verse was not yet over. Let us try to resolve this by considering an important quote from the Rambam.

Understanding the Consequence of Mitzvos

The majority of mitzvos are advice from afar…to fix one’s ideas and to straighten all actions. (Rambam, Yad, Hilchos Temurah 4:13)

Put into ordinary terms, this means that the actual mitzvah may be several stages away from its consequence. For example, forbidden fat is not actually poisonous, and so a Jew who eats it will not suddenly be struck down with fatal symptoms. Instead, consuming the fat has some slight effect, which in turn affects something else, and so on, until the punishment mandated by the Torah manifests itself. All the mitzvos work like this. Overall, the consequence of mitzvah observance is to push our actions and general spiritual disposition toward the Torah ideal, and, conversely, the consequence of failure and sin is that we are pushed away from that ideal. One must believe that the consequence of a particular action described by the Torah will eventually manifest itself, whether for good or otherwise. But it is clear that no instant results should be expected.

The Twisted View of the Snake

This view of the mitzvah system and the way it functions was rejected by the snake. Indeed, the Rashiwe quoted above contains enough information for us to deduce the snake’s entire, twisted Weltanschauung. The snake’s claim, as expressed by his words, was that causes have immediate effects. He saw the world in an apparently more simplistic way than we have described: if the tree and its fruit are prohibited under pain of death, then as soon as one touches it or eats from it one should die. If one doesn’t die, reasoned the snake, then the punishment is not going to happen at all.

This Weltanschauung has a converse, a viewpoint espoused not only by the snake, but by wicked people throughout the ages: a mitzvah, if valid, should produce an immediate result. If it doesn’t, this reasoning continues, then it’s not worth performing mitzvos at all; they just don’t achieve anything. Of course, this totally omits the more subtle rationale offered by the Rambam.

Blurring the Distinction

If one looks at the claim of the snake a little more deeply, an interesting and unexpected consequence emerges. Consider the case of two people who fell into a fire. One jumped in deliberately, and the other slipped and fell in by accident. Each is equally badly burned, regardless of how he came to be in the fire in the first place.

Likewise, if two people take poison, one deliberately and one accidentally, they will both die, irrespective of the circumstances. The snake saw mitzvah observance in this light. An action produces an immediate effect. This means that he blurred the distinction between those acts perpetrated deliberately and those committed accidentally. After all, the action produces a result. If death was promised for eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, then of what relevance is it whether the act was deliberate or not? It’s like taking poison by accident — you still die! At the very least, symptoms which will result in death should manifest themselves as soon as the act is committed.

The Snake’s Logic

It should now be clear why, according to the snake’s viewpoint, his logic was sound. We recall that he said to Chavah,

You will surely not die — he shoved her until she touched the tree, then said to her, “Just as you didn’t die from touching it, so too, you won’t die by eating from it.” (Rashi, Bereishis 3:4)

Effectively the snake said to Chavah, “When I shoved you against the tree, you saw that nothing happened to you. You are just as healthy as before. If the punishment that God had promised is valid, then you would have died, or at least fallen ill straight away. As you didn’t, there’s nothing to be afraid of — you can even eat the fruit with no concern.”

So by expecting immediate results from actions and blurring the distinction between deliberate and accidental acts, the snake persuaded Chavah to eat the fruit. It is important to realize that the snake expressed a totally warped view of reality to make an apparently logical case to Chavah.

Seeing the Goodness in the Fruit

This analysis can help us resolve another difficulty in the story. The narrative continues:

The woman saw that the tree was good to eat, desirable to the eyes, and that the tree was pleasant to the intellect, and she took from its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband with her and he ate. (Bereishis 3:6)

The difficulty here is obvious. How can one describe a taste with the sense of sight? The quality of taste is determined by the tongue, not the eyes. But now that we understand the snake’s Weltanschauung, we can deal with this problem. We can assume that since Chavah went ahead and ate the fruit she accepted the claim of the snake and therefore the philosophy which lay behind it. She reckoned that as she had not been affected by touching the tree, then eating from it would also do her no harm.

It is with her sense of sight that she detected that the fruit was harmless, as it is this sense which loses its full capacity when illness and death approach. Since she could still see the tree, her sense of sight operating at full capacity, she deduced that its fruit was in fact “good to eat,” that is, completely free from danger.

