Complete our annual survey—and win a prize? | Join us for more 18Forty in your WhatsApp or right in your email

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: The Majesty of Torah Study

Listen_Apple_ButtonListen_Spotify_ButtonListen_Google_Button

SUMMARY

This series is sponsored by our friends Mira and Daniel Stokar.

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to Rabbi Michael Rosensweig, a Rosh Yeshiva and the Rosh Kollel of the Beren Kollel Elyon at RIETS, about how we can return as a people to the world of Torah study. 

Rabbi Rosensweig is the author of the recently published book Mimini Mikhael – Essays on Yom Kippur and Teshuvah, which is the centerpiece of this conversation. In this episode we discuss: 

  • How does teaching Torah to a broad audience compare with teaching high-level students?
  • What should we hope to achieve on Yom Kippur?
  • What is the relationship between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

Tune in to hear a conversation about how a teshuva sheleima begins with a return to the majesty of Torah.

Interview begins at 11:47.

Rabbi Dr. Michael Rosensweig is a Rosh Yeshiva and the Rosh Kollel of the Beren Kollel Elyon at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) at Yeshiva University. Rabbi Rosensweig is one of the foremost Talmudists in the world today, and studied under Rabbi Joseph B. Soleveitchik and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein. Rabbi Rosensweig received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Jewish History from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, where he wrote his dissertation under Rabbi Dr. Haym Soloveitchik. 

References:

Mimini Mikhael – Essays on Yom Kippur and Teshuvah by Rabbi Dr. Michael Rosensweig

Halakhic Man by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

Sefer Mishnas Avraham by Avraham Aharon Price 

Sefer Madda by Maimonides

Hosea 14

Nefesh HaChayim, Gate IV, 31 by Chaim of Volozhin

Elu va-Elu Divre Elokim Hayyim: Halakhic Pluralism and Theories of Controversy” by Michael Rosensweig

David Bashevkin: 
Hello and welcome to the 18Forty podcast where each month, we explore a different topic, balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities, to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin. This month we’re exploring teshuvah, sometimes translated as repentance. Thank you so much to Daniel and Mira Stokar for your generous support and your friendship over all these years. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big juicy Jewish ideas. Be sure to check out 18forty.org, where you can also find videos, articles, recommended readings and weekly emails.

When I was studying in Yeshiva, in Ner Israel in Baltimore, I remember something and I’ve quoted this many times from my Rav Ezra Neuberger, who one time said that the main focus of our teshuvah should be our expectations. What we need to repent, what we need to return, what we need to reevaluate in our life are our expectations. He went on to explain that, for many people, our expectations are simply too high of what we think we’re going to be able to achieve and accomplish, what we expect from others, what we expect from ourselves, and it leads to this disappointment, this shame, this frustration, and we need to adjust our expectations. That is a central part of our teshuvah process.

We’ve definitely spoken a lot about that in this series about having compassion for yourself, having self-understanding, but Rav Ezra continued and said, “There is another form of teshuvah on our expectations that we need to have for ourselves.” That is not teshuvah for expectations that are too high, but teshuvah on our expectations when they are too low. That we don’t demand enough from ourselves. We don’t push ourselves hard enough. We become tired, dispassionate, complacent, passive in our lives. We should have higher expectations for ourselves. Very often, we should have higher expectations for others.

Now, he didn’t explain how to differentiate, when do you know if my expectations are too high or too low? When I reflect during the Yamim Noraim leading up to the high holy days, and I reflect on my own teshuvah process, so much of what I am trying to repair, so much of what I am reflecting on, are my very expectations. The reason I bring this up now is because there is a unique figure who I think in many ways, at least in my mind and in my life, serves as an example, a reminder, a living embodiment of what it means to have teshuvah on your expectations, to demand more, to expect more, to elicit and cultivate more. That is our guest today, a Rosh Yeshiva in Yeshiva University, Rav Rosensweig.

Now, I’m sure for a lot of our listeners, Rav Rosensweig’s daily class in Talmud, which he gives at Yeshiva University, may be out of reach, and I don’t blame you. He gives one of the most, if not the most senior shiur in Yeshiva University. It certainly attracts a certain caliber of student. Nobody goes to his class just to doze off or zone out. Why is that? Because he is one of the few who has carried on the custom of his teacher and one of the most renowned figures associated with the base measures with the study hall of Yeshiva University, and that is Rabbi Soloveitchik of eliciting and demanding from his students a great deal. I believe he’s one of the only Roshei Yeshiva in Yeshiva University who still calls on students. He calls on his students to read. He is very well-known for giving extraordinarily challenging exams in Talmud. These are not walks in the park. I’m not saying he’s the only one to give challenging exams.

I sat in Rav Schachter’s shiur. He also gives, sometimes, really challenging and tough to navigate exams. I remember, I think his exams are always in alphabetical order. He orders his questions and makes sure that it descends from the earliest letter in the alphabet to the later. That was just something that I notice and now remember that I shared with you for no apparent reason, but Rav Rosensweig is really known for calling and for pushing his students. He demands and really embodies a level of Torah study that I think, in a generation where we are so encouraging in very positive ways of learning a little bit, believing a little bit and almost allowing ourselves to fall to the lowest common denominator of commitment, I find it personally moving and heartening that there are people who really embody that push to the highest common denominator. The person who is really pushing people to reach further and find more within themselves and within others.

I don’t want to scare anyone. He’s not a vicious person. He’s probably one of the most humble people I have ever interacted with, but he is known as somebody who is immersed in the themes, the ideas, the analysis of the Talmud at the very, very highest level, which is really why it is such an absolute privilege to welcome him onto 18Forty. As many listeners may or may not know, I actually write a essay series with Tablet Magazine at the end of every tractate of talmud. You can check them out on Tablet‘s website. I go through the central theme of every tractate, along with the Daf Yomi cycle. Beginning with Berakhot, I just published an essay with the Daf Yomi cycle on Tractate Gittin, and they’re meant for everyone whether or not you’re actually studying Daf Yomi, whether or not you’ve actually spent time in yeshiva, I really try to cast the widest net possible.

What people may not appreciate, although I have quoted him directly in an essay is that the person I turn to most to see whether or not he has written on a particular tractate is by Rosensweig. There is something unique about his approach to Talmud that really distills in all of the complexity of Torah study and really distills it to what is the central theme, what is this about. I know my essay on Tractate Yevamos, on Tractate Kesubos, emerge directly from articles, from ideas, from shiurim that he has delivered to his students. Now, I don’t expect most people to go out and look up. A lot of his essays are… Most of them, nearly all of them are in Hebrew. It’s not even an easy Hebrew. It’s actually quite difficult. He writes a little bit in a modern Hebrew and they can sometimes be extraordinarily hard to follow.

Even listening to his shiurim, many of which you can find on YUTorah, you will understand right away what makes him unique is that if you pull up his daily Talmud class, you will see introduction to, let’s say, track Tractate Kiddushin. I happen to be listening to those now. You’ll see, the introduction is, one of 25 introductory classes. He spends and almost analyzes entire breadth of a tractate by focusing on what is the central idea. His introduction covers the entire breadth of that sea of Talmud, which is what makes him so remarkable. For many, at times, it can be a little bit inaccessible, which is why I’m so excited to introduce him to 18Forty and announce to our audience the publication of an incredible book, a collection of his essays on Yom Kippur and Teshuvah called, Mimini Mikhael.

Obviously, a play on his Hebrew name, Rabbi Michael Rosensweig, Mikhael Rosensweig. Mimini Mikhael, which originally was in reference to the angel, Mikhael, means to the right Mikhael. This book, which was published by Maggid in partnership with Yeshiva University. Mimini Mikhael Essays on Yom Kippur and Teshuvah is a collection of absolutely wonderful essays, really, to get to the depths of what teshuvah and what Yom Kippur is all about. If you have a chance to pick up a copy, and I would urge everyone to go out, we have a promotion that you could find on social media that we’re giving away a few copies so you can check those out, but if you get a chance, what you’ll see is so remarkable is this integration of Halakhah conceptual analysis known as lomdus and the theology known as machshava, where the Halakhah, the conceptual analysis and the Jewish thought behind it are all woven together in this incredibly beautiful way.

