The Stranger Among Us – Overcoming Negativity

SimchasTorahI remember art class.

One assignment was to draw a design and complete it within a certain amount of time. When time was up, we had to stop with whatever drawing we had. It could have been half finished but we had to stop.

It was a race against time, but also an exercise in using our skills.

Life is similar to that exercise.

It is a race against time to perfect oneself.

The way that we end up is the way we remain in the afterlife.

The good that we have done becomes set in eternity. Afterwards, we cannot continue to build.

Many a time we want to do good.

But we are sidetracked. We want to give a dollar to a hungry poor person, but then a thought enters our mind – “why should I give if he is just going to use it for drugs.”

Someone wants to give a sizable donation to a worthy Torah cause, then he thinks “I can’t do that – my old teacher from Hebrew school was mean to me.”

Or sometimes it just implants negative thoughts into us to demotivate us : “You are no good. You are worthless. Just give up.”

Positive Thinking

When encountering the negative, G-d wants us to strengthen ourselves to do the positive. Counter with positive thoughts. “I can! I am good! I should give! People do love me!” Find reason to do the good that will outweigh the bad.

Life’s Balance – the Good and Evil Inclination

G-d implanted in us a Good inclination and an Evil inclination.

It is so that life will be balanced – if we knew how great the reward was for a simple good deed, we would quit work and do good deeds all day. (Working, can also be a good deed with the right intentions.)

The good inclination – gives us the idea to do good or not to do bad. The Evil inclination gives us ideas to do bad or not do good. We have freedom of choice – freedom to chose between the good an the bad.

The Arm Against Bad

So what is our arm to choose that which is good?

The mind.

If one was to think out their actions, they would do only good.

Pogram or Peace

Imagine a person was in the times of pogroms against the Jews. The church would rile up the common folk to destroy, pillage and harm on certain holidays or just out of hate. A gentile who would follow his heart would join the fun. A person who would use his mind would think – is this the right thing to do to hurt innocent people? If he would think further – he would discount the credibility of his religion in his eyes and seek something more just. He or she would think – is this what G-d really wants from me – to hurt his chosen people.

If he were really sincere in his search for truth, he would come to the conclusion that he should be following the Seven Noahide laws for world peace for all people because G-d said to follow them in the Torah. A person who is honest can look at the history of their religion and see if they approve of the acts of the leaders and devotees to that religion. In essence a person who follows a religion – condone in a sense – the acts that were done through that religion.

Positive Speech

Or let’s take a simpler example – a person that speaks badly about others. He or she gets pleasure from speaking about others badly. In essence, it is their emotions that are driving them. If they were to reflect, they would think – look how much time I am wasting talking about others, when I can be using that time to do good for the world.

Detailed Laws exist concerning not speaking badly about others and not listening to negative speech. In the long run a person who avoids negative speech not only gets a Mitzvah, but they also live a better life.

I sometimes wonder why people listen to the daily news. Obviously, one can be informed about world events, but certain news sources are so depressing they put a damper on life. Choosing a news source that has a positive outlook – like Mishpacha Magazine – can help you get news without being left with depressing thoughts. Just like negative speech.

If you see your entourage is speaking negatively, you can buy a book – like Positive Word Power – By Rabbi Zelig Pliskin or ask an Orthodox Rabbi to teach the laws of Lashon HaRah to a small group of friends. In the long run you will see life in a more positive light.

Thus it is important for a person to define one’s role in life. When one defines their role to do as much good using their particular talents and abilities – the menial tit-for-tat of life becomes something to avoid and reaching a higher good takes precedence.

You can use your thoughts, speech and action to build or destroy. You can choose to encourage a young child to better in school with nice words or can use your words to scold them and break their confidence. It is your choice. You can use your thoughts to encourage yourself or to break yourself. You can use your actions to build the world or destroy. Choose wisely.

Live and Learn. Learn and Live

Learning laws about refraining from negative speech / Lashon HaRah . I heard that if one has a negative quality that they wish to overcome, they should learn laws pertaining to that subject. If one arrives late to synagogue, they could learn laws about coming on time to synagogue. If one has a bad temper, they can learn Torah works concerning the destructiveness of anger.

G-d gave us free will to chose what is right and what is wrong. My Rebbe, used to say the mind should be in control of the heart not the other way around. Obviously, if the Torah is their guidepost, they will be able to overcome the evil inclination.

Antidote to the Bitter Pill

Smiling-PillThe essence of Judaism is to do good.

When a Gentile asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot – he said “What is hateful to you don’t do to others.”

Rabbi Akiva said “You shall love your fellow as yourself.” This is the great principle of the Torah.

Self-control is essential to maximize one’s potential.

Otherwise, every emotion can steer you like a car’s steering wheel

“That cashier was nasty – I am not shopping at that store anymore”

“That man cut me off, let me chase him and rank him out.”

Examples abound. People have blogs that they use to vent their emotions and bitterness because they encountered a negative situation once or more. They feel they are saving society, but they are just venting the bitterness that they inherited once they were hurt. Obviously the person who hurt them most likely was wrong, but now should they guide their life based upon a positive attitude. It is not up to us to judge them, however for ourselves we can understand that living a pro-active life is better than living a re-active life.

I know someone who stopped putting on Tephillin (Phylacteries) because he said he saw a religious man steal. I told him: “It is forbidden to steal according to the Torah. Why do you take it out on your Judaism because someone who did wrong according to Judaism.”

