The Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

kaplan

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

Today (Shevat 14 on the Jewish calendar) is the Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (1934-1983), an American author and scholar who inspired thousands of Jews to return to Jewish observance. Rabbi Kaplan was a physicist, and applied the same analytical approach to the study of “metaphysics.” He possessed an encyclopedic command of Jewish literature, and he produced 50 books on philosophy, Jewish law and Kabbalah. The Jewish world mourned his untimely death at the age of 48.

I’m adding this to illustrate that physics and metaphysics aren’t mutually exclusive, and a brilliant man of faith can be an equally brilliant man of science. I know. It doesn’t play to the stereotypes that all religious people are superstitious Luddites, but part of the reason I post these messages here (rather than on my religious blog) is to break through the stereotypes.

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Dueling Holidays

christmas wordle

Image found at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie

“Oh come on, Dave. Certainly during this Yuletide holiday you can celebrate with your family a little, put a present or two under their tree, herald the coming of your Savior. I’ll even wear mistletoe on the front of my waist tonight the way you like it.” Suzanne, winking naughtily, was pulling out all the stops to get her husband out of his recliner in front of the smoldering fireplace in the cozy living room so they could drive the fifteen miles to his brother’s house.

Instead, he just looked up at her with a forlorn expression on his forty-five year old face. “We sent Bob’s family a card, and they know we don’t celebrate Christmas. I mean, they do the whole Santa, reindeer, stocking thing.”

“Get up.” She grabbed his arm forcefully, and he let her pull him to his feet. They both were already dressed for the festive meal his younger brother and their family had every Christmas Eve, so it was just a matter of her getting him to the car. “I don’t care if they put Christmas pudding in the ears of all their elves on their shelves, we’re going.” The forty-two year old software developer gripped Dave with all the strength her gym weight training produced.

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Quoting: Stupidity is Not Courage

Courage is only courage when it is connected to wisdom. It is immature to risk one’s life or health for fun or thrills. Not only is this immature, it is dumb. The Sages ask: “Who is a wise person? One who foresees the outcome.” (Talmud – Tamid 32a)

Driving a car at speeds high above the speed limit because one enjoys the feeling, is stupid. Climbing in dangerous places when one doesn’t have a valid need isn’t courage, but foolhardy. Walking in dangerous places just to prove to others that one is brave is reckless.

Life is too precious to waste it with illusory courage.

-from Rabbi Pliskin’s book, “Courage — Formulas, Stories, and Insights”

Quoting: The Torah View of Man

From the Torah viewpoint humans are the goals and the purpose of the entire creation. Without the Torah perspective, there is no essential difference between a human and a donkey.

Someone looking at the world from a completely secular viewpoint has no basis for the value of man. On the philosophical level, man would have no more inherent worth than any other piece of matter.

Sources: Gesher Hachayim, vol.3, p.52, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s Gateway to Happiness, pp.118-9

What make human beings unique except the intent of the Almighty (and yes, I expect folks to disagree)?

Quoting: Remodel Your Anger Mistakes

Realize that even the greatest people make errors of judgment when they are angry. Moshe was on an extremely high spiritual level and had profound insights. Nevertheless, when he became angry he erred in understanding the Almighty’s will.

Think of three incidents when you made mistakes because you became angry. Right now, mentally “relive” those situations and imagine yourself handling them instead in the best possible way. Let this serve as a resource for the future.

Sources: see Ralbag – Shaar hasavslanus, no.10

Quoting: Boost Your Self Esteem Objectively

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Rabbi Zelig Pliskin – Found at the website promoting the book “The Light From Zion.”

People with low self-esteem are frequently very good people by objective standards, but have high aspirations and hence feel frustrated in not reaching their lofty goals. Since they are not perfect, they consider themselves failures and this leads to many negative consequences.

It is important for such people to realize they are thinking in either/or terms: “Either I am perfect, or else I am a failure.”

In truth, each area of behavior and personality has numerous levels along a continuum. If you are not perfect, you need not rate yourself as a failure. Focus on improvement, instead of absolute perfection.

It is worthwhile for a person with low self-esteem to write a list of the minimum standards of a basically good person. He is then able to see more objectively whether or not he is meeting those standards.

-from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Gateway to Happiness, p.132

Quoting: Feel Joy at Overcoming Obstacles

military training

Military training

A powerful general will prefer difficult military assignments because he wants to show his strength and abilities when he is victorious.

Similarly, if you feel strong love for another person, you will experience joy when you find opportunities to express the full extent of love for that person.

So, too, when you have a strong love for the Almighty, the greater the obstacles in your path when trying to serve Him, the more joy you will experience – because this is an opportunity to show the strength of your commitment.

The next time you face an obstacle, focus on the fact that this enables you to feel greater love for the Almighty. Feel a sense of joy and empowerment that you can express your love by overcoming obstacles.

Sources: see Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto – Path of the Just, ch.19

The Unincluded People

anti-circumcision-rally

Found at Jewish Business News – No photo credit available

Jeremiah Katz never thought he’d see this day, not in America. His youngest grandson, named after his deceased senior uncle, Ezekiel Katz zt”l, at his bris (some of the Goyim call it the Jewish name day), and the mohel, Bernie Posner says afterwards that he’s getting harassing phone calls and texts.

“What’s all this?” Jeremiah, his son Michael, Bernie, and some of the other men were on the back patio sipping drinks and speaking in hushed whispers in case the neighbors were listening.

“It’s true,” Bernie put his hand on Jeremiah’s forearm as if to emphasize his words. “The cowards won’t even use their real names. These anti-semites say it’s harmful to our sons and even barbaric. I know two other mohels going through the same thing.”

“Have you called the police?” Michael had never faced this sort of thing the way his elders had and still had a tough time believing it.

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The Karma of Rachel Silverstein

jewish quarter

Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem – Found at Israel Tours.

Rachel Silverstein found the Torah stifling. She’d been born and raised in Crown Heights, the home of the followers of the Rebbe in Brooklyn, and when she was twenty, she took a sabbatical to study in Israel.

“But Rabbi, our traditions and practices are so primitive. I don’t understand why a woman can’t be a Rabbi, or daven wearing tefillin and a tallit. Didn’t Hashem create us all, men and woman in His image?

Rachel and Rabbi Bergman were walking together in the Jewish quarter of the Old City on a pleasant spring afternoon on a Thursday discussing her struggles with being an observant Jew.

“I fear you left home to pursue a secular education too soon.”

“There’s nothing wrong with wanted to broaden your horizons. Most of the Haradi here study Talmud to the exclusion of even basic mathematics.”

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What’s Wrong with Putting Religion in Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories?

parallel universes

Found at numerous publications including TrendInTech.com – Not image credit available

I just finished reading a blog post called Of Permanent Things, Part II written by my friend and Holocaust educator Dan Hennessy. It reminded me of the importance of including religious and spiritual themes in fiction writing, including science (speculative) fiction and fantasy.

I’m in the process of producing first drafts of two novels. The first is about five children mysteriously transported into a fantasy world of dragons, demons, and elves having to undergo a heroic journey and facing danger and adventure at every turn. The second is about a fifteen-year-old African-American girl taking up her recently deceased Grandpa’s journey into a Steampunk world in order to help a younger version of her Grandpa stop a corrupt tycoon from destroying both of their universes.

While I don’t make it explicit in the fantasy novel, the five Davidson children are Jewish. No, they’re not observant, and aside from the occasional mention of praying (usually when the situation is very grim), I have, at best, cast them in the role of Reform Jews. Why I’ve made them Jewish as opposed to generic “white kids” will become apparent only in the latter portion of the third novel where their journey will be finally resolved.

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