Friday, July 31, 2009

Seeking a page from Lev Eliyahu

For an forthcoming post on the story about Plato's meeting with Yirmeyahu, I would find it exceptionally useful to have a scan or photocopy of a page in the sefer Lev Eliyahu, by Rabbi Elyah Lopian, ztz"l, on Bereishit, page 263. Or as I have it from a source which refers to it: לב אליהו בראשית עמ ' רסג. On that page, he apparently refers to this story, and may also give his source as Rema in Torat HaOlah, besides other sources.

I would appreciate any help, if you happen to have this sefer.

Interesting Posts and Articles #189

  1. As Vos Iz Neais, the elephant in the room -- English literacy and education. I believe that some of the comments there, such #14, are obviously jokes.

  2. Life in Israel on Why do they hate us? About how many secular Israelis do not wish to live near chareidim.

  3. In the Five Towns Jewish Times from last week, Emunah Therapy. Very troubling, and perhaps I will elaborate on just why in a separate post.

  4. Unorthodox Jew on trouble in the Catskills. How should a bungalo colony react to the presence of a child-molester?

  5. Another Shabbos protest this week. This time, the Eida is not allowing bachurim to participate, in an effort to avoid violence. Hopefully this will work.

  6. At DovBear, a post questioning a story of Plato meeting Jeremiah on the basis of chronology. And at parshablog, how the chronology can work out, though the story is likely a Christian legend, and reviewing some of the Jewish sources. See also this post on Revach.

  7. It has been a while, but I've resumed some sporadic posting on my Rif blog.

  8. Discovery of a new species of bird. It's bald.

  9. Rationalist Judaism continues the discussion on Rashi and the corporeality of God.

  10. A Mother In Israel on the latest pamphlet from Kupat HaIr. Speed all you want, just donate to kupat haIr!

Posts so far for parshat vaEtchanan


  1. vaEtchanan sources -- revamped, with more than 100 meforshim on the parasha and haftorah.
  2. Elohim as kodesh or chol -- Did Elohim assay to take out a nation? Rashi diverts from Targum Onkelos in claiming that this is chol. What might spark this? Also, how Ibn Ezra and Ibn Caspi differ. (See also this 2008 post.)
  3. The masorah regarding the spelling of mezuzot -- Since the word ha-mezuzot appears in parshat Bo, Minchas Shai discusses the issue of the spelling of mezuzot in VaEtchanan and in general. There is a Rashi in VaEtchanan which darshens the word against the masoretic spelling. And this is one example of divergence among many? How can we deal with this? Shall we harmonize it, or leave it alone? I explain why I think the text indeed diverges.

  1. VaEtchanan sources -- links by perek and aliyah to an online mikraos gedolos, and links to a large number of meforshim on the parsha and haftara.

  2. The masorah about the bald field and ox.

  3. The makef vs. the requirement not to run words together in Shema.

  4. Was Mizrachi a flat earther? It would seem so, in which case he would join the ranks of the Vilna Gaon (perhaps) and the Shevus Yaakov. It also might well be the case that the underlying gemara in Chagiga also reveals Chazal (or some of them) to have believed in a flat earth. And this ties into the whole question of whether Chazal (or even later authorities) can err in science; and also, whether disregarding the science of our times in favor of the position of Chazal, or what we perceive to be Chazal, is a brilliant idea.

  5. How does keeping the mitzvot make us a wise and discerning nation? A nice devar Torah in Avi Ezer's supercommentary on Ibn Ezra.
  6. The parsing of Temunat Kol -- depending on whether the phrase continues on or not.
  7. Is is ve'etchanan or va'etchanan? Compensatory lengthening of the patach.

  1. In this excerpt from Shadal's Vikuach, Shadal discusses Rabbenu Bachya's discussion about revocalization, where one pasuk under discussion is in vaEtchanan.

  2. Bal Tigra and Bal Tosif, because law codes devolve. It is Shadal's idea of gradual mutation from a good set of laws to a bad one, and that this happened to gentile law codes.
  3. A Tale of Two Elokims -- Is Elohim holy or profane, in these two instances in vaetchanan?
In Hear O Israel, I discuss the midrash that the beginning of Shema was a discussion between Yaakov and his sons.

In When Did Moshe Pray?, I consider the meaning of בָּעֵת הַהִוא and attempt to show that it implies two events co-occurring rather than happening sequentially. In a post in 2005 about the Chronology of Yehuda's Marriage, I make a related point.

2003 (summaries taken from this roundup)
In Parshat VeEtchanan - The significance of Nachamu I examine an appropriate story from the second perek of yerushalmi brachot, about the destruction of the bet hamikdash and the birth of the mashiach, and show how Nachamu consoles. :)

In VeEtchanan - Nachamu: Every Valley Shall Be Lifted Up I examine the verse about each valley being lifted up from the perspective of Ibn Ezra and Chazal, but then turn to a yerushalmi in the 8th perek of eruvin and show how this messianic prophecy about the end of days plays a concrete role in a dispute about eruvs between Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish.

In Nachamu Parsing Issue I pull apart the third verse of the haftara. I could probably do a better job at it now with a trup chart like I had in the recent past - as it is it is somewhat difficult to follow. A picture is sometimes worth 1000 words, so I'll put the chart on my To Do List.

