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Showing posts from February, 2012

Thought for the Day: No Comfort in Gehinom

"Da plane!  Da plane!"  As my father, alav hashalom, told me when we watched "Laugh In" together almost 50 years ago: "If you don't get it, don't ask."  But for those of you whose memory is jogged by those words, and who see a beautiful tropical island paradise in their mind's eye, I have some disturbing news to share with you.  There was no island.  In fact, it wasn't even outside.  Everything took place on a sound stage with some footage of the outside edited in.  Nowadays it would have just been cgi; reality need not apply.  When a good friend and long time chavrusa visited the Fantasy Island sound stage, that's just what he found.  He never watched it again.

We have discussed one dimension of the Maharal's insight into the experience of gehinom; the intense and awesome loneliness.  A further dimension, mentioned in passing, is the utter lack of anything comforting; even pleasant memories. But why?  Surely there will be no more…

Thought for the Day: Gehinom is Profoundly Nothing

"Cool Hand Luke" (1967) has been deemed by the United States Library of Congress to be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".  You make take whatever lessons you like about how much time is wasted by United States Library of Congress watching movies.  For my purposes, though, I will just tell you that the movie is about a sociopath and the Florida prison warden who attempts to reform/break him.  (Plot spoiler: the warden fails to change Luke in any meaningful way, so he just has him shot.)  In any case, the two most insidious weapons in his arsenal are:
Solitary confinement (the "box")Doing and undoing meaningless tasks (dig a hole, immediately refill it, dig it again, etc) Whatever else may be said about the movie, no one disagrees that those are powerfully "motivating".

At the end of the first volume of Michtav mei'Eliyahu is a detailed article on the nature of gehinom.  (I was going to say "nice" or "beaut…

Thought for the Day: The Benefit of Fear

I am learning pirkei avos with my son l'zecher nishmas my father, Yaakov ben Yosef, alav hashalom (yes, my son is named for my father's father).  There is a special z'chus when a father learns with a son that they get siyata d'shmaya to arrive a true understanding.  The only downside of that is finding out I had wrong (well, at least not 100% accurate) p'shat all these years.  Oh well, not the first time, and I am confident (100% this time) that it won't be the last.

The incident that prompted this post as learning the mishna that is the basis for R' Noah Weinberg's "48 Ways to Wisdom" series.  The series is exceptional wherein R' Weinberg uses the topics of the mishna to explain how to live a healthy and productive life; it is not an explanation of the mishna.  That realization hit me as my son and I were learning the mishna.  The intent of the mishna, on the other hand, is to teach you the changes that are wrought in your very being by l…

Thought for the Day: Mitzvos By Decree, Mitvos By Deduction

There is a fundamental principle of monetary disputes known as "ha'motzi mei'chaveiro alav ha'raya" -- the one who claims he is owed money must prove his case.  For example, Reuven claims that Shimon borrowed $100 and he wants to be paid back.  Shimon agrees that he borrowed the money, but says he has already repaid the debt to Reuven.  The burden of proof will be on Reuven, since he is the motzi.  Shimon, being the chaveiro, can be passive.  In fact, even if Shimon readily admits that it is possible that he didn't pay (he keeps terrible records and its been awhile, for example) and Reuven (who uses Quicken) is certain he was never repaid, the burden of proof still rests completely on Reuven.

Chazal (Bava Kama, 46b) discuss how we know that principle.  You may not be shocked to know that it is a machlokes, but you may be surprised by the content of the machlokes.  R' Shmuel bar Nachmani says the source is a pasuk; its a g'zeiras a kasuv (written decre…

Thought for the Day: Standing Before the King

One of my pet peeves is people whining about things that they are already committed to do.  For example, I went to a chasuna last night and one guy in the car kept whining about how he didn't like going to chasunos because the music is too loud and there is a lot down time and its crowded and on and on.  For goodness sake, once you've weighed the pros and cons and decided on a course of action, then quit whining; you know?  So my wife finally said, "This chasuna is for good friends, you'll know a lot of people there that you like, you'll be sitting with our good friends from out of town that we don't get to see very often, and you have your pocket mishna brura for the down time."  She was, of course, right; so I stopped whining.  At least out loud.

