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Thought for the Day: What You Have In Mind vs What People Have In Mind

Just to let you know, I really want to talk about an interesting connection between honoring death bed wishes and returning a crockpot to the heat on Shabbos.  I can't help it if even things like this are politicized ad absurdum nowadays.

Each and every moment of life is precious.  The first second, any of the middle seconds, and even the very last second.  Which are the "important" moments in your life?  Only HaShem knows.  I don't mean that as an expression -- gawrsh... heaven only knows! -- I mean that as the reality.  In halacha, therefore, hastening someone's death by even a second is murder; plain and simple.  Suicide, in fact, is also murder; as you don't own your life.  The flip side is that extending a life by even a second is an act of heroism.  One of the ways Chazal expressed this concept in halacha is that the handling of gifts given by someone on their deathbed.

A person on his deathbed can become distraught about what will be with his friends a…
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Thought for the Day: Halacha and Mussar/Plan and Motivation

Two stories today!  (For some of you, that mean more to skip, for others it means more of interest.  I try to be a full service blogger.)  While a graduate student at University of Utah (which at the time was the furthest east I had ever resided), my research advisor spent some time visiting University of Chicago.  Upon his return, he told me that the professor he was visiting gave him very detailed instructions on how to get from his temporary residence to the university.  Those instructions came with an exhortation not to deviate in the smallest detail, as the neighborhood could go from "take normal precaution" to "reckless endangerment of life" in one block.

After graduate school, I worked for a year as the physicist in a radiation therapy facility.  Part of my duties was to make sure the patients were getting their prescribed dose by double checking the sums entered by the radiation techs each week.  Let me preface this by noting that I do not list reading, …

Thought for the Day: Preparing to Lament and Mourn on Tisha b'Av

I got call a few weeks ago from the Riverside Sheriff's department (near Palm Springs, CA).  She asked if I knew Greg Bowden.  "Yes," I replied more than a bit puzzled since I hadn't seen him nor heard from him in decades, "he's my uncle."  Then she gently informed me of his recent demise.  Why we had not communicated in so long is irrelevant (and, at this point especially, water under the bridge).  We had been close at one time, though.  He was my mother's only sibling; the last of that generation.  I didn't cry, but I did feel a loss... or at least the echo of a loss and a sadness that I couldn't feel more.

I hate to be a downer, but the next "holiday" is Tisha b'Av.  Tisha b'Av is hard.  I don't just mean the fasting, sitting on the floor, not wearing shoes, etc.  It's hard because I don't really feel mournful about what we've lost.  After all, I've grown up in a world without a Beis HaMikdash.  It is…

Thought for the Day: Using Her Family Heirloom to Get Married

This could -- and does -- happen.  The beloved and dearly missed bubbie left her wedding ring to be used by the first of her granddaughters to get married.  Shprintze is the lucky young lady.  Shprintze, having been very close to her bubbie, wants do do more than just wear her beloved and dearly missed bubbie's ring.  Shprintze wants to actually be married with that ring.  So sweet.  So wrong.

Let's review.  A Jewish marriage is actually effected by the chossen giving his kallah something tangible item by which the kallah will experience a benefit worth (to her) one p'ruta.  Sorry to be so pedantic about the wording, but to understand the issue we'll need all those words.  First, the p'ruta is ancient monetary unit that basically means the smallest coin of value.  You can argue about it, but it's roughly a few cents.  (I do not recommend trying to get away with the minimum possible; she would likely show you what it means to be be minimum possible wife.)  The p…

Thought for the Day: Prayer -- Concentrate on What You are Saying, Not on What You are Doing

My grandchildren love to help... especially (ok... almost exclusively) when they think it's fun.  My very sweet and charming seven year old granddaughter saw that I had not covered the BBQ, so she decided to replace the lid and then cover it for me.  Great... except I almost fainted when she told me... I have a kettle type BBQ (I eschew gas grills and even charcoal lighter fluid; yes, I am a BBQ snob) that is made of porcelain covered cast iron.  Cooks great... gets very hot... stays very hot for a long time.  I had left it open and uncovered to cool.  I almost fainted when I thought about the disaster that could have happened; namely, third degree burns on my little sweetheart.  Fortunately (Baruch HaShem 1000 and more times), it had cooled enough that she didn't get hurt.  (I had thought I guarded it long enough, but given the potential of such dire consequences, I still panicked.)  Once I was sure she we safe (and gently but firmly chastised), I checked the vinyl cover.  Th…

Thought for the Day: The Simplicity and Depth of M'silas Yesharim -- Both True, Both Deceptions

I get a mazal tov.  I just completed the first perek of Bava Metzia.  It is a about 20 daf (double sided pages).  I am not at all embarrassed to tell you that it has taken my almost a year and a half.  I learned it twice through, because Chazal tell us that learning without reviewing is like sowing without reaping; so what's the point?  When I first started (in Adar II year before last), I was feeling a bit down on myself; they learn this in 5th grade, for goodness sakes... so why was I having so much trouble.  I expressed that sentiment to talmid chacham who reassured me:  They learn the second perek in 5th grade.  Everyone has difficulty with the first perek!  (Whew...)

There is no question that the first perek of Bava Metzia reveals deep and fundamental ideas.  It is not for beginners.  I don't mean just because of the topics covered, but also the way they are covered.  The methodology of the analysis is itself complex.  Were I to make an analogy to physics (as I am, of cou…

Thought for the Day: How a Proselyte Handles Shabbos (Non)Observance

As I mentioned, the budding (that's the wrong word, but you get what I mean) proselyte is expected to keep all of the mitzvos that he can.  One that he can't (and was sort of comic relief on top of everything else that had been thrown at me) is the mitzvah of t'vilas keilim/immersion of vessels that were acquired from a non-Jew.  Clearly, since he is still a non-Jew, he can't do that mitzvah.  ברית מילה  (or its equivalent in the case the proselyte is already circumcised, הטפת דם/a drop of blood from guess where) for the male proselyte cannot be performed simply because the word "ברית" means covenant/contract/alliance and that can't be done without the agreement of both parties.  That, in fact, is why Avraham Avinu waited till he was 99 to perform his circumcision.

Then there is the issue of Shabbos... again, as mentioned, a non-Jew is not allowed to keep Shabbos, which presents a real problem for the proselyte who needs to learn how to keep Shabbos.  The…