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Showing posts from June, 2012

Thought for the Day: When In Doubt If You Made a Bracha Already

People think my wife is such a tzadeikes.  Their proof?  She has lived with me, a known difficult person, for going on 35 years (yes; she was a child bride).  I would just like to point out a couple of things.  First, she is naturally nice.  Yes, being nice to me is a stretch even for her, so that is amazing; but still, she has a natural inclination to be nice.  I, on the other hand, obviously have no such natural inclination, but I do an amazing thing for my wife every morning (during the summer, at least).  I go home for breakfast after davening and before leaving for work.  That means that I am giving her the opportunity to be nice to a difficult person.  Without me she wouldn't be able to exercise all that niceness in difficult circumstances.  Who's the tzadik now, eh?  I am glad we cleared that up.

So my wife was having a nice hearty breakfast of cereal, nuts, and yogurt.  Then she washed some blueberries.  Problem was, she couldn't remember if she had already made a …

Thought for the Day: Acknowledging Reality

Let's think about this.  There are over two million people -- men, women, children, and babies -- who are in the wilderness and there only source of water has suddenly dried up.  No water.  Lots of dust.  No water.  Babies crying for lack of milk, mothers crying because they can't produce milk.  Is it a shock when the people cry out, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt?  Just to bring us to this evil and uninhabitable place without even water to drink?!"

So Moshe is told to take the staff, assemble the people, go with his brother Aaron to speak to the rock in front of the entire assembly.  The rock will produce water, everyone will get what they need.  Shalom al yisrael.  Why all the fanfare and flourish?  Well... there is no spring here in the wilderness, so you obviously need a miracle to produce a fountain that can produce enough water for this mass of people.  You may as well get some bang for your buck and bring the folks back in line.

Except Moshe hit the rock i…

Thought for the Day: Z'rizim Makdimim l'Mitzvos

When of the best things about going to a chasuna (the only good thing?) is the opportunity to discuss sh'eilos with a talmid chacham.  One of the best things about discussing a sh'eila with a talmid chachim  is getting additional insights into how to even pose the question.  I asked R' Plotnik my question about a 12 year old boy finishing a meal right before sundown on his 13th birthday; would it be better to wait till he is 13 to bentch d'oraisa, or rather fulfill "z'rizim makdimim l'mitzvos" and bentch immediately?  First he told me, "Old, well known sh'eila."  Good, I thought, that means I am asking a reasonable question.  (The nice thing about being ignorant is getting to learn new stuff all the time!)  In the midst of the discussion he told me, "Of course, z'rizim has nothing to do with being fast; it means to do things best."  I would love to say that I immediately stopped to clarify, but I really just plowed on to sa…

Thought for the Day: Kavod Shamayim and Kavod HaBriyos

There are three entities for which we are are required to stand: a talmid chacham, a sefer torah, and a elderly person (even a goy).  An elderly person in this context means over 70.  (I know, I know... for a lot of us that doesn't sound so all fired elderly any more.)  The reasons are similar, but the differences come out in halacha.

There are basically two reasons to stand up when a person comes into one's presence: either to the honor the person or honor what he represents.  Obviously with an icon, one could only be honoring what that icon represents.  I say "obviously", but making a mistake in that area is the foundation of avoda zara.  I once heard a nice modern way to understand how that works.  If an ambassador from a powerful country comes for a visit by himself, then it is appropriate to show him all the honor befitting  the leader of a powerful nation.  If, on the other hand, the king comes with the ambassador, then that same honor should shown to the king …

Thought for the Day: G'milus Chasadim is D'Oraisa

I suppose this should be obvious.  After all, I say every morning that g'milus chasadim is among those things that on the one hand no matter how much you do the Torah would like you to try for more; while on the other hand no kindness is considered insignificant.  Moreover, I also daily declare each morning that the principle reward for g'milus chasadim remains intact for us when we arrive to olam haba, while we benefit from interest earned while still in this world.  With all that, I was still struck by two points that Mishna Brura makes about the importance of g'milus chasadim.

Siman 72 of the Shulchan Aruch, O. Ch. discusses the obligation to say k'ri'as sh'ma and daven when someone is involved in a funeral procession; be it carrying the coffin, comforting the mourners, or simply accompanying the deceased.  The p'sak of the Shulchan Aruch is that those who are accompanying the deceased are obligated in k'ri'as sh'ma and exempt from t'fila…

Thought for the Day: Lending Money to a Goy, Collecting from a Jew

Suppose you lend money to Bob.  After some time, Bob (perhaps because of his dealings with you) decides that the Torah is true and that he wants to join the club.  Bob become Reuvein.  Mazal Tov!  We now have an interesting situation.  The loan to Bob was interest bearing, of course, since loans to goyim must be interest bearing.  However, you are not allowed to collect interest from Reuvein.  In fact, Reuvein is also not allowed to pay you interest.  That's d'oraisa.  Big stuff.

