Skip to main content


Showing posts from November, 2012

Thought for the Day: Know Your Issurim

We have a game at home (I believe brought in by my son when he was a teen).  It is a box of cards that offer choices.  The rules are simple: each person draws a card and must choose one of the alternatives.  The alternatives are designed to be roughly equally bad, such as: Would you rather wear wet socks or socks with pebbles in them all day?  (Of course, being as the purpose of this game is to entertain teenage boy who are in the mood to be revolted, the real choices are quite a bit more revolting.)  I bring this up only because I have a chavrusa who also likes to propose wild choices.  Not to be revolting, of course, but to bring clarity to complicated halachik issues.

Imagine our hero, Berol, is in a situation of piku'ach nefesh and must eat one k'zayis of food.  His choices are: cheese burger (1/2 k'zayis of cheese, 1/2 k'zayis of ground beef, no bun), beef stroganoff (1/3 kazayis cream, 1/3 kazayis beef, 1/3 kazayis noodles), ham and cheese (1/2 kazayis of each, t…

Thought for the Day: Sh'ma and T'fila, Emuna and Bitachon

My wife and I are learning Pirkei Avos l'zecher nishmas her brother, Yaakov Yosef ben Aaron Dovid, a"h.  Learning with my wife is always interesting.  She simply learns the mishna for what it says without a lot of preconceived notions, so I am pressed hard to explain properly without skirting over things.  (Yes; pun intended.)  Case in point: R' Shimon says, "Be careful to say sh'ma and to daven.  And when you daven ensure that it is not simply out of habit, but is a plea for mercy before the Creator."  (Avos 2:13) Heavy stuff.

Two immediate questions: why put these two mitzvos together?  On the surface they are only tangentially related.  Sh'ma is the mission statement of Klal Yisrael.  Prayer is a request for stuff.  When I go to my boss for something at work, I have never started with a declaration of the company's mission.  That declaration is usually reserved for motivational posters and company wide meetings; not really the time to ask for anyt…

Thought for the Day: Brachos on Foods During a Meal

I find the rules of when and which brachos to make on foods during a s'uda (bread/washing meal) to be confusing.  I feel I have some clarity now, so I'll share my understanding and then y'all can tell me where I am wrong; please don't be shy.  Here's the rule of thumb: a bracha rishona is required when the food is not subordinate to the bread, while a bracha acharon is required when the food is not relevant to the meal.  Now to flesh that out a bit.

A food is going to require a bracha rishona when the food is not subordinate to the bread.  The problem with that rule is that most of us do not consider the bread the main part of the meal (thank you Drs. Atkins and South Beach), but we know that no one makes a bracha on chicken during a s'uda.  In fact, however, the word "lechem" actually means "food that is a normal part of a meal that is eaten with the intent to become satiated".  (Sigh... Webster's is never going to hire me...)  Th…

Thought for the Day: T'shuva Is a Bigger Gift Than You Thought

The Mabit says that t'shuva is primarily for Klal Yisrael.  Besides bringing proof from scripture and Chazal, he gives a simple s'vara.  Goyim have seven very basic mitzvos, the equivalent of "don't smoke in the theater during the play"  There is not much excuse for not being able to be careful about them, so there is very little motivation to give them the gift of t'shuva.  Jews, on the other hand, have so many obligations that is impossible to go long without transgressing and prohibition and/or failing to fulfill an imperative.  (In case you think it's just hard and not impossible, learn through M'silas Y'sharim and get back to me.)  So HaShem created t'shuva for us and the goyim also benefit.  However, even though they get t'shuva, it is quite limited.  The Mabit notes three major areas in which t'shuva works differently for us than for goyim.

First, the t'shuva of a goy only helps for this world and not the next.  That is, the…

Thought for the Day: Washing for Bread; Don't be Stingy

When I first moved to Chicago I had the z'chus of joining a Mishna Brura shiur given by R' Shmuel Fuerst, shlita, to ba'alei batim.  The venue was basically to go straight through each halacha, doing every Mishna Brura inside, though we occasionally (often) veered into interesting cases that the rav had handled on the topic (I believe the rav had a lot of fun with us).  The exception he made to going through every M'chaber, Rema. and Mishna Brura was washing for a bread meal.  "Just use at least a r'vi'is of water on each hand, and you'll be fine."  Then we skipped two pages and continued.  I balked.  You can imagine how far that got me.  In fact, if one does go through the Mishna Bruras on that sugya, one will find at the end of nearly every other Mishna Brura, "So use at least a revi'is of water on each hand."  Here's why.

Chazal decreed a certain level/aspect of tuma on the hands.  Rinsing the hands with a full r'vi'is…

Thought for the Day: Fighting for K'dusha

Rivka Imeina was in such distress during her pregnancy that she even asked, "im kein, lama zeh anochi?" -- why is this happening to me?  Obviously there was something about the pregnancy that was causing her terrible distress, but what?  We must remember that this is the woman who chosen for Yitzchak because of her extraordinary devotion to chesed and avodas HaShem.  Rivka surely understood the importance of this pregnancy and was dedicated to accepting whatever was required to build klal Yisrael.  Then we have the response that addressed her concerns: "There are two nations in your womb", which Chazal tells means, "There are two great men -- Rebbi and Antoninus -- who will be descended from you."