Then, in Proof by contradiction in the thought of Chazal, I return to that yerushalmi in the 8th perek in eruvin, and show how a method of proof called Proof by Contradiction seems to be employed in that gemara. It is axiomatic that a public domain must exist for there to be a Biblical prohibition of transfer from one domain to another to exist. Rabbi Yochanan attempts to prove another law by demonstrating that if one assumes the opposite you arrive at an absurdity and falsehood.

to be continued...

Yirmeyahu and Plato in Egypt

Over at DovBear, LSK asks some questions about a story in Artscroll's Kinos about a meeting of Yirmeyahu and Plato, with Plato ending up impressed with the prophet, which they attributed to Rav Moshe Isserles (=the Ramah), presumably from his sefer Torat HaOlah.

While LSK raises some questions, though I think the only real and apparently strong one is about chronology, with Plato being in the wrong century to meet Yirmeyahu. But as noted in the comment section, this assumes a non-Jewish dating system for the First Temple's destruction, but the Jewish dating system is somehow missing about 165 years. Thus, while that commenter / guest poster at DovBear writes:

Plato lived from 428-348 BC or a year later, according to detailed and reputable Greek texts.
The temple was destroyed in 586 BC! So these three could never have met!

We can bring the destruction of the temple to about 420 BCE, according to the Jewish count. By adding 165 years to 586 BCE (which is subtraction), we end up with 421 BCE. If Plato meets Yirmeyahu after the Temple's destruction, when the latter is in Egypt (which is what the legend states), then it does work out. Except of course you have to adopt the Jewish timeline. So they can be parallel. Someone also suggests that Socrates was a better match even with all this. Perhaps. Anyway, I tracked down many of these sources, so we can see what they say. They are quite interesting.

First, Jewish Encyclopedia's take on this legend:

The assertion—made by Yaḥya (l.c. p. 101a) and by Abravanel (to Jer. i. 5), but not by Isserles, as Yaḥya erroneously states—that Jeremiah held a conversation with Plato, is also of Christian origin.

I haven't tracked it down in Christian sources, but we can see what these Jewish sources say. First, R' Gedaliah Ibn Yachya, in his Shalshelet HaKabbalah (see right). He cites Rabbi Netanel Ibn Caspi in a commentary on the Kuzari:

"Plato said: I was with Jeremiah in Egypt, and initially I was mocking him and his words, and in the end, once I become accustomed to speaking with him and to watch his actions carefully, I saw that his words were words of the Living God. Then, I said in my heart, and I established, that he was a sage and prophet." And so wrote the author of Torat HaOlah {=the Rema} in volume I, chapter 11.
The continuation, with the story about bees, is from another source. We see when Ibn Yachya dated Plato. On the previous page, he writes that Plato was really Ezra! Ezra, who received from Baruch (Yirmeyahu's scribe) at about 3385. His name was not really Plato, but was really names Aristocles. Indeed, other sources give this as Plato's name, but do not claim that "Rabboteinu" changed his name to Plato. Ibn Yachya also claims that Plato was a student of Pythagoras, who we know from elsewhere lived from about 580 - 490 BCE. This was about the time of the Churban according to secular reckoning, so his student "Plato" would be as well. He also writes that he was a descendant of the philosopher Solon, which we have from other sources. But that was 6 generations removed, and Solon was about at the time of the Churban. And at the same time, however, Ibn Yachya refers (in the first clip I provided) to Theophrastus, a student of Plato. And he lived much later, 371 – c. 287 BCE, according to what we know from elsewhere.

There are also two other Aristocles, who were earlier and about the time of the Churban (from the secular date). Could this be a source for confusion? Probably not.Regardless, he does think, based on his sources, to place Yirmeyahu and Plato at about the same time. Perhaps someone else wants to try to hammer this out.

Now, while Ibn Yachya does appear to attribute this same story to Rema, in which case he is incorrect, he does give us a volume and chapter. So either he is misremembering or else he simply means that this is another, similar source, that early philosophers greatly respected Jewish knowledge and drew their philosophy from us. (See previous page: "And I saw in the book of Preparazioni {Preparations} siman 82 that they learned from the Jewish philosophers who were called Barkomani, who were exiled from Jerusalem to go to Babylon and Egypt. And know that the early philosophers of the nations referred to Jews as Barkomani, and at time Barberei {barbarians?} as is apparent in many scattered places in the aforementioned book.) Thus, when citing Rema for this, he perhaps does not mean the particular story about Plato and Yirmeyahu, but rather this point he is developing about the gentile philosophers drawing from Jewish sources.

