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Showing posts from January, 2013

Thought for the Day: Torah/Orthodox Judaism -- What It Is/What It Isn't

I had the opportunity for spend Shabbos with a mixed group.  Included in that group was a person whose maternal (and probably paternal as well, but that's irrelevant) lineage is Jewish back to Mt Sinai, but who is very active as a congregant in a Reform Jewish Temple; let's call him Oscar.  There was another whose maternal lineage has been most decidedly non-Jewish since sheishes y'mei b'reishis, but who is active in a Conservative Jewish Synagogue; let's call her Christy.  I was there also, let's call me Michael.

There were a lot of people there, so by late Shabbos afternoon, the hot water urn had been depleted.  Christy said that was too bad, as she would like a hot coffee.  Michael piped up, "Go ahead and add water to the urn."  Oscar said, "Oh?  We can do that?"  Michael immediately warned, "No, Oscar, you certainly cannot do that."  Christy asked, "Why can I add hot water and Oscar can't?  He is not more observant tha…

Thought for the Day: Tagging On To David haMelech's Bracha

Halichos Shlomo brings an interesting counsel to help one who is in a quandary about whether or not he needs to make a bracha.  That is to "tag on" to the bracha of Dovid haMelech recorded in Divrei haYamim and also recited in shacharis each morning:
Vayomer Dovid, "Baruch atah HaShem, Elokei Yisrael, Avinu mei'olam v'ad olam."  -- "Blessed/Praised are You, HaShem, G-d of Israel, Our Father from [this] world to the [coming] world." That is, suppose you can't remember if you made a bracha on that yummy cake you are eating.  The eitza would be to say over that quote and then add one, "u'borei minei m'zonos."  That is, you are saying a pasuk (which you are always allowed to do) but with kavana also for the intent that Dovid has when he said it (a bracha), and then adding on additional praise, thus fulfilling your obligation to not benefit from this world without making a bracha.  Halichos Shlomo made several caveats -- which you…

Thought for the Day: Reshelve S'farim After Use

I ran across this really cool and interesting gemara.  (I know, I know... what gemara isn't totally cool and interesting, right?  Take it as poetic license.)    It has everything: theft, court room drama, suspense, and a final surprise ending!  By the time you get to the two dots you're emotionally drained and feeling that kind of deep exhaustion that comes from any hard won victory.  Of course, I really want to shout all about this from the roof tops.  Well... e-shout from my blog, anyway.

Of course, I don't want to do that until I have a really good understanding, so my chavrusa and I sat down to the three or four Tosofoses (Tosofosim?) on the subject.  We felt we had a good chance because each Tosofos was huge; only a small section of the daf was dedicated to gemara and Rashi.  Usually when the tosofos is large you (I, that is) have a better chance because it means Tosofos was feeling chatty that day and put in all the details.  Unfortunately, Tosofos never in his colle…

Thought for the Day: Amein and Amein

For those of you who feel you've heard enough about brachos already (you're wrong, by they way; there is always more to learn about brachos), let's talk about "amein".  You might have thought that you can't go wrong with amein, but you can.  The problem is that amein is a real hebrew word that means something.  It means, "I affirm what you are saying."  You are essentially adding yourself as a co-maker on his bracha.  The up side of that is that you get nearly the same credit as the m'vareich (the one actually making the bracha) himself.  The downside is that also you get nearly the same blame as the m'vareich himself when there is a problem with the bracha.

First the good side.  Chazal tell us that the numerical values of the letters in the word "Tzadik" -- 90 (tzadi), 4 (dales), 10 (yud), 100 (kuf) -- stands for: 90 ameins, 4 k'dushos (two in chazaras ha'shatz shacharis and mincha, one more before sh'ma, fourth during…

Thought for the Day: Passing Our M'sora to the Next Generation

The first Shabbos after klal yisrael began to be fed by the the mahn, a few Jews went out to look for mahn.  Of course they didn't find any; mahn was only delivered six days a week.  The response is mind boggling: HaShem said to Moshe, "For how long will you (pl.) refuse to keep My mitzvos and My Torah?!"  (Sh'mos 16:28).  Startling not only because it was only a few Jews, not only because they didn't actually violate Shabbos (there was no mahn to be found, so none was retrieved), but also because Moshe Rabeinu, alav hashalom, was also included in the rebuke.

