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Showing posts from September, 2011

Thought for the Day: Thank You For Your Help

Today is the last day of 5771.  As such (of course) it is the last Thought for the Day posting by me for this year.  So... a short retrospective.

I started writing these thoughts as a way for me to solidify for myself the "catch as catch can" learning I try to do outside of my normal seder of learning and when I find spare moments.  The fact that you are interested in reading these thoughts has been very motivating.  First, writing (almost) daily entries forces me to really, really learn something new and substantive each day.  More than that, however, I spend a lot more of my "idle" time (biking, for instance) thinking and mulling over whatever I am learning.  It takes a lot of time to boil a thought down to a couple of paragraphs, and that is time very well spent.  By the time I have worked on a thought until it is ready for dissemination, I have had to really understand what it is I have learned.  It has also been interesting to me how often I start writing one…

Thought for the Day: Thinking the Torah Way

As you may have heard, a there is a report that a reputable group of physicists believe they have seen evidence that neutrinos in their experiment traveled faster than light.  If this turns out to be true, physics would need to be rewritten. It doesn't mean your car is going to work any differently, or baseballs will fly differently.  What is does mean, however, is that we may have to toss out the Big Bang theory, all age of the universe calculations, much (if not all) of particle physics.  Now you are really unimpressed, right?  So it means physicists will stop working on one set of esoteric nonsense and start working on a new set of esoteric nonsense.  Yes and no.

Th first gate of Chovos haLevavos demonstrates how the Torah view is not inconsistent with the Aristotelian view of the world.  Almost no one learns that gate any more, because the Aristotelian view has been long abandoned.  Galileo did some seminal experiments and Newton did a lot of the theoretical work to herald a n…

Thought for the Day: Incorporating Midos Into One's Being

Our sages tell us (Avos 5:18):
ה,יח  [כ] יהודה בן תימא אומר, הוי עז כנמר, וקל כנשר, ורץ כצבי, וגיבור כארי--לעשות רצון אביך שבשמיים.  . Yehuda ben Teima says, be brazen as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a hind, and strong as a lion to to the Will of your Father in Heaven.
One may ask why the Yehuda ben Teima didn't just tell us the midos necessary for avodas HaShem: one needs (sometimes) to be brazen, light, swift, and strong to do HaShem's Will.  There are really two parts to that question: First, what additional information is being conveyed by giving us examples from the animal kingdom that exemplify each behaviour.  Secondly, why do we need to approach avodas HaShem that way?
The sefer Achas Sh'alti brings an answer to both questions from a R' Tzedaka.  By using animal examples, Yehuda ben Teima is telling us that we must incorporate these traits into our very being.  We are not striving to be as strong as a lion, rather we are striving make strength so muc…

Thought for the Day: At Least Act Like You Want Kirvus HaShem

Yehudis and Batya (names changed to protect the guilty) were riding on a bus and animatedly talking about their classmate Shulamis, who was not a particularly popular girl.  They were giggling away and talking about Shulamis's latest social faux paux when the lady behind them tapped Yehudis on the shoulder and said, "Girls, that's my daughter you are talking about."  Of course the two girls were mortified and could hardly look at each other, let alone talk to each other, as long as Shulamis's mother was right behind them.  A few stops later, the lady was getting off the bus, but turned to the girls as she was leaving and said, "Shulamis is not my daughter, but she is someone's daughter."

The story has been around for a while; you may or may not have heard it, it may or may not have really happened.  The point of the story is clear; we all know very well how we speak differently depending on who is around to hear it.  We don't say juicy gossip ab…

Thought for the Day: Constant Reminders Above and Below

In his final speech to Klal Yisrael, Moshe Rabeinu calls on Heavens and Earth to be witnesses.  Rashi (on devarim 30:19, in his first explanation) says that Moshe Rabeinu is telling Klal Yisrael that since they last forever, when difficulties befall you in the future the Heaven and Earth will still be here as witnesses that you were warned.  The obvious question is, "So what?".  How in the world is the fact that two non-sentient objects that were around when the warning was given and are still around in the future supposed to motivate m?

