The Logos vs. Golden Calf (Parsha Ki Tisa Ex. 30:11-34:35)

This coming week’s Parsha (3/6/21) includes the account of the Golden Calf incident.

Philo of Alexandria saw in this incident another good allegory which teaches Stoic principles, writing:

(158) This is the food of a soul which is inclined to the practice of virtue, to consider labour a very sweet thing instead of a bitter one, which, however, it is not allowed to all persons to participate in; but to those only by whom the golden calf, the animal made by the Egyptians, the body, is sprinkled over with water after having been burnt with fire, and broken to pieces. For it is said in the sacred scriptures, that “Moses having taken the calf burnt it with fire, and broke it up into small pieces, and threw the pieces into the water and caused the children of Israel to drink Thereof.” (Ex 32:20.) (159) For the love of virtue being inflamed and excited by the brilliant appearance of virtue, burns to ashes the pleasures of the body, and then cuts them to pieces and pounds them to nothing, using the divine word which can at all times divide everything.
(On the Posterity of Cain and His Exile 158-159a)

Philo sees the Golden Calf as representing the “pleasures of the body”. When the people made the Golden Calf, they made a feast of which we read:

And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
(Ex. 32:6)

Rashi writes concerning the Hebrew word translated “to play”:

Heb. לְצַחֵק. In this word, there is [also] a connotation of sexual immorality, as it is said: “to mock (לְצַחֶק) me” (Gen. 39:17), and bloodshed, as it is said: “Let the boys get up now and play (וִישַׂחִקוּ) before us” (II Sam. 2:14). Here too, Hur was slain. -[from Midrash Tanchuma 20]

The Torah records the destruction of the Golden Calf as follows:

And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.
(Ex. 32:20)

Gold does not burn, it melts. The word “burnt” must be here to teach us something deeper. Philo understands this word “burnt” to mean that the calf (the pleasures of the body) are destroyed by the “love of virtue” because virtue “burns to ashes the pleasures of the body“.

And what is meant by “ground it to powder“? Philo paraphrases this “broke it up into small pieces” saying that |the divine word (Logos, Reason) which can at all times divide everything” and “cuts them (pleasures of the body) to pieces and pounds them to nothing.”

Philo is telling us that the four virtues, especially in this case, self-control, like a fire, burns the pleasures of the body, rooted in the emotions, and the root passion of pleasure, and that reason (the Logos) has the power to grind the negative emotions to nothing.

Reason (Logos) “grinds” or “at all times divides everything” because logic is a process of breaking down classifying and following the dividing paths of a logic tree. This process of logic can subdue irrational thinking overcoming negative emotions and manifesting the virtues in us.

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Purim and Stoicism

Purim is coming up beginning the evening of February 25th thru the 26th of this year (2021). There is, in fact, an important connection between this Jewish holiday, and Stoicism.

Purim commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, an Achaemenid Persian Empire official who was planning to kill all the Jews, as recounted in the Book of Esther.

Haman sought to destroy the Jewish people, and to do so thru an element of random chance, casting lots to choose the day for their intended destruction. Haman placed his faith in random chance, having a view that the universe is nothing but a collection of random occurrences.

By contrast the Jews were saved by providence, by the influence of the Logos, the rational mind that permeates the universe. The Jews were saved, not by supernatural intervention, but by nature and the natural unfolding of the universe in a series of seemingly unrelated “coincidences”.

Thru these seemingly unrelated events; a drunken and boastful king, a self-respecting queen, a beauty pageant, a sensuous girl, an overheard plot, and a timely insomnia, the Logos works behind the scenes to the benefit of the Jews and against the plans of Haman and his trust in a universe guided only by randomness.

In his foundational book On Creation, the first Century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, concludes that a created universe, leads to the the corollary of the concept of “providence”. Philo writes:

And those who describe it [the universe] as being uncreated, do, without being aware of it, cut off the most useful and necessary of all the qualities which tend to produce piety, namely, providence: (10) for reason proves that the father and creator has a care for that which has been created; for a father is anxious for the life of his children, and a workman aims at the duration of his works, and employs every device imaginable to ward off everything that is pernicious or injurious, and is desirous by every means in his power to provide everything which is useful or profitable for them. But with regard to that which has not been created, there is no feeling of interest as if it were his own in the breast of him who has not created it. (11) It is then a pernicious doctrine, and one for which no one should contend, to establish a system in this world, such as anarchy is in a city, so that it should have no superintendant, or regulator, or judge, by whom everything must be managed and governed.
(Philo; On Creation 9b-11)

And later Philo concludes:

The fifth lesson that Moses teaches us is, that God exerts his providence for the benefit of the world. For it follows of necessity that the Creator must always care for that which he has created, just as parents do also care for their children.
(Philo; On Creation 171b-172a)

So as Purim arrives this year, let us remember that this universe is not governed by random chance like casting of lots, but by the providence of the rational mind which permeates the universe and binds it together.

