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Showing posts from November, 2011

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…

Thought for the Day: Mobile Bais Medrash

Chazal tell us (Makkos 10b): "b'derech sh'adam rotze leilech, molichim oso" -- the way a person wants to go, they guide him that way.  Who guides him?  The Maharsha says that a persons actions, thoughts, and even desires create malachim.  Those malachim provide a spiritual "bubble/shroud/whatever-you-want-to-call-it" around the person that makes certain choices easier to pursue than others.  Chazal also tell us that Yosef told the brothers not to get involved in halachic discussions on their way back to Eretz Canaan to bring their father down.  Why?  Because he wanted them to come back quickly and didn't want them delaying on the way.

I like to learn.  So does Baruch Weinberg.  We both ride our bicycles downtown to work.  We do not arrange to meet, but we often end up biking along the same route at the same time.  I find this happens most often when I am mulling over some idea or other on which I don't have clarity.  Baruch is a perfect chavrusa for…

Thought for the Day: Appreciating What We Have Even More

I was thinking about the Tosofos I learned yesterday with the Stropkover Rebbi. (Even a verbrenta misnagid like me can't help but mull over an event like that!)  Tosofos explains that the "v'chesronan" (their deficiencies) in borei nefashos refers to those things without which it would be impossible to live, such as bread and water.  Interestingly enough, however, one would never say "borei nefashos" on bread!  Why would Chazal have us first refer to a food that is not relevant to this bracha?

I would like propose that before thanking HaShem for delicacies, such as apples, we need to appreciate that the world did not have to be that way.  HaShem could have created only those things required for life, such as bread and water.  If there were nothing to eat except apples, we would appreciate them.  However, when we first acknowledge that there are other things to eat that would satisfy our need for nutrition and apples are (so to speak) extra credit, we have a…

Thought for the Day: An Apple a Day Brings Torah

I was working on an idea for today when HaShem pretty much said, "No, I have a better idea for you."  With davening times being what they are and the work day being what it is, I usually eat after davening so I can ride my bike straight to work.  This morning I had a cheese sandwich and an apple.  Not very exciting, but I am not looking for excitement in my eating experience.  So I was sitting there eating and learning when a chashuv looking Rebbi walked over (leaned over, actually) and then walked away.  By the time I looked up he had already walked, so I went back to eating and learning.  I was wondering a little what had been so interesting to him, but I figured it wasn't all that interesting.  I was so wrong.


It turns out that rebbi was the Stropkover Rebbi, Rabbi Halberstam, shlita, from Eretz Yisrael.  He came back with a masechta brachos and pointing to the first Tosafos on daf 37a.  He started reading (which I will summarize).  The bracha of borei nefashos means a…

Thought for the Day: The Akeida As the Turning Point

I once asked R' Henoch Liebowitz, z"tzl, what is the next pirush on Chumash to learn after Rashi.  R' Henoch told me to learn the Sporno (yes, that is how the Rosh Yeshiva pronounced that name), as the Sporno also gave pshat, but a little different.  I believe he meant that the Sporno tells us more about why something is happening rather than simply what is happening.  That means that sometimes I actually take a look at the Sporno.

At the climax of the Akeida when the malach HaShem calls out for Avraham to stop, the malach then continues (22:12), "Now I know that you revere G-d and have not withheld your unique son from me."  I noticed for the the first time this year that the malach doesn't seem to be quoting HaShem (as the next malach explicitly does in pasuk 22:16).  The Sporno addresses the question and reads the pasuk a bit differently: "Now I, the malach, know that you revere HaShem more than I do and it is entirely appropriate that G-d elevated y…

Thought for the Day: Making the Right Decision Can Save Your Life

A theme that runs through Michtav me'Eliyahu is that are ultimate performance in this world is graded by the decisions we make and not the outcomes of those decisions.  In truth, this thought runs through all of Torah philosophy, but R' Dessler brings it to the fore.  Integrating that idea changes not only the way we perceive the world, but how we conduct ourselves.  It means, for example, that expected outcomes are much more important than what really happens, because those expectations have a bearing on our decision making process.  It also mean, however, that those expectations are not the only factor relevant in making decisions.  The moral value of our decisions and the difficulty in making those decisions also have a bearing on our decision making process.