What makes this volume so remarkable is that it is written in English. You can get through this. You don’t have to read the more complicated Hebrew essays that he’s written, though those listeners who are able to, I would certainly recommend it. It is my first stop very often when I’m trying to really understand what is at the heart of a Talmudic idea, beginning with the verses, with pesukim going through the entire Talmud, and which is why I am so excited and is really a privilege. I know I say that on every single episode, but this is a unique privilege. He’s not the type to go on to a podcast. This is really something very special. I know, for our audience, this will serve one of two purposes.

When we invite guests onto 18Forty, it’s always because of the content of the conversation. Yes, of course, but for some guests, some rare guests, and especially with Rosensweig, it’s about the conversation, but it’s about something even more than that. It’s about giving people a window to really see what greatness, what commitment, what immersing yourself into Yiddishkeit can still look like. Rev Rosensweig is an extraordinarily rare personality who has really dedicated his life through and through to teaching Torah. He doesn’t have a hundred side gigs. He doesn’t serve on a million organizations. He’s not the rabbi of a synagogue. His main focus has been and has always been teaching Torah and highlighting the depth of Torah. As we will see, that is a central part of the teshuvah process.

When we pray for teshuvah in Shemoneh Esrei, the daily Amidah, the blessing for Teshuvah actually begins, “Hashivenu avinu l’toratecha.” Teshuvah begins with, “Hashivenu avinu l’toratecha,” return me, my Father, to Your Torah. It begins with redeveloping, reacquainting yourself with the depths of Torah, the beauty of Torah, the majesty of Torah. I could think of no one else better to embark on that journey of the majesty of Torah, the depth of Torah in our journey to teshuvah than our conversation with Rosensweig. Without further ado, it is my absolute pleasure to introduce our conversation with Rabbi Rosensweig.

It is a real honor and a privilege to sit with Rav Rosensweig who just published this incredible book called, Mimini Mikhael, which has a collection of essays on Yom Kippur and teshuvah. I wanted to begin by talking about what would propel a Rosh Yeshiva to write a book in English almost demographically. I teach in YU too and I have a lot of your talmidim in my class. I know in Rosh Yeshiva’s shiur, it attracts a very high level of student. It’s very rigorous. Rosh Yeshiva is known for being one of the few who still ask questions and calls on talmidim in class. You have to really be a serious student. I’m curious, you are able to have a level of rigor in your shiur room, like in your formal classroom that is able to be a barrier to make sure that only the very most committed, brightest student are able to come in and develop in the world of Torah. I’m curious, when you decided to write a book specifically in English, did you have in mind, are you trying to reach a different audience than who could even potentially come into your classroom?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
First of all, thank you very much for inviting me to be on the podcast. Is that the right terminology?

David Bashevkin: 
Yes.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Okay. I appreciate the opportunity to speak about chuvah and a little bit about the sefer which was printed. I totally agree that my talmidim are very remarkable and special. They are fully committed, they have great talents and they really devote themselves to Talmud Torah in a very sophisticated way. The choice to produce this book in English was something that I wrestled with. Certainly, Ivrit is the… Leshon Hakodesh is the language of the Jewish people. It is my intention either way to working a little bit also on putting out some of the articles that I’ve done over the years and to add others. I hope that there’ll be a literature in Hebrew, which I intend for there to be a literature in Hebrew. The thought was that the theme of Yamim Noraim of teshuva and the melding of halakhah and hashkafa, that I think it lends itself too.

The fact that these were shiurim that were given in the yeshiva and outside of the yeshiva, also, various parts of the city that I give on a weekly basis, but that they were rooted in, certainly the nitty-gritty of halachic analysis, but that the effort was to produce a perspective on the Chagim and particularly, on Yamim Noraim and the theme of repentance, which is such a universal idea that there would be a wider audience for that then the group that populates my regular Shiurium, but that, at the same time, if it was written in a sufficiently challenging way and if the integration, let’s say of the Halakhic analysis and the philosophic significance was done properly, that it would still hold an appeal to the more select group. Definitely a lot of effort was invested in order to create that melding. I hope that that was successful, but it is something I wrestle with. I do intend, at some point, even with respect to some of these essays, either to make sure they’re translated or to write them in Hebrew for myself, there’s a lot of overlapping ideas going forward.

David Bashevkin: 
The melding you discussed, which is so central to the way that you develop ideas both in the book and your shiur is something that I’ve always found remarkable. I was just mentioning to you earlier that I write this series in Tablet Magazine on each tractate, on each masekhet. At the end of each tractate, I try to figure out what’s the theme at the heart of this tractate. Very often, when I’m struggling, there’s some masekhet’s that are very challenging to figure out what’s at the heart of Yevamos, what’s at the heart of Kesubos. It’s not always so easy to tell. I always return and I try to listen. I can’t listen to the whole year’s worth, but your introductory shiurim, that do something very different than what you hear in almost any other introductory shiur in the gemara. You very often start from the Chumash, directly from the Torah, and you read the pesukim that unfold the idea and then you start analyzing and poking questions in these key passages in the Talmud.

And I’m very interested in the way that you choose to unfold your ideas, particularly in print. Especially now, there are so many works what I would call pure Makshava, pure words of thought. You have a word there, Hasidic literature. You have the writings of the Vilna Gaon, of the Ramchal. Not to say you could find. If you look hard enough, there are some Hasidic thinkers quote in here. You have a lovely quote from the Kotzker Rebbe that I very much enjoyed, but I’m curious what you are trying to do almost on a meta level when you are teaching, you’re so tethered to the concepts of lomdus, of conceptual analysis in the gamara. You don’t ever want to cut to the chase and give a very sweet idea. Sometimes you land on very sweet, uplifting, easy ideas, easy to digest, but you almost make your students work for it directly and how the ideas emerge from the text of the Talmud. Not from works of theology, not from works of makshava or Chassidus. You want to show what ideas emerge from the text of the Talmud.

I’m curious, why do you structure your shiurim this way? If there is a specific goal in allowing and ensuring that your ideas unfold from the actual conceptual analysis developed by the Gemara and the Rishonim and later commentaries?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
I would say, in this, I, at least, aspire to be a worthy talmid, a worthy disciple of my own two exceptional rabbeim. I was privileged to study with Rav Yosef Dov ha-Levi Soloveitchik, the Rav, for six years. Before that with Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zikhrono livrakha, both for a year and a half and really, a relationship that continued for decades and decades. From the very outset, I was very taken as a young boy before I actually met either personally after having read Ish Halakhah throughout seminal essay.

David Bashevkin: 
It was later translated as Halakhic Man.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Halakhic Man, which basically zeroes in on the principle that Jewish thought really issues from a detailed understanding of the halakhah. The halakhah, after all, is the normative aspect of being a Jew. We’re measured in that way. We’re talking a little bit also about themes of Yom Kippur and teshuva, which of course are times of the year where we are evaluated based on the fidelity of our conduct, which is measured by the extent to which we are faithful to Jewish law. The argument in Ish Halakhah, which is that why should we be living a bifurcated life where our reward and punishment, our fate, literally, is determined by the punctilious observance of the halakhah. Somehow, our spiritual focus in terms of makshava, in terms of philosophy and weltanschauung comes from somewhere else, even if it is related to the world of the halakhah, but it’s not, primarily, let’s say, issuing there from.