As Hebraic Stoics, we should live our lives in accordance with this nature of the unfolding universe, as Philo also writes:

 (3) And his exordium, as I have already said, is most admirable; embracing the creation of the world, under the idea that the law corresponds to the world and the world to the law, and that a man who is obedient to the law, being, by so doing, a citizen of the world, arranges his actions with reference to the intention of nature, in harmony with which the whole universal world is regulated. (Philo; On Creation 3)

And as he states elsewhere:

…for he [Moses] was not like any ordinary compiler of history, studying to leave behind him records of ancient transactions as memorials to future ages for the mere sake of affording pleasure without any advantage; but he traced back the most ancient events from the beginning of the world, commencing with the creation of the universe, in order to make known two most necessary principles. First, that the same being was the father and creator of the world, and likewise the lawgiver of truth; secondly, that the man who adhered to these laws, and clung closely to a connection with and obedience to nature, would live in a manner corresponding to the arrangement of the universe with a perfect harmony and union, between his words and his actions and between his actions and his words.
(On the Life of Moses 2, 48)

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The Logos and Speech (Parsha T’tzaveh Ex. 27:20-30:10)

This coming week’s Parsha (2/27/21) deals largely with the vestments of the High Priest. Among these vestments is the “breastplate of judgement.”:

[15] And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment with cunning work; after the work of the ephod thou shalt make it; of gold, of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine twined linen, shalt thou make it.
[16] Foursquare it shall be being doubled; a span shall be the length thereof, and a span shall be the breadth thereof.
[17] And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones: the first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle: this shall be the first row.
[18] And the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond.
[19] And the third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst.
[20] And the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper: they shall be set in gold in their inclosings.
[21] And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, like the engravings of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes.
[22] And thou shalt make upon the breastplate chains at the ends of wreathen work of pure gold.
[23] And thou shalt make upon the breastplate two rings of gold, and shalt put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate.
[24] And thou shalt put the two wreathen chains of gold in the two rings which are on the ends of the breastplate.
[25] And the other two ends of the two wreathen chains thou shalt fasten in the two ouches, and put them on the shoulderpieces of the ephod before it.
[26] And thou shalt make two rings of gold, and thou shalt put them upon the two ends of the breastplate in the border thereof, which is in the side of the ephod inward.
[27] And two other rings of gold thou shalt make, and shalt put them on the two sides of the ephod underneath, toward the forepart thereof, over against the other coupling thereof, above the curious girdle of the ephod.
[28] And they shall bind the breastplate by the rings thereof unto the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it may be above the curious girdle of the ephod, and that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod.
[29] And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually.
[30] And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the LORD: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually.
(Exodus 28:15-30 KJV)

Philo writes concerning verse 30:

XL. (118) At all events the holy scripture being well aware how great is the power of the impetuosity of each passion, anger and appetite, puts a bridle in the mouth of each, having appointed reason as their charioteer and pilot. And first of all it speaks thus of anger, in the hope of pacifying and curing it: (119) “And you shall put manifestation and truth (the Urim and the Thummim), in the oracle of judgment, and it shall be on the breast of Aaron when he comes into the holy place before the Lord.”(Exodus 28:30.) Now by the oracle is here meant the organs of speech which exist in us, which is in fact the power of language. Now language is either inconsiderate, and such as will not stand examination, or else it is judicious and well approved, and it brings us to form a notion of discreet speech. For Moses here speaks not of a random spurious oracle, but of the oracle of the judgment, which is equivalent to saying, a well-judged and carefully examined oracle; (120) and of this well approved kind of language he says that there are two supreme virtues, namely, distinctness and truth, and he says well. For it is language which has in the first place enabled one man to make affairs plain and evident to his neighbour, when without it we should not be able to give any intimation of the impression produced on our soul by outward circumstances, nor to show of what kind they are.

XVI. On which account we have been compelled to have recourse to such signs as are given by the voices, that is nouns and verbs, which ought by all means to be universally known, in order that our neighbours might clearly and evidently comprehend our meaning; and, in the next place, to utter them at all times with truth. (121) For of what advantage would it be to make our assertions clear and distinct, but nevertheless false? For it follows inevitably that if this were allowed the hearer would be deceived, and would reap the greatest possible injury with ignorance and delusion. For what would be the advantage of my speaking to a boy distinctly and clearly, and telling him, when I show him the letter A, that it is G, or that the letter E is O? Or what would be the good of a musician pointing out to a pupil whom comes to him to learn the rudiments of his art that the harmonic scale was the chromatic; or the chromatic, the diatonic; or that the highest string was the middle one; or that conjoined sounds were separated; or that the highest tone in the tetrachord scale was a supernumerary note? (122) No doubt, a man who said this might speak clearly and distinctly, but he would not be speaking truly, but by such assertions he would be implanting wickedness in language. But when he joins both distinctness and truth, then he makes his language profitable to him who is seeking information, employing both its virtues, which in fact are nearly the only ones of which language is capable.

