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Showing posts from July, 2012

Thought for the Day: Using Doubts to Advantage

Somehow it doesn't matter whether Shabbos starts at 4:15PM or 9:15PM... we are always running to make Shabbos on time.  Just to make things more interesting for us (apparently), HaShem created for us, "tosafos Shabbos" -- a little additional Shabbos.  Now as far as I am concerned, the more Shabbos the better.  The only problem is that we are also exhorted to work for six full days.  "Sheishes yamim ta'avod v'asisa kol m'lachtecha" - for six day you shall work to do all of your labor; "v'yom ha'sh'vi'i shabbos LaShem Elokecha" -- and the seventh day is a time of cessation [from your labor in order to concentrate on] HeShem your G-d. So here we are working for six days, then we need to stop a little early and accept Shabbos a bit early. Great; more Shabbos!

One question: what exactly is tosafos Shabbos?  Are we actually extending Shabbos into the week, or are we taking on the stringencies of Shabbos with the force of a neder …

Thought for the Day: Working on Z'rizus

There is a general principle when it comes to working on improving oneself: set attainable goals.  It is easy to give examples of what not to do.  Want to improve your davening?  If you are starting from losing concentration at "s'fasai", don't make a goal to say every word of sh'mone esrei with kavana.  Want to improve your kovei'a itim?  If you are barely able to stay on task when the rav says over a d'var halacha betwen mincha and ma'ariv, don't set a goal to sit down for an hour after davening to learn Choshem Mishpat.  That is all reasonably straightforward.  The correct approach, of course, is to choose small, attainable steps.  What those steps are depends and where you are starting and will change as you improve; just keep the steps small achievable.  Stretch goals may be what your supervisor wants at work, but they have no place in avodas HaShem.  In fact, the M'silas Y'sharim says that such a course is a recipe for disaster.

That…

Thought for the Day: When a Woman Should Daven Ma'ariv

Generally speaking, women do not daven ma'ariv.  Many women do, however, regularly daven mincha.  Halichos Shlomo (chapter 13, halacha 8) says that such a woman who misses a mincha because of circumstances (ie, not simply because she decided to forego mincha for no good reason) is obligated to daven ma'ariv that night in order to daven a tashlumin (make up) t'fila afterwards.  Understanding this p'sak will bring more clarity to the concept of conditional exemptions.

First, though, what's tashlumin?  The idea is that since t'fila is so very important, Chazal gave us a chance to make up for missed t'filos.  If a person misses a t'fila (ie, sh'mone esrei), he has an opportunity immediately after the next obligatory t'fila to daven a make up t'fila.  This can only be done at the next obligatory prayer service, not before and not later.  There are all sorts of cool halachos for tashlumin, but that is for another time.  For now, the important thin…

Thought for the Day: Allowed to Skip vs Exempt

In the old days, when newspapers were on paper and not feeds from web sites, they had a thing called "pictures".  Not images, jpegs, or gifs; pictures.  In the real old days (like 40 years ago or so), those pictures were black and white.  Even though one could see shades of gray, they were called "black and white".  That wasn't a mistake.  The pictures were actually composed of little black dots on a white background.  You could have every shade of gray from pure white to jet black just by making the dots denser (more per sq. in.) or less dense.

I have, on occasion (lots and lots of occasions) been accused of being "black and white"; and I don't mean when commenting on my taste in fashion.  My response is, "The Torah is black and white."; which is an explicit Chovos haL'vavos.  The Chovos haL'vavos notes that people misunderstand the term "divrei r'shus".  They think it means "optional" or "do what yo…

Thought for the Day: When To Ask Why in Gemara

One of the things I truly appreciated about physics is that it knew its boundaries.  "Physics answers how, not why", is a fundamental part of the catechism.  On the other hand, physics certainly does answer questions such as, "Why is the sky blue?"  That's because the question is not really a "why" question, it is a "how" question.  That is, one is really asking how it happens that the sky appears blue even though it is being bathed in (white) sunlight.  A "why" question would be, "Why do you want to know how the sky gets its blue color?"