What the Rav does in Ish Halakhah and what he did, especially in the interfaces of some of the public lectures that he gave, it wasn’t done, I don’t think, on a daily basis in the regular shiur, but that also could have served as a foundation for it, was to integrate a punctilious analysis of the details of the halakhah and to demonstrate that that is the foundation for a rich value system and a perspective on issues that transcend the details. That’s something I was very taken with at a young age. That was something that, certainly, was immeasurably reinforced by the force of personalities of these two great men who I was exposed to and privileged to study under. Something that I’ve tried to cultivate for myself, I think as much as a talmid disciple tries to be faithful and sees himself in the image and in terms of authentic continuity from his mentors, obviously, there are numerous other personality inclinations and other people who influence you and so on.

Therefore, the mix that ultimately merges, hopefully, is consistent with your primary influences. But that’s the greatness of Torah is that it is both mesorah and chiddush that you are working with a tradition and are faithful to it. At the same time, your own experiences and exposures often subconsciously lead you to accentuating or emphasizing different motifs, different values, different methodologies that are continuous from, but also, you place your own imprimatur, I guess, on that. That impulse to make the details of the halakhah primary is something that I’ve always been taken with. To me, it seems like if you can accomplish that, then the makshava that emerges, the Jewish thought that weltanschauung, the value system that emerges, is all the more authentic.

If the details of the halakhah, which reflect subtle, but still important differences in perspective, if they can be integrated in that way, then I think you have something that is much more powerful. It requires a much greater investment. At the same time, I think it’s not the thing where you can take a shortcut. I think once you have invested in that methodology, you’re also poised to make certain breakthroughs and to understand even you mentioned sifrei Chassidus or sifrei musar or sifrei makshava, I think these are all enormously rich contributions to Jewish thought. Well, I don’t invoke them upfront. I do value them greatly. I think it’s fascinating to assess them, and in some cases, integrate them and in some cases, contrast them in light of having done the investment of the halakhic analysis, the lomdus, if you will. That basis, I think you’re in a position of strength to either adapt or at least assess some of these other strands of halakhic thought as well.

David Bashevkin: 
I’m curious if you remember the first time that you fell in love with this methodology. Do you remember what the sugya, what the topic that you were studying the Gemara where you said seeing the Talmud, seeing Gemara through this lens is something I want to stay with for the rest of my life? Most people evolve or devolve, honestly, in their relationship to Torah learning. It doesn’t accrue interest in equity over the years. They have a couple great years when they’re in yeshiva and obviously, something ignited at a much younger age before there was a Rosh Yeshiva, before there were shiurim.

David Bashevkin: 
… Age before there was a Rosh Yeshiva, before there were shiurim.
I’m curious if you remember when you first fell in love with this.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
That’s a great question. I mentioned my two great rabbeim. And I should mention a third great mentor. That is Dr. Haym Soloveitchik, with whom I worked on my PhD, and was also-

David Bashevkin: 
Former 18Forty guest.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
What’s that?

David Bashevkin: 
Former 18Forty guest. You’ve got to put that on there.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Ah, okay. Correct. Now that you mention it, who also has had a tremendous impact on my learning and my thinking and it’s really also been very special to have an ongoing bond and connection with him. But in addition to that, I come from a certain home. And my father, zikhrono livrakha, was around for many years, and a talmid of Rav Soloveitchik. And earlier of Abraham Aharon Price— Aharon Price from Toronto?

From Toronto.

David Bashevkin: 
Who wrote on the SeMaG?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
He wrote a massive work on the SeMaG and another massive work on Sefer Hasidim, Mishnat Avraham. My father was his Talmud before he came to,

David Bashevkin: 
I did not know that. Wow.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
My father was Torontonian and he returned to Toronto after his semicha as well. My father used to speak always about his two great rabbi Aharon Price and of course his primary rabbi, Rav Soloveitchik.

But growing up in my father’s home and hearing his shioram and speeches, but particularly, and I’ve spoken about this, I mentioned this in his sefer as well, particularly his Shabbos HaGadol and Shabbos Shuva drashos, which my father really meticulously prepared. And to me as a very young, I don’t remember the exact age, but I remember being very impressed with the range and the depth and the ideas that were presented in these bi-yearly presentations. And my father’s yiras hakavod and his love, frankly, for his two rabbeim is something that was very palpable and something which I think he conveyed to us, not so much even consciously, just by the relationship that he had with them.

So, I think growing up in my father’s home and my mother, aleha ha-shalom, also was my mother comes from a princely rabbinic family. Her father who died when she was very young, Rav Meir Yehoshua Rosenberg and her grandfather, Rav Yehuda Yudel Rosenberg. She came from that kind of a family and therefore

David Bashevkin: 
The Rav Yehudah Yudel Rosenberg?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Yes, That’s my great-grandfather.

David Bashevkin: 
I did not know that either. That a lot of fun facts. He’s-

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Revealing secret here.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah, he has quite a biography.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
My mother, she really was about 20 years younger than her siblings, but she came from a certain background and in her home the idea of limud haTorah and on a high level represented the apex again of achievement and of excitement.

So in our home, these were values which didn’t necessarily translate into great hasmada at young ages. We were children like in any other family. But in terms of establishing a certain aspiration, I think that they were very powerful and the combination of that and then being exposed. I mentioned, I read Ish Halakhah on the young side,

David Bashevkin: 
Pre bar mitzvah?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
A little bit after by when I was about 14. Anybody was ready at that time. It was not-

David Bashevkin: 
Target demographic was not for 14 year olds, I assume.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Right. But again, it was very highly regarded in our home and I kind of just picked it up and now the Hebrew, it wasn’t translated at that time. It was only Ish Halakhah, not Halachic man. And the Rav’s Hebrew is magnificent, but very sophisticated. I don’t remember if it was my father or somebody else who just gave me the advice, keep plowing through it, don’t focus on each word the first time. But again, to me, I guess a light bulb went off. It was like a bit of an epiphany to be exposed a to that level of sophistication. And it brought home a lot of the subliminal messages. And it didn’t translate into me at 14 years old investing so much time. But it’s something that excited me and definitely charted a future. And that in combination with hearing my father and then I was also in high school, I did a very abbreviated high school, but I had a rebbe who was also just a very big talmid chacham, Rav Yaakov Bobrovsky.

He was a talmid of Rav Baruch Ber in Kaminetz. He was also the rebbe of many other special people, including my rebbe, Rav Lichtenstein and numerous others. He taught actually in Baltimore before he came to New York, I had him in New York, but he was somebody again, who wasn’t necessarily suited for teaching in high school.

But for me it was a rare opportunity to be exposed to such a sharp mind. And from there I went to Eretz Yisroel and I was close to Rav Lichtenstein and then came back to New York, talmid of the Rav. So as you say, these things are evolutionary.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
It’s hard to point to,

David Bashevkin: 
Of course,

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
A particular shiur or moment. I don’t think typically that’s how people evolve. But certainly those are some of the aspects or some of the background.

David Bashevkin: 
I’m curious. I think very often I know your students more than I know you, though we for sure have interacted in the past and your students, there’s a mark of sophistication and intellectual capacity that they have in order to get through it. And even your approach to learning requires a certain, not in a malicious way, but a certain elitism. It’s not halacha. It’s not reading: “This is what you do when you want to get ready for the Pesach seder” and giving them a step-by-step manual. It’s deeply conceptual. And I sometimes wonder as both a teacher and an educator, how you think almost conceptually about most of your average Jews who do not have the intellectual capacity to appreciate the Torah or the Torah palaces that you build, they don’t have capacity to enter them, either they don’t have the educational background, they don’t have the intellectual depth.

As an educator and a teacher, particularly even you’re educating future educators what do you think the message of your methodology, of your lomdus, of the way you approach Gemara and Jewish thought and Jewish ideas is for people who will never have the capacity to see it and appreciate it firsthand?