I recently heard a story from Rabbi Eytan Feiner of a wealthy philanthropist. His friend asked why he didn’t give to Yeshivas. He said “I don’t give to Yeshivas because, once when I was younger , my Yeshiva teacher slapped me!” The person who slapped him was in the wrong. But why should the rest of the Yeshiva world lose out from his generosity. And why should he lose out the great merit of supporting a Torah institution, because he remains bitter after all these years?

Yes, self-control is needed to maximize one’s potential.

Two stories.

There is Always Hope for Change

Once there was a self-hating Jew. He would report the Jews to the Roman government and cause them problems. Apparently something triggered in him this bitterness. When the Roman’s wanted to destroy the Beit Hamikdash / the Holy Temple, they sent this man – Joseph to retrieve the precious vessels from the temple. They were afraid to enter themselves. As a reward, they gave him the right to take any vessel he chose.

He went in and took the Menorah of pure gold. The Romans thought that this was too prestigious and wanted it for their empire. They told him to go and take something else instead. He answered “I already angered my G-d once I will not do it again.” He was so enamored by the holiness of the temple, he repented in an instant. The Romans told him to go back in. He refused. Finally he gave up his life sanctifying the name of G-d, for he did not want to desecrate the temple again.

The Talmud says that this person has a portion in the world to come from this one moment of change.

Seeing the Other Side of the Story

Simon Wiesenthal was a Nazi hunter. After the war he searched for Nazi criminals to bring them to justice. He met a Holocaust Survivor that had strayed off the path of Torah and Judaism. He asked him “What’s the matter? Are you angry at G-d?”
He replied : “No. I am angry at one of his people.”
“Why is that?”
“In the bunker I was in there was a Jew that had smuggled a Siddur / Prayer Book into the concentration camp. Rations of food were very scarce. We received a small ration of bread for our daily meal. This man had a precious commodity – A siddur. He gave people the right to use it in exchange for a piece of their bread. People would line up giving up their food for survival for a couple minutes of using the siddur to pray to G-d. This turned me off completely. I thus abandoned everything in Judaism.”

Mr. Wiesenthal turned to him with a sympathetic smile and touch “Du Dummer Yid. / You Silly Jew. You saw the man that sold the use of the siddur for bread, but did you not see all the people willing to give up their bread to use the siddur?”

Taking a positive view will allow you to drive your life based upon what is good for you and the world, rather than letting your reactions to a reckless person drive you.

The antidote to bitterness is to look at the other side of the story. If one person acted badly and most of the others act properly, why take be bitter and take it out on others. Chalk it up to experience. To Overcome Bitterness Talk it out with others and develop a positive view of the world and in life.

Did Anyone See My Wallet?

6495885925_4f3389fb7e_zI rarely carry cash in my wallet.

I figure whatever I want to buy I can use a debit card.

Recently I misplaced my wallet.

I had to take cash for gas.

During the day, a person asked me for money for Tzedaka / charity.

I gave them a small donation.

Having the cash instead of the card enabled me to do a Mitzvah – to give charity to a needy person.

When I misplaced my wallet, I could have been upset that I didn’t find it.

In the back of my mind, I knew that not finding it was for the good.

Everything that G-d does is for the good. Even things we feel might be inconsequential, happen for the good.

G-d is good and does good.

Small annoyances may occur for a greater good.

Small disturbances need not bother us.

Just have to keep in mind “All that the Merciful One does, He does for the good.”

Did Aristotle Convert to Judaism? – The Aristotle Letters Extolling Judaism Censured from Wiki

Sanzio_01_Plato_AristotleAristotle, the student of Plato, and classical Greek philosopher excelled in his wisdom. The Rambam, Moses Maimonides in his “Guide for the Perplexed” states Aristotle reached the highest level of understanding a human being can reach short of prophecy. He calls him the greatest of philosophers. Yet, Maimonides refutes many of Aristotle’s basic tenets of philosophical speculation, especially his postulations regarding man’s duty in the world.

Thinking Vs. Prayer

Maimonides states that the virtue of man is to connect to the Creator through prayer. He says by establishing ongoing communication with the creator through the guidance of the Torah one can reach the highest levels of ones potential. Aristotle states that each creature has its virtue in its domain that it excels. A bird in Flying, a fish in swimming, a frog in jumping and a man in thinking.

It is brought in Jewish works that once Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, saw Yirmeayu (Jeremiah) crying about the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Jewish Temple). He asked what makes you cry about a heap of wood and stones. He asked him, are there any philisophical questions that bother you? Plato replied “Yes.” “Please ask them” Plato asked him deep questions – that Yirmiyahu answered satisfying Plato’s search for answers. He continued “It is through the inspiration from these stones I learned my wisdom.” (When the Temple was in existence, there was higher level of closeness to G-d, spirituality and holy inspiration.) Plato had intellectual interactions with Yirmeyahu. Aristotle, learned from Shimon HaTzadik, (Simon the Just). Impressed by this wisdom, apparently continued learning Torah till he converted to Judaism.

The Aristotle Letters

Aristotle wrote a letter to his student Alexander, the Great, notifying him of his recanting on his philosophies and acceptation of Torah as the true world philosophy.

There are two versions of the letter one found in the Meam Loez and One Found in the Sefer HaDorot.
We have included both versions below.

Aristotle’s Letter to Alexander the Great
written at the end of his life
Meam Loez – Shemot / Parashat Yitro – 19:17

There is a true story of a great philosopher renowned throughout the world, whose name was Aristotle – that at the time of his old age he wrote a letter to his student Alexander the Macedonian – the king of Greece (See source Shalshelet HaKabalah) this text:

Blessed is Hash-m [the G-d of the Jews – the sole G-d of the universe and of all], that opens eyes of the blind, that shows the sinners the straight path. He is exalted with praises that are worthy of Him – For I do not know how to praise Him upon all of the mercy and great kindness that he bestowed upon me.

