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Showing posts from April, 2013

Thought for the Day: Lighting Shabbos Candles Away from Home

I was once discussing mishloach manos with a talmid chacham who was kind enough to learn with me.  The question was whether one could be yotzi the mitzvah even if the recipient refused to accept the gift.  I said that of course one was yotzi; I had just learned that section in the Mishna Brura and was very confident.  My chavrusa said, "Let's look it up."  Still feeling cocky, I went to get volume 6 of the Mishna Brura (see! I even knew which cheilek... confidence really soaring now).  And there it was (after some searching), siman 695:2, the Rema says straight out that even if your friend refuses the gift, one has still fulfilled his obigation.  I felt invincible.  "Well, " said my chavrusa, "I guess that's ok if you want to hide behind a Rema."  That threw me; hide behind a Rema?  "Look at the Mishna Brura."  Feeling a bit uncertain at this point, I looked down and found (s.k. 24), "The Pri Chadash disagrees and the Chasam Sofer i…

Thought for the Day: Not Counting Men for a Minyan

There was a biology book published in the 80s that scrupulously removed all sexist comments and references.  One result was sentences that included such nonsense as, "when a person becomes pregnant."  You may notice that I have no such compunction.

I am pretty sure that this august group of readers will not be shocked to learn that in order to be allowed to say d'varim sh'b'k'dusha, a group comprised of a minimum of 10 Jewish men who have reached the age of majority (g'dolim) is needed; commonly known as a minyan.  Moreover, we are all well versed in the issur (which has all but taken on the status of yaharog v'lo ya'avor) of not counting people.  Unfortunately, however, there is some confusion as to how that to avoid that issur.

One common scheme is to put the work "not" before the number.  That is: not one, not two, not three, etc.  That doesn't work.  Counting, as far as I can tell, means to assign a known value to an object or pe…

Thought for the Day: Capital Punishment in the Torah

I heard recently that in Texas one is more likely to be executed than to die in a plane crash.  An obvious ringing endorsement of the safety policies of the FAA.

Regardless of one's personal feelings about capital punishment (and regardless of the RAC's flagrant denial of textual, philosophical,and historical evidence to the contrary; ie, proof by "la la la la la... I can't hear you"), the Torah certainly mandates capital punishment action under appropriate circumstances.  The circumstances?  Let's take murder, for example.  The would be murderer needs to be warned by two kosher witnesses that they see him and his intended victim clearly and that murder is a crime punishable by hereg ("beheading").  Shabbos or publicly serving a false god; same drill, but the penalty is death by s'kila ("stoning").  Then, within three seconds or so (toch k'dei dibur), the would be criminal must reply that he understands and is none the less procee…

Thought for the Day: Counting S'fira -- You Need to Know What You Are Saying.

My wife makes incredible baked goods; much better than I could do.  She also knows much less chemistry than I do (and she isn't even embarrassed by that fact... go figure).  Knowledge of chemistry is, apparently, not a good indicator of baking skill.  In fact, baking skill and knowledge of chemistry are almost entirely unrelated.  Not entirely unrelated, because to progress beyond a certain level of baking, one really does need to know something about chemistry and food science (sorry, honey).

T'fila (prayer) is something like that.  Knowledge of Hebrew grammar and a large vocabulary is not a good indicator of how well one will pray.  The caveat here, is that one must daven in Lashon HaKodesh for that to work.  If you pray in another language, you darn well better understand what you are saying.  Being yotzi the mitzvah of hearing M'gilas Esther is similar: Lashon HaKodesh, good to go; foreign language, you better know what you are saying.  K'ri'as Sh'ma also w…

Thought for the Day: Olam Haba -- Guaranteed

Some people say it every day, but we all say it at least once a week:
tana d'vei eliyahu: kol hashoneh halachos bechol yom, muvtach lo sh'hu ben olam haba -- It was taught in the yeshiva of Eliyahu (that's right, Elijah the prophet; a prophet doesn't come out of nowhere you know) all who learn halachos every day are guaranteed membership in the world to come. R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, z"tzl, notes with some surprise that the tana is giving an open guarantee for olam haba.  Not an eitza tova (good advice), a guarantee.  Note, by the way, that the word is "halachos"; plural.  Because of this, the vasikin minyan learns two halachos each day; before or after davening, depending on time of year.  (I've heard that other minyan do the same; that is to say, I've heard that there are other minyanim and I assume they do the same.)  Besides the guarantee, the wording is interesting.  It doesn't say "oseh torah u'mitzvos" or even  &quo…

