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Thought for the Day: Shimon and Dina, ala Gur Aryeh

When I wrote about my understanding of how to appreciate Rashi on Chumash, I mentioned with some astonishment that Shimon (ben Yaakov v'Leah) married Dina (bas Yaakov v'Leah).  Since that was not the main point of that post, I didn't spend any more time on it.  It seems that some of you were also bothered and would appreciate an answer.  The Gur Aryeh (aka Maharal) gives an answer; a nice, straight-forward, simple, short answer.  Well... short like Rashi on the pasuk is short; that is, the answer brings up a lot more questions.  Thankfully, the Maharal addresses (at least in headline form) the questions his answer begs.  I found this Gur Aryeh very interesting also because of the way he approached the issues.  I hope to be exploring the principles and examples that he uses in addressing the Chazal at hand.

The first question he addresses is: Why Shimon?  Shimon is particularly suited to Dina because both of them are rooted in din (strict judgement).  We see this reflected …

Thought for the Day: Rashi's Job in Chumash

In this week's parsah, vayigash, we get a listing of the members of klal yisrael.  Counted among Shimon's children is "Shaul, ben k'na'anis".  Rashi comments that this is the son of  Dina who had been with a k'na'ani and after they killed out Sh'chem she wouldn't leave Sh'chem until Shimon swore to marry her.  As usual, Rashi is just giving us p'shat when we see something a little different in the pasuk and ... hey!  Wait one darn minute!  Shimon and Dina are full brother and sister; they share the same father and mother!  Shouldn't there be more here?  Hmm... maybe Rashi doesn't like to explain himself?  No, that can't be it; just check out the huge Rashi (with charts, diagrams, and spreadsheets) at the end of parsha toldos explaining the Torah tells us that Machalas bas Yishmael was the sister of N'vayos to teach that Yaakov spent 14 years in Yeshiva Sheim v'Eiver.  So maybe Rashi just doesn't know, so he is b…

Thought for the Day: Talking in Shul is Much Worse Than You Think

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 134:7) says concerning one who talks during chazaras hashatz that "avono gadol mi'n'so" -- his sin is too great to be pardoned.  Too put that in context, recall that the m'chaber is paraphasing Kayin in his conversation with HaShem after murdering Hevel.  It is as if we are to understand Hevel as saying, "I know murdering my brother was bad, but its not as if I talked during chazaras hashatz!"  The same p'sak is found int the Bais Yosef where he notes his source from Orchos Chaim quoting Rabeinu Yona.  Obviously the point is how serious an offense it is to talk during chazaras hashats.  The question remains: What is the offense that warrants such a strong statement?  Moreover, it is clear from the context that this is not about disturbing others.

There is a story brought in a few places a chasid who was asked to intercede with the king on the behalf of his community.  He wanted to daven mincha first, but given the urgency he w…

Thought for the Day: You are a Role Model, Like It or Not

Here are two things I have never seen.  Number One: a sign that says, "It is forbidden to urinate in the sanctuary during the reader's repetition of shmone esrei and while the Torah is being read."  Number Two: anyone urinating in the sanctuary.  On the other hand, I have been in many, many shuls that display signs that say, "assur l'daber b'shas chazaras hashatz v'krias hatorah".  (Much more impressive in hebrew; no?)  Yet there still seems to be talking in shul.  The scientist in me begins to suspect that signs are not the issue.

I shall propose as a working hypothesis that the issue is one of peer pressure.  It is not that everyone would look askance and chuckle at someone who committed the social faux pas of urinating in the sanctuary (in fact, they'd surely do a lot more).  Rather the issue is simply, "it isn't done".  Anyone, even a visitor, feels right away that some things simply are not done.  I'll give you another exa…