What we find in Torat HaOlah is (starting from the previous page):
"For in truth, all the wisdom of the philosophers and researchers {and now the text in the image} came from Israel, and all of their wisdom is encompassed in the Torah, as the Rav of the Moreh {Nevuchim?} goes on at length to teach; that all the wisdom of the philosophers is found in the midrashim of Chazal and their aggadot. And know that I have perused an extremely old sefer amd there were sketched in it all the philosophers in their form and their wisdom, how it came about {?}. And it was written in it that Socrates, who is the one that the philosophers call Socrat the Godly, that he was the one who brought out at first in Philosophy that there was a separate reality {?}. And after him were drawn other the philosophers. And it is written there that he received the wisdom from Asaf the Korchi {who was in the time of King David} and from Achitofel. And it is further written in Shevilei Emunah {I think this sefer from R' Meir Ibn Aldabi} that the wisdom of Aristotle was stolen from King Solomon, peace be upon him, for when Alexander the Macedonian conquered Yerushalayim, he set his teacher Aristotle to govern over the collection of the books of Solomon. And every good thing he found in them, he wrote his name upon them, and intermixed in them some of the bad positions, such as the Antiquity of the World and the denial of Providence, in order to cover for himself, so that people who came after him would not know that he stole this wisdom from the Jews. And it is possible that every thing that he did not find a clear-cut proof for in the words of Solomon he did not believe. Regardless, it is explained that all the wisdom are dependent upon the vine {see a similar idea in Ibn Yachya}. And in truth it is so that it is fitting for every Jewish person to believe this belief, and not to give our praise and our glory to strangers, the scholars of the nations. And behold, the verses praises Solomon, peace be upon him, that "He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop that grows on the wall." And if the source of this wisdom was not stolen from him, what was his greatness over Aristotle and those who came after him, who researched into all aspects of nature, as is made clear in their words. Therefore, it is fitting to believe these words, that as we have written, so it is."
Finally, in Abarbanel, in his commentary on Yirmeyahu 1:5. That pasuk reads:

ה בְּטֶרֶם אצורך (אֶצָּרְךָ) בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ, וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ: נָבִיא לַגּוֹיִם, נְתַתִּיךָ.5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations.

Even before we get anywhere in Abarbanel's words, we can see the idea of Yirmeyahu being a prophet for the gentiles, in giving over philosophy to Plato; or else Plato being impressed with the Godly knowledge of Yirmeyahu.

But this is not what he is actually using it for. Rather, it is for calculating the time span, and age, of Yirmeyahu. And if we look carefully at Abarbanel, he is commenting of Yirmeyahu 1:6, and JewishEncyclopedia referred to the wrong verse. Yirmeyahu says in the next pasuk that he is a child.

ו וָאֹמַר, אֲהָהּ אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, הִנֵּה לֹא-יָדַעְתִּי, דַּבֵּר: כִּי-נַעַר, אָנֹכִי. {ס}6 Then said I: 'Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak; for I am a child.' {S}

And he would have to be a naar at this time in order to speak with Plato.

Anyway, what Abarbanel says is:

"The Scripture put forth to explain that Yirmeyahu began to prophesy in the days of Yoshiyahu, 13 years to his reign, and it is a full explicit verse that he prophesied for 40 years, as I mentioned. And that after the destruction he traveled to Egypt and stayed there for many years without prophecy until the day of his death, like the words of the Rav {=Rambam?}. And the Greek scholars testify that Plato spoke with him in Egypt. And according to this, from the beginning of his prophecy until his death, there passed more than 50 years. And this proves that when he began his prophecy, he was only about 12 years old or 15 years old."

And it continues with more proofs. I am not sure of Abarbanel's chronology, and when he though Plato and Yirmeyahu respectively lived. But it would seem that he is imagining Plato in existence but 10 years after the Churban. It is possible he did not try to calculate this, but was only relying on the facts as given in different sources {these, he said were Greek sources} to establish Yirmeyahu's young age at the beginning of prophecy.

Regardless, as discussed earlier, if we assume the Jewish timeline, then the chronology more or less works out.

Putting aside Abarbanel, the positions of Rema and Ibn Yachya are interesting. What motivates them? Perhaps Jewish pride, and that we (and we from Hashem) are the source of deep wisdom, much akin to Avi Ezer's position. Alternatively, there is much that philosophy and kabbalah share in common. If so, it can be competition. If so, making kabbalah the Jewish version of it, but also the original and true version of it, helps win the competition. Also, if they share so much in common, it is quite likely that this is because, as Shadal posits , much of kabbalah was actually initially philosophy, but given a Jewish color and read into Chazal. In which case, these parallels argue for kabbalah's illegitimacy. By turning around the direction of borrowing, we can claim that philosophy borrowed the true aspects of it from kabbalah, such that kabbalah is original and true. Finally, for those with a philosophical bent, who reinterpreted pesukim and maamarei Chazal as statements of philosophy via philosophical derash, one is permitted to maintain a foreign system of belief, because we are granting it legitimacy and saying that this is the Torah's truth and things that Chazal have always known.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tisha BeAv Programs in KGH or thereabout

See when the fast ends here.

* 1 PM Beth Gavriel Center = R' Benzion Shafier "LIVE"

1 PM http://www.ou. org/tishabav

Rabbi Steven Weil will be presenting "The Tragedy that Transcends the Generations" live from Beth Jacob Congregation- Beverly Hills

150 YIKGH 30 minute video presentation (following a 140 mincha)

"A Day In The Warsaw Ghetto" A Birthday Trip To Hell
"Six Day War"

* 2 PM Beth Gavriel Center = R' Ilan Meirov "LIVE"

215 YIH One Soul (Project Inspire)

2:10 PM Ahavas yisroel Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation ($15 Admission, $10 Students)
What Tisha B’Av Should Mean: Harav Shteinmen, Harav Salomon , Harav Kamanetsky, Harav Rabinowitz
Heeding the Call: Rabbi Yissocher Frand
Bringing Brocha Into Your Life: Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro

* 2:45 PM Beth Gavriel Center = R' Eli Mansour Video

300 Cong Etz Chaim

Beginning at 3:00pm we will show the following movies:

Blessed bethe Match – the Life of Chana Senesh,

the Orthodox Union film, with Rabbis Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Steven Weil and others

315 YIH Heeding The Call: What Are Our Trying Times Telling Us

(Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation)

