#104 A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time (3)

Two towering kabbalistic figures of the 16th century are examined in this third part of David’s lecture series, A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time.

David explores the ideas of Rabbi Moshe (Moses) Cordovero (the RaMaQ) and Rabbi Yitzchak (Isaac) Luria (the AR”Y), whose contributions to Kabbalah – both emerging in late 1500s in the town of Tzfat – have been seismic.

 

The lecture investigates the RaMaQ’s book, Pardes Rimonim (The Orchard of Pomegranates), and its exploration of:

  • rational emanations
  • ein sof (infinite)
  • the relationship between Divine influence and the sephirot
  • the four worlds
  • the immanence of the Divine in reality
  • the divine element in the human soul
  • the revelation of God in meditation, kavannot, and mystical experience.

The AR”Y did not write down his vast kabbalistic teachings. The recording of his ideas was left to his students, chief among whom was Rabbi Chaim Vital. It was Vital who compiled the book Etz Chayim (Tree of Life), the cornerstone text of Lurianic Kabbalah. This book, which was to change forever the landscape of Jewish Mystical thinking, contained many transformative kabbalistic concepts, including:

  • tzimtzum (contraction)
  • primordial man (Adam Qadmon)
  • the domain of chaos (tohu);
  • shevirah (shattering)
  • integrated configurations known as ‘partzuphim’
  • tiqun (repair)
  • the maintenance and repair of the World of Emanation
  • the trapped sparks of lower worlds
  • the five levels of the individual soul
  • the responsibility of souls to repair the world

David provides an overview of these concepts, a picture of the men from who they emerged, the historical setting of this extraordinary revolution in mystical thinking, and the legacy of these ideas.

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#103 A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time (2)

“The Zohar is not a book but a phenomenon.”

David’s second lecture in his series, A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time, explores the extraordinary ideas and contributions of the:

  • Zohar,
  • Tikkunei HaZohar,
  • and Sefer ha-Temunah.

In his discussion of the Zohar, David examines its dynamic interpretation of the Torah and how it applies this interpretation to the structure of the sefirot. He also looks at the way the Zohar explores the cosmic links between G-d, Israel, creation, and history.

The Tikkunei HaZohar, David explains, is concerned with the Divine presence in the various domains of the universe as well as in exile. Among other things, he considers the Tikkunei HaZohar’s discussion of the feminine Divine presence – the Shekhinah – and Her quest to find unity and completion with Her male counterpart, the blessed Holy One.

The final text David examines is Sefer HaTemunah, which is predominantly concerned with the Divine in time. All things emanate from G-d and return to Him, David explains, and time is divided into cosmic cycles.

In discussing these three important texts, David provides the historical and cultural background to their emergence in Jewish history and their impact on mystical thinking. He also shows his audience the size and presentation of the books and discusses their availability for interested readers – in English, Hebrew, and Aramaic.

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#100 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (3)

This third lecture in David’s Zoom series, The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva, different ways the Talmud discusses the concept of teshuva.

David explores three illustrative episodes from Tanach and the Talmudic period identified by the sages as:

Examples that teach the importance of teshuva
Halachic guidance in the process of seeking – or bestowing – forgiveness
The importance of self-responsibility in teshuva.

David considers the discussions of the sages in relation to the stories of:

  • King David
  • Rav and Mechilah
  • Elazar bar Dordia.

He also summarises the messages from these episodes and draws them down to their meaning for us as we each consider our actions and failings and come to terms with our individual relationships with teshuva.

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#97 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (4)

This final episode of David’s four-part series entitled Unorthodox Episodes of the Talmud explores the idea of the evil inclination – the yetzer harah – with a particular focus on problems relating to sexual temptation.

David explains that sages of the Talmud discussed how few things are as powerful as the desire for intimacy. This inclination affects all people, including great spiritual leaders.

Illustrating this point, David examines two stories from the Talmud. The first concerns Rabbi Amrum the Pious, a third-century sage who lived in the Babylonian city of Naharda’ah who fights his evil inclinations. The other looks at a tragi-comic story of Rabbi Hiyya bar Ashi, a student of Rav, who condemned himself in the face of temptation.