Thought for the Day: Two Rules Which are Four of Parenting

There is an old joke: Why do grandparents and grandchildren get along so well?  Because they have a common enemy.  Like all good jokes, there is an element of truth that is being expressed in a  novel way.   I was discussing being a grandparent with my eldest.  I said that people say that the pleasure of being a grandparent is that you can give them back.  Neither my wife nor I (nor any other grandparents we know in our generation) look forward to "giving them back".  We love being with the grandchildren even when they are crying or throwing a temper tantrum; its just so cute now.  I told her I think the pleasure is that you don't have the awesome responsibility for how this little Jew turns out.  We have made our mistakes and our children have turned out quite well, Baruch HaShem and bli ayin hara, despite our best efforts.  We defer to our children in how they choose to rear their children.  My daughter said, quite correctly, "Abba; that means you are giving them …

Thought for the Day: This World is a Tool for Our Perfection

I was reading about the Chanuka story with two of my grandchildren.  "The Greeks made three g'zeiros: No Shabbos, No Rosh Chodesh, and no Bris Mila."  Hmm... I thought, but no problem davening, eating matzah on Pesach, sitting in a sukkah, or even learning Torah!  So as I was reading the story, I was wondering how to explain what they were trying to do to us.  I know, you're thinking, just read the story and enjoy your grandchildren.  This is me, remember?  Ok; glad we cleared that up.

So what did the Greeks want to do to us?  The most famous part of the Chanuka miracle, of course, is the one jar of tahor oil that was enough for one day but miraculously lasted for eight days.  Why was there only one jar of tahor oil?  Because that one jar was in a hole in the ground and so the soldiers missed it and couln't make it tamei.  If there intent was to stop us from lighting the menorah, they should have dumped out the oil, no?  In fact, while they were in there they cou…

Thought for the Day: All Actions Leave a Permanent Record

I worked about 10 years for Motorola in Arlington Heights, IL.  It's a reasonable place to work and like most offices now-a-days, we all worked in cubicles.  (The best offices I have had, in fact, were all in graduate school.)  Since the internet there has been another innovation in office work -- you don't have to be geographically co-located with your team.  My last team at Motorola was mostly located in Fort Worth, TX.  So when I left Motorola, I called my manager in Fort Worth to tell him I had found a new position and to work out an exit plan.  As soon as I hung up the phone, two people came around from the adjoining cubicles to wish me well in my new job.  I thanked them, sat back down; then sat straight up!  Yikes!  I started thinking about all the conversations I had had over the last 10 years in the (illusory) privacy of my cubicle.  Its so easy when you don't see someone, even someone separated from you by a couple of thin sheets of cloth.

At the end of the the m…

Thought for the Day: Paying for the Z'chus to Perform a Mitzvah

Lets make up a wild scenario: a frum lady with three small children comes out of the grocery store and finds she has locked her keys in the car.  She can see them right there on the seat, so Baruch HaShem she knows they aren't lost!  To make it wilder, lets set the story in the deep south, make it erev shabbos, and AAA says it will be an hour before they get there (every story has to have at least one believable fact).  I know you are probably already thinking "this could never happen", but just to make the story consistently incongruent, let's say another frum man (in the south) comes to assist her.  He tells her to wait in the store with her children and not to worry, he'll take care of things; he calls his friend -- a frum locksmith!  The frum helper hands the keys to the frum lady; the frum locksmith hands a bill to the frum lady, the AAA guy says, "What's the problem?"

I hope you'll bear with me in spite of the craziness of the situation to…

Thought for the Day: The Torah is Universal

I had the zchus once to walk R' Asher Weil home from ma'ariv at the Aguda.  We got half way across Peterson and had to wait on the yellow divider line as traffic whizzed by on both sides of us in opposite directions.  R' Weil (who was holding my arm) said, "This is life in this world!  The nations of the world are zipping passed us in different directions, but we stand on our thin line of Torah in the midst of it all."  (See?  I learn from the best.)

