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Showing posts from July, 2013

Thought for the Day: D'oraisa, D'Rabanan, Minhag

I was working with my 3.5 year old granddaughter to not stuff so much food into her mouth at one time.  She is very strong willed (Heaven knows where she gets that from...), and it was important to me because there is a real choking danger.  Hence, I decided to reason with her.  I am fairly strong willed also, as it turns out.  (My poor mother, may she rest in peace, really never did figure out where I got that from...)

So we worked out that both air and food travels through her mouth; food goes to her tummy and air goes to her chest. (I was going to go for "stomach" and "lungs", but my daughter's eyes were already in danger of rolling clean out her head.)  We established that food in the chest (lungs... I just couldn't control myself) would be bad thing.  So then I told her that there is a little door in her neck at the back of her throat to block food from going into her chest and that door can't close if there is too much food in her mouth.

Her eyes …

Thought for the Day: Distinguishing Two Voices and Bitul

I always hate when a sefer has emblazoned all across the front, sides, and back: Do not take anything in this sefer as halacha l'ma'aiseh.  We are just kidding.  (Ok.. they don't usually add that last bit; but it's certainly implied.. or at lest inferred... at least by me.)  I would never do such a thing.  On the other hand, I am in no danger whatsoever of being taken seriously.  I guess that might make a difference...

Talking about hearing aids, there is an issue that has nothing to do with Shabbos or Yom Tov; namely, being yotzi one's obligation via the "shomei'a k'onah" (hearing is like saying) channel.  Minchas Shlomo, after a fair amount of pilpul and analysis, comes to the conclusion that hearing the sound generated by a hearing aid -- no matter how much it mimics and parallels the incoming sound -- just isn't the same sound that was generated from the source.  Bottom line, and as much as he appreciates the hardship and difficulties for …

Thought for the Day: Eyeglasses on Shabbos

You know me, always shying away from even a hint of controversy.  Therefore I am going to stay away (for now, at least) from the storms of machlokes raging around  carrying/wearing hat covers, wristwatches, and keys on Shabbos in a r'shus harabim.  (Oh yes, and once you can't carry it in a r'shus harabim, you may not be able to wear/carry it in your house either.  Life is fun, no?)  Oh no, I want to stick to something completely non-controversial: eyeglasses.  As usual, though, nothing went according to plan.

First snag was that the Mishna Brura in Siman 310, syef 11, s.k. 44 says that clearly "batei einiyim" cannot be worn on the nose in an area without an eiruv lest they fall off and one comes to carry them.  Up till that point I had been glibly translating "batei einiyim" to myself as eyeglasses.  Apparently I need to be less glib.

Let's take a step back.  You are allowed to wear a shirt outside on Shabbos because it protects you and you are unli…

Thought for the Day: Kavod ha'Bri'os and Shabbos

I heard a nice vort on perspective from my rabbi in Dallas over 20 years ago: When you are 20 you are worried about what everyone thinks of you.  When you are 30 you are above having petty concerns for what everybody thinks of you.  When you are 40 you realize that no one is really thinking of you.  As true as that is, there is one exception.  Namely, when you make a mistake or do something silly, the people who most couldn't care less about you all of the sudden sit up and take notice.  As noted in Carrying vs Wearing on Shabbos, Chazal were concerned about that.  As much as one should not be concerned about low people snickering behind his back (but loud enough for him to hear), we are concerned.  Moreover, the stakes are very high because we are at risk of a d'oraisa Shabbos violation.

The Shulchan Aruch therefore paskens (OC 301:7) that one may not go out wearing only one shoe unless you have a sore on your foot.  If you have a sore on one foot, however, you may go out wit…

Thought for the Day: Carrying vs Wearing Outside on Shabbos

Contrary to popular belief, there is no mitzvah, not d'oraisa nor even d'rabanan, that forbids doing work on Shabbos.  What is forbidden d'oraisa is the same categories of activities that were used in the construction (some say the running) of the mishkan.  Chazal learn this form the juxtaposition of two verses first commanding us to build the mishkan, then exhorting us to keep the Shabbos.  Chazal have added safeguards around those specific issurim both to protect us from transgressing the Torah and also to encourage us to use the day as it was intended.  Namely, a time to pull back from the our mundane everyday activities and focus on the ultimate reality of our existence in our permanent home of Olam HaBah.