XLII. (123) Moses, therefore, says that discreet discourse, having its own peculiar virtues, is placed on the breast of Aaron, that is to say, of anger, in order that it may in the first instance be guided by reason, and may not be injured by its own deficiency in reason, and, in the second place, by distinctness, for there is no natural influence which makes anger a friend to distinctness. At all events, not only are the ideas of angry men, but all their expressions also, full of disorder and confusion, and therefore it is very natural for the want of clearness on the part of anger to be rectified by clearness, (124) and, in addition, by truth; for, among other things, anger has also this particular property of being inclined to misrepresent the truth. At all events, of all those who give way to this disposition scarcely any one speaks the strict truth, as if it were his soul and not his body that is under the influence of its intoxication. These, then, are the chief remedies suitable for that part of the soul which is influenced by anger, namely, reason, disinterestedness of language, and truth of language, for the three things are in power only one, namely, reason, curing anger, which is a pernicious disease of the soul, by means of the virtues truth and perspicuity.

XLIII. (125) To whom, or to what, then, does it belong to bear these things? Not to my mind, or to that of any chance person, but to the consecrated and purely sacrificial intellect, that, namely, of Aaron. And not even to this at all times, for it is frequently subject to change, but only when it is going on unchangeably, when it is entering into the holy place, when reason is entering in together with holy opinions, and is not abandoning them. (126) But it often happens that the mind is at the same time entering into sacred and holy and purified opinions, but still such as are only human; such, for instance, as opinions on what is expedient; opinions on successful actions; opinions on what is in accordance with established law; opinions concerning virtue as it exists among men. Nor is the mind, when disposed in this way, competent to bear the oracle on its breast together with he virtues, but only that one which is going in before the Lord, that is to say, that one which doeth everything for the sake of God, and which estimates nothing as superior to the things of God; but attributes to them also their due rank, not indeed dwelling on them, but ascending upwards to the knowledge and understanding of an appreciation of the honour due to the one God. (127) For, in a mind which is thus disposed, anger will be directed by purified reason, which takes away its irrational part, and remedies what there is confused and disorderly in it by the application of distinctness, and eradicates its falsehood by truth.

XLIV. (128) Aaron, therefore, for he is a second Moses, restraining the breast, that is to say, the angry passions, does not allow them to be carried away by undistinguishing impulse, fearing lest, if they obtain complete liberty, they may become restiff, like a horse, and so trample down the whole soul. But he attends to and cures it, and bridles it in the first instance by reason, that so, being under the guidance of the best of charioteers, it may not become exceedingly unmanageable, and in the second place, by the virtues of language, distinctness, and truth. For, if the angry passions were educated in such a way as to yield to reason and distinctness, and to cultivate the virtue of truthfulness, they would deliver themselves from great irritation and make the whole soul propitious.
(Allegorical Interpretation III, 118-128)

The Hellenist Jews called the “breastplate of judgement” (חֹ֤שֶׁן מִשְׁפָּט֙) the “oracle of judgment” (λογεῖον τῶν κρίσεων) (as in the LXX) where the word “oracle” comes from the Greek Logos.

Philo sees the Oracle/Breastplate of Judgment as representing the power of language. There may be a wordplay in Hebrew here between חשן (breastplate) and לשן (tongue, language). Philo sees that out speech should be controlled by the Logos (reason), and that two key virtues of speech controlled by the rational mind, are distinctness and truth, symbolized by the Urim and Thummim placed in the breastplate. (The Hebrew word Urim means “lights” while the Hebrew word Thummim means “perfections”. ) The breastplate covers the breast as a defense against anger, and the emotions in general.

As Hebraic Stoics, we our rational minds should guide our speech, restraining our emotions so that all of our words are well thought out, distinct and true.

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The Logos in the Ark and Menorah (Parsha T’rumah Ex. 25:1-27:19)

This coming week’s Torah Parsha (2/20/21) deals with the Tabernacle and it’s furnishings. The Torah says, concerning the Tabernacle and its furnishings “According to all that I show you, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall you make it.” (Ex. 25:9) “And look that you make them after their pattern, which was shewed you in the mount.” (Ex. 25:40).