I am sure that the traffic on one side just grouped us with the traffic on the other side, even though we really were solidly not moving at all and not associated with either.  I find this happens very often while discussing topics that have very vocal proponents on both sides.  It used to be the abortion issue, those on the pro-life side called me pro-choice; ie, anti-life (in their minds).  Those on the pro-choice side called me pro-life; ie, anti-choice (in their minds).  The truth I am neither.  Moreover, to be a…

Thought for the Day: HaShem's Revenge is Midas HaRachamim

My son and I were learning the fourth mishna in the second perek of Avos that relates, "Rabban Gamliel the son of R' Yehuda haNasi says... do His [HaShem's] Will as you do your own will, then He will do your will as His will; nullify your own will when it conflicts with His [HaShem's] Will, then He will nullify the will of other's when it conflicts with yours."  The implication is that if you do not nullify your own will when it contradicts HaShem's Will, then others will (essentially) be able to bully you.  That lead to a discussion of the Jewish experience in prewar Europe vs America.

The picture we have is that all Jews in prewar Europe were charadi (super frum) and in America orthodoxy was all but dead.  In fact, though, in one of the lectures I heard from R' Avigdor Miller, ztz"l, that when he arrived to Slabodka in 1932 that there was one bus an hour to take Jews to Kovno on Shabbos morning.  By the time he left in 1938, there was a bus eve…

Thought for the Day: Mussar from the Avos

I know this seems out of the blue and out of place, but I was struck today by the Ramban's description of how Avraham Avinu took care of the malachim that came to him on the third day after his (self-administered!) mila.  I am certainly no expert on Ramban, but this Ramban had a different character than what I have learned before.  There way he described the whole scene conveyed a sense of awe and inspiration by the greatness of our ancestor.

Avraham Avinu ran to ask the three (as far as he new) men to stop and rest a bit while he got them something to refresh and rejuvenate them.  Avraham Avinu, notes the Ramban, recognized the three were busy and intent on fulfilling their mission.  Avraham Avinu, therefore, asked them only rest on the tree and wait for a small repast; something he knew would be appreciated and could be fit into their schedule.  Avraham then ran to personally select the calves for his guests.  The Ramban says that he went "l'vaker" (not "livch…

Thought for the Day: No, You Really Don't Know Why That Happened

Everyone loves hashgacha pratis stories, and I am no exception.  I have a great one for today.  On fridays, especially during the winter, I ride my bike only to the train station (a bit over two miles) and then ride the train into work.  It takes about an hour either way, but I save time changing in and out of bike clothes and showering when I get home.  I also get to learn on the train, and I figure that into my weekly learning schedule for goal setting.  So I got on my bike this morning with just my regular clothes (a bit chilly this morning, but only for 2 miles) and my regular shoes (not very good for biking since they have a soft sole, but only for 2 miles) and rode the the train.  Baruch HaShem, there was an open spot at the bike rack in the station.  I got my bike parked, stowed my helmet, took off my gloves, and reached down to get my lock of the holder on the frame.  One problem: holder is empty; lock is missing.  I have a vague memory of setting the lock down on the bike rac…

Thought for the Day: Mercy and Free Will

For a few years I taught computer usage (mostly MS Word and Excel) part time in a high school.  Why?  All I can figure is that I must have done something horrific in a previous gilgul.  I had one student who was particularly difficult (quite a trick, given your generic high school student).  So I went to R' Dovid Siegel, shlita, for advice.  We discussed the situation and decided it was related to some challenges that particular student was facing in his life.  R' Siegel's advice was to judiciously look away.  I couldn't maintain class decorum and not respond to his behavior, but that was only if I noticed the behavior.  I just had to learn to recognize when the behavior issue was likely to surface and arrange to be busy with something else to occupy my attention.

The Shivtei Kah decided to execute Yosef because they came to a p'sak halacha that Yosef was chayiv misa (either because Yosef's dreams were a devious fabrication or the result of evil thoughts).  At …

Thought for the Day: Income is Fixed from Rosh HaShanna

The vasikin minyan in Chicago finishes too late this time of year for me to go home for breakfast and then leave from there for work.  Instead, I eat breakfast  at Brisk and catch a few more minutes to learn before hopping on my bike to head downtown.  This morning while I was eating and learning, two m'shulachim came into the lunch room.  They started to tell me about their tzorech and I told them I was sorry, but I didn't have my check book.  No problem, of course, they each gave me an envelope.  I always tell them right away because I know their time is valuable and they are always appreciative.  They were about to leave, then one turned to me and said, "We just drove here from Detroit this morning and are exhausted.  We need chizuk.  Would you mind learning a few words of Torah with us before we leave?"  I didn't need to be asked twice.  (I know, shocking; right?)

