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Showing posts from October, 2012

Thought for the Day: Why Avraham Avinu Waited For Bris Mila

While working through the process of conversion, the budding erstwhile proselyte is expected to do all the mitzvos.  Sort of a dry run, if you will, to really ensure his sincerity.  He also has to learn, of course, both to know what he is getting into (yeah, right...) and so he will actually know what he needs to do as a Jew.  At some point I learned about the mitzvah of t'vilas keilim.  I was all set to fulfill that mitzvah when it dawned on me that I couldn't.  Since the mitvah is to tovel keilim that used to belong to a goy and now belong to a Jew, this mitzvah was just going to have to wait.  (My wife didn't have the mitzvah either since they were my keilim.  We realized later that I had been feeding my family treif m'd'rabanan because of bishul Abba-the-goy; but that's another story.)

Avraham Avinu (and all the avos) fulfilled all of the mitzvos: matzah, korban pesach, shabbos (some interesting details there); and even mitzvos d'rabanan, such as eiruv …

Thought for the Day: When You See a Rainbow

There is a bracha to make upon seeing a rainbow; yet one not supposed to go around telling everyone, "Hey!  There's a beautiful rainbow outside!  Come out and make a bracha!"  Why not?  We are usually pro bracha making; even use the expression to mean, "Let's have a bit to eat."  It's a nice way to remind ourselves to make a bracha before deriving benefit from this world.  Besides which, a rainbow is so incredibly beautiful, so it reminds us how kind HaShem is to us.  And have you ever seen a double rainbow?  Amazing!  Nifla'os ha'Borei!  It should be a Kiddush HaShem to see a rainbow!  So what's up?

The nusach of the bracha may help: "... Who remembers the covenant, is faithful/reliable concerning His covenant/promise and fulfills His word."  What's the promise and His word that we are thankful He is keeping?  His promise to remember that humans are frail creatures with big yeitzer hara's, so He won't be so fast to wip…

Thought for the Day: What Adam haRishon Should Have Done

It is all well and good to talk about the mistake that Adam haRishon made, but it is also important to understand what he should have done.  The simple reason, of course, is because the Torah wants us to know that so we can learn and apply the lessons learned to our own life.

So what should Adam have done when confronted with the fact that he had transgressed the one and only request that HaShem had made of him?  Says the S'porno, he should have said, "Chatasi" -- "I made a mistake".  But the S'porno didn't stop there; he puts it in context, "he should have answered as Dovid haMelech did."  Isn't that odd?  What does Dovid haMelech have to do with this?  Of course we know the medrash that Adam haRishon (who lived to be 930) gave 70 of his years to Dovid.  Meaning to say, that Dovid is the one who repaired the damage done by Adam haRishon.  And the S'porno tells us that the repair was effected -- not by avoiding the sin (as we might …

Thought for the Day: Accepting Responsibility

Non-regulars at the vasikin minyan are oft annoyed that our "early" minyan isn't so early this time of year.  Right; we daven k'vasikin (like those who love mitzvos and want to do them the best possible way), not hashkama (early, for people who want to just get davening over with already).  So we have a ready answer.  When they complain to the gabai, he says, "Talk to that guy; he puts the time sheets up every morning!"  (That's me, and quite proud of it.)  When they come to complain to me, I say, "Talk to the isha chashuva who prints the time sheets!"  When they talk to the isha chashuva, she says, "Please direct your comments to the gabai; he is the one who gives me the list of times."  Chozer v'chalila, round and round; it's our way of playing "kol yisrael areivim zeh la'zeh".

What, exactly, was the sin of Adam haRishon?  It takes a lot of work to really understand even how he could possibly sin at all.  For …

Thought for the Day: Managing the Yeitzer HaRa

Chava is taking a stroll through Gan Eden, when the snake comes up and says, "So... you're not allowed to eat from all of the trees in the garden?"  (true)  Chava answers, "From the fruit of the trees in the garden eat, but from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden G-d told us not to eat from it nor even touch it, lest we die."  (G-d certainly did not tell her not to touch it.  And what's with "lest"?  HaShem said straight out it would make them mortal.)  Snake: "You aren't going to die immediately from eating, but G-d know that on day you eat from it your minds will be opened up and you will know even how something bad can look good and good can look bad; that is you will understand even the riddle of free will."  (which is exactly what happened.  Compare what the snake said in 3:5 and what actually happened in 3:7.)  Then the woman saw that tree produced wonderful food that was a pleasure to behold, a precious thing to…

Thought for the Day: Reading Chumash

My eldest once had a short philosophical discussion with a relative who was not frum.  Apparently the local reform rabbi (or her husband) had come up with a new "theory" about yitzi'as mitrayim.  Suffice it to say, the theory was somewhat lacking.  Rather than indicating all the problems, she simply asked, very sweetly, "Theory?  Interesting.  Did the rabbi do much research on this theory?"  "Oh, yes!  Lots!", answered the relative (now excited to have engaged my orthodox daughter in a discussion.  "Really?  Did the rabbi try reading the bible first?", asked my daughter just as sweetly and innocently.  The relative did not answer, but the environment was decided cooler that evening.