This fits well with Philo of Alexandria’s concept of two worlds when he writes:

We must mention as much as we can of the matters contained in his account, since to enumerate them all is impossible; for he embraces that beautiful world which is perceptible only by the intellect, as the account of the first day will show: (16) for God, as apprehending beforehand, as a God must do, that there could not exist a good imitation without a good model, and that of the things perceptible to the external senses nothing could be faultless which wax not fashioned with reference to some archetypal idea conceived by the intellect, when he had determined to create this visible world, previously formed that one which is perceptible only by the intellect, in order that so using an incorporeal model formed as far as possible on the image of God (Gen. 1:27), he might then make this corporeal world, a younger likeness of the elder creation, which should embrace as many different genera perceptible to the external senses, as the other world contains of those which are visible only to the intellect. (17) But that world which consists of ideas, it were impious in any degree to attempt to describe or even to imagine: but how it was created, we shall know if we take for our guide a certain image of the things which exist among us. When any city is founded through the exceeding ambition of some king or leader who lays claim to absolute authority, and is at the same time a man of brilliant imagination, eager to display his good fortune, then it happens at times that some man coming up who, from his education, is skilful in architecture, and he, seeing the advantageous character and beauty of the situation, first of all sketches out in his own mind nearly all the parts of the city which is about to be completed–the temples, the gymnasia, the prytanea, and markets, the harbour, the docks, the streets, the arrangement of the walls, the situations of the dwelling houses, and of the public and other buildings. (18) Then, having received in his own mind, as on a waxen tablet, the form of each building, he carries in his heart the image of a city, perceptible as yet only by the intellect, the images of which he stirs up in memory which is innate in him, and, still further, engraving them in his mind like a good workman, keeping his eyes fixed on his model, he begins to raise the city of stones and wood, making the corporeal substances to resemble each of the incorporeal ideas. (19) Now we must form a somewhat similar opinion of God, who, having determined to found a mighty state, first of all conceived its form in his mind, according to which form he made a world perceptible only by the intellect, and then completed one visible to the external senses, using the first one as a model. (On Creation 15b-19)

These are reminiscent of the words Plato ascribes to Timeaus:

But when the artificer of any object, in forming its shape and quality, keeps his gaze fixed on that which is uniform, using a model of this kind, that object, executed in this way, must of necessity [28b] be beautiful; but whenever he gazes at that which has come into existence and uses a created model, the object thus executed is not beautiful. (Plato; Timeaus 28)

From which Plato derives his world of ideas that parallels this world. However, Philo derives this idea from Gen. 1:26-27:

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
(Gen. 1:26-27)

It is no wonder that the ancient Alexandrian Jewish writer Aristoblus, wrote in the Second Century BCE:

“It is evident that Plato imitated our Torah and that he had investigated thoroughly each of the elements in it. For it had been translated by others before before Demetrius Phalereus, before the conquests of Alexander and the Persians.”
(Aristoblus; Fragment 3; quoted in Eusebius 12:12:1f)

“And it seems to me that Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato with great care follow him [Moses] in all respects. They copy him when they say they hear the voice of God, and they contemplate the arrangement of the universe, so carefully made and so unceasingly held together by God.
(Aristoblus; Fragment 4; quoted in Eusebius 13:13:4)

Thus the Tabernacle and it’s furnishings were made after a pattern from the world of ideas.

Philo finds that two of the furnishings of the Tabernacle were made after this pattern in the world of ideas, that teaches us that the Logos is key to moderation.

The first of these is the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat cover for the Ark, which The Torah describes as follows:

[17] And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof.
[18] And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat.
[19] And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof.
[20] And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be.
[21] And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee.
[22] And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.
(Ex. 25:17-22 KJV)

The first century Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria taught that the two cherubim represented “the two most ancient and supreme powers of the divine God, namely, his creative and his kingly power”:

(97) But the ark is the depository of the laws, for in that are placed the holy oracles of God, which were given to Moses; and the covering of the ark, which is called the mercy-seat, is a foundation for two winged creatures to rest upon, which are called, in the native language of the Hebrews, cherubim, but as the Greeks would translate the word, vast knowledge and science. (98) Now some persons say, that these cherubim are the symbols of the two hemispheres, placed opposite to and fronting one another, the one beneath the earth and the other above the earth, for the whole heaven is endowed with wings. (99) But I myself should say, that what is here represented under a figure are the two most ancient and supreme powers of the divine God, namely, his creative and his kingly power; and his creative power is called God; according to which he arranged, and created, and adorned this universe, and his kingly power is called Lord, by which he rules over the beings whom he has created, and governs them with justice and firmness; (100) for he, being the only true living God, is also really the Creator of the world; since he brought things which had no existence into being; and he is also a king by nature, because no one can rule over beings that have been created more justly than he who created them.
(Life of Moses II)

(57) Why God places a cherubim in front of the Paradise, and a flaming sword, which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life? (Gen. 3:24). The name cherubim designates the two original virtues which belong to the Deity, namely, his creative and his royal virtues. The one of which has the title of God, the other, or the royal virtue, that of Lord. Now the form of the creative power is a peaceable, and gentle, and beneficent virtue; but the royal power is a legislative, and chastising, and correcting virtue.