That he took me out of this foolishness that I was immersed in all the days of my life in dealing with wisdom of philosophy to explain everything according to nature – that’s understood through rationalization.

And I made many books on this wisdom – like the sand that is on the banks of the of the sea.

Until I was rebuked now by the mingling of my life with one (Jewish) sage from the sages of Israel. And in his speaking to me, he demonstrated his tremendous wisdom.

And I recognized the high level of the holy Torah, that was given at the Mount Sinai.

And he drew my heart with the words of the Torah that showed me and explained to me true novelties and wonders that were done [by Hash-m, the G-d of Israel].

And I was uncivilized that I did not understand that most of the things that are driven by the Holy One Blessed be He [Hashem – the G-d of Israel] in a wondrous manner that’s external to the way of nature.

And from the time that I saw this – I took to heart to expound and to investigate [or fathom] the wisdom of the Torah. For all of its words are founded on foundations of truths, and it is not like the wisdom of philosophy that is vanity.

And therefore, you my student – Alexander the the great king – Do not push my works [for people to learn them]– not you and not my fellow philosophers.

For if it was in my hands to gather all of the books that I authored using this wisdom, surely I would burn them with fire in order that they would not remain any part of them.

However, this matter is not in my hands for my books are spread throughout the world and it’s impossible to gather them all.

And I know well of the stringent punishment that my Creator will punish me for this great sin that I transgressed. That I lost my time with my own hands and that I caused the multitude to sin.

Therefore, my son Alexander I wrote this letter in order to inform you, you and all of your fellows – that most of the things that people want to explain in the way of nature in order that they will be understood by the intellect are matters of falsehood.

For surely, the Holy One Blessed be He (Hashem – G-d), He is the Solution to the world and He leads it with great force.

And because of my fate that caused my books to be spread throughout the western lands – I hereby inform on all of them – that one should not waste his time with them. Do not look at them and do not touch them with your hands. For it is a great sin to waste time on my books of philosophy – for it is a lie that has no legs [to stand upon].
And now I have saved my soul with this that I proclaimed my error and my guilt – it [the Law of the Torah’s punishment] is not as stringent upon me for the past [faults of mine] for I didn’t know.

However now that I revealed this matter to the creatures – that I lived in error and my heart burns for the time that I destroyed with vanities. Woe is to those that their hearts continue [to follow] after my books. Surely under them will be the grave.

And know that according to what that same sage taught me – I found many matters in the book of proverbs that King Solomon authored that a person should not be drawn after the wisdom of philosophy in his saying to “Guard yourself from a strange woman from a foreign female whose words are smooth.” (Mishlei / Proverbs 7:5)

Woe to the eyes that thus they see. Woe to the ears that they thus is what they hear. Woe is to me that I destroyed my body and my strength – for these damaging matters. And this that you praise me by saying that my fame has spread throughout the world because of the books that I made. And they admire me with great admiration. Surely death is better than this – that my books are spread throughout the world. Surely those that are diligent in [the learning of] the Torah will inherit [eternal] life in the world to come.

And those that deal with my books will inherit purgatory. And even I am prepared to be punished for them all. And the reason why I did not write you this letter before now, for I suspected that you would be angry at me and you would do me evil. However now, I decided to say, to inform you of this.

For I know that before this letter of mine will arrive in your hand I will have already been placed in an ark of wood – for I reached the end of my days. And Peace from the Teacher Aristotle – that separates from [life in] the world – to Alexander the great king of Greece.

Second Version
After having translated the version of the “letter of Aristotle at the end of his life to Alexander the Great” found in the Meam Loez (by Rabbi Culi), I found the source of the letter that the Meam Loez referenced – in the work called “Shalshelet Hakabala” (by Gedalia ben Yechia)– and translated that letter from that source. “Shalshelet Hakabala” was printed in the Jewish Year 5346. The current year is 5768. This means it was written almost 422 years ago. Thus the public knowledge of the Aristotle letter has been in existence for over 420 years. There is an introduction to the letter from the author that names his sources where he learned of the letter.

In the paragraphs preceding the letter some interesting facts are mentioned about Aristotle, like:
Aristotle ultimately became a righteous convert [to Judaism] at the end of his life.
He was appointed over King Solomon’s works when Alexander the Great conquered Israel.
Some of the wisdom he learned from Solomon’s works is from where he fashioned some of his philosophies.
Aristotle studied with a Jewish sage called Shimon HaTzadik. (Simon the Just – a Chief Cohen of the Jewish Temple) He calls him the “Shimonite.”
There are stories in the Talmud where Shimon HaTzadik meets Alexander and Alexander gets off his horse and bows to him. Thus Alexander was also a contemporary of Shimon HaTzadik.
Alexander died in his thirties. Aristotle died at about 62 years of age.
Alexander the Macedonian entered into Jerusalem. He saw the Cohen Gadol [High Priest – Shimon HaTzadik] in his 8 garments. He descended from his chariot and bowed to the Cohen Gadol – Shimon HaTzadik. He told his servants and those that were present that the vision of the Cohen Gadol in His Garments appeared to him before each of his victories.
Alexander asked that an statue in the image of himself be placed in the Holy Temple. Shimon replied that this was against the Torah, but that to honor the king – all male Cohen children that would be born that year would be named Alexander and the year of the contracts would start from that year (ie, 1st year of the King Alexander). He was very happy and gave many gifts for the Temple.