The Curse of the Snake

After the episode of the fruit, God cursed the snake in the following way:

May you be cursed over all the animals and all the beasts of the field. You shall crawl on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life. (Ibid., 14)

In his Aramaic translation and elaboration on this verse, Rabbi Yonasan ben Uziel remarks:

…and deadly poison shall be in your mouth. (Targum Yonasan ben Uziel loc. cit.)

This is poetic justice. The snake claimed, as we have seen, that when God promises a punishment for a certain act, it means that performing that act is like taking lethal poison — it will kill immediately. Therefore, it is most fitting that the snake’s punishment forevermore is to have the taste of deadly poison permanently in his mouth. He must realize the wicked consequences of his twisted life philosophy by tasting the real effects of poison for eternity.

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Posted by on October 10, 2017 in Uncategorized


How and When Was the Torah Written?


Give me the handle on this Sinai thing. As I got it from Hebrew school, Moses went up the mountain, sat down at his desk and took dictation for forty days and forty nights. G‑dsaid, “In the beginning…” and that’s just what Moses wrote… until he got all the way to the end. Right?

Or did I get it all wrong? Because if I’m right, then I’ve got a lot of questions. And if I got it wrong, then you’re going to have to fill it in, ’cause otherwise, I’m going to sound like a real heretic


The story you got in Hebrew school is basically true, but it’s also missing lots of the details. So it ends up coming across as a simplistic Hebrew-School story that only the most gullible believer would swallow. Let’s take a closer look at the classical sources (MidrashTalmud, et al) that describe how Torah got to us.

The Story, According to Us

Before Moses, there were traditions. There were rituals, there were stories, there were ideas. There were writings, as well.1 When did people start writing phonetically? I don’t know. There is no way to tell. And some etchings that have managed to endure on the walls of caves in the Sinai are not going to put together a whole history for me.2 But the stories of the patriarchs are obviously very ancient and attest to the linear thinking of a phonetically literate mind. 3Most likely, Moses had a few scrolls in his possession from more ancient times.

According to Rashi (Exodus 24:4), before Moses went up that mountain, he presented the Jewish people with an official version of the Book of Genesis, as well as part of Exodus–up to the event at which he was standing. I expect he relied heavily on some of those earlier manuscripts for his work, and that he tried to be consistent in style with his additions. That doesn’t make this any less a divine work. G‑d can work with editors just as well as He can with authors. (Ask my editor, he’ll tell you G‑d actually preferseditors.)

The Ten Commandments scene was a very mystical experience. I haven’t read of any vaguely similar experience in any other people’s tradition. What happened? A mass of people shared in Moses’ experience. They hadn’t worked themselves up to Moses’ spiritual height, so it wasn’t able to last too long. But that was basically the idea: This revelation that G‑d has things He wants us to do and not do, that He cares about what’s going on with these little critters down here and here are the basic items–in a few moments, all this became just as real to the people as it was to Moses.

Which makes Moses pretty unique, because he’s the only prophet that does such a thing. Others just tell the people, “G‑d says such and such. Trust me.” Moses, the populist prophet, says, “Let me tune you in for a minute on what I’m hearing from G‑d.” Moses is cool.

Moses then disappears up the mountain for forty days. While there, forty-nine gates of wisdom are open to him, granting him the secrets of all existence. Moses then writes down the experience of Mount Sinai along with a set of rules for a new society, which eventually becomes Parshat Mishpatim–the section written in the Exodus story dealing principally with civil law.

Is everything in Parshat Mishpatim new? I doubt it. Just as I doubt there was anything at all new in the Ten Commandments. The novelty was not the content. It was this idea that the same G‑d who transcends all nature and is responsible for the very ground of existence is really wrapped up in how we live down here. That was revolutionary. It was totally out of synch with so-called enlightened thinking of the times. People thought only little gods could get involved in this kind of thing–and they were easy to bribe. In Egypt, they called that “mata”–something like “karma” to the Hindus. They knew of some essential oneness at the core level of reality–but they thought it preposterous to consider that this G‑d could be engaged in anyone’s daily life. Never mind in the daily lives of the masses. Which gave all the more justification to the hierarchy of power and oppression that Moses had stood up against.

Moses the Revolutionary

So Moses was bringing G‑d down to earth. He was demolishing the pyramid of spiritual knowledge that he knew so well from Egypt–and so much despised. He was saying, “This G‑d is so great, He can care about everybody and everything!” Moses was making a revolution.