Featuring Rabbi Yissacher Frand

* 3:30 PM Beth Gavriel Center = R' Akiva Rutenberg "LIVE"

400 YIH youth Anne Frank: The Whole Story (Approx 2 hrs) – gold room

4:10 PM Ahavas Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation ($15 Admission, $10 Students) Slander, Gossip & Verbal Abuse Rabbi Eli Monsour & Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky

* 4:15 PM Beth Gavriel Center = R' Mordechai Kraft "LIVE"

445 YIH Sinas Chinom And Loshon Hora: Conquering Our Mightiest Foes

Featuring Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky, and Rabbi Eli Mansour

5-700 Young Israel of Holliswood/HJC : • Understanding the Mideast Conflict & “The Forgotten Refugees”

* 5 PM Beth Gavriel Center = R' Eliyahu Bergstein "LIVE"

* 6 PM Beth Gavriel Center = R' Igal Haimoff "LIVE"

6:00 PM Ahavas R’ Moshe Schwerd - “Tisha B’Av – Past, Present & Future”

615 YIKGH "Inspire Us" The Future of American Jewry

615 YIH One Soul (Project Inspire)

630 YIQV "One Soul" Project Inspire film

7:10 PM Ahavas OU Video (ends at 7:50)

7:50 PM Ahavas Rabbi Welcher - Tisha B’Av Shiur

800 Ishei Hisorerus - singing and Divrei Torah

When the fast of Tisha BeAv (9th of Av) ends, in KGH

If you live elsewhere, you will need to go to the sites yourself and have it calculate it for you.

According to Chabad, it is the middle number here:
This is because they maintain the fast ends at tzeit according to the Baal Hatanya's shitta. Thus, at Kaluach:
Tzeit hakochavim (nightfall) צאת הכוכבים
131/2 min 3.56°8:29pm131/2 (מיל 18 דק')
167/8 min 4.37°8:35pm167/8 (מיל 22 דק')
18.6 min 4.85°8:36pmגר"א
24 min 6.00°8:43pmבעל התניה
26 min 6.30°8:45pmבעל התניה
72 min 16.11°9:50pm16.11°
72 regular9:25pmרבנו תם 72 רגילות
72 prop9:39pmרבנו תם 72 זמניות
72 strict9:39pmרבנו תם 72 לחומרה

Fast Ends / סיום הצום
R' Tukaccinsky
  • The fast of תשעה באב ends with the
    emergence of ג' כוכבים בינונים at -
  • 8:47 PM
    R' Moshe Feinstein
  • One who finds fasting difficult may eat at -
  • 8:51 PM
  • One who does not find fasting difficult
    should wait until the time for מוצאי שבת at -
  • 8:59 PM

    ?מהיכא תיתי

    This last time would accord with what he writes below, as:
    Nightfall - 3 Stars צאת הכוכבים - ג' כוכבים
    36 minutes as degrees [?]
    End of Shabbos and Yom Tov.
    8:58:5936 דקות במעלות
    צאת השבת ויום טוב

    Feel free to add other times you see printed, in the comments.

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    Tisha B'Av Kinnos, and when the fast begins, in Kew Gardens Hills

    If you live elsewhere, you will need to go to the sites yourself and have it calculate it for you.

    According to Chabad:
    and this accords, more or less, to what we have at
    Shkiat hachama (sunset)8:14pmשקיעת החמה

    Meanwhile, at
    Sunsetשקיעת החמה
    At sea level [Set Elevation]8:13:41בגובה פני הים

    How about Tisha BeAv Kinnot (/ Kinos / Kinot / Kinnot)? Well, at, we have the following:

    קינות ויניציאהשעו
    קינותלא נודעוילהרמשדורףתעט
    קינותליפשיץ, חייםלובליןשעז
    קינות בשם: קול בוכיםלאווענשטיין, ל. ה.פפד"מתקצט

    Interesting Posts and Articles #188

    1. Cap'n, thar be whales here! Scientists create transparent aluminum, but only briefly, and it seems only transparent to ultraviolet light.

    2. Yeshiva Bound: I cannot vouch for whether this is legit, but two bachurim set up a website seeking donations so that they can attend a yeshiva in Australia.

    3. An Hakirah article: Is There a Disconnect between Torah Learning and Torah Living? In that article, the following story, from Rabbi Hanoch Teller:
      One Sunday morning Reb Shlomo Zalman gathered his students at Kol Torah and told them: “A terrible thing happened in my neighborhood and I must make you aware of it.” The seriousness of Reb Shlomo Zalman's disposition and the somber tone of his voice only served to intensify their fear that the event was even more horrendous than their vivid imaginations could conjure up. Reb Shlomo Zalman related that on Shabbos he had seen a man dragging benches to the shul for a collation in honor of his son’s engagement. The man’s son, who was walking at his side, did not so much as lift a finger to help his father. “I could not contain my bewilderment,” the Rav told his listeners, “and I asked the chassan to explain why his father was doing all of the shlepping. He proudly explained that even where there was an eruv, he himself did not carry on Shabbos and was therefore unable to lend a hand.” This reply enraged the rav. The very idea of so-called religiosity taking precedence over honoring one’s father was anathema to him.
    4. Certain Muslim medical practitioners refuse alchohol-based hand gels because of religious beliefs, which then puts others at greater risk for swine flu.