I'll tell you what so.  We say every morning that HaShem "ose ma'aseh b'reishis" -- is making (present tense, not "did make" in the past) the doing of creation.  Every moment is a new creation in and of itself.  For those of us old enough to remember super-8 movies, Chazal are telling us that reality is like that movie.  Frame after frame of one captured moment after another, that when viewed one after the oth…

Thought for the Day: Yom HaDin -- Knowing Who You Are

There is a famous question: Why does the Day of Judgement come before the Day of Atonement?  Wouldn't it be better to first achieve atonement, and then go to court?  Surely things would go better for you.  Moreover, wouldn't is make a lot more sense to be judged at the end of the year for last year's mistakes rather than the  beginning of the year when I haven't made any (ok, haven't made many) mistakes yet?  Moreover, do I really need a court trial to find out if I am guilty?  If that were the intent of Rosh HaShana, we would have the shortest services in history.  Everyone would walk into shul, say "ashamnu" (we are guilty), everyone would answer "amein"; then we'd go home to have our last meal before being executed.  Yet, on Rosh HaShana, we don't mention guilt or even sin at all.  Instead we prepare for the day with a haircut, put on are finest clothes, proclaim HaShem our King, and enjoy festive meals.  Sounds more like having a per…

Thought for the Day: Having Everything And Realizing It

I am always inspired by R' Pinchas Eichenstein's shalosh s'udos drasha, but yesterday was particularly inspiring.  R' Eichenstein quoted a Rav Gifter (already reason to take notice when a chassidishe rav quotes a Telshe rosh yeshiva) on the pasuk from last week's tochacha that gives the reason these curses will come to be: because you didn't serve HaShem your G-d in a spirit of rejoicing and optimism when you had it so good.  (d'varim 28:47, following Rashi).  Rav Gifter explains what the issue was with a drash on the last two words of that pasuk: mei'rov kol; literally: "from lots everything".  Rav Gifter is referring back to when Yaakov met Esav on his way back from Lavan's house.  The brother's asked about each others welfare; Esav answered "yesh li rav" (I have a lot), while Yaakov said "yesh li kol" (I have everything [that I need]) (b'reishis 33:9 and 33:11).  The source of our difficulties, says Rav Gifte…

Thought for the Day: Fixing Time/Place Gives Glory to the Activity; Not the Other Way Around

The topic of having a makom kavu'a for t'fila and what its all about came up this morning.  The generally heard explanation is that it helps to minimize distractions (although even your fingerprints seem to take on a whole knew level of fascination during shmone esrei...). Rabeinu Yona, however, has a different p'shat: fixing a place to daven gives kavod and chashivus to t'fila.  Rabeinu Yona takes this idea so far as to say that the concept of being kovei'a makom la'tifila is only relevant at home.  Once someone has gone to shul, says Rabeinu Yona, he has already demonstrated that t'fila is important.  But when he needs to daven at home, it requires fixing a place in the house for davening to demonstrated the importance.

The importance of "k'vi'us" (consistency) runs throughout halacha.  "kovei'a itim la'torah", "kovei'a makom la't'filah", "kovei'a s'uda l'shabbos v'yom tov&…

Thought for the Day: Do Not Take Your Spouse For Granted

When I first started becoming frum, I went to several shiurim on taharas hamishpacha.  One of the most important ideas I have ever heard was from R' David Jacobson (now in LA).  He was telling us that one of the rules is that a wife cannot serve food to her husband while she is a nida.  He made this important observation: "And if you'll say that even a maid can serve food, so what's the big deal, I'll answer: How dare you think of your wife in the same category as a maid!"  In fact, in another shiur by another rav on the general topic of how to view one's wife, we were told: Imagine the president of the US were to come to your house for 15 minutes as a special visit on his tour to meet real citizens.  Do you think you would ask, "Say, Mr. President, my dry cleaner is right on your way to the airport, I wonder if you wouldn't mind dropping my laundry on your way?"  Well, then, before you ask your wife something like that, remember that she is…

Thought for the Day: Doing Ratzon HaShem Vs. Doing the Rright Thing

A bit more on why doing Ratzon HaShem confuses the Satan.  The Satan (literally, "adversary") is not so much interested in making us do evil things as he is interested in making us do selfish things.  In fact, he couldn't care less if we do useful and meaningful and even good things; as long as we do it for ourselves.  Once we are doing it for ourselves, we have just permitted every perversion imaginable (and several you can't even imagine).  How does that work?  The big argument of the secular world is that we are religious because it makes us feel good.  They are all for that.  Then they say, "You are just like us.  You do what makes you feel good, we do what makes us feel good.  Being religious makes you feel good.  Being a   makes us feel good.  Ultimately we are all just selfishly satisfying ourselves."  That is the Satan.  That is how every "civilized" secular society inexorably marches toward corruption and self-destruction.  With no ex…

Thought for the Day: Each Moment In Olam HaZeh Worth More Than Current Share In Olam HaBa

He (R' Yaakov) used to say, one moment of t'shuva and good deeds in olam haze is worth more than all the vitality of the eternal pleasures of olam haba; one moment of the pleasure of olam haba is better than all the pleasures of olam haze. (Pirkei Avos, 4:17)

