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Thought for the Day: Two Learn Better Than One and Engender Objectivity

Confluence is both a cool word and and interesting concept.  I particularly like it when HaShem arranges a practicum for me to get a better understanding of what I am learning.

I have been listening to shiurim on Sanhedrin from the Business Halacha Institute during my commute.  These shiurim cover interesting halacha that comes out of the daf; the format is either a story or simple halacha that relates to the daf.  I like them because I find I can't pay attention to the road and listen to a complex shiur at the same time.  Last night I heard an interesting halacha about how a beis din operates.

Of course, a beis din needs to have an odd number of members in order to arrive at a decision by majority vote.  The minimum for that is three, and that is the general procedure nowadays.  Suppose one dayan can't come to a conclusion... he is left saying, "I just don't know."  In that case, a new dayan is chosen to join.  The expression used by the gemara is that a dayan w…
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Thought for the Day: The Depth of Self-Deception About Objectivity

My son has started back to college and it's really bringing back memories for me.  One class is Intro to Psych.  Same as when I took it several decades ago... lecture is in huge auditorium with 100s (and 100s and 100s) of students.  Reading assignments add up to 100s (and 100s and 100s) of pages.  I actually never read any assignments in college, relying on picking things up from the lecture and working the homework problems.  I discovered to my shock (and, given my immaturity) disdain, that the tests mostly drawn from the reading assignments, only a tiny fraction of which would actually be covered in lectures.  I immediately -- filled with righteous indignation -- withdrew; after all, physics majors didn't need that class.  My son is neither not so lucky (his major requires psych to graduate) nor so immature (he is willing to do the reading if that's that is required).

As I have mentioned many times, R' Henoch Leibowitz, zt"l, was wont to say, you need two things…

Thought for the Day: Why I Do Not Wear a Blue Strand Among My ציצית

The issue of whether one had fulfilled his obligation for mishloach manos on Purim could be fulfilled even of the recipient refused the gift was once being discussed in beis medrash.  I, having moved to Chicago and by then having sat in R' Fuerst's Monday night shiur for a few weeks and having actually read the Mishna Brura on mishloach manos once , felt well prepared to offer an expert opinion.  (I hope you are catching the sarcasm; I was so arrogant in my ignorance!)  I stated quite matter-of-factly that of course one had fulfilled his obligation.  Someone who actually knew what he was talking about looked at me and said, "Oh... hiding behind a Rema, are you?"

To say the least, I was taken aback.  What do you mean, "hiding behind a Rema"?!?  We Ashkenazim follow the Rema, right?  "Did you look at the Mishna Brura on that Rema?"  Well... I had certainly read it... learn it?  Well... ahem... ummm.  Like a dog with his tail between his legs, I slin…

Thought for the Day: HaShem Runs the World; No, I Mean Really

If you ever get to the bottom of one of my emails, you'll see a quote from M'silas Yesharim:
כל ענייני העולם -- בין לטוב בין למוטב -- ניסיונות הם לאדם/All worldly affairs - whether good or beneficiary - are trials for a person It seems to me that is a crucial idea on how we look at life.  I thought I had learned that lesson and life that lesson pretty well.  Apparently HaShem felt I needed more training.

If you ask me about my recent trip to Nashville, you'll hear a few things.  I'll tell you about the great time I had spending time with my wife celebrating our 40th anniversary.  I'll tell you about the wonderful live music spilling onto the street.  I'll even tell you about the distillery tours we took.  You might be surprised that I don't talk more about the total solar eclipse -- first in 99 years in the continental US -- that provided the impetus to travel to Nashville in the first place.  I mean, you can't get much more cosmic and far out than that…

Thought for the Day: Appeasement is the Angel's Share of Repentance

To make bourbon you have to lose a good fraction to evaporation -- the so-called "angel's share".  That's inevitable... it's just the way the world is.  I, however, have proposed that the process of making bourbon is a pretty good analogy to making a Jew.  That is, fresh soul is breathed into physical body, allowed to age for several seasons -- with inevitable losses/suffering -- and finally you get that beautiful, perfected fusion of body and soul that lives forever in exquisite joy.  One may very well ask... if the goal is that perfect being, why didn't HaShem create that straight on, instead of creating the ingredients and environment and making us go through all this suffering first?

Before you jump all over me and tell me to just bag my analogy, let me push back on the statement that it's just inevitable that bourbon takes so long... that's the way it is.  When HaShem first created the world, though, that is most certainly not the way it was.  Ho…

Thought for the Day: Life Lessons from the Bourbon Trail

I almost never buy a coffee cup; I have a very nice one that my son bought for me several years ago.  I certainly never buy one just for the cute saying; how lame is that?  Well... I broke that rule and purchased a new coffee cup from one of the bourbon distilleries I recently toured just of the saying:
Give me the coffee to change the things I can, and Bourbon to accept the things I can't. Lame or not, I bought it and brought it to work. I showed it to a coworker, who remarked, "Oh... so spiritual..."  I replied, "Well, they do call it spirits."

In point of fact, I found that the bourbon process is actually a reasonable parable for our life in this world.  Alcohol (and other stuff, not important for now) is produced when yeast digests carbohydrates.  That process is known as fermentation; take a source of carbs, add the right yeast(s), you get a fermented gruel known as "mash".  Whiskey (or whisky, depending on its country of origin) means an alcoholi…

Thought for the Day: Baseless Hatred and Demanding Strict Justice -- Two Destructive Behaviours

My research advisor used to start his introductory lecture to freshman physics with a warning: "Some people say there is no such thing as a stupid question.  They are wrong."  I know without doubt that R' Fuerst has heard his share of stupid questions.  In fact, I can testify (with some shame, to be sure) that I have added to that genre.  I can also testify that R' Fuerst has always handled the questions with grace and patience with nary a trace of exasperation.  (R' Fuerst has, in fact, only hung up on a caller once.  He told us about it, so I know how far things have to go before the rabbi labels a queestion as stupid.)

Here's one very cool story that I heard from R' Schmelzer of Telshe, when he spent part of a summer at Camp Nageela Midwest some years ago along with R' Fuerst.  Camp Nageela provides an Orthodox Jewish experience for Jewish kids who do not come from an Orthodox home.  R' Schmelzer and R' Fuerst were walking to the lunchroom …