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Showing posts from August, 2011

Thought for the Day: Coming Closer to HaShem Via Shalom Bayis

When there is shalom bayis between husband and wife, the divine presence resides with them.  What's so special about shalom bayis?  Don't get me wrong, I am not knocking it; just wondering how keeping a peaceful relationship with my wife magically becomes an infusion of divinity into my home.

I think it really is magic, actually; and yet another example of the overwhelming kindness with which HaShem treats us.  The world says, "Nothing destroys a good romance like marriage."  Why is that?  Because it is one thing to theoretically profess your everlasting love to a fantasy, and quite another to pick up his socks (year after year after year...)  We proclaim our undying and everlasting love to HaShem at least twice a day.  And we do that even though we have no idea what that really means.  We cannot fathom HaShem and our sages tell us that it is even forbidden to contemplate what the real nature of HaShem is.  Yet we are commanded to love Him with all our might, money, …

Thought for the Day: Making Peace Between Two Jews

Today is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul, making it also the last day of Av.  That makes this a great time for a sharp message that is important to hear as we enter into Elul z'man and prepare for the Days of Awe.

Chazal tell us that bringing peace to two Jews who are fighting is one of the mitzvos from which one enjoys the fruit in this world while the principle remains for him in olam haba.  This is for two reasons.  First, "banim atem la'shem" -- every Jew is a child of HaShem.  How miserable is it when your children are fighting?  There are very few pains that hurt like having two children who are so upset with each other that they can't speak civilly to each other.  But there is a deeper reason, the Chovos Levavos says that no one can hurt you nor help you as much as a mustard seed's worth unless HaShem wants it that way.  Any insult or hurt from another person is only a message from HaShem.  Don't shoot the messenger.

Hillel says that the whole T…

Thought for the Day: Daily Admission That I Am Not In Charge

For as long as I can remember, I thought that "Modeh ani l'fanecha, melech chai v'kayam..." meant "Thank you, HaShem, for restoring my soul."  Well, it doesn't.

First a little Holy Tongue grammar.  The verb "modeh" can mean either "thanks" or "admission", you can tell from the preposition that follows.  You can see this in "modim" of shmone esrei.  "al" means "thank you", "sh" means "admission".  So the first phrase in the morning means, "I admit that it is you, HaShem, who has restored my soul to me..."  This is even a step before "thank you", which would be "thank you for taking such good care of my soul and for returning my soul to me".  Instead, we are saying, "I admit that my soul is not mine; it is Yours.  Moreover, it is only because of Your compassion and overwhelming faith in me that I get this day of life."

Quite an eye opene…

Thought for the Day: Yisurim Are M'chaper!!

I know it has been a few days... I plan to try and do doubles some days to catch up.  Today, though, I had to get at least this one thought out.  I was biking to work this morning and had taken my wife's iPod nano that has shiurim on them  We don't usually listen to the same kinds of shiurim but I haven't reloaded mine and it has been a while since I had listened to anything, and yada, yada, yada.  My wife very much likes R' Mizrachi, even though he tends to make his points with very sharp and sometimes extreme examples.  Hard to argue with, because he is right and right on target, but you know the type.  Anyway, this morning's shiur was on how suffering is a big benefit.  He was in the middle of a story about how even the littlest irritation can be when I rode my bike through a red light.  Hey!  There was no one there, no traffic at all; in fact, its practically a mitzvah because that way I don't hold up traffic.  So... it seems I missed one thing; a policeman…

Thought for the Day: Yiras HaShem Only Comes with Yiras Talmidei Chachamim

The gemara (Bava Kama 41B) brings the discussion of whether or not we can darshen every "es" (aleph taf) in the Torah to add something.  For example, in the pasuk "lo yei'acheil es b'saro" (do not consume its flesh) said by an animal that has gored and killed a person, the "es" comes to add that you may also have no benefit from the animal's hide.  The gemara says that Shimon (some say Nechemia) haAmsoni interpreted each "es" to include something additional until he came to "es HaShem Elokecha tira".  At that point he pulled back; for what can one add to yiras HaShem?  Rabbi Akiva, however, said that the "es" in "es HaShem Elokecha tira" comes to add talmidei chachamim.

