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Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly in חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the first or the beginning of the second day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundown (reason for that …
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Thought for the Day: Repairing the Damage We Incurred with That First Mistake; Dying to Live

I noticed odd wording in HaShem's decision to banish Adam and Chava from Eden.  The verse says that they were banished and the entryway blocked lest they now eat from the Tree of Life.  "Lest"?!?  I would have expected "before" or "so they couldn't".  The word "lest" implies that they likely wouldn't eat from the Tree of Life, but Let's just make sure they don't.

Strange, no?  After all, if someone had just discovered that they had ingested poison, wouldn't they run to get the antidote?  Especially if the antidote was just to eat a piece of fruit from a tree in their yard.  I asked a few people; they admitted it was odd, but then just shrugged it off.  They had better things to do with their time then worry about odd wording in the minor part of the story from last week's Torah portion.  I (apparently) did not have anything better to do with my time; so I did some research.

Rabbeinu Bachya makes an observation that wa…

Thought for the Day: Darkness/Light, Body/Soul, T'shuvah/Shabbos

This world is tailor made for one purpose: to enable the triumph of good over evil.  I know... drama, drama, drama; but sometimes reality really is drama, drama, drama.  If you prefer -- and, in fact, the traditional kabbalistic writings do prefer -- we can change the wording to "light infusing -- and thereby illuminating -- the darkness."

One may ask, "If HaShem wanted a world of good/light, why not just create that?"  The question (usually asked by those who want to demonstrate how silly and naive it is to believe in a Creator) really has a very simple answer.  HaShem didn't/doesn't want a world of good/light.  What He wants (and what He has created) is a unique and purpose built world for each and every human being to wage his own uniquely crafted battle against evil, triumph, and thereby achieve immortality via his own bond with the Creator.  Drama, drama, drama... and true.

We are critters (that is, a created being) and therefore cannot really understa…

Thought for the Day: Why The Torah Should *NOT* Begin with Creation Narrative

Opening lines are certainly important.  Case in point, I always spend way too much time working out how to begin a TftD.  Typically I have a thought I want to convey; that's the body.  I try to end with a nice tag line that summarized the main point in a memorable way (with varying success).  The first line/paragraph is really meant to pique the reader's interest in reading more.  I typically do that with either a cute story (often involving my grandchildren), or an interesting fact (often drawn from my physics background), or a straight up question on a Chazal (often based on a Rashi).  The cute stories and interesting facts are meant to seem irrelevant, but they always exemplify some dimension of the topic expressed in the TftD.

Walking around pregnant in one's ninth month, they say, is like carrying a 16 lb bowling ball with you every place you go.  (Having never been pregnant, I can neither confirm nor deny that statement.)  Try this: When said pregnant women comes hom…

Thought for the Day: תשובה Is Making New Mistakes

For all that Rosh HaShanah is and represents, the blast of the shofar is its spokesman.  Women with small children who don't have the luxury to daven, those small children who can't even talk/let alone daven, and the sick and elderly who are exempt from davening all want to hear the shofar blast; and we accommodate all of them.  Times, places, and messengers are scheduled, assigned, publicized, and eagerly anticipated.

And why not?  After all, the shofar blast represents our acceptance of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.  That sound that pierces to the core of our soul harkens back to that day of awe when all of Creation stopped to wait for Klal Yisrael to answer נעשה ונשמע/We will do whatever it takes to have an eternal bond with our Creator and we will make deepening that bond our only priority!  It celebrates the marriage, as Chazal describe it, between the Creator and His beloved Klal Yisrael.  Wow!

There is also the daily shofar blasts the entire month of Elul leading up to Rosh H…

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Wishing for and Work towards a Year Sweet Like *Bee* Honey

Yes, I know that we are already past ראש השנה for 5778.  So why talk about lessons regarding ראש השנה now; just to get a head start on 5779?!  Nope.  Nothing we doin Torah Judaism is without meaning.  Even the name of our holidays and commemorations are chosen with precision.  The name for the holiday that commemorates the beginning of a new year is ראש השנה/Head of the year.  Just as the head is connected to, directs, and takes feedback from the body, so too ראש השנה is connected to, directs, and takes feedback from the year.  I discovered a deeper level to one of our most iconic customs -- the apple dipped in honey as a סימן (often translated "sign" or "omen", but that is wrong) for the new year's greetings.

As we all know, ראש השנה is a quite solemn day.  It is also known as The Day of Judgement, when every aspect of Creation comes under scrutiny.  Every person, animal, and object -- down to the smallest grain of sand (sub-atomic particle is more accurate, b…