The fact that only a few Jews went out evoked a general response we see often; kol yisrael areivim zeh la'zeh -- all Jews are responsible for one another.  The that no actual violation occurred can also be answered; they certainly intended a violation and this is the inception of klal yisrael.  Such an intention following on the heels of all the miracles is certainly an indication that things are in dang…

Thought for the Day: Testifying to the Entire Matter

In our wedding album (first and only; album, that is, not wedding) there is a striking picture of my hand over my wife's hand over the wedding license.  Striking because the contrast between my wife's lovely hand is quite a contrast to the hairy paw emerging from the white tuxedo with frilly french cuffs.  That picture has evoked comments from "Beauty and the Beast" to "Snow White visits Planet of the Apes".  I was reminded of that picture by a Rashi on Bava Kama 70b: I saw a hair on her knuckles.  (Of course in my the case of our wedding picture, my poor wife's hand was covered by a lot more than one strand of hair.)  I suppose you want context, now.  Fine.

First you have to know three things.  (1) Once you are on property for three years, you no longer need to keep a receipt; everyone knows it's yours. (2) The word "davar"/matter in the verse "al pi shnayim eidim yakum davar"/"On the testimony of two witnesses the matter s…

Thought for the Day: Your Rod Comforts Because Your Staff Comforts Me

Any time I can justify telling a cute story about my grandchildren, I am grabbing that opportunity.  But first... a testimonial.
Hi, my name is Michael.  I am a potcher.  I have not potched my grandchildren in 59 days. There.  I feel cleansed.

Thanksgiving weekend last year, I went to spend the weekend with my younger daughter and her children to help out while her husband was away on business (bringing Jewish San Francisco teens back to Torah).  We went for a walk on Shabbos and her daughter (Avigayil, a real pistol and a half) ran out into the street, stopped, turned, looked at me an laughed.  I was terrified both by how quickly and recklessly she moved, and even more by the clear intent of the act.  More than that, though, I knew this was not the first time; the last time had left her mother shaking in fear after retrieving Avigayil and getting her safely into the car seat.  I strode to her and gave her a solid potch.  I then apologized profusely to my daughter; I have a very solid…

Thought for the Day: Klal Yisrael is Kol Yachid v'Yachid

I heard the most amazing story about R' Shach, tzt"l.  A group of rabbanim were waiting to meet with him on an important matter for the klal.  A father with his young son came to get a bracha from the rav. As they rabbanim were waiting for everyone to gather, they told the father to go ahead in with his son for a bracha.  After about five minutes, all had assembled and were ready to meet with the rav.  They just needed to wait till the father and son finished.  They waited and waited... 10 minutes, 20 minutes... finally after nearly a half hour, the father and son came out.  Before the rabbei'im could enter, though, they were told that the rav was exhausted and would have to reschedule.  They all looked to the father who didn't know what to say.

What had happened?  The father went to ask R' Shach for a bracha that his soon should have a cheishek (strong desire) for learning.  R' Shach asked the boy what he was learning, then took down a gemara and started lear…

Thought for the Day: Shabbos M'ein Olam HaBah -- Mamash

At the end of the first siman on Shabbos (242), the Rema notes an interesting custom about which he has heard, but never seen anyone actually do it.  The minag he mentions (from the Maharil) is to serve "pashtida" for the Shabbos meal.  Pashtida is something like a meat pocket, covered above and below with dough and is "zecher l'mahn" - a memorial to the angelic food we ate in the midbar.  The memorial, of course, is because the mahn was found each morning covered above and below in dew.  Seems like quite a beautiful minhag and one wonders why we don't do it.

The Bi'ur Halacha, though, says that on the face of the matter, one is astounded by this minhag.  After all, he says, since the mahn did not actually fall on Shabbos, that would be the one day of the week not to server pashtida!  He notes the answer of Tosafos -- that since the mahn didn't fall, that's exactly why we need a memorial -- is a bit of a forced answer.  Moreover, if that were th…

Thought for the Day: Freedom of Religion is Freedom From Religion

Imagine a news article on a day care center that starts as follows:
An investigation of XYZ Childcare Center, used by many in our community has found shocking evidence of neglect and abuse.  There is a total lack of adult supervision.  What toys and other educational resources are available are taken by the bigger and stronger children.  There is also substance abuse among the children, making them dangerous to themselves and others.  Many children have been found beaten to the point of broken limbs and even death.  When parents were asked if they had any idea of the conditions, they replied that they didn't understand, but since it was a licensed facility they felt they had no right to question the care.  Parents even told their children that they should just accept whatever was done to them. Pretty over the top, I know.  Maybe believable, but only barely; more like something you'd read in a piece of fiction trying to make a point.  Now imagine I told you the author ended wit…

Thought for the Day: Mitzvos and Brachos

Whether mitzvos tzrichos kavana or not is a matter of some discussion (we pasken d'oraisos require kavana, d'rabanans do not), but there is no doubt or argument that l'chatchila a mitzvah should be done with the thought in mind that one is performing a commandment of the Creator.  One reason Chazal instituted brachos was to help us with that.  If you make a formal declaration -- "Praised are You, HaShem, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to ..." -- you are much, much more likely to have the right kavanos (intentions).

