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Showing posts from February, 2013

Thought for the Day: Even a Ma'she'hu Has a Shiur

I once had a boss who was Canadian and atheist.  Nothing in essence wrong with either one of those, of course; one is an accident of birth, the other a lack of thinking. This guy, however, was jingoistic about both.  After just a short time he let me know that I was from the NSM.  "NSM?", I asked quizzically.  "Yes!  You guys don't speak clearly and it comes out 'Nited States 'Meirca."  I looked right back at him and said defiantly, "At least I have my two front teeth; eih!"  (I didn't really, but I wish I had.  The truth is, he could have been reacting to me referring to an American as someone from the United States, implicitly implying that Canada was not in America.)  Anyway, that tells you something about his personality.

Of course religion in general, and my religious observance in particular, was another favorite target of his "wit".  He once came gleefully bounding into my office.  "So.... you aren't allowed to ea…

Thought for the Day: The Purpose of Praise in Prayer

The formula for prayer is: shevach, bakasha, hoda'a; praise, requests, expression of gratitude.  Seems simple enough, no?  The Mabit begs to differ.

First of all, buttering someone up before you ask for a favor is not really the more refined of behaviors.  Usually praising someone before asking them to do something for you or give you something is because the request does not have enough merit on its own.  "Look... we've been friends for a long time and you are such a generous person and I know how passionate you are about this and your enthusiasm for helping is legendary and .... and... "  Sounds like a teenager asking for the car keys (guaranteed that request has no merits on its own).

Second, notes the Mabit, Chazal tell us that the thanks are to be said as one who has just received his reward.  Yet, when we start "r'tzei" we are still without the mashiach, yerushalayim, ingathering of the exiles, etc etc.  Many of us are and have davened for cholim …

Thought for the Day: Halacha Needs to Come First

We just came through Purim, so thoughts of "hester panim" are dancing through my head.  Always looking around for comforting signs of hashgacha pratis, subtle though they may be.  Sometimes, however, you get a "Hey you!  Yes; I mean YOU!"  This morning was one of those.

I got to beis medrash a few minutes late this morning, so I needed to run in before starting up the coffee.  (That's how late I was... putting up the coffee moved down to second priority!)  I did what I needed to do and then really, really needed to get the coffee going.  However, I didn't want to run out of beis medrash without learning something.  It had to be quick (have I mentioned that the coffee was still not brewing?) and I am just in the middle of sh'ih'a and chazara (leaving a pot on the stove or returning it); so that wasn't going to be quick.  That was for my regular seder of halacha after davening (this time of year).  Fortunately, I had decided to throw a bone to the…

Thought for the Day: Don't Forget to Erase the Memory of Amaleik

My youngest chavrusa asked a great question this shabbos; in fact, two great questions.  first, since we have a whole holiday/ceremony about talking about y'tzi'as mitzrayim, why do we need a mitzvah to remember y'tzi'as mitzrayim every day?  Second, since we have a whole holiday/ceremony about wiping out Ameleik, why do we need a mitzvah every day to remember Ameleik?  This from a young man who was having trouble in a regular classroom setting when he we was in third grade and so transferred to Gesher HaTorah Day School.  He is now (just this year) mainstreamed back to a regular limudei kosdesh program and made honor roll his first semester.  A beautiful example of why Gesher HaTorah is such an important addition to the chinuch in our community.

Of course I (and everyone else as the Shabbos table) let him know what great questions those are.  Then I told him that the Beis haLeivi asks his first question and explained there is a difference between "z'chira&quo…

Thought for the Day: Ki Kol Elohei ha'Amim Elilim

We say in p'sukei d'zimra: ki kol elohei ha'amim elilim, v'HaShem shamayim asah -- !All of the gods of the nations are as nothing; but HaShem made the heavens! At first glance, the second half of the pasuk has nothing to do with the first half.  It seems to read like: You may be a black belt in karate, but I made my lunch!  While that may make the bully back away since he thinks you're nuts, it's not quite what Chazal had in mind.

Yes, I meant to write "elohei ha'amim".  When we mean G-d, then we say/write Elokim.  When me mean gods, we say/write "elohim".  It is very important, in fact, not to say "elokei" when quoting that pasuk (or part of it), because it needs to be clear that we mean just some natural or supernatural power.  That, in fact, is the reason that judges are also sometimes referred to as "elohim"; in their role as judge, they can wield even the power of life and death.  Let's translate that pasuk…

Thought for the Day: Brachos On Things You Could Have Seen Last Month, But Didn't

One is not allowed to benefit from the world without making a bracha.  One the pleasures of this world is experiencing feelings of awe.  Ipso facto, we have various brachos on seeing certain natural phenomena.  For example, on seeing the ocean (and some include the Mediterranean Sea), the bracha is (after following the standard recipe): sh'asah hayam hagadol.  Upon seeing a particularly high mountain, or a river whose course has never been changed, or (according to all opinions) the Mediterranean Sea, the bracha is: osei ma'asei b'reishis.  Humans being what they are, feelings of awe quickly subside, and so these brachos are only recited if it has been more than 30 days since the previous exposure to said phenomenon.

