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Showing posts from March, 2012

Thought for the Day: Why Hearing Divrei Torah Requires Birkas haTorah

I needed to know to whom the Shita Mekubetzis is referring when he says "rabeinu", so I asked a long time chaver from the vasikin minyan (and before).  I gave him the reference (source for my post regarding "Tzadik Gozer v'HaShem M'Kayem") and he got back to me later that day.  So far not unusual, because he is amazing about things like that.  (The Shita Mekubetzis means the Radbaz, by the way.)  He also commented that it was a fascinating p'shat, so I forwarded him what I had written.  That is unusual, because I usually consider a source and not a consumer for my thoughts.  In any case, he commented back, "I hadn't thought about it that way, so wondered both why you were seeing it that why and also why I hadn't thought about it that way."

Before discussing the "it" we were discussing, I just want to note that conversations like this are precisely why I started writing these TftD emails.  These emails are certainly not polish…

Thought for the Day: Tzadik Gozer v'HaShem M'Kayem

I have had the amazing opportunity over the years to drive a certain talmud chacham from Eretz Yisrael to his various appointments when he is here in Chicago visiting.  Once while waiting at a red signal that seemed to be taking way too long, I muttered: "Nu!"  As if on cue the light immediately changed to green.  The Rav smiled and said, "Tzakik gozer and HaShem m'kayem!"  I demurred (but still felt the glow of having been called a tzadik by that honest tzadik).

The truth is, though, there is (according to the Shita M'kubetzes) an explicit gemara that shows how far the g'zeira of a tzadik can go.  The gemara (Bava Kama 50a) relates that the daughter of N'chunia the well digger (N'chunia used to dig wells and watering holes for those on their way to Yerushalayim three times a year) fell into a larger cistern.  Everyone came running to tell R' Chanina ben Dosa to get counsel on how to save her.  R' Chanina ben Dosa told them not to worry.…

Thought for the Day: Learning from One Scenario to Another

So... we had a question about whether a vessel is considered broken from the time it is launched toward certain doom or only after impact.  Case in point was Mrs. O'Learystein's cow kicking Yehuda's crystal ice bucket from the public thoroughfare into Yehuda's living room and smashing against the wall.  The gemara wants to learn what to do from the case of  Reuvein knocking his vase off the roof and Shimon smashing it with a bat before it hits the ground.  Since we know the halacha in the latter case (Shimon is patur), the gemara asserts that the underlying reason must be that the vessel was considered broken from the time it was knocked over.  The gemara then applies that reason to the the case of the cow kicking the bucket and concludes that Mrs O'Learystein does not need to reimburse Yehuda because the damage halachically occured int the public thoroughfare.

Proofs like these are tricky.  It is true that the proposed reason explains the halacha, but there could …

Thought for the Day: Destined to Break is Broken

First there was Star Wars, then The Empire Strikes Back, finally Return of the Jedi.  Well... not quite "finally", as we were treated to a new term: prequel.  Prequels allowed Hollywood to test an idea with a splashy and exciting story; a story that was full of holes.  Then, if the movie was successful, they could back fill the holes and milk their cash cow dry.

I have no cash cow (and very little cash of any sort), but I realize after looking back at my attempt to explain how "ha'motzi mei'chaveiro, alav haraya" works, that I need some prequels.  By using prequels I also can cover my lack of organization and clarity under the guise of building excitement and interest.

The first item of business is built on a particular category of damage that an animal can cause and the obligation his owner has to make restitution.  If an animal is walking in a public thoroughfare and steps on a vase, the animal's owner has no obligation to pay for the vase.  Both the …

Thought for the Day: Some Things That Trump T'filla b'Tzibur

Praying with a minyan is certainly among one of the most important things we do.  On the one hand there is the very lofty and philosophical idea that t'filla b'tzibur somehow makes each individual's t'filla more appeasing to HaShem; He evaluates, so to speak, each t'filla in the merits of the tzibur rather than the merits of the petitioner.  On a more mundane and practical level, it is much easier to motivate yourself to daven properly (or at all...) as a group instead of at home alone (especially late at night).  However, it is not the only thing.  Here is a list of a few things that take precedence; just to give some perspective.

My favorite: davening regularly k'vasikin.  It is better to daven b'yichidus k'vasikin rather than with a minyan and not at vasikin.  The term "regularly" is very flexible.  Besides the daily drill, davening k'vasikin every shabbos, every rosh chodesh, during the winter (or summer), etc, are all called "reg…

Thought for the Day: Mishna Brura and Biur Halacha

While researching when to make a siyum to commemorate the the first yahrtzeit for my brother-in-law, alav hashalom, I ran into one of those contradictions between the Mishna Brura and the Biur Halacha.  Those are always interesting because the Mishna Brura and the Biur Halacha have a single author, were written at the same time, and exist together in one sefer.  I figured this is as good a time as any to explain my understanding of how the various sections of the Mishna Brura fit together.  NB: These are my observations; your mileage may vary.