    5. Does Judaism not have enough shtuyot that have crept in, that we must also adopt as an article of faith that the "miracles" of other religions are true as well?! At Mystical Paths, explaining the existence of mystical signs in other religions, by acknowledging their existence, rather than stating the truth, that they are alse sleight-of-hand. In the comment section, I argue against this from a rationalist perspective, but one need not be a rationalist to recognize that much if not all of the present-day powers are likely trickery and/or nonsense. As I wrote in my latest comment there:
      i would just add here that unfortunately this conversation devolved into a mystical vs. rationalist divide. but i think that even on the mystical side, even if one acknowledges that {magical impure} powers once existed, one is not religiously compelled to adopt all the shtuyot of other religions as real phenomena. indeed, if both possibilities are open before us, the idea that it is trickery should be one of the options, and perhaps even the preferred option. there are a lot of gullible people out there, or people who are conditioned by their religion to be superstitious. while chazal were often mystical, they still denied the reality of certain superstitions. for example, just because some silly christians see the virgin mary in a grilled cheese sandwich, Judaism, even mystical Judaism, should not compel a Jew to believe such utter nonsense as an article of faith, or even something plausible.
    6. An interview with the director of Hadassah hospital.

    7. On parshablog from 2007, eating a potato from the chulent during the nine days. And a post or two on the development of the practice of not consuming meat or wine during the nine days.

    8. About the AP's attempt to protect its content from blogs, or perhaps from aggregators.

    9. At Rationalist Judaim, hanging corpses and decomposing faces, and how it might relate to Rashi's view of the corporeality of God.

    10. At On the Main Line, a contrast between norms described in R. Yehuda Aryeh Mi-Modena of Venice's Historia de' riti Ebraici and the recommendations by Rabbi Falk for engaged couples.

    11. Rare 2nd Temple inscription found.

    12. At Daf Notes, they tell over an interesting question and answer by Rav Yosef Engel about the case in the gemara of a stipulation that cannot be fulfilled:
      There is another case brought down in the Tosefta: If the husband said, “On condition that you fly in the air.”

      Reb Yosef Engel in Gilyonei HaShas asks: Isn’t this something that is possible? Don’t we find such an occurrence by Alexander the Great? And in today’s age (of Reb Yosef Engel), people fly in the air using air balloons!?

      He answers that the language “fly” connotes “by himself,” similar to a bird, and floating in the air using exterior devices is not what he had in mind. A condition must be fulfilled according to the language of the stipulator!
      A nice answer, but I think that one need not go that far. I think it is quite possible to allegorize the story in the Yerushalmi to be talking about Alexander the Great's oversight and royal power. And I don't think an eagle can really bear a human to such heights, or even fly to such heights that the earth looks like a circle. Meanwhile, the idea of a ship which flies in the air is something that Rambam thought utterly impossible, and demonstrative of the weakness of the imaginative faculty that could come up with such nonsense, such that it is not so difficult to assume that Chazal had the same attitude, either in general or even in every particular case. On the other hand, in the gemara, it speaks of crossing the sea with your feet, such that perhaps particular methods are being considered even here. I doubt it, though.

      That gemara, besides being present in Bava Metzia 94a, also occurs in Yerushalmi Nazir 7a:
      מתניתא דר' מאיר דרבי מאיר אומר צריך לכפול תמן דברי הכל היא אמר לו שמור ושמעת מתניתא דרבי מאיר ורבי יהודה בן תימא דתני הרי זה גיטך על מנת שלא תפרחי באויר שלא תעברי את הים הגדול ברגלייך הריזה גט ועל מנת שתפרחי באויר על מנת שתעברי הים הגדול ברגלייך אינו גט ר' יהודה בן תימא אומר גט

    How does keeping the mitzvot make us a wise and understanding people?

    In parshat va`etchanan, we have:
    ד וְאַתֶּם, הַדְּבֵקִים, בַּה', אֱלֹהֵיכֶם--חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם, הַיּוֹם.4 But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day.
    ה רְאֵה לִמַּדְתִּי אֶתְכֶם, חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוַּנִי, ה' אֱלֹהָי: לַעֲשׂוֹת כֵּן--בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם בָּאִים שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ.5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the midst of the land whither ye go in to possess it.
    ו וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם--כִּי הִוא חָכְמַתְכֶם וּבִינַתְכֶם, לְעֵינֵי הָעַמִּים: אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁמְעוּן, אֵת כָּל-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה, וְאָמְרוּ רַק עַם-חָכָם וְנָבוֹן, הַגּוֹי הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה.6 Observe therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, that, when they hear all these statutes, shall say: 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'
    ז כִּי מִי-גוֹי גָּדוֹל, אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ אֱלֹהִים קְרֹבִים אֵלָיו, כַּה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ, בְּכָל-קָרְאֵנוּ אֵלָיו.7 For what great nation is there, that hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is whensoever we call upon Him?
    ח וּמִי גּוֹי גָּדוֹל, אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים צַדִּיקִם, כְּכֹל הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם.8 And what great nation is there, that hath statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
    Why should the nations think us so smart, because we keep the mitzvot? I think one can answer in a straightforward manner, that you cannot argue with success. It is not that the mitzvot all are all readily apparent to the nations as brilliant, ethical, and correct. But by keeping these commandments, we maintain this relationship with God which the nations can witness and appreciate. Thus, it must be that our laws and practices are good ones, and so we are a wise and understand people to keep and maintain such customs and such a relationship.