It was really nice and we spoke in learning about the hilchos brachos, kavod ha'brios, shem …

Thought for the Day: Ask More Why the Torah Says Than What the Torah Says

Until yesterday, I had always taken it for granted that the Shivtei Kah knew that there we snakes and scorpions at the bottom of the pit into which they threw Yosef.  After all, Chazal say clearly that "ein bo mayim" means "water - no; snakes and scorpions - you betcha" (free translation).  After hearing my mobile chavursa's thoughts on the matter, however, I had to reconsider.  In fact, when I looked around I found a few obscure sources that also said that the Shivtei Kah didn't know that there were snakes and scorpions in the bottom of the pit.  What sources?  Ramban, Ohr Chayim, Malbim.  (How can I call those obscure, you are wondering? 
"obscure" <=> "I haven't seen it, even out of negligence""famous" <=> "I've heard of it, even without seeing it inside" I am glad we cleared that up.)

On the other hand, the Ohr Chayim gives p'shat in what was achieved by throwing Yosef into a pit filled wit…

Thought for the Day: Ask Questions First, Give P'shat After

This morning I was thinking about one of my favorite topics: how b'chira chafshis (free will) works with hashgacha pratis (divine providence).  An event in this week's parsha (vayeishev) is at the core of many of the discussions.  The B'nei Yisrael decide that Yosef is chayiv misa but don't want to have his blood on their hands, so they throw Yosef into a pit that is "reik; ein bo mayim" (b'reishis 37:24).  Rashi is m'dayek and explains: water there wasn't, snakes and scorpions there were.  That begs the question: What did they accomplish?  Throwing someone into a pit with venomous snakes and scorpions isn't much different than restraining them to pour poison down their throat, after all.

So I "just happened" to ride up alongside my mobile chavrusa, Baruch Weinberg.  I had just learned the mishna in avos with my son that exhorts judges not to lead the witnesses, so I decided instead of telling him my p'shat, I'd first ask Bar…

Thought for the Day: Taking HaShem and His Torah Seriously

One of my professors in graduate school was trying to think of the best way to teach a well known idea to his freshman physics class.  He asked my research adviser if he had a good way to teach the idea and my research adviser responded, "Is it even true?"  As frustrating as that response was to all of us, it happened to be a great question.  The answer was that, no, it wasn't true (at least not always).  They ended up publishing a paper in the scientific journals about that.  The moral of that story is just because everyone knows something is true and just because you've been over it 100s of time... it might be worth another look.

I think this to be an essential guiding principle in learning chumash.  Each parsha should be learned (twice in the original, once with targum, once with Rashi) each year as if this is the first time you are seeing it.  First of all, I know that the way I learn parsha is to zip through it much faster than I should.  But I have lots to do a…

Thought for the Day: Bracha is for Material Success

I proposed a novel explanation (chidush, if you will) for Yitchak Avinu's reticence in giving Eisav a bracha after having given Yaakov Avinu the seven brachos that Yitchak Avinu had originally intended for Eisav.  The chidush was based loosely on a fun gematria, but required that a bracha should be understood as relating to material success.  That makes sense for a few reasons.  First, Chazal say that "kol bi'dai shamayim chutz mi'yiras shamayim" (everything is in the hands of heaven except for fear of heaven), so it should not be in the hands of a human blesser to affect the spiritual success of the blessee.  I mean, if HaShem is taking His celestial and eternal hands off that, I am guessing that even the avos didn't get to put there hands into that either.  Also, Chazal say that bracha operates on thing hidden from the eye; that obviously means physical, because the spiritual is always hidden from the eye.  There is more like that, but I didn't have any…

Thought for the Day: Yitzchak, Yaakov, and Esav -- A Gematria and a Lot More

I am not big on gematrias; usually I find them at best "cute".  Cute is not necessarily a bad thing, and this particular gematria has lots of moving parts, so it is really, really cute.