What is one lives near the sea/river/mountain and just hasn't seen it for a while (more than 30 days)?  The Halichos Shlomo says that one does not say the bracha again in that situation.  His s'vara is sort of a halichik catch 22: If you've seen in…

Thought for the Day: This World Is Nothing But An Entryway To Olam HaBa

I worked at Fermi Lab about 23 years ago.  At that time, the lab was completely open to the public.  Still, we were a national lab, so there were times we had to practice security in case of who knows what.  On those rare occasions, all outside communication was disabled and no traffic was allowed to enter nor leave the site.  Theses drills could last a couple of hours or more; no big deal.  One time, thought, my boss came to my office and told me, "Don't worry, we've gotten you special clearance so you can go home to take your son to the hospital."  I didn't worry, I panicked; I had no clue what he was talking about.  This was pre-cell phone days, so I just jumped in my car and headed home.  It turns out that my son, who was just a couple of weeks old, had developed a staph infection in his belly button.  My wife had called the lab, gotten the security office, explained the situation, they called my boss, and... you know the rest.

I got home, the doctor (who was…

Thought for the Day: Three Reason Not To Have A Significant Meal Erev Shabbos

Catchy title, no?  I made a conscious decision from the beginning of this experiment to never use cute titles.  There is little enough information here, so I want the reader to always be able to know the main content just from the title.  The only thing I have a twinge about is that I shortened it from, "Three Reason Not To Have A Regular Meal Erev Shabbos and Why You Should Care"  I only refrained from that because the title really ought to be significantly shorter than the content.  So here we go.

The Mishna Brura (by which I mean to include content from the Biur Halacha) brings three reasons that one should not sit himself down to a sumptuous feast on erev Shabbos.  First, one should have an appetite for the Friday evening meal.  I think that's the most well know reason; though, truthfully, this is more of a problem for Yom Tov because simchas yom tov is really the mitzvah of the day.  Secondly, there is a concern that if you are busy eating, you may run out of time t…

Thought for the Day: M'chadeish B'chol Yom Ma'aseh B'reishis

People love to say, "minhag spelled backwards is gehinom."  Maybe, but all that means is that you better keep your minhagim in order.  Yet, Hillel was once asked how to handle a difficult situation and he answered, "I heard the halacha but I forgot it.  [Regarding what to do, however:] Leave it to klal yisrael; though they may not be prophets, they are descended from prophets!"  (P'sachim 66b)  So minhag certainly plays on important role in determining halacha.  In fact,
what?  But I am right in the middle of a TftD already.  Oh?  Wow; that is cool!  Ok then. This just in; we interrupt today's planned TftD to bring you this very cool other idea that I just saw this morning.  (Yes, smart guy; sometimes these are planned.  Ahem.)

Everyone knows (from their earliest parsha sheets), that there is a machlokes about the meaning of  "chadash"/new in: "v'yakam melech chadash"/A new king arose (Sh'mos 1:8).  "Rav u'Shmuel; chad am…

Thought for the Day: Once a Jew, Always a Jew

Cardiac bypass surgery is really a modern miracle.  50 years ago it was brand new and the odds of survival were about 50/50.  I know that because my grandfather, alav hashalom, was told that he had six months or less to live unless he had that surgery.  Not being a gambler, he took the six months "sure" thing.  By the time my father, alav hashalom, was offered the surgery it had become so common place that it wasn't even a question.  That surgery gave him 13 years of quality life.  What did he pay (besides the money, of course) for that miracle cure?

Dad had the surgery early Wednesday morning and I arrived about 10:00AM, just as he was getting into recovery.  I had expected lots of tubes and monitoring.  I had not expected so many tubes, especially that big one coming right out of the middle of his chest.  I also didn't expect his coloring.  I've done taharas and I had never seen a live person that color before.  The doctor explained to me the procedure: open ch…

Thought for the Day: Plotting Witnesses vs Contradicted Witnesses

"Al pi shnayim eidim yakum davar" -- On the basis of the testimony of two witnesses the matter shall be decided.  Seems simple enough.  As trite as the expression may be, looks can be deceiving.  First of all, Chazal learn that "the matter" being decided is not just what happened, but also when and where it happened.  The testimony has to be made by two witnesses who are permitted to testify together; two brothers -- even Moshe Rabeinu and Aaron haKohen -- cannot be a group.  In fact, since another pasuk specifies "two or three", it means that two is no worse than 100.  If you had one group of 100 witnesses that includes two brothers, then the testimony of the whole group is not acceptable.  (Which is why the m'sader k'dushin will specify precisely who the witnesses are, to the exclusion of others; there tend to be a lot of related people at weddings, after all.)