    Alternatively, and more fitting with certain aspects of the text, there is something to the practices themselves that the nations can appreciate and respect, perhaps as more just and righteous than their own. Are these two concepts linked or not? I can see it either way. It could be two reasons for learning and keeping these mitzvot. First, to maintain the relationship with God, and second, because they are intrinsically wise, fair, and righteous. Both of these things are Israel's glory. Not necessarily that we should define ourselves by how others look at us, but sometimes a perspective from outside helps us appreciate just what it is we have.

    Ibn Ezra on this:
    [ד, ה]
    וטעם למדתי אתכם
    אחר שאמר אשר אנכי מלמד אתכם, להוסיף כאשר צוני ה', כי המצות הם מצותיו שתעשו בארץ שיתן לכם השם לירושה.
    ועוד: כי יש לכם תפארת במצותיו על כל הגוים.
    והטעם: כי עיקר כל המצות יבינם המשכיל וידע למה נתנו.

    [ד, ז]
    כי מי גוי גדול -
    שיש לו אלהים שיהיה קרוב אליו שיענהו תמיד בכל אשר יבקש ממנו בחכמה, גם אין גוי גדול אשר לו חקים ומשפטים צדיקים בשקול הדעת, כמו ישראל.

    וטעם גוי גדול
    בעבור חכמי לב יראי ה
    So the intelligent person will perceive and appreciate the wisdom at the root of the mitzvot, and know why they were given. And there are two points here, one maintaining our relationship with Hashem following the mitzvot pertaining to the land; and secondly because it is our glory because they are intrinsically good and and wise laws.

    Avi Ezer cites this bit that there will be glory to them in His commandments, and takes off on it. See here in Mikraos Gedolos, and here in a stand-alone sefer. Though neither is a very good image, so see in your own Mikraos Gedolos:
    Behold, one who sees this will be astonished at the words of the pasuk that וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם--כִּי הִוא חָכְמַתְכֶם וּבִינַתְכֶם, לְעֵינֵי הָעַמִּים: אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁמְעוּן, אֵת כָּל-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה, וְאָמְרוּ רַק עַם-חָכָם וְנָבוֹן, הַגּוֹי הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה.
    Is he really saying to learn well in order that you be wise in your ways, and you will have glory over your fellows and your peers, such that they will accept you in honor as a master and teacher?! Isn't this notice not pleasant for an intelligent person, that the learning should be on account of the glory and grandeur, and all the more so for a complete nation?

    And what is correct in this is that great things are hinted at in these verses. For it is known that in days of old, in which the Jews were for prey and spoil in the cities of the nations, they thought to find favor by going in their statutes and in adornments {?} of gold and silver. And they already were answered {?} by a patron, that in time of dire straights for their, from their exiles and from moving about because of the jealousy of the nations, because of their going about loftily, with clothing of silk and embroidery, they should tear their clothing from upon their hearts.

    And afterwards, many of our brothers thought to find favor in the eyes of the nations by learning their language and statutes {/customs}, in order to find favor in their eyes, while our statutes and our Torah: Scripture, Talmud, and Poskim were set aside in the corner with none to gather. And even this did not work for them. For the nations laughed at them.

    But set your heart upon the days of old, in which Hashem answered us whenever we called Him; and every one

    of us knew the names of the angels and among us were prophets, and among us were sages and righteous people!

    And even in the days of the Tannaim, they made use of the
    bat kol, and all their words were like fiery coals; with the breath of their mouths they put a wicked man to death, and with the gaze of their eyes they cast down corpses.

    This was our glory, and all knew that there was not withheld from them the science of nature and geometry, and the language of the nations and their writing. However, the primary aspect of their glory was only in the divine knowledge. For in this it was apparent within them great providence and influence more than any nation. For they intend by performance of the commandments the lofty aspect of them, and their entire direction is to delve into the greatness of the Creator until they receive the providence and influence, and they
    do not perform the commandments like those who perform them by rote.

    And behold, the Torah reveals to us, as a reminder to inform us, that if the spirit of {desiring} glory comes upon you, to find favor in the eyes of the nations, and to become beautiful in their eyes such that they will say about you that you are a wise and discerning person, and you think to seek {?} honor in writing and speech, and you cast away the commandments of Hashem over your back, you are making yourself "beautiful" for nothing. And this is what the Scripture is saying: Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances... However, observe the
    commandments in a fitting way, such that you are not "redeemed" {?} in the pas bag {food; another text: pas bagei} of the times {perhaps zeitgeist?}. For is it not so that then the nations will laugh at your commandments and your statutes, when they see your degraded stature, which of old had been similar to a date-palm. Rather, perform them in a proper manner, as I have written, and then it will be that your wisdom and your wisdom will be extremely great in the eyes of the nations when they see the great religious knowledge and also see the great success of the people, in that Hashem is close to them whenever they call {to Him}. For the wisdom of a person illuminates his face, and whoever sees our people in their tranquility will certainly know that our statutes are good and that Hashem is our beloved and our friend. And this is what the Scripture states {pasuk 9}: However, take heed and watch your soul, lest you forget, etc., and it be to you like an antiquated edict {see Rashi on Vaetchanan, Devarim 6:6, citing Sifrei}, a command fulfilled by people by rote, to come to Him as a nation {?} comes, while their hearts are distant from Him. Is it not the case that then, you will not find favor in the eyes of the nations. And also this will not help them, for they will say that Hashem forgot us, because

    we walked despondently. This is the gist of the words of these pesukim; once you set them upon your heard, you will return and see the words of mussar which come out of these pesukim.

