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Showing posts from April, 2012

Thought for the Day: Why Halacha Has "b'di'avad"

There was this Jew who knew every "b'di'avad" (aka, "Biddy Eved", the old spinster librarian) in the book.  When ever he was called on something, his reply was invariably, "biddy eved, it's fine".  When he finally left this world and was welcomed to Olam Haba, he was shown to a little, damp closet with a bare 40W bulb hanging from the ceiling.  He couldn't believe his eyes and said in astonishment, "This is Olam Haba!?!"  "Yes, Reb Biddy Eved,  for you this is Olam Haba."

b'di'avad gets used like that; f you don't feel like doing something the best way, do it the next (or less) best way.  But Chazal tell us that "kol ha'omer HaShem vatran, m'vater al chayav" -- anyone who thinks HaShem gives partial credit is fooling himself to death (free translation.  Ok, really, really free translation; but its still true).  HaShem created us and this entire reality for one and only one purpose: for use …

Thought for the Day: Toch K'dei Dibur

One the reasons I like gmail is that after sending an email, you have a few seconds to hit a "Cancel" button, which stops the sending process and lets you reconsider if you should really send that email or not.  I am looking forward to "Google Mouth"... I could really use a cancel button when talking...

For years I thought that halacha also had something like that also, known as "tok'd'dibur".  I didn't know Hebrew at all and was hearing a lot of new terms that people just threw around.  So I figured "tok'd'dibur" was just Hebrew for cancel, or reset, or whatever.  I knew it was 2 or 3 seconds, but was a bit in wonder that it was defined as the amount of time it takes to say "Shalom Aleichem, Rebbi" and some say "Shalom Aleichem, Rebbi u'Mori".  "Good greif!", I thought, "If it's two or three seconds, what difference does it make whether you say u'mori or not?"  Just another…

Thought for the Day: S'feik S'feika

Two wrongs do not make a right.  Three lefts, on the other hand, do make a right; and two Wrights make an airplane.  It also turns out that two doubts can make a bracha.

I really started this before "safeik brachos l'hakeil", but finally realized there was too much to cover in this venue.  The basic premise is that we are again dealing with the usual case of brachos that are d'rabanon and not shmone esrei.

A double doubt (s'feik s'feika) can act just like a certainty.  S'firas ha'omer, for example.  Suppose I can't remember if I counted yesterday.  If I am sure I didn't count, then I can no longer count with a bracha, though I still continue counting.  Now that I have a s'feik s'feika, I get to continue with a bracha.  The argument goes like this: First of all, maybe I really did count.  Secondly, even if I didn't count, maybe the halacha is like those who hold that the counting of each day is a mitzvah in and of itself (and not on…

Thought for the Day: Safeik Brachos l'Hakeil

The general rule is "safeik brachos l'hakeil" -- when in doubt, don't make the bracha.  This is, of course, a special case of "safeik d'rabanon l'hakeil".  There are two reasons this is only a general rule and not "the rule".  First, there are one and half brachos except birkas hamazon and probably birkas hatorah are d'rabanon .  Second, there is Shmone Esrei, which is certainly d'rabanon, but even so we are not meikel in many cases of doubt (such being unsure if you said "mashiv ha'ru'ach u'morid ha'geshem" for a few weeks after the switch).  For now we are going to focus on the general case.

It should first be noted that "safeik" does not mean I am not sure what to do, it means when all is said and learned there remains an open discussion of what is the correct answer.  That is, either there are poskim on both sides of the issue, or the gemara itself leaves open how to to act.  If t…

Thought for the Day: A Tzadik Pictures Who He Should Be

I would like to try an experiment.  It will only work if you are sitting in front of a computer reading email.  You are? Great!  Here it is: picture yourself sitting in front of a computer reading email.  The Spock (Mr., not Dr.) part of your brain is lifting its cerebral eye brow.  You don't have to picture yourself doing what you are doing; you are doing it!  Even more: you can't picture yourself doing what you are doing.  The "doing" itself is too palpable and "in your face".  You only need to picture things that you aren't doing... or can't do.

The fourth Mishna Brura (yes, siman aleph, siyef koton daled) defines what makes a person a tzadik.  A tzadik, paskens the Mishna Brura, is someone who pictures himself as if he is constantly in the presence of the King, the King of kings, whose glory fills the entire universe.  Wait... "pictures himself as if"?  Isn't a tzadik someone who actually feels HaShem's presence all the time?  …

Thought for the Day: Ger Tzedek Means Coming Home

I got to mincha about a minute early yesterday... not long enough to pick up a seifer.  Still... there I am waiting to start, so I picked up a seifer on the table in front of me.  "Kad haKemach" by Rabeinu Bachaya, newly reprinted with n'kudos.  Cool.  So I picked it up and randomly opened it; I had less than a minute, after all.  Turns out the seifer is in alef-bais order and I had opened to the middle of "os gimel", only to see a short paragraph with the heading "Ger".  I love random.  It was short, so I started reading.

A quote from Iyov (that I could more or less translate; nice to see I really am making progress in ivris)... the Torah warns about the treatment of geirim 36 times (interesting)... a Yisrael who travels from one city to another is called a "ger" (interesting; I never heard that before)... a ger is also someone from the "umos ha'olam" who goes through the geirus process and returns to the faith of Yisrael... a…

Thought for the Day: Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh La'Zeh

There is one siman of the Shulchan Aruch that I found particularly frustrating for years.  As difficult as it has been to learn Hebrew well enough to learn, Aramaic has been even more challenging.  ArtScroll and Mesivata help out, translating and (more importantly!) punctuating the text.  When it comes to Shulchan Aruch, though, there isn't much available.  That's what makes siman 484 so challenging; the entire siman (all one siyef of it) is in Aramaic.  The siman is about how to run several s'darim in different houses, one after the other.  The main difficulty is that you can't eat after the afikomen, so the siman is mostly about how and which mitzvos and brachos you can make for other both before and after you yourself have fulfilled your own obligation.  Not for the faint of heart.  My guess is the m'chaber reasoned that if you didn't know Aramaic well enough to understand the instructions; don't do this.

Once you get passed the frustration, however, thi…

Thought for the Day: Shomei'a k'Ona

I got a beautiful lesson in mesora on the eve of the first Pesach after my second daughter began walking.  We were about to begin b'dikas chameitz and here older sister began explaining the events of the evening -- the candle, the feather, looking for bit of bread.  Very cute and heartwarming.  Then I thought again and realized that my eldest (the expert) had only seen this ceremony twice before over a quarter of her life ago!  That gave me an inkling of the power of the "ceremonies" that Chazal have given us.

One the of (few though they may be) advantages of starting to learn about Judaism as an adult, on the other hand, is that you have words.  As you are learning how to function as a Jew, you are also learning a vocabulary to go with it.  Case in point: "shomei'a k'ona" -- hearing is like saying.  I know what the verb ayin-nun-hei means in modern hebrew (though it can also mean to testify; cf Inbal, "Modern Hebrew/English/American Dictionary&quo…