One of the incredible features of our Torah ha'k'dosha is that it can be read with just as much interest by a 5 year old barely beginning to be able to sound out the words and by a 70 year old sage who as rarely left the bais medrash.  In fact, as one get…

Thought for the Day: Grammar in Shmone Esrei

I once had a boss who told me that "semicolons are stupid".  He was one of the best bosses I ever had for stories to tell the rest of my life.  While grammar is on few people's top ten list, it is important.  Consider:
Stop clubbing baby seals. (hackneyed phrase used by yuppies who don't have to worry about how to heat their home or feed their babies like the eskimos they are trying to put out of work.)Stop clubbing; baby seals. (imperative lampoon of same group as above: instead of going out to night clubs, get yourselves some seals to coddle)Stop clubbing, baby seals. (sarcastic imperative to baby seals telling them to stop partying)Stop clubbing baby, seals.  (sarcastic warning to seals, telling them to lay off that baby) Ok, point made, and I also got to make fun of yuppie culture; this has been a satisfying article so far.

So grammar really is important, even in Shmone Esrei.  It was pointed out to me that there is another interesting issue in r'tzei.  Namely…

Thought for the Day: Without Yiras HaShem You Have Nothing

Shlomo haMelech, wisest of all men, who is king in yerushalayim which is a city filled with wisdom, and son of Dovid who is also know for his wisdom, tells us, "One who loves money cannot be satisfied with money." (Koheles 5:9).  For those of us still listening on shabbos chol ha'mo'ed, this didn't seem to be astounding news.  We saw Howard Hughes die a lonely recluse with a huge bank account and no life.

Now look at Rashi (who's job is simply p'shat): "one who loves mitzvos is not satisfied with them."  Ok, now I am going, "WOW!".  Shlomo HaMelech is not talking about money at all.  He is rather telling us that that mida we see in those who love money actually applies to any acquisition; even mitzvos.  In fact, the medrash tells us the historical figure who exemplifies this mida is none other than Moshe Rabeinu himself.  Moshe Rabeinu wanted so desperately to enter Eretz Yisrael that he was able to compose 515 unique and compelling t&…

Thought for the Day: The Avodas HaShem of the Avos

When I think of Yitzchak Avinu, the picture I have is someone serious and strict.  Yaakov Avinu, when referring to the G-d of his father, uses the appellation "Pachad Yitzchak" (the fear of Yitzchak).  Yitzchak is "din"/strict letter of the law, no nonsense.  Certainly the terms "warm" and "fuzzy" don't even enter even the room in which my mind is sitting.

Yet, the gemara (Shabbos 89b) relates how (based on a pasuk in Y'shayahu) will be saved in the future by Yitzchak Avinu.  HaShem, says the gemara, will come to Avraham Avinu and tell him that his children have sinned against Him.  "Wipe them out for the sanctification of Your name!", says Avraham Avinu.  Next HaShem will turn to Yaakov Avinu; after all, Yaakov Avinu suffered the trials of rearing children (the sale of Yosef, rape of Dina, and on and on).  So again HaShem says to Yaakov Avinu that his children have sinned against Him.  "Wipe them out for the sanctificatio…

Thought for the Day: A Kula in Brachos is a Chumra in Sukkos

Before benefiting from this world, one must make a bracha.  That, of course, is why we make a bracha  before eating.  So far so good.  One may ask, however, how much benefit are you allowed per bracha?  Obviously you don't need to make a new bracha every time you chew, even though you get additional enjoyment by the fresh flavor released.  Just as obviously, you can't make one bracha upon becoming a gadol and use that as carte blanche for the rest of your life.  Somewhere between those extremes the answer lies.

The basic answer is that the bracha covers a single eating adventure.  The adventure is usually ended amicably by deciding you are finished eating and (when appropriate) reciting the appropriate bracha acharona.  However, an eating event can be prematurely ended by "shinui makom" -- changing location.  The rules of how much change and for which kinds of events and foods are not trivial (shocking, eh?), but the guidelines are pretty simple.  If you abandon your…

Thought for the Day: The Joy of Challenges in Avodas HaShem

I work in downtown Chicago.  I like working downtown.  In fact, when I had an occasion to seek new employment some time ago, I narrowed my search to the downtown area.  Why?  I ride my bike to work.  I really enjoy the ride and anything closer to home would not have given my a long enough ride.  There are lots of reasons for that, not least of which is that I like the exercise.  While I certainly could find other ways to exercise; I know myself and know it wouldn't happen.  With a bike ride to work, I get a nice bit of exercise in the morning and another in the evening.  To me, this is the perfect example of liking something that is good for me.  I didn't always enjoy this kind of workout, at it took (more than) a bit of work to get over my laziness and whining hump.  Now, thought, besides the fact that the bike ride it good for me (keeps my weight down, manages my cholesterol and blood pressure, keeps my heart healthy, etc), I also take some pride just in the fact that I have…