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Showing posts from January, 2012

Thought for the Day: Kirvas Elokim Li Tov

You don't tug on superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't tug the mask off that old Lone Ranger and you don't argue with a song.  The song says, "HaShem is here, HaShem is there; HaShem is truly everywhere.  Up, up.  Down, down.  Left, right, and all around; that's where He can be found."  Yet, Chazal tell us: "Seek HaShem when He is to be found - these are the days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim." (TB Rosh HaShanah 18a)  Meaning that HaShem is not so readily found the rest of the year.  So where is He?

The Mabit gives one answer.  He says that a person will be embarrassed to do certain things when other people are around.  That is, when they are close.  So too, says the Mabit, the closer a person is to HaShem, the more difficult it will be for him to sin.  Not that he doesn't feel like sinning; that would be not indication at all.  Its more like that feeling when the you look in the rear view mirror and see po…

Thought for the Day: Acceptance of Yisurim is M'chaper

I was a science major all the way through college.  I once decided to try something wild and crazy, so signed up for Psych 101.  I dropped the class after discovering that we had about 400 pages of reading to do each week and the tests would be on material from the reading even though they were not covered in lecture!  I did stay long enough to learn two things.  One was that not all differences make a difference.  For example, while it is true that black absorbs light better than brown, it is also true that brown shoes are not noticeable cooler than black shoes.  They therefore quantify the difference between two situation using a unit called "JND" (just noticeable difference).  Essentially, then, this course had a two JND effect on my life.

The second thing I learned is that when observing a situation, you have to be very careful to distinguish between correlation on the one hand, and cause-and-effect on the other hand.  For example, the density of bees in the courtyard a…

Thought for the Day: Bracha Before, Bracha After

You can't possibly be getting tired of bracos, can you?  I'm not...

Usually the bracha rishona and bracha acharona go together.  That is, ha'motzi at the beginning will mean birkas ha'mazon at the end; m'zonos => al hamichya; ha'adama or she'hakol => borei nefashos.  There are a few cases that are odd, so I thought it would be fun to go through some of those.  To appreciate why these cases are different, I would like to start by clarifying what we are doing when making a bracha acharona.  One could ask: Am I praising HaKadosh Baruch Hu for the food which He has provided to me, or  for the eating experience?  I propose that the bracha acharona is going on the eating experience and that's why the bracha acharona is not determined solely by bracha rishona.  It is only after all factors that contributed to the eating experience that we know with which bracha to finish.

Suppose you eat a few grapes (more than a k'zayis) and and apple.  Eaten separa…

Thought for the Day: How Ha'Motzi Works

In case this wasn't obvious till now, let me state explicitly: Don't bet your soul and what you read in a blog.  Case in point: I discussed the case of having a grape, kiwi, and strawberry for a snack and needing to decide which to bracha to make first and what to eat first.  Right after I sent it out, I realized I had made a mistake, so I sent out a correction.  I re-double checked this morning and discovered that I was wrong about being wrong.  (Note 18 to siman 211.)  I have fixed the blog and added some details.  I feel it is worth discussing these cases because brachos are complicated, but we tend to learn brachos early in our development as Jews.  It is therefore a good idea to review, especially fun cases like these.  See?  Its not that I don't like to have fun, its just that I have a different definition of "fun" than most people...

First, its a good idea to know why when you sit down to a snack without bread you make all sorts of brachos, but include bre…

Thought for the Day: Shiva Minim and Chaviv

When deciding which food to eat first, ie, which bracha comes first, chaviv (what I like) comes at the bottom of the list.  That is because posikim tell us the order of categories of brachos, and it is only when I have several foods in the same category that chaviv kicks in.  For example, I have an strawberry and a kiwi, whichever I generally like better will take precedence.  Shiva minim only comes into play when I have the same bracha (not category).  So if I have a strawberry and a grape, the strawberry comes first (for me); I like strawberries better than grapes and they are different brachos, so shiva minim doesn't come into play.  If I have a kiwi and a grape, however, the grape comes first because they are both "borei pri ha'eitz" and the grape is from the shiva minim.  Simple enough.