Learning gemara is like that also.  There are questions  that one needs to ask just to get p'shat.  There are other questions that may be interesting, but they are tangential to the discussion at hand.  There are other questions that really have no place at all in learning.  Consider the following gemara:
R' Chanina bar Egil asked R' Chiya bar Abba why it doesn't say &quo…

Thought for the Day: Free Will is in Olam haY'tzira

Making a watch, from inception to production, is essentially four steps:
The thought to make the watch.Gathering the necessary raw material.Constructing the watch.Starting the watch running. Chazal describe a similar process for creation of the world, and each step is named according to its main activity.  We live in the "olam ha'asi'a"; the world of action/doing.  The step before that is "y'tzira"; formation of the world out of parts, ie, yeish mi'yeish (something from something).  Before that is creating the raw material itself; "b'ri'a", the world of yeish mi'ayin (something from nothing). That is where our Torah haK'dosha begins; b'reishis bara elokim....  The step before that, a step that has no word nor concepts for us to use is "atzilus" (noble/refined).  We refer to all four steps in kaddish "y'hei sh'mei... l'alam u'l'olmei almaiya" -- HaShem should be sanctified l'ala…

Thought for the Day: Learning on Tisha b'Av

One of the coolest things about the Chicago vasikin minyan is getting to hear two halachos from the Mishna Brura before or after (depending on time of year) davening from R' Dovid Cohen.  You may be thinking, "What's so cool about that?  I can read the Mishna Brura myself."  That, dear friend, is like saying, "Why should I go to a Yitchak Perlman concert?  I can get the same sheet music and hum it to myself."  More than that, you will get extras, such as quotes from Rebitzin Isserles, which are available exclusively at our vasikin minyan.

What prompted this particular exposition was finally hearing an accurate statement about learning on Tisha b'Av.  The oft quoted misstatement is that one is not allowed to learn on Tisha b'Av.  That is more than misleading; it is patently false.  One is always obligated to learn, just as one is always obligated to breath -- the Torah says "v'chai bahem", you shall live by them [divrei Torah].  So what…

Thought for the Day: Gemara, Halacha, Mussar

R' Dovid Siegel, shlita, once asked me if I really understood what the experience of olam haba is.  Not what it will feel like, just what it is.  (We always have light conversations like that.)  Having been learning for years by that point and feeling confident, I replied, "A person experiences himself, the being he built during his life in this world."  At that point R' Seigel started talking to himself, "I see where he got that idea, M'silas Y'sharim, Derech HaShem.  Maybe it's just the way he's expressing himself?  No; we are in beis medrash, that is certainly what he thinks."  I was wondering what mistake I had made and waiting for the rebbi to enlighten me.  He did.  "Not yourself; that would be intensely and profoundly lonely.  The experience of olam haba is feeling and enjoying the presence of HaKadosh Baruch Hu!"  I could have argued and said that's what I really meant, but what would be the point.  He was right; I had …

Thought for the Day: Oral and Written Law are Inextricably Linked

I think most people know the famous physics equation, E = mc2. Whether or not you know (or even care) what it means, it would not occur to any sane person to suggest meanings for the symbols.  You are never going to hear the following:
I am a fundamentalist scientist.  I believe only the literal writings of Newton and Einstein, the Written Physics.  I know those old orthodox physicists have their own Oral Physics that interprets the symbols a certain way,  and according to their interpretation that is an equation that relates energy, mass, and the speed of light.  But we are not tied to old, dogmatic beliefs; especially claimed "oral traditions".  We are modern and have our own interpretation: 'E' means enlightenment, the double lines means, of course, stay between the lines, and mc2 means riding motorcycles in tandem. That's obviously hogwash.  The same physicists who told you "E = mc2", also told you what it meant (or tried to; sigh...)  Even more pr…