Audio Roundup 2023:23

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by Joel Rich

When we studied The Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot and Hilchot Yesodei Hatora we found that one of the first mitzvot was yirat shamayim which is often translated as fear of HKBH but we found it was better translated as a awe of HKBH.

I came across an interesting new book, “ Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life”, which is reviewed below. From an orthodox standpoint, I think we would say that HKBH created the world, and at the highest level, commanded us to maintain a constant state of awe. (yirah is a mitzva tmidit [constant mitzva] – there are six mitzvot which the Sefer Hachinuch calls “constant mitzvot which are perpetual and constant, applicable at all times, all the days of our lives”). This commanded state of awe will intrinsically have positive effects on us in a number of aspects of our lives.
Worthwhile to consider in my humble opinion.

Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life Hardcover – January 3, 2023 by Dacher Keltner
Awe is mysterious. How do we begin to quantify the goose bumps we feel when we see the Grand Canyon, or the utter amazement when we watch a child walk for the first time? How do you put into words the collective effervescence of standing in a crowd and singing in unison, or the wonder you feel while gazing at centuries-old works of art? Up until fifteen years ago, there was no science of awe, the feeling we experience when we encounter vast mysteries that transcend our understanding of the world. Scientists were studying emotions like fear and disgust, emotions that seemed essential to human survival. Revolutionary thinking, though, has brought into focus how, through the span of evolution, we’ve met our most basic needs socially. We’ve survived thanks to our capacities to cooperate, form communities, and create culture that strengthens our sense of shared identity—actions that are sparked and spurred by awe.

In Awe, Dacher Keltner presents a radical investigation and deeply personal inquiry into this elusive emotion. Revealing new research into how awe transforms our brains and bodies, alongside an examination of awe across history, culture, and within his own life during a period of grief, Keltner shows us how cultivating awe in our everyday life leads us to appreciate what is most humane in our human nature. And during a moment in which our world feels more divided than ever before, and more imperiled by crises of different kinds, we are greatly in need of awe. If we open our minds, it is awe that sharpens our reasoning and orients us toward big ideas and new insights, that cools our immune system’s inflammation response and strengthens our bodies. It is awe that activates our inclination to share and create strong networks, to take actions that are good for the natural and social world around us. It is awe that transforms who we are, that inspires the creation of art, music, and religion. At turns radical and profound, brimming with enlightening and practical insights, Awe is our field guide, from not only one of the leading voices on the subject but a fellow seeker of awe in his own right, for how to place awe as a vital force within our lives.


I was recently thinking about whether I would learn as much if it were not a positively required mitzvah to learn torah (except to the extent of knowing practical applications). Given that according to the Gra the mitzvah of limud torah (for men) applies anytime you’re not doing something else that has a higher mitzva priority at that time, limud torah must be a very high priority. However, if I were in the category of not commanded and doing it (eino metzuveh voseh), what priority would limud torah have?

Starting with the cognitive (versus emotional) evaluation, how do we view the category of eino metzuveh voseh? As my father used to say, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you, so for me the first step would be to prioritize goals. ?) Would it be logical to assume that a mitzvah that we are not metzuveh in is a lower priority than one in which we are metzuveh (as in gadol hametzuveh voseh yoter mmi sheino metzuveh voseh)?

One goal definition might be to be the best servant of HKBH (eved hashem) that we can be. Using this as a general organizing principle should help us prioritize our daily efforts. While there’s no simple algorithm, we often have to choose between competing goods (even something as simple as if we decide we want to do acts of kindness, how do we evaluate which ones to do

Further how might we evaluate what can make us a better eved hashem? Might we use connection with HKBH or perhaps the Rambam‘s first mitzvah of knowing HKBH as partial measures?. If so, perhaps limud torah gives us the best access to the “mind of God” even if we weren’t metzuveh but perhaps studying biology, kabala or doing acts of chesed would work as well, depending on the individual?

After thinking about this, I realized that this is really a practical question regarding women’s study of Talmud. Given that a woman would be eino metzuveh voseh, should Talmud study be viewed as a high priority in required (or suggested) women’s education? Similarly, how do couples allocate their joint time and responsibilities given that the husband is metzuveh in talmud torah and the wife is not? (Actually, a subset of the more general question as to how halacha/hashkafa informs of division of responsibilities in any family model)

Before I expand on the topic, I’d appreciate others’ thoughts?

After I wrote this, I found this from R’ Amital:
The study of Torah brings you closer to God. No one understands how this works. But if you focus your study on Jewish philosophy, Tanakh, or other subjects – you will fail. The Oral Law is the basis for everything – faith, Torah, yirat shamayim, love of mitzvot. Afterwards, of course, it is necessary to supplement with aggada and mussar, Tanakh and philosophy. But the foundation of all foundations is the Oral Law.


Please direct any informal comments to [email protected].

About Joel Rich

Joel Rich is a frequent wannabee cyberspace lecturer on various Torah topics. A Yerushalmi formerly temporarily living in West Orange, NJ, his former employer and the Social Security administration support his Torah listening habits. He is a recovering consulting actuary.

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