However, failure to say the bracha never nullifies the performance.  In fact, even if you aren't sure if you made the bracha, or even you are sure you didn't and are only unsure if you performed the mitzvah or not and therefore need to (re)perform the mitvah, you would not (re)perform with a bracha.  Unless, of course, the mitzvah was the bracha, such as bentching or davening.

On the other…

Thought for the Day: Integrity and Brachos

A g'vir once noted to the Chafeitz Chaim that he was disturbed by frum Jews who were dishonest in business and lacking in derech eretz (ie, rude).  "And what about frum Jews who violate Shabbos and don't keep kosher?", responded the saintly Chafeitz Chaim.  "If they don't keep Shabbos and kashrus, then they aren't frum!", exclaimed the g'vir.  "Neither are Jews who cheat in business and are rude."

Of course the Chafeitz Chaim was teaching that frum Jews need to be sure they work on their bein adam l'chaveiro (interpersonal) as much as their bein adam lmakom (between man and HaShem) obligations.  But he was saying something even more profound: if a Jew (who identifies himself as believing in G-d) is not careful about his bein adam l'makom obligations, then he is also not someone you can trust in business either.  Let's make that more concrete.

If someone is not careful about brachos, then at least one of the following statem…

Thought for the Day: T'shuva, Torah, and Monotheism

I am not great at pure mathematics.  Pure mathematics is all about theorems and proofs.  I am much better at practical math, like we use in theoretical physics.  (Don't mind me, I'm just solidifying my nerd status.)  None the less, I needed to take some advanced math classes in graduate school.  After struggling for a few weeks, I finally discovered the issue: I can't prove something I don't believe.  (That means, of course, that I will never make a good mathematician nor politician; I can live with that.)  The only way I could ever rigorously prove anything was to first spend some time learning how to believe it was true.  Once I believed it, I could sit down to do the work to prove it.

It comes out there were three steps: know intellectually that something was true, then work to get a gut feel that it was true, and finally do the work to rigorously prove it was true.  I just saw a Mabit that tells me I was learning in graduate school how to be a Jew.  The Mabit, in h…

Thought for the Day: Why T'shuva is More Acceptable at Rosh HaShanah

The end of the bracha ashar yatzar says, "u'mafli la'asos" -- and does wonders.  See Shulchan Aruch O.Ch. 6 for a list of the many wonders involved.  The Rama at the end add that this particular phrase is referring to the wonder of the soul, which is entirely spiritual, being kept within and connected to the body, which is entirely physical.  What is so wondrous?  At least one of the wonders is that the concept of boundaries and extent do not apply to the soul at all, but it is somehow bound with the body that is all about limitations.  In fact, the greatest wonder of all (to me) is how time gets involved.  We are so immersed in and bound to the dimension time that we cannot even really conceive what it means to live outside of time.  We speak, for example, of HaShem's foreknowledge, but that's not quite accurate because without time there is no before and no after; there just is.

I would like to suggest that that is why reality is built with cycles.  Cycles …

Thought for the Day: Mishpatim Are Logical... Why?

Mitzvos can be categorized as mishpatim and chukim.  Mishpatim are the ones you would know even if the Torah had not stated them, chukim the ones that are simply decrees from the King with no humanly understandable logic.  I never thought into that much, seems pretty clear.  Then I started thinking (always a good idea) and I realized that I don't understand that statement at all.  There wasn't an empty reality sitting around and then HaShem one day said, "Hey, I know what would be fun!  I am going to make some people and stuff, give them rules, then punish and reward them depending on how they follow they rules.  Of course, I'll have to work around the logical rules that already exit."  (I would like to say that nothing could be further from the Truth; after all, I do have a pretty good imagination and I can't imagine anything more false.  Alas, the apikosim have had way too much practice and experience for me to limit their possibilities.  None the less, it&…

Thought for the Day: Honesty and Integrity Defines the Person

A good friend of mine made a siyum on Bava Kamma recently.  He made a beautiful observation based on seemingly small question on the last mishna, that revealed a fundamental guiding principle of life.  I was paying attention for three reasons.  First, he is generally quiet and only speaks up when he has something important to say.  Second, I am also learning Bava Kamma, so I knew something of the subject matter.  Finally, because the last mishna discusses a stone cutter and my great-grandfather (mother's father's father) actually was a stone cutter.  (Talk about yichus, eh?)

So the mishna discusses who owns the chips that a stone cutter produces in his work.  The question was simply, "Really?  The whole masechta is about property damage and payment obligations.  Big stuff: killing cattle, burning fields, destroying a whole store, etc.  The masechta really wants to end up on the whimper of who owns the little chips of stone that probably nobody wants anyways??"