The Maharsha explains that Shimon (some say Nechemia) haAmsoni was not giving up on figuring out what "es" could come to add.  Rather, he held that the mitzvah of yiras HaShem implicitly includes not adding anyone nor anything t…

Thought for the Day: Four Kinds of Talmidim

The mishna says there are four kinds of talmidim:
Learns easily, forgets easily; his loss outweighs the benefit.Learns with difficulty, does not easily forget; his benefit outweighs the loss.Learns easily, does not easily forget; he has a good portion.Learns with difficulty, forgets easily; he has a bad portion.My chavrusa was bothered by a simple question: What's the chidush?  Basically a student is defined by someone who is learning and is judged by how much he retains, so this seems to be a very straightforward "all possible combinations to two characteristics".  He was in good company; the Rav was also bothered.  The Rav says there are two chidushim here.  First, if you have only enough money to support one talmid, the mishna says to support the one who, even though he learns slowly, he doesn't forget easily.  That is, retention is more important factor than how fast you can zip through the material.  (That made me feel better, as I am on something like the "…

Thought for the Day: Talking Instead of Communicating

On June 10, 2010, my wife and I were discussing an issue with our rabbi, R' Dovid Siegel, shilta, how to handle a certain issue.  At one point I got frustrated and pointed out that what I was saying was being misinterpreted.  R' Siegel said, "She is not misinterpreting.  That's what she is hearing and you need to think more about what is being heard rather than what you are saying."  Sigh... I almost never come out ahead in these discussions.

So yesterday morning I came home for breakfast and found the front door open.  I came in and asked what was happening.  Debbie said, "You said you'd be home before 7:00, so I got up at 6:30 so we could have a leisurely breakfast."  I said, "Look: it's 6:59!"  We looked at each other and laughed.  It was obvious to me that I had failed in communicating.  It was equally obvious to Debbie that I was clueless.  So we had a nice (albeit a bit rushed) breakfast.  I am counting this is as a win.  I least…

Thought for the Day: When Muktza Is Not Muktza

One of the frustrations with learning physics is that physics uses words that have common meanings for very precise concepts.  For example, in physics we have the concept of "work".  According to the physics definition, a person who picks up a 16 lb bowling ball in the morning, carries it around all day, and finally puts it back exactly where it started has done no work.  You and I know he is exhausted, of course, and it seems nonsensical to say that he has done no work.  That is because you and I (well, you, anyway) use the word "work" to mean one thing and physicists use it to me something else.  The word was chosen as the best possible one for the concept, but pitting a precise concept against a common (ie, sloppy) usage will always lead to some frustration.

I read a fascinating piece in Shulchan Shlomo on muktza (Vol 2, "b'gidrei muktza", right at the beginning).  The word "muktza" comes from "muktza mi'da'as" -- put ou…

Thought for the Day: When Actions That May Engender Unintended Consequences Are Not Permitted

Another chidush (to me) from the 2011 CCK Yarchei Kallah.

There is a general principle that actions which may incur unintended consequences (eino miskavein) that are not inevitable (not a p'sik reisha) are permitted on Shabbos.  The classic example (as has been mentioned) is dragging a light bench across hard packed soil.  Dragging the bench in that case is "mutar l'chatchila"; there is no need to even try to avoid the dragging by getting someone to help you carry the bench.

On the other hand, one is not allowed to put a kettle of cold water on a fire to take the chill off, because if left too long the heat would be enough to bring the water to "yad soledes bo" (hot enough to be considered cooking on Shabbos).  R' Zucker asked: why should this be forbidden?  After all, my only intent is to warm the water (which is permitted, even l'chatchila) and it is not inevitable that I will forget to take it off on time to prevent it from coming to yad soledes …

Thought for the Day: When a Doubt in a d'Rabanan Leads to Permission

Another chidush (to me) from Yarchei Kallah.  There is a general principle of "safek d'rabbanan l'kula" -- when there is a doubt regarding a matter of rabbinic decree, one takes the lenient route.  This can be both positive and negative.  For example, I am about to eat an apple when the phone rings.  After my conversation, I find myself eating the apple but can't remember if I make a bracha of "borei pri ha'eitz".  Since there is a doubt, and this bracha is d'rabananan, I have a right to continue eating the apple and do not need to make a bracha now even though I may never have made a bracha (in fact, in this case I am not allowed to make a bracha now).

I had a question about the dragging a light bench issue discussed yesterday.  It is not usual to plow with a bench, so digging a furrow that way (k'l'ahar yad) is an issur d'rabanan.  Since dragging a light bench will only possibly dig a furrow, we are back to a safek in a d'raban…

Thought for the Day: Ha'aros from CCK Yarchei Kallah 5771, Day One

While these notes have often been mussar related, a d'var torah is a d'var torah.  I always get a lot out of the Yarchei Kallah run every year by the Chicago Community Kollel and I thought it would be worth sharing some of the chidushim.  Note: I discuss and confirm these with R' Zucker, the Rosh Kollel and magid shiur.