How many categories are there?  There are 39, as explained in masechta Shabbos ... but not till daf 73A, almost half way through the tractate.  What is going on before that?  Lots!  One major concern, and the one with which the tractate opens is moving an object from…

Thought for the Day: After the Churban, A Love Story

The Shabbos after Tisha b'Av is "Shabbos Nachamu"; so called because of its haftara which begins, "nachamu, nachamu".  In fact, that Shabbos is only the first of seven Shabbosim of consolation; each with its own haftara.  The thing is, however, that taken one at at time there doesn't seem to be a lot of consolation here.  Yes, the first haftara does begin with those words, but on the heels of that exhortation from HaShem to the n'vi'im to comfort us is the sobering statement that we have been punished double for our sins.  Then the last one just seems to leap enthusiastically to ecstasy from no where.  To put things in context, here are the lead lines of those seven Shabbosim (all from Isaiah):
Isaiah
40:1   Nachamu, nachamu49:14 And Tzion said, HaShem has forgotten me, my Lord has forgotten me.54:11 O afflicted, storm-tossed, unconsoled one51:12 It is I, I am He Who comforts you.54:1  Sing out, O barren one!60:1  Arise!  Shine! Your light has arrived…

Thought for the Day: Halacha as Communication

I asked my 3.573... year old granddaughter if she would like to have a grilled cheese sandwich.  She replied enthusiastically, "Yes!  Can I help?"  (She is always enthusiastic, which is very fun when she is in a good mood.  Truth is, as a grandparent, it's pretty fun when she is in a bad mood also, but for a different reason.) I smiled and told her, of course.  I was a little suprised when she said, "Ok.  I'll get the sugar."  And more surpised when she said, "And you'll have a boy cheese; right, Zeidy?"  I told that I was still planning on getting having a grilled cheese and went to get the mustard.  Now we were both surprised, but we had a nice brunch.  What we have here is a failure to communicate... or do we?

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 299) discusses the topic of eating a meal on Saturday afternoon that extends into evening (a weekly occurance for those who eat shalosh s'udos at shul).  As we all know, the halacha comes out that one may co…

Thought for the Day: Why Gemara Cases Seem So Crazy

Yesterday's post was terribly selfish and narcissistic; I think physics is really cool, so I will use any opportunity to write about it.  It's not that I am unaware that not everyone finds physics and fascinating as I do; it's more than I am insensitive to that feeling.  (Ok... so add "insensitive" to the list also.)  There are two basic ways to deal with a yeitzer rah; either conquer it or immerse oneself in it till your tired of it.  Guess which one I usually endorse for myself.

Imagine you are at a Royal Society natural philosophy conference in the late 1600s.  Isaac Newton gets up to address the crowd.
Newton: I am here to announce my theory of natural philosophy which will revolutionize the way we view the world and completely overturns the Aristotelian paradigm heretofore held.  My first principle is that a body at rest tends to stay at rest, while a body in motion tends to stay in motion -- in complete contradiction to Aristotle who holds that a body in mot…

Thought for the Day: Different Ways of Stating the Same Thing is Fundamental to Understanding

You probably remember from somewhere during your life in science hearing that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  You probably know that is the explanation of the recoil felt when shooting a gun and that is has something to do with how rocket ships and missiles work.

You may or may not have taken enough science to have heard that momentum is conserved.  It is a reasonably technical detail that turns out to be very important if you want to really understand how physics works.  If you don't and are living a fulfilling life just trusting that physics does work, then you really don't need to think much more about it.

I am reasonably certain that no science teacher (or anyone else, for that matter) said to you, "I have a very, very important principle of physics to tell you: if you do the same experiment in two different places, you'll get the same result!"  To put it in more concrete terms: your car works that same in front of your house and in…

Thought for the Day: Teaching the Importance of Mitzvos by How You Do Mitzvos

At the vasikin minyan we like to learn two halachos from Mishna Brura as a group either before (winter) or after (summer) davening.  That is to say, we are all actually quiet while the halacha is being learned.  I mean, there is even someone there who will shush you if you are talking during the learning!  (He's been spoken to, but he is incorrigible.)  This has allowed us to complete one cycle all the way through all six volumes of the Mishna Brura; sometimes even with audiovisual aids (Alice's Restaurant style -- circles and charts and stuff). If you are thinking, "Heck... you've been in business over 19 years!  What's taking so long?"  Firstly, "Oh yeah?!  You try it!"  Secondly, we don't learn straight through; we break to learn "inyanei d'yoma" -- halachos relevant to the upcoming holidays.