Suppose, now, that I have a strawberry, a grape, and a kiwi; and I want to eat all of them.  I like kiwi best, strawberry a close second, and grapes a distant third.  If I decide…

Thought for the Day: Why Getting Brachos Right is So Darn Important

Most brachos (all but one and a half of them) are d'rabanan.  The general rule is ספק דרבנן לקולא -- in case there is a question of how to proceed, choose the leniency.  For example, if you are not sure whether you ate enough cookies to warrant a bracha acharona, then you don't.  (Which is why, I am sure, people are so machmir to eat so many cookies; to save themselves from this sticky situation.)  Usually that would mean "you don't need to" with and implied "but you can if you want to".  However, saying a bracha that is not required may actually bring one to the serious issur d'oraisa of "sheim l'vatala" - taking the Name of the Lord in vain.  And that means that "safek brachos l'kula" is actually a chumra.  If you aren't sure if a bracha is required it is actually assur to utter it.

What gives?  Why is it such a serious offense to utter a bracha when none is required?  In fact, if I see a beautiful tree and want to …

Thought for the Day: Order of Brachos

I thought to title this "Brachos are So Cool!"; but I may want to write several TftDs on various aspects of making brachos.  So whenever you see a TfdD concerning brachos, please mentally append the subtitle: "Brachos are So Cool!"  (Hey... that makes this interactive; its the new iTfdD!)  Today's thought is brought to you by my excitement had having finally gotten clarity on the correct order in which to make brachos.  As they say, if at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try again.

The Mishna Brura at the end of siman 211 gives a summary of the order in which to make brachos.  Basically, the idea is that we want the utterance of our bracha to express the largest possible praise for HaKadosh Baruch Hu given the foods we are eating.  To achieve that, Chazal have given us an order of preference.  In broad strokes, the order of considerations is as follows.  The narrower that category of food to which the bracha sp…

Thought for the Day: P'shat, Sod, and All That

I occasionally get new ties from my son (hand me ups).  I one time came downstairs wearing one of the new (to me) ties and my son noted, "Wow!  You did a great job of picking a tie to match that suit!"  (I am not known for my fashion sense, so this was noteworthy.)  I looked down as the tie and said, "You mean it is possible for a tie not to match a suit?"  A bit crestfallen, but at the same time reassured that you really can rely on some things, my son just shook his head and walked away.  I am about to talk about shoulder straps, so I wanted to first put my fashion knowledge into perspective.

One of the talmidim of the Gr"a, R' Menachem Mendel, said about his rebbie that the Gr"a would not give p'shat in a pasuk in mishlei until he fully understood the sod.  The "pardeis" acronym for p'sukim is well known and usually described as follows.  Any verse in Torah can be explained in four levels: p'shat (simple meaning), remez (hint…

Thought for the Day: Charata and Azivas haCheit

I recently acquired a new sefer that is Beis Elokim (the Mabit) with Beis Moshe (notes and explanations by R' Moshe Roberts, shlita, of Telshe, Chicago).  Besides the fact it is nice to give parnassa to one of our local tzurba d'rabanan, it has also introduced me to the Mabit.  I am learning the second volume, on Tshuva.  I also have the first volume, which is on T'fila, I am starting with t'shuva.  Wish me luck.

The Mabit has a slightly different angle on t'shuva that I am finding very enlightening.  In particular, he explains why charata (regret for past misdeeds) and azivas ha'cheit (abandoning the sin) are the real back bone of t'shuva.  The other components are important -- even crucial -- but these two really define and shape the essence of t'shuva.  First the Mabit explains why we need both charata  and azivas ha'cheit.  If I simply feel really, really badly but don't abandon the sin, then it is like going to the mikveh with a dead rat in…

Thought for the Day: Signs and Wonders; What's the Difference?

Imagine you went to the president of the bank that holds the  mortgage on your house.  You just push past the secretary, walk into his office, pull out a sealed deck of cards, and say, "I am going to open this sealed box of cards in front of you.  You will pick a card -- any card -- and I will be able to tell you what card you picked.  Then you will forgive my mortgage or I'll levitate your secretary!"  How likely is that to work?