As it turned out, I was very happy when I got to talk to a neighbor that I don't get to see very often.  He has a very cool job: he is a federal judge.  I realized that I had no clue what he really did and …

Thought for the Day: Valuation the Torah Way

I love paradoxes.  I have always found that to be the best way to really deepen one's understanding of any subject.  Maybe the word "subject" is too small when talking about understanding life, but its all we have.  The last two halachos in the third perek (hilchos tzitzis) in Halichos Shlomo seem to be at odds with each other.
An adult (gadol) may only lend his tallis to a child (koton), not give it to him.A tallis gadol may be used to make a tallis koton. Why might one do either one of those?  The easiest answer to that is when someone buys a new tallis gadol that is nicer than the one he has now.  A father with the minhag that k'tanim wear a tallis gadol for davening, or a kohein who's son is getting old  enough to duchan may want to give the old tallis gadol to his son.  Alternatively, he may want to cut it down a bit and use it to make a very nice tallis koton.  So what's the paradox?  It is explained in the D'var Halacha that the reason a gadol may n…

Thought for the Day; Dangers of Learning from Ma'aseh Rav

In 1966 a reasonably funny movie was created as the film debut of reasonably inappropriate (but very creative) comedian.  I say created, because he didn't actually film anything.  Instead, he bought a Japanese spy thriller, stripped off the soundtrack, and then wrote his own.  He had no idea what the original plot was and his story was simply written around watching the action on the screen.  Very cool idea, no?

Reading/quoting a "ma'aseh rav" (the actions of a gadol) without context is pretty much the same thing as writing your own soundtrack for a foreign movie.  While that may be a cool idea for a movie, it's a pretty rotten idea for learning how live your life.  I heard once about two talmidim arguing whether it was appropriate to read the newspaper on shabbos.  One said that he had seen the rosh yeshiva reading the newspaper, so obviously it was a good idea.  The other was surprised, so he went to ask the rosh yeshiva if it were true.  The rosh yeshiva respo…

Thought for the Day: Why We Believe and Observe Toras Moshe

R' Eliezer Aron, shlita, besides being a talmid chacham, has a very quick smile and is very gracious about listening to my chidushei torah.  I was very excited about the S'porno's explanation of what HaShem meant when He told Moshe that Klal Yisrael would believe in Toras Moshe forever (as discussed here) and so I made a bee line for R' Aron when I saw him.  Gracious as ever, R' Aron told me, "You must learn the Rambam, eighth perek of hilchos y'sodei hatorah.  You will not be sorry."  I did and I am not.  I figured you wouldn't mind hearing about it, either.

The Rambam there lays down a profound principle of our way of life and discusses a few of its implications.  The Rambam says that we do not believe in any prophet because of the miracles he performs nor the knowledge he possesses.  Those factors are completely irrelevant to belief.  So why do we believe in Toras Moshe?  Ma'amad Har Sinai, where we all experienced (for some brief moments) …

Thought for the Day: Getting Even the Torah Way

When I first started learning Hebrew, a very good friend of mine gave me his amazing Hebrew-English dictionary; thank you, Zvi!  Actually, Zvi gave me the whole three volume set -- two English-Hebrew volumes (still look brand new) and the one Hebrew-English (falling apart from use and re-use).  It is modern Hebrew, but I have rarely found that to be a issue.  To the contrary, since it is a scholarly work, it often gives several meanings to capture the right connotation.  One of the words that has an "interesting" definition is "ina" (aleph-nun-hei); it means to cause to happen or to cheat.  I normally wouldn't put those words together, but it is explained beautifully by the Tootsie Roll Pop (which, Chasdei HaShem ki lo samnu, are now kosher) company in the scholarly owl's response to the innocent child's question as to how many licks does it take to get to the tootsie roll center.  Quoth the owl, "Th'rrree".

L'havdil, elef havdalos, th…

Thought for the Day: Leaps of Faith, Great and Small

When Klal Yisrael was being prepared to receive the Torah, they unanimously told Moshe, "Everything that HaShem says, we will do."  HaShem then told Moshe, that He would appear to Klal Yisrael in such a manner that they would listen and also believe in Moshe forever. (Shmos 19:8,9)   Goodness gracious, shouldn't they believe in Moshe already?  We were all astounded that Moshe said "ka-chatzos" by makos b'choros because of those with little faith; is Klal Yisrael at such a low level?  And what's with "Everything HaShem says, we will do"; who else is there to obey?

The S'porno explains that Klal Yisrael certainly believed what Moshe was telling them.  Their concern was that they had never encountered a n'vu'ah like Moshe Rabeinu was claiming, where HaShem spoke to him "panim el panim".  They were certainly ready to sign up unconditionally for anything that HaShem wanted (all that HaShem says, we will do), but they were unwi…

Thought for the Day: Make Your Learning Real

Chances are you have learned or at least heard of a case from the talmud that just, well, seemed more than a little far-fetched.  My early morning chavrusa and I have been struggling through one of those for a few days now.  Yehuda's innocent ox gored Shimon's ox, which fell (before it died) into Levi's pit, where it finally died (Bava Kama, 53a).  That happens every day in downtown Chicago, right?  The main issue is that the owner of a pit pays full damages, whereas the owner of an innocent ox pays half damages.  In this case Yehuda and Levi were equal in there contribution to the death of Shimon's ox, but their individual obligations to pay are different.  The gemara tries different s'varas as to how much each should pay.