Why was he making a revolution? Because G‑d was telling him to. To explain that, I would need a long conversation with you about what is G‑d and how G‑d talks to people and why. Maimonidesalready deals with that quite sufficiently in his Book of Knowledge. Then there is Shaar Ruach HaKodesh of Rabbi Chaim Vital, where he explains that the prophet hears G‑d speaking in his own voice and his own words, (or in the voice of his teacher–as was the case with Samuel). That explains a lot.

I will only supplement by pointing out that when you or I are completely immersed in a subject of Torah and come up with a novel explanation or idea, that is also Torah. Meaning that someone else would not be permitted to study that idea before having said the morning blessing to G‑d for having “given us His Torah.” Get that: Giving us His Torah! Even though you or I came up with this idea–and it didn’t feel like it landed in our heads from Andromeda 5. Yet it is G‑d’s Torah. That’s called being one with G‑d. Read chapter five of Tanya.

My point is that really prophecy is not so foreign to human experience as you might think. We all have ideas that pop into our minds from who-knows-where. Just that most people feel they thought of them on their own. A prophet, it seems (I haven’t really been there to tell) is one who hears things clearly that others may only pick up with much distortion. He is in tune with that unknowable place from which the Unknown speaks. So he hears it speaking to him with clarity.

Moses was the prophet who got in tune with the very core of reality and heard that speaking to him. That’s why he writes in third person, like a passive observer–even of his own life: “And G‑d spoke to Moses saying…” Because, as Nachmanides explains, Moses saw the raw essence as it is, stripped of the filter of his own ego. Other prophets heard the truth as it spoke to them. Moses saw truth as truth knows itself.

Yet he shared that experience with all of us. Which is why Maimonides counts as one of the 13 axioms of Judaism that no other prophet can contradict Moses–because no other prophet has the testimony of the entire Jewish people that, yup, we experienced G‑d talking to him alright.

The Prophecy Thing

Okay, I’ll say something else about prophecy–because, after all, this is one of the big stumbling blocks for a lot of people. Especially those who have gotten used to thinking of G‑d in philosopher terms, or maybe Taoist terms as just “that which is.” So talking with “that which is” is kind of strange to these people.

The Torah, however, describes the entire reality as nothing more than G‑d speaking. G‑d says, “Let there be photons” and the whole mess starts. Same with everything that exists in our world–all of it is nothing more than a manifestation of G‑d holding a dialog with Himself. That’s why, in Biblical Hebrew, there are no words for “thing”, “object”, “stuff” or even “physical”. Everything is called a davar which means simply “word.”

Words are crystallizations of thoughts. And that’s what holds the world together.

Think about it: Here are all these particles–electrons, protons, negative-charged particles, positive-charged particles, matter, anti-matter, quarks, bosons, blips, bloops, kukaratches, stuff… And what makes them into a world that we can observe and experience? A bunch of rules. Without those rules, those particles can’t work together. And without working together, none of them can exist. Turns out that the rules keep them in existence.

And what are the rules? An extremely limited manifestation of G‑d’s mind. That’s what we call “G‑d speaking.”

Next time you wonder why G‑d never speaks to you, look at the world around you. That’s all it is: G‑d speaking to you. Just that the signal is so stepped-down and encrypted you can’t necessarily tell what He’s saying.

So, Rabbi Isaac Luria, the great Kabbalist, explains: all the prophet needs to do is catch those words of G‑d as they are a little less condensed and crystallized, up in a higher world. There things are a lot clearer–less static, more signal. And from there those prophets get an idea of what’s coming down–before it actually gets here.4

In Shaarei Kedusha, Rabbi Isaac Luria‘s protégé, the above-mentioned Rabbi Chaim Vital, goes even further: He claims that prophecy is really the natural state of any human being. You see, when G‑d went about making the first human being, He said, “Let us make Adam.”5 The us refers to the entire universe that G‑d had just completed6. The soul of everything from every creature in every world of the entire order of worlds was invested into this being: angels, animals, trees, plants, rocks–the works. The rationale? Adam was to be the conduit of life-giving and existence-sustaining energy traveling from the highest world to the lowest. According to how he leads his life, so will the entire world receive life.

If so, what is the wonder, Rabbi Vital asks, if a human being manages to read some of the data as it travels through him?