Philo also taught that “the third thing which was between the two, and had the effect of bringing them together was reason (the LOGOS) [Word]:

(27) I have also, on one occasion, heard a more ingenious train of reasoning from my own soul, which was accustomed frequently to be seized with a certain divine inspiration, even concerning matters which it could not explain even to itself; which now, if I am able to remember it accurately, I will relate. It told me that in the one living and true God there were two supreme and primary powers–goodness and authority; and that by his goodness he had created everything, and by his authority he governed all that he had created; (28) and that the third thing which was between the two, and had the effect of bringing them together was reason (the LOGOS), for that it was owing to reason that God was both a ruler and good. Now, of this ruling authority and of this goodness, being two distinct powers, the cherubim were the symbols, but of reason the flaming sword was the symbol. For reason (the LOGOS) is a thing capable of rapid motion and impetuous, and especially the reason of the Creator of all things is so, inasmuch as it was before everything and passed by everything, and was conceived before everything, and appears in everything. (29) And do thou, O my mind, receive the impression of each of these cherubims unadulterated, that thus becoming thoroughly instructed about the ruling authority of the Creator of all things and about his goodness, thou mayest receive a happy inheritance; for immediately thou shalt understand the conjunction and combination of these imperishable powers, and learn in what respects God is good, his majesty arising from his sovereign power being all the time conspicuous; and in what he is powerful, his goodness, being equally the object of attention, that is this way thou mayest attain to the virtues which are engendered by these conceptions, namely, a love and a reverential awe of God, neither being uplifted to arrogance by any prosperity which may befall thee, having regard always to the greatness of the sovereignty of thy King; nor abjectly giving up hope of better things in the hour of unexpected misfortune, having regard, then, to the mercifulness of thy great and bounteous God. (30) And let the flaming sword teach thee that these things might be followed by a prompt and fiery reason combined with action, which never ceases being in motion with rapidity and energy to the selection of good objects, and the avoidance of all such as are evil.  (31) Do you not see that even the wise Abraham, when he began to measure everything with a reference to God, and to leave nothing to the creature, took an imitation of the flaming sword, namely, “fire and a Sword,” being eager to slay and to burn that mortal creature which was born of him, that so being raised on high it might soar up to God, the intellect being thus disentangled from the body.
(On the Cherubim 27-31)

Philo taught that it was the Word (Logos) which spoke to Moses from between the two cherubim:

XXXIV. (165) And he apportioned cold and heat, and summer and spring, the different seasons of the year, divided by the same dividing Word. And the three days which passed before the creation of the sun, are equal in number to the three days of the first week which came after the creation of the sun, the number six being dissected equally in order to display the character of eternity and of time. For thus God allotted three days to eternity before the appearance of the sun, and those which came after the sun he allotted to time; the sun being an imitation of eternity, and time and eternity being the two primary powers of the living God; (166) the one his beneficent power, in accordance with which he made the world, and in respect of which he is called God; the other his chastening power, according to which he rules and governs what he has created, in respect of which he is further denominated Lord, and these two he here states to be divided in the middle by him standing above them both. “For,” says he, “I will speak to you from above the mercy-seat, in the midst, between the two Cherubims;”(Exodus 25:22). that he might show that the most ancient powers of the living God are equal; that is to say, his beneficent and his chastising power, being both divided by the same dividing Word.
(Who is the Heir of All Divine Things )

XIX. (100) These, then, are the six cities which Moses calls cities of refuge, five of which have had their figures set forth in the sacred scriptures, and their images are there likewise. The images of the cities of command and prohibition are the laws in the ark; that of the merciful power of God is the covering of the ark, and he calls it the mercy-seat. The images of the creative power and of the kingly power are the winged cherubim which are placed upon it. (101) But the divine word which is above these does not come into any visible appearance, inasmuch as it is not like to any of the things that come under the external senses, but is itself an image of God, the most ancient of all the objects of intellect in the whole world, and that which is placed in the closest proximity to the only truly existing God, without any partition or distance being interposed between them: for it is said, “I will speak unto thee from above the mercyseat, in the midst, between the two Cherubim.” (Exodus 25:22). So that the word is, as it were, the charioteer of the powers, and he who utters it is the rider, who directs the charioteer how to proceed with a view to the proper guidance of the universe.
(On Flight and FInding)

Philo sees the Logos as a moderating force between the opposing virtues of Elohim, Chesed (mercy) which he describes as “peaceable, and gentle, and beneficent” and Gevurah (judgment) which he describes as “a legislative, and chastising, and correcting virtue.

