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Showing posts from December, 2012

Thought for the Day: Using This World Efficiently

The second book of our chumash begins with a listing by name of Yaakov Avinu and his 12 .  Rashi tells us that they are beloved to HaShem and likened to the stars that He brings out and takes back in by name (Y'shayahu 40:26).  It was only after that exalted generation was gone that the harsh treatment of Klal Yisrael at the hands of the Miztri'im began, and from there got steadily and progressively worse.  Seems a bit unfair, no?  Here they are in a foreign land, forced their by a famine, and now they are being treated to the worst kind of unfounded xenophobia.  Where is G-d?  Oh... there He is; after things have gotten so bad that their babies are being ripped from their mothers' arms and thrown into the Nile to drown, after decades and decades of backbreaking and fruitless labor, finally, finally... "HaShem heard their groaning and G-d remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Yitchak, and with Yaakov."  (Sh'mos 2:24).  He couldn't have paid attention…

Thought for the Day: Ma'aseh Merkava, Ma'aseh B'reishis, Arayos

More from the first introduction to G'vuros HaShem; after all, it's good to know about reality.

The gemara (Chagiga 11a) says that one may expound on ma'aseh merkava only to himself, ma'aseh b'reishis to a single talmid (at a time) only, and arayos to two (at a time) talmidim.  Why these three topics have restrictions in how they are taught and why these particular restrictions is the topic d'jour.

There are three dimensions to creating a new system: the thought to create the system, the creation of the parts, and the creation of the rules by which the parts interact.  The Maharal does not use these terms, but they are also called different "olamos" (worlds) and there are four: olam ha'atzilus, olam ha'bri'a, olam ha'y'tzira, and olam ha'asi'a.  The Maharal has lumped bri'a (yeish mei'ayin -- something from nothing) and y'tzira (yeish mi'yeish -- something from something) into one concept of creation.  That …

Thought for the Day: Zimun Topics (And How to Read the Mishna Brura)

Here's a game I like to play.  I learn up a sugya in Mishna Brura and get a really good understanding, then I call R' Fuerst and he corrects me.  It never fails.  I am amazed by his patience.  I think he is probably amazed by my tenacity.

First question was on zimum when 10 men have eaten together.  To make a zimun for three, you need at least two who have eaten bread, then you can combine another person who has eaten pretty much anything except water and salt (I believe soda, coffee, and tea also don't work).  At 10, though, you get to add "elokeinu".  The Shulchan Aruch, OC 197:2 says you need a "recognizable majority", ie seven (not just six), to add sheim haShem.  The wording, though, is interesting: "one who ate bread should be the leader, and even seven who ate grain and three ate vegetables can combine".  Interesting!  The m'chaber uses both the words "pas" (bread) and "dagan" (grain product) in one sentence.  It…

Thought for the Day: Yagati u'Matzati -- I BELIEVE!

Dramatic teaser:
Second paragraph of note 31 in Dirshu edition of Mishna Brura to si'ef koton 20 in the Mishna Brura commenting on siman 206, si'ef 5 in the Orach Chaim section of the Shulchan Aruch.

I had the z'chus to hear many divrei torah from R' Henoch Leibowitz, ztz"l.  The rosh yeshiva was once explaining the chazal, "yagati u'matzati" -- if someone says that he worked hard and found the solution, believe him.  "Which is it?  Yigi'a (exertion) or m'tzi'a (a find)?  Either you work hard and develop a solution, or you find a solution; not both!  What does it mean?  Solutions and understanding in torah cannot be developed, they are all a find; like a beautiful gem.  However, HaShem only gives you the gem if he sees you will appreciate it; which you do by working hard.  If you work hard (enough), HaShem will surely reward you."