Consider Lot: the very day that he is appointed as a judge in S'dom, two angels come to destroy the city.  Talk about bad timing, no?  No!  Lot, feeling very impressed with himself because he is a newcomer and has …

Thought for the Day: Exorcising Old Demons

I was riding my bike downtown yesterday and was about to go through a puddle in a part of the street I have ridden over literally 100s of times before.  Seeing the puddle triggered a nearly 50 year old memory my father driving home from my grandparents one Sunday afternoon.  There was a dip in the road and it had been raining, so the road was covered in an inch or so of water.  My Dad slowed down and I asked him why.  "You never know what's under a puddle of water.  It could be a few inches deep or a few feet deep."  That's the end of the memory and it all that happened in less than an instant, but I had a lump in my throat as I went through that puddle faster then I liked.  I am sure my Dad had no intention of making a life lesson out of slowing down, but apparently he did.  I was rattled that a very minor incident that happened nearly 50 years ago could still cause me anxiety.

Avraham Avinu was told to go from "your land, your birthplace, and your father'…

Thought for the Day: Kavana for R'fa'einu

The Rinas Chaim points out a difficulty in understanding the intent of the bracha of r'fa'einu.  Namely, since yisurim are m'chaper, why in the world would I pray for an end to them?  While I was going through chemotherapy I never once asked my doctor to stop treating me!  I suffered a lot during the treatments, but I knew they were curing me.  I paid out lots of money, in fact, for my doctor to continue torturing me.  So what really should be my intent during the bracha of r'fa'einu?

When a frum Jew is suffering, it is a chillul HaShem.  The world looks and says, "See!  Following the Torah does not improve one's life; it only brings suffering."  Of course we know that we have sinned and deserve in full measure each ounce of suffering.  But the world doesn't see our sins, they only see the suffering.  We pray, therefore, for an end to our suffering in order that we should not be the cause of any chillul HaShem.  We won't get our badly needed k…

Thought for the Day: Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck

When I was about eight years old an older kid offered me a shiny, new penny for my dingy, old quarter.  I demurred.  Even I knew that a quarter, no matter how dingy, was worth five candy bars; a penny, no matter how shiny, was only worth one gum ball.

I was thinking about the Hatzala volunteer (let's call him Yehuda) who found a large sum of unmarked cash (let's say it was $5000.00).  It was paskened that the money had been hefker and  it became the rightful property Yehuda.  Subsequently,Yehuda was called to help a heart attack victim (let's call him Shimon).  It became clear to Yehuda that Shimon was the rightful owner of that money, so Yehuda acted lifnim mi'shuras ha'din and returned the $5000 to Shimon.  Yehuda's reward for being a tzadik is paying $500 ma'aser on the original find; since al pi din it was his.  Is that fair?

Suppose Yehuda had not volunteered for Hatzala or had not been called to help Shimon, or had any way decided the money was his (w…

Thought for the Day: Ma'aseh Avos Siman l'Banim

It not often that a simple Jew like myself knows the m'chaber of a sefer.  Rarer still that I get the opportunity to quote from his sefer.  The following story (in outline form; come to vasikin to discuss the details with the Ohr HaYom himself -- after davening, of course) is brought in the Ohr HaYom b'shem R' Reisman b'shem R' Kanievsky:
A large sum of cash in an unmarked envelope was found and it was paskened that the finder could keep the money.  The finder, who is a hatzala volunteer, was called to help a man having an apparent heart attack.  While helping, it came out that the heart attack was really an anxiety attack because of losing a huge sum of cash in an unmarked envelope; he had just come back from America collecting to pay for his daughter's chasuna.  The sum mentioned was exactly what the hatzala volunteer had found, so he returned the money and all was well.
So far so good, but then R' Kanievsky paskened that the man still owed ma'aser on…

Thought for the Day: Real Wealth

Several years ago, while I was in the middle of chemotherapy, a m'shulach knocked at the door.  He was collecting for a two needs, one personal and one for a kollel.  I gave him what I could for each, he thanked me and was on his way.  Later that evening I developed a serious infection and needed to be rushed to the hospital.  As we were heading for the front door we heard a knock.  My wife opened the door only to find the same m'shulach having returned.  He was concerned that he had mixed up the checks and wanted to be sure that he didn't misappropriate the funds.  (We are not talking a lot of money; funds were tight.)  No m'shulach had ever done that before (or since); I was on my way to the hospital and decided that maybe I was lacking in z'chusim and needed one more mitzvah.  I wrote him another check (also not big), told him I couldn't shake his hand because of my condition.  He showered me with brachos for health.

