Optimism is not just about feeling good. It is a far deeper concept that involves your entire attitude of mind. On this weeks Goldstein on Gelt show, Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, and author of The Art of Possibility, returns to the Goldstein on Gelt show to share his observations on optimism and to explain how looking on the bright side of life is actually an art.
Posts Tagged ‘concept’
We learn in this week’s parshah about the wickedness and demise of the residents of Sedom. Further, we learn from medrashim that the residents of Sedom did not show much hospitality. Similarly, the mishnah in Avos 5:10 says that there are four different types of middos that people live by. The first is one who says, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours.” The mishnah says that this is an intermediate middah; others say that this is middas Sedom. Rashi, in Kesubos 103a, says that the people in Sedom would not allow anyone to benefit from their possessions even if it would be of no loss to them.
Surely we are all familiar with the wickedness that is associated with the people of Sedom, and none of us would consider ourselves to be among the people of Sedom. However, there are certain interesting scenarios whereby the halacha is influenced by the concept of not being like the people of Sedom. This is known as “kofin al middas Sedom – we force one not to act like the people of Sedom.”
Here is one example: The Gemara in Baba Kama 20a discusses the situation when one lived in another person’s vacant home that would not have been rented. The Gemara discusses whether he is exempt from paying the owner for his stay. The Gemara says that the reason that he would be exempt is because the squatter can say to the owner, “you did not take a loss from the fact that I [the squatter] lived in your house.” This halacha applies even if the squatter would have otherwise rented another place had he not stayed in this house free of charge. This is called “zeh neheneh, v’zeh lo chaser – this one benefited, and this one did not lose.” This is a matter of dispute in the Gemara; the conclusion is that the squatter is exempt.
To make this a bit more applicable, let’s say one broke into and stayed in your summer home in the winter when you were not there. He would be exempt from paying you any rent since you would not have otherwise rented your house and there is no loss to you. Most Rishonim say, however, that one has the right to deny someone else access to his vacant home. The discussion in the Gemara only concerns one who has already lived in the house.
The P’nei Yehoshua learns that the reason for this is because of “kofin al middas Sedom.” Since you did not suffer any loss, even though someone else benefited from your belongings, the beneficiary is exempt from paying you for his gain. But if there is any loss to you, even a minor loss such as the walls having become blackened, the squatter is liable to pay all of the rent.
The Gemara also says that if the squatter would have otherwise rented another apartment and you would have otherwise rented your house, he is liable to pay rent. This is referred to as “zeh neheneh, v’zeh chaser – this one benefited and this one lost.”
The Gemara does not discuss, however, the scenario whereby you would have rented out the house but the squatter would not have rented another house, i.e. he has another place to stay. This circumstance is a dispute among the Rishonim. The Rif says that he is liable; Tosafos says that he is exempt because he did not derive any monetary benefit. The loss that the owner incurred is not a direct damage from the squatter, and he is therefore exempt.
The Acharonim are bothered by the following question: according to Tosafos’s view the squatter is exempt when there is a loss to the owner had he not rented another apartment. Why then should he pay for the rent when he would have rented another apartment? He should not pay for the benefit just as he is exempt when the owner would have not rented it out. Additionally, he should not pay for the owner’s loss of rent because, as Tosafos explained, it is an indirect damage.
The P’nei Yehoshua explains that the reason why one is exempt from paying the owner when he derives a monetary benefit at no cost to the owner is because we force the owner to not act like the people of Sedom. However, when the owner endures a loss, we cannot apply this concept because he has the right to be compensated for having incurred a loss. Therefore, when a loss is involved, the squatter must compensate the owner if he derived a monetary benefit from the owner’s possessions.
It’s funny in a way how Israelis think of our leaders. As a young man, Bibi Netanyahu was thought of as a lady’s man, a charmer. He’s an excellent speaker, motivated, intimate. He gives you this feeling he is talking to you – and he can do it to a room of 20 people, 100 people, 1,000 people. As he did at the United Nations recently, he is a man that speaks from the hearts of many Israelis and you almost forget that it is his gift, to speak, to charm, to touch. The man is in his 60s; he’s a grandfather, and still there is this element of charm about him.
Avigdor Liberman moved to Israel in 1978. That’s 35 years ago – and still he is thought of as the Russian – more, he thinks of himself that way. His outlook on life is very much Russian and that’s how he runs his political party and his position as Foreign Minister. He is outspoken to say the least, and even, at times, a bit of an embarrassment because his concept of diplomacy involves a sledge hammer. Democracy is a concept to him; security a reality.
Both men are, above all else, pragmatic. They will defy logic and critics to shake up the political spectrum. Bibi has done it several times. A few months ago, polls guaranteed him a sure win if he called early elections. The announcements were made; dates were discussed and then, in the dead of night, he made a deal to unite with Kadima. No surprise to anyone, that deal fell apart rather quickly and Israel is once again on the path to elections.