Concerning the Tabernacle Menorah, the Torah says:

[31] And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made: his shaft, and his branches, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, shall be of the same.
[32] And six branches shall come out of the sides of it; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side:
[33] Three bowls made like unto almonds, with a knop and a flower in one branch; and three bowls made like almonds in the other branch, with a knop and a flower: so in the six branches that come out of the candlestick.
[34] And in the candlestick shall be four bowls made like unto almonds, with their knops and their flowers.
[35] And there shall be a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, according to the six branches that proceed out of the candlestick.
[36] Their knops and their branches shall be of the same: all it shall be one beaten work of pure gold.
[37] And thou shalt make the seven lamps thereof: and they shall light the lamps thereof, that they may give light over against it.
(Ex. 25:31-37 KJV)

Philo writes concerning the Menorah:

(218) Concerning the candlestick above mentioned, the artist speaks again a second time and says, that from its different branches there are three arms projecting out on each side, equals in all respects to one another, and having on the top lamps like nuts, in the shape of flowers supporting the lights; (Ex. 5:33.) the seventh flower being fashioned on the top of the candlestick of solid gold, and having seven golden places for lights above them; (219) so that in many accounts it has been believed to be fashioned in such a manner because the number six is divided into two triads by the Word (Logos), making the seventh and being placed in the midst of them; as indeed is the case now. For the entire candlestick with its six most entire and principal parts was made so as to consist of seven lamps, and seven flowers, and seven lights; and the six lights are divided by the seventh. (220) And in like manner the flowers are divided by that which comes in the middle; and in the same manner also the lamps are divided by the seventh which comes in the middle. But the six branches, and the equal number of arms which shoot out are divided by the main trunk itself which makes up the number seven. (Who is the Heir of All Divine Things 219-220 )

So the Menorah also gives us a symbol of the Logos as being the place in the middle.

These furnishings of the Tabernacle give us symbols of the Logos from which we can learn that the Logos presents us with a moderating force in which we can see both the virtue of justice, which moderates judgement with mercy, and self-control which exhibits moderation, the Logos being the moderating force behind both virtues.

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My Journey: How I Re-Discovered Hebraic Stoicism

Today’s blog will be a little more personal than my other blogs. Today I wanted to give you some insight on my own journey and how I came to re-discover Hebraic Stoicism.

My journey began while I was in High School (I think it was my Sophmore year, around 1982 or 83). Our English literature class was studying the Shakespearean play Julius Caesar. Our teacher, Michael Shabay, took the opportunity to teach us about the three major philosophies that permeated Roman culture at this time: Stoicism, Epicurianism and Cynicism. Shabay assigned us to choose one of these three philosophies, and encouraged us to consider adopting one. Being a Star Trek fan, I was aware that the “Spock” character, with his predilection for logic and his control of his emotions, was based on the ancient Stoics, so I naturally chose Stoicism. (One of many influences the fictional Spock character had on my life from my youth, another was my interest in three dimensional chess).

A year or so later, I was exploring my father’s vast library (like my own today, it was a room completely lined with bookshelves). In my father’s library I discovered the works of Plato, Aristotle and others. One day I chanced upon a book titled “The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden.” In this book I found the “Fourth Book of Maccabees.” This book of 4the Maccabees was amazing, it combined Stoicism’s chocolate with Judaica’s peanut butter.

Over the next few years I discovered Stoicism in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, in Ben Zoma’s four paradoxes etc., and this material allowed me to reconstruct how these ancient Hebrews derived Stoicism from the Torah itself. I discovered that ancient Jewish writers like Aristobulus and Philo, saw Stoicsism (as well as many ideas of Plato and Aristotle) as having originated from the Torah and the ancient Hebrews, and having been co-opted by the ancient Greeks and Romans. I had re-discovered Hebraic Stoicism, which had been lost since the Jewish community of Alexandria was wiped out by the Romans in 116 C.E.,

That has been my journey. I am pleased that many of you have decided to join me in the restoration of this ancient Hebraic philosophy of reason.

I will close with a Poem I also learned in Mr. Shabay’s English class:

The Road Not Taken By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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Being Guided by the Logos (Parsha Mishpatim Ex. 21:1-24:8)

This coming week’s Torah Parsha (2/13/21) includes these words about an “Angel” which guided the Assembly of Israel:

[20] Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.
[21] Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.
[22] But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.
[23] For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off.
(Exodus 23:20-23 KJV)

According to Philo of Alexandria, this Angel was a manifestation of the Logos (the Memra, the Word, Reason). This is the rational mind which permeates the universe:

For God, like a shepherd and a king, governs (as if they were a flock of sheep) the earth, and the water, and the air, and the fire, and all the plants, and living creatures that are in them, whether mortal or divine; and he regulates the nature of the heaven, and the periodical revolutions of the sun and moon, and the variations and harmonious movements of the other stars, ruling them according to law and justice; appointing, as their immediate superintendent, his own right reason (Logos), his first-born son, who is to receive the charge of this sacred company, as the lieutenant of the great king; for it is said somewhere, “Behold, I am he! I will send my messenger before thy face, who shall keep thee in the Road.”(Ex 23:20.) (52) Let therefore all the world, the greatest and most perfect flock of the living God, say “The Lord is my shepherd, and he shall cause me to lack nothing,” (Ps. 23:1) (53) and let every separate individual say the same thing; not with the voice which proceeds from his tongue and his mouth, extending only through a scanty portion of the air, but with the wide spreading voice of the mind, which reaches to the very extremities of this universe; for it is impossible that there should be a deficiency of anything that is necessary, where God presides, who is in the habit of bestowing good things in all fulness and completeness in all living beings.
(On Husbandry 51b-55)

