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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Rabbi Kaplan holding my son at his Bris in 5737 (1977) [Click to enlarge]

In the battle to unite the Torah with its people, he was a mighty warrior and his pen overpowered countless swords. He is gone from the front, but victory is nearer because of his magnificent legacy. – from the dedication to The Aryeh Kaplan Reader, p. 9.

Today is the 14th of Shvat and the 23rd yahrzeit of Rabbi Aryeh Eliahu Moshe Kaplan ZT”L, whom I was privileged to know personally.

As a graduate student, having earned a master's degree in physics, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan was described in the Who's Who in Physics as the most promising young physicist in America. When he decided to devote his overflowing heart and massive intellect to the writing and teaching of traditional Torah values, the Jewish people gained a prolific and brilliant expositor with the uncommon gift of analyzing and presenting the most complex ideas in accessible terms.

Rabbi Kaplan was educated in the Torah Vodaath and Mir Yeshivos in Brooklyn (New York). After study at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, he was ordained by one of Israel's foremost rabbinic authorities, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, the Mirer Rosh Yeshiva.

In the course of a writing career that spanned only eleven years, Rabbi Kaplan produced over 60 works. His genius and unique abilities produced many of the great classics of contemporary Jewish philosophy. Celebrated for their erudition, completeness and clarity, they included a wide range: booklets about the outlook behind various mitzvos and other concepts, The Handbook of Jewish Thought, books explaining the deepest mysteries of Kabbalah and Chassidus, and a unique Haggada combining the utmost simplicity and scholarly depth.

His translation of Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato’s Derech Hashem included copious footnotes that were hitherto unknown – with his encyclopedic knowledge, Rabbi Kaplan himself identified the Ramchal’s sources. His translation of the Chumash [Five Books of Moshe], The Living Torah, has become the standard text in many synagogues throughout America and elsewhere. The text includes maps, notes, illustrations and an annotated bibliography, which was compiled in a mere nine months! In my contact with him when he was working on this project, I learned that he taught himself Greek – to study the ancient Septuagint translation of the Bible – as well as Egyptian, to better understand the origin the words he encountered. Similarly, when he translated most [he completed 15 of the 20 volumes] of the classic Me’am Loez commentary on the Torah, he taught himself Ladino, the original language of that text.

And when he passed away suddenly at the age of only 48 with decades of productive activity still ahead of him, Jewry lost a priceless, irreplaceable treasure. But Rav Aryeh Kaplan left a legacy of the thousands of people whom he touched and elevated, and of the scores of books and papers that flowed from his pen.

[Most of the material above was taken from the two sources above that are linked, with some of my own additions].


Music, Meditation and Prophecy

In his book Meditation and the Bible, in chapter four, “Prophetic Methods,” Rav Kaplan writes: “Although no explicit discussion of the prophetic method is found in the Bible, there are enough hints through which a fairly accurate picture can be drawn…One important practice mentioned explicitly in the Bible was the use of music in order to help attain the prophetic state. (Rav Kaplan goes on to cite examples: Elisha [II Melachim (Kings), 3:15]; King Shaul [I Shmuel 10:5]; and Asaf, Hemen and Yedusun [I Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles), 25:1].)

“A repetitive melody is very much like a mantra, and it can be used to banish extraneous thoughts and clear the mind for the enlightened state.

(Interestingly, in a chapter on “Davening with Kavanna” from The Aryeh Kaplan Reader, Rav Kaplan cites a discussion he had with a young woman about transcendental meditation. She told him, “If you repeat the same phrase over and over, and do it in the right manner, it can bring you to higher states of consciousness.” And then Rav Kaplan went on to write: “Didn’t Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, of blessed memory, teach a generation of yeshiva bachurim [young men] that for a niggun to be savored, it should not be sung for three minutes and then be discarded for a fresh one, but that it should be repeated for as long as forty-five minutes at a time? Then the meaning of the words beings to sink in and penetrate the emotions.)

“An important category of classical meditation is the path of the emotions, where one reaches a meditative state through the emotions, rather than through the intellect or senses. Since music can work very strongly on the emotions, it is particularly useful for this meditative method…

“The Hebrew word for music used in the case of Elisha is Nagen…[whose root] is also the base of the word Mug, meaning to melt. The main idea of music is therefore one of melting and breaking down. As used by the prophets, the purpose of music was to melt the emotions and break down the ego.

"The Kabbalists note that another important role of music and song is to cut through the forces of evil, and help the prophet penetrate the Klipot [shells or husks]. It is pointed out that the word Zamar, meaning “to sing,” as well as its derivative Mizmor, meaning a song or chant, comes from a root that also means “to cut.” Music thus cuts through the Husks of Evil, opening the way for the mind to ascend on high.

"It is significant to note that another word for song, Shir, is very closely related to the word Shur, meaning “to see.” This is another indication that song and vision are related, and this is especially true of mystical vision."

As you can see, twenty-three years later, Rav Aryeh Kaplan continues to inspire us! Zechuso yagein Aleinu!

What a beautiful post and what a loss to clall Yisrael.
Yitz, may the saintly and beloved memory of Rebbe Arie zatza'l be a "malach melitz" for you by virtue of this beautiful post. It's so wonderful to have a blog of this level of quality and kedusha. Chazak ve'amatz!
Thank you Batya and Reb Lazer for your kind words & for your frequent visits!
good words there, Yitz.

check this out, I linked you.
Yitz: What was your connection to Rabbi Kaplan? I would interested to learn how you merited to have him at your son's bris.
Thanks, Hirshel for the link.

Simple Jew - too long to answer here, but you should be getting an e-mail about it from me.

thanks for stopping by!
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