And then another shocker – rather than make a post-election deal to have Yisrael Beitenu (Liberman’s party) join a coalition, the two men announced a joint ticket where the parties would run together. Israel was in an uproar – they had most definitely outmaneuvered the left. They had, to a degree, surprised the right wing as well.
As part of that agreement, Netanyahu announced that Liberman might even become Secretary of Defense. I did a quick Google search and found that Liberman had indeed done army service. I smiled when I saw he had been in Artillery, as Elie was. Liberman finished as a “Corporal” according to Google. That would make him, I think, a רב טוראי. By contrast, Elie finished the army two ranks above as a First Sergeant.
What qualifications could Liberman have to be Secretary of Defense? I asked Elie and his answer surprised me. I had considered the possibility of this man filling this position a joke – Elie was not nearly as pessimistic or surprised.
It was an analysis that I find myself agreeing with. No one thinks Liberman is stupid – far from it. What he is, is loud and decisive. He doesn’t care about diplomacy – he is most assuredly strong-willed. “If he threatens Iran,” Elie said, “the world is going to believe he’s crazy enough to follow through.”
While the world might doubt someone else, they will believe that an Israeli army under Liberman would be not only ready and able, but willing and even anxious to attack. That alone might really spur the world to stop Iran. And, added Elie, Bibi knows this.
Though I won’t vote for them – perhaps Bibi is right. He will, barring some major stupid action on his part, win the upcoming election. By taking in Liberman, he has sent a strong message to the left parties – they will have no place in the upcoming coalition. Not only will they remain in the opposition, they will be further weakened as Israelis, in reaction to many world events, turns just that much further to the right.
The left-wing will not join a government in which Liberman serves. Liberman once said, “The peace process is based on three false basic assumptions; that Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main cause of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict.”
The first of those has been proven again and again in the last year (Arab Spring). On the second and third point, it is something Israelis for the most part have accepted for a long time – but the world (media, Obama, etc.) still fail to understand.
But I liked Elie’s interpretation, liked even better his analysis. Avidgor Liberman is seen as the big ferocious, Russian bear – let the world be afraid. Let them think that Avigdor Liberman is a warmongering right wing fanatic that will lead us to war. Let them think it because in their fear, the nations of the world may react, they may stop a madman from carrying out his threat.
And, if they don’t stop him, if Israel will have to act to protect its citizens, perhaps the Russian and the Charmer make a good combination. Certainly better than anything Kadima, Labor, etc. has to offer. So, yalla – on to the elections.
Visit A Soldier’s Mother.
In a New York Times opinion piece following a spate of anti-Semitic attacks and subsequent government crackdowns in France, writer Colin Shindler said that Europe’s left has long distinguished between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, viewing immigrant Muslims as “a new proletariat and the Palestinian cause as a recruiting mechanism,” and asks why European socialists identify with the cause of militant Islam.
The quest starts, according to Shindler, with Hizbullah mastermind Hassan Nasrallah’s statement “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice I do not say the Israeli.”
Shindler says the concept of an “eternal Jew” which is an enemy to Islam is prevalent today, and has intermingled with Europe’s concept of the worldwide Jewish conspiracy, its discomfort with Jews outside the role of post-Holocaust paupers and victims, and its association with the Vietnamese, South African, and Rhodesian anti-colonial movements Israel unwittingly stumbled into when allying with imperialist powers Britain and France in the 1950s.
By the time Israel had overcome its attackers and liberated new lands in 1967, its status as an antagonist was sealed.
Add to that a new dislike for American power – and Israel’s association with it as a strong ally in the Middle East – and you have yourselves a pariah.
The solution is in the works of French philosopher and political activist Jean-Paul Sartre, according to Shindler. Shindler says Sartre’s sympathy for French Jews after World War II and his concurrent support for Algeria’s fight for independence left him with the belief that Jews and Arabs should resolve their problems without European intervention, calling both parties’ causes moral.
Shindler goes on to note the left’s tendency to view “Jews” as vulnerable and “Israelis” as Cossacks. “Yet it is often forgotten that a majority of Israelis just happen to be Jews, who fear therefore that what begins with the delegitimization of the state will end with the delegitimization of the people,” he said.
“Sartre understood that the conflict was not simply between Israelis and Palestinians, but between those advocating peace on both sides and their rejectionists,” Shindler said. “This conflict within the conflict is something that many on Europe’s left, as they ally themselves with unsavory forces, still fail to comprehend.”
In this week’s Torah portion, within the majesty and mystery of creation, the woman emerges in three successive stages.