The Mishna Brura has a very interesting format.  Shulchan Aruch on top, followed by B'er Heitev and Sha'arei T'shuva, then followed by the Mishna Brura proper side by side with Biur Halacha, finally finished at the bottom with the Sha'ar haTzion.  The roles of the top and bottom sections are clear; Shulchan Aruch on top, sources for Mishna Brura and Biur Halacha at the bottom.  Note, however, its worth taking a look once in a whi…

Thought for the Day: Understanding How "ha'motzi mei'chaveiro, alav haraya" Works

Since I brought up the topic of "ha'motzi mei'chaveiro, alav haraya" (it is the claimant's responsibility to bring proof), I thought it might be fun to spend some time on it.  There is a discussion among our sages for the source of this concept.  R' Shimon bar Nachmani says it is a "g'zeiras hakasuv" (divine decree).  No logic to it, just the way it is.  Not that it is illogical, mind you; just that logic isn't relevant.  The earth goes around the sun once every 365¼ days (approximately); atoms are comprised of protons, neutrons, and electrons.  Neither logical nor illogical, just is. I can handle that.

Rav Ashi disagrees and says: Why do I need a pasuk?  It's logical; a person who is in pain goes to a doctor.  This Rav Ashi bothered me for weeks.  I couldn't quite put by finger on it, but something about the tzu shtel just bothered me.  Somehow having playing a tug of war with someone who has my stuff doesn't seem the same as ha…

Thought for the Day: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

I have a pair of walking shoes that I really like.  When they wear out, I go to the website and order the same style, color, and size.  They are comfortable, durable, and look nice; hence well worth the money.  I mentioned that to an (ex)boss; he commented, "You don't like change, do you?"  He was a goy and so I just agreed; to which he nodded with a sagacious and knowing smirk.

The truth is, actually, that I don't like change for the sake of change.  If something in my life needs a change, I change.  If not, I don't.  (As it turns out, a lot of things have needed to change; but that's another story.)  I chalk this up to my inherent laziness.  Serendipitously, though, the Torah also doesn't like change for no reason.  "Go with your strengths", as they say.  So with just a little kavana I turn my natural laziness into avodas HaShem.  Woo-hoo!

Where do we see that the Torah prefers consistency and for what reason?   Rava tells us (Shabbos 31a) the…

Thought for the Day: How Great is Olam haBa!

We've been talking a lot about gehinom.  Obviously learning to appreciate the extremely unpleasant nature of gehinom it is a seriously motivating factor for avoidance.  Many of the anti-drug and anti-smoking ad campaigns rely on that.  The ad that sticks in my mind is the frying pan of hot, sizzling butter, "This is drugs."  Then an egg is cracked into the pan and while watching the egg cook (its edges turning brown) and hearing the sizzling, the voice over says, "This is your brain on drugs.  Any questions?"  No, sir; no questions.

But there is also a very positive message.  One of my favorite Rashi's on Chumash (doesn't everyone have a top ten list for Rashi?) is at the end of parshas Vayikra (Vayikra 5:17).
R' Yosi says if your soul yearns to know the gift with which the righteous are rewarded, go out and learn from Adam haRishon... So far, so good.  Probably going to describe how amazing gan eden was, right?  Something about the beautiful climat…

Thought for the Day: The Importance of Chazara

It was one Purim day 1996 sometime in the afternoon that I received a phone call from the specialist at University of Indiana to tell me that my cancer was cured.  Since that year, we have noted at the Purim s'uda that this is also a s'udas hoda'ah for me.  Even though "ein m'arvin simcha b'simacha" (we don't combine different simcha celebrations into one), yeish marbe hoda'a al hoda'a -- there is nothing wrong with finding additional reasons to acknowledge and appreciate our Creator.  In fact, I am probably the only recipient ever of the "Most Not Dead Award"; presented to me in 2002 by my wife and children.

The last few years we have made two s'udos -- a small one in the morning after k'rias megilla and another later in the afternoon with a larger group.  It is the morning s'uda that doubles as the s'udas hoda'ah.  Our custom is to learn over the last halacha in Mishna Brura, where this idea is discussed.  It it…

Thought for the Day: Olam Haba Hashkafa

I was overweight/husky/fat growing up.  In my 20s I finally got onto a diet and lost a lot of pounds.  More or less those pounds have stayed off, but there have been ups and downs.  Its hard to stay on a diet; it requires changes to eating habits and self-imposed restrictions.  In the end, though, I felt much better once I lost the weight.  I am now 35 pounds lighter then when I got married and feel pretty good.

There was another time I lost 35 pounds.  I wasn't overweight; I had cancer.  Chemotherapy was a forced weight loss program.  It wasn't hard -- no will power required at all.  At the end I felt wrung out; to say the least.

R' Dessler notes that there are three rectifications that the process of dying produces.  First, there is the realization that desires for physical things can never be fulfilled.  Once a person has left this world, the longing for physical pleasures -- which no longer exist -- must be eradicated.  The decomposition of the body in the grave accomp…

Thought for the Day: A Source for Halacha, A Source for Agada

שיר השירים פרק ב:ה סַמְּכוּנִי בָּאֲשִׁישׁוֹת -- רַפְּדוּנִי בַּתַּפּוּחִים: Literally: "Sustain me with flagons of wine, provide me a couch of apples" The medrash says, "flagons of wine" refers to halachic authorities; "apples" refers to agadic authorities.  R' Shlomo Zalman Auerback, z"tzl, explains that the medrash was precise in it's choice of these associations.

Fine wines improve with age, so to halachic authorities.  Chazal refer to young rabbis as "tzurba d'rabanan", referring to their tendency to be rough around the edges.  It takes time and experience to come to a proper conclusion.  While halacha itself is pretty cut and dried for simple cases, any real case has a multitude of mitigating factors.  For example, I have a friend who became a ba'alas tshuva in her 50s.  She had a minor stroke and for a few years was unsteady on her feet, so she used a cane outside.  She asked her rav if she could use the cane on …