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Showing posts from October, 2011

Thought for the Day: Building A World Together With HaShem

Why are the flood waters of the mabul called Mei Noach?  In other words, why is Noach blamed for the flood?  The generally given answer is because Noach didn't daven for his generation.  That is a difficult answer to hear.  The Torah HaK'dosha itself refers to Noach as an "ish tzadik tamim" -- a perfect tzadik.  (The machlokes about how to understand the intent of the pasuk is only about why we are told that, not whether or not Noach actually was an ish tzadik tamim.)  Moreover, Rashi on
v'yizkor Elokim es Noach (b'reishis 8:1) says that this shows that the  t'fila of a tzadik changes middas ha'din to midas ha'rachamim.  So... Noach davened or didn't daven?

Several years ago I asked R' Dovid Siegel, shlita, why HaShem didn't just wipe out Adam ha'rishon afer the sin and create a new man?  After all, I reasoned, eventually there will be one who doesn't sin (since it is up to free will) and HaShem could just keep that one.  R…

Thought for the Day: Living Till Its Time to Go

There is an expression, "I guess it was his/her time to go."  Maybe, maybe not.  First, a halacha: Sh.Ar. O.C 23:3: one is not allowed to wear his tzitzis exposed near a Jewish meis because of "lo'eg l'rash" -- making fun of the downtrodden.  In this case, the meis is in a situation where he cannot perform mitzvos and so seeing the tzitzis is painful to the neshama.  The Mishna Brura (s.k. 5) says this applies even to a koton, HaShem should protect us from ever knowing such a thing, because maybe the neshama was of a gadol.  However, if the meis is a woman, there is no problem because she was not chayiv even while alive.  So, I thought, it looks as though the age of the body at time of death is irrelevant to the intrinsic obligations of the neshama, but the sex is relevant.  I was comfortable (more or less) with that.

Then I learned a ma'asei with the Ari, z"l, that indicated that the sex of the body could also be different in different gilgulim.  …

Thought for the Day: Learning From Your Yeitzer Rah

The nachash opened up his conversation with Chava by asking her if HaShem had forbidden all of the trees to them.  Strange question, no?  Obviously they could eat!  Rashi tells us that the nachash just want to get a conversation started.  Moreover, Chava told the nachash that they were allowed to eat from all the trees except the one in the middle of the garden; they fruit from that one they were not allowed to eat of even touch, lest they die.  Lest?!?  HaShem had told them straight out that they would surely die (i.e., become mortal) on they day that they ate.

So let's take a step back.  Since the nachash asked if all the fruit was forbidden, obviously Chava was not eating at the time.  That's very interesting because HaShem had preceded the warning not to eat from one tree with an imperative to eat from all the other trees.  Also, HaShem hadn't told Chava not to touch the fruit either; so I think we need to read her reply as follows: "HaShem told us not to eat.  [W…

Thought for the Day: Every Day Is Brand New Just For You

When you go to a motel, you get freshly laundered linens and towels.  If you are a VIP you probably also get a bowl of fresh fruit.  If you are a visiting head of country, they go out each morning and get you fresh fruit.  Anything you order from room service is cooked fresh; even the bread is baked fresh each day for you.  After all, you are an important person.  They are not, however, very likely to weave new linens for you nor build you new furniture.  And it is ridiculous to even contemplate planting new trees, cotton, and linen, mining new ore, shearing new sheep, excavating new stones... all so you can have a brand new room with brand new furnishings and brand new fixtures.  No one is that important!

Except you.  You actually are that important.  Every single day (actually every single moment) is freshly created for you by HaShem; "m'chadeish b'chol yom tamid ma'asei b'reishis".  Why?  Because when someone is important and beloved you want them to have …

Thought for the Day: Please Point Out My Mistakes

Now that computers are so fast that they can actually check our spelling as we type, we have a new kind of typo: a correctly spelled incorrect word.  In a recent post, I meant to write "revelation of HaShem's Kavod", but inadvertently chose the first choice of offered by the spell checker and you all got, "revaluation of HaShem's Kavod."  Thankfully, you all know me well enough to realize that I didn't mean HaShem's Kavod needs any revaluation!  In another post I wrote "meet out capital punishment", and it should have been "mete out" (thankfully, I didn't write "meat out"...).  I try my best to catch those things, but if I were to do a complete and proper proof reading to make sure every post was ready for the printing press, there simply would be no posts.  I therefore appreciate very much when an error is noticed and reported to me, as I fix it on the blog post (its more or less permanent home).