Prophecy, it turns out, is just a matter of tuning in to the process of constant creation. Moses’ prophecy was a matter of getting to the very core of that process. And so, writes Nachmanides,7 every secret of the universe is contained in the Torah, sometimes in a nuance of a phrase, sometimes in a pattern of letters, sometimes in one of those tiny crowns that is placed above certain letters according to the tradition.8

Forty Years in the Writing

Back to the order of things: So Moses writes down the laws and rules he learns atop the mountain. Short break for the Golden Calfaffair. Next thing, Moses is back up the mountain getting some rehabilitative laws, including the details for a portable, people’s tabernacle. Over the period of the next thirty-nine years,9 Moses writes at intervals. The writing is done in various ways. Sometimes he writes and then speaks. Sometimes he makes his oratory and then transcribes it. Sometimes he collects together the accounts from a census and organizes it. (This may account for the varied styles we may find in these sections.)

According to another opinion in the Talmud, everything is oral until the last days. According to all opinions, it’s not until those last days that Moses gathers everything together and distributes copies to each of the tribes.10 His final instructions: Everyone must write their own. Moses, the ultimate populist.

Convincing Julius

If the whole thing is so plausible, you say, why is it so many of those Biblical criticism dudes won’t accept the story? The real question is like this: What would it take to convince those academics? To convince them that:

a) There is a G‑d, responsible for the very ground of existence.

b) This G‑d cares about what’s happening in that existence.

c) This G‑d can communicate, and actually does communicate, to human beings all that He would like us to be doing down here.

I propose that all the evidence in the world wouldn’t be able to budge those guys one nanometer. Because we are not talking about logic here–we are talking about axioms. And to those academics, it is a foregone conclusion, an axiom, that if not a, then certainly b and c are preposterous.

I don’t believe for a moment that any scholar examined the matter objectively, saying, “Let’s see, there are two possibilities here: Moses did this because G‑d spoke within him, or people made this up as history went along. Let’s examine both and determine which is the more elegant explanation.”

Never. When Spinoza began his critique, it was a foregone conclusion that G‑d did not communicate to humankind. G‑d, to Spinoza, is not a being that can care and have concern for His world. Spinoza’s G‑d is an object, a passive state of just being. Since Spinoza was the father of biblical criticism, the children could only descend from there.

Julius Wellhausen was fascinated by the idea of history–like every other scholar of his century. History in his day meant Hegel. That’s the way everything happened and had to happen: Progressively, through a conflict of social dynamics, thesis-antithesis-synthesis, moving closer and closer to the enlightened modern man. That’s the mold of every 19th century thinker, and Torah had to fit into that mold. Tell me that Wellhausen could have accepted anything otherwise.

(Postscript on 5/23/10: Since writing, K.A. Kitchen, one of the foremost scholars of antiquity, published his “On the Reliability of the Old Testament” in which he mercilessly demolishes Wellhausen and his school of biblical critics by presenting the evidence that has since been discovered.)

The fact is, this idea of Moses is so wild, so counter-intuitive, I don’t believe anyone could arrive at it through philosophy or logic. Why do we believe it? Because we believe in the Jewish people. That’s called Judaism: Belief in Jews. Since we believe in the Jews, we believe in the experience of the Jews, which means we believe in Torah and since we believe in Torah, we believe in G‑d and that G‑d cares. (See How Do We Know We Heard G‑d at Sinai for more on this.)

The Utilitarian Proof

That said, let me point out something that’s rarely cited as a proof of Moses’ idea, but in my mind wins hands down: It works.

Modern society is grounded lock and barrel on Moses’ idea: The idea that all people are created by a single G‑d who cares about each one of them. That is the basis of modern democracy and all civil rights. Because to lay a claim to human rights or equality before the law is ludicrous under any other system. The horrors of the twentieth century proved this better than any textbook could and authors such as George Orwell made it lucidly clear to us: There is no rational basis for human rights or justice for all men.

Yet without these things today, society is simply not sustainable–and neither is life on the planet. If G‑d just is and life just is and everything is therefore without innate meaning or value–then dog-eat-dog with the weapons of modern technology is as ugly–and sure–as can be.

So Moses wins in the end. And if Moses is right that G‑d cares, then what is so impossible that G‑d might wish to communicate exactly what He cares about and that it actually happened at a certain point in time at a certain place to a certain mass of people?

Which is just what I believe.

(Another postscript from 5/23/10: To illustrate what I am talking about in this last section, see Joshua Berman’s fascinating article Is the Bible Egalitarian? Better: read his book, Created Equal:: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought (Oxford University Press, 2008).)