First she is an unknown entity taking shape from Adam’s rib. Then Adam gives her a name, “isha,” woman – and formulates the concept. But concurrently the name/concept “ish,” man, emerges. “L’zot yikare ISHA ki meISH lukaha zot – This shall be named woman because from man was this taken” (Bereshit 2:23). Nowhere before does the word ish appear in the Torah. Throughout creation the first human is referred to as “haAdam.” With the appearance of isha, woman, a new aspect is added to essence of the adam: he becomes ish, a man. No longer is he merely a living creature from the “adama,” earth, although he is endowed with superior intelligence allowing him to evaluate other living creatures and take dominion over them. Through the birth of woman he becomes a man.
The next verse, “Thereafter shall a man leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his woman, and they shall become one flesh” (Bereshit 2:24), adds a profound new dimension to both concepts.
The second stage is set in the woman’s encounter with the snake. Here woman is revealed as a complex creature: she is both the object and the cause of sin. Recognizing the complexity of her character, the snake chooses her as an instrument of his design. But the woman proves to be not only a passive tool: she is also an active wielder of influence. With considerably less effort than it took the snake to persuade her to take from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, she induces her man to eat from the forbidden fruit. And with her act, indirectly woman has opened for mankind a new world of insight, the knowledge of good and evil, an awareness of ethics and morality which in essence has the potential to elevate humanity above the level of the animal kingdom.
Through her punishment woman reaches the third stage of her development: although it will be done in pain and anguish, she is to bear children. She is to become Mother. Because of this new and essentially central function, woman is given a new name/concept: “Chava,” eve, “the mother of all living” (Bereshit 3:20). In spite the pain of childbirth and the anguish of raising the young, motherhood prevails as woman’s most powerful drive.
In the process of giving birth, when isha-woman and chava/mother reaches the ultimate stage of her being, she becomes the first living creature to give eloquent testimony to that most supreme secret of creation, the mystery of birth. In exclaiming, “I have acquired a man with G-d,” (Bereshit 4:1), she exhibits that insight which Chazal have attributed to woman’s basic make-up. From the word “vayiven,” describing woman’s creation (Bereshit 2:22), the Chazal derive the concept of “binah,” insight as a “built-in” faculty of woman. The woman is given the gift to comprehend and appreciate the role of the Creator in the greatest and most wonderful enigma of our existence — the birth of a child.
In this week’s parshah the Torah commands us in the first mitzvah: pru u’revu – be fruitful and multiply. We rule in accordance with Beis Hillel that one fulfills this mitzvah when he has fathered one boy and one girl.
The Rambam (Hilchos Ishus 15:2) writes that women are exempt from this mitzvah while a man first becomes obligated in this mitzvah when he is 17 years old. Once he turns 20 and has not yet fulfilled the mitzvah, he has transgressed and is mevatel an assei. The Rambam adds, however, that if he is busy toiling in Torah and fears that if he marries the yoke of responsibilities will disturb his learning, he may prolong getting married. The reason he may prolong getting married is because the general rule is osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah – when one is performing one mitzvah he is exempt from performing another. The Rambam concludes that we can certainly apply this rule in this case since the mitzvah that we are discussing is learning Torah – the greatest mitzvah of all.
The Acharonim were bothered by the Rambam’s explanation of this halacha. The Gemara in Moed Kattan 9a says that for a mitzvah that cannot be performed by anyone else, one must stop learning and we may not apply the concept of osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah to the mitzvah of learning Torah. How then can the Rambam say that one may prolong getting married and be mevatel the mitzvah of pru u’revu because of osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah, when that does not apply to the mitzvah of learning Torah? To make the question even stronger the Rambam added that we could certainly apply this concept here since we are dealing with the greatest mitzvah, learning Torah. And yet the exact opposite is true: specifically by the mitzvah of learning Torah we cannot apply this concept.
The sefer, Ma’aseh Rokeach, says that when the Rambam said that one could prolong getting married, he meant that this is so until he is 20 years old. That way one is not mevatel the mitzvah. So in essence there is no bitul mitzvah occurring, and therefore one may apply osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah since one will not be mevatel the mitzvah in this case.
Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, Hy”d, in Kovetz Ha’arus Hosafos 1, suggests that since the Rambam is referring to delaying the time until one gets married and not that one will never marry, we may liken this to a scenario whereby there is a mitzvah that can be done by others (since he can perform the mitzvah later) and we may thus apply the rule of osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah even to the mitzvah of learning Torah. Reb Elchanan continues by explaining that the Rambam said that we could certainly apply this concept here since we are dealing with the mitzvah of learning Torah.