Then just to add to the fun, the Torah introduces (Ta-Da): Eidim Zomemim (plotting wi…

Thought for the Day: On Being Chosen

There were two brachos that have given me a bit of grief over the years.  One is, "shelo asani goy"/"who didn't make me a goy."  The other is "asher bachar banu mi'kol ha'amim"/"who chose us from all of the nations."  The former gave me grief because, well, apparently He did make me a goy!  There are several answers to that, but there are also poskim who say a ger should not make that bracha.  We pasken that a ger should make that bracha, but I have asked the shaliach tzibor to be sure he has in mind to motzi me; always good to be yotzei all shitos.  (I also am nervous about being motzi another Jew in that bracha, though I have been told it is fine.)

You might be wondering what's to worry about with the bracha of "asher bachar banu".  The problem here is simply, why should I care if He chose this nation or the other?  I wasn't chosen anyway, so who ever He chose I would be joining.  Yet, I have seen no one discuss t…

Thought for the Day: Sea Lion Is Not a Species of Lion and Reform Judaism Is Not...

I once met the Clevelander Rebbi.  In our brief exchange, the Rebbi asked me where I went to yeshiva.  It wasn't the time and place to open the can of worms that is my history, so I simply said I was a ba'al t'shuva and didn't go to yeshiva.  He got a wistful look in his eyes and said, "Ah... I wish I could be a ba'al t'shuvah!"  His words and expression made a big impression on me, and I have always felt badly about lying like that (small and white as the lie may have been).

Today I correct that by becoming a ba'al t'shuva (in one thing; baby steps, you know).  As much as I strive to be not be subtle, apparently I was too subtle in describing how different Reform Judaism.  A quite reasonable challenge to my proposal that one can determine how far religions differ simply by counting up the number of fundamental principles on which they disagree.  The challenge was: "According to that line of reasoning, a fish missing only its heart is mor…

Thought for the Day: Some Bentching Gomel Stuff

A goy was poised ready to convert, but was very nervous about the circumcision.  (Yes, this is a joke.)  He was expressing his concern to one of his friends, who told him, "Listen, we've all been through it, I'm sure you'll be fine.  One thing though... I don't really remember mine, but I know one thing: I didn't walk for almost a year afterward!"  (I don't know how funny you find that joke, but I'll tell you one thing: jokes like that are much funnier after the conversion is over than before.)

The truth is, though, that you could have a case where an adult Jewish man needs to be circumcised.  First, there were Jews who came out of Soviet Russia who were uncircumcised due to general societal pressure.  Another example would be someone whose health precluded the operation until he got older.  While the mitzvah is usually associate with the father, once the boy turns 13, the responsibility is on him.  So whether it was from societal or health pressu…

Thought for the Day: Reform/etc Judaism -- What It Is, What It Isn't

I am never accused of being subtle.  I believe that is a true accusation.  I wouldn't say I wear that as a badge of honor, but I not ashamed of it either.  I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam.  I am also accused of being opinionated.  I believe that to be false.  While it is true that I prefer the cool colors (greens and blues) to warm colors (reds and whatnot), I certainly have no ill feelings toward those who prefer the warm colors.  I prefer coffee ice cream with chocolate syrup, but I do not look down upon those who prefer rocky road or vanilla sherbet.  Everyone is more than welcome to their opinion of the best color or favorite ice cream; to each his own.

On the other hand, the fact that objects near the surface of the earth fall with an acceleration of roughly 32 ft/sec^2 (9.8 m/s^2 for those of you who feel more scientific using SI units) is demonstrable by logical deduction from experimentally verifiable data.  I believe that result and I am unwilling to compro…

Thought for the Day: Benefiting from Work Done by Goy on Shabbos

A Jew, of course, is not allowed to do malacha on Shabbos; in fact, it is a capital crime for him to do so.  A goy, of course, is forbidden to refrain from all malachos on Shabbos; in fact, it is a capital crime for him to do so.  Normally, this sounds like a recipe for a beautiful symbiotic relationship.  Just hire a goy to work for you on Shabbos.  The Jew benefits, the goy benefits; what could be wrong with that?

A lot, it turns out.  Chazal were very nervous both about doing business at all on Shabbos, and also about asking (as a favor or for pay) a goy to do malacha for you on Shabbos.  The problem with doing business (masa u'matan) on Shabbos is the danger of coming to the issur d'oraisah of writing.  Regarding asking a goy to to malacha (amira l'akum), there are different reasons given in the rishonim.  I believe the main problem is that one could make Shabbos just like a week day, which would be a horrible tragedy.

Chazal therefore put ordinances in place to protec…