1. See Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idolatry, ch. 1), who writes that Abraham wrote many books.
2. The evidence points to the phonetic alphabet originating in the Sinai and Canaan. The best I have seen on this is Samuel Kurinsky’s “The Eighth Day” (Aronson), Chapter 12: Semitic Origins of Literacy. It is a simple matter to demonstrate where phonetic (“acrophonic”) writing developed, but how early is another matter.
3. The way we write, researchers find, has a major impact on how we think. Cultures without literacy do not distinguish between fantasy and reality. Cultures that represent speech using pictograms (glyphs) are at an intermediate stage: They have some sense of history, but a very malleable one. That’s because, when reading pictograms, we process information in chunks (parallel processing) so that sequence doesn’t matter much. You can change the order of the pictograms and they still make sense. So cultures that do not use a phonetic alphabet don’t really get the idea of sequence, so they don’t tell real histories, where the sequence of events matters.

Phonetic writing forces the mind to think linearly. Sequence is everything and the phonetically literate culture reflects that. The importance of sequence of events is the hallmark of the Biblical narrative: Without the “Covenant of the Pieces,” for example, the rest of the story doesn’t make sense. Same with the Exodus or the Ten Commandments scene.
4. For more on this, see Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi’s Tanya, Book II, chapter 2. See also Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, Shnei Luchot HaBrit, Sha’ar Ha-Otiot.
5. Genesis 1:26.
6. See Chizkuni and others on this verse.
7. See at length: Nachmanides, Commentary on the Torah; Introduction to Genesis.
8. True, there have been variant traditions on certain of these details, as well as doubts concerning the original tradition in minor cases. The view of the Kabbalists is that whatever the Jewish people have ended up with is divine–since the revelation of Sinai never really ended in this regard. Certain Kabbalists have applied this idea even to the form of the page in the printed Talmud.
9.  See Nachmanides, ibid
10. There’s also much discussion about Joshuah’s possible role in writing the last few verses of the Torah. The sages of the Mishna were divided about these verses, which describe Moses’ death (see Sifri on these verses, and Talmud, Bava Batra 15a and Menachot 30a). Some say Joshua wrote them, others say Moses wrote them “in tears.” The classic commentators continue the debate: Rashi cites both opinions, Ibn Ezra takes the view that Joshua wrote them “most likely towards the end of his life”–along with certain other verses–and Nachmanides begins his commentary with the assertion that the entire Torah is Moses’ transcription.

By Tzvi Freeman
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Posted by on October 9, 2017 in Uncategorized


Sukkot is a State of Mind

Traveling through a desert is journeying through a lonely place, completely forsaken. There is neither food nor water nor any other form of sustaining substance. There are only the unbearable sun and its heat. There is no grass, and there are no trees. The only signs of life are deadly snakes and scorpions. In a desert, death stares you in the face. It is a dangerous and outrageous place.

But a desert is also a magnificent locale, filled with grandeur and full of life. It is an area where many things can happen that are impossible in any other location.

First and foremost, it is a place of authenticity; and therefore a place of miracles.

Because the desert is an area of devastating silence, there is no distraction and no competition.

It is the desert’s thundering silence that allows a “still voice” within us to speak, and that cannot bear mediocrity. Instead, a desert seeks singular excellence, even when most men cannot recognize it as such. It protests against those who are appeased when they find something old in the new, even though it is clear that this old could not have given birth to this new.

The Egyptian French poet Edmond Jabès noted the connection between the Hebrew words “dabar” (word) and “midbar” (desert). This, he claims, goes to the core of what it means to be a Jew:

“With exemplary regularity the Jew chooses to set out for the desert, to go toward a renewed word that has become his origin… A wandering word is the word of God. It has for its echo the word of a wandering people. No oasis for it, no shadow, no peace. Only the immense, thirsty desert, only the book of this thirst…” (From the Book to the Book: An Edmond Jabès Reader [Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1991] pp. 166-7)

In the emptiness and silence of the desert, an authentic inner voice can be heard while sitting in the sukkah, a hut that existentially gives protection but in no way physically shields. Its roof leaks and its walls fall apart the moment a wind blows. It is a place with no excuses. But it can only be experienced by a people of the wilderness; a people who are not rooted in a substance of physical limitations and borders; a people who are not entirely fixed by an earthly point, even while living in a homeland. Their spirit reaches far beyond restrictive borders. They are particularistic so as to be universalistic. They are never satisfied with their spiritual condition and are therefore always on the road, looking for more, even when they live in their homeland, which is nothing more than a feeble sukkah.

