Thursday, June 22, 2006

My Machashavah Syllabus

Machashavah Syllabus
Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
Draft, Wednesday, June 21, 2006

First Principle (Emunah):
I. Ramchal:
A. Honor and Glory
B. L'Heitiv
C. Unity in Multiplicity
II. Reb Elchonon:
A. Heresy and Emotion
B. The Book in the Desert
C. Yellow and Pink
D. Yetzer HaTov, Yetzer HoRa – Intellect vs. EmotionE. Mussar b'Hispa'alus
F. When we don't follow the Majority
III. The Kuzari
A. Mesorah
B. Yetzias Mitzrayim and Mattan Torah
C. Kaffah Aleihem Har K'Giggis
IV. Emunah Peshutah
A. Chassidus vs. Misnagdus
B. Dveykus vs. Shleymus
C. Emunah Peshutah vs. Emunas Nashim

Second Principle (Unity):
V. Playing Parts Against Each Other
A. Sefiros
B. Kavanah in Davening

Third Principle (Corporeality):
VI. Material vs. Spiritual
A. Can G-d Create a Rock He Cannot Lift?
B. Shechinah (Rambam vs. Ramban)
C. Not Spiritual Either
D. Rambam vs. Ra'abad, Nebbich Apikores

Fourth Principle (Ex Nihilo):
VII. Age of the Universe
A. Non-Solutions
B. The Six Days
C. The Cycles
VIII. Evolution
A. Good Science and Bad Science
B. The Malbim, Rabbi J.H. Hertz
C. Rav Kook

Fifth Principle (Divine Service):
IX. Davening
A. Only to Hashem
B. Angels
C. The Deceased
D. The Yetzer Ho'Ra of Avodah Zarah
E. Frumkeit
F. Movies, Non-Jewish Music

Sixth Principle (Prophecy):
X. Connecting With the Beyond
A. Ramchal: Three levels in Ruach HaKodesh
B. Rambam vs. Mekkubalim
C. Chassidus and Nevuah
D. Meditation and Nevuah
XI. Kedushah
A. Rashi
B. Ramban
C. Shaarei Yosher

Seventh Principle (Moshe Rabbeinu):
XII. Uniqueness of Torah She'B'Ksav and Halacha L'Moshe Mi'Sinai
A. Av L'Kol Ha'Nevi'im
B. Aspaklaria
C. Changing Ethics
D. Reb Chatzkel and the Pistol
XIII. Additional Aspects of Prophecy
A. Equanimity
B. Dreams

Eighth Principle (Torah Min HaShomayim):
XIV. Two Toros
A. Why Torah She'B'Al Peh
B. Mesorah
C. Derashos HaRan on Takkanos Chazal
D. The Names of G-d
E. Moshe Rabbeinu and Rabbi Akiva
F. Good Chumros
G. Reform and Conservative Judaism

Ninth Principle (Torah Will Not Be Abrogated):
XV. Eternal Torah
A. Purim and Megillah
B. Christianity
C. The Disputation

Tenth Principle (Omniscience):
XVI. Yediah vs. Bechirah
A. Ibn Daoud
B. Ralbag
C. Crescas
D. Rambam
E. The Izhbitzer and Reb Tzadok (PT Vayeishev)
F. Nekudas HaBechirah

Eleventh Principle (Reward and Punishment):
XVII. The Reward and the Punishment
A. Why
B. Yisurim
C. Kaf Ha'Kela
D. Gehinnom
E. Olam HaNeshamos
F. Gilgulim
XVIII.How Does It Work
A. Nefesh HaChaim
B. Imrei Binah
C. Buying and Selling Olam Ha'Bo
D. Yisaschar-Zevulun

Twelfth Principle (Moshiach):
XIX. The Process
A. The Rambam
XX. The Person
A. Five Parts of the Neshamah
B. Yechidah Kelalis
C. Chabad
D. Bar Kochba
XXI. Demanding Moshiach
A. Ikvesa D'Meshichah
B. Aschalta D'Geulah
C. Chutzpah
D. Hesech Ha'Da'as
E. Happiness (Viktor Frankel)

Thirteenth Principle (Techiyas HaMeisim):
XXII. Material vs. Spritiual
A. Rambam vs. Ramban
B. Yom HaDin
C. Olam Ha'Ba
XXIII.Techiyas HaMeisim and Science
A. Our Attitude Towards Science
B. Torah im Derech Eretz
C. Torah U'Madda
D. Torah Only
E. The Luz Bone and DNA (R' Aryeh Kaplan)
XXIV. For Who
A. Kol Yisroel
B. Ummos HaOlam