Along comes R' Nosson and says a new pshat that is (at first) difficult to understand, but the gemara goes with it and Tosofos works with it even more.  Why?  R' Nosson was a dayan (actually Av Beis Din) and therefore understood the dept…

Thought for the Day: How The Mitzvah of Chinuch Works

Halichos Shlomo, when discussing the topic of children making brachos on tzitzis that are smaller than the requisite shiur, takes up the topic of how the mitzvah of chinuch works in general.  The mitzvah of tzitzis is itself interesting, as the Torah allows us to wear kilayim (sha'atnez) due to the principle of "asei doche lo sa'ase" -- a positive commandment pushes off a negative commandment (some restrictions do apply, see Torah sh'ba'al peh for details).  Basically, since I am fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis with the self-same action as violating the issur of sha'atnez, I am good to go.  If there were no positive mitzvah, there would be nothing to push off the issur.  So, asks the Halichos Shlomo, how does the mitzvah d'rabanan of chinuch allow the child to transgress the specific Torah prohibition against wearing sha'atnez?  (The transgression itself, of course, is d'rabanan because he is a koton.)  We certainly wouldn't allow someon…

Thought for the Day: The Right Jew at the Right Time and Place

Two incidents, one happened two thousand years ago, one happened less than a century ago.  Find the common thread.

Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, z"tzl, was exiled to Siberia in 1929 C.E.  Pressure and politicking forced his release in 1931.  While waiting for his train, R' Abramsky saw one of the commanding officers from the labor camp walking around the station.  R' Abramsky tried to stay as hidden as possible, but shuddered as he watched the officer walk straight toward him.  "Let me see your ticket!", he was told.  R' Abramsky had no choice but to surrender his ticket.  "Just as I thought", said the officer as he pocketed the ticket.  Then he reached into a different pocket and handed the rav another ticket.  Seeing the look of confusion, the commanding officer explained, "I am a Jew.  My mother told me on her death bed that her only request was that if I ever had the chance to save the life of a Jew, I should do it.  They gave you a ticket for a…

Thought for the Day: Emulating HaShem

I was asked this past Shabbos how Devorah and Barak sang together, as the pasuk seems to indicate.  I (unfortunately and to my shame) do not know Navi very well.  I suggested (before investigating; again, to my shame) that Devorah and Barak were married.  The sho'eles pointed out that the pasuk says she was "אשׁﬨ לפידות" (eishes lapidos); who, then, is "Lapidos"?  At this point I brought out the trusty Art Scroll chumash and found that they translate "אשׁﬨ לפידות" as "a fiery woman".   "לפיד" is a torch, so translating this phrase as a the kind of person she was, similar to "אשׁﬨ חיל" ("eishes chayil" -- woman of valor") seemed appropriate; I felt vindicated.  I wanted to really nail this one (the less firm the stance, the more need to justify) and so that night I took out my trusty Ishei Tanach to prove that Devorah was married to Barak.  Sheesh... the things I do to keep my ego intact.

And that's when…

Thought for the Day: More on Offering Food to Non-Frum Jews

I was learning with one of my favorite chavrusos last night (ok... all my chavrusos are my favorite, each in his own way), and he related an interesting event that gave me some insight about why we are so quick to offer food to Jews who don't make brachos.

He is a ba'al tshuva and one of his first interactions with Orthodox Jews was to have a whiskey taken out of his hand and poured down the sink.  What happened?  He was becoming more involved with an Orthodox girl (whom he later married) and went to meet her family.  They offered him a l'chaim, to which he readily agreed.  (Besides being enough of a whiskey fan to have gone on a tour or bourbon distilleries, meeting the girl's family is always a good time for a drink!)   He had the shot poured and sitting in front of him.  Suddenly, someone exclaimed, "Wait!  That's the bottle from Aunt SuzyQ and she didn't sell it before pesach!"  The glass was snatched away and he looked on (more than a little nonp…

Thought for the Day: Ahavas Yisrael

I had a really interesting insight into the ma'amar Chazal "eizer k'negdo: zoche, eizer; eino zoche k'negdo" this morning on the ride in to work.  I also realized something beautiful about "yagati u'matzati".  But it has to wait.  I feel compelled to publicize footnote 80 to the second perek in Halichos Shlomo on T'fila.  I would advise anyone who has any contact whatsoever with Jews who are not frum to learn that footnote.  The halacha that references this footnote is that if one discovers that his head was not covered during davening, he need not repeat shmone esrei.  Ho hum, you say.  That's what I thought.  There are lots of goodies in those footnotes, but when I looked down and saw that footnote 80 took up an entire page and continued to the next, my inclination was to skip it.  Instead, I stayed later in bais medrash this morning to learn it and then review it; and now teach it.

The issue is what to do about offering food to a Jew who …