First Day's Chidush
"p'sik reisha" -- literally "sever the head".  The expression comes from the (seemingly bizarre) custom they had to use a chicken head for a toy.  The gemara notes, "p'sik reisha lo yamus?!" -- if you sever the [chicken's] head, won't it die?  The term "p'sik reisha" is used in halacha regarding a malacha that was done as a side effect of another malacha.  The standard example is dragging a bench across hard ground on Shabbos.  If the bench is light, then the dragging may or may not cause a furrow, which would be the malacha of plowing if done with intention.  We pasken that …

Thought for the Day: Getting Clarity That HaShem Runs the World

Tomorrow is Tisha b'Av.  Tomorrow we commemorate that we have lost everything.  We actually to more that merely commemorate, we try to really feel our loss.  We don't eat, we sit on the floor, we sit on the floor, we read Eicha, and say kinos.  In every way possible to we work to impress upon ourselves the total spiritual desolation in which we find ourselves.  How do we best utilize this time?  What did Chazal want from us?  We can find role model in Dovid haMelech, who speaks from the heart of klal Yisrael.

There is a strange juxtaposition of p'sukim in T'hillim 117.  In pasuk 11, Dovid haMelech says (as explained by Chazal), "I said while I was running from Shaul haMelech, that even the promise of Shmuel haNavi cannot protect me!"  And, immediately in pasuk 11, "How can I repay HaShem for all the kindness He has bestowed on me?"  Crying out that even though he had been anointed king by HaShem's prophet he still has to flee for his life doesn&…

Thought for the Day: There Is No Reward In This World

Chazal tell us that "sachar b'hai alma leika" -- there is no reward in this world.  On the other hand, the second paragraph of sh'ma promises prosperity for keeping the mitzvos and dire consequences for transgressing.  Sure sounds like reward, no?  Moreover, the Rambam says that a goy gets rewarded for the mitzvos he does; but besides the tzadikei umos ha'olam (a very small fraction), a goy has no shayichis to olam haba.

I think an apt mashal is the way we utilize food.  The real value of a piece of steak is the nutritional value.  That real value is only realized days or weeks after it is ingested.  The effects are felt for a lifetime, as the nutrients are absorbed and incorporated in the body.  The taste may be wonderful, but it is certainly not the real value.  On the other hand, the sweet taste of a piece of candy is the main benefit.  Once the candy is gone, it's gone; no lasting effects on the physical body.

So too, when we do mitzvos, it may be fun to …

Thought for the Day: Without an Externally Imposed Morality, Anything Goes

There is no zealot like an ex-smoker/alcoholic/etc.  I am no exception when it comes to the patently shallow and false slogans of the "modern" liberalism  -- especially the old slogans dressed up as new thoughts.  One of my favorites (so to speak) is, "if two people love each other, they should be allowed to be married; regardless of race, creed, or sex".  Note first how they start with something true (race and creed certainly have no bearing on the issue), and then add in their pork barrel of "or sex".  It is not difficult to get a chuckle and nod of agreement out of the way I say things with someone who agrees with me.  Last night, however, I was very gratified to have a calm and logical conversation about this usually explosive topic with a thoughtful and reasonable person who has bought into the party line; more precisely, was reared with the party line.

I first made sure that he appreciated that there is a distinction between the action and the perso…

Thought for the Day: Rabbinic Decrees Remain in Force Unless Specifically Repealed

In the 70s when gas prices were on the increase, highway speed limit was lowered from 65mph to 55mph.  The main reason for the decrease was to save fuel.  That was certainly one reason, but there were others; including increased safety and decreased road maintenance costs.  In fact, there was a famous case (that means I heard about it) where Porsche owner tried to get out of paying a speeding ticket by bringing in documentation that his car got better fuel economy at 70mph than at 55mph.  Naturally, the case was thrown out and he had to pay the fine.

When Chazal made decrees, they revealed to us some of their reasoning.  As explained by the Ramchal in Sefer haIkarim, the rabbinic process is one of the ways in which HaShem reveals to us His will.  Therefore, even if we knew all of their reasons, it would be no excuse for us to decide to drop this or that g'zeira or takana.  It is the gezeira or takana that expresses HaShem's Will, which is immutable.  Just as we don't know …