Various Other Topics:
Mo'adim U'Zemanim (Inyana D'yoma)
Ayin Ho'Ra


  1. Very Nice R'YGB

    A couple of suggestions:

    1) Something about Miracles, eg Rambam how all miracles created in 7 days in contrast with the Maharal Beer Hagolah (different perspectives etc)
    2) Providence - General vs Specific
    3) Eilu v Eilu
    4) Most importantly, the issues covered in Marc Shapiros book. Teens should be introduced to the issues when they are young and it should be explained to them then. Otherwise when they got older, there is much confusion and resentment

  2. This sounds a bit dry and painfully academic. Perhaps you should have more ideas that connect to how people are living their lives Jewishly and how ideas are played out in the daily grind or some narrative theology.

    You may benefit from reading Michael Wyschogrod's review of Norman Lamm's Faith and Doubt, published in Tradition 30 years ago. It has a useful yesodos about how to do Machshavah.

  3. This is somewhat immodest, but anyone who has heard me speak on these topics or has seen what I have written on them knows that the presentation is far from "a bit dry and painfully academic."

    Try some of my shiurim at, or my writings at or

    The point of this specific exercise is to generate a list of what basic Yahadus (plus a healthy dollop of Avodas Hashem) requires we cover and impart to talmidim.

  4. Looks great!

    (If you ever plan to write an essay on each of your topics I'd be more than happy to publish them! :)

    I have some suggestions:

    -->In your age of the universe section, you might want to mention Morris Engelsons approach which does not rely on kabbalistic cycles (and so is not contradictory to the Arizal), but only on tehillim and the midrash of 974 generations.
    Also, maybe include schroaders relativity method as well.

    -->In the evolution section, you might want to include Gerald Schroaders approach to it as explained in his book "The Science of God". I don't know what you think of his ideas, but if they seem ok, he does a nice job of showing directed evolution.
    -->In your Torah min HaShamayim, maybe include a discussion of (the extreamly few) textual variations, samaratens, and the few reshonim that said "strange things". ( I have an audio shiur on this topic that I recorded where you go through all these issues extreamly well

  5. 1) This does look like a fascinating curriculum. People need to know about the fundamentals of Yiddishkeit. When I was in high-school about 15 years ago(non-college type, charedie yeshiva) we did have a year's worth of shiurim on the 13 ikkarim, although I don't know how prevalent it was, then, in other yeshivos.

    2) I have read that Torah Umesorah is working to put together a curriculum on the Ikkarim. I know that with the prevalance of "kids at risk" , Project Chazon has recognized the needs for people to realize the depth of Yahadus. I think that their approach is to give answers to questions, without actually bringing them up as questions.

    I have heard that Project Chazaon has even made presentations in some Chassidshe yeshivos as well. I also know that there is discussion of whether people today go "off the derech" because of intellectual questions or because of t'aavah(see Rabbi Hillel Goldberg's review of "Off the Derech" in the current issue of Jewish Action; Faranak Margolese also discusses the issue in an interview on OU radio).

    3) While I hope more yeshivos will adopt a formal curriculum on the Ikkarim , I do hope that they will not brand as kefirah minority opinions. I am aware that there appears to be a recent change in hashkafa in the Yeshiva World, but I would not want a new generation to think that if someone maintains the opinion of the Rambam and his son Rav Avroham, that they are guilty of holding kefirah. My own opinion is, that if we box ourselves in like this, it could come back to haunt us, inasmuch as some people need such an approach. These more rational types could even eventually reach higher levels of emuna as well, if we just recognize their individuality and non-conformity.

    4) Rael Levinson brings up a good point regarding how do deal with Marc Shapiro's issues. The same applies to any other issue; imagine a standard Judaic Studies program at any university--Orthodox or non-Orthodox-- and then work on answering each question. The Moreh Nevuchim, and other works of Rishonim engaged kefirah head on. Even the Ramban-- thought of as less of a rationalist than the Rambam-- debated Christians head on and was victorious.

    However today, the Yeshiva World basically builds up Yiddishkeit from within. We don't have publications in secular journals which engages in a point by point debate and refutation. Rav Dessler and Rav Elchanon Wasserman provide reasons for today's general approach(i.e., today there is more t'aavah , or the academics are biased). Some might also say that we have defeated the haskalah, but I don't know if this is true.

    However, I think that cogent answers need to be provided, and questions should be anticipated. People should specialize in refutation, at least for ourselves. Some people need to see that we are not afraid to face questions head on. Additionally, people who are exposed to more serious questions, should certainly not be made to feel that there is something wrong with them, if they accept as a possibility the approach of the Rambam and his son Rav Avroham for science issues.