(174) for until a man is made perfect he uses divine reason (Logos) as the guide of his path, for that is the sacred oracle of scripture: “Behold, I send my angel before thy face that he may keep thee in the road, so as to lead thee into the land which I have prepared for thee. Attend thou to him, and listen to him; do not disobey him; for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in Him.” (Ex 23:20-21.) (175) But when he has arrived at the height of perfect knowledge, then, running forward vigorously, he keeps up with the speed of him who was previously leading him in his way; for in this way they will both become attendants of God who is the guide of all things; no one of those who hold erroneous opinions accompanying them any longer, and even Lot himself, who turned on one side the soul, which might have been upright and inflexible, removing and living at a distance.
(Migration of Abraham 174-175)

Philo of Alexandria says of the Word (Greek: Logos):

for all other things are intrinsically and by their own nature loose; and if there is any where any thing consolidated, that has been bound by the word of God, for this word is glue and a chain, filling all things with its essence. And the word, which connects together and fastens every thing, is peculiarly full itself of itself, having no need whatever of any thing beyond. (Philo; Who is Heir of all Things? 188)

And he says of the Law, which he elsewhere identifies  with the Word:

(8) If therefore any one wishes to escape from the difficulties of this question which present themselves in the different doubts thus raised, let him speak freely and say that there is nothing in any material of such power as to be able to support this weight of the world. But it is the eternal law of the everlasting God which is the most supporting and firm foundation of the universe. (9) This it is which, being extended from the centre of the borders, and again from the extremities to the centre, runs through the whole unsubdued course of nature, collecting all the parts and binding them firmly together; for the father who created them has made it the indissoluble bond of the universe. (10) Very naturally and appropriately therefore, all earth will not be dissolved by all water, which the bosom of the earth contains, nor will fire be extinguished by air, nor again will air be burnt up by fire, since the divine law establishes itself as a boundary to all these elements, like a vowel among consonants, so that the universe may, as it were, be harmonious in concert with the music expressed by letters; persuasion, by its own authority, putting an end to the threatening conflicts of contrary natures.
(Philo; Concerning Noah’s Work as a Planter 8-10)

Philo also tells us that we should live our lives guided by this Logos (Memra) which is “the intention of nature, in harmony with which the whole universal world is regulated“:

 (3) And his exordium, as I have already said, is most admirable; embracing the creation of the world, under the idea that the law corresponds to the world and the world to the law, and that a man who is obedient to the law, being, by so doing, a citizen of the world, arranges his actions with reference to the intention of nature, in harmony with which the whole universal world is regulated. (Philo; On Creation 3)

Or as he states elsewhere:

…for he [Moses] was not like any ordinary compiler of history, studying to leave behind him records of ancient transactions as memorials to future ages for the mere sake of affording pleasure without any advantage; but he traced back the most ancient events from the beginning of the world, commencing with the creation of the universe, in order to make known two most necessary principles. First, that the same being was the father and creator of the world, and likewise the lawgiver of truth; secondly, that the man who adhered to these laws, and clung closely to a connection with and obedience to nature, would live in a manner corresponding to the arrangement of the universe with a perfect harmony and union, between his words and his actions and between his actions and his words.
(On the Life of Moses 2, 48)

Just as the Assembly of Israel was guided in the wilderness by the Memra (the Logos), we should be guided by the Logos as well, both in being guided by our rational mind, which is a spark of the Logos, and in living our lives in accordance with nature, which is the impression of the Logos on the universe.

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Emotions that Can Hinder the Four Virtues

Emotions that Can Hinder the Four Virtues
James Scott Trimm

We read in Proverbs:

He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty:
and he that rules his spirit, than he that takes a city.
(Proverbs 16:32 HRV)

 In a recent article I showed that Torah brings wisdom and living Torah produces a “life of wisdom” which is the kind of life preferred by “the mind with sound logic” and this sound logic of Torah is the Logos (Word, Reason) which is sovereign over the emotions and nurtures within us the four labors of wisdom.  As we read in 4Maccabees

21 Now when Elohim fashioned man, he planted in him emotions and inclinations,
22 but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over them all.
23 To the mind he gave the Torah; and one who lives subject to this will rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.
(4Macc. 2:21-23)

In the Mishna Ben Zoma is quoted as teaching:

“Who is strong? He who controls his inclinations.”  
(m.Avot 4:1)

Emotions are not evil, but they can inhibit reason which in turn inhibits the four labors of wisdom.  YHWH does not want us to purge our emotions, so this is not a Vulcan thing, however he does want us to control our emotions so that they do not hinder the labors of wisdom from being nurtured within us by the Word.  As the first century Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria said:

“For these passions are the causes of all good and of all evil; of good when they submit to the authority of dominant reason, and of evil when they break out of bounds and scorn all government and restraint.”
(Life of Moses 1; VI, 26)

I should also point out that the definition of “emotions” or “passions” in 4Maccabees is broader than our own.  In 4th Maccabees a “emotion” is “irrational thinking” and can even include “ignorance” or “forgetfulness”  (1:5; 2:24-3:1).