Is there something that it offers them or they’re just like tough luck, some nice Artscroll biography or something else that listen to some inspirational story and enjoy that. And we’re doing the real work over here, and I’m sorry that you’re either intellectually or educationally unable to access it, almost sit there. Now, obviously you wouldn’t speak maliciously in that way, but I’m curious how you conceptualize as an educator what the message of your methodology is to people who will never have the capacity to experience it firsthand.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Well, the truth is that I have a much more optimistic posture when it comes to people’s capacity. Of course, what I do in my regular shiurday in and day out requires that the students prepare. It requires that they have a certain kind of background, that they have familiarity with terminology and that they pick up rather quickly the methodology and what we’re trying to accomplish, et cetera. Even then, there’s a very significant range in background for students who come into my regular shiur and some of the ones who’ve made the most strides and have great impact.

I’ve been very fortunate that many of my students have already gone out and including some of your colleagues who are my students and have already started to make a tremendous impact. My own children and many of my talmidim both here in Eretz Yisroel, and sometimes it’s the ones who were not necessarily the most intellectually adept or elite, but who invested day in and day out and to eventually reap the benefit of that investment.

So I’d actually seen, to me the issue is not so much intellectual elitism on a class level. It’s the interest in investing and working and putting in the time and mastering the vocabulary, and then trying to cultivate a certain perspective and approach, et cetera. But what I’ve also noticed, I give during the week, I alluded to this before, many of the chapters in this sefer are things that I spoke of in the yeshiva, but also in the community. And my own experience has been that we can very much underestimate the ability of the capacity of people even with less background to absorb, if not a hundred percent, but at least to be, for their curiosity to be piqued in some cases, for them to really absorb and integrate many of the lessons.
The shiurim that I give during the week. I try to give on a high level as well and for the people who are come back week in and week out, the growth and the capacity to understand, and some of them tell me that the impact that it’s had on their own religiosity, their relationship to Jewish law has been transformational. In some cases, I can see it as well. So I actually do not think that such an elitist orientation is required. I think that the crown of the Torah, the capacity of every Jew, the democratically, if he chooses to invest vest to be transformed by Torah study is something that I believe in and something that I have witnessed, and I’ve witnessed it with people who are willing to, again, to invest, to immerse themselves in the material in whatever time they have.

It can be once a week. It can be the purum that I give during the week. I don’t assume preparation for, but I find that if you present things in a logical way and you are consistent in trying to connect the dots and to try to project or portray the bigger picture, that this can be something that is meaningful to anybody. Now, again, I don’t want to overstate either.

It’s not the kind of thing that the first time you’re exposed to it, you’re going to be able to fully identify the nuance of it or even the approach of it. It does require a greater time commitment, et cetera. But in my own experience is that for anyone who is interested, if not a hundred percent, certainly there’s much to be gained by understanding Jewish law, not just in an instructive how to way as you were alluding to before, but the concepts, the principles, the values. All of these in some way or another, translate into our daily lives or into our aspirations that transcend our daily lives. But those transcendent aspirations are part of what make us as human beings and especially as Jews singular. So I actually have a much more expansive, I guess, ambition even for other people. There’s almost no one that I’ve ever met who can’t benefit from Torah study

David Bashevkin: 
On this level.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Yeah.

David Bashevkin: 
No, I really appreciate this. I don’t want to make a comparison between your shiurim and 18Forty, that would be the end of my career, but it resonates very much of being an optimist about people’s capacity that resonates deeply. I’m wondering if you, as almost like a pedagogical question, do you have a introductory topic or sugya that you would recommend to introduce the majesty of Torah as you see it and understand it and appreciate it for what would be the starting point if somebody wanted to have an introduction into this world?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Well, I do think there are many introductions. I don’t think there’s a single one. I guess depending on the discipline in Jewish law that we’re talking about.

You made earlier allusion to some of the introductory shiurim that I give when we start a new tractate. I think any and all of those basically represent an entry point. I guess if I had to choose a single entry point, if I was encountering, well, if it was a topic that was of particular interest or a particular audience, I would try to find within that a topic or a theme which lent itself to introducing not only the material, but again, a way of thinking more objectively maybe the study of Torah study itself is a topic and the principle of what is it that makes it so singular in Jewish law?

I like to speak about the principle of Birchas HaTorah, the making a blessing over the study of Torah and how that’s not just a technicality, but it kind of underscores both the unique opportunity, capacity and the transcendent goals, let’s say, of Torah study, which isn’t, as you said before, it’s not just about, it’s also about gaining instruction and knowing how to conduct yourself as a proper Jew. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a way of touching the word of God, which is our goal in life. We look for meaning and purpose. It’s to have some sort of contact with transcendence. I think the way to do that is prescribed in the halakha. So I guess the study of the topic of Torah study itself might be a good introduction. But I really think if you’re meeting with a group that’s interested in Jewish civil law, I think there are things that you can accentuate to highlight for them what is singular about Jewish law’s perspective on civil law and same thing true about to marital law, and same thing, ritual and even cultic law.

I think you can teach almost any topic to anyone. There’s a certain demystification that needs to take place. People are always just bit stymied when they encounter terminology or concepts that don’t correspond to their daily life. And the ability to first demystify to show that there is a internal or an inner logic that is consistent, I think becomes very crucial. But almost anything I think can be taught as long as people are open-minded.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure. I’m curious, one thing that was noticeably absent, and I’m not at all, there are other places to write this, but speaking directly to the community in their time, the safer stays fairly conceptual in kind of surfacing the central themes, starting from Rosh Hashanah, going through Yom Kippur and all of the themes of teshuva and direct calls of what our community, and I mean ‘our’ in the broader sense or also in a very particular sense needs to work on is not something that you included in there.

And I first, before noticing that absence, talking about it, I wanted to know your rebbe, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein did sometimes write somewhat publicly to the community, calling them out on what he felt was either misunderstandings or putting too much emphasis on something or not enough emphasis on another thing. And I’m curious, as one of his most notable students, if you felt your responsibility to speak communally in that fashion, changed following his passing.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Okay. It sounds like two questions in one, so let me take each one separately. I do of course think that speaking to people in the present climate and relating to their both on an individual level and communal level to issues that confront us in our time is very crucial. I try to do that as much as possible. I did avoid that focus in this work because the intention of the work is to be broader and more timeless. I think the values that are developed through the details of the halakha in the work have great relevance, are very consequential to any individual and any community. But definitely the goal was to make it a timeless, more timeless kind of a sefer. If I was publishing in another context or if I was speaking, then of course I don’t in any way minimize the importance of addressing both contemporary issues or trying to provide relevant reflection for upcoming period of Yamim Noraim. It’s something that I try to do in my shiur and public forum for as well.

I recently published something in Tradition that it was brought to my attention that a perspective on racial justice was something which obviously was a very contemporary urgency, and that it was important to publish something. So I tried to address that, and there’ve been other examples of that as well.

Both the Rav and Rav Lichtenstein, again, the two people who I look to certainly with great yiras hakavod with great sense of fear, but of respect also addressed these kind of contemporary issues. But I think they too found the right venues and contexts in which to do that. And you don’t find it so much. You might get a reference in something that the Rav wrote or Rav Lichtenstein writes, which may if you know the context and the era resonate in a certain way.

But I think the greatness of their writing was that they wrote, they wrote about the principles which are timeless. The Rav in particular used to always say that if he had to advance a 14th ani ma’amin, it would be that the halacha, its nuances, its values are relevant in every period. They can be implemented in every period, and that the values are relevant in every period. But in order to project that, I think you have to really root your thinking in those timeless sources and then find also a way to be a leader in a contemporary way. I do think that’s very important. I don’t think the passing of the Rav and Rav Lichtenstein, I think is an enormous irrevocable loss for the world Jewish community, not just even our particular part of it.