Thought for the Day: Shalom Bayis Is Really Important... No, I Mean Really Important

To avoid violating a lo sa'asei (negative commandment), one would be required to spend as much as is required.  Matza during Pesach is very expensive, but you can't substitute bread even if it means declaring bankruptcy.  To fulfill a positive commandment, on the other hand, you are only required to spend up to 20% of your worth.  If a person absolutely can't afford even t'fillin, for example, then you give that up.  The expression is "oneis rachmana patrei" -- if you can't, you can't (free translation).  There is not even a requirement to go around collecting to raise the funds to buy the t'fillin; if you can't you can't, finished.
Except one: chanuka candles.  Pirsuma nisa (publicizing the miracle) and hakaras hatov (acknowledging the good) are so important that one is obligated to go collecting, sell his shirt, even rent himself out -- whatever it takes -- to buy chanuka candles.  (One for each night is sufficient if one is in such dire…

Thought for the Day: Benefit of the Doubt/Different Perspective

My wife and I had a great conversation last night at dinner:
Me: Since  A is true, B is obviously true.
Wife: That makes no sense.
Me: What do you mean, it's completely logical.
Wife: So?  It still doesn't make any sense.
Me: What do you mean?  That statement doesn't make any sense.
Wife: It makes sense to me.
Me: That's scary.
Wife: No, it would be scary if it didn't even make sense to me.
.... She had me there; so we had dessert. All of that reminded me how important to remember that different people have different perspectives, and they can both be right.  Imagine two people looking at an object; one says it's a rectangular, the other round.  They can't both be right, can they?  Actually, yes they can.  Look at the shadow of can from the side, then lay it on its side and look at the new shadow.  First it was rectangular, now it's round.  Sometimes just stepping back and taking another look from a different point of view can change everything.

But so…

Thought for the Day: Love of Torah as Path to Love of HaShem and Beyond

I once had a conversation with a born-again/evangelical xtian that really touched a nerve.  Usually they just spout so much claptrap and drivel that it's not worth the breath or time to respond.  (Actually, I often take great pleasure in getting their veins to pop... but that's another story.)  What did she say that stopped me in my tracks?  "You just like Orthodox Judaism because its so intellectually stimulating!"  Of course Orthodox Judaism is intellectually stimulating and of course I love that about it.  So far so good.  What took the wind out of my sails was that little word, "just".  I had made a leap of faith to Orthodox Judaism precisely because of its intellectual honest.  I have, in fact, often described my conversion to Orthodoxy as a natural progression in my search for Truth.  Just as I had turned away from other science to physics and then away from other branches of physics to General Relativity, so to I had turned from physics to Orthodox J…

Thought for the Day: You Have to Learn How to Love and Fear HaShem in Order to Love and Fear HaShem

I read this once in Reader's Digest, so I know it is true.  At the end of a class teaching chess to adults, the instructor said, "You know know as much about chess as Bobby Fischer.  On the other hand, you you also know as much about the alphabet as Shakespeare did."

The M'silas Yesharim introduces his 10 step plan to ru'ach ha'kodesh with a warning that one will get very little out of a single reading of his sefer as he have very little say that is not already well known.  Who doesn't know that reverence for avodas HaShem, loving HaShem, fear of punishment, etc. are absolutely fundamental concepts?  With every recitation of the Sh'ma we reiterate:
You shall love HaShem your G-d with all your heart, soul, and resources.... Be very careful (ie, reverent and fearful) lest your yeitzer hara lead you to stray... Besides Sh'ma, our p'sukei d'zimra are filled with phrases of love for HaShem, HaShem's greatness and kindness, and how we -- Kla…

Thought for the Day: Learning Torah Always Helps, Even While Engaged in Unorthodox Behavior