I have had a question for months.  Suppose you have an apple and a banana in front of you, you plan…

Thought for the Day: Why the Torah Does Not Mention Olam HaBa

The Written Torah does not once mention eternal reward, life in a coming world, enjoying the radiance of HaShem's presence for ever.  Nothing, nada, not a single time.  Hints here and there; but try debating with your standard non-believer with with compelling arguments like:
Look!  The verse clearly says "then Moshe and the children of Israel will sing" (Song at the Sea, Shmos 15:1)!  Future tense!!!  Clear proof that the idea of resurrection of the dead is straight from the Torah and not, chas v'shalom, a later rabbinic infusion of foreign philosophies. For those of you who think that's all the need be said on the subject, you can stop reading now.  In fact, you can stop doing lots of things since you are more than likely patur from mitzvos.  For the rest of us who need some sanity in our discussions, the Marharal (first introduction to G'vuros HaShem) offers two reasons that the Written Torah has no references to olam haba.  One because of the essential na…

Thought for the Day: Keren v'Keifel -- Principle and Fine

The Torah tells us that when a robber is caught and the courts find him guilty, he must pay both keren and, since he did not own up to his crime, keifel.  Keren (principle) means that he must return  either the item he stole, or its value if the item is gone.  Keifel (double) is a fine equal to the value of what he stole.  Seems simple enough.  The complications come from the fact that it might be a long time since the commission of the crime and the payment for said crime.  For example, if he stole your Lexus and the drove it around for a few months before being caught, you may be miffed at the condition of your returned vehicle.  Certainly an interesting issue, but for another time.  I'd like to discuss keifel today.  (Why?  'Cause I learned something interesting about keifel recently.)  The case under discussion in the gemara (Bava Kama 65a) is stolen livestock; I am sure the discussion can be applied to your Lexus, but I'm sticking with the case I learned.  There is p…

Thought for the Day: There Are 613 Independent Mitzvos

The first mishna in Chulin discusses what it takes to make sh'chita kosher.  Basically, a Jew who is chayiv in mitzvos must have intent to shecht, then the meat will be kosher.  If a goy shechts, the animal is n'veila; ie, just dead, but not kosher.  See there for more details.  The one that really surprised me, however, was the last case of the mishna: a Jew who shechts on Shabbos -- even though he has incurred the death penalty -- the animal is kosher.

To have incurred the death penalty means that there was nothing accidental about the act.  Two kosher witnesses warned him that today is Shabbos and that slaughtering an animal in Shabbos is a capital crime.  He responded, "I understand.  I know it is Shabbos, I know that to slaughter and animal is a capital crime.  Even so, I am choosing to violate Shabbos with full knowledge and intent."  Then he slaughters the animal toch k'dei dibur (within 3 or 4 seconds).  Even so, the meat is kosher.

For the meat to be kos…

Thought for the Day: Choosing You Way to Eternity

In the introductions to both sefer Chafeitz Chaim and the Mishna Brura there is a quite kabbalistic explanation of the function of mitzvos.  Both s'farim are all about the details of "rules of the road" for living in this world.  Perhaps the author was worried that people would either get so overwhelmed by the vast minutia that the would just give up, or so embroiled in them that they would forget what it's all about.  While a person's main occupation besides doing mitzvos has got to be learning how to do them correctly, it is (apparently) worth taking a few moments once in a while to remember what we are actually accomplishing.

"Ein od milvado" -- there is nothing besides HaShem.  Yet... we exist!  How is there room for me if there is nothing besides Him?  The real answer is beyond the scope of this work.  (I love saying that.)  In this case "this work" means "the entirety of creation", so those words were never more true.  We can n…

Thought for the Day: Oy Lanu mi'Yom haDin, Oy Lanu mi'Yom haTochacha

There is a particularly beautiful Beis haLeivi on the final events that culminate in the reunification of Yosef with his brothers.  Yehuda has very poignantly expressed that he cannot possibly go home with out Binyamin; the pain would be too much for his father and would surely die.  Yosef can no longer restrain himself and declares: "I am Yosef.  Is my father still alive?"  (B'reishis 45:3).  The brothers are stunned and shocked; they cannot even answer.