The basic pieces we need are the following information:
Gematria ForLetter ValuesTotal ValueIn Other WordsHaShem10+5+6+526The One and OnlyYitzchak10+90+8+1002088*HaShemYaakov10+70+100+4+21867*HaShemtamei 9+40+150Ewww!Eisav70+300+63767*tamei + 1*HaShem
So... here it goes: Yitzchak gave seven brachos to Yaakov and one to Eisav; ie, 8*HaShem.  When Yaakov went to meet Eisav, he first bowed down seven times -- effectively knocking off the 7*tamei and leaving only the 1*Hashem.  Then Yaakov could safely approach Eisav.  Cute, no?  If I were smart, I would probably stop here, but...

I have been saying over this gematria for years and it occurred to me this morning (gotta love that morning bike ride) there may be a deeper meaning.  When Yitzchak first gave the seven brachos to Yaakov, he thought they…

Thought for the Day: The Six First Questions When Going for Final Judgement

I worked as the physicist in radiation oncology department White Memorial Hospital (small hospital in Los Angeles) for about a year when I first entered the work force.  My job was mostly to check treatment plans, calibrate the equipment, educate the staff on radiation safety, and (all too occasionally) develop radiation treatment plans for patients.  We had this ancient (late 60s vintage; no keyboard, no screen, just some switches and lights on the front) treatment planning system.  How antiquated was it?  If your phone were luxury liner, our treatment planning system was leaky dinghy with a 10 hp outboard motor.  I thought we should upgrade.  I was able to get a 15 minute appointment with the head administrator of the hospital.  I spent hours preparing.  I got quotes for different systems, all the tradeoffs, and I had a solid recommendation for something that would suit our needs for a very modest price.  I walked in, sat down, thanked him for his time, and told him what I had.  He …

Thought for the Day: Kavana in T'fila is Pirush haMilos; No, Really!

When a friend of mine was in the dorms in college, he... oh heck, it was me, ok?  Anyway, I was a junior in with a bunch of freshmen (longish story, not so interesting) and was a physics major.  So I was looked as a nerd, but smart and therefore a good resource.  Not much different than now, I suppose. Anyway, a friend of mine (no, really this time I mean a friend) wanted to install a dimmer switch in his dorm room.  The problem was that we didn't have access to the circuit breaker panel (it was locked up) and the instructions clearly said (in big red letters, I may add) that power had to be turned off before attempting installation.  Undaunted, I said, "Don't worry; I know physics and can figure out how to do this without shutting off that power."  The ensuing minor explosion was dramatic and no one got hurt.  My pride took quite a hit, of course, especially since the story of my bluster and failure was enshrined in permanent ink around the doorway.  For years.

The …

Thought for the Day: Learning Trumps Action

Chazal say (Kiddushin 40B): "talmud gadol o ma'aseh gadol? ... talmud gadol sh'talmud meivi lidei ma'aseh"; usually translated as "Is learning or action more important?  Learning, because it brings one to action."  The problem with that translation is how can learning be more important than action if it is action that gives importance to learning?

I am probably going to regret this, but the most vivid resolution I know to this conundrum is found in the movie "The Karate Kid" (Don't throw anything at me please!)  Basically, a downtrodden kid goes to a supposed great karate master who looks pretty pathetic.  Things get more pathetic when the "master" tells the kid to wax all his old cars (there's lots and lots of them).  To make matters worse, the old coot insists that the cars be waxed a certain way, "Wax on!  Wax off!"  After that and several more tedious and exhausting lessons, the kid gets fed up and rebels.  At t…

Thought for the Day: Appreciating What the Torah Tells Us About the Avos

On Shabbos I was asked a perfectly reasonable question on the parsha by a chashuva young lady.  She has questions on the parsha nearly every week and they are always good.  I try my best to answer them,  and often have to look around the m'forshim to find an answer.  Sometimes her questions come from an angle that I don't really hear, in those cases I often revert to using a "broader brush" approach and think (hope) that it addresses her question.  That's what I did this last week.  She listened attentively and responded, "Thank you.  I notice that you used my question as a vehicle to give the d'var torah you wanted to give anyway."  Ouch.  "As has happened before."  Oops; busted.