They are a wandering people that can never permanently land because the runway is too narrow and they cannot fit into any final destination. They are a people who always experience unrest because they carry a spiritual secret that doesn’t fit anywhere and wanders in the existential state of an unlimited desert. An existential experience that unnerves because it’s rooted in the desert where it becomes deadly, if not properly handled.

But a desert is even more. It is an area where nothing can be tangibly achieved. In a desert, people cannot prove themselves, at least not in the conventional sense. It doesn’t offer jobs that people can fight over and compete for. It has no factories, offices, or department stores. There are no bosses to order people around and no fellow workers with whom to compete. It is ‘prestige deprived.’ In a desert, there is no kavod (honor) to be received. It doesn’t have cities, homes, or fences. If it had these, it would no longer be a desert. Human achievements would end its desert status and would undermine and destroy the grandeur of its might and beauty.

It has only a sukkah, a place that lacks all physical security. People can only “be,” but never “have” anything, in a desert. There is no food to be eaten but the manna, the soul food, and one can easily walk in the same shoes for 40 years because authenticity does not wear out. People’s garments grow with them and don’t need changing or cleaning because they are as pure as can be (See Rashi’s commentary on Devarim 8:4). And that which is pure continues to grow and stays clean.

The desert is, therefore, a state of mind. It removes the walls in our subconscious, and even in our conscious way of thinking. It is an out-of-the-box realm. In a desert, one can think without limits. As such, one is open to the impossible and hears murmurs from another world, which can never be heard in the city or on a job. The desert allows for authentic thinking, without obstacles, and therefore is able to break through and remove from us any artificial thoughts that don’t identify with our deeper souls. Nothing spiritual gets lost because the fences around our thoughts become neutralized and no longer bar the way to our inner lives. The desert is the ultimate liberty. It teaches us that openness doesn’t mean surrender to what is most “in” or powerful. The desert doesn’t consist of vulgar successes that have been made into major accomplishments.

And therefore it is a place of miracles.

The Sages say: “Anyone who does not make himself open to all (“hefker,” ownerless), like a wilderness, cannot gain wisdom and Torah” (Bamidbar Rabbah 1:7).

With this statement, the Sages introduce a most important insight concerning ourselves. We cannot bear artificial, unauthentic ideas that are sold in this world of superficiality.

And therefore we sit in a sukkah, a place that has nothing to show for itself; only powerful simplicity. It is frail and unaccomplished because it serves as a road sign for our lives and for what is really important: authenticity in all its nakedness.

Nathan_Lopes_CardozoRabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Founder and Dean of the David Cardozo Think Tank, is a prominent lecturer and author of many books and essays on Jewish Philosophy and Halachic renewal. He is world-renowned for his unique insights into Judaism. A native of the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish community of Holland who holds a Doctorate in Philosophy, Rabbi Lopes Cardozo received rabbinic ordination from Gateshead Talmudic College, England, and studied in Israel at several leading rabbinical Institutions. In addition to teaching Jewish audiences, Rabbi Lopes Cardozo often lectures to non-Jewish audiences about comparative religion.


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Posted by on October 7, 2017 in Uncategorized


¿Cuánto valen unos Tefilín?

Historia real del 11 de septiembre

David Miller [nombre ficticio], una persona observante de los preceptos religiosos judíos, estaba en el aeropuerto Logan en Boston, alistándose para abordar su vuelo. Se dirigía a Los Ángeles en un importante viaje de negocios y estaba obligado a tomar este temprano vuelo ya que muchos de sus asuntos de negocios dependían de ello.

Abordó el avión, observó que las puertas se cerraban, y tomó asiento. De repente, recordó que había dejado sus tefilín o filacterias (las cajas rituales con correas usadas por los hombres judíos en sus oraciones) en la sala de abordaje del terminal.

De manera cortés, preguntó a la azafata si podía regresar y recuperar sus tefilín, que se hallaban en un asiento a pocos pasos de la puerta. Ella le dijo que una vez que las puertas del avión se cerraban, nadie se podía bajar. No conforme con la respuesta, preguntó si podría hablar con el piloto para que le diera un permiso especial. Seguramente él comprendería, sin embargo el comandante de la nave no accedió, simplemente le confirmó la política de la aerolínea.

David no estaba dispuesto a dejar de cumplir su preciada mitzvá(precepto), ni permitir que sus valiosos y sagrados tefilín se perdieran tan fácilmente, por lo cual, sin saber qué más podía hacer, empezó a gritar con toda la fuerza de sus pulmones: “¡No quiero perder mis tefilín!”..