There are small differences between the two versions of the letter. This is likely because the Meam Loez was translated from Ladino to Hebrew. The version of the Letter in the Shalshelet Hakabala was likely translated from Greek to Hebrew. So the letter translated from the Meam Loez went from Greek (Original Letter) (to Arabic? (Cited in Arab Historical Work)) to Hebrew (in Shalshelet Hakabala) to Ladino (Meam Loez Original Language) to Hebrew (Meam Loez translated Language) to English (Text Version above). We assumed by translating the letter from the version in the Shalshelet Hakabala would result in a more accurate translation of the original letter.

Aristotle’s Letter to Alexander the Great
written at the end of his life – Excerpts from
Shalshelet Hakabala – Cited by Meam Loez in Shemot / Parashat Yitro – 19:17

Aristotle, the philosopher and head of the [secular] sages was the teacher of Alexander and the student of Socrates and Plato. He was born in Macedon and lived 2 years after the death of Alexander his student and he lived 62 years. And I saw written -in the letters of Aristotle – that he wrote that he spoke with Shimon HaTzadik (Simon the Just) on the Godly wisdom and was tremendously impressed by the level of wisdom of Shimon in this and in certain details he says this is what the Shimoni answered me.

And I saw that Rabbi Yosef ben Shem Tov in the introduction to his explanation of the “book of Middot” how he saw in Egypt a book that written inside was how Aristotle at the end of his life admitted to all that is found written in the Sefer Torah of Moshe and became a Righteous Convert [to Judaism].

I saw in “the Kuzari” [a book that discusses the various faiths and their comparison to Judaism] – hand writings – saying 42 – that the philosophers were asked from where did they receive the wisdom of their philosophy. And they said that it came from the Jews – and all the wisdoms they recorded their sources and general principles from the Jews of Alexandria. And afterwards to Paras (Persia) and Medes and afterwards to Greece and afterwards to the Romans. And over time and much wanderings they did not remember the wisdoms were [originally] recorded from the Israelites – rather from the Greeks or Romans. Until here [is the quoted text].


And the author of the book Shevilei Emuna wrote – that he saw it written that when Alexander went to Jerusalem he appointed Aristotle, his master – [in charge] over the books of Solomon – and he recorded there the philosophy and he called it in his name…

The Rav (the Rambam) in the HaMoreh (Nevuchim – the guide to the Perplexed) section 1 perek 71 says that [all] Wisdoms were initially with the [Jewish people of] Israel – however in the domination of the [gentile] peoples upon us it [wisdom] came into their hands and we when we learn a matter from them it appears that their conception [of the wisdom] was from them but it is really the opposite.

Ibn Rashed who is called Oyrouou says in the end of his book “Hapelet Hatephila” that the wisdoms were found with Yisrael, and I saw an old work these things and I recorded them here word for word – and they – I testify – with a clear testimony – that I heard from the mouth of the sage Don Abraham Ibn Zarzer that when he was in Lisbona and used to say that the Ishmael sage Ibn Alachtov – that people used to say upon him that there was no one of his caliber in his generation in terms of wisdom and piety. And he heard that there was in the city of Alekhara a book from Aristotle that he authored at the end of his days and that he recanted from all that he had written initially. And the sage Don Abraham ibn Zarzer sent for this work and saw in it either the matter of [divine] providence or whether the matter of the leaving of the soul and also regarding the creation of the world. And he (Aristotle) would state on each and every matter from these – [that he admitted to have erred in them] and from certain natural matters – and the “Shimoni” [ie, Shimon HaTzadik – the Cohen Gadol] changed my mind on this opinion with this and this proof or with this and this argument. And it was written at the end of his book a writing that Aristotle sent to King Alexander – his student.

And this is the text of the writing:

Blessed is G-d [the G-d of the Jews – the sole G-d of the universe and of all], that opens eyes of the blind, that shows the sinners the path. He is praised with praise that is worthy for Him – that he bestowed [kindness] upon me – in his mercy and great kindness that that he took me out of the complete foolishness that I was in all the days of my life in dealing with wisdom of philosophy and that I would judge everything according to thoughts of the mind.

And I authored on it [philosophy] books – like the sand of the sea. And I made many books on this wisdom like the sand that is on the shore of the sea.

Until the end of my days I debated with a [Jewish] sage from the sages of Israel [This is likely Shimon HaTzadik – Simon the Just]. And he demonstrated his strong arm in the Torah that is an inheritance to them from Sinai and he drew my heart with words of Torah in his teaching me the signs and wonders with the holy names that are true and revealed to the senses.

And I because I did not know that most of these things are higher than the intellect and when I saw this I gave my heart to reflect with all my force on the Religion of the Jews.

And behold all of it is founded perfect stones and not like the dark wisdom of philosophy.

Therefore, my precious student – Alexander the the great king – Let not my books cause you to err.

Even you and even your friends the philosophers –
for if I was able now to gather all my books that spread throughout all the lands, I would burn them with fire in order that not even one would remain for the eyes of the princes and the deputies in order that they do not err in the thinking.

For I know that I will receive great punishment from the G-d – for I sinned and I caused the multitudes to sin.

Therefore, my son Alexander I inform you and all the people of the world that most of the things that are known through the mind they are falsity for higher and higher it is guarded [possible explanations, the ones who profess them that are in high positions know their falsity; the truth is guarded higher than what the philosophers think – ie in the Torah].

And because of my fate that caused my books to be spread throughout the western lands – I hereby inform them – with a reliable proof – that it is not worthwhile to look in them and not to review them. For its logic is a transgression and the philosophy is false.

And now that I am cleared from Hash-m – for I transgressed unknowingly.

And woe to those that look in then for they go in a confused path to destruction.