The Beis haLeivi notes at least three difficulties in the pasuk itself.  First, in the very next pasuk, Yosef (seemingly) again declares, "I am your brother, Yosef".  Second, the whole crux of this drama is that Yaakov is alive, after all.  Finally, no answer is given; the question is just forgotten!?  The medrash offers only more confusion by commenting: Oy Lanu mi'Yom haDin, Oy Lanu mi'Yom Tochacha!  Ummm... what?  Besides the fact that this seems to be a totally unrelated thought, why are two days m…

Thought for the Day: Yes; the Avos Even Lit Chanuka Licht

I think it was about fifth grade, when we started learning about earth sciences, that the term "Law of Gravity" came up.  We enjoyed joking, "Wow; I wonder what people did before that law was passed!"  Peals of laughter among the chevra.  Yes; I was a dweeb from a very early age.  (In case you don't know what a dweeb is, here is the definition from Thesarus.com: geekisanysmartpersonwithanobsessiveinterest,anerdisthesamebutalsolackssocialgrace,andadweebisamega-nerd.  Btw... the fact that I bothered to look that up and note it should remove any lingering doubts you may have had about my dweebishness.)

Obviously, the laws of physics have existed since sheishes y'mei b'reishis.  The Greeks could have had laptop computers; they just didn't.  Imagine you could time transport the disk from a laptop computer back to the 1950s.  After much time they might be able to work out that there is a very tiny magnetic field around the disk with even tinier variations.…

Thought for the Day: Learning Disaster Management from the Shvatim

One of the most important lessons I learned early in my transition to Orthodoxy Judaism was how to view ishei tanach.  As one of my rabaim put it, "Did HaShem put your story in the Tanach?  No.  So think very carefully before criticizing their behaviour."  Basically, if Chazal didn't report a criticism, then you best determine where your misunderstanding lies rather then theirs.  The incidents from Yaakov's return to Eretz Kana'an till his exile to Mitzrayim certainly bear much analysis.

Case in point: The 10 brothers go to Mitzrayim to buy food and look for Yosef.  They are hauled in front of Yosef (whom they do not recognize), are accused of being spies, and are informed the only way to prove their innocence is to bring Binyamin.  The brothers are completely subdued in their behaviour and admit to each other that they deserve this because they did not act more mercifully to Yosef when they saw how distressed he was in the pit.  (Ummm... but nothing wrong with t…

Thought for the Day: Leadership Qualities Taught by the Shvatim

It is with some trepidation that I write this TftD.  First, I generally try to have a defined source (whether I reference it explicitly or not) for what I am writing.  Today I am expressing my own opinion and p'shat synthesized from what I have learned and heard over the years.  Not entirely baseless, but still out on a limb.  You have been warned.

A more serious problem is that I am using the way certain historical events are portrayed in the Torah narrative to draw these lessons.  I do not want to give the impression that I am in any way, shape, or form judging the actions of our exalted and holy ancestors.  Even more: I do not pretend to have any clue whatsoever what they were really thinking.  I express only how what I glean from the events given the way HaShem has decided to portray them to us.

That said, I feel justified in what I am about to say because of and idea I have heard (and myself oft repeated): davening is talking to HaShem, learning is HaShem talking to you.  T…

Thought for the Day: Arisus, S'chirus, Kablanus (Oh my!)

I have tried once again to understand how it works to permissibly partner with a goy to make money with your stuff on Shabbos.  I am writing it down quickly before that understanding all leaks out of my brain (again).  (I feel like Bones in the Star Trek episode "Spock's Brain", who went from "Even a child could do it!" to "It's impossible!" in 10 short minutes.  If you don't know what I am talking about... oh well.)  All of this is taken from the Mishna Brura's hakdama to siman 243; see there for elucidation and, of course, lots more details.