In fact, we just switched; and the switch itself gives one pause.  Until yesterday we were learning hilchos Tisha b'Av.  From today we…

Thought for the Day: How Do We Know The Size of Eggs in the Time of Chazal?

In my high school German class, someone use the term "die Hengst", which elicited peals of laughter from the teacher.  Trying to catch her breath and seeing the blank stares on our faces, she tried to explain, "Hengst is a male horse and die is feminine! ..."  Ok, I never did get it, but I did have moment like that this morning.  I mentioned to a good friend of mine -- a kohein with very solid yichus -- that I didn't read news papers and therefore could not comment.  He replied, "No problem, I'll be your weekday goy to relate current events."  It was at least as funny to us as "die Hengst" was to that high school teacher.
Part of the discussion touched on how big a k'zayis is.  We have all suffered through both stuffing our mouths with more matzah than you can shake a stick at and then feeling doubly miserable realizing that we have (yet again) possibly failed to fulfill the mitzvah d'oraisa of achalis matzah.  ("Possibly&…

Thought for the Day: Staying Focused on Tisha b'Ava

In light of recent events, I mentioned to a colleague at work that we are not allowed to pray when a close relative passes away until after the burial.  She expressed surprise, since that seems like a time when a person particularly needs to pray.  I told her that to make a long story short, the person is supposed to be consumed at that time with the pressing needs of the burial.  She smiled and said, "That's what I love about Judaism; it's so practical."
That's good for a goy's understanding, but we need to realize that the Torah is much more than practical; the Torah is guiding us in how to perfect ourselves to live for eternity.  In a sense, when we are most restricted, we can be most confident that we are moving in the right direction.  Besides the personal experience of losing a relative, probably the most restrictive day of our year is Tisha b'Av -- a day of national mourning.  The restrictions are physical, spiritual, and even mental; a truly uniqu…

Thought for the Day: Learning Torah -- Even More Important Than You Imagined

וַיֹּרֵנִי--וַיֹּאמֶר לִי, יִתְמָךְ-דְּבָרַי לִבֶּךָ שְׁמֹר מִצְו‍ֹתַי וֶחְיֵה. He instructed me and said to me: My words support your heart, keep my mitzvos and live!
-Mishlei 4:4 Seems to be reasonably straightforward. Just the kind of things you'd expect a rabbi (in this case, HaRav Shlomo haMelech) to say.  Yet the G"ra says something wondrous -- down right shocking -- on this sermon.

The first step is to clarify how to understand the imperative "וֶחְיֵה" (live!) in this context.  Shades of meaning are always an issue when translating from one language to another, but here we find much more than a shadow.  The word in English is used in two distinct ways: To live as opposed to die, as in: "He lived through the operation."  Or to live as opposed to be bored, as person on a cruise, sitting at the 50 yard line during the superbowl, or sitting in beis medrash learning a geshmak tosefos (to each his own) might exclaim: "Man!  This is really living!&q…

Thought for the Day: Separating the Mundane from the Holy One Step at a Time

One of my favorite examples of pseudo intellectual snobbery is use of the phrase "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny".  The concept (largely discredited in the biological world, according to the Wikipedia article) is that the developing embryo goes through the same stages that the species as a whole did while it was evolving.  When I say largely discredited I mean, of course, among those who still cling to the primitive belief in evolution.  (Aside: When confronted by someone talking that way, I just respond that I prefer to eschew obfuscation and speak simply.  That usually quiets them down or they turn away in disdain; both equally fine for my purposes.)

The concept, however, that themes are repeated at different levels is interesting.  My chavrusos are all tired of hearing me say that Chazal are not deriving concepts from p'sukim, but showing how a certain concept is reflected in different p'sukim.  It is more than halacha, though.  Whole conceptual frameworks can b…

Thought for the Day: Grand Philosophic Ideals and Tiny Essential Practices

If there is one verse in the Torah that every Jew knows, it is "Sh'ma Yisrael, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem Echad"/Harken Israel! the HaShem is our G-d, the HaShem is One.  It is the first statement at the beginning of life, and the the last statement on leaving this life.  What may not be quite so well known, however, is that whenever making this formal declaration it must be followed by "baruch sheim kavod malchuso l'olam va'ed"/Blessed be the glorious name of His sovereignty  for ever and ever.  Why is that?