And know that just as that same sage taught me about our wisdom – this [matter – that a person should not be drawn after the wisdom of philosophy] was also prophesied by Solomon son of David in his proverbs in his saying to “that they [words of Torah] guard you from a strange woman [secular philosophy]…” (Mishlei / Proverbs 7:5) “Do not extend your heart in her [phiosophy’s] path” (Mishlei / Proverbs 7:25) and it is written “All those that come to her [philosophy] will not return…” (Mishlei / Proverbs 2:19)

Woe to the eyes that thus is what they see and woe is to the ears that thus is what they hear.

Woe is to me. Pity is to me for I withered my body and my finished off my days in these matters that damage but are not useful. They bring down but do not elevate [a person]. And that you said to me that that my fame has spread amongst all the peoples – that I authored many books and there will be for my fame all the days of the earth.

Know – that I would [rather] choose to have fame in a scroll of the Torah – than to have fame in my books of apostasy. And I would [rather] choose strangulation of my soul than for my books to be widely distributed. For those that cling to the Torah go to light with the light of life. And those that cling to philosophy they go to the pit of the destruction [ie, the grave].

And also I in the future will be punished for all of them. And I did not write you this before this time, in order that if you would be angry at me and you would do me evil, I know that before this writing of mine will arrive to you I will already be dead – lying in the earth. And Peace from your teacher Aristotle – that goes to house of his world. to Alexander the great king.

People have asked how can one be sure that this is an authentic letter? There are many supports to its authenticity cited in the Shalshelet Hakabala. The dates of Aristotle’s and Alexander’s existence coincide with the existence of Shimon HaTzadik (Simon the Just). The lengths of their lives are accurate. There are other sources that say that Aristotle ultimately became a righteous convert to Judaism. Also the Rabbis that brought this letter in their books were tremendously scrupulous in speaking the truth – they would be even more careful in writing the truth. The style of Aristotle is similar to his other works.

One might pose a question – Can this be a true letter if at the end of the letter Aristotle says he is about to pass away – this implies that Aristotle died before Alexander? Alexander died 1 – 2 years before Aristotle? This is easily dismissed by saying perhaps Aristotle thought he was going to die and was healed or lived a little longer than the doctors predicted. Or perhaps Aristotle said this so that he would not be pursued by Alexander. Or perhaps he wrote the letter while sick to Alexander and then Alexander died abruptly. [Alexander was finally poisoned to death].

Alexander died when Aristotle was about 60. This means that Aristotle must have written the letter before that time (assuming he received the news of Alexander’s death occurred relatively quickly). This means that Aristotle was aware of the truth of the Torah for at least the last 2 years of his life. It is likely that after having accepting the Torah’s truth, he followed the seven Noahide laws (Sheva Mitzvot Bnai Noach) from the Torah incumbent upon all gentiles, before he converted to Judaism. There are many Jewish sources that cite Aristotle. Shalshelet HaKabala writes that he ultimately became a righteous convert to Judaism.

Existence and Links to these letters were once posted on Wikipedia. After being posted, someone quickly censured the information. The letters are translated from the Hebrew books mentioned above.

The Rabbi’s Victory – the Dispute before the King of Spain

220px-Nahmanides_paintingIn 1263 Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman – Nahmanides – was summoned by the King of Spain – King James I of Aragon. The King wanted to find out what was the true religion. At that time the church had much power in Spain. A Jew – who “converted” out of Judaism* instigated this dispute.

The king summoned the parties to his palace in Barcelona.

The Disputation of Barcelona was regarding:

1. whether the Messiah had appeared or not
2. whether, according to Scripture, the Messiah is a divine or a human being
3. whether the Jews or the Christians held the true faith.

In Summary:

To the first Nahmanides said – The Messiah is to bring peace in the world. If there is no peace in the world now it must mean that the Messiah did not come.

To the Second – Nahmanides brought proofs from the Talmud that the Messiah is a human being and not divine.

Nahmonides said that if a person heard what the Church claimed for the first time, they would have dismissed it. Specifically he said:

“[… it seems most strange that… ] the Creator of Heaven and Earth resorted to the womb of a certain Jewish lady, grew there for nine months and was born as an infant, and afterwards grew up and was betrayed into the hands of his enemies who sentenced him to death and executed him, and that afterwards… he came to life and returned to his original place. The mind of a Jew, or any other person, simply cannot tolerate these assertions. If you have listened all your life to the priests who have filled your brain and the marrow of your bones with this doctrine, and it has settled into you because of that accustomed habit. [I would argue that if you were hearing these ideas for the first time, now, as a grown adult], you would never have accepted them.”

Friar Paul claimed: “Behold the passage in Isaiah, chapter 53, tells of the death of the messiah and how he was to fall into the hands of his enemies and how he was placed alongside the wicked, as happened to the Church’s messiah. Do you believe that this section speaks of the messiah?” (This chapter is quoted many times erroneously by missionaries to ensnare followers not knowledgeable in Bible verses.)

Nahmanides said to him: “In terms of the true meaning of the section (that refers to a suffering servant), it speaks only of the people of Israel, which the prophets regularly call ‘Israel My servant’ or ‘Jacob My servant.'”

Nahmonides could have also mentioned – “Given this verse and all other verses do not refer to their messiah – it seems strange that according to the Church the Bible’s supposed main character is never mentioned once by name.”

To the Third, he may have replied – The Jewish faith is the only faith that G-d himself spoke directly to a nation of millions of people. At Mount Sinai, millions of people witnessed and heard directly from G-d, the law that G-d gave – the Torah. No other faith claims this. All other faiths were started by one individual. What is more credible – millions of witnesses or one witness?

