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Thought for the Day: מִדָה כְּנֶגֶד מִדָה Is Absolutely *NOT* Quid Pro Quo

One of the things I learned when I started learning was that there are three basic categories of questions that people ask in learning. There are regular/yeshivish types of questions; basically, the question that the statement was obviously meant to provoke. For example, the first mishna in Shabbos says there are two ways of leaving a domain which are are actually four.  Clearly, one is meant to ask what is the criteria by which the four are grouped into only two? Then there are פלפול/tiny detail/"Brisker chakira" kinds of questions. These can be questions on choice of particular words, grammar, or tense/person. On that same mishna, some of the cases of leaving are actually entering; that's more of a פלפול question. Finally, there are "bala batisha" questions... the kind of thing that are quite obviously off point. Again from this same mishna, the cases are about a homeowner giving/taking to/from a poor person on the street. Those can be interesting (Tosafos ri…
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Thought for the Day: Belief In Creation is a Game Changer

Now that my children are grown and have their own families with their own abodes, this is how it works. When I go to my childrens' homes, I knock and then wait to be invited before walking in. Once inside, I pretty much stay to the living room, dining room, and first floor bathroom. I do not go upstairs. Nor do I take even a glass of water without first asking. When my children come to my house, they knock and then walk in. They pretty much have free roaming around the house -- with the exception of some obviously private areas -- and are comfortable getting themselves something to eat or drink without asking specific permission. My grandchildren don't knock, they just come in. They are unaware that there are private areas. They only ask if they can have this or that if they can't reach it.

Obviously, since the children grew up in our house, they learned from a very early age what they could take/touch and what they couldn't. They never questioned our authority to be a…

Thought for the Day: The Torah was Given to Humans, So Accuracy and Consistency Beats Precision

Accuracy and precision are related -- but different -- concepts. Accuracy is how well you can stay on target, precision is how well you can hit a certain point. To illustrate, in an physics lab we once needed a beam pipe (a vacuum pipe in which charged particles travel while being accelerated and then directed to targets -- physicist toy). We worked with a manufacturer who said they could give us the 100 m of pipe we needed in 100 sections, one meter each. We specified a tolerance of 0.1%, and they agreed. We took delivery and it didn't work. When we assembled our beam pipe, it was short by 10 cm! We complained, "We specified very tight accuracy; you messed up!" They replied, "No, you specified a tolerance of 0.1%, or one mm out of each meter section. We made each one precisely 999 mm; just one mm short."

There is a lot to learn from that story, but the lesson that interests me is that being more precise does not necessarily make you more accurate. Precision is…

Thought for the Day: From Secular Scientist to Orthodox Rabbi

Well... ahem... I am now an international speaker! I spoke over a teleconference for Aneinu. The topic was: From Secular Scientist to Orthodox Rabbi -or- There and Not Back Again. I thought it was cute to have a subtle (or not so subtle, depending on your background) Tolkien reference. I also thought everyone else would think it was cute as well.  As it turned out, I quickly sized up the situation and realized that no one noticed. In the interest of time, therefore, I elided all the cute stuff I had planned to say in the introduction.
But, hey... I can record it here, just to prove that I really have a very eclectic background. I had planned to lead with: If this were a Quentin Tarantino motif, the narrative would begin with with the motzei Shabbos, 9 Shvat, 5777 when I showed my wife the document I had prepared for R' Fuerst to sign, conferring my smicha as an Orthodox rabbi. My wife and I then walked over to the rav's house, so we could both be present when he signed it. Ho…

Thought for the Day: A Slice of Watermelon (Yum!) Or A Whole Apricot (Eh)

R' Fuerst, shlita, has so far this year given almost 20 shiurim on hilchos brachos. And, he told me today, still going strong. If you are wondering how much there is to say already, then I suggest you start listening. They are all available at psak.org. (You can also get to the same place via rabbifuerst.com; so use that, if it is easier for you to remember.) Here's a detail that wasn't (and likely won't be) covered.

One of the issues that causes confusion is the order of brachos. Just before the shiur a few weeks ago, a chaver of mine made a bracha on a something and I asked why he chose that over the other thing. He replied that he likes that one better. I said, "חביב/what one likes best always goes after שָׁלֵם/whole." (Using the verb "said" is being generous to myself; "blurted out" is probably more accurate.) "Even when one is האדמה and one is העץ?", pressed my chaver. At which point I should have said, "Oh... good poin…

Thought for the Day: Don't Worry, Have Faith; Don't Panic, Have Fun

I seems my coffee cup that praises the virtues of both coffee and bourbon has an even stronger Torah source than I had thought. Then I saw an amazing quote in the Pela Yo'eitz in his chapter on worry:
העבר אין, העתיד עדיין, דאגה מניין? קום שתה יין Which translates (more or less) as: The past is no more, the future is not yet, why worry? Let's drink some wine. I have heard the first part before, but was very gratified to see his addition that wine-ing does help with worry.
The Pele Yo'eitz explains very simply. Whatever has happened, has happened. What about the future? That's one of two cases: (1) you can affect the outcome; (2) you can't. If its (1), then do it! You don't have time to worry in that case, because you have work to do. If you can't affect the outcome, so then worrying won't help either. Rhetorical question: When, then, does the situation demand or even allow worry? Obvious answer: It never does.
The depth and simplicity of this idea can b…

Thought for the Day: Redemption Begins with Respect

Moshie recently started davening with us at the vasikin minyan. I'm not great at guessing ages, but I'd guess he's eight or ten. The kind of kid it is hard not to like. Davening is obviously important to him -- he's is there with the rest of us before 6:00AM, even on Shabbos. He loves being there and -- being a kid -- is not embarrassed to come up and tell you he loves you. We are always happy when someone joins the minyan. After all, ברב עם הדרת מלך/the glory of the King is enhanced with a multitude.  We are all there because davening is important to us and doing things in the best possible way is important to us. We wouldn't be getting up "in the threes" during the summer to daven unless that were true. Moshie's in that mold, as well. He is a beautiful addition to our minyan.

One more thing about Moshie. I said I am not good at guessing ages. It's even harder in Moshie's case. The 8/10 number I guessed is his mental/emotional age. I'm gu…