Baal HaTanya

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Salt: The Covenant of the Opposites

And every meal-offering of thine shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meal-offering; with all thy offerings thou shalt offer salt." (Leviticus 2:13)   Torah dictates that all offerings to God must be brought together with salt. Classical commentators ask: What is so special about salt that it is an indispensable ingredient of any sacrifice? Moreover, why is it called the covenant of salt? Nachmanides explains: The Torah also uses this covenant as a model for other covenants, as both the priestly covenant[1] and the Davidic covenant[2] are called “covenant of salt” because they are upheld just as the sacrificial covenant of salt…. I am of the opinion that the significance is that the salt is water, which [...]

Ki Tisa Hints at the Coronavirus

On the Eve of Shabbat, we received a government mailing containing documents that we were required to fill out and send back to the Census Bureau. The connection between the Census and the plague was not lost on me. The Torah portion we read last Shabbat, Ki Tisa. It begins with the story of the census: When you count the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted.” (Exodus 30:12) This verse, linking the census with a plague, was uncanny in view of the COVID-19—Coronavirus pandemic—the modern-day plague, in the midst of which we find ourselves today. Interestingly, the word “count” in the verse above is [...]

It Is Not Good For Man To Be Alone

And the Eternal God said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helpmate opposite him.” (Genesis 2:18)   The end of this verse is rather puzzling. Why would the woman designated as a helpmate for Adam be opposite (literally “against”) him? One can perhaps soften things by translating the Hebrew eizer kenegdo as “counterpart.” However, in a literal translation, the question remains. A simple explanation is well known: if a man is worthy, his wife would be his best friend, ally, partner, companion, and helpmate. If the man is not worthy, however, his wife would be his opponent and antagonist. An esoteric interpretation offered by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, in his commentary on this verse in “Torah Ohr,”[1] provides a deeper meaning. He writes [...]

The Meaning of Life as Taught by Bayesian Angels

November 19, 2018   And he [Jacob] dreamed, and behold! a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it. (Genesis 28:12)   Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (a.k.a Baal HaTanya, or the Alter Rebbe) once remarked in Yiddish, “lieben mit di tzait” – live with the time, meaning one should live with Torah portion of the week.  Last week I was taught a lesson on how the current Torah portion affects my thinking, whether I know it or not. Last week I shared with my wife, who is a biophysicist, that while thinking about system biology, I realized that all organisms – from a single cell to multicellular organisms – are Bayesian systems. I knew that the brain [...]

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