This is not my crazy question.  For a long time it was my chavrusa's crazy question that I kept trotting out and trying to get some clarification whenever I found someone I thought might know.  I finally was told, "It'a gemara.  Bava Metzia 72a.  See the Rosh there; amazing!"  Again, it's not what you know, it's who you know.  Being persistent helps also.  (I get called other names besides "persistent"; but this is a family post.)  So not it is not my crazy question…

Thought for the Day: When the Obligating Event Occurs Before One is Obligated

The obligation to say birkas hamazon ("bentch") is based on the verse, "[when] you have eaten and been sated, you shall bless the Lord your G-d for the land and the food." (D'varim 8:10)  Chazal tell us that means that to be obligated on a d'oraisa level, one must eat enough bread to be sated.  In halacha, that means a k'beitza; approximately two middle slices from a one lb rye according to R' Fuerst.  It also must be eaten in a short enough period of time, k'dei achilas pras (around 8 - 11 minutes) to qualify as an "eating" event.  After eating, one must bentch before the food has been digested; approximately 72 minutes, give or take.

Now for the fun.  What if something happens between the eating and the bentching that changes the level of obligation?  Here are three examples where there is no d'oraisa obligation to bentch at the time of eating, but before the digestion has finished one becomes qualified to be able to bentch.
A 12 …

Thought for the Day: Ahavas Yisrael and Kirvas HaShem

Sefer Chafeitz Chaim prefaces hilchos lashon hara with a list of all the positive and negative commandments that are or could be transgressed by speaking lashon hara; collateral damage, as it were.  Negative commandments 8 and 9 (grouped in one section) is revenge and holding a grudge.  Holding a grudge he describes as "n'tira b'leiv" -- even feeling slighted (with no outward action) is considered a transgression of the issur d'oraisa of n'tira.  In the B'er Maiyim Chaim he justifies that concept based on the Sefer haChinuch, Rambam, and others.

Yikes.

Perhaps it is worth spending some time understanding how the Torah can assur even feeling slighted and wanting to get even without acting on those feelings at all.  The first thing of note is that the issur against holding a grudge is not where I expected it.  I expected to find it in parshas Mishpatim.  In reality, the issur is not even in sefer Shmos; it is in Vayikra in, of all places, K'doshim T'…

Thought for the Day: Taking Revenge and Holding Grudges

I was trying to think of a cute story to introduce the topic of n'kama (revenge) and n'tira (holding a grudge), but I really couldn't think of anything.  I finally realized there is just nothing cute or witty about n'kama and n'tira; there are just ugly.  They are also sweet like anything.

The gemara asks what is n'kama (revenge) and what is n'tira (bearing a grudge).  In essence, Asher asks Yehuda to borrow his hammer and Yehuda refuses.  Later, Yehuda wants to borrow a screwdriver.  If Asher refuses to lend his screwdriver to Yehuda, that's revenge.  If Asher tells Yehuda, "I shall lend you my screwdriver even though you didn't lend be your hammer."; that is bearing a grudge.  So I had understood "lo sikom v'lo sitor" (vayikra 19:18) to mean, "don't take revenge and don't even bear a grudge".

I was fine with that until I saw the following M'silas Y'sharim in the chapter on Details of Character Clea…

Thought for the Day: Belief/Faith/Trust

Yaakov was out hiking by himself and fell off a cliff; Baruch HaShem he was able to catch hold of a branch about six feet down.  There he is, in the middle of no where, hanging from a branch six feet from safety of the solid ground and feet dangling hundreds of feet above a rocky canyon.  Beautiful, but not recommended.  He started yelling for help, knowing the futility of his efforts.  Suddenly, the clouds parted and a beam of sunlight shone through, bathing him in a heavenly warmth.  "I will help", thundered a divine voice from above.  "HaShem!  Is that you?", cried the incredulous Yaakov.  "Yes; and I shall save you, Yaakov."  "Baruch HaShem!  Chasdei HaShem!"  "Just let go, Yaakov."  Yaakov, tears in his eyes, looking heavenward, choked out, "IS THERE ANYONE ELSE WHO CAN HELP?"

You may have heard the joke before, you have have even heard it from me.  But nothing ruins a good joke more than analyzing it.  And nothing gives…

Thought for the Day: Winning the Milchemta Shel Torah

You know the type.  We stay on opposite sides of the beis medrash.  By shita we don't talk to each other; barely a nod in the morning when we first get there, but we don't even look in each other's direction after that.  I have been davening in the morning at Brisk Yeshiva for nearly 18 years and we have pretty much always got along like that.  After davening, though, we fight; milchemta shel torah.  That is why we are such close friend; Baruch HaShem.