Both stories explore moral and ethical considerations concerning intentional, transgression, culpability, and redemption. Other concepts discussed include:

  • individual and communal shame – both in this world and the world to come
  • mystical manifestations of evil
  • the psychology of guilt and self-control
  • recognition of human failings
  • the power of sexual urges
  • whether thinking about a sin carries the same weight as its enactment
  • moral karma
  • the importance of remembering and respecting human relationships in our quest to do right
  • whether suicide is permitted in certain circumstances
  • the importance of humility
  • an appreciation that we may each fail when our moral will is tested.

In examining these two unorthodox Talmudic episodes, David discusses the notion that individuals are often tested in line with their unique moral parameters; that we should be wary of placing ourselves on moral pedestals because we may be found wanting; we are all responsible for our behaviour; and that we must know our limitations and our weaknesses.

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#96 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (3)

The third part of David’s series, Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud, explores a fascinating series of interconnected stories involving:

  • a high-level international diplomatic mission, 
  • undercover rabbinical espionage,
  • a cast of remarkable Talmudic rabbinical figures,
  • parental concern,
  • a curious question of Jewish law,
  • the mystical powers of the rabbis, 
  • a sighting of looted treasures from the temple in Jerusalem,
  • and a quest to overturn devastating Roman decrees.

David discusses key Talmudic personalities from the first two centuries, including:

  • Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
  • Rabbi Yossi Ben Halafta
  • Rabbi Reuben Ben Strobilus
  • Rabbi Yossi HaGellili
  • Rabbi Eleizer Ben Yossi
  • as well as (lehavdil) Ben Tamalia.

He also provides historical context for the events discussed in the Talmudic passages, some of the prevailing cultural and religious norms of the time, and the messages that arise from this unorthodox episode of the Talmud.

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#87 Women in Jewish History: the Biblical Period

In this Jewish History lecture, David explores the lives, contributions, and circumstances of 14 women from Tanach:

  • Rachav
  • Devorah
  • Yael
  • Bat Yiphtach
  • Pilegesh Bagiv’ah
  • Ruth
  • Channah
  • Michal
  • Abigail
  • Bat Sheva
  • Jezebel
  • Ataliah
  • Yehosheva
  • Chuldah

Among their numbers were:

  • queens
  • prophets
  • judges
  • politicians

as well as women who were distinguished for their faith, integrity, loyalty, courage, and beauty.

In addition to providing insight into the experiences of these fascinating women, David explains their historical legacies, including:

  • the preservation of the Davidic line
  • the cementing of Judaism’s attitude towards celibacy
  • the power of prayer
  • the importance of education
  • women’s connection to Jewish religious practice.

He also traces the changing lot of women throughout the biblical period, from empowerment to disempowerment and back again.

This is the first part of a seven-part series on women in Jewish History David delivered at the Jewish Museum of Australia in 2017. Unfortunately, only some of the talks in the series were successfully recorded. You can find existing lectures by David from that series as well as from others talks on women in Jewish History David has given here:

#73 Women in Jewish History: the Second Temple Period

#14 Worlds in transition: Jewish History of the 16th Century part 3

#43 Communities in Search of Meaning: Jewish History of the 17th Century (part 3)

#50 Women in Jewish History: 18th to 20th Centuries

#51 Women in Jewish History: 20th to 21st Centuries

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#85 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (7)

In this Jewish Philosophy lecture, David explores the ideas and contributions of four philosophers:

  • Nachman Krochmal
  • Hermann Cohen
  • Franz Rosenzweig, and
  • Martin Buber   

who lived from the late 18th to early 20th centuries.

This post-Enlightenment period saw a movement from reason to existentialism, influenced by Kierkegaard, Kant, and Hegel.