Yet that seems to be pretty much what is happening in the beginning of Sh'mos.  Moshe goes into Paroh, does some cool stuff, then Paroh's magicians mostly repeat them (but probably as sleight of hand tricks, suggests the Sporno).  Moreover, when HaShem instructed Moshe to command Paroh to release Klal Yisrael, HaShem also reminded Moshe that, "I will harden Paroh's mind and multiply My signs (ososai) and My wonders (mofsai) in the land of Egypt."  (Sh'mos 7:3)  If the point is to spring Klal Yisrael from Egyptian servi…

Thought for the Day: Thinking is the Best Stress Reliever

Moshe Rabeinu was sent on a mission from G-d to tell Klal Yisrael, after 210 years of galus in Mitrayim and over a century of back and spirit breaking labor, that HaShem was going to rescue them.  Klal Yisrael, however, couldn't hear it -- "mi'kotzer ru'ach u'mei'avoda kasha".  "avoda kasha" means hard work.  "kotzer ru'ach", according to Rashi means, literally, shortness of breath.  The Sporno and Ohr Chayim, however, understand "kotzer ru'ach" to mean that Klal Yisrael didn't contemplate what they were hearing, so it didn't go in.  The Ohr Chayim adds that perhaps they didn't think further into the matter is because they were not b'nei Torah, and "Torah expands one's mind".

How does Torah expand one's mind?  My chavrusa and I ran into a very simple example of that last night.  The gemara (Brachos 29a) first brings a statement from R' Tanchum in the name of Rav Assi: One who mist…

Thought for the Day: Praying for Miracles

This probably should have been said at Chanuka, but I didn't know it then.  Sometimes when I learn Mishna Brura, I look around the page to see if anything else looks interesting.  I ran across this interesting Sha'arei T'shuva regarding praying for miracles some time ago, and now I can finally writ it up.  That the up and down side of this venue... you get what you get.

Usually when an addition to birkas hamazon is omitted there is a simple rule: if the omission referred to the event that caused the meal, repeat; if not, don't repeat.  For example, one is obligated to eat two bread meals on Shabbos and Yom Tov, so if r'tzei or ya'aleh v'yavo is omitted at the conclusion of one of those meals, birkas hamazon needs to be repeated.  (After the fact, one has fulfilled his obligation for the third meal on Shabbos even without bread.)  On the other hand, omitting ya'aleh v'yavo on rosh chodesh would not require a repetition because one is not obligated to…

Thought for the Day: Taking Responsibility and Doing Tshuva

The Chidushei haLeiv (R' Henoch Leibowitz, z"tzal, on Chumash) brings a R' Bachaya at the being of parsha Sh'mos that makes the following observation: Anyone who denies he received a benefit from another person will come to deny he receives any benefit from HaShem.  The proof?  Paroh denied he received a benefit from Yosef, then later he denies knowing HaShem.

A fascinating aspect of this R' Bachaya, observes the Chidushei haLeiv, is that the benefit from Yosef haTzadik had occurred a long time earlier (perhaps a century or more).  Moreover, Paroh had originally stood up for the Jews when the Egyptian people came to him with complaints.  It was only after they actually rebelled, threw Paroh off the throne, and after working an additional three months in exile to get them to see reason, that he finally capitulated.  And yet the R' Bachaya sweeps that all away.  He denied the good from Yosef; that's why he denied HaShem.

R' Henoch learns from here that w…

Thought for the Day: Amein; Kein Ya'aseh HaShem!

I had in mind to write something else today, but I was learning an essential Ramban (ie, I know a beautiful pshat in this one) with chavrusa in Petach Tikvah over Skype.  As we got to the essential point, the Skype connection went wonky (that's South African for "the connection quality deteriorated to the point of unusablity") and we had to quit for this week.  As Robin would say: Holy Hashgacha Pratis, Batman;  HaShem must want me to make this today's blog entry.

The Ramban is on the incident of the angels visiting Avraham Avinu, telling him that Sara will have a son by the same time next year, Sara laughing, HaShem telling Avraham, and ends with Avraham giving mussar to Sara.  The Ramban starts by declaring his astonishment that this righteous prophetess (Sara Imeinu) could deny what was told to a prophet (Avraham Avinu) by HaShem (the One and Only).  Morever, why in the world would she not believe HaShem's angels??