When I first started learning over 20 years ago, I listened to torah tapes.  Lots and lots of torah tapes.  I listened on my hour long commute and even when I was mowing the lawn.  One of the first set of tapes I heard was "The 48 Ways To Wisdom" by R&#…

Thought for the Day: Importance of Learning Musser Daily

When I was first diagnosed with cancer 18 years ago, the doctors didn't know exactly what flavor of cancer it was.  For a week I knew that I had cancer but didn't know what the course of treatment was going to be; that was a very distressing week.  I actually had to be admitted to the hospital to get things moving.  The doctors finally got the information they needed and described to my wife and myself (in broad strokes) what was going to happen.  I let them cut into me, remove parts of me, embed stuff in me, and inject me with strong poison for three months.  (You can call it medicine if you prefer, but the game of chemotherapy is really to try to kill the cancer before killing the patient.)   Why in the world would anyone allow all that to be done to themselves?  The answer is obvious, there is no rational alternative.  Cancer is cancer and this was the cure.  What's the question?

Rochel Imeinu gave over secret signs to Leah Imeinu so that Leah should not suffer embarras…

Thought for the Day: Letting HaShem Run the World and Enjoying the Ride

I was watching my recently digitized home movies and saw some scenes from a trip we made to Disneyland when I was about four or so.  I don't remember much, but I did remember the boat ride where my brother and I got to steer a little power boat.  We were so careful!  It was especially nerve wracking when we had to negotiate around huge rocks in rough water.  I was thrilled that my parents trusted me enough to steer that boat all by myself!  Obviously, as I discovered in subsequent vacations, the boats were on a track under the water.  My parents' "faith" in me seemed a little less shocking.

I spoke last night with a good friend of mine concerning my post about giving tzedaka one dollar at a time because that's better for my midos.  She was a bit miffed that I had not even taken into consideration the feelings of the receiver.  I said, “It's not me!  It's the Rambam!”  (That's me; always ready to hide behind someone big enough to protect me.  Yes; I am…

Thought for the Day: Frustration Removes Our Mask

A few days back I wrote about a Beis HaLevi regarding Yitzchak Avinu mistakenly concluding that Eisav was standing before him and not Yaakov based on the evidence "the voice is the voice of Yaakov; the hands are the hands of Eisav".  The Beis HaLevi explains that Eisav had arranged to speak using Yaakov Avinu's speech patterns because he suspected that Yaakov Avinu would attempt to take the brachos by disguising his hands and voice to match Eisav.  See more details there.

I thought (and still think) that is a beautiful p'shat.  However, I was bothered by the 500 lb gorilla staring back at me: when Eisav actually did come in, he spoke in his normal (gruff, unrefined) manner.  And all that we before he discovered that Yaakov had, in fact, already received the brachos.  According to this Beis HaLevi, Eisav should have come in all smooth taking and stuff.  Since the Beis HaLevi had the same chumash I do, I felt it deserved further investigation.

First: how long do you th…

Thought for the Day: Do What You Are Able

17 years ago this week I was confined to a hospital room in reverse isolation.  It was three weeks into chemotherapy and I had (essentially) no white blood cells.  I had gone in with a 104° fever (I tried to tell my doctor it was because I had the heating blanket on too high.  He said, "Just get to the emergency room, ok?") and a non-specific infection.  I was having trouble eating and wondered if I could have dairy sooner than six hours after meat, because what I was able to get down could change at a moment's notice.  My internist said to my oncologist (both frum), "He is a choleh sh'yeish bo sakana, he can eat pork if we tell him; right?"  My oncologist agreed wholeheartedly and my wife said, "Baruch HaShem that we have to frum doctors!"  We had not been frum that long ourselves and I didn't have the heart or the energy to tell her that both doctors had just called me "deathly ill" and could die from my condition.  (I didn't, …