    And now, know for yourself how deep were the words of the mekonen {author of Eicha}.

    יז וַתִּזְנַח מִשָּׁלוֹם נַפְשִׁי, נָשִׁיתִי טוֹבָה.17 And my soul is removed far off from peace, I forgot prosperity.
    יח וָאֹמַר אָבַד נִצְחִי, וְתוֹחַלְתִּי מֵה'. {ס}18 And I said: 'My strength is perished, and mine expectation from the LORD.' {S}

    To say that for the multitudes of good and peace that You granted me in my soul. And this is vatiznach {is removed far off}, You have caused to forget my soul and spirit, from the great peace which You have showered me; {nashiti tova} I forget prosperity -- this is the goodness of the existing world. וָאֹמַר אָבַד נִצְחִי -- "And I said: 'My strength is perished'" for we have strayed from believing in eternality; וְתוֹחַלְתִּי מֵה' -- "and mine expectation from the LORD {is also gone}" for the future, for we have said that we have been decreed upon, and there is no Judgement or Judge, and the same thing occurs to the righteous and the evildoer, and {channeling the next pasuk} You Hashem recall my affliction and my anguish, to grant atonememt for all that we have perverted. And the mekonen speaks as if Hashem is opposite him, and in bitterness he wails saying in second person and third person at an upper degree almost all the blessings: Hashem is good to those who hope for him, and to the righteous. And do not be astonished about that which we see, that what impacts the righteous is like that of the incidents of the wicked, for You Hashem, seek the soul.
    {All this an interpretation of:
    כה טוֹב ה' לְקֹוָו, לְנֶפֶשׁ תִּדְרְשֶׁנּוּ.25 The LORD is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him.

    That Your main aim is to seek out and improve the soul of the righteous person, while the body is incidental, and the Torah does not speak about the dead. And I have gone on at length to speak regarding the words of Chachmeinu za"l in perek BaMeh Madlikin upon the pasuk

    יז וַתִּזְנַח מִשָּׁלוֹם נַפְשִׁי, נָשִׁיתִי טוֹבָה.17 And my soul is removed far off from peace, I forgot prosperity.
    and here is not the place for me to extend.
    End quote. It is interesting how Rabbi Shlomo Hakohen of Lissa, Avi Ezer, turns the message of this pasuk into an argument against Haskalah, which was flourishing at this point, in the 18th century. Another interesting statement is that:
    This was our glory, and all knew that there was not withheld from them the science of nature and geometry, and the language of the nations and their writing. However, the primary aspect of their glory was only in the divine knowledge.
    Does he mean that they knew all their was to know about science via tradition or Divine guidance, or that they studied the current-science and mathematics of their day? I am not sure.

    Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    Was Mizrachi a flat earther?

    I am not sure. The Shevus Yaakov referred to the Mizrachi on vaEtchanan as having this implication. We shall see, perhaps. (Meanwhile, previous posts in this series, on the Vilna Gaon, again on the Vilna Gaon, and on the Shevus Yaakov.)

    In Devarim 4:32, in parshat vaEtchanan, the Torah states:
    לב כִּי שְׁאַל-נָא לְיָמִים רִאשֹׁנִים אֲשֶׁר-הָיוּ לְפָנֶיךָ, לְמִן-הַיּוֹם אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אָדָם עַל-הָאָרֶץ, וּלְמִקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְעַד-קְצֵה הַשָּׁמָיִם: הֲנִהְיָה, כַּדָּבָר הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה, אוֹ, הֲנִשְׁמַע כָּמֹהוּ.32 For ask now of the days past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from the one end of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it?
    On this pasuk, Rashi writes:
    and from the one end of the heavens: And also ask of all the creatures from one end [of the heavens] to the other end. This is its simple meaning, but its midrashic explanation is: [This] teaches [us] about Adam’s height, that it was from the earth to the heavens, and that this is the very same measurement as from one end of the heavens to the other end (San. 38b). ולמקצה השמים: וגם שאל לכל הברואים אשר מקצה אל קצה זהו פשוטו. ומדרשו מלמד על קומתו של אדם שהיתה מן הארץ עד השמים והוא השיעור עצמו אשר מקצה אל קצה:
    Mizrachi, in his commentary on Rashi on vaEtchanan, explains:
    and from one end of the heavens: and also ask of all the creatures which are from one end to the other end. {End citation of Rashi.}
    He {=Rashi} adds "and also ask" upon "and from one end of the heavens" for without this, one might this that the phrase "and from one end of the heavens" is connected with what was previous to it, "since the day that God created man upon the earth" "and from the end of the heavens until the other end of the heavens," and this is not correct. For "since the day that God created" is referring to the "days past" which refers to the time. But "and from the end of the heavens" does not refer to time but rather to places. And together with the addition {of Rashi} of "and also ask," it is a question all by itself. Also, he {=Rashi} explains "from the ends of the heavens" as "to all the creatures who are from one end to the other end, because the places which are from one end to the other cannot be asked."

