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Showing posts from December, 2006

Derech Eretz min haTorah; its the Law, not just a good idea

In the parsha of "trumas hadeshen" (removing the ashes from the altar), the kohein is told to change his clothes before continuing with the rest of his daily duties (Vayikra 6:4). Rashi comments, "This is not an obligation, rather it is derech eretz; that he shouldn't wear his normal working clothes and get them dirty while taking out the ashes. The clothing in which one cooks the food for his master is not the same clothing one wears when serving wine to his master." Rashi's comment is difficult for at least two reasons. First, if it is not an obligation, then why does the Torah command it? Second, if the the reasoning is as clear as the example, then why would Torah need to mention something so obvious?

The first question we can answer from a Rashi in Eruvin, 104b. The mishna there says that a cohein is allowed to put a bandage on a wound on his hand while working in the mikdash on shabbos. This is another example of "ein shvus b'mikdash …
Attitude of the Giver and Attitude of the Receiver

The Sifsei Chaim notes that the Chovos ha'l'Lavos seems to have contradictory statements regarding his impression of both givers and receivers of chesed. "I am amazed", says the Chovos ha'l'Lavos, "by those who expect gratitude for doing a chesed for someone." The Chovos ha'l'Lavos has explained that no one can damage or benefit another by even a mustard seed worth of value, for "hakol bidei shamayim" -- everything is in the hands of heaven. So that means that that the receiver is not really obligated to be grateful to someone who only carried out the Will of the Creator and brought His decree to fruition, right? Continues the Chovos ha'l'Lavos, "I am amazed by those people who do not have hakaras hatov for others who try to benefit them, even if they are not able to carry out their good intentions." Hmmm... and to make matters even worse, the Chovos ha'l&…

Learning more and living Jewish

Life after that first conversion was not much different quantitatively, but there had been a shift in direction. I had been forced to choose to be Jewish, and I would never again take my Jewishness for granted. I wouldn't say that it was constantly on my mind, but it was certainly always at the back of my mind.

A lot happened in our personal lives over those next few years. We had to find a level of observance that was comfortable and livable. Comfortable regarding how are personal level of commitment jived with our actions. Livable regarding balancing both our level of commitment as individuals and our commitment as a couple. There was also the commitment to each other. I think last component is not always given the attention is needs. We tried to make everything we did a mutual decision. For exmple, for a long time we kept kosher in the house but ate out in restaurants.

At this point I want to stress that I am not making any recommendations; I am simply recording what we …

Our Second Wedding -- a short postscript.

Our second wedding was really a very small affair. On the other hand, it had the fanciest k'suva (you are welcome to see it if you like). Besides being fancy, it has two cute deficiencies. First, one of the witnesses is a woman; which renders it pusul. Even better though... it has the wrong date on it! In the Rabbi's office I mentioned that Debbie and I would probably always be arguing about which anniversary to celebrate, the first wedding or this one. "No problem", said one of the authorities present, "we'll just date it Aug 7; it doesn't really matter anyway." How right he was; I should have realized something was wrong at that point. Oh well...
Modeh -- Saying thank you and admitting the truth.

More from The Sifsei Chaim in Midos v'Avodas HaShem, as filtered by me. The word "modeh" in lashon hakodesh can mean either "gratitude" or "admission". In fact, it really expresses a concept that means both. The midrash, in fact, makes a seemingly strange connection: Leah was a ba'alas ho'da'ah and produced children who were ba'alei ho'da'ah. Leah expressed ho'da'ah when her fourth son was born and so named him Yehuda, Yehuda expressed ho'da'ah when he admitted (was modeh) that Tamar was innocent and he was guilty. The midrash is comparing the ho'da'ah which was thanks and praise, to the ho'da'ah of Yehudah which was an admission of guilt -- a very public and embarrassing admission of guilt, in fact. What relation is there between those feelings of love and enthusiasm for being blessed with a fourth son have to do with the the feelings of a t…

My First Conversion

I never really did convince the Rabbi that I needed a real conversion, but I did have the support of the (Conservative Jewish) cantor, a few other friends, and my wife. So now all I needed was to "do the deed", so to speak. A real conversion requires three things for a man (two, as will be obvious, of a woman).

Acceptance of the mitzvos in front of a Bais Din (Jewish Tribunal)
Mikveh (Ritual Immersion)
Bris Mila (circumcision for the sake of being Jewish) or (if one is already circumcised) Hatafas Dam (literally, "a drop of blood"

We all decided that the acceptance of mitvos part was taken care of my by Bar Mitzvah. We only needed mikveh and hatafas dam. In case it wasn't obvious, by the way, not any drop of blood would do; it had to be blood from the same place it would come in case of a full circumcision. Of course, being as this was Salt Lake City we had neither mohel nor mikveh. But we did have a Jewish urologist who did all the circumcisions for bris mil…

Gadol Shalom Bayis -- the Greatness of Shalom Bayis

In the parasha, "Va'yeitei", when Rochel Imeinu finally becomes pregnant and gives birth, the Torah quotes her as declaring, "Elokim has removed my shame." (B'reishis 30:23). Rashi quoting chazal explains her to be referring to the following idea:
As long as a women does not have a son, she has no one on whom to blame her mistakes. One she has a son, she can blame him. "Who broke this dish?" "Your son." "Who ate the figs?" "Your son."
Is it possible not to be shocked by these words?  Rashi says that the simple, plain meaning of these words and the revealed reason that Rochel Imeinu -- who has waited years to have a child, constantly davening and working on her midos -- is to have someone to blame?!?  And she even names her first son as a memorial to that idea!

"Sichos Mussar" (R' Chaim Shmulevitz), explains that this showed the great importance that the Avos haK'doshim gave to Shalom Bayis. Can…