The Ramban therefore concludes that we need t…

Thought for the Day: The Meaning of Life

The last mishna of the fourth perek of Avos ends with this very cheery thought. Don't think of the grave as sanctuary (from judgement), because the following is all by force:
Your Creation -- A malach came to you in the in the olam ha'neshamos and showed you the womb.  You went, "Eyew!  No way!".  The malach went "Way!", and shlepped you into the womb.
Being Born -- A malach came to tell you that it was time to leave the womb to enter the world.  You went, "Eyew!  No way!".  The malach went "Way!", and shlepped you out of the womb.
Living -- Every night your neshama goes back to shamayim to get refreshed.  In the morning a malach comes to tell you that is time to go back to all the shalom bayis, parnassa, gidel banim, etc issues. You go, "Eyew!  No way!".  The malach goes "Way!", and hauls you back.
Dying -- At the end of your life, a malach will come to tell you it is time to leave this world. You will go, "Eyew!  N…

Thought for the Day: Rethink Having Kavana for Davening

Today's thought is more of a PSA than anything else.  I start p'sukei d'zimra a few minutes earlier than the shaliach tzibur so I can say them at my own pace.  The Mishna Brura is quite insistent that p'sukei d'zimra be said intently and without rushing.  In fact, since p'sukei d'zimra is designed to hew a path through all the "klipos"  -- nasty spiritual parasites that drain t'filla of its efficacy -- I put as much as I can into p'sukei d'zimra.  My t'filos are weak enough without the help of all those parasites, thank you.  In any case, I start early enough that I generally have a minute or two between when I finish yishtabach and when the shaliach tzibur finishes.  I use that time to learn a chidush on t'fila.

This morning I saw in Halichos Shlomo that he is in doubt if someone whose davening (and k'ri'as sh'ma) consists of "his lips are moving and words tumbling out" is yotzei t'fila at all.  Moreo…

Thought for the Day: Halacha is Reasoning and Not Rules

A statistician went moose hunting.  He saw a moose, took aim, and fired, and there was a puff of dust  three feet to the right or the moose.  Realizing there was a wind, he corrected his aim, fired, and this time there was a puff of dust three feet to the left of the moose.  "Got it!", he exclaimed gleefully.

Well, no... he didn't get it.  Just because the average of +3 and -3 is 0, it doesn't mean that one bullet to the left and one to the right is the same as one bullet dead center.  Obvious, of course.  However, that broken reasoning is precisely what is behind statements like, "Men can be counted in a minyan, so women should be counted in a minyan."  Well, no... men can be counted in a minyan because men need a minyan to fulfill their obligation to daven in the best way.  Women don't need a minyan to pray, so they can't be counted in a minyan.  (Why do men need a minyan?  That's another question.)

This mistake can show up on more subtle ways…

Thought for the Day: Real Yiras Shamayim

Here is the scene.  You are in ancient Egypt and are part of the enslaved and demoralized Israelite nation.  Even so, you are fiercely proud of your heritage and feel betrayed by the very government your illustrious uncle had helped establish (really had single-handedly built).  Now Paroh calls you in and tells you to kill all Jewish baby boys as they are born.  What do you do?  What do you say?  Our first inclination is we hope that we would have the courage to stand up to Paroh and say, "That is an evil act and I will not do it!  I am a G-d fearing Jew and I will never buckle under!"

What really happened?  Paroh called in Shifra and Pu'ah demanding to know why they had not followed his orders to kill all the male Israelite babies.  In fact, according to the Sporno, Paroh also wanted to know why they had lead him to believe that they would follow his orders and then failed (what?!?  they let him believe they would follow his heinous orders??)  Their answer, inscribed sc…

Thought for the Day: Kina, Ta'ava, and Kavod; Not Good

רבי אליעזר הקפר אומר, הקנאה והתאווה והכבוד, מוציאין את האדם מן העולם. Jealosy, lust, and honor take a person out of the world. (Avos, 4:21) At first glance, this mishna seems so straightforward that there shouldn't even be a Rashi on it; what, after all, is not self-evident about this mishna.  In fact, it almost seems like I don't need this mishna at all.  On second look, however, one has to wonder.... Taking a person out out the world (in fact, both this world and the coming world) is very strong wording about three things that aren't even actually issurim!  There are lots of things that I would have said are worse.  Rashi actually deals with this mishna in three ways.

