Just four quick items that I found interesting today...
1) I taught a Navi (Prophets) class at noon; we were looking at the first chapter in Yehoshua.
I love this chapter; it’s loaded with emotion and psychology, as well as the greater Jewish mission and legacy.
Count up the number of times Moshe is named vs. the number of times Yehoshua is named, and how.
Note the iteration and reiteration of חזק ואמץ, Be strong and courageous.
Study the descriptions of Moshe as servant of Gd, and Yehoshua as servant of Moshe.
And much, much more.
But the end of the chapter gives me a great kick - the tribes of Reuven, Gad and (semi-)Menashe pledge loyalty to Yehoshua, saying, “As long as Gd is with you as He was with Moshe, we will follow you in the same way we follow Moshe.”
Talk about an undesirable pledge of support - what does Yehoshua think when he hears those words? Does he have visions of Meraglim, Korach, Eldad and Meidad?!
2) I taught a class in Sefer Chasidim (Rabbi Yehudah haChasid), and we came across a remarkable exchange. I love the stories in Sefer Chasidim; I don’t always understand them, but he has such a love for irony and humor.
In this particular story, one student prays, “May it be Gd’s will that my wife conceive, if the baby will live. If the baby will not live, may it be Gd’s will that she not conceive.” Then another student prays, simply, “May it be Gd’s will that my wife conceive.”
The former student turns to the latter and points out that the Shunamite woman whose son appears to have died says she would have preferred never to have been pregnant in the first place!
To which the latter replies, “Right now, I pray for conception. Once there is a child, I will pray for survival.”
3) Tonight I was learning Daat Tevunot (R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzatto; Ramchal) with a chavrusa, and we encountered his description of Mazal. I must preface that I generally find Ramchal to be very heavy, and I sense that I am not grasping even one-tenth of what he is trying to convey.
According to this philosopher, Gd sometimes runs the world with reward and punishment, but at other times Gd shifts gears and acts based on whatever will bring about the ultimate improvement of the universe, even if that does not fit the general pattern of reward and punishment. This is what is called “Mazal.”
Through this Ramchal has found a way to explain the gemara’s use of “Mazal” (as in, “Children, lifespan and livelihood are not dependent upon merit, but upon Mazal” - Moed Katan 28a) as something which is not chance, but rather is very much within Divine control.
But Ramchal is clearly very uncomfortable with this, and he then takes a step back, saying that even when Gd acts out of Mazal, He still fits it into a system of reward and punishment, conveying good to those who have some good coming to them anyway, and vice versa.
4) And last, I was preparing a History shiur on the Censorship of Jewish Books, and came across something I last saw a few years back, which gave me a good laugh then and now.
When, during the 1830’s edition of the Russo-Turkish War, the Russian church wanted to censor our books, they took out every use of the word גוי (goy) and replaced it with the word Turk.
Among other ludicrous readings, this yielded the following text for a paragraph in Tachanun:
May the guardian of the holy Turk guard the remnant of the holy nation,
And may the Holy Turk, who recite three Kedushot, not be destroyed.