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Thought for the Day: How. When, Why of אמן/Awmein

As well document in Home Alone, even a very important mission can be ruined by failing to get all the participants at the right place at the right time.  Saying אמן with the correct intention, as mentioned, is important.  Still, if the אמן is misplaced or mispronounced, the entire mission can turn disastrous.

There are three defective sorts of אמן about which the Shulchan Aruch (124:8) warns: חטופה/hurried or snatched, קטופה/plucked, and יתומה/orphaned.  חטופה/hurried means either swallowing the first syllable (and just saying: 'mein) or saying the אמן before the bracha has been finished.  קטופה/plucked means dropping a hole letter or pronouncing the whole word as one syllable.  יתומה/orphaned means to just say אמן, but not as an answer or response to anything.  (That can happen if you walk into shul and hear everyone else answering אמן, so you figure, "heck!  I'll answer also!"  It can also happen if you have been in shul the whole time but your mind has been wander…
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Thought for the Day: HaShem Protects Fools... and Therefore What?

After carefully learning through the Igros Moshe on smoking (Choshen Mishpat, 77) and publishing my findings, my chavrusa suggested that I check out of few of my conclusions and assumptions with R' Fuerst.  I was very happy to show him that I was right, so of course I agreed.  Baruch HaShem, I was even happier to find that I was wrong on a few points and to have R' Fuerst correct me.

I am about to brag, here... I hope you'll forgive me.  I approached R' Fuerst before mincha on erev Shabbos (I daven at that minyan largely because the rav davens that and it has afforded me many opportunities to speak to the rav directly for a few minutes at a time; which is all one gets on the phone anyway).  I told him I had a couple of questions on R' Moshe's t'shuva regarding smoking and general questions about the style of Igros Moshe.  Just then the chazan started "ashrei" and the rav held up his hand and said, "Time to daven..."  "Darn!", I…

Thought for the Day: What Do You (are Supposed to) Mean by אמן/Awmein?

Yes, I meant to spell it that way.  The Mishna Brura says very clearly (which is to say, the statement is literally there, as the entire text of the Mishna Brura is a model of clarity in both thought and expression) that the vocalization of אמן is with a קמץ גדול (the little "T" vowel, pronounced "aw" as in "awl") under the א and צירי (the two dots, pronounced "ey" as in "whey").  Who cares, you say?  I mean... it's just אמן, right?  Not such a big deal, right?  Wrong, wrong, wrong, there are rules and regulations for אמן -- times when you must say it, times you are not permitted to say it, times when you must not delay in saying it; and is all comes with reward and punishment (as brought in the Biur Halacha).  Good... now that I have you attention...

אמן has two basic meanings, and it is important to know which to intend when responding.  One meaning is a simple acknowledgement of the facts: "I affirm my belief that such-and-…

Thought for the Day: How Big a Fool Does HaShem Protect/What is Called Acceptable Risk?

Living is dangerous.  In fact, we have centuries of incontrovertible proof that death is always preceded by life.  When I was teaching about radiation safety to nurses in a hospital who worked with radiation therapy, I wanted to give them a feel for how dangerous radiation is.  It turns out that the risk of death from the maximum legal yearly dose of radiation is approximately the same as just living for a day and a half at age 60.

Traveling is risky; which is why we have a special prayer when embarking on travel.  I recently asked R' Fuerst if I should say תפילת הדרך when I leave for work in the morning on my bike.  "Is it dangerous?", he asked.  Well... I'm in traffic and I'm on a bike.  R' Fuerst replied in his usual cut to the chase manner, "If it's so dangerous, then you are not allowed to ride your bicycle in traffic.  If it's normal risk, then there is no reason to recite תפילת הדרך."  I decided it wasn't that dangerous... at leas…

Thought for the Day: Why, Yes... The Creator *Does* Care How a Jew Makes Coffee on Shabbos

It began innocently enough... We were having Shabbos lunch with a very nice family whom we recently met.  Their son, a young rabbinic scholar (who by nature are pretty rigid... all part of the process) gave a very nice d'var Torah regarding a curious Rashi.  When Moshe struck the rock to which he was supposed to speak, a great miracle still occurred -- water for millions of people -- and yet Moshe was severely reprimanded and punished.  Rashi explains what was so terrible: Had Moshe spoken, the nation would have taken a lesson for themselves.  If a rock, which doesn't get rewarded for listening to HaShem nor punished for disobeying HaShem, obeys a spoken command; then all the more so we, who are rewarded for our obedience to HaShem and punished for transgressing His Will, should certainly obey the Torah!

The young rabbinic scholar said, "This Rashi makes sense on first glance, but upon taking a second look, it doesn't make any sense at all!  The rock, after all, doesn…

Thought for the Day: Stealing Is Not a Joke... Even When It Is Intended For One

I grew up fat and was always embarrassed that all my clothes were "husky" sizes.  (Nice euphemism, right?)  I finally managed to lose weight (after years and years of failure) in my early 20s.  The first time I bought a suit after that, the salesman complained that the suit wasn't fitting right because my rear end was too small.  I could have kissed him (but I didn't).  I did not grow up frum (to say the least), and it has been a struggle to learn halacha.  Someone recently complained after a shiur I gave to women that I demonstrated too much knowledge of halacha.  I could have kissed her (but I didn't).

Admittedly, though, I am a physicist at heart.  That means that I am much more interested in the underlying principles than any particular actual situation.  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that not only do the esoteric cases of the gemara not bother me... I, in fact, relish their ingenuity.  Halacha had been a struggle for me both because of it's o…

Thought for the Day: Check Your Mezuzos Twice in Seven Years (A PSA)

My father, עליו השלום, once let me change the spark plugs on our car.  He warned me, "Be sure to take off only one at a time!"  I was a bit confused, as I had no thought to take them off (all eight... this was the 70s) by the handful.  As I started to remove the first one, though, I realized what he meant.  For those of you who are still mystified: Before electronic ignition, power was sent to the spark plugs via a distributor cap/rotor system.  The rotor, of course, delivers the power to the attached wires sequentially.  However, the cylinders of the car do not fire sequentially.  That means that the order of the spark plugs connected to the distributor cap is crucial to the running of the car.  In fact, the results of mixing up the order is at best a poorly running engine and at worst real damage to the engine.  So of course I replaced them one at a time, being careful with the order.  Also of course, though, I told my father, "Don't worry Dad.  I took them all of…