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Showing posts from March, 2013

Thought for the Day: The Yeitzer Hara Gives Purpose to Our Creation

Pesach is a wonderful time of year.  We are, bli ayin hara, this year celebrating with all of our descendants.  Sunday afternoon, as we were enjoying our last pizza and beer of the year, I raised my glass to toast everyone for the beautiful Pesach we had experienced together.  Everyone looked at my quizzically and my son-in-law (a fine lawyer) pointed out that Pesach hadn't even started yet.  "I know," I said, "but right now we're all happy to be together and I don't want to lose the opportunity."  It was a joke, but we are all working hard to make sure things continue that way.  So far so good; bli ayin hara, pu pu pu, etc, etc, etc.

Both s'darim were a roaring success.  What's a successful seder?  First, we covered the hagada.  Second, and just as important, the children asked questions, told us what they learned for pesach, and sang songs.  Even so, how am I so confident that we were so successful in transmitting the m'sora?  My eldest g…

Thought for the Day: Sh'i'ah, Chazarah, Tanur Kira -- Ovens Today

Of course I know that wood burning stoves don't have knobs to adjust the temperature.  Of course I also never really thought about what that meant for bakeries in days gone by.  Baruch HaShem, I had the z'chus to once hear first hand from someone who lived in pre-war Europe and who's mother ran a bakery.  There are all sorts of "little" details.  For example, not only was there no way manually to adjust the temperature, there was also no way to turn it on and off.  You started a fire and let it go till the end; wood is an expensive resource, after all.  The process he described took careful planning and then about a week of execution.  Breads at the beginning of the week when the fire was hottest, then cakes and kugels as the temperature came down, finally pastries and other delicacies that required lower temperatures at the end of the week.  That's a heck of a lot more than "no temperature dial".

That insight, I found, has been very helpful in unde…

Thought for the Day: Difference Between La-Omer and Ba-Omer

There seems to be much confusion about whether to say "la-omer" or "ba-omer" when counting s'fira.  Some people even count twice, once with each nusach (they still have the problem of which to say first, of course).  The Shulchan Aruch says nothing directly, but refers to the 33rd day as "log la-omer"; the Rema on the spot says, "log ba-omer".  The Mishna Brura does not make a clear p'sak.  I have done some investigation and am prepared to add to the confusion.

The basic difference in meaning is that "la-omer" implies a particular event, while "ba-omer" implies "during the omer season".  Since the actual minchas omer is only offered once, "la-omer" certainly seems, therefore, to be the correct nusach.  So paskens the Sha'arei T'shuva; arguing on the Taz who paskens "ba-omer".  There are at least two strong questions on the Sha'arei T'shuva.  First, the nusach of the bracha…

Thought for the Day: Chag HaShavuos -- Not Festival of Weeks, But Celebration of The Weeks

I finally have gotten into the mind of one the the classic stand up men of the previous generation, Jack Benny.  This year my wife offered me the Hobson's choice of Pesach in Florida with my children and grandchildren or stay in Chicago by myself so I could daven at dawn.  Of course, she didn't really make the offer, but in my mind that was the choice and I kept hearing this little voice saying, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking..."

I've been bothered by a question about the issur of chameitz on pesach for some time; namely: the comparison of chameitz to the yeitzer hara.  The only difference between chameitz and matzah, so goes the the shmuess, is air; we rid ourselves of it once a year and re-adjust our priorities.  Maybe, but chameitz bread isn't just puffier...it tastes so much better!  And it's more satisfying.  In fact, sefardim make a m'zonos on matzah all year around and need the heter of "that's bread on pesach; deal with it" …

Thought for the Day: Is "Not Forbidden" Equivalent to "Permitted"?

Of course a Jew may not eat meat from a treifa.  That is, from an animal that has certain simanim that basically means the animal would have died if it hadn't been killed.  That is different than n'veila, which is meat from an animal that was killed by some other means than sh'chita.  For example, a deer killed by a rifle bullet or the bumper of a 4x4 filled with drunk would-be hunters.  (I suspect a lot of those "hunters" actually just got lucky and caught a deer in their headlights.)  Then there is meat from a b'heima t'mei'a -- pork, for example.  Who cares why it's forbidden?  Forbidden is forbidden, right?  Well, l'ma'aseh, maybe; though it often comes up in case of situations where the details of what actually happened are not clear.  But philosophically, there is a lot to learn from the details.