To answer that, we first need to address a more basic question: what does "HaShem is One" mean?  It cannot possibly mean that there is only one HaShem, as is commonly mistranslated in christian, reform jewish, and other off shoots (and rebellions against) Torah Judaism. It can't possibly mean that for a very simple reason; namely, HaShem is a proper name (well, the nickname we use outside the Beis haMikdash, may it be rebuilt soon and in…

Thought for the Day: The Spiritual Content of Wine

I was once having a discussion with someone about a certain hashkafic attitude I felt was logically required by the Torah.  She disagreed with the attitude.  What about the logical necessity?  "Oh, I don't feel bound by the rules of logic.", she demurred.  Ah.  As you might imagine, that was my last attempt at a conversation with her.  You don't agree with my conclusions; that's great, you can help me to correct my thinking.  You think I am missing data; cool, you can educate me.  Can't quite put your finger on it, but something seems amiss; ok, let's talk about it.  Think that logic is irrelevant; you're patur from mitzvos, so there's point in further discussion.

I hold this truth to be self-evident: there is much more to this world than what appears to our physical senses.  You are more than welcome to disagree (though if you did, it is unlikely that you'd be reading this), but that is the stage for today's TftD.  Shi'urei Da'as …

Thought for the Day: Why Stealing An Animal for a Korban Doesn't Work, But Conversion Does

Some days you just know they just checked off on item on that great Task List in the Sky of things you are supposed to accomplish in this world.  I've had a question for years, going back to my emergence from the mikvah on Aug 7, 1990.  There is a mitzvas asei m'di'oraisah to convert.  We learn many of its halachos from Rus, many others from klal yisrael as they prepared to accept the Torah at Har Sinai.  My question has been: exactly who can fulfill that mitzvah?  The goy entering the mikvah can't, because... well, he's a goy!  The Jew emerging from the mikvah can't, because... well, he's already Jewish!  This morning, HaShem explained it to me.

I sat down across from my chavrusa and said (as as I usually do), "I wonder what HaShem wants to reveal to us today."  I heard once that davening is talking to HaShem and learning is HaShem talking to you; I find it a lot easier to pay attention when He's doing the talking, actually.  We opened our ge…

Thought for the Day: Making Shiduchim LIke Ishei Tanach

I once received an email at 4:0x AM (on my phone... I wasn't on the computer!) from a colleague at work declining and invitation to a meeting I had called the previous day (that he had already missed, of course).  It was no chidush that I was up and around... it was summer time and I was on my way to the k'vasikin minyan.  I really wondered what he was doing up at that hour, though.  I asked him later that day and he told me he always gets up that early.  There were other co-workers there and they all nodded (with some reverence) that Tom did, indeed, always get up that early.  So... he was getting up early to decline an invitation to a meeting that had already occurred without him, and I was getting up early for an personal appointment with the Creator of the world.  Talk about "any maskimim l'divrei torah"/we get up early for communication with HaShem; "heim maskimim l'd'varim b'teilim"/they get up early for nothingness!

Unfortunately, we …

Thought for the Day: Striving to be Wealthy, Powerful, and Glorious

I don't know about you, but when I think about someone who epitomizes the result of a life long pursuit of wealth, power, and glory, I think about no one other than Daffy Duck.  The seminal documentary on this subject being a cartoon where Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were on their way to a vacation in Bermuda, but a wrong turn at Albekoikey brought them into the cave of wonders.  Daffy Duck immediately proclaimed himself owner of all he could see ("mine!  mine!  mine!  It's all mine!!") and beyond.  By the end of the epic, Daffy Duck had been reduced to the size of a bug, still proclaiming "mine! mine! mine!", and Bugs Bunny was relaxing in Bermuda.  The obvious message that pursuit of wealth, power, and glory is worse than vain -- it is tragically destructive -- was not lost on me.  (What?  You don't analyze cartoons like that?  Really?  Hmm...)

Yet Chazal seem to say something quite different.  (Shocking, right?)   Chazal not only laud the pursuit of we…