The basis of Judaism is the word of G-d. The basis of the other faith is that a man came and said G-d changed his mind – and new laws are now instead of the laws that G-d gave. Apparently, this is also illogical. G-d knowing all the past present and future, will not change his laws. If G-d Himself states laws and a man challenges this and says G-d’s laws are not applicable, who do you listen to?

The argument above is a bit like a parent asking a child “why did you take a cookie from the cookie jar when I said you cannot take cookies before dinner?” The child replies “but my brother said I could have one?!” The parent replies – “If I your parent says something – and your brother says something else, who do you listen to?”

At the end of the disputation, King James awarded Nahmanides a prize of 300 gold coins and declared that never before had he heard “an unjust cause so nobly defended.”

Many people argue to argue. They have a predisposed notion and although that another person properly disproves it, they not willing to hear because they hold on to their predisposed notion.

Although the King admitted to the force of Nahmanides argument, the answer of the king showed he was not willing to accept truth. If he did he would have instituted the 7 Noahide laws – from the Torah – in his land. He also would not have exiled Nahmanides from Spain for speaking truth.

The way of Judaism is to delve and delve until the truth is found. When it is found one acts upon it. Sweeping truth under the rug is not an option for the honest person. Acting on truth is the honest person’s path.

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*(A Jew cannot convert out of Judaism – a Jew that does go through the motions of converting will be judged in heaven as a Jew regarding whether they fulfilled the precepts of the Torah for Jewish people.)

The Text of the dispute can be found here

Who Are You? Determining Your Purpose Through Torah

2014-ferrari-la-ferrari-front-quarter-view-wallpaper-top-down-viewI get upset at some eulogies.

After their lifetime – they describe the person – “He loved to play cards.” Sob. Sob.

I ask myself:

Is that the goal of a person in life? Is that their major contribution to society? That they were able to win at blackjack or poker?

Pretty sad.

The problem is is that people don’t know who they are and what they can achieve in life.

I was thinking about if following Judaism makes a person lose his or her individuality or does it make them more unique?

Jewish Laws are practically the same for all Jewish Men. Wake up, Pray, Learn Torah, Work, etc.

Jewish Laws are practically the same for all Jewish Women. Wake up, Pray, Dress Modestly, etc.

So It seems that Judaism wants people to be the same.

Apparently this is not so.

Why?

It depends on how you define individuality.

Is individuality of the person based upon what they wear and the toys – iPhone, Ferarri, iPad – they play with?

Or is it based upon the inner values and actions of the person?

Take two people – each one has the same property – a nice car, a nice house, a large bank account.

Same?

Not really. One could be using his house for hospitality, while the other does not. One might be giving much money to charity, when the other is using it for their own luxuries. One may use his or her car to drive their family to give them a pleasant life, while the other uses it to drag race.

So what really defines the individual? Why makes people who follow Torah the ability to be really unique?

Apparently it is the focus on values – doing good deeds and the like.

A person who follows Torah – learns the Torah outlook of doing good for others. When a person focuses on what they can do to help others, it make for a greater individual. When a person sees the importance of helping others, they develop their personality and use their talents and strengths to help others. This increases their goodness and makes them into a better individual. It helps them to use and develop their own unique qualities for the good of man and mankind.

However, When a person focuses on materialism – their toys and their bank account changes but they remain the same. They stay that same old person that they were 10 years ago. It is the ultimate stagnation. They remain with the old antiquated ideas that society and newspapers have been feeding them for years. “Drink Coke and You’ll be Happy.” Really?

Obviously each person has good qualities. But we point out extremes to get the point across.

I believe in the power of a person and feel every one has the potential to be great.

Small Changes for Self-Improvement

A person need not change their life radically to become a better person.

One small change one can make is to focus on doing the things for the sake of others, or for the sake of the Torah or for the sake of G-d.

A person who is a physical therapist, might be in it for the money. If their attitude changes that their main priority is to help people, they get a Mitzvah by doing the same exact thing they were doing before.

Or lets say a person is a wealthy stock broker. Instead of having the intention to make money to boost their own bank account, they can intend to make money to also help struggling Torah scholars in Israel.

Recently, many Billionaires have the intention to leave a large portion of their fortune to worthy causes. They get the idea. The idea is not to be in it ust for yourself but to help others. Apparently we can understand why many became billionaires – that they are big enough to realize that their money was given to them for the good of others. They are big enough to give billions for the good of society. This is a Torah concept, giving to help the welfare of the world.

Another small change is to use time productively. One can take five minutes daily to listen to a Torah audio – while driving or during a break. Learning Torah has been made much easier with the advent of online Torah mp3s.

Taking a small mitzvah upon oneself is another small change for self-improvement.

If one is gentile, accepting the 7 noahide laws or if one is Jewish, accepting the 13 principles of Judaism is also a positive and essential step. Sometimes a person wants to do good, but they have a misaligned attitude. They believe by hurting innocent people “for the Sake of G-d” is what G-d wants. Nothing can be further from the truth. Thus one must first align themselves with what G-d truly wants from them before doing good. If one is unsure if something is good or not, one can consult a competent orthodox rabbi.

I recently listened to an Audio by Rabbi Akiva Tatz.

it is called Inner World – Defining one’s Role in Life.

Rabbi Tatz, an excellent lecturer, explains some of the concepts above but also mentions – that a person should take a large piece of paper and make a big circle in it. They write all the resources that a person has at their disposal in the circle. Physical resources, Character Traits, Strengths, Qualities. When one lists them in this circle one can more easily see a picture of that that you are endowed with with which you can help the world.