Thought for the Day: Buying Olam Haba, One Dollar at a Time

More often than not, we have Jews with green cards collecting during davening for one necessity or another.  Having a green card means his story checks out, so I never look at the reason on the green card; I am going to give a dollar no matter what and I think it is a little "over the top" of me to be judging if his request is worth a dollar.  That's just me.  I have another quirk: even he comes back -- either the next day or even the same day (sometimes they get mixed up where they have been) -- I give him another dollar.  I suppose that is just me also; it feels a bit funny to say, "I already gave you a whole dollar." to someone who is collecting for a kollel, or to marry off his 12th child, or to pay off his medical bills from his wife's cancer, and so forth.  Actually, though, it is more than just me; I have a Rambam.

The mishna (Avos 3:15, according to the explanation of the Rambam) says that judgement is on the quantity (not quality) of deeds.  The Ra…

Thought for the Day: Sharpening Your Skills in Earning a Livelihood

Chazal (Brachos 32b) tell us that four things require chizuk (encouragement): Torah, good deeds, prayer, and your livelihood (see Rashi on the gemara).  Sefer Musar N'vi'im explains this to mean that even though one does not see bracha from his efforts, don't give up.  Rather, one must double and redouble one's efforts in these areas; in the end he will see bracha from his efforts.  The gemara brings p'sukim as proof to each of these four areas of endeavor.  It seems to me that the first three are self explanatory.  Those are area where one often does not see bracha and so the Torah comes to tell us that they require special encouragement.  At first glance, though, I am not sure why my livelihood needs a pasuk to encourage me.  If anything, my livelihood is the last thing that HaShem needs to tell me to work at; I am plenty encouraged myself, thank you.

Ok, I thought about it; after I learned (Torah), davened mincha (T'fillah), and cleaned up the kitchen (G'…

Thought for the Day: Just Be Straight, That is the Real Wisdom

One of my favorite expressions in English is "hoisted by his own petard".  Even if you don't know what a petard is, its a great sounding expression.  In fact, a petard is a small bomb with a short, slow burning fuse.  Well, its supposed to be slow burning, but mistakes happen.  Now that expression really presents quite the visual, no?  And much better than simply saying, "Injured by the device with which he intended to injure others." (yawn)

The Beis HaLevi asks why, when presented with "the voice is the voice of Yaakov, the hands are the hands of Eisav" (b'reishis 27:22), Yitzchak Avinu simply concluded that it was, indeed, Eisav.  There seems to be two bits of contradictory evidence here with two equally plausible explanations (Yaakov with disguised hands or Eisav with a disguised voice).  The Beis HaLevi answers that Eisav, being the sneak that he was, assumed that Yaakov wa\ also a sneak and would try to steal his bracha just like he had "…

Thought for the Day: Sheva Yipol Tzadik v’Kam

A short while ago, I went to the basement to get my bicycle to ride home at the end of the work day and say that the back tire was flat.  I was less than pleased, especially since I had put kevlar tires on my bike after the last flat I got.  Not because they are bullet proof (even though this is Chicago and they did film some the the Dark Knight here), but because they were supposed to be flat proof.  They weren't; and the fact that they were flat "resistant" was not very comforting now that they had stopped resisting.  Sigh... nothing to do but walk to the bike shop to get it fixed.

I complained to the bike mechanic and he just shrugged.  He reached inside the tire and was able to feel the culprit (something I wouldn't have done, which is why I don't fix things myself).  He actually had to get a pair of pliers to pull it out.  It was this tiny little wire that I could barely see!  "Likes like a wire from a truck tire.  Probably been in there a while and fin…

Thought for the Day: Using Rashi to Learn How to Learn

Right at the beginning of chapter 27 of the book of Genesis, we are told that Yitchak Avinu's eyes became dim and it was difficult for him to see.  Rashi brings three quite disparate explanations of the "simple" meaning of this verse:
The smoke from the avoda zara offerings of Esav's wives damaged Yitzchak Avinu's vision.At the Akeida, the malachim had cried when they saw what was going on an their tears dropped into Yitzchak Avinu's eyes.It was in order to facilitate Yaakov Avinu getting the brachos. It is tempting to think that Rashi is learning the first reason because the previous verse told us about how distressing Esav's marriages were to Rivka and Yitchak (in fact,  Rashi tells us there that Esav's parents were disturbed by their avoda zara).  That's pretty good, actually... so why do I need two more?  The third explanation may come from the context and our knowledge that Yaakov is going to be sneaky in getting the brachos, so it is certainl…