R' Dessler explains the apparent contradiction.  The second part of the mishna is talking about the enjoyment of life in olam haba.  Every "moment" (whatever that means, since there is no time) is better than the sum total of all the enjoyment that has been had and will be had by every person in this world from beginning to end.  On the other hand, that enjoyment is not unearned, the seeds of the enjoyment in olam haba are sown in this world.  The apparent overwhelming unbalance of work done vs reward received is because when there are no bounds of time, potential and realization of that potential are the same thing.  Think of a field of wheat.  The reason you plant a lot of seeds is because you want a certa…

Thought for the Day: Never Forget

Today is September 11, 2011 CE.  It is ten years since the World Trade Center (the Twin Towers) was destroyed by a terrorist attack.  The news is full of retrospectives, memorials, commentaries and what not; all with a single theme: We shall never forget.  The names of those who lost their lives that day (all 2,983) were all read.  The children who were born that year to women who had lost their husbands were assembled.  Speeches, songs, and just generally coming together to remember how all of use from very different backgrounds became a unit: the "we" that was attacked.  The "we" that now take our shoes off before getting on a plane.  The "we" who no longer takes safety from foreign attack for granted.

America is struggling to define and create customs and ceremonies to keep the memory alive and transmit the message to future generations.  It is obviously important; no one questions that.  No one is bored, and many are crying.

We should remember this a…

Thought for the Day: Confusing the Satan

We blow shofar every weekday of the month of Elul except the day before Rosh HaShana (even if Rosh HaShana would fall on a Shabbos and we wouldn't be blowing).  On Rosh HaShanah we blow a long blast at the end.  The Mishna Brura says that one of the reasons for both of these is because it confuses the Satan. I sure hope the Satan doesn't see that Mishna Brura!  Good thing we all have that secret code on the beis medrash combination locks; I am sure the Satan will never figure out that Aleph means 1, Beis means 2, Gimmel means 3, etc.

On the other hand, feel free to bring the Satan in to the beis medrash (in fact, Chazal says that's exactly the way to properly deal with the Satan) and learn up this Mishna Brura with him.  The Satan will still be confused by our behavior.  I realized this a few years ago when a fundamentalist xtian fuming about homosexual churches.  He figured that he surely had an ally in me, so he said, "They take verses from the Bible completely out …

Thought for the Day: Elul Means Introspection

It is brought in Halichos Shlomo that R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, ztz"l, would often note that the name Elul indicates the work of this season.  The month names are from Bavel, so one needs to look to Aramaic to know the origin of the word.  In parshas Sh'lach, Moshe sends men to "spy out the land" (BaMidbar 13:2) and the targum of "v'yasuru" (they shall spy) is "vi'allalun"; so Elul actually means to spy and make a clandestine (secretive) investigation.

What was Moshe Rabeinu's intent in sending the spies?  Certainly not to see whether or not the land was conquerable; of course it could be conquered, HaShem had promised it!  The point of sending in the spies was to find out how best to mount an attack.  Find the weak points, get some early successes, establish a foothold, and then proceed to the rest of the land.  That's our job in Elul, to spend time spying on ourselves.  Where are the weak points in the fortresses of the yei…

Thought for the Day: Midos Improvement Day In and Day Out

Every morning we make a birkas haTorah.  Given the wording of the bracha and the fact that we only make the bracha once per day, one should expect to be involved with some aspect of Torah ("la'asok", related to "eisek", which means "business") every moment of the day.  After all, if you take a break, then you would have to make the bracha again.  It appears that we make it once per day because the only time we are not actively involved in Torah is while sleeping.  The problem is... do you really feel involved with the Torah to even the same extent as your business all the time?

Tosofos addresses the issue by proposing that a Jew always wants to be learning and involved with Torah, so there is no real interruption.  That is similar to the fact that taking a break during a meal to breath is not considered an interruption that would require a new bracha.  That itself is an interesting perspective and deserves some discussion.  Another time, …

Thought for the Day: When Cooking Isn't Cooking

It is a well known halacha of Shabbos that "kli sheini eino m'vashel" - a vessel into which water has been poured will not cook.  On the other hand, a kli rishon will cook as long as the temperature is above "yad soledes bo" (literally: your hand would recoil from it).  For argument sake we are going to say that temperature is 120 degrees F (a range of values are given by the poskim; that value is in the range).  So we now have the very strange situation that a kli sheini at 170 degrees will not cook, but a kli rishon at 120 degrees will cook.  That seems odd, no?  Worse, it runs counter our experience and it makes our discussions about shabbos rules with the not frum seem almost ludicrous; "Let me get his straight, 170 degree water in a styrofoam cup won't cook, but 130 degree water in a pan will?  Uh-huh."

So here is my take, based on Tosefos in Shabbos, 40b, d"h "sh'ma mina kli sheini eino m'vashel".  Tosafos starts by bas…