The Gemara in Moed Katan says that when a rebbe or a leader of a community passes away, it’s irrevocable in the sense you can stitch up the tear, but you can’t, not in a seamless way. And I think we all feel that way, but I don’t think that that necessarily has to be the impetus for people who have the capacity to impact on the society in which they live to become involved. So certainly in the absence of great men, that urgency becomes greater. But I think all of us have a responsibility at all times to impact our community to address its challenges in a wise way. I think we live in times that are very challenging because it’s probably another topic, how to do that, how do that effectively in a climate where people are very extreme. But that I think is a different theme. But I do think it’s important in all eras and certainly accentuated even further by the absence of other great people who previously the community looked to.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah. I’m curious if you would be comfortable, do you feel, thinking about Teshuvah on a communal level, do you feel there is themes that every generation struggles with? You could group their themes together. Do you feel like when you look out and look at your students and you look out at the wider Orthodox community when you’re giving classes, do you feel like there is a central issue that our community is grappling with that is worthy of consideration in the process of teshuva as like a communal teshuva process, a value that has either eroded or fallen aside or something that needs to be centered or de centered? Meaning, when you think of communal teshuva in the year that we live in, to almost go in the reverse direction and make it very, as we say, halacha l’ma’aseh, which I know is not usually the driving force of your presentations. But I’m curious, thinking of teshuva, what do you hope somebody reading this in 2023, what do you hope it evokes? What are the values that you think this generation is struggling with most?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Well, again, I think often value, I mean, again, every generation certainly is presented with its own challenges, and to ignore those comes at our peril, and it’s also a lack of responsibility. At the same time, I think it’s very important that we keep the perspective in mind that history didn’t begin in the last 20 years or 30 years, or now, I guess the time span is even shorter, five years or seven years. And that there is ample precedent in a broader way for a lot of the issues that present themselves now present themselves differently in terms of wrinkles in terms of some of the details. Obviously, technology has changed and the values of society are rapidly undergoing change in a way that is particularly challenging to Torah Jews, but the principle of how to maintain

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
… allegiance to our mesorah of thousands of years which is, in our belief, rooted in objective reality and the Ribono shel’Olam and how to apply that to each and every generation. I think that basic principle, the idea that the world is always in flux in one way or another, and there’s always pressure in terms of the prevailing value system or cultural currents, that is always challenging Klal Yisroel. And if you look in Halakhic literature, especially the more Halacha L’ma’aseh part of it, which is of course crucial, shailos and teshuvos, et cetera, but also sefrei makshava, the passages, even in sifrei halakhah, you can encounter two opposite perspectives. One is the sense of, I wouldn’t say panic, maybe that’s overstated, but certainly great anxiety every 50 years or so. And that makes sense because Yovel is a lifetime that the Jewish community is now confronting issues. Torah community that it has never accomplished before and we’re on the verge of collapse, collapse and extinction, and they’re about to write our epitaph, et cetera.

And then you have the more calming perspective of true Gedolei Israel, which is we’re facing challenging times, but this isn’t the first time that we’ve faced challenging times and that some of the issues, of course the details are different and they may be more acute. Again, I don’t want to downplay not today and not 50 years ago or a hundred years ago or 350 years ago. I just find it to be fascinating that if you look at literature, this is a constant dialogue within even discussions, not direct discussions. Sometimes you have to put them together in terms of writings of Chochma Israel, the sense of we’ve never encountered this and it’s a disaster. And the sense that take a deep breath we have a mesorah. Moshe Rabbeinu encountered this in his form.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah. I’m curious, do you have something specific in mind when you think of about it? You mentioned shailos-and-teshuvos literature. I’m curious if there’s a specific dialogue that is-

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
I think it’s almost you read anybody over 50 years, the literature, you’ll find this. I mentioned my father’s other rebbe Rav Price before I was reading some of his works, ambitious of rumorous years. You read the material, it’s there. If you look at the Maharal, the 16th century-

David Bashevkin: 
It’s there.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
… it’s there. If you look at… It’s chapter, verse, I can pretty much provide it. I think it would probably require a different session, but every 50 years. And it’s not surprising because the clash between the prevailing culture and the timeless values of Torah is always going to produce in one way or another, more acutely or more moderately. These kinds of, again, if you take the literature, it’s like in our time of the ’60s, the ’50s and the ’60s in America. My father used to speak all about this a lot in sermons and in other things how they were writing the epitaph of the Jewish community.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
And there was not going to be any Orthodoxy-

David Bashevkin: 
Mm-hmm. The world of grandfather-

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
… anymore because of modernity and whether its form of egalitarianism or acculturation or assimilation, and we’re still facing these and some of them have changed. And the so-called Judeo-Christian ethic, which was at least something that was embraced by Western culture. Now that has been abandoned as well. And certainly that is creating a lot more acute pressure and instant communication and everything that goes with it. I don’t want to say podcasts, but-

David Bashevkin: 
I don’t want to be part of the problem.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
… certainly, certainly to now artificial intelligence and all of these things have certainly exacerbated everything. But I think it’s important to keep perspective that the fundamental questions and issues of how do you remain faithful? How do you… to use Rav Soloveitchik’s language, how do you maintain the Halakhah as a prism that filters out but then allows the constructive part of being a member of the local culture? How do you accomplish that?

That’s the challenge that remains. So again, I want to make it clear, I think we’re facing some very great difficulties, and I think there are some new wrinkles that are particularly challenging. I think we need to address them. I’m not suggesting that the continuity is an excuse to avoid our problems. Not at all. I think we need to speak about them and speak about them forthrightly, but I think it is important to have that background and that in two sense is number one, there are precedents for dealing in the broadest sense, at least, with these kind of pressures, counter pressures, challenges. Again, our desire, our preference certainly is to stay a constructive force in society even as we remain principled and clinging tightly to our principles and their application. So I think that is, that’s very important.

Strengthening the prism part is part of being deeply immersed and committed to the internal values of Torah. And that requires us constantly to be connected to the original sources, whether it’s Micra or Mishnah or Gemara and the works of the mesorah down until our own generation. And if we can do that, then we have precedents that we then need to wisely apply because no two situations are the same, but it’s very helpful at least. And the second is that we can maintain perspective instead of panicking and assuming that there have never been comparable challenges, which is simply not the case. And so there’ll be no yeiush, no giving up and no collapsing even out of sincere desire for continuity, which is an important pressure. So I do think we need to look at those things and then kind of cultivate a wise approach to address the issues that confront us.

David Bashevkin: 
There’s one sentence that jumped out at me. I did read through the whole book and I… the sefer, and I really, really loved it, but there was one sentence, it made me think of what the process of teshuva and Yom Kippur means for you. Very particularly, you are writing in this essay on teshuva and Vidui, which is about the verbal kind of confession declaration of what you’re working on. You wrote that one’s goal on Yom Kippur as well as wherever engaging in teshuva and Vidui throughout the year should not be solely to become a tsaddik, but rather to achieve the pinnacle of becoming a baal teshuva of really surfacing the values of teshuvah. Not that I never had any past or difficulties or challenges with sin. And I remember reading that and thinking to myself quite honestly, I was very curious about your own process of Teshuvah. Again, I know you from a distance, and I’m not asking you for a list of your aveiros, but-

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
It’s a pity ’cause… If you’d asked me, I’m sure I would’ve been-

David Bashevkin: 
You had it at the ready.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
… wanted to comply.

David Bashevkin: 
But I do think when you were standing back through the eyes of a talmid, not a direct talmid, but someone who said from your Torah, there is a discipline, there is a connection, there’s a commitment to Torah. You just wrote a book on teshuva and Yom Kippur and all of the themes like doing check that off now. When you are living such a rigorous committed life, how do you tap into the urgency and the recreation that is so at the heart of teshuva, when as a rosh yeshiva and almost a personality that maybe from a distance seems to almost come naturally to you.

