Thursday, December 18, 2008

In the Beginning...

Introductions and Salutations

I have decided to throw in my two cents and yet another Modern Orthodox blog to the ever expanding blogosphere. The burning question is: what niche can I exploit? How can I possibly get five people to read my blog on a regular basis? Of course the answer would be Kabbalah. It is increasing in popularity by the day and I can always get a few laughs by mocking Madonna. Also, I was talking with one of my neighbors about career crises and Torah learning. I came up with the following writing process: Blog to Article to Book. So here is the first step in my process of eventually writing a book. (Actually I have no interest in writing a book, but it is still a good story.)


But Kabbalah is not enough of a niche - I needed a topic more obscure and esoteric than Kabbalah. And then in a flash of brilliance (possibly Ruach haKodesh) I came up with the idea of, Kabbalah u’Madda. This is not the scientific/academic study of Kabbalah - there are plenty of PhD’s out there who have covered this topic. Rather my goal is to approach Kabbalah from a 21st Century perspective in order to enhance our understanding of Judaism, and bring us closer to HaShem.


I would like to be able to make an analysis of society and explain why Kabbalah has gained in popularity over the past few years. Alas I cannot and I am resisting (barely) the temptation to make a number of ignorant conclusions about the compatibility between our society and Kabbalah. I am not even going to discuss the ever-popular concept of Post-Modernism (and I really, really want to.) Rather, I will discuss Kabbalistic ideas which I feel are relevant to goal of enhancing our understanding of Judaism.



What is Kabbalah? Simply, Kabbalah is the study of the relationship between HaShem and the world in which we live. The Nefesh HaChaim states (1:2) that without a constant connection to HaShem and the Torah, then the world would return to the primordial substance of the second pasuk of Bereshit (tohu v’vohu). This is an axiom of any branch of Orthodox Judaism: HaShem is in constant contact with our world.


How is our world connected to HaShem? One of the goals of Kabbalah is to analyze and explain the nature of that connection. Kabbalah also addresses the nature of doing mitzvot and aveirot. What happens to me when I do a mitzvah or an aveirah? What happens to the Jewish people, the entire world, or all the heavens?


Kabbalah u’Madda?

What is Kabbalah u’Madda? Most of you are probably familiar with the concept of Torah u’Madda. (Until recently it was the motto of a university in upper Manhattan. Actually it is still the motto, but they were considering changing it at one point.) A rudimentary definition of Torah u’Madda is: to use the scientific world to enhance my understanding of the Torah world. So too, a rudimentary definition of Kabbalah u’Madda is: to use the scientific world to enhance my understanding of the Kabbalistic world.


Kabbalah, Chassidim, and Mitnagdim

One last thought before I sign off. I also plan to discuss interesting Chassidic ideas that I come across. Many people make the mistake of identifying Kabbalah with Chassidut. It is true that the foundations of Chassidut rely heavily on Kabbalah and Kabbilistic texts like the Zohar. However, the main source of my knowledge of Kabbalah comes from the school of the Vilna Gaon, who was a staunch opponent of Chassidut. In the 18th century there were many non-Chasidim who also learned Kabbalah. The Nefesh HaChaim was written by the closest student of the Vilna Gaon, R. Chaim of Volozhin. The other Kabbalistic sefer that I learn is the Ba’al HaLeshem, who was the grandfather of R. Elyashiv. Thus, when I discuss Kabbalah and Chassidut, I am presenting both the Mitnagdic and Chassidic Kabbilistic views of Judaism.



  1. You don't have to _write_ about Post Modernism; just click a button.
    Y"K on the new blog. I gave up on mine; the computer illiterate at school refuse to come out of their caves.

  2. Reb Yaakov shlit"a-
    "Kol haschalos kashos" - I guess that's why I have the zechus to be maschil the comments. I am looking forward to resuming electronic debates with you although now they will be public and not merely read surreptitiously by your colleagues over your shoulder! :-)
    Shabbat Shalom to you, Rebbetzin Elisheva, and your lovely children

  3. Torah U'Maddah still is the motto of Yeshiva University. I don't know where you got the idea that it's not. "Bring Wisdom to Life" is just a nice catch phrase.

  4. It is true - they are still Torah u-Madda. I had thought that when they abandoned Modern Orthodoxy for Centrist Orthodoxy, that they changed the motto as well. Here is the Commentator article which states that they were planning to change the article.

  5. A chaver from Bala CynwydDecember 19, 2008 at 6:40 AM

    Aley ve-hatzlahch! Actually, I guess you already did the "aley" part. Looking forward to seeing more!