La tripulación le pidió que se calmara, pero él se rehusó y siguió con el escándalo creando un verdadero disturbio.

Finalmente, era tal el alboroto que la tripulación del avión le dijo que podía descender de la nave.

De hecho, aunque sólo le hubiera tomado alrededor de 90 segundos salir del avión, tomar sus tefilín y correr de regreso, le advirtieron que no esperarían por él , pero no le importó David no pensaba perder sus tefilín, incluso si ello le causaba grandes inconvenientes o le acarreaba pérdidas en sus negocios.

Así, David salió del avión, para nunca volver a abordarlo.

Este vuelo era el United 175 el segundo avión que se impactó contra el World Trade Center de Nueva York el 11 de septiembre del 2001.

La devoción de David por esta mitzvá salvó su vida Pero las consecuencias de las acciones de David no terminaron ahí. Al principio, los terroristas querían chocar contra ambas torres al mismo tiempo, para maximizar la explosiva matanza. Después se supo que, debido al alboroto que David causó, el avión retrasó su despegue, provocando la diferencia de 18 minutos entre cada impacto de los aviones contra las dos torres gemelas.

Este retraso permitió que miles de personas escaparan con vida de los dos edificios. Literalmente millares de vidas se salvaron debido a que un judío no abandonó sus amados tefilín.

Esta historia está documentada en “Even in the Darkest Moments”, por Zeev Breier.

Según tomado de,  el 7 de octubre de 2017

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Posted by on October 7, 2017 in Uncategorized


Jews and Puerto Rico: 7 Facts

Jews and Puerto Rico: 7 Facts

Jews and Puerto Rico: 7 Facts

And what you can do to help.

by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

Puerto Rico, a picturesque Caribbean island that is a U.S. Commonwealth and home to three and a half million people, is currently in dire need in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. As aid flows into the island, many people are learning about Puerto Rico’s rich history and society for the first time. Part of the Commonwealth’s unique history is its extensive Jewish ties, going back centuries.

Here are seven facts about Jews and Puerto Rico, and information about how you can help the island now.

Early Jewish Links

The first Europeans to discover Puerto Rico was Christopher Columbus’ crew, on a voyage to the island in 1493. Some historians speculate that Columbus himself, who left Spain on the date that all Jews were banished from the kingdom, was himself a secret Jew. At least one secret Jew, Louis de Torres, sailed with Columbus, and Columbus’ voyage was financed by Spanish Jews.

Puerto Rico was formally incorporated as a colony of Spain in 1508, which made it off limits to any potential Jewish settlers under pain of death. The Inquisition ruled that not even conversos, Jews who had converted (or pretended to convert) to Catholicism, could live in Spain’s territories overseas. However, it’s thought that secret Jews did settle in the island, living in remote mountain regions where few people would notice their curious way of life.

One Jew who defied the Catholic Church to live in Puerto Rico, a trader named Judah Cohen from the Caribbean island of Curacao, was caught by Spanish officials and put to death in 1723. Other secret Jews adopted Christian-sounding names. The name “Mercado”, meaning merchant, in particular was thought to be popular among Puerto Rico’s secret Jews. Historians have uncovered evidence of a few Jews living in Puerto Rico during Spanish rule: a woman named Sarah Nunes Mercado who lived in Guayanilla in 1805, a Jewish man named Elias De Sola in that same area in 1839. The city of Aguadilla seems to have been the home of a small Jewish community: a Jew named Solomon Senor died there in 1849 and a Jewish physician by the name of Isaac de Lima openly practiced in the town of Mayaguez in the 1840s.

American Rule

When the United States won Puerto Rico from Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898, Jews for the first time were allowed to live openly on the island. The first openly Jewish residents were American servicemen fighting in the territory; roughly 5,000 American Jewish soldiers fought in the Spanish-American War.

A small handful of these soldiers remained in Puerto Rico and formed the core of a nascent Jewish community in the southern town of Ponce. Col. Noah Shepard served as an unofficial leader of this group, and Rabbi Adolph Spiegel, who had served in the US forces, remained in Ponce for several years. Many of these Jewish former servicemen worked in Puerto Rico’s administration, helping to create its legal code and court system, and worked in public health to help eradicate tropical diseases from the island.

With World War II, Puerto Rico saw another influx of American servicemen. 400 Jewish soldiers were posted to the island during the war, and held services and a community Seder for the islanders. After the war, federal incentives drew investors to Puerto Rico, and hundreds of businesses opened on the island, bringing in a substantial number of American Jews.