I find there are two main sources of confusion in that siman.  First, the word "s'chirus" (renting/leasing/etc) sometimes means the topic in general of partnering with a goy to use your stuff on Shabbos to make money, and sometimes means on the the three ways in which that can happen.  Second, there are two external issues (maris ayin and havla'a) that implicitly affect the halacha …

Thought for the Day: Keeping Mitzvos Lishma

As was mentioned, the issur of milk with meat only applies if both are derived from a kosher species of animal (if the animal was not slaughtered appropriately or otherwise rendered unfit).  Therefore, if a ger tzedek had ham bits and bacon grease stuck in/on his teeth from before immersing l'sheim gerus (so he did nothing wrong when eating it), then he could have a milkshake immediately upon surfacing -- even though it was less that an hour since his last treifa feast.  The question is... why in the world would he do such a thing?  (The ham and bacon, not the milkshake; it's always a good time for a milkshake, after all.)  Why, indeed...

A ma'aseh and the interpretation I heard once from R' Ezriel Tauber will provide the basis for an answer.
A chashuva rebbitzin in Eretz Yisrael needed a delicate surgery.  She refused to allow anyone to perform the surgery except one doctor; he was known as the expert in that surgery (and others), but it took months to even get an app…

Thought for the Day: The Torah Determines What is Kosher

You are thinking... "I can skip this one; obviously the Torah determines what's kosher and what's not.  Duh."  But you are also thinking, "What does he have up his sleeve?"

So here is the starting point: There is an interesting halacha that if an unmarked package of meat is found outside a row of butcher shops, 5 kosher and 4 treif, then the meat is kosher.  Not "considered kosher", not "if you ate it, b'di'avad you are ok", not even "you are permitted to be meikel."  To the contrary, l'chatchila you are permitted to eat it; b'tei'avon.  The technical term is, "kol ha'poresh, min ha'rov poresh" -- anything that is separated [from it's source] is [treated as having been] separated from [whichever source] is the majority.  This package of meat is separated from it's source (a butcher shop), the majority of butcher shops (from which it could have come) are kosher; so it is kosher.

Now …

Thought for the Day: What's Wrong With Eating Milk After Meat

[BEGIN Introductory prose to demonstrate my flair for writing]
At least one person will be very happy to read this post.  He (you know who you are) asked me a question that I more or less pushed off.  First, I thought I knew the answer, but I had no proof.  Second, it's the kind of question that you really need a posek for, but it's not l'ma'asah, so I was nervous about bothering the poskim I know.  Well... I had a few seconds with a posek this morning while we were getting our coats (I even "accidentally" stole his t'fillin to get a few extra seconds with him...)  I am glad I did, because I was wrong about what I had thought was the answer.  Moreover, I was gleefully enlightened about how to judge the relevant factors (I was wrong about that also.)  So now... what was the question, what did I incorrectly think, and what was the correct answer?
[END Introductory prose to demonstrate my flair for writing]

Suppose a soon to be ger eats a a nice, grilled rib …

Thought for the Day: Aveilus and Kaddish

I tend to link aveilus and the of saying kaddish together.  That is, kaddish is being said either by someone who is in aveilus or on behalf of someone in aveilus.  The truth is, though, they are two different activities and serve different functions.  Aveilus provides a n'chama to the nifter and to the avel.  Kaddish provides merits to the nifter and an elevation of the soul in the olam shel emes.  It is possible to have cases where one is applicable and the other not.  For example, I am saying kaddish now for my wife's brother, who had no children of his own.  Halichos Shlomo discusses a few other special cases and how to handle them.

First, I was interested to see a halachic reference to adoption.  Halichos Shlomo says it is appropriate for an adoptee to sit shiva and accept n'chama for a the adopter out of hakaras hatov.  Of course, this is only l'chumra; the "avel" would still need to put on t'fillin on the first day, not be patur from talmud torah, e…