Every year since then, that m'shulach…

Thought for the Day: Conquest of the Spiritual Over the Physical

We don't say tachanun between Yom Kippur and Sukkos.  The medrash gives a mashal for this: a king was coming to visit one of his lands because of some unsavory business that had been going on.  The people decided to change their ways and sent the head of state to greet, praise, and exalt the king while he was just starting his journey.  As the king got closer, the important officials go out to greet, praise, and exalt the king.  Finally, when the king gets to the border, the entire populace -- men, women, children -- all go out to greet, praise, and exalt the king.  The king announces, "Whatever happened, happened.  We'll start fresh today."   The medrash concludes that so is the situation for us.  On Rosh HaShanah only the most pious fast, during the next seven days individuals fast, on Yom Kippur the entire klal yisrael -- men, women, and children -- all fast.  HaShem says, "Whatever happened, happened.  We'll start counting from today."  Then HaShem …

Thought for the Day: HaShem Wants Talmidim, not Robotim

My daughter told me that my granddaughter had formed her first sentence yesterday, "No more cookies?"  I was very proud.  Then my daughter told me that, of course, little Avigayil then threw a temper tantrum.  Then I was proud and thrilled.  Not the normal thrill I get that comes from seeing my grandchildren give back to their parents what their parents gave to me.  (Ok; there was some of that also.)  This was the thrill of realizing that Avigayil really knows what she is saying, and the temper tantrum proved it.  If you break it down into steps, she must have formed a hypothesis that her mother was not going to give her more cookies, then checked her hypothesis against data (she asked her mother), then she responded appropriately.  That's really cool.  And that's bracha in its truest sense.

In this week's parsha, Avraham Avinu asks if Eliezer wouldn't be an appropriate heir.  Eliezer is called "damasek" because he would "doleh mei' toraso …

Thought for the Day: Epochs of Torah Leadership By S'farim

As is well known to anyone studying gemara, there are distinct epochs of Torah leadership.  My introduction to this idea was one shabbos after mincha in Dallas where I heard my first gemara shiur.  After about two minutes I turned to my friend Jacques and said, "What's a tanna?"

I've come a long way since then and have a pretty good picture of Torah leadership.  One thing that has always been striking to me is how sharp the boundary is between different epochs.  Klal Yisrael just seems to know when a new epoch is beginning.  Thinking about it recently, I noticed that at the boundary of each epoch there is a seminal (mostly halachic) work that summarized the current state of affairs.  That work does not become the final word on the topic, but it does become the basis for future commentary.  It seems to me the following are the relevant works:
Tanna'im end with the Mishna.Amora'im end with Gemara.Savora'im and ga'onim end with the Rif.Rishonim end with t…

Thought for the Day: How Rashi Knows and Why I Believe Him

The gemara brachos 28a, between two set of (in)famous "two dots" quotes part of the mishna that say one has all day to say musaf.  The gemara uses this as a way of breaking up the discussion into segments, though the quote from the mishna may or may not have much to do with the ensuing discussion.  The discussion begins, "R' Yochanon says he is called a poshei'a (wanton sinner)".  That statement is followed by a tanaitic dispute about which comes first when faced with the need to daven both mincha and musaf; here R' Yochanan poskins to daven mincha then musaf.  The gemara then goes on to a new topic.  One could be left wondering what in the world just happened.  We don't wonder, though, because we have Rashi, who first tells us that that R' Yochanon's statement about a wanton sinner is referring back to the snippet of mishna.  Rashi then explains why R' Yochanon puts mincha first: the person in this predicament is already a wanton sinner…