Obviously, then, Rivka Imeinu was distressed about the fate of her descendents.  Whenever she would walk by a beis avoda zara, she would feel one of her progeny fighting to get out.  The Shallal Tov brings from a R' Kotziner that she wondered why she was car…

Thought for the Day: Keeping the Yeitzer HaRa Honest

My daughter was reading a Curious George book to my grandson, Henoch.  They are all pretty much the same; this was the one where he messes up the train schedule, causes havoc since no one can find which train is on which track, angry mob runs after Curious George, Curious George saves child, father of said child declares Curious George a hero, mob changes from angry to gleeful, Curious George gets to ride in the front of the train.  You know the script.  Henoch, however, is relatively new to Curious George and so he doesn't know the script.  He looked at his Mommy and said, "That didn't solve the problem; people still can't find their trains."

The problem with us and our yeitzer hara (ok... one of our problems...) is that we know the script.  They say that one cold winter morning in Radun the Chafeitz Chaim was accosted by his yeitzer hara, "You are an old man; it's too early for you to get up."  The Chafeitz Chaim realized that staying in bed would…

Thought for the Day: The Importance of Chanuka Lights

Davening with a minyan is important.  Shabbos is important.  Eating is important.  Shtayim mikra v'echad targum is important.  Getting enough sleep is important.  Chanuka licht are important.  We have lots and lots of draws on our time and we are forced to make trade offs all the time.  I first discovered how important shtayim mikra v'echad targum was while attending a shiur on Mishna Brura given by Rabbi Fuerst.  We got to the siman on shtayim mikra v'echad targum and I asked (in all innocence), "That's extra credit, right?"  The Rav answered, ending my innocence, "You have to put on t'fillin each day and ma'avir sedra every week."  Oh.

I recently saw an interesting p'sak in Halichos Shlomo regarding chanuka licht.  Imagine that one can either light chanuka licht at night or daven the next morning.  It could be a case where there is a plane leaving before plag ha'mincha (before it is possible to light chanuka candles) that would get…

Thought for the Day: Shomer Mitzvos Means More Than Simply Keeping Mitzvos

You are not going to find a mishna or gemara that says straight out that pork is not kosher.  Why not?  Simple: Duh!  Of course it isn't kosher.  The mishna and gemara is interested in packing as much information into as small a space as possible.  The most efficient way to do that is to tell you boundaries.  Which, of course, as the old joke goes: and that's when the fight started.  To a certain degree, the same is true of halacha.  Interestingly enough, I find that looking at boundaries and trade offs in halacha is a fertile territory for clarifying very basic hashkafa issues.

Halichos Shlomo makes the following p'sak about someone who is so sick that they have a heter to eat pachos pachos min ha'shiur on Yom Kippur.  If going to shul would increase the likelihood that he would have to eat or drink more often -- even still well within the heter -- then don't go to shul.  Whether its the walk or the heat or the cold or the dryness; just stay home and eat/drink as …

Thought for the Day: Choosing a Proper Wife for Yitzchak

The Magid of Dubno was once asked how he always had a ready mashal for any situation.  He answered with a mashal.
A man was walking through the forest and saw several targets with arrows dead center.  Some were in very tricky spots, and so he wanted to find this expert archer.  He finally found the archer and asked how he had been able to hone his skills to such a high degree.  The archer answered that he simply shot the arrow first, then drew the target around the arrow. I do something similar.  I have a huge backlog of questions for which I don't have a good answer.  Some are my own, many are from shiurim and talks that posed questions that were much better than the answer.  In any case, whenever I hear a new idea I look to see if it helps with any of those question.  I heard nice vort at a sheva brachos last night that made a nice bull's eye to a big arrow of a question.

Avraham Avinu sent Eliezer off to his birthplace to find an appropriate shidduch for Yitzchak (who was …

Thought for the Day: Avraham Avinu Becomes the First Jew

Avraham Avinu was careful with all the mitzvos.  As his understanding of what HaShem wanted from mankind deepened, so to his avodas HaShem increased.  But Avraham Avinu was cognizant also of his status; or, better, lack of status.  Was he a Jew or not?  This was not simply a philosophical question for our illustrious ancestor; it led to some very practical problems.  For example, a Jew is obligated to keep Shabbos while a goy is forbidden to keep Shabbos.  The s'farim say he navigated that one by wearing a garment with tzitzis while taking walks outside on Shabbos.  How does that help?  If he was a Jew and obligated in tzitzis, then they are part of his clothing.  If he was a goy, then the tzitzis are just strings and walking outside violates the m'lacha of carrying.

But if Avraham Avinu knew that, then certainly he knew also knew that is is assur for a goy to learn torah sh'b'al peh.  Given that all of the m'lachos of Shabbos are torah sh'b'al peh, then...…