An Island Refuge

A series of coups and repressive regimes in Latin America brought Spanish speaking refugees, including many Jews, to Puerto Rico. The earliest wave came in the 1960s, after Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba. Many of these early refugees were Holocaust survivors who’d been living in Cuba, and now found a safe haven in the US Territory. “Puerto Rico was a welcoming society and it had many similar characteristics to Cuba – the language, the island life – so it was an easier transition for many (Cuban Jews) compared with going to the United States,” explains Diego Mandelbaum, the director of Puerto Rico’s Jewish Community Center.

Mr. Mandelbaum was born in Argentina and his journey mirrored that of many other Spanish-speaking Jews and non-Jews. After the military junta in Argentina, many refugees, including Jews, arrived in Puerto Rico seeking a new life. In more recent years, repression in Venezuela has brought still more émigrés to the island.

Garden of Eden in Puerto Rico

In the 1980s, Israel pioneered a cutting-edge agricultural development program in Puerto Rico, bringing advanced Israeli irrigation and agricultural techniques to the island. About 200 Israelis came to the island and built a state of the art educational farm on 2,000 acres in the Santa Isabel region in the south of the island. In time, they named their innovative farm “Gan Eden”, Hebrew for the Garden of Eden.

Yoav Cohen and his daughter

Gan Eden” developed Puerto Rico’s first commercial mango orchard and a vegetable farm. Currently run by the Israeli agronomist Yoav Cohen, the farm sells mangoes in Europe and a range of produce including papayas, squash, cucumbers and peppers in the US. Puerto Rico’s Senate passed a resolution in 2005, formally recognizing friendship between Puerto Rico and Israel, and the contributions of Puerto Rico’s Jewish community to the island’s way of life.

Thriving Community

Today, Puerto Rico is home to approximately 1,500 Jews, the largest Jewish community in the Caribbean. Most Jews live in the capital San Juan which boasts three synagogues, a Jewish Community Center and a kosher grocery store. The island also is home to a Hebrew school, a Zionist youth club, and other Jewish organizations. The island’s Chabad center offers a kosher restaurant and catering, serving over 30,000 meals annually.

The number of Puerto Rican Jews has been in flux. After a high in the 1990s, the community has been declining. “About 90 percent of the children are sent to college in the United States, and most never come back,” explains Mr. Mandelbaum. In recent years, a new round of investment incentives have brought new businesspeople to the island, including some Jews.

Hurricane Maria

On Rosh Hashanah 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall with Puerto Rico as the third strongest hurricane ever recorded on land in the United States. The devastation was immense. A week after the hurricane, 97% of the territory remained without power and struggled to get basic supplies. Half did not have running water. Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo A. Rossello has warned of a “humanitarian crisis”.

As people struggle to deliver resources to the island, Puerto Rico’s Jewish community, itself battered by the storm, has been coordinating aid. The Chabad Jewish Center of Puerto Rico, located in downtown San Juan, was flooded with hundreds of gallons of water. Rabbi Mendel Zarchi described the scene that met him outside his Chabad center: “Blasted-out windows, toppled utility poles mangled with an overwhelming amount of downed trees (and) smashed cars.” Attempts to reach the Chabad center by phone proved impossible a week after the storm.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Zarchi reported that the synagogue had a minyan both days of Rosh Hashanah, even as the hurricane raged, and the center has now set up a relief fund to help buy food and water, as well as to repair the synagogue. (Link:

Puerto Rico’s Jewish Community Center has been aiding and sheltering those displaced by Hurricane Maria, and has set up a relief fund to provide emergency assistance and rebuilding funds. (Link:

Israeli Aid

Israeli aid organization IsraAID has sent emergency responders to aid in Puerto Rico. With a host of natural disasters in the Americas, IsraAID currently has teams in Mexico, where it has used Israeli expertise to coordinate rescues after the earthquake on September 19, 2017, and in Houston, Miami and the Florida Keys, where it is helping recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma.

In Puerto Rico, IsraAID rescuers were among the first to land once the island re-opened its airport. “We are providing medical and psychological support for children who lost their houses in the more rural areas that no other organization has reached,” explains IsraAID CEO Yotam Polizer. “We are working with the JCC and Chabad to provide clean water, distribute relief supplies and providing psychological support.”

As taken from, . October 7, 2017

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Posted by on October 7, 2017 in Uncategorized