According to 4Maccabees “the two most comprehensive types of the emotions are pleasure and pain” (1:20)

Each of these two most basic emotions is part of a past-present-future process of three emotions each:

21 The emotions of both pleasure and pain have many consequences.
22 Thus desire precedes pleasure and delight follows it.
23 Fear precedes pain and sorrow comes after.

This gives us three “pleasure” emotions: desire, pleasure and delight, and three “pain” emotions “fear, pain and sorrow.”  A seventh emotion is “anger” which is rooted in both pleasure and pain:

Anger, as a man will see if he reflects on this experience, is an emotion embracing pleasure and pain.

So the seven basic emotions are desire, pleasure and delight, fear, pain and sorrow and anger.

4Maccabees also tell us of these two root emotions of “pleasure” and “pain” that “each of these is by nature concerned with both body and soul.”  (1:20)

Meaning that we have physical pleasure and mental pleasure and all of the processes of is three phases of each.  And we have physical pain and mental pain and all of the processes of is three phases of each. And we have anger rooted in physical pleasure and pain and anger rooted in mental pleasure and pain.  (So now we have a total of fourteen sub-types of emotions).

There is another unique aspect of the root emotion of pleasure that is malevolent:

25  In pleasure there exists even a malevolent tendency, which is the most complex of all the emotions.
26  In the soul it is boastfulness, covetousness, thirst for honor, rivalry, and malice;
27  in the body, indiscriminate eating, gluttony, and solitary gormandizing.
(4Macc 1:25-27)

And reason (Logos) rules over all of these as well:

15  It is evident that reason rules even the more violent emotions: lust for power, vainglory, boasting, arrogance, and malice.
16  For the temperate mind repels all these malicious emotions, just as it repels anger — for it is sovereign over even this.
(4Macc. 2:15-16)

So we now have Malevolent Physical Pleasure (boastfulness, covetousness, thirst for honor, rivalry, and malice) and Malevolent Mental Pleasure (indiscriminate eating, gluttony, and solitary gormandizing). And each of these can also exist in any of the three phases of pleasure.  (So now we have a total of at least 44 complex emotions).

Now it is important to know which emotions hinder which of the four labors of wisdom, and how, in turn, the Logos (Word/Reason) can help us overcome them.

Emotions that hinder self-control are gluttony and lust (4Macc. 1:3).  An emotion that hinders justice is malice (4Macc. 1:4) and emotions that hinder courage are anger, fear and pain (4Macc. 1:4).  (The hindrances of rational-thought are forgetfulness and ignorance (4Macc. 1:5; 2:24-3:1) which we do not think of today as “emotions” and which cannot be overcome by reason.)

Now the goal of 4Maccabees is not to teach us how to purge our emotion.  No one could, or should purge their emotions.  There is nothing wrong with pleasure.  For example the Scriptures speak very favorably of the experience of sexual pleasure between a husband and wife. The Torah exempts a new husband from military service for a full year so he may “bring joy to his wife” (Deut. 24:5). In the Song of Songs Solomon writes of his lover “How fair and how pleasant are you, o love, for delights!” to which his lover responds “I am my beloved’s and his desire is toward me.” (SoS 7:7, 11) elsewhere the Song of Songs, Solomon says “Eat, O friends, and drink; drink your fill, O lovers.” (SoS 5:1)  Pleasure however is be a blessing of life, but it should not be sought after merely for its own sake, at the expense of the four Labors of Wisdom.

It is not Elohim’s intent for us to purge our emotions, but rather to use reason (Logos) thru the Torah to control our emotions:

For reason does not rule its own emotions, but those that are opposed to justice, courage, and self-control; and it is not for the purpose of destroying them, but so that one may not give way to them.
(4Macc. 1:6)

2  No one of us can eradicate that kind of desire, but reason can provide a way for us not to be enslaved by desire.
3  No one of us can eradicate anger from the mind, but reason can help to deal with anger.
4  No one of us can eradicate malice, but reason can fight at our side so that we are not overcome by malice.
5  For reason does not uproot the emotions but is their antagonist.
(4Macc. 3:2-5)

In future articles, I will demonstrate how the Torah helps us to control our emotions and how it can nurture rational thought; self-control, justice and courage within us. 

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