The Stoic Jew

The Stoic Jew

My name is Rabbi Matt Schneeweiss. I am, first and foremost, an Orthodox Jew. My primary area of focus is the teachings of Shlomo ha'Melech (King Solomon) in Mishlei (Proverbs) and Koheles (Ecclesiastes). I also consider myself to be a student of the Stoic masters: Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius. Over the past two decades I have been exploring the relationship between Judaism and Stoicism - where they overlap, where they differ, and how they complement each other. This year I started a daily reading of Marcus Aurelius with an aim to explore these questions. I'll read a passage from Aurelius's Meditations and then muse (or meditate aloud) on my thoughts about what he said and what the Torah would have to say. As Seneca taught: "Each day acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes as well; and after you have run over many thoughts, select one to be thoroughly digested that day" (Letter #2). If this podcast serves that purpose, then it will have been of value.

Episodes

December 3, 2021 16 min

Synopsis: Today we return to a familiar theme: how to live like it’s your last day. In past episodes we’ve discussed the challenges to implementing this in practice. Thanks to some insights from Mark Nepo and Steve Jobs, I think I’ve found another piece to the puzzle. This is one of those “thinking aloud” episodes in which I explore how these ideas can apply to my own life. I hope that listening to my own musings helps you to adapt...

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Synopsis: In today’s episode I reflect on the unique experience I had in which I counted every single week of my life. Like,  I physically marked off each of my 1,977 weeks on the “Weeks of My Life” calendar I bought on Amazon. Will this help me to internalize the ideas in Tehilim 90:12, Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life, and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town: Act III? Only the future weeks will tell, if Hashem grants me the time.

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November 29, 2021 17 min

Synopsis: In today’s episode I muse out loud about some thoughts I had on and about Thanksgiving in light of my Thanksgiving meal and my reflections on my 21st geriversary (i.e. anniversary of converting to Judaism).

This week's Torah content has been sponsored in memory of Rabbi Dr Leon & Frances Gersten. 

Related Rabbi Schneeweiss Content:
- TSJ Interlude - A Stoic Pep Talk on My Mild Anxiety About Meeting Up With My Dad...

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Synopsis: This Thanksgiving (i.e. tomorrow) I'll be meeting up with my dad's family. Some I haven't seen in a few years; others, in a decade; others in two decades; still others, I've never met. I thought I wasn't nervous about this reunion, but the fact that I woke up this morning at 3:30am and couldn't stop thinking about it would suggest otherwise. I figured: What better way to process my mild anxiety tha...

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Synopsis: In my Rambam Bekius Chavurah we’ve been learning Hilchos Talmud Torah Chapter 3, in which the Rambam prescribes guidelines for attaining the Crown of Torah. I recently came across a letter from Seneca in which he tells his pupil, Lucilius, what he’ll need to do in order to succeed in the life of philosophy. I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between these two exhortations, and I decided to make an episode about them...

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Synopsis: This morning we attempt to understand Marcus Aurelius’s nonchalant statement about how easy it is to instantly attain inner peace, which is reminiscent of Moshe Rabbeinu’s nonchalant statement about how easy it is to fear Hashem. The question that prompted this episode is the question in the title: is it really THAT easy?

This week's Torah content has been sponsored by Shirley, and since she didn't specify a dedica...

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Synopsis: In this episode we explore the parallels between the halachic and Stoic approaches to kibud u’mora av v’eim (honoring and revering one’s parents), in light of an observation made by Moshe Halbertal in his biography of the Rambam. 

This week's Torah content has been sponsored by Shirley, and since she didn't specify a dedicatory message, then I'm going to dedicate this to the entire Sinclair family - Shirley, Da...

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Synopsis: The first instance of a neder (vow) in the Torah in Parashas Vayeitzei, when Yaakov Avinu makes a neder upon waking up from his dream about the ladder. Rav Hirsch provides a beautiful exposition on the folly of making nedarim. Ironically, his comments contain far more Stoicism than the actual writings of the Stoics on this topic! 

This week's Torah content has been sponsored anonymously. May Hashem send a refuah shleim...

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Synopsis: Do you find yourself making the same bad decisions again and again because you’re duped by your own emotions? Epictetus repeatedly warns us to not be “taken by impressions” – that is to say, fooled into making mistakes based on inaccurate perceptions of reality. In this excerpt from the Discourses, Epictetus teaches us a powerful technique – one which is endorsed and explained by Shlomo ha’Melech in Mishlei.  