For example, the Torah only prescribes a punishment (lashes, in this case) if one ate a "shiur" (in this case a k'zayis) of t…

Thought for the Day: Preparing Today to Act Correctly Tomorrow

"Sheina b'shabbos ta'anug" -- it's a pleasure to sleep on Shabbos; and if it's not Shabbos there is not pleasure?  The correct way to read this ma'amar Chazal is rather, "to sleep simply for the pleasure of it is permitted on Shabbos."  If you are thinking there is an inference to be made that a pleasure nap is not permitted during the week... go to the head of the class; that is correct.  During the week one is permitted to sleep in order to be able to function efficiently, but not for pleasure.  Not only is it permissible to take a pleasure nap on Shabbos, one is not permitted to announce that he is taking a nap Shabbos afternoon to be rested for his motzai Shabbos activities.  Taking the nap is not the issue, it's the announcement of the intent behind the nap.  That announcement constitutes a kind of hachana (preparation) on Shabbos for after Shabbos which is forbidden by divrei sofrim (by decree of the prophets; a notch more stringent th…

Thought for the Day: Good Midos Must Be Protected

The developers of Modern Hebrew were not among the 36 tzadikim who sustain the world.  In fact, some had significant axes to grind with the Torah world and went so far as to plant k'fira directly into the language.  One of the egregious example I recently encountered their translation of "אגדה" (agada) as "legend".  This is extraordinarily damaging to understanding Chazal.  The aggadita we have contains vitally important information about how to live a spiritually healthy life.  Calling agada "legend" is like calling nutrition "old wive's tales".  [No, honey, I don't dismiss what you say.  What?  No, of course I don't mean you are old.  I mean tales reported in the name of unlearned women of olden times; not at all like our educated and sophisticated wives now a days.  -- And you thought only Mrs. Rema looked over her husband's writings.]

One familiar agada is that Moshe Rabeinu was not allowed to hit the water of the Nile fo…

Thought for the Day: Evil is a Prerequisite to Appreciate Good

The fun thing about physicists is that they are smart and quirky.  I had a friend in grad school who (tongue in cheek) rejected the whole photon thing in preference for darkons.  Darkons, you see (or, rather, don't see) are responsible for preventing you from being able to see.  Your eyes can destroy darkons, but only so fast; something like your liver and alcohol.  Edison may have thought he invented the light buld, but (according to this "theory") he actually created the darkon absorber.  Window shades are darkon emitters, so when you unroll them the room gets darker.  We all had a good time with this "theory", that was really a joke... or was it?

The prophet Yeshayahu (45:7) says (and we say every morning in shacharis), "yotzer ohr u'vorei choshech" -- He creates [out of other stuff] light and He creates [fresh; from nothing] darkness.  So, in fact, darkness is not simply the absence of light, it is a creation all its own.  Now here's where…

Thought for the Day: Laudable Aspirations - Be Lazy, Be Selfish, Be Not Stupid

I read a short story in my youth (long after the invention of the printing press, but before the invention of the web) entitled "The Tale of the Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail".  The basic story line is the protagonist continually evaluates his available options and always opts for the one takes the least effort.  For example, he decides that being on honor roll in high school so he can go to college on a scholarship is less work than digging ditches and/or getting a part time job.  That idea made a deep and lasting impression on my psyche.  I have expanded on that theme and have three goals to which I constantly strive: be lazy, be selfish, be not stupid.

My mode of dress, for example, is an expression of my laziness.  I know that all my shirts (white) match all my pants (black); I expend no effort on choosing my wardrobe.  I wear dress slacks and white shirt to work everyday so I don't have to change after shacharis, nor for mincha, nor for ma'ariv.  I am good to go …

Thought for the Day: Bitachon 101 (aka Life)

One of the joys of teaching freshman physics is doing fun demos.  One of the most popular is the bowling ball pendulum, used to illustrate quite dramatically conservation of energy.  It's easy enough to set up.  First, hang bowling ball from ceiling by long rope (my lecture room in Salt Lake City was theater seating for 300, so we had a really high ceiling).  Professor grasps bowling ball and pulls it to one side of the lecture hall, stands on platform, and pulls bowling ball to his chin.  (The rope is taught, of course.)  Then let the ball go to swing freely.  The ball swings to the other side of the room, reaches its peak height, then heads back.  Now, the law of conservation of energy tells us that the bowling ball cannot come up any higher than from where it started.  Since there is very little friction, though, the ball will come back to essentially where it started; ie, right to the professor's chin.  It's dramatic because the ball is swinging with some enthusiasm an…

Thought for the Day: M'Chanich Children In Correct Mitzvah Observance

As everyone (including the non-jewish barber and cleaner who take their vacation during the three weeks) knows, you cannot use a borrowed lulav on the first day of Sukkos, first two for us galus-niks.  Which, of course, is why we all give our lulav's as a gift on condition it is returned to our friends who don't have a lulav (for whatever reason) on the first day, first two days for us galus-niks.  What may be less well known is that that children (under 13 for boys, 12 for girls) can koneh (aquire), but not makne (uh.... unaquire?).  Therefore, says the Mishna Brura, you need to be sure to makne your lulav to a koton only after you have used it yourself on the first day because he/she will not be able to makne it back to you; first two days for us galus-niks... hey... wait... if you gave it to the koton on the first day, how do you get it back for the second day!?