The reason why, in this scenario, this concept is more applicable to the mitzvah of learning Torah, even though we generally do not apply it to the mitzvah of learning Torah at all, is as follows: the reason why one must stop learning in order to perform a mitzvah that cannot be performed by anyone else is not because the mitzvah of learning Torah is inferior to all the other mitzvos, for it is indeed the greatest mitzvah of all. Rather, it is because when one must take care of his necessities (e.g., work for a living) there is no mitzvah of learning Torah. One is only obligated to learn Torah when he is free of his other obligations. When one is obligated to perform a mitzvah that cannot be performed by anyone else, the situation is no different and the obligation to learn is voided. However, if it is a mitzvah that can be performed by another person, or if he can perform this mitzvah at a later time, the obligation to learn Torah remains. Since he is obligated to learn we apply the concept of osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah, and since the mitzvah of learning Torah is the greatest mitzvah of all we certainly apply the concept in this scenario.
In the following halacha the Rambam writes that one who never marries due to his sole desire to learn Torah, and always toils in it (like Ben Azai), has not transgressed. Reb Elchanan explains that even though in this scenario one is entirely mevatel the mitzvah, he has not transgressed because this is considered an oneis.
Amongst the many eye-opening revelations on t’shuva in Rabbi Kook’s writings, one concept is especially staggering in its profundity. Usually, we think that a process is completed when it reaches its end. We experience a feeling of satisfaction when we finish a project. An underlying tension often accompanies our work until it is accomplished. This is because the final goal is considered more important than the means.
Most people feel the same way about t’shuva. Until the process of t’shuva is complete, they feel unhappy, anxious, overwhelmed with the wrongdoings which they have been unable to redress. Rabbi Kook tells us that this perspective is wrong. When it comes to t’shuva, the goal is not the most important thing. It is the means which counts. What matters the most is the striving for perfection, for the striving for perfection is perfection itself. He writes:
If not for the contemplation of t’shuva, and the comfort and security which come with it, a person would be unable to find rest, and spiritual life could not develop in the world. Man’s moral sense demands justice, goodness, and perfection. Yet how very distant is moral perfection from man’s actualization, and how feeble he is in directing his behavior toward the pure ideal of absolute justice. How can he aspire to that which is beyond his reach? For this, t’shuva comes as a part of man’s nature. It is t’shuva which perfects him. If a man is constantly prone to transgress, and to have difficulties in maintaining just and moral ideals, this does not blemish his perfection, since the principle foundation of his perfection is the constant longing and desire for perfection. This yearning is the foundation of t’shuva, which constantly orchestrates man’s path in life and truly perfects him” (Orot Ha’Tshuva, 5:6. The Art of T’shuva, Ch.5).
Dear reader, please note: if you are not yet a tzaddik, you need not be depressed. Success in t’shuva is not measured by the final score at the end of the game. It is measured by the playing. The striving for good is goodness itself. The striving for atonement is atonement. The striving for perfection is what perfects, in and of itself.
King Solomon teaches that no man is free of sin: “For there is not a just man on earth that does good and never sins” (Kohelet, 7:20). Transgression is part of the fabric of life. Since we are a part of this world, we too are subject to “system failure” or sin. Even the righteous occasionally succumb to temptation. Thus, until the days of Mashiach, an ideal, sinless existence is out of man’s reach.
An illustration may help make this concept clearer. On Yom Kippur, we are like angels. We don’t eat, we don’t drink. All day long we pray for atonement from all of our sins. At the end of the day, with the final blast of the shofar, we are cleansed. But in the very next moment, as we pray the evening service, we once again ask God to forgive us. Forgive us for what? The whole day we have acted like angels. Our sins were whitened as snow. In the few seconds between the end of Yom Kippur and the evening prayer, what sin did we do? Maybe at the beginning of the evening prayer, exhausted by the fast, we didn’t concentrate on our words. Maybe our prayers on Yom Kippur were half-hearted, as if repeating last year’s cassette. Maybe, we forgot to ask forgiveness for some of our sins.
The point is that the process of t’shuva never ends. Perfection in deeds is out of human reach. Thus, when a goal is unattainable, it is the striving to reach the goal that counts. Regarding t’shuva, it is the constant striving for t’shuva which purifies, enlightens, elevates, and perfects. So relax all you seekers of t’shuva. Even if you haven’t yet atoned for all of your sins, Don’t worry! Be Happy! As long as you are sincerely trying, this is what really counts.
In an interview with Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) strongly declared that most Democratic party members support the concept of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Schumer was probably surprised by this vote later in the day, that would strongly indicate the opposite.
When Rose pressed Schumer for President Obama’s position on Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Schumer stated that Obama is for a very strong Israel, but he doesn’t know what the President’s position on Jerusalem as Israel’s capital actually is, and that they’ve never spoken about it.
Sounds a lot like, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”