This week...

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Synopsis: Do you hate yourself? Do you love death? You might instinctively think the answer is, “Of course not!” but Marcus Aurelius, Shlomo ha’Melech, and Dr. Theodore I. Rubin beg to differ. Today’s episode is about a single line from the first chapter of Meditations Book 5 and focuses on an idea I alluded to at the end of the previous episode, which I felt warranted its own separate treatment. 

This week's Torah content has b...

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Synopsis: I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions that my favorite chapter in Aurelius’s meditations is 2:1, in which the Stoic Emperor talks about how he’d begin his day. But there’s a very important step which comes before this: getting out of bed. In today’s episode we compare Aurelius’s advice on how to get out of bed when it’s cold outside to Shlomo ha’Melech’s similar advice in Mishlei (as explained by the Meiri) and Yehuda ben ...

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Synopsis: Rufus taught “The human being is born with an inclination toward virtue.” Would Judaism agree? In today’s episode we take a look at the Sforno’s revolutionary interpretation of a familiar statement from Chazal (which was already preempted by the Rambam), which sheds a new light on how Hashem helps us in the battle against the yetzer ha’ra on a daily basis.

This week's Torah content has been sponsored anonymously for th...

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Synopsis: In this episode – the last chapter in Book 4 of Meditations – I attempted to record WITHOUT extensive preparation in an effort to follow through on the intentions I stated in my recent episode about my struggles with perfectionism. Ironically, the theme of Aurelius’s chapter was consonant with this goal. Let’s hope I succeeded in following his injunction! 

This week's Torah content has been sponsored by R.R. in appreci...

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Synopsis: For better or for worse I decided to record today’s episode when my mind was feeling a bit scattered … and it shows. We begin by reading Aurelius’s “unphilosophic” thoughts about how to put death in perspective, which we compare to the Torah’s stance as spelled out by the Rambam. We then read Epictetus’s counterpoint to the Rambam which leaves us in a quandary, and we compound that quandary with an excerpt from Barbara Eh...

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Synopsis: In today’s episode Marcus Aurelius shares the secret of how to be immune to misfortune. His approach includes a number of fundamental ideas in Judaism and Stoicism that we’ve discussed in previous episodes (see the show notes for a partial list), but he ties them together in a compelling way which parallels David ha’Melech’s approach in Tehilim.

Today's Torah content has been sponsored by someone who makes regular cont...

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Synopsis: In today’s episode we compare similar statements made by Marcus Aurelius in the Meditations Akavya ben Mahallalel in Pirkei Avos, as explained by the Rambam and the Meiri, but first we attempt to answer the question, “To what extent does Stoicism prepare a person for facing death?” 

Today's Torah content has been sponsored anonymously. May Hashem send a refuah shelaimah to Devorah Yentel bat Sarah Chana Gittel.

Related ...

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Synopsis: In today’s episode I reflect on my 100th day of gratitude journaling! I focus on two of the many benefits I’ve gained from this practice: (1) a little something I call “premeditatio gratias,” and (2) a developmental tool for “amor fati,” inspired by an interpretation of a phrase in Modim by the Ri Bar Yakar and Rashi.

This week's Torah content has been sponsored by an anonymous donor, whom I consider to be both a frien...

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Synopsis: In today’s (self-indulgent) episode I discuss how my own struggles with perfectionism have once again generated problems with my content-production, as far as this podcast is concerned. I made this episode because I needed to express these thoughts and feelings in a public format, but I hope that my choice to do so proves to beneficial to others who struggle with similar problems.

This week's Torah content has been spo...

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Synopsis: Today’s focus is on a one-liner from Marcus Aurelius: “Stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.” We use this as a springboard to reflect on our 200th episode, and whether we have fallen into this trap through this podcast, or whether the Torah’s values offer a different perspective on the Stoic Emperor’s self-rebuke. 

This week's Torah content has been sponsored by an anonymous donor, whom I consi...

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Synopsis: Believe it or not, Seneca has a theory about the Mabul. He believes that God has destroyed the world with the flood in the past, but – unlike us – he believes that God will do it again. I figured that this was an appropriate topic for Erev Shabbos Parashas Noach.  

This week's Torah content has been sponsored by an anonymous donor, in memory of her grandmother, Golda Henya bat Devora a"h.

Sources:
- Seneca, Natural ...

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