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Showing posts from September, 2012

Thought for the Day: Enjoying Life

When asked why HaShem created people, you get the strangest answers; all wrong.  The top two are: "To serve Him" and "To do Torah and mitzvos."  Puh-leeze.  First of all, HaShem doesn't need any servants.  After all, if there is a dirty dish in the sink, He must have created it, so I guess He wants it there.  Generally speaking its best not mess with  something complicated if you don't know what you are doing.  The whole of creation is pretty complicated, so my advice is to leave running it to the experts... er, Expert, in this case.  As far as Torah and mitzvos; those were created for you, not the other way around.

So why did HaShem create you?  To have fun; lots and lots of fun.  That's not my opinion, that's the second sentence in the first chapter of M'silas Yesharim:
Our Sages of blessed memory have taught us that man was created for no purpose other than rejoicing in HaShem and deriving pleasure from the splendor of His Presence; for this…

Thought for the Day: How Yom Kippur Can Work

At the s'udas mafsekes this year, my wife and I were having an appropriately light conversation in preparation for the day.  I was saying that I had just learned (michtav mei'eliahu, end of first volume), that really every moment of every life is necessary for HaShem's plan to reveal all dimensions of Kavod Shamayim.  Therefore, I continued, every moment of sinning is destroying worlds that need to be rebuild.  So how does Yom Kippur work?  Imagine Hitler, yimach sh'mo v'zicrhono, coming to a beis din and -- with full sincerity -- saying, "Ashamni, Bagadni, Gazalni, .."  How big and impression is that going to make?  Yet we are doing the same thing, aren't we?  (There are those who say, and I am among them, that living with me is more than sufficient kapara for anyone.  My wife, she should be strong and healthy for many years, has been living with my for a very long time... you can't even begin to imagine what a tzadeikes she is/must be.)

That'…

Thought for the Day: The Benefit of Yisurim After T'shuva

Nothing stands in the way of t'shuva; nothing.  (Well except my own obstinacy...)  T'shuva can turn intentional sins into accidental sins or even into merits.  What does that mean?  Is this some kind of game?  Also, most sins need y'surim (suffering) to finish the job that t'shuva started.  Isn't that backwards?  Shouldn't the y'surim come if I don't do t'shuva in order to provide "encouragement"?

Sinning is fun.  It has to be, otherwise there would have been no reason for it's creation.  "Calculate the benefit of a sin versus it's loss" (Avos 2:1).  Sin has to bring some benefit (fun) in order for us to get the reward of choosing to not sin.  Even when I have done t'shuva on the sin, there is still the problem of the fun I had.  Depending on the type of sin, there could be a significant impact left on my neshama.  The process of cleansing my neshama is experienced as y'surim.

The Mabit says that we experience pl…

Thought for the Day: Modest/Unassuming E-Behavior

I have probably written a couple of dozen of fewer letters in my life.  Many were written on the paper with alternating solid and dotted lines as guides for capital and small letter size.  The problem with writing a letter is that is takes time and thought (both of which seem to be at a premium).  On the other hand, I have written thousands of emails.  It is easy to write, easier to forward, and takes almost no effort to send a response.  As a consequence, it doesn't take much thought, either.  Even better/worse, whereas making a CC used to require a pulling out actually carbon paper, it now requires simply adding an address... or just pressing "Reply All" instead of "Reply".

Yes; I have a point.  I recently witnessed a distressing interchange on a moderated email group.   A told B that he should join the group, which is moderated by C.  In case you don't know, a moderated group means that membership needs approval by the moderator.  B was denied membership…

Thought for the Day: Making a Rational Choice to Embrace Orthodox Judaism

I once had a very enlightening conversation with a self-proclaimed atheist.  We were discussing "Pascal's Wager"; a straightforward cost/benefit analysis.  Pascal argued that belief in G-d (and following His directives) was logical from a simple cost/benefit analysis.  If the atheist is correct, then he will end up with a finite gain (the pleasure that the theist eschewed), and the theist will end up with a finite loss (all that crab).  If the theist, on the other hand, is correct, then he ends up with an infinite reward and the atheist is doomed to nothingness (or worse) for all eternity.  Since one cannot know until the game (ie, life) is over which path is correct, any reasonable person will choose to be a theist.  Straightforward, no?  (There is lots of discussion and analysis, but it boils down to this.)

