Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Jewish Theory of Relativity

I thought of a potential question on the Ohr Hachaim in this week's parsha (Kedoshim - Vayikra 19:3) which reminded me of a fundamental principle that, if applied, will help avoid untold confusion. Many people see contradictions and disputes literally everywhere they look in Torah and Yiddishkeit. this creates a feeling either than one does not know what to believe because there are different opinions about everything or that Yiddishkeit is a disjointed system without any unifying truth. The key principle to clearing our cloud of confusion is what I like to call the Jewish Theory of Relativity (not to be confused with the false idea of moral relativism).

The Ohr Hachaim says that each day of the week corresponds to one of the Avos and that Shabbos corresponds to Yosef Hatzadik. I then remembered that Reb Tzadok, zy"a, says in Pri Tzadik, based on earlier sources, that each of the three parts of Shabbos correspond to one of the Avos: Friday night to Yitzchok,  Shabbos morning to Avraham, and Shabbos afternoon to Yaakov. One might wonder whether this conflicts with the Ohr Hachaim's statement that the entirety of Shabbos corresponds to Yosef.

But if we appreciate the Jewish Theory of Relativity, we realize that we must put each thing in its proper place. Relative to the other six days of the week, Shabbos corresponds to Yosef. But the various parts of Shabbos, relative to one another, correspond to different Avos.

There are so many disputes and distinctions that become less confusing and less troubling when one applies this principle. Rav Itamar Shwartz, shlita, writes about this concept in the fifth volume of his sefer Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh when explaining how to reconcile to various positions among the Rishonim on the topic of general versus specific providence.

This notion of relativity exists in the secular legal world as well. For example, in the world of real estate, if a seller purports to transfer his property to two different people, the law in most states provides that whichever person records his or her deed first with the county clerk has a superior right to the property relative to the other person. Relative to some other third party, however, even the one who recorded his deed second has a superior right to the property.  One might ask, "But only one person can own the property! How can both transferees have a right to the property in certain situations?!" The truth is that secular law also views property rights as relative, and not absolute.

Another example: Any communications between a person and his attorney are privileged, meaning that someone cannot compel the person or his attorney to turn over the communication during the discovery process in a litigation. But let's say an attorney represents two people jointly, communications are exchanged, and then the two co-clients break up and become adversaries to one another. What happens to the privileged communications? Generally, a third party could not compel either to turn over such communications because they are privileged as between the two co-clients and any other third party. But relative to the two former co-clients, the communications are not privileged and one can compel the attorney to disclose the other one's communications in a litigation between the two former co-clients. One might ask, "But how can a single communication be both privileged and not privileged?!" The truth is that the law of privilege is relative. As between co-clients the communications are not privileged. But as against any other party, they are privileged.

There are many other examples of this attitude of relativity in both Torah and, lehavdil, secular law.

Another Torah example where someone failed to recognize or apply the Jewish Theory of Relativity in connection with my translation of a piece by Rav Itchie Mayer Morgenstern, shlita, as taught by Rav Moshe Weinberger Shavuos night several years ago. Rav Itchie Mayer explains how a wide variety of tzadikim and groups in Yiddishkeit correspond to either chochma (intellect) or bina (insight). In that context, he explains that Chabad-Lubavitch chassidus corresponds to chochma whereas Breslov chassidus corresponds to bina. A silly commenter there called Rav Itchie Mayer "ignorant" because the most recent Lubavitcher Rebbe, zy"a, says that each of the seven Lubavitcher Rebbes correspond with a different sefira, with the most recent Rebbe corresponding to malchus (kingship).

What that commenter failed to realize is that one need not see machlokes or contradictions everywhere he looks. The Lubavitcher Rebbe's teaching he quoted was taught in the context of explaining, within Lubavitch chassidus, what sefira each Lubavitcher Rebbe corresponds to relative to the other Lubavitcher Rebbes. Rav Itche Mayer, however, is explaining what Chabad chassidus as a whole corresponds to relative to another chassidus, in this case, Breslov.

In a time when many people are climbing out of small mindedness (mochin d'katnus), more people realize that as we approach the times of Moshiach, we must identify the deeper unity that unites different derachim/tzadikim/teachings by zeroing in on what aspect each teaching relates to and, in particular, what it was taught in relation to. For more background on that, I definitely recommend that you read this.

For the avoidance of doubt (as we say in the legal parlance), this in no way negates the importance of intellectual honesty and rigor in identifying distinctions and differences. But it does demand that we not limit ourselves to understanding the differences that exist on the more superficial level. Rather, we must answer the question, "In relation to what?" with respect to anything we learn so we can identify the deeper level where those ideas form various parts of a greater unity.

Long live the Jewish Theory of Relativity!

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Baruch Dayan Emes - Rabbi Zalman Posner, zt"l - Rav of Nashville Community for 55 Years

Baruch Dayan Emes. My Rav from my hometown of Nashville, TN, Rabbi Zalman Posner, zt"l, was just niftar yesterday. He was one of the first Chabad shluchim, sent by the Freidiker Rebbe, to Nashville in 1948. He was the rabbi of the community for 55 years. He started the day school and provided for all of the needs of the community for decades. And he was my original rabbi. There is so much to say about him. COLLive just posted this article about Rabbi Posner. IY"H, I will go to the levaya tomorrow.

Rabbi, you will be misssed.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Two Kinds of Fear and Which is Worse

Key quote from Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner:
There were different sorts of fear, she realized that now. There was the awful fear of having a musket held to your head, or having black oily water try to snatch you into its depths. There was nothing easy about that fear. It made your heart nearly tear itself out of your chest, and weakened the long bones in your legs so that you could barely stand. It made you want to vomit with fright.
But there was another sort of fear, the fear that you would never be allowed to be who you really were. The fear that your true self would have to stay squashed up., like a caged bird, for the rest of your life. That fear was worse than any soldier.


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