70 Years After Auschwitz – 10 Ways to Commemorate the Memory of those Lost

634407051898450725_auschwitzAlmost 70 years ago, the Nazis committed genocide of over 6 million Jews. They used the guise of their Aryan “superiority” to implement their hatred and cruel machinations. They forced innocent people to walk through freezing snow with light clothing and then forcing them to dig their own graves. The madness seems unreal – but this is what ‘civilized’ man can descend to when morality is out of sync.

Their goal was to exterminate an entire nation – Genocide simply put. Hitler’s dream was that he would parade down Fifth Avenue with the last Jew. The millions that died did not die in vain. A Jew that is murdered because he or she is Jewish died sanctifying the name of G-d and thus receives a high place in heaven.

Those who visit Auschwitz Concentration Camp rarely have a dry eye when they hear of the horror stories of the holocaust. We feel helpless and bewildered when presented with such cruelty. The question – “Why?” rings in the mind of people. Why did G-d let such atrocities happen? How could a large population of people stoop so low to together persecute innocent citizens of their own country?

The goal of this article is not to answer these question. It takes time and preparation and deep study to understand the ways of G-d.

The goal is to understand how we can gain and commemorate the greatest mass killing that happened in the history of the world.

It is obvious that the Aryan nation is the Nation of Amalek. The Nation that the Torah says “You shall not forget what Amalek did to you.” When the Jews left Egypt, they boldly attacked the Jewish nation for no other reason than their hatred.

The Nazis wanted to destroy any trace of Judaism. Our Goal in commemorating the lost should be to perpetuate Judaism in the world. Here are some suggested activities for a person to understand and commemorate the memory of those lost.

1. Read Books with a Torah Perspective on the Holocaust. Here are several:
The Final Solution is Life
The Hidden Hand from Judaica Press
Holocaust Books from Feldheim
Holocaust Books from Artscroll

2. Speak and learn from Holocaust survivors – obviously one must be tactful in discussing matters with them.

3. Give Charity to Institutions that provide a Torah education. Here are some

4. Light a candle – with a prayer to G-d for the Six million who perished.

5. Educate Yourself in Judaism - The Nazis wanted Judaism to be forgotten. Educating yourself in Torah helps us to strengthen our nation. Many reputable Jewish sites exist see our Jewish links section.

6. Take Upon Yourself a New Mitzvah for their memory – Saying the morning blessings, saying the shema, saying the food blessings before eating or to light candles before Shabbat are all mitzvahs that take not much time but one will gain much from them. For information on how to do them – see our Freebies / Judaica Store Section

7. Send Your Child to a Torah School – Torah Day schools and many Afternoon and Sunday programs exist to help a child learn about their Jewish Heritage.

8. Attend an Orthodox Synagogue Service on Shabbat with your family to assure Jewish Continuity.

9. Speak with an Orthodox Rabbi to learn about Judaism’s perspective on the holocaust.

10. Start a Class in your Home by inviting an Orthodox Rabbi to speak on Jewish topics.

Remembering what Amalek did to you is a mitzvah in the Torah. This is why many listen to the Torah reading on Shabbat Zachor (This year Feb 28, 15) before Purim – which talks about the mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to you.

A Gentile who is moved to do something significant to commemorate those lost can accept upon themselves the 7 Noahide laws for all humanity.

Perpetuating Judaism is the greatest way we can commemorate those lost.

Do You Know Who I Am?! – Knowing Yourself

Private+Test+PaperI Attended State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany. In one of the mega classrooms that hold about 500 students, the professor told a story.

Once he was administering a test.

He gave the class a warning that the exam would be finished in 5 minutes.

“OK. All papers in!”

A young student kept scribbling their last answers.

Finally, they brought the paper to the professor.

“I am sorry. You are too late. I am no longer accepting exams.”

The student, shocked and dismayed, exclaimed “Do You Know Who I Am?!”

The professor, with a class of so many students, did not know most by name.

He admitted “No.”

The student then shoved their paper in the middle of the stack of the hundreds of exams on his table.

They said “Ok. Thank you for the course.” and walked away, smiling sheepishly, knowing that the professor would not be able to disqualify the test by recognizing them or the exam.

Clever.

We all are important people.

People don’t always recognize who we are or our work we contribute to the world.

But that does not matter too much. What matters is what G-d thinks of you.

If you are on G-d’s good side, that’s really what matters.

So what is the litmus test to see if G-d is pleased with you?

Pirkei Avot / Ethics of the Fathers (Chapter 3:9) says :

“He {Rabbi Hanina be Dosa] used to say whoever who the spirit of creations have satisfaction from them, G·d has satisfaction from them. Yet if the creations do not gain satisfaction from them, then G·d does not gain satisfaction from them.”

I used to follow fads and fashion. I was also a fashion setter. My reason for fashion was not arbitrary. I wanted to make a statement. I used to wear two watches, the long overcoat, the multi-colored sneakers and a “felix the cat” hat. My statement was – “Don’t just follow blindly what society does. Think your life out.” The hat was to keep my head covered. Apparently the people thought my individuality was unusual – and brushed it off. I don’t know if anyone asked why I dressed such. Perhaps they were being polite. Perhaps they didn’t care. But that was my message “Do things because you think, not because everyone else does it.”

When you are concerned more with what G-d thinks of you, people will also like you. When your goal is to please others, sometimes you end up following fads and fashions that are not you. When you reach into your soul to find out who you really are this is when you find true happiness.

It comes through honesty, sincerity, effort, Torah study, self-introspection and self-improvement. Yes effort is required, but you ultimately find out who you really are and how to reach your purpose and potential in life.

A Bearing Point on Morality – What is Right and Wrong?

Blue metal compassA person is born with a moral compass.