I know…

Thought for the Day: Surrounding Yourself, Imbibing Into Yourself, and Immersing Yourself Into Torah and Mitzvos

I am learning Mishna Brura with a bachur in Telshe; we are learning straight through from the beginning, including every Biur Halacha.  We started at his request when he realized that he actually needs to know halacha just to live and (being a teenager) he doesn't necessarily pay as much attention as he should for the 20 minutes a day of halacha after breakfast.  I also need to know halacha just to live, so it's a good match.

We just got to hilchos tzitzis and learned that part of the mitzvah is to have kavana for the purpose of the mitzvah.  Usually we don't need that, but the Torah tells us the purpose: l'ma'an tizk'ru -- in order to remember to do Torah and mitzvos.  (This is not "mitzvah tricha kavana" discussion; this is actually part and parcel of the mitzvah.)  I mentioned (being a show off) that t'fillin and sukkah also each have their own required kavana.  He said, "T'fillin?  What kavana do I need for that?"  I said, "…

Thought for the Day: Da'as, Stam and Otherwise

You go to the bakery and buy a single sweet roll to eat on the commute into work.  You take a seat (car, bus, train), make a nice "borei minei m'zonos" and eat your sweet roll.  Yum.  You make a bracha acharona.  Amein.  What's the question.  No question; at least not in this case.  One sweet roll, one bracha.  If you want another sweet roll, you'd need another bracha.  Simple.

You are at home and want a snack, so you grab a banana (your spouse is home and you don't want to get caught cheating on your diet, after all; a problem you didn't have when you bought the sweet roll for the commute to work, which is why you bought it then).  You make a nice "borei pri ha'adama" and eat your banana.  What's the problem?  You're still hungry, that's the problem.  Did you intend to eat only one banana or did you mean to eat bananas till you were satiated?  What if there are no more bananas and/or you have a taste for strawberries now?  Maybe…

Thought for the Day: M'nuval b'R'shus haTorah

Deprive a human being of oxygen for just a few minutes and he will be dead; kicked the bucket, bought the farm, the fat lady has sung, pushing up daisies, expired.  Something that important to life must play a very important role in the living organism.  Oh... it does indeed; it takes out the garbage.  Living cells produce waste, and that waste is toxic to life.  Each cell can produce enough life threatening toxins in just a few minutes to kill itself.  So you breathe oxygen into your lungs and the blood circulates through them picking up fresh oxygen and dropping off carbon dioxide.  Where did the carbon dioxide come from?  The oxygen in in blood combines with the toxins produced by the cells to form carbon dioxide; in the process carrying those toxins away from the cell.  So oxygen is the garbage truck.

Besides the fact that it's very difficult to imagine how evolution would produce a system that is on the verge of killing itself every minute (hint: evolution didn't produce …

Thought for the Day: The Almost Anything Bracha

Most everyone knows about the everything bracha: she'hakol.  It works, for anything you care to consume orally that requires a bracha.  Why all those qualifiers?
consume: it does not work for fragrances.  Nothing substantive enters your body, so fragrances have their own set of brachos.orally: nutrition that enters your body via injection or feeding tube does not require a bracha because you get no immediate pleasure from itthat requires a bracha: a catch all.  Drinking plain water when you are not thirsty (eg, to wash down pills), does not require a bracha.  (That's why I add a bit of flavoring to water I will need for exercise.)  Forced eating may not require a bracha. Sometimes it work l'chatchila.  A food whose bracha is the subject of an unresolved machlokes ha'poskim may end up with a she'ha'kol.  B'di'avad, of course, she'hakol works for anything even if it was said by mistake.  (Darn it!  I meant to say a borei pri ha'eitz!)  Important as…

Thought for the Day: Yaakov Avinu Lo Meis

Talmud Bavli, masechta Ta'anis, approximately 2/3 of the way down the page on 5b, we are told not to talk while eating because you might cause your esophagus to go in front of your trachea.  Good advice.  Immediately afterward we have R' Yochanan telling us that Yaakov Avinu lo meis -- Yaakov Avinu didn't die.  Now you know why the gemara gave you a clear warning.

You might think you heard wrong.  After all, what about hespeidim, the embalming, the BURYING, for goodness sakes?!?  Old news... get in line; the gemara asks those questions.  "Whew", you are thinking, now we'll get some clarity.  R' Yochanan answers all those questions with one simple, answer: "I'm just telling you what the verse says."  Tosafos explains R' Yochanan's answer to be that the verse that discusses Yaakov Avinu's (apparent) demise, Sh'mos 49:33, does not say the word "meis" (as did the analogous p'sukim for the other avos).  Now I don'…