How do you tap into that teshuva ethic if the bums a person like myself, I wrote a book on sin. There’s a reason why I wrote a book on sin. I was always vivacious and sin came very naturally to me. Teshuva less so. And I’m curious as a Rosh yeshiva and somebody who just literally wrote a book on Teshuvah itself and embodying those values. And I’m thinking also to your students when you have everything aligned and the commitment is there, do you lose out on the ability to tap into the actual generative recreation that process, the urgency that teshuvah and Yom Kippur are trying to cultivate?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
First of all, it’s clear that we’re all fallible and even those who are very fortunate, like myself, to live a life which focuses on our vocation and avocation can converge, which is a great blessing. And I do have many blessings in my life beginning with family and extending to students and the role in the community. All of which I very much believe in, and again, if you can follow your dreams and your convictions, there certainly is a great blessing in that. But we’re all obviously very fallible and chazal certainly understood that even real great men, authentically great men grapple with all sorts of challenges. And chazal actually say that the greater the personality, the greater the yetzer hara, the inclination to try to step out of the norms and to see yourself as an exception and to justify behavior in some cases because of the greater good that you feel that you are accomplishing.

So the accommodation of fallibility and the challenges that come in all circumstances leave plenty of room, sadly for all of us, no matter who we are to grapple with sin. So I think that’s number one. Number two is one of the things that, and especially the passage that you quoted about the difference between tsaddik and baalei teshuva, which of course is what chazal said. So the focus of the passage was that there really are, to use the phrase, two different dinim, two separate concepts here. One is a person’s righteousness and his values and so on, and the other is his constant awareness of greater potential and of lacuna in his behavior and how you confront that because we all have that no matter what. And one of the bigger ideas that I was trying to develop is that particularly the Rambam integrates Hilchos Teshuva in Sefer Hamada, and it’s really the culmination, the Rambam in his majestic presentation of all Jewish law, the Halacha Kazaka.

So there are 14 books as we know, and the first one is Sefer Hamada. That’s the one that integrates in the most obvious way Jewish thought and values together with law. And it begins with Yesodei haTorah, the principles that you have to believe in, the principles that you need to cultivate. But it concludes that first book with Hilchos Teshuva. And the Rambam really innovated this system as he did many others. Again, we live in a post Rambam era. We all were born after his work was out there. And we sometimes don’t fully appreciate just how much his impact of his systemization and the substance also of what he wrote, how much that transformed the world of Halakha and again in an evolutionary way. But the bigger point I’m trying to make is that the Rambam begins Sefer Hamada with Yesodei haTorah, and he concludes it with Hilchos Teshuva. Before the Rambam, there never was that kind of a comprehensive presentation, and therefore there never was that, frankly, a comprehensive treatment of Teshuva.

And he could have elected to put it together with the laws of Yom Kippur or the korbanos laws of Yom Kippur. The fact that he elected to put it as the culmination of Sefer Hamada is something, again, we take for granted because we all benefit from his wise and fascinating choices. But I think what it reflects is that the Rambam saw teshuva not as a way of neutralizing sin only, of course, it’s also way of neutralizing sin. But there are so many substantive indications that the Rambam was of the opinion that teshuva is a process. There’s just like are Yesodei haTorah—And then there’s Hilchos Talmud Torah, this study of Torah. And then of course there’s the negative, what to avoid in terms of idolatry, et cetera.

So too Hilchos Teshuva for the Rambam isn’t just about narrowly neutralizing the impact of sin and thereby ensuring your personal continuity against this threat that you face that laced every year. For the Rambam, this was a form of Avodas HaShem, meaning Hilchos Teshuva is a way of taking stock and it’s a way of assessing your spiritual journey, and it’s a way of coping with and uplifting upgrading your spiritual persona and profile, et cetera. And therefore, it is relevant equally to somebody who is a great tsaddik as well as to somebody who is deeply more obviously, deeply flawed. And for that reason, it’s different. It is not a statement that baal teshuva are preferable or that they’re a higher level than tsaddik. It’s just different. One relates to achievement and the other relates to self-improvement and constantly aspiring to climb and to ascend.

And that requires scrutiny, self scrutiny, and it requires a lot of honesty. And it’s something that applies to every individual. It’s something that applies even to the past. Even if you’ve been able to neutralize, let’s say, the effects of sin. The Rambam paskims like the Gemara in Masekhet Yoma, he rules that the Vidui, the confession that is required in the process of repentance.

You repeat that confession even for sins that have been expiated in previous years or previous Yom Kippurs, because it’s all about, again, inspiring you to achieve more and to, as I’d say, escalate in your relationship with the Ribono shel’Olam. And therefore remembering your humble beginnings is something that will inspire you then. So be it. You have to be careful. Other people should not be reminding you of your past transgressions, but you should always have your past in mind so that there shouldn’t be this kind of an illusion that things are fine. And that of course facilitates complacency and not introspection. So whoever you are, whether you are deeply flawed or practically perfect, and I don’t know anybody who’s practically perfect, but I do know a lot of people who I admire greatly. And somehow those people that we look up to the most are the ones who take the process of repentance the most seriously. And they’re the ones who really deeply understand that it’s a gift and that it is a process that is necessary and that is extremely positive.

David Bashevkin: 
Pedagogically, and I so appreciate this, and we’re already somewhat limited on time, and we’ll wind down in a moment. I’m curious, is there a responsibility… How should a rabbi go about asking forgiveness from their students? Inevitably, I’m a teacher and I always wonder how to do this. I wonder, even in the context of 18Forty, you have this social media, you put so many words out into the air, and I have no doubt that there are people who, for whatever reason, justified or otherwise, they’ve taken words that I’ve said and they either thought negatively or they’ve reached out and I didn’t reply back quickly enough, or I forgot 101 emails and messages. And I feel sometimes that anytime you have a public role or a leadership role, it’s inevitable that you are setting yourself up for at least disappointing others. And I’m curious what you have seen both in your own life and in your teachers’ lives, how they approached the teshuva process vis-a-vis their own students?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
That’s a really good question. I don’t have a magic formula, but what I will say is I think that it’s very important that any kind of assertion of inadequacy or a recognition that being a public figure, you might’ve humiliated someone or made them uncomfortable, et cetera, that that be done in a sincere way rather than a pro forma way. Now, it’s become very expected that people ask forgiveness on Erev Yom Kippur or Erev Rosh Hashanah, or sometimes the impression is that that’s very pro forma and you’re supposed to ask for forgiveness. And the Halakhah even has rules and protocols of forgiveness. Who do you ask and how many times you ask and what kind of things you ask for? And just to be clear, those are important. They’re part of the Halakhah and they’re part of a value system, which the Halakhah certainly is trying to embed and trying to internalize in individuals.

My concern is, that after a while, it becomes very pro forma and the name only. And I think you have to find a way to speak to people both publicly and especially privately. There are legendary cases both in the Gemara and in the Midrash and in I guess Sipurei Tzadikimor Hakhamim of individuals who have done this. By large, it’s done in a way that is substantive and is authentic rather than just proforma. But I do think that we should be very sensitive to it. As I say, I think there is a certain inevitability in… If you have a public role to play, you’re never going to satisfy all people. That’s certainly true. And sometimes when you struggle to formulate things and articulate them, sometimes they can be hurtful and they can have unintended consequences.

I think the other point, in addition to the sincerity and authenticity as opposed to being pro forma is really to… that there should be substantive change that comes to maybe we should be more careful going forward in how we speak. Maybe sometimes saying something humorously, which has its benefits as a pedagogue or as a public speaker, certainly pulls people in. It’s entertaining. Maybe we need a greater measure of reticence when we do things that have in the past unintentionally impacted other people in a negative way. So I think thinking carefully about it in some cases is equally important as making public proclamations. But we’ll never eliminate completely these impacts ’cause that’s what the nature of being a public figure. But certainly we can try to diminish them and we can try to respond to them in a sincere way and that requires reflection.