    5) Once we acknowledge that people are different , then we should acknowledge that some people are put off by hiding emes. I.e., types of modern biographical issues mentioned in the essay "Facing the Truths in History". We have to be careful not to weaken and stretch the credibility of believing in the leaders of the generation before us. In a different context, Rav Wolbe in Alei Shur cautioned against telling stories of gedolim of dubious veracity, inasmuch as this could harm Emunas Chachamim(volume II, page 296, Vaadim on Emunah, end of Vaad on Emunas Chachamim).

    6) The same goes for what seems to be gullibility regarding some segulos. It is a given in some(but not all) charedi circles that the latest segula is automatically okay, and does not even have to be investigated before being followed; it is also advertised and sometimes sensationalized in the charedi media. Chas v'esholem, however, for anyone to follow certain of the more rational ideas of the Rambam or Rav Shamshon Refoel Hirsch. Rational types, however, should be allowed to follow a different approach for both segulos and scientific issues.

    7) Personal example: I was part of a group walking down the steep mountain , on which sits the old Beis Hakevaros of Tzfas. I davened at the graves of the different mekubalim and tzaddikim(but did not immerse in the Arizal's mikvah!). At the bottom, we were told that it is a segula, or an inyan, to walk seven times around a certain grave(Hoshea ben B'eri?).

    I had never heard of this practice, and I therefore did not do so. Now, if my lack of participation could have been construed as challenging this practice, I would have probably done so, despite my feelings on the matter. However, since that wasn't the case, I felt no need to do what the others were doing.

    8)I will be satisfied in life if I can strengthen what the Ramban writes in V'eschanan that we should have a deep awareness of "Mamad Har Sinai", and that a "father doesn't lie to a son" . I am aware of my own rationality, and I do not wish to waste or stretch my own faculties which allow me to maintain credibility, by adding additional, non-rational components to Yiddishkeit.

  6. Reuven Meir:

    If you have any really worthwhile MP3's of my shiurim, send them on to Rabbi David Botton of and he will post them.

    Reb Baruch:

    1. It was, and is, extremely rare! Girls get these concepts much more often than boys, though.

    2. Teaching the Ikkarim is as important for meaningful Avodah of kids who are not at risk as it is for kids who are at risk. The failure to realize this is pervasive.

    3. A good curriculum should encompass all opinions. The Instructor, for exampel, should be able to present an unbiased discussion of the Lubavitch-Moshiach or the Religious-Zionism issues - although I think after being as objective as possible he is entitled, perhaps obligated, to give his own take.

    4. True, although IMHO (and I have noted this to Rael in the past) the Marc Shapiro issue is exaggerated.

    5. Yes, but within the boundaries of Cherem d'Rabbeinu Gershom. A person is allowed to control how much of his private life is hung out on the line.

    6-7. Segulos should definitely be included in the curriculum. I have a related list of sources on amulets that I think I posted on the blog at some point.

    8. Yasher Koach!

  7. I thought about your response, and I understand all your points. Some specific follow-up and clarifications as to mine:

    3) I agree. I hope and pray that this would be done, whether in your examples or in the one that I gave, with wisdom and sensitivity.

    4) I actually do not have that much familiarity with the issues raised by Marc Shapiro, but I am aware of them in general terms. See the quote from RSRH below, which I think is related to putting this issue in perspective.

    5) I understand; I focused on the other side of the equation.

    6-7) I agree. The Rambam at the end of Hilchos Meilah says that people should realize that there is more to ideas in the Torah than that which they may grasp at first. I know that k'meyos are brought down in the Gemara, Rambam and Shulchan Aruch. I also found the link which you referred to:

    Also, if I knew circling the particular kever had a reliable source, and I had an in depth appreciation for nistaros, perhaps my attitude regarding the incident I mentioned would be different.

    Paradoxically, it is precisely because I want people to strengthen their belief in the ideas mentioned in chazal and sifrei kabbalah regarding segulos, that I think that there has to be balance as far as the media and the ease which people take on new practices. As I said, my theory is that some people at least, have limited faculties which allow them to maintain credibility.

    I would like to end with the following quote from Rav Hirsch(Artscroll Biography, page 205, from Collected Writings):

    " Only if one knows the essence of what is antagonistic to Torah can one resist and overcome these influences. That which looms as a fear-inspiring giant specter in the twilight zone of ignorance, will shrink into a pygmy before the shining light of thought."

    We should all be able to achieve this confidence!