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 7, 2022 26 min

Synopsis: I don’t know about anyone else, but I have been FASCINATED with OpenAI GPT – the latest incarnation of an artificial intelligence chatbot which (for now) is freely available for the public at large. I’ve been equally parts amazed and horrified by its capabilities and their implications, despite never being interested in AI in the past. Since I’m still in the “honeymoon phase” of this interest, I figured I’d record my init...

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Synopsis: Exactly one year ago I launched the “Weeks of My Life” calendar experiment. I was reminded of this by a friend who just listened to the Counting the Weeks of My Life episode I made upon launching that experiment (see the show notes for the link), who asked me how this weekly experiment has impacted me since then. I decided to make an impromptu episode in which I answer his question. 

Related Rabbi Schneeweiss Content:
 - Co...

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Synopsis: Today marks the 500th day of my gratitude journal, and since this happens to fall out on Erev Thanksgiving, I figured I’d make a Thanksgiving episode in which I discuss the benefits – nay, the NECESSITY – of a gratitude accountability practice, and reflect on some of the more recent benefits I’ve gained from this habit. If you’re interested in listening to other episodes about gratitude and Thanksgiving, I’ve linked most ...

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Synopsis: Both Judaism and Stoicism employ the technique of “the cosmic perspective,” albeit for different ends. This weekend I read an article about a cosmic explosion which led me to discover a new application of the cosmic perspective technique which might help us to cope with life’s unexpected turns. 

Related Rabbi Schneeweiss Content:
 - Don’t Cry Over Spilled Almond Extract

Sources:
 - Seneca, Letter #99: On Consolation to the Be...

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Synopsis: The Gemara tells us that four of our greatest Sages “entered Pardes (the Orchard)” – that is, they embarked on the study of the deepest areas of metaphysics. One of those sages was Ben Azzai, who “glanced [at the Orchard] and died.” In this episode we unpack what that means, as explained by the Rashbatz, and we examine the practical ramifications for the role that learning plays in our life, in light of a passage from Oli...

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Synopsis: Since I’m recording this during the week of Parashas Vayeira, which contains what the Rambam chose as the “crowning pasuk” for every book he ever wrote, I thought it would be appropriate to share my musings on that pasuk as it relates to Stoicism, especially since this happens to be a major theme in the book I’m currently reading: Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, by Oliver Burkeman. Spoiler alert: if you ...

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Synopsis: Today’s episode was brought to you by an amusingly profound epiphany I had, prompted by an interrupted sleep I had, a mistake in app-usage I made, and a book I happened to be reading. If you’re looking to make time for learning in your busy schedule, then perhaps this insight will come from just the right weird angle to make a difference.

Sources:
- Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, pp.135-1...

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Synopsis: Today’s episode is my first attempt to answer a question asked by one of my students: “Can you give me practical advice on how to not care about being liked by everyone?” In the first half of the episode I share a few different approaches, but then we switch gears and discuss a different way to approach the problem altogether.

Related Rabbi Schneeweiss Content:
 - (I’m fairly certain I made an episode on how not to care abo...

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Synopsis: Today’s episode has been brought to you by my insomnia. That’s right: ANOTHER episode of TSJ about my struggles with insomnia. I believe you’ll find that this one is far happier and more optimistic than the other three (which are linked in the show notes) – in part because it involves cake and an idea about kaparah (atonement). 

Related Rabbi Schneeweiss Content:
 - A Stoic Cure for Insomnia ... I Hope
- Applying Epictetus ...

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Synopsis: In today's episode I answer the following question, submitted by a listener: "I get very stressed out when I am late for something, and I would like to stop getting so stressed or get better at calming down. This feels like a stoicism type of thing. Do you have any podcast episodes that talk about this?" If you, too, get stressed out when you're late, try these out and let me know what you think! And if yo...

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Synopsis: In today's (unplanned, disorganized, and rushed) episode, we compare and contrast the short prayer formulated by Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations with the short prayer uttered by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) in the Temple Service of Yom Kippur. We conclude by examining both prayers in light of an excerpt from Emerson's Self-Reliance on what prayers should and shouldn't be.