David Bashevkin: 
Before we get to the rapid fire questions that I always wrap up my interviews with, I’m curious if there is a particular tefillah or line of tefillah in the liturgy of the High Holidays that you connect with personally.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
There’s not a particular one. I think that the High Holy Day liturgy is really replete with such a range of themes. That to me, there are a number of them that obviously stand out, but more than individual lines or even tefillot. To me, what’s more fascinating is the conjunction of all of them. And in some cases the rapid divergence, let’s say, in terms of mood and trying to instill a sense of either urgency and then a minute later of confidence. I think we have this in all of Jewish liturgy. We just read the Kinos, for example, a couple of days ago. In the Kinos of Rabbi Elazar HaKalir, who is the dominant and most prominent of the writers of those Kinos. The range and the shifting, the abrupt shifting from mood to mood, I think is very powerful. And it highlights the comprehensiveness of mourning. And I think that is equally, if not more true about liturgy of the Yamim Noraim, both the contrast between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and within each, I think Rosh Hashanah is an incredible-

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
… and Yom Kippur and within each, I think Rosh Hashanah is an incredibly comprehensive, complex day. I should mention that this book that we’re talking about, Mimini Mikhael, the first volume is dedicated to topics of teshuva and Yom Kippur. The second volume, they’re not numbered, will be about Rosh Hashanah and more about teshuva and Yom Kippur, but Rosh Hashanah was omitted for the first, just for technical reasons.

David Bashevkin: 
Oh, yeah.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
But Rosh Hashanah is a-

David Bashevkin: 
You get a little bit of Rosh Hashanah in here. It makes some appearances.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
No, for sure. You can’t speak about Yom Kippur and Teshuvah without Rosh Hashanah, but specific themes on the topic of Rosh Hashanah are intended to be in the second volume. But my point is that both the contrast between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah is a day of incredible complexity in my opinion, and Yom Kippur is a day of very much communal and individual loyalty, like a black and white kind of a day.

And you only get to Yom Kippur after having undergone Rosh Hashanah. So to me, it’s not any particular piece of the liturgy, there are so many of them. It’s when you take a step back, like in anything else, and you appreciate the range and you see the patterns in the range. To me, that’s the most powerful thing.

David Bashevkin: 
And there’s no question that the real majesty of how these incredibly sophisticated ideas emerge from the Talmud, from our mesorah, is something that any reader will absolutely see inside of this incredible sefer. I always end my interviews with more rapid fire questions.

I was wondering, aside from this sefer, Mimini Mikael – Essays on Yom Kippur and Teshuvah, I’m curious if there are other books that you would either recommend, sefarim, to get somebody within the spirit of the teshuva process, works that have had an impact on you in your teshuva process. What works would you put in the staple notes category? Either of course, the classics, you mentioned the Rambam, but I’m curious if there are more contemporary works that have had an impact on you as you prepare for the high holidays.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Well, again, I’m a bit of a classicist, or maybe more than a bit. And that’s my inclination, and it’s my inclination already from a young age. Again, I think partially inspired by the exemplars that I mentioned before, who are also classicists. To me, it is the Rambam, and it’s Rabbeinu Yonah’s Shaarei Teshuvah. And it’s the Chibur Hateshuva Leme’iri, which is a very, I think, neglected work, but which is a very remarkable work and one in which the Me’iri gets to shine in a very original light. More so than his work on the Beis Habechira. And the Drashos HaRan and so on and so forth.

Much later, the Maharal wrote on Teshuvah. I think these are all works… For me, I think you have to start at the beginning. You have to start with the pesukim. You have to start with the Mefarshim, on the pesukim. You can’t skip the steps.

I don’t mean that, if you have two hours, that you can’t pick up a good book. They did put out the Rav’s teshuva drashos. And of course, what you find there is the Rav returning to the classical sources-

David Bashevkin: 
Correct.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
… analyzing them in his unique way. More recently, a book came out of Rav Lichtenstein’s teshuva drashos, which I think he gave in both Gruss and maybe elsewhere. These are my rabbeim and I have great regard to anything that they wrote, but there’s such a wide range of material. So I’ll go back to the classics.

David Bashevkin: 
Yeah, a thousand percent. My next question, I always wonder, and you already have a doctorate in a fascinating subject, but I always ask guests, if somebody gave you a great deal of money and allowed you to take a sabbatical to go back to university, to get in your case a second PhD, which has some precedent in the Rosensweig family to get a second PhD, I am curious; is there a specific subject and topic that you would be interested in completing a doctorate on?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Again, I have to apologize for disappointing on the rapids.

David Bashevkin: 
No, no, no.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
But I’m trying to be consistent with my…

David Bashevkin: 
I came knowing that, yeah.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
I have to be consistent with who I am. So for sure, I’d love to get that second PhD so I could rival my son, Rabbi Dr. Itamar, who has two PhDs, in the family. My answer really is that there are so many different topics. The truth is the PhD that I wrote under the guidance of Dr. Haym Soloveitchik is something that I’m proud of, but it wasn’t really the topic that I began with. In conversations with him, he anticipated this. He said to me, “Rarely does a PhD student end up writing about the topic that he chooses. It’s always something else.” And he was totally right.

David Bashevkin: 
What did you start with?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
I ended up doing something a little bit different, Collection of Debts in Absentia. But the truth is, my earlier intention was to write about the abstract, or the evolution of the abstract notion of liened property.

David Bashevkin: 
Lien property.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
… and mortgaged property. So even as a PhD, my interests were definitely focused on Jewish law and the interface between that and Jewish thought. And also on what I ended up writing, which was a case study of how the different schools of halakha, how they treated issues having to do with the interface of halakha and real life, whether they’re economic or social.

David Bashevkin: 
You never published it though, correct?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
What?

David Bashevkin: 
Your PhD was never published?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
It was not published. At some point I would like to publish it. I just have to have the time. And even within those–

David Bashevkin: 
I think that sefer has a wider audience than the–

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Yeah, I think so.

David Bashevkin: 
… Collection of Debts in Absentia.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
But as a…

David Bashevkin: 
There’s an audience.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Yeah, no. As a study and as a paradigm, I think it is actually very important. So even within those kind of topics, frankly, I have a range of things that I would love to do. And my greatest love is the learning and all the different mesechtas have themes, and I think each one is just extraordinary in terms of its depth and impact so.

David Bashevkin: 
Do you have a favorite mesechta? That’s not one of the rapid-fires.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
No.

David Bashevkin: 
You do not?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
I do not. Whenever I learned that year is my favorite mesechta.

David Bashevkin: 
Okay.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
I am not just saying that. As I’m learning, I think that, which might be curious, but it’s the case. So whatever I’m into… I do think that there are areas of halakha which need to be more demystified and which people have less of an appreciation of the depth in our kollel. We’ve done a lot of Kodashim and some Taharos.

David Bashevkin: 
Sacrificial law.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Which people think must be just very technical.

David Bashevkin: 
Otherworldly.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Otherworldly. And that’s what I mean by demystifying. But once you see, I alluded to this before, the inner logic of it, these are magnificent worlds and their worlds about spiritual attainments, and it’s very fascinating sometimes to take a real metahalachic look at how the same themes unfold in Kodashim and Taharos and let’s say in Choshen Mishpat or Orach Chayim both the overlap and the divergence. So I think there are many fascinating topics. I think you can never… It’s hard for me to pin down one, that’s why…

David Bashevkin: 
That’s totally fair. I didn’t expect… Some people have favorites.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
I have a reputation of avoiding, not avoiding, but of I guess rejecting these kind of one answer questions.

David Bashevkin: 
Sure. My final question, I’m always curious about people’s sleep schedules. What time do you go to sleep at night and what time do you wake up in the morning?

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
It really ranges, and I tend to have a lot of things to prepare. So what I will say is I should get more sleep than I do.

David Bashevkin: 
Rabbi Rosensweig, I cannot thank you enough for your time and all of your consideration throughout this conversation. Thank you so, so much.

Rabbi Michael Rosensweig: 
Okay. Thank you very much. It’s really been a pleasure.