Baruch HaShem, while this was relevant to me I was able to afford (as attested by my credit card bill, ad hayom h…

Thought for the Day: You Can Be A Thief and Without

The Halichos Shlomo makes an interesting p'sak: If you eat matzah at the seder, but forget to make the bracha of "ha'motzi", you are still yotzi.  My first reaction was, "why wouldn't he be?"  After glancing at the footnote, my reaction was "whoa! why is he yotzi?"  Then I read the rest of the note and was awash with soothing feelings of being at one with the universe.  Vicariously experiencing the clarity of a posek's thought processes will do that for you.  (No... my first reaction was not "how could you forget ha'motzi?!?"... sadly, I've I learned how easily it to forget almost anything...)

What's the question?  We need two bits of information.  First, as described before (Integrity and Brachos), Chazal have revealed to us that eating food without making a bracha is tantamount to stealing.  Second, you can not be yotzi the mitzvah or achilas matzah with stolen matzah.  Ah ha!  So if  someone eats matzah without mak…

Thought for the Day: Freedom Comes Only With Involvement In Talmud Torah

I am officially old; I have proof.  Last night on the bus ride home, a 20-something young man offered his seat to me.  No, that's not a proof; after all, some people will do things like that just to elicit a reaction.  (Not that I know anyone like that, of course.)  No, my proof is that I gratefully accepted his offer.  Apparently respect for elders is not dead.  At least for us non-dead elders.

The theme of the seder night is cheirus -- freedom from bondage.  One of the ways we experience that feeling is by reclining while we eat the ceremonial unleavened bread and drink the ceremonial four cups of wine.  In fact, if one eats or drinks without reclining, the eating/drinking needs to be repeated. (I know, I know... lots of caveats, but that's the basic halacha.)  There is one exception: a talmid who is at the seder with his rebbi does not recline without specific permission from his rebbi.  In fact, says the Halichos Shlomo, it is not even permitted for the talmid to ask permi…

Thought for the Day: More Potential for Growth Mean More Potential Fall

"Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk."  Pretty ominous sounding.  Even if you lose the old English flavor and replace seethe with "cook", it's still very dramatic.  Why not just say, "Don't cook milk and meat together"?  So much drama!  It evokes images of heathens standing around a huge iron pot sitting on a raging fire, the mother cow suspended above and her udders being milked straight into the pot, bleating woefully as she watches her new born calf cast to a painful death into the boiling liquid.  The very milk that nourished it only moments ago now turned to a death trap.  Horrible.

Looking for clues from the context in which the Torah delivers this message seems as first glance to be an exercise in frustration.  The phrase (for it is not even a complete pasuk) shows up at seemingly random times.  The first two times are in Sh'mos (23:19, 34:26), the last in D'varim (14:21).  You are reading along and then out of left…

Thought for the Day: What You Can't Do WIth What Kind of Meat and What Kind of Milk

My granddaughter (three years old and very verbal) got a fish a couple of weeks ago.  If you can get away with it, they are a great way to "give in" to children who want a pet; apparently her parents got away with it.  Fish are neither cute nor cuddly; they are basically animated plants.  You might not think so, but that's actually a big advantage.  The day after she got the fish, it died.  Avigayil, however, was excited that her fish was so talented: "Look, Mommy; he is swimming upside down!"  Mommy and Tatty smiled and then switched in a new fish.  Avigayil is naive, but not stupid, after all.

The Torah tells us three times, "lo s'vashel g'di b'chaleiv imo" - Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.  (Want references?  Don't be so lazy, just do what I would do; google it.  Sheesh.)  Why three times?  Everyone knows that!  Once to forbid eating, once to forbid cooking, and once to forbid getting benefit.  However, Chazal …

Thought for the Day: Fueling Avodas HaShem with Love and Mussar

One of the g'dolei acharonim (I believe it was R' Chaim Volozhin, talmid muvhak of the Gr"a and father of the modern yeshiva system) was stuck on a particular gemara.  Only after days of intense work and fasting was he able to understand the depths of that particular sugya.  A short time after his exhaustive ordeal, R' Chaim was walking through the beis medrash and heard two ba'alei batim learning the same sugya and one of them asked precisely the question that had tormented R' Chaim for so many days.  Much to his dismay, his chavrusa replied, almost off-handedly, with the precisely the answer that R' Chaim had reached!  R' Chaim was distraught and asked his Rebbie why an answer so (apparently) simple had eluded him.  The Gr"a told him that the answer was neither simple nor obvious until R' Chaim had put so much of himself into the sugya.  R' Chaim had changed the world and made that gemara accessible to everyone.

Art Scroll published its …