    {Again quoting Rashi:}
    but its midrashic explanation is: [This] teaches [us] about Adam’s height, that it was from the earth to the heavens, and that this is the very same measurement as from one end of the heavens to the other end. {End quote of Rashi.}

    In perek Ain Doreshin {Chagiga 12a; also found in Sanhedrin 38b}: R. Eleazar said: The first man reached from earth to heaven, as it is stated {Devarim 4:32},
    לב כִּי שְׁאַל-נָא לְיָמִים רִאשֹׁנִים אֲשֶׁר-הָיוּ לְפָנֶיךָ, לְמִן-הַיּוֹם אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אָדָם עַל-הָאָרֶץ, וּלְמִקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְעַד-קְצֵה הַשָּׁמָיִם: הֲנִהְיָה, כַּדָּבָר הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה, אוֹ, הֲנִשְׁמַע כָּמֹהוּ.32 For ask now of the days past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from the one end of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it?
    {where the derasha is that Adam who God created, namely Adam Harishon, was on the earth and to the ends of heaven, thus making him quite tall.}

    Rab Judah said in Rab's name: The first man reached from one end of the world to the other {this in terms of width}, as it is stated:
    לב כִּי שְׁאַל-נָא לְיָמִים רִאשֹׁנִים אֲשֶׁר-הָיוּ לְפָנֶיךָ, לְמִן-הַיּוֹם אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אָדָם עַל-הָאָרֶץ, וּלְמִקְצֵה הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְעַד-קְצֵה הַשָּׁמָיִם: הֲנִהְיָה, כַּדָּבָר הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה, אוֹ, הֲנִשְׁמַע כָּמֹהוּ.32 For ask now of the days past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from the one end of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it?

    It is a contradiction between one verse and another {actually, one verse and itself, though different parts of the verse}!

    {No.} Both this {statement} and that are one measurement. And Rashi comments
    "upon the earth and to the ends of heaven" {=Rabbi Eleazar}: this is from the earth until the firmament.
    And in another variant text:
    "upon the earth and to the ends of heaven" {=Rabbi Eleazar}: he was upon the earth and he reached the heavens.
    "and from the end of heaven until the end of heaven" {=Rav Yehuda citing Rav}: from the end of the world until its {other} end.
    "the verses contradict one another": for one says "from the ends of the heavens until the ends of the heavens" which is from one end of the world to the other, and one said "upon the earth and until the end of heaven" which is from the earth until the firmament.

    And it teaches that "this and that are a single measure." To explain, the measurement which is from the earth until the firmament is itself

    the same measure as from one end of the earth until the other end. For the point on the circumference {=zenith} is one end {of the length of heaven} and the center of heaven, which is the ground, is the other end{see red circle in the middle of the picture}. Not the zenith opposite it, for this would then also be the opper point, just like the other end. {Note: I drew this an an oval rather than a circle, because this appears to be what he is saying, and the only way that the diameter across is equal to the radius from the midpoint to the zenith. Otherwise, the length of the earth would be 2X the length.}

    And furthermore, if so {that it was a perfect circle rather than an oval as pictured}, Adam Harishon would not have been able to stand on his legs until after he sinned. For since his stature was from the eastern edge {of the earth} until the western edge {of the earth}, which is twice from the earth until the heavens {since the former is the diameter and the latter is the radius}, it is not possible for him to stand, but only lay prostrate, for then his head would be at the circumference on the east and his legs at the circumference on the west.

    And according to this {oval rather than circle picture}, from the land until the firmament is called "upon the earth, and to the edge of heaven" and it is called as well "from the end of the earth until its {other} end." And there is no difference in all of this except in what one calls it. And therefore, the explanation of this Scripture according to its midrash is that Adam was "upon the earth and until the edge of heaven," which is the same as "from the edge of heaven until the edge of heaven." And this is what Rashi wrote, that his stature was from the earth until heaven, and that it was the self-same measure which was from one end to the other.
    End quote of Mizrachi. It certainly seems to be in accord with the Shevus Yaakov's understanding, that Mizrachi understands the gemara as referring to a flat earth. Perhaps one can explain it in another way? At any rate, I see that ADDeRabbi discussed Yad Ramah which seems to be saying the same thing as Mizrachi, that according to this gemara the height of the hemisphere is equal to its width, though he rejects this at the end.

    If we agree that Mizrachi believed in a flat earth {or at least that Chazal in Chagiga believed in a flat earth, and that Rashi believed the same; and where it then stands to reason that Mizrachi believed it as well}, then it is quite strange. Well, not so strange. We just saw on parshat Devarim that he is perfectly willing to accept Og's thighbone as three parsangs long, despite Rambam's assertion that those who take such midrashim literally are foolish. Not necessarily does he give credence to contemporary scientific findings.

    Here, he appears to believe two things. First, the geocentric model of the universe. After all, he is talking about a circular firmament around the earth. This is not so surprising. Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi was, after all, born in 1455 and died in 1525 or 1526. Meanwhile, Galileo was born in 1564.

    Second, he appears to believe in a flat earth. This is more difficult, given that almost no one back then believed in a flat earth. This was even prior to Magellan and based on Greek science. But indeed, Magellan began his expedition to circumnavigate the globe in 1519 and managed to return to Spain in 1522. This was admittedly towards the very end of Mizrachi's life, though it was first published after his death by his son. But this may have been written before he heard of the feat, or before the feat, or he might have disbelieved it even so.

    Why is this important? Maybe it isn't. But perhaps it is, to demonstrate that this was a credible position among Jews at that time, despite contemporary scientific evidence or beliefs.


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