First, Rashi just deals with why these three stick out.  On kina (jealousy), we have a pasuk in Mishlei 14:30: "jealousy rots bones".  For ta'ava (lust), we have a pasuk from Koheles 5:9: one who loves money is never satisfied with money.  The problem being that the ta'ava can never be fu…

Thought for the Day: Limiting Pleasure in This World

When a second bottle of good wine is brought to the table, there is another bracha to make: haTov v'haMeitiv [Sh. Ar. OC 175].  The Mishna Brura gives two reasons.  First, to give thanks for the abundance of wines at his table.  (Wine is by nature chashuv; having more varieties of quality wines is something worth giving thanks to heaven, apparently.)  Second... hang on, this needs a new paragraph.

Ok (this is pretty much a direct quote): s'farim note the reason to use this particular wording (haTov v'haMeitiv) is because it is well known that a person must limit worldly pleasures and wine brings a person to rejoice and can bring him to light-headed/frivolous behavior.  Therefore the sages chose this particular bracha because everyone knows that it was added to birkas hamazon in commemoration of those murdered in Beitar and were finally allowed to be buried.  That, of course, will bring a person to think about his own day of death and so he won't drink too much.  Basica…

Thought for the Day: The Avos Kept the Entire Torah

There is a joke for parsha Chayei Sara: Rivka says to her parents, "I want to go with that man to marry Avraham's son."  "Rivky, sweety; you are only three years old!", said her aghast parents.  "I know," said Rivka, "but I am in the parsha." ba-dump-bump

The Maharal has explained how and why Shimon married Dina, while at the same time maintaining that the Avos kept the entire Torah.  That is, this is not a case of special circumstances requiring violation of the Torah.  Moreover, the Maharal absolutely rejects the Ramban's explanation that the Avos kept the Torah only in Eretz Yisrael.  (The Maharal is quite passionate about this point.)


The Maharal's point of view is as follows: How did Yaakov know that it is forbidden to marry two sisters?  He knew through ruach hakodesh.  How did Yaakov know he was supposed to marry Leah and Rochel?  He knew through ruach hakodesh.  This is absolutely not a  matter of Yaakov did whatever he wa…

Thought for the Day: Olam Chesed Yibaneh for Yaakov to Populate Klal Yisrael

We have discussed the Maharal's explanation of how Shimon could marry Dina.  One aspect of that explanation was that there simply was no one else to marry.  Just as Adam haRishon was the beginning of humanity -- ie, B'nei Adam, so too Yaakov was the beginning of klal yisrael -- ie, B'nei Yisrael.  Just as Adam haRishon's children married siblings by necessity, so to Yaakov's children married siblings by the same necessity.  At first glance, this seems to contradict the first explanation (that they were all geirim), because a ger can marry Jew he wants.  (I know, I know... "Jews" as a label really comes from Yehuda and after the destruction of the northern kingdom.  However, you all know what I mean and it is needlessly tedious to avoid the term.)  If, on the other hand, they married each other out of necessity and "olam chesed yibaneh" (at times forbidden relations are permitted for populating the world), then why do I need the geirus explana…

Thought for the Day: Geirus by Acceptance, Geirus by Revelation

The Marharal has proposed that one reason that Shimon was allowed to marry Dina is that they were both geirim, and "ger k'koton sh'nolad dami" -- a ger (vis a vis halachic relationships) is reborn as a new being and has no relatives.  Therefore, there was no issur for Shimon to marry Dina; or any of the other brothers to marry any of the twin sisters (according to one opinion), for that matter.  It also allows us to understand the Shvitei Kah could marry K'na'ani women (according to the other opinion), since everyone was a ger at that time.  The problem now is that Matan Torah, when we all went from bnei no'ach to klal yisrael, was a mass conversion.  One of the issues that lead to the Cheit haEigel was the newly forbidden relations; so there geirus severely limited the shiduch pool instead of expanding it.

The Maharal says the difference is that at Matan Torah, we had little Har Sinai (probably didn't look so all-fired little) held of our heads like …