This morning I ran over after davening, gleefully proclaiming, "I win!"  I had just found a Mishna Brura that supported my position on a question we had a few weeks ago.  Of course, not being a mind reader and having a very full life, my friend had no clue what I was talking about.  I am working on my arrogance, but it still surprises me when people don't remember the details of all our conversations and open questions.  Oh well... good for my humility.  For the sake of clarity, I'll relay the context.

The…

Thought for the Day: Commemorating Churban Beis HaMikdah at Every Meal

We all joyously sing "Shir haMa'alos" before bentching on Shabbos and Yom Tov.  The truth is, however, that you will not find this brought in hilchos bentching.  Instead, you will find it right near the beginning of the Mishna Brura, Siman 1, Syef 3, s.k. 11.  There the Mishna Brura is commenting on the halacha that every y'rei shamayim should be distressed and worried about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.  The Mishna Brura brings the Sh'lah, who says it is appropriate to say "Al Naharos Bavel" before bentching, except on Shabbos and other days that one does not say tachanun, when he should instead say "Shir HaMa'alos".  Doesn't really fit the general tune and mood, does it?

In any case, it is interesting that in many homes, Shir HaMa'alos is practically part of the nusach of bentching, but Al Naharos Bavel is all but forgotten.  I called R' Fuerst, sh'lita, about it once.  I was expecting him to say that it is not t…

Thought for the Day: Adherence to Torah Demands an Open Mind

There is a famous (among math and science grad students) anecdote about the mathematician, Pierre-Simon Laplace.  Laplace was once lecturing and stated that some point was obvious.  One the of students raised a question on the point because he didn't see it as an obvious conclusion at all.  Laplace, so goes the story, went to the side of the room and worked for fifteen minutes filling and erasing the blackboard.  He finally finished and turned back to the class, "Yes; it is obvious."

That's what a scientist means when he says something is obvious: it is directly provable from the data.  It may not be a one or two step process, but the conclusion is inescapable.  That's called having an open mind.  The polar opposite of that attitude is, of course, "nya, nya, nya, nya, nya-yah; I can't hear you".  Or, more poetically, "we hold these truths to be self-evident".  Once something has been elevated to the status of "self-evident", the …

Thought for the Day: Striving to Be Whole

G-d was talking with Eve one day in the Garden of Eden.  "I'm lonely.", she said.  "Well... I have an idea for a companion for you; a man."  "What's a man?", Eve asked.  "Well... he's a little bigger and stronger than you, so perfect for hunting up food and building you a place to live.  He's not so bright, so he he won't give you any real problems.  Mostly he's just a big baby, but he will take care of your creature comforts."  "That's sounds great!  Thank you!"  "Oh," said G-d, "one more little thing.  To get him to work he needs a pretty big ego.  We will need to let him think he was created first."

What's wrong with that picture?  Besides the obvious, I mean.  The real problem is that it completely misses an essential detail in the creation of the human being.  To whit, neither man nor woman came first.  Chava didn't come from Adam; both Adam and Chava came from the first (and…

Thought for the Day: Mikvah and Kedushas Yisrael

I have heard two egregious misrepresentations of the role of the mikvah in Jewish life.
Orthodox Jews think that women need a "cleansing" after menstruation; which is a completely natural part of a woman's life.Non-torah based religions that have the word "jewish" in their title laud it as a woman's mitzvah, and therefore worthy of incorporating into their practice. Actually.... a resounding "no" on both counts.  I know; you're shocked that the surrounding foreign culture got something wrong about HaShem's Torah.  You shouldn't be.  After all, a culture that pays big bucks to watch people pretending to be someone who never existed doing things that never happened is bound to get a few things wrong about reality.

First, going to mikvah has nothing to do with cleansing.  Dirt, in fact, could pose an interposition; cleanliness is an absolute prerequisite to mikvah use.  The preparation takes on the order of an hour or more for someone who …

Thought for the Day: Jews From All Backgrounds

My family and I started our journey to Orthodoxy at Ohev Shalom, in Dallas.  The mission statement was and is, "Where Jews Of All Backgrounds Feel At Home".  It is a beautiful idea and implemented with sensitivity and good ol' southern hospitality.  I was reminded of that last week when a coworker came over to me with a big smile and asked if I knew any Jews because he had a question.

The question was, "What is that little box I see on the doorposts of Jewish homes?"  My answer was, of course, that there is a commandment in the Torah to affix a document of faith on our doorposts.  The document is a piece of parchment on which is written a selection from the Torah.  The document in its box is called a mezuzah, because mezuzah is the hebrew word for doorpost.  I continued that we actually put them on all our doorposts, not just the front door.

I saw a look of surprise on his face and realized the Jewish friends he has are very likely not Orthodox.  I quickly adde…