Related Rabbi Schneeweiss Content:
-...

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Synopsis: In today's episode we examine Marcus Aurelius's analysis of the lesser and greater motives for doing acts of tzedakah (righteousness), and compare his view with Judaism's, as taught by Shlomo ha'Melech (King Solomon) in Sefer Mishlei (the Book of Proverbs).

Related Rabbi Schneeweiss Content:
- The Mishleic Spectrum: A Glossary of Mishlei Personalities (note that these definitions are NOT current, but they wi...

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Synopsis: In today's episode we read how Marcus Aurelius grappled with (what he deemed to be) his own intellectual inferiority. After getting the pshat of his meditation, I then turn the lens onto myself and recount how I grappled with my own intellectual inferiority in my yeshiva days, and how many of these feelings surged up yesterday when - for the first time in 13 years - I rejoined my rebbi's Gemara shiur in yeshiva. I...

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Synopsis: In today’s inaugural episode of TSJ Season 10 (Fall 2022-2023) I make a case for why we should all aspire to pain and suffering during “teshuvah season” (i.e. Elul and the Aseres Ymei Teshuvah). Not ALL kinds of pain, but a specific kind of suffering which necessarily accompanies true growth and development.

Related Rabbi Schneeweiss Content:
- Bruce Lee: On Lefum Tzaara Agra 

Sources:
- Epictetus, Discourses 3:23
- Avos 5:23
-...

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Synopsis: We’ve spoken about the concept of Stoic invulnerability in past episodes (some of which are linked below). This morning I stumbled upon a rather nice explanation from Marcus Aurelius about how it works – an explanation which lines up perfectly with some halachos from the Rambam in the Mishneh Torah. 

Related Rabbi Schneeweiss Content:
- How to Convince Mom That You’re Invulnerable
- Aurelius, Meditations 4:7: The Secret to N...

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Synopsis: I can imagine someone saying something like this: “Look, I get that YOU find value in the ideas of the Stoics, and feel the need to teach those ideas, but why can’t you do so EXCLUSIVELY through Torah sources? Why do you have to actually present the ideas from the Stoic texts themselves?” This episode is my answer to that question. 

Related Rabbi Schneeweiss Content:
- TSJ Interlude: A Defense of This Podcast
- Why Do You Va...

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Synopsis: Today’s episode was prompted by a minor kitchen mishap and my childish reaction to it. I didn’t set out to record an episode about runny noses, uncurable diseases, and the limits of prayer, but that’s what I ended up recording.

Related Rabbi Schneeweiss Content:
- How to Daven for a Sick Person Who is Beyond Recovery

Sources:
- Epictetus, Discourses 1:6
- Berachos Chapter 9 Mishnah 3
- Ari Bleicher, Tefillat Shav: The Limits of...

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Synopsis: Today’s episode is an amalgamation of insights spurred by my (non-halachic) 48-hour fast on the 11th of Av, following our observance of Tishah b’Av on the 10th of Av. Special thanks to Marta bas Baisos and R’ Tzadok.

Related Rabbi Schneeweiss Content:
- My Experience Fasting for 48 Hours on the 9th and 10th of Av (article version + podcast version)
- A Stoic Perspective on Tishah b’Av
- Seneca - Letter #18: On Festivals a...

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Synopsis: My initial answer to this question prompted by a letter from Seneca was, “No!” but then I realized that the question is more nuanced than I thought. The answer and its implications are not as simple as they seem. In this episode I offer some thoughts, examples, and questions on this topic in light of a pasuk in Mishlei cited by the Rambam and elucidated by a midrash.

Sources:
- Seneca, Letter #13
- Rambam: Mishneh Torah, Sef...

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Synopsis: Today's more-scattered-than-usual episode was brought to you by my insomnia. I got zero sleep last night, and rather than keep my Stoic Jew self-talk to myself, I figured I'd think it out loud - for my own sake and for the sake of others. 

Related Rabbi Schneeweiss Content:
- A Stoic Cure for Insomnia ... I Hope
- Applying Epictetus to My Insomnia

Sources:
- Aurelius, Meditations 6:31
- Mishlei 18:8; 26:22
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The ...

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