David’s examination of these Jewish philosophers reveals:

  • Nachman Krochmal and his consideration of the religious versus the good
  • Hermann Cohen and his emphasis on a return to Jewish sources and the concepts of being and becoming
  • Franz Rosenzweig and his replacement of Enlightenment universalism with three modes of relationship between the Divine, the world, and humanity – as well as creation, revelation, and redemption
  • Martin Buber and his exploration of dialogic relationships and expressed in his work “I and Thou.”

In his discussion of these four remarkable thinkers, David provides historical background to Jewish life in Europe – including the impact of emancipation and assimilation – and how this played out in the individual stories of these figures.

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#84 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (6)

The sixth instalment of David’s Jewish Philosophy lecture series considers two renowned, sometimes controversial, philosophers living during the Enlightenment:

  • Baruch Spinoza, and
  • Moses Mendelssohn.

Watch the lecture here: https://youtu.be/IC_bZTM55yA

In the first part of this Zoom lecture, David examines the ideas and impact of Baruch Spinoza, including the ultimate cause of his excommunication from the Jewish community. He explores concepts developed by Spinoza in his books:

In the first part of this Zoom lecture, David examines the ideas and impact of Baruch Spinoza, including the ultimate cause of his excommunication from the Jewish community. He explores concepts developed by Spinoza in his books:

Tractatus Theologico–Politicus (Theologico-Political Treatise), which provides a defence of secular thought, and

Ethics, which discusses:

  • reality is God
  • the universe (God) is necessary and determined
  • miracles do not exist
  • there is no free will
  • the pursuit of reason leads to freedom.

For Moses Mendelssohn, David explains, the challenge was to reveal religion in the Age of Reason. Mendelssohn’s book, Jerusalem, explores:

  • the Torah as revealed law
  • differences in nature and the laws of the Jewish people
  • reason as the true religion of humanity
  • the test of religious truth and its effect on conduct.

As with previous lectures, David provides historical context for both philosophers, describing their 17th and 18th century worlds. He also tackles some of the beliefs and misconceptions about these figures, many of which have carried through to today.

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#82 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (4)

The fourth part of David’s Jewish Philosophy lecture series considers three giants of Jewish thought from the Medieval Period:

  • Maimonides, the Rambam
  • Avraham ibn Daud
  • Rabbi Levu ben Gershon, also known as the Ralbag.

David explores the centrality of Aristotelianism for these thinkers as well as the influence of Islamic culture on Western theology and philosophy, including within Jewish circles.

Watch the Zoom lecture here.

Some of the central ideas that David examines in this talk include:

  • The Active Intellect as the agent of human knowledge 
  • The evolving intersection between philosophy and Judaism
  • The rational and the revealed 
  • The attributes of the Divine
  • The concept of Tselem
  • Prophecy
  • Miracles
  • The relationship between science, philosophy, and revelation
  • The eternity of the world 
  • The proof for the existence of Gd.

With the use of his own original illustrative graphics, David provides an overview of the ideas and contributions of these extraordinary figures. He also places all three in their respective historical and intellectual contexts.

For a historical overview of the period listen to David’s series, From the Rambam to the Zohar: Jewish History of 12th & 13th centuries, starting here.

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#81 A Journey Through Jewish Philosophy (3)

This Jewish Philosophy lecture explores the emergence of Neoplatonism in Jewish philosophical thinking. David examines the ideas and works of three Jewish philosophers living during the later years of the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry:

  • Shlomo Ibn Gabirol
  • Baḥya ibn Paquda
  • Yehudah haLevi.

Going in-depth into the contributions of Shlomo Ibn Gabirol, David discusses:

  • Keter Malkhut
  • Tiqun Midot haNephesh
  • Mekor Ḥayyim

looking at the philosopher’s exploration of:

  • Divine essence as primal cause
  • Matter and form
  • Divine will.

Watch the lecture here.

In the second part of the lecture, David compares the works and ideas of Baḥya ibn Paquda and Yehudah haLevi. He also discusses the latter’s philosophical enquiry presented in his book, The Kuzari.

Throughout the talk, David ensures the historical and intellectual context of the figures he examines – and their ideas – remains ever-present. He also provides clear and concise summaries of these ideas for a lay audience.

        

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