Tuesday, 28 February 2017
It's a famous expression - "just be a good person." Some people like saying it, because - strangely - it exempts them from performing practically any of the mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah. After all, once one is a good person, does one really need to perform G-d's commandments? Many feel that they already know what it means to be a good person in the world. Personally, I have often wondered what people mean by this. Do they ever speak about others? Do they disturb others' peace? Will they insult someone "for their good"? Tough Love after all! Now that is what being a good person could also be about! When confronted - will they acknowledge that what they thought was good - may well have hurt another - perhaps even destroyed their life!
Actually, most people don't actually go by any standard when it comes to "being a good person." They make it up as they go along - as to what they consider to be good! One person's good - is another's actual pain! Try asking someone what they feel to be the good they need - and one may find that it differs quite substantially from the good one feels one is actually giving!
The Torah provides the most objective view of what goodness is because it is a teaching which extends through every generation - for every single person. It reaches to the Jew as much as to the non-Jew - though the non-Jew need not observe all its commandments. In fact, it makes for a better world of goodness for everyone when one observes what one must. Let us not speak about "man-made" laws. Rather, let us speak about the objectivity of the Torah - which in essence allows one to express one's individuality within the boundaries of the Torah.
One becomes holy. One learns humility. One learns about the other - as much as one learns about oneself! His/her needs - as much as one's own! The beauty is its flexibility for the individual which allows for movement - within the realm of good. There is no one standard for everyone - but there is a level of good that exists on whatever level one finds oneself. Good - however, comes from understanding the values of the Torah - not from inventing in one's own mind what good actually is. As the Torah teaches, when one is cruel when one should be kind, one will be kind when one should be "cruel".
Much like a child must be completely prepared to hear from the teacher what the letters of the Alphabet are, before they can read - trusting the teacher no matter what they say - so too does one need to see and realise the value of the truth of the Torah as a basic standard - before one embarks on the process of growth and real learning.
Rabbi David Aaron shares a beautiful idea in animated form - so that we can see the difference between what we consider our own understanding of morality in life - and what the Torah wants from us - to be holy.
Thursday, 9 February 2017
The Talmud - the most basic Jewish text - save for the Tanach (the 24 books of the Written Torah.) With 2711 pages to get through, it is by no means a fast read - but it's much more than that of course. It's about understanding the actual words - for the most part Aramaic. It's about understanding the people who lived then - in those days, the giants they were - and the people they interacted with. It's about understanding Jewish law - Halachah! It's about journeying into some of the most secret places of the universe - as one studies the Aggadata - the "stories" included therein.
Just a few decades ago, it was a book only for those who had spent some time actually learning how to learn. For those who had never had such an opportunity, they were confined to listening to the Rabbi and to his Shiurim (lessons). I recall well the days of the Soncino translation of the Talmud (now available in PDF format online FREE or directly online FREE here, or in another version with option to hear the pages being read aloud!) and how much I longed to own a full edition - which I never actually managed to attain (Today my dream is owning the Oz VeHadar edition or if I ever managed - the entire Metivta set)!
Just over two decades ago, Artscroll began the process of translating the Talmud with a most novel approach - by making the commentary a far more comprehensive one than had ever been attempted before. Finally - one could approach the page even on one's own! Well - it's not like a teacher isn't needed, but for the most part, anyone wanting to pursue his studies was able to. With fine introductions, a pleasant translation - with missing words filled in - together with translations of major commentaries brought in the notes - it was really something special. Indeed, it is really something special!
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz had started his project of making the Talmud easy to understand by offering a Hebrew only edition which was only recently completed after decades of work! Another awesome work! His biggest project yet was taking the Hebrew and making it accessible to the English speaking world. It's a beautiful work, including a flowing commentary and attractive pictures!
But today - the whole project has taken on another level - with his entire work now available online absolutely FREE! It doesn't include all the notes or beautiful pictures you'll get in the actual books (and in any case, you can't study from the online version on Shabbat!) but for online learning, this is one of the most superb projects currently available!
You really need to see it, and if you haven't yet started studying Talmud - get going!!! There is a world of knowledge, life, Torah, growth, history, Jewish law and just about anything you can imagine - waiting for you! If you're struggling and looking for an online teacher, do be in touch with me, and we can learn from the Steinsaltz edition together! You don't even need to purchase your book either - it's all available free!
For more information about online learning with Skype and webcam, see my main website www.lovingkindness.co and select the Learn Torah menu to see what's available, or alternatively the Torah Lessons - Online and In-Person button!
So head along to www.sefaria.org TODAY - and check out the new online edition which you can find right here!
Eliyahu Shear (Rabbi)
Co-director Chessed Ve'Emet
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