Thought for the Day: Charata is for the Future ONLY

My front brake cable snapped the other day on my bicycle.  I am not really a belt and suspenders kind of guy, but riding around with only only working brake whose cable is at least as old as the one that just broke makes me nervous.  I therefore stopped into the bike store on the way home to get my front brake fixed.  Of course, when a biker walks into a bike store and has time on his hands (I hadn't brought my pocket Mishna Brura that day), he is going to find something else to buy.  I had been wanting a rear view mirror for a while, and I was already there, and they did the installation for free along with the brake, so... I now have a cool rear view mirror on my bicycle.

What's the point of a rear view mirror?  I know where I've been and I had better keep my eyes set forward, not backward.  That's the point, of course; to go forward safely I need to check what's behind me now.  Certainly I better take a look behind me if I want to change directions.  But even wh…

Thought for the Day: Kavana for K'rias Sh'ma

I think we finally have all the pieces to appreciate what we are saying during our declaration of Sh'ma Yisrael morning and evening.

We are in d'varim, Moshe Rabeinu's final speech to Klal Yisrael.  Even though we posken "ein mukdam u'm'uchar b'torah" in the rest of chumash, in d'varim everyone agrees "yeish mukdam u'muchar" and so context is vital to understanding.  In d'varim 5, Moshe Rabeinu reiterates the aseres ha'dibros (which have encoded in them all the 613 mitzvos) and reminds the people that they had asked him to go up the mountain himself to get all the details.  He then continues (d'varim 6:1-3) by reminding Klal Yisrael of its collective purpose and obligation. (Speaking in second person plural.)

Pausing for dramatic effect and to ensure rapt attention, Moshe Rabeinu continues: [Remember Yaakov Avinu with his twelve sons -- the source of each of your tribes -- assembled to her the last of the patriarchs give …

Thought for the Day: Why Angels are Jealous of Our K'rias Sh'ma

Once I started thinking about k'rias sh'ma, I had a lot of questions.  Some technical, such as why does Moshe Rabeinu switch from first person plural (Elokeinu) in the middle of a parsha that is written first in second person plural (Elokeichem), then in second person singular (Eloke'cha)?  Some more philosophical, such as what is so inspiring about simple statement that there is only one G-d that would have Jews through the ages breathing their last with Sh'ma on their lips?

I think the key point, and the one upon which the answer to all the questions depends is this: What exactly makes the malachim so jealous about us saying "baruch sheim kavod malchuso l'olam vah'ed"?  The source of this statement is very touching, of course.  Yaakov Avinu is surrounded by his 12 sons and wants to reveal to them the end of days.  Suddenly Yaakov looses his intense connection to the Creator and is worried that there is something missing in his sons.  The brothers, s…

Thought for the Day: Yom Kippur and the Akeida

There is an old joke.  On Yom Kippur, the chazan throws himself down before the aron hakodesh and cries out, "I am nothing!".  The rabbi, not to be outdone, follows suit.  The shamash, figuring if the chazan and the rabbi both did it, he should also.  The chazan looks over a the rabbi, points to the shamash and snickers, "Look who thinks he is nothing!".  That's how the malachim look at us all year, so we don't say "baruch sheim kavod malchuso l'olam va'ed" (B"ShKMLV) out loud.  Except on Yom Kippur; then we do say it out loud and the malachim are, apparently, silent.  Everyone knows that, and it is brought by the Mishna Brura in 61:13.

But the Mishna Brura brings another reason that we don't say B"ShKMLV out loud during the year: because even though Yaakov said it, Moshe didn't write it.  So we compromise by saying it quietly.  There are at least two problems with this explanation.  One: Who was talking about Yaakov Avin…