Now, of course, m…

Thought for the Day: Judge the Person's Actions, Not the Person

The Torah prescribes four kinds of capital punishment for various crimes.  On the other hand, to actually convict someone of a capital crime, there needs to be two kosher witnesses who tell the would be perpetrator that they if he proceeds with his intent that he is liable for the appropriate punishment and he has to respond within three seconds or so, "I know and I am proceeding anyway."  On the other hand, the Sanhedrin can mete out capital punishment if it feels that it is warranted.  To make things more confusing, Chazal tell us that R' Yose heard about a gang of Jewish highwaymen who treated their Jewish victims more humanely -- only rob them but not murder them.  On this R' Yose exclaimed that those highwaymen were definitely headed for Olam Haba!

 So what gives?  Are we pro-life, liberal, conservative, tough on crime, or what?  We are, of course, "what"; we are Torah Jews.  The Torah doesn't follow any isms; rather is is the Torah which defines T…

Thought for the Day: Creating Chidushei Torah is a Daily Obligation

Maybe you don't think "shocking" or "riveting" when you think "Mishna Brura".  After all, we all basically know halacha and the we just need the Mishna Brura once in a while when we call R' Fuerst and he gives us a reference instead of an answer.  I hate to burst your bubble (not really, I actually really like bursting bubbles, actually), but there are some reasonably startling obligations that the Mishna Brura clarifies.  For me the most surprising -- nay, terrifying -- obligation is to be found in a very unlikely place: hilchos chol ha'mo'ed.  (Like any master author, the Mishna Brura likes to keep you on your toes by never letting you know where you may find a bomb chidush.)  The issue is that writing on chol ha'mo'ed requires a heter.  The Mishna Brura wants to be sure you know it is ok to write chidushei torah (he has no doubt you'll find all the heterim you need for writing checks and surfing the web).  So first he sets y…

Thought for the Day: The Destructiveness of the Egalitarian Manifesto

So I saw a sukka set up in a parking lot at Drake and Peterson this morning.  I thought, "How cool!"  Then I saw that it was "Egalitarian and All Inclusive"; then cool became a chilling shiver.  Egalitarian is on of things that sounds so reasonable is is oh so wrong, similar to "politically correct".  I was talking to a friend at work a couple years ago and I told him that I had a hypothesis that anything politically correct is be definition wrong.  My friend (basically liberal, but also thinks) sat thinking for a few moments and finally said, "I really want to disagree with you, but I can't think of a single counter example."

To understand what is so wrong about egalitarian and politically correct, imagine trying to build a house with an egalitarian tool box.  Meaning to say, you must use whatever tool comes to hand to do the job at hand.  That will mean you can't use screws because hammers can't manage those.  You probably will shy…

Thought for the Day: Kiruv R'chokim Up Close and Personal

When my wife and I were newly engaged we went on a bike ride through Goethe Park in Sacramento.  At one point Debbie looked down and saw, horrified, that the diamond had fallen out her engagement ring!  Of course we stopped immediately, but didn't have much hope of finding it.  We were on a sandy bike path, the diamond was pretty small (hey!  I was in graduate school); but we stopped anyway.  Lo and behold; there it was!  Actually, I should say, there it still is, all 31 points of it (just under 1/3 carat for you non-gemologists).  35 years later that little diamond still occupies a place of honor on her hand.

So what prompted this stroll (ride) down memory lane?  First, I noticed a sign for Goethe Park on my ride into work this morning.  Second, having just come through the Aseres Y'mai T'shuva, I started thinking about a comment someone made to a few weeks back.  I told him I had just gotten some super-8 home movies from my childhood digitized.  "I am r…

Thought for the Day: S.M.A.R.T. Goals For Spiritual Improvement

A colleague at work asked me if I had made any New Year's resolutions.  I said (a bit haughtily, I am afraid) that I certainly had, as our Rosh HaShana is not like their New Year's celebration, but the beginning of ten day period of introspection about what we did well and not so well last year and setting goals for the coming year.  Then he said (having not noticed my haughtiness, Baruch HaShem), "Interesting.  So what are you goals?"  Whoops... fortunately for me I write these thoughts of the day, otherwise I would have been stuttering and stammering to think of something quickly.  So I told him I was working on anger and being more patient and we talked about that a bit.

Whew!  I made it through that nisayon.  However, it got me thinking that I really should have solid goals for my spiritual growth.  I should, after all, take my spiritual development at least as seriously as my professional development.  For my professional development I have to write up and get …

Thought for the Day: Tried and Tested Life Extending Techniques

I lived with my mother's parents when I first started college (chatasi! ).  One day my grandmother was loading the dishwasher and I told her that she didn't really need to wash the dishes first.  She, of course, ignored me.  A month or two after that my uncle was visiting his parents and also told my grandmother that she didn't really need to wash the dishes before loading them. She said, "Thank you!" immediately stopped washing the dishes before loading them.  I was nonplussed and (more or less politely) whined that I had told the the same thing but she had ignored me!  My grandmother very politely said, "The difference is he has the same dishwasher.  His advice is based on experience; yours on seeing an advertisement."  Or, as Chazal say, "ein sh'mia k'r'i'ah".