The enlightening part of the conversation for me was the atheist's argument.  "Well, you see, that's nonsense.  If I chose to believe just…

Thought for the Day: Welcoming HaShem; Avinu and Malkeinu

It's funny what triggers memories.  I was riding home the other through Lincoln Square.  That area reminds me of the main street in the little town where my grandparents lived, and the weather was like the summer days when I would visit them.  I had a very close relationship with my grandfather.  He was a professor of electrical engineering at a state college.  Grandpa was brilliant, an excellent teacher, and loved by everyone.  My role model in almost every way.  He worked to create a program that allowed me to talk college classes while still in high school.  I also lived with them for my first year "away from home" when I started college.  A lot of who I am and what I have accomplished in life is directly attributable to the efforts my grandfather made on my behalf.

What I remember most vividly, however, is just wantintg to spend as much time as possible with Grandpa.  I would go with him the bank, to pay utility bills (when it cost less to drive than the cost of a st…

Thought for the Day: Increasing Kavod Shabbos

Most people have tried this science experiment at one point in their lives.  If you haven't, try it now.  Take three glasses.  In one put ice water, in the next room temperature water, and in the third hot water.  Arrange them from right to left (we are orthodox, after all): cold, temperate, hot.  Put your right forefinger into the cold water and your left forefinger into the hot water.  Wait a few moments.  (dute, dute, dute, dute, dute, dute, dute, dute, dute...

Is the water in the middle glass cold or hot?  Objectively, of course, it has one temperature,  The experience of temperature, however, is more than simply the objective measurement; it is also dependent on the preparation of the observer.  That itself is worth contemplating.  If the experience of temperature, an easily measured physical phenomenon, depends so much on your preparation; then how much more so the experience of social situations.  When you walk into any situation, your reactions -- joy, anger, frustration,…

Thought for the Day: The Danger of Extrapolation in Halacha

The gemara is replete with discussions of the form, "Why are these amorai'im arguing that point?  That point is a know tana'itic dispute!"  The resolution is always to show that the amorai'im are discussing a different point than the tana'im; both amorai'im hold that regarding their issue there actually is no disagreement among the earlier authorities -- everyone would agree with them.  I think most of us blow through those with a "oh yeah... makes sense", but without considering the halachik consequences.  (Ok... I know I do that, so that's most people with whom I have discussed this issue.)  The truth is, though, that the gemara is doing that to teach important halachic distinctions.  Moreover and just as important, the gemara is also teaching a methodology and approach to the halachic decision making process.

Case in point: Suppose a person forgets y'aleh v'yavo in ma'ariv Friday night of chol ha'mo'ed.  (It has to be …

Thought for the Day: Rationalization and Faith

There is an old canard that goes along the following lines, with minor variations in the script.  "Don't you see what you are doing?", says the wise old atheist.  "You see to many horrific things that make no sense to you: torture, abuse, senseless loss of life, and endless sorrow.  So you rationalize and create a super being who puts everything right in a beautiful life after death.  I appreciate that reality is difficult and some people -- many people, in fact -- need a crutch to help them through.  So if you need religion, go for it.  I myself prefer to deal with the reality I plainly see and make the best of things with the time I have.  You take the blue pill (live by your rationalizations) and I'll take the red pill reality."

The problem here is that the argument sounds awfully compelling.  I do see a lot of things I don't understand.  I do want there to be ultimate fairness.  I very much like the idea of a super being who will make things right i…

Thought for the Day: The Temple Service In Shmone Esrei

What difference does a comma make?  The words "eats shoots and leaves" can be read as describing its diet or its behavior when dining.  (What the "it" being described?  I'm afraid you'll have to get the book to find out.  Or google it.)

As it turns out, placement of commas is not just  a goyishe zach; it comes up in t'fila also.  Case in point: r'tzei.  It starts off innocently enough: "May You be pleased, HaShem our G-d, with Your nation Yisrael and with their prayer."  So far, so good.  Then we have, "and restore the [Temple] service to the Holy of Holies in Your Sanctuary v'ishei yisrael and their prayer accept with love favorably."  Whew.  That's at least a run on sentence and needs a comma or semicolon or something.  Even worse, how should we translate "ishei yisrael"?  Is that the fires of Yisrael or the men of Yisrael?  Shockingly, it's a machlokes!  (Bet you didn't see that one coming, did you?) …