Abraham, our Forefather, used his moral compass to teach him to find the One G-d, in a time and place that idolatry was rampant. Each one of us too can use it to find the true path in life.

One can feel their bones what is right and what is wrong.

If this was not true, one would not be able to be judged in the afterlife.

If so how does one commit a crime?

It is not that one says to themselves that what they are doing is wrong and commit a crime. They say what I am doing is right because of a, b or c.

People steal, not because they recognize it is wrong. They do it because they convince themselves that they need the money to live. Their life supersedes the property of someone else.

With an imagination, anybody can convince themselves that they are the most moral person in the world.

But obviously they are not.

They can steal and feel good about it.

They just have to justify it to themselves.

Jewish Morality

This is sometimes the reason, why many Jews are appalled by the values of the world.

Many in the world see no wrong when a country sends missiles upon innocent people in Israel.

But when the same happens in another country, they make big rallies and manifestations.

This is why the Torah says:

“The Wisdom (ie, science) of the Nations – believe. The Torah (Moral Law) of the Nations – Don’t believe.”

What is moral? What is not?

There is one morality in the world. The Morality of G-d.

Why? Because as long one thinks that man determines what is moral, morality is subjective. Morality is subject to the whim and interests of man. Man can justify genocide. The Nazis did so. They said that for the good of the world, it must be rid of the “inferior races.” It is not that they said what they were doing was wrong. They said that genocide was right, because they were ridding the world of “inferior” people.

G-d only appeared once in the entire history of man to an entire nation. This is when G-d gave the Torah at Mount Sinai.

G-d never changed his mind. To say G-d changes his mind is a tremendous problem in theology and logic. Judaism says G-d does not change his mind. It is the only way of life that states this fact. Many religions are based upon the theology that G-d changed his mind – he decided to change His law or His people. Both suppositions pose tremendous problems in theology. Judaism is the only religion that does not subscribe to that error in theology. Not only that but it opens up a pandora box of each religion justifying doing what they want in the name of their religion. They can justify pogroms, crusades, inquisitions, autodafe and even genocide.

When the world will be humble enough to recognize that true values come from the Torah, then the world will be ready for Messiah.

In certain Arab nations the king would regularly consult the Chief Rabbis for advice.

Apparently, when Pharaoh chose Joseph to lead his nation – it wasn’t because he just saw his intelligence, but because he recognized that he feared G-d.

Morality is essential when a person is in power.

If not, one can use their power for personal gains.

Some may ask, so why do sometimes Jewish people do bad?

The answer is is because they follow not the Torah.

If they followed the Torah they would do what is right.

If a Jewish person steals, it means that they are not following Torah.

The Torah forbids stealing very clearly – it is one of the 10 commandments for Jews and one of the 7 commandments for all humanity.

Killing is forbidden in Torah – it is one of the 10 commandments for Jews and one of the 7 commandments for all humanity.

Adultery is forbidden in Torah – it is one of the 10 commandments for Jews and one of the 7 commandments for all humanity.

The laws are clear in Torah. If one has specific questions – they should consult a competent Orthodox Rabbi.

The Rabbis have Responsa – responses to particular questions – on a wide variety of topics:

What does the Torah say on Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide?
Is abortion permitted if the mother is in danger?
Is a suspected Terrorist considered a rodef – a pursuer to kill – that it would be permitted to kill before they attack?
What are the boundaries of permitted conduct between co-workers of opposite genders to avoid harassment in the workplace?
Is mixing plant species permitted?

A Think tank on ethics is not what the sincere person seeking morality should search for.

One honestly seeking the right thing to do, seeks out a competent Orthodox Rabbi.

Ask them what the Torah says on a particular subject. You’ll be one step closer to knowing what G-d really wants from you or the the world.

I Wish I Could Have Done More…

blJJ2517060I remember when I was a Fellowship Student in Washington, DC getting my Masters in Business Administration.

I helped professors mark papers and with other work.

One teacher assigned their class a paper to write about their hero or one they admired most. Most wrote about their parents. Apparently a person honestly respects the good that their parents did for them.

A parent or grandparent. They are a special someone.

We have an innate sense of gratitude. We recognize the good they have done for us.

The Torah says to respect parents by not contradicting them or sitting in their seat. By listening to their requests.

One can never adequately repay their parents for all the good they provided.

When the time comes for them to retire, some send them to the old age home or hospital. Correct? Apparently each case must be judged separately. A competent Orthodox rabbi should be consulted. One should also consult one for medical questions – regarding stopping respirators and other life sustaining equipment.

If a parent passes along to the next world, many a time a person regrets things said or says “I wish I could have done more for them.”

The Torah has a solution that soothes the parent’s soul and the conscience of the child.

Reciting the mourners prayer – Kaddish in a quorum of 10 Jewish men – keeps the link between the parent and child.

Doing good deeds in memory of the departed also helps.

Assuring them a proper burial in a Jewish cemetery is part of the responsibilities of a Jewish child. Cremation is forbidden in Judaism.

The smart person tries to do as much as they can to respect the parent while they are alive.

A parent that has a child that does kindness and good for the world, is made proud of their child.

Our great sage, Rabbi Tarphon was exemplary in respecting his mother.

Once his mother was walking on a rainy day. Apparently, it was Shabbat and her sandal’s strap tore. Rabbi Tarphon, in order that his mother not walk in the wet mud put his hand on the ground to serve as a stepping stone for her steps, so that her feet wouldn’t get mired in mud.

When she told the Torah sages this, they replied that even if he did a hundred times more it wouldn’t be enough to properly repay his mother for all the good she did for him according to Torah.

We can always try our best.