It is one thing to be given good advice (no matter how reliable the source) and another to have tested that advice.  Chazal wonder how Rava and Abaya had lived so long…

Thought for the Day: Causing Problems But Still Doing Your Job

The gemara (brachos 28a) brings two opinions from R' Yochanan.
One who delays davening musaf is a wanton sinner (poshei'a).Faced with needing to daven both mincha and musaf, one should first daven mincha and then daven musaf. Rashi explains the second opinion is because since one has already wantonly sinned by delaying musaf, better to daven mincha right away rather than become a wanton sinner a second time because of delaying mincha.  The question is, where is the sin?  Everyone agrees that the person has fulfilled his obligation to daven musaf (and mincha).  First a story.

I was riding my bicycle to work this morning and my left contact was really bothering me.  Apparently an eyelash or tiny bit of dust had gotten stuck under the contact.  I had absolutely no intention of removing the contact, of course; I needed it to see, after all!  So the contact was doing it job very well.  It was also causing me a fair amount of grief.

So R' Yochanan is not saying that the person wo…

Thought for the Day: Lengthening the Days and Years of Your Life

Type in "long life" to your favorite search engine and you'll get lots of advice about how to live a long life.  Advice includes one glass of wine each day, exercise, vitamins, consume antioxidants, reduce stress, etc.  None of these, of course, offer a guarantee, just "common sense".  Of course, what's common sense today is not common sense tomorrow.  Had you typed "long life" into your favorite search engine 20 years ago, you would have gotten a completely different list.  (40 years ago, of course, you wouldn't have gotten anything....)

On the other hand we have a Chazal that does give a guarantee for long life, takes only a few minutes a day, and is low impact: shnai'yim mikra v'echad targum.  Always read the entire text of each parsha twice in the original and once in the aramaic translation of Onkelos each week; for everyone who does so extends his days and years.  (Brachos 8a/8b).  The Shulchan (Orach Chaim 285:2) says you can su…

Thought for the Day: Goal Setting to Achieve Happiness and Joy

No, I do not mean to set goals for how happy and joyful I want to be by a certain date.  That is without doubt a recipe for despair and anguish.  I mean that setting appropriate goals can yield almost immediate benefits in terms of joy and happiness.  Great thought for a Monday, no?

In my experience with getting angry (a topic on which I am an unquestioned expert), they initial cause of my anger is having a monkey wrench thrown into my plans.  For example, I am trying to get home and the stupid traffic light goes yellow and the even stupider drive in front of me decides to stop instead of speeding up; I am now seeing red, and I don't mean just the traffic light.

So simply change the goal.  Make the goal that I want to finish this last paragraph of my book before I get home and so some red lights would be very helpful.  If you are more religious, make the goal to practice your bitachon that your arrival time at home doesn't depend on how many red lights you hit.  In both cases …

Thought for the Day: The "Ordinary" Days of Chagim -- Not So Ordinary

Rosh HaShana can fall on a Shabbos and there are places in the davening where whole paragraphs are different.  My machzor had those differences marked as "Shabbos" and "Chol".  I found it a little jarring to think of any aspect of Rosh HaShana as "Chol" (ordinary).  Of course Rosh HaShana is anything but an ordinary day.  Compared to Shabbos, however, it can be called chol.  Something like the dark areas on the sun are "cool" relative to the surrounding area. (Sun spots are only 5,000° F, while the surrounding area is 10,000° F).

That is how we need to view Chol haMo'ed; not regular weekdays, but compared to the intense k'dusha of the surrounding days, the intermediate days can be referred to as "chol"; that is, chol compared to yom tov, but anything but ordinary.  In light of that, I thought it was worth sharing part of the Mishna Brura's introduction to hilchos chol ha'mo'ed. Siman 530, mishna brura there.  I am n…

Thought for the Day: Staying Focussed on the Task

A further insight from Chazal:
הוא היה אומר: עז פנים לגיהנם; ובושת פנים לגן עדן.
יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלהינו ואלהי אבותינו שיבנה בית המקדש במהרה בימינו, ותן חלקנו בתורתך. After telling us the midos needed to avodas HaShem, Yehuda ben Teima adds a warning and a t'fila; The brazen end up in gehinom and the shy in Gan Eden; may it be Your Will, HaShem our G-d, to rebuild the Bais HaMikdash in our lifetime, and give us our portion in Your Torah.

The sefer Achas Sha'alti brings R' Akiva Eiger to explain that once we (again) have the Bais HaMikdash and the Truth of the Torah is obvious and apparent to all, then we will no longer need brazenness to "stick to our guns" (ok, my very very translation) for learning and avodas HaShem.  Therefore Yehuda ben Teima warns us that we must be very careful in our use of being brazen to be only for Torah and avodad HaShem as the misuse is very costly.

At first glance this seems to be a contradiction to the previous explanation (In…