David Bashevkin: 
Rav Rosensweig has a beautiful essay on teshuva and Vidui, on repentance and the need to almost confess, to reflect verbally on transgressions and in exploring the mitzvah of Vidui, which literally means confession, that the Rambam really centers in the way he formulates the mitzvah of teshuva.
The suggestion for why he places so much emphasis on the mitzvah of Vidui is based on the verse in Hoshea in chapter 14, the third verse, which says, “Take words with you and return to HaShem.”
Parenthetically, it happens to be a beautiful song from Rav Shmuel Brazil that I actually heard in ninth grade at the parent child Melaveh Malkah in DRS, that Motzaei Shabbos. The Saturday night parents and children got together. It was beautiful. We had a celebration. We completed Tractate Beitza. If my memory serves me correctly, I think I even said the Kaddish. And then afterwards we had a beautiful kumzitz with Rav Shmuel Brazil, who is very high on my wishlist of guests on 18Forty.

I actually just saw him very, very late at night at the Ohel of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I actually went for the first time with my dear friend Rav Motti Seligson. I saw Rav Shmuel Brazil there. He is a very, very special person. I hope to have him on here. There’s a beautiful song that hopefully we’ll play in a moment.
But that is the verse that really is suggested why the Rambam couches and centers, the mitzvah of Vidui is so centrally when his formulation of teshuva. “Take with you these words and return to HaShem.”
And there’s something really fascinating that Rav Rosenweig notes that the Sifra actually interprets the word devarim mentioned by Hoshea as specifically referring to Talmud Torah. And that there’s something unique in the role, Talmud Torah, that the study of Torah, the immersion of Torah, the appreciating the majesty of Torah plays in your journey for teshuva.

He also mentioned something remarkable from Rav Chaim Volozhiner, who states in his classic work, Nefesh Ha-Chaim in the fourth gate, the 31st chapter, who actually says that doing repentance from love can only be achieved through Talmud Torah.

What is it about Talmud Torah and Teshuva that make them so intricately woven that literally in our daily prayers for teshuva, we actually begin with, “Return us to your Torah”? Why are these so inextricably connected? And I think there’s a certain love, there are certain beauty that emerges specifically from Talmud Torah.

And I would actually suggest… Rav Rosenweig doesn’t say this explicitly, but he actually writes this in another article. It’s the first article I ever read, the first words of Torah I ever read from Rav Rosensweig. And it’s from a 1992 article in Tradition in the 26th volume, third issue. Rav Rosensweig has an amazing article called “Elu va-Elu Divre Elokim Hayyim: Halakhic Pluralism and Theories of Controversy.”
Again, the words Elu va-Elu Divre Elokim Hayyim, these and these are the words of the living God. And he wrote an article about halachic pluralism and theories of controversy. It’s the first article I ever read from Rev Rosensweig. I actually read it that very year in Ner Israel that I began with with that idea from Rav Ezra Neuberger. I read it because that phrase comes up in Tractate Gittin, which is the tractate that I learned my first full year in Ner Israel.

And he says something very beautiful about why we have this notion of canonizing even opinions that we don’t follow in the Talmud, in our Torah. “Discourse is not just about the bottom line of Torah, but we like to even see the opinions that are discarded.” And the article concludes extraordinarily beautifully, and I’d like to read it for you because I think it gives us an understanding of why Torah plays such an integral role in the nature of teshuva, why it is take these words, the words of Torah in your return to HaShem. Why the introduction, the bracha of Shemoneh Esrei. The whole notion of Teshuva begins with a return to Torah. And why as Rav Chaim Volizhiner says, repentance from love can only be effected through immersing yourself in Torah.”

And he writes as follows, “Finally, it should be stated…” These are the words of Rav Rosensweig in that 1992 article. Crazy to think that is over 30 years ago. He writes, “Finally, it should be stated emphatically that Elu va-Elu Divre Elokim Hayyim should never be used as an excuse for complacency or mediocrity. Even as we encounter equal truths, we must aspire to pursue our own conviction of ideal truth culled from and on the basis of insights that we form from the wealth of legitimate perspectives that we confront. Our pursuit should be intensified and enhanced by these exposures. In this way, we will hopefully emerge with the concept of pluralism beautifully depicted by the Aruch HaShulchan in his introduction to Chosen Mishpat, where the Aruch HaShulchan writes that the debates of Tanaaim,Amoraim, and Gaonim found throughout the Talmud and subsequent literature, in fact represented the truth of the living God. All their views have merit from a halachic perspective.

In fact, this diversity and range constitute the beauty and splendor of our holy Torah. The entire Torah is called a song whose beauty derives from the interactive diversity of its voices and instruments. One who immerses himself in the sea of Talmud will experience the joy that results in such rich variety.”
And Rav Rosensweig concludes, “Torah then is to be perceived as a harmonious symphony, enriched by the diversity of its instruments and variations and bearings. The singular message of devar HaShem. And that is why I believe why Torah plays such a central role in the process of teshuva. If you want to learn how to find divinity, how to find godliness, spirituality, and inspiration throughout the world, throughout the life, and all of your relationships, to untap that song of life itself, where even voices that seem contradictory, that seem distant, that seem unredeemed, and allow every voice in your life to play a different instrument, a harmony, a melody in that grand symphony, what allows us to see the world with such love, care, and compassion is the world of Torah study.

It is the conceptual world, the world of debating, of Talmudic ideas of Jewish law and immersing yourself into that majesty of Torah. And it’s why Rabbi Rosensweig suggests in a different essay and it’s very beautiful, his analysis, why the love of God and Talmud Torah are actually the ultimate purpose of teshuva.

Rambam, in his most classic work, Mishneh Torah, in the first book of Mishneh Torah, which is known as Sefer Hamada, which lays out all of the foundations of Jewish thought, he concludes that first book of his 14 books that comprise Mishneh Torah with the chapters that relate to the laws of teshuva. And it’s very strange. You could have placed teshuva in a lot of places. Teshuva could have been written about when he’s talking about Yom Kippur, when he’s talking about when you mess up. He could talk about it among the holidays among the korbanos. Why is it the conclusion of that first book about all of the essentials of Jewish life?

And Rav Rosensweig suggests that to really understand this, to understand how the Rambam concludes his entire discussion of Hilchos Teshuva and his entire discussion of Hilchos Teshuva in the Rambam is all about Ahavas HaShem, about loving God. Where the Rambam writes, What is the correct, what is the appropriate type of love with which one should love God? That a person should love God with a very great and exceeding love until his soul is bound up in the love of God. Thus, he will always be obsessed with this love as if he’s lovesick.”

And how do you find that love sick? I think there are a lot of ways. But to find that love sickness in life for the beauty of life, the beauty of God, the beauty of Yiddishkeit, the beauty of all the things in our life that sometimes from a distance when you look at them, might even look a little bit ugly at first glance, might look distant, might look off-centered.

But the way to find that harmony and melody in all of life, to wait to tap into the voice of God that speaks through us and to us and with us, is through that immersion in the majesty of Torah and the beauty of Torah. And that our collective prayers that God bring us close once again to Your Torah so that we can all be returned with a full, wholesome, holistic return of a teshuva sheleima in our lives and in all the lives of those we love.

So thank you so much for listening, and thank you once again to our series sponsors, Daniel and Mira Stokar. Your friendship and support means so much to me. This episode was edited by our dearest friend, Uri Westrich, who came with me to record in the very office of Rabbi Rosensweig, which was a real treat.
It wouldn’t be a Jewish podcast without a little bit of Jewish guilt. So if you enjoyed this episode or any of our episodes, please subscribe, rate, review, tell your friends about it. You can also donate at 18forty.org/donate. It really helps us reach new listeners and continue putting out great content.

You can also leave us a voicemail with feedback or questions that we may play on a future episode. That number is 917-720-5629. Once again, that number is 917-720-5629. If you’d like to learn more about this topic or some of the other great ones we’ve covered in the past, be sure to check out 18forty.org. That’s the number one eight, followed by the word forty, F-O-R-T-Y dot org, where you could also find videos, articles, recommended readings, and weekly emails. Thank you so much for listening and stay curious my friends.