I have a friend who likes to ask hypotheticals... situation that may or may not happen, but are true enough and bring out interesting questions in halacha and/or philosophy.  The most recent was:
Situation: Sam and Jake, two believing but lazy orthodox Jews (ie, buy into the orthodox point of view, just too intellectually lazy to always carry that through to action) are planning to dine on (non-kosher) tuna sandwiches at a non-kosher restaurant (Denny's or the like). Question: Should they discuss divrei Torah over they meal in fulfillment of the exhortation of Chazal in Avos 3:3 (and other places), or would that be disrespectful? I had a response, but held my tongue (briefly).  I first addressed the question to another friend of mine, who responded (as I expected), "Of course!  What does one (eating non-kosher food) have to do with the other (learning torah)?"  In fact, that very issue has been discussed here before, in There are 613 Independent Mitzvos.  So I basically …

Thought for the Day: Standing For Shmone Esrei

One is certainly allowed to daven shmone esrei sitting down.  For example, on a plane where standing up would block the aisle and cause a chillul HaShem.  In fact, even lying down is permitted in certain circumstances (like, say... middle of chemotherapy and too weak to sit up for the few minutes needed).  Standing, however, is certainly the preferred mode of execution.  Why?

The Mabit starts with the Chazal we all know, that the Torah refers to prayer as "avodas ha'leiv" (service of the heart and mind), and avoda (ie, offering korbanos) needs to be performed in a standing position; therefore prayer has to performed standing.  So far so good.  However, continues the Mabit, that only begs the question, "Why does avoda have to be performed standing?"  Oh yeah; good question!  I'm surprised you didn't think of that; almost as surprised as I am that I never thought of it.

The Mabit answers that avoda of any sort if uniquely human, as is speech itself.  Whet…

Thought for the Day: Prayer -- Silent and Crying Out

One of the most puzzling rebukes that HaShem gives to Moshe Rabeinu is "Ma titzak elai?"/Why are you calling out to Me?  Just to refresh your memory, the context is that Moshe Rabeinu has just lead Klal Yisrael out of Mitzrayim.  They are a week out and have been wandering toward the Yam Suf.  The Mitzriim have decided they regret sending Klal Yisrael away and are in hot pursuit.  So there we have Klal Yisrael, terrified and confused, the Yam Suf in front of them, the elite of the Egyptian army behind them, wild animals on both sides; they are boxed in and the box is closing in on them.  Moshe Rabeinu does his best to reassure the nation: "Don't be afraid!  Now you'll see HaShem fight for you!"  Then Moshe Rabeinu turns toward HaShem, who responds, "Ma titzak elai?" (Shmos 14:15)

Frankly,  that seems like a pretty darn good time to cry out to HaShem.  Moreover, when Miriam is struck with tza'ra'as, Moshe offers an impassioned, short t'…

Thought for the Day: Talking to HaShem/Talking About HaShem

When I was first told I needed to call R' Fuerst, my first question was, "What?  Just call this rabbi out of the blue?  Isn't he going to find that strange?!"  I know, I know... how many ways can you say "naive"?  Besides not knowing that people called R' Fuerst all the time, I also had no clue about protocol.  In fact, I had been talking to R' Fuerst (as well as many other rabai'im) for years before I learned that one is really supposed to use third person when addressing a rav.  It is still very strange for me to refer to R' Fuerst in third person (eg, "May I ask the rav a question?", "How is the rav today?", etc) and I am only partially successful.

The objective, of course, is to remember that one is not just asking a knowledgeable person his opinion.  Rather, one is asking a representative of HaShem Yisbarach about how to understand some issue that affects one's eternal soul.  That makes the formula for blessings …

Thought for the Day: What Sefer Mishlei Is

Just a head's up.  My chavrusa and I have started learning Sefer Mishlei according to the explanation of the Gr"a; therefore you're going to be reading more about that.  Well, to be precise, you'll get the emails, but whether you actually read them or not is up to you.  HaMeivin Yavin.

The Gr"a begins by giving us a lesson in managing complexity.  Any matter, he says, has four components that need to be appreciated in order to understand/utilize the matter.  Those four are: the material out of which it is made, who is working with that material, the format into which that material is being placed, and for what purpose.  For example, one could take trees, pine needles, rocks, etc and make them into a forest.  It could be done by the US Parks Commission in order to provide a national recreation facility.

The point is that one needs all four of these categories of information before one can even start to be effective in understanding and utilizing the system.  Unles…

Thought for the Day: Better to Passively Let Opportunity for Mitzvah to Pass Than to Actively Violate a Prohibition

Here's the scenario.  Shmerel is running (literally) to shacharis (late again, I am afraid), when he is suddenly surrounded by a group of ruffians.  You know the types... scars from old fights on their faces, big tattoos that say "Mom" on biceps as big as small trees, one old lady ("Mom", apparently) missing teeth and chewing on a cheap cigar.  They grab his t'fillin and hand it to an Orthodox rabbi they have also captured to be sure the t'fillin is given proper treatment.  Then they bring out government food inspector (whom they also captured to make sure all food was handled properly) holding a perfectly broiled pork chop (USDA Prime; it's really pork).  Mom tells Shmerel, "You don't get your t'fillin back before tomorrow after sunrise (in order to be yotzei all shitos) unless you eat that pork chop.  In other words, either you violate an issur d'oraisa via a kum asei (getting up and do) or m'vatel a mitzvah d'oraisa via s…

Thought for the Day: Chesed -- No Detail Too Small

Hebrew lesson for the day.  The verb shin-beis-suf has no denotation nor connotation of resting or relaxing; it means cessation.  In Modern Hebrew (a simplified and regularized derivative of Lashon HaKadosh) the noun "shvita" means a labor strike.  Just saying.

As noted (difference between ba-omer and la-omer, machlokes whether to say ba-omer or la-omer), the korban omer is at the center of very big things.  R' Dessler brings out an additional dimension from the way the Torah tells us about the korban omer.  First, "mi'macharas ha'shabas yanifenu" -- "from the day after Shabbos (ie, Chag haPesach) you shall wave it" (Vayikra 23:9).  Then, "ad mi'macharas ha'shabas ha'sh'vi'is tisp'ru chamishim yom" -- "until the day after the seventh Shabbos (ie, week) count 50 days" (Vayikra 23:16).  So the description of bringing the omer and counting the omer uses the word Shabbos twice; once to mean "Chag ha…

Thought for the Day: La-Omer/Ba-Omer; B'Tishrei/B'Nissan Nivra ha'Olam

Whether you count "ba'omer" (as I do) or "la'omer" (not as I do, but don't worry, it doesn't make me think any less of you), at some point you must have wondered what this "omer" thing is.  So I am here to tell you.  It a measure of volume, equal to approximately 2 quarts  (1.997782468 quarts dry US, for you fanatics).  In other words, every night you are counting, "Tonight is N days which is N%7 and N/7 days of the quarts."  Very spiritually uplifting, no?

Of course it doesn't mean any old quarts.  After all, this is at the very center or a fundamental machlokes with the Tzadukim concerning the veracity of the Torah Sh'b'al peh/Oral Law.  There were three places where the Tzadukim denied the veracity of the Oral Law -- Shabbos, T'fillin, and the Omer.  The Written Law says not to have a fire burning on Shabbos, the Oral Law says it really means not to kindle/change a burning fire on Shabbos.  The Written Law says…

Thought for the Day: Chatzi Hallel Last Days of Pesach and Empathy for Others

A good friend of mine, Dr. Nate Marcus (Yaakov Nachum ben Freidel) has a condition that most of us would consider a minor inconvenience: he has almost no feeling in his feet.  That "minor inconvenience", however, has landed him in a burn unit undergoing procedures (I love that word) for second degree burns on his feet.  He went away for Yom Tov and was preparing to take a shower.  Of course, he adjusts the water temperature by feeling with his hands.  Because it was an unfamiliar shower, he didn't realize the drain was closed, thus filling the tub with scalding water.  By the time he realized the problem, the damage was done.  Never discount the chesed of being able to feel pain.

On the last days of Pesach, we say only Chatzi Hallel (literally, "half praises"'; but we really only elide two half chapters), as codified by the Shulchan Aruch, OC 490:4.  The Be'er HaGola points us to the gemara in Arachin 10b as the source.  The gemara there says that we do…