Skip to main content

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 things quite wrong.  Baruch HaShem for the mid-course correction.

So how do you get there?  How do you turn yourself from an olam haze being into an olam haba being?  One answer: live the mitzvos.  Not do the mitzvos, live the mitzvos.   To do that you need halacha to know what to do and mussar to keep reminding yourself how important this all is and the dangers of shirking your obligations.  Then there's gemara.  Let's take a look.

Open up to the first page of the gemara, "From when can you say the evening sh'ma?".  Reasonable question.  The answer ought to be equally reasonable and straightforward; right?  What ensues, however, is something about the kohanim eating t'ruma (wait, who said anything about t'ruma?  And what is t'ruma, anyway?) and the watch of the angels.  Then we have a story about getting back late from a wedding. (Is Rabban Gamliel always up past midnight and ready to launch into a halacha/mussar shi'ur?)  Then we have burning of fats and guts, something about when you can eat korbanos,  What's going on here?  Fortunately, the gemara asks exactly that question, "Who said there is even an obligation to say k'ri'as sh'ma, let alone when to say it?"  Now we're getting somewhere.  "And, besides," says the gemara, "why start with the night time k'ri'as sh'ma?  Why didn't we start with the morning?"  Answer: when describing the creation of the world, HaShem put evening before morning, as in: "There was evening and there was morning; day one."  Wow... that certainly clears things up.

What's going on is that our minds are set solidly in olam haze mode.  Halacha and mussar can mold us, but only if we are malleable.  Gemara takes are stiff minds and shakes things up.  There is no way to learn through even a line or two of gemara without coming out dazed.  So the gemara loosens us